Monday, June 6, 2011

Wrestling With the Divine

            My family was musical; there was lots of singing in our house. I sang a child’s ‘loud soprano’. I remember once in church I was singing my little pre-pubescent head off when one of my older sisters cast an odd glance at me. I guess there might have been some unusual sounds coming out of my mouth. My voice settled in the baritone range. I love the resonance of the deep bass. I love the thrill of the soaring tenor. I’m between them. That’s my voice. I accept it. But in the shower I still try to sing the others.
            I read recently a publisher instructing novice writers that they should find a genre, which I’m going to equate here to a voice, that works for them and that they’re good at, and then they should stick to it. She strongly discouraged writing across genres. Her rationale was that readers want to know what to expect from the writers they like, and it’s easier on the publisher since they don’t have to market you to a new group every time you put out a new novel.
            It made perfect sense.
            I didn’t like it.
            This isn’t one of those ‘leave me to my art’ things. It’s the fact that I have trouble identifying what genre I write. ‘What Rough Beast’, tells an apocalyptic story in action/adventure narrative. I’ve been told that since it has touches on the supernatural and has some dark, violent parts, it might be put in the horror genre. The sequel to WRB, ‘Taylor’s Kin’, is straight action/adventure. I have another story unrelated to WRB that would be in the genre of women’s fiction, and I’m working on a story right now that’s in the ‘coming of age’ genre but also contains supernatural and sexual (blush) elements.
            So what’s the common thread? If I want to be published, I need to know that answer. The stories that tell themselves to me, and that I would tell to you, are about individuals working their way over, under and around obstacles, both internal and external.
            That’s what all fiction is about, isn’t it? How is mine different?
            I decided recently that all of life is wrestling with the divine. It was a new insight to me. As we go about our ordinary, day to day lives, we are, in fact, trying to wring meaning from our existence. Well, some have given up, and they are sad and bitter. You can see it in their faces and in their attempts to fill their lives with ‘things’. That’s the emptiness within them crying out. I’ve not yet dissected this whole concept of wrestling with the divine. As I do, I’m sure elements of it will become clearer to me and I’ll be able better to articulate the idea, but for now, I going to say that my writing, my voice, is about people wrestling with the divine.
            There’s a lot more to say about wrestling with the divine, but I have to go tie up my tomato plants. And, yes, I suspect there is wrestling even in that ordinary task.
Thanks for your time.


  1. Absolutely agree, Chris. Next question: who else writes fiction that has elements of wrestling with the divine? And how are they marketed/categorized?

  2. Interesting that Jacob's name being changed to "Israel", a definitive moment in the Biblical story, comes as a result of "wrestling with the divine". Says something about what it means to be in "relationship" with God, something not exactly pop Americana religion.