Listening to Writing Excuses on the way home from work today, I had a little mini epiphany. In TV and Movies today, a lot of the supernatural elements are built on a Catholic mythos. That is, they visibly depict angels and demons and other supernatural elements (such as the use of crucifixes and holy water) in a way that is generally consistent with the Catholic understanding of how those things actually work. Not being Catholic, these depictions are really unsatisfying for me.
I was raised in a pentecostal/charismatic background, where the supernatural is considered very real, but things work very differently than what Catholics think. For instance, in a movie with a pentecostal mythos, there would probably be a scene in which somebody tries to ward away the demon or vampire with drops of holy water. No effect. But get some anointing oil out and bam! instant hedge of protection. It just works differently, and those differences are jarring. The only think I can think to compare it to would be an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Soldier trying to watch Hurt Locker. All the inaccuracies drive you nuts!
On the other hand, when I was a kid, I really enjoyed Frank Peretti novels. I haven’t read much of his in a while, but Peretti started out writing supernatural thrillers based on a charismatic ethos. It turns out I’m not actually all that in to thrillers, but the supernatural elements for me were gripping, because it was so… accurate, in a way that Hellboy could never hope to be.
So here’s the question: What movies, books, etc, really grabbed you because the supernatural elements struck you as accurate to what you had been raised to believe? On the other side, what stories completely knocked you out of the plot because they depicted supernatural elements in an “unrealistic” way? What one supernatural or spiritual element do they never get right that you wish you could see depicted accurately… at least just once?
I listened to The Imager by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. on the way to Tennessee tonight, as recommended by Mary Robinette Kowal on Writing Excuses. The pacing is slow, but the ideas… ! they’re on a level with I, Robot, or Starship Troopers. This proves two things: 1) I have been missing out, and 2) MRK continues to have impeccable taste.
So I’m listening to the Writing Excuses Season Capstone, and I’m starting to realize why I’ve never become a professional writer: I have too many hobbies. I have a lot of things I’m interested in and I do well enough at them naturally that I could have chosen any one of them to pursue professionally, but only at the expense of dropping all the others. I sing and dance; I play guitar; I write fiction and non-; I study theology and economics… but none of those turn into money, except at a very high level of development.
Developing one means dropping all the others and taking a gamble, and it’s a gamble I’ve never been willing to take. Which is odd, because I’m not particularly risk adverse. But I am proud. Too proud, for instance, to stay in my parents house for a decade, pursuing a career that might not work out. To proud to risk being accused of failure to launch.
So what have I done instead? I picked the one interest that had low barriers to entry, and easy to monetize early: sitting at a desk, organizing stuff. Small fame there, but a decent paycheck. And that’s how I became the Army Sustainment Officer I am today. It turns out my most lucrative calling is to be a bureaucrat.
That doesn’t erase the itch to accomplish something more… refined? with my life. It just steals a certain chunk of my time. So I am even now looking into refining the roughage out of the remaining hours that I have, so I can set aside time to do pursue one of my old affections. I’m going to have to shove aside one or two of my big three weekend and evening pursuits: church involvement, Facebook, and being a dad.
I’ve decided for the time being to pretend that any book which fails to keep my attention to the end is therefore a bad book, and not worth reading. This has greatly sped up the process, but will likely have an adverse effect on my allowance: I’ve finished two books in 3 days.
The first book was I Am Not a Serial Killer, by Dan Wells. The genre is horror, a bit like Silence of the Lambs for Young Adult, which is something I’d really never dabbled in before. But Dan Wells is one of the Writing Excuses Podcast hosts, and I’d gotten a friendly feeling toward him, so I thought I’d give his books a try. It was surprisingly good.
I won’t go too far into a synopsis of the story. To describe much of it is to give it away. John Cleaver is 15 when he is diagnosed with sociopathy. He doesn’t recognize or process emotions properly, which causes him to tend toward devaluing the lives of other people. He’s plagued by thoughts that he may become a serial killer. Instead of giving himself over to this, he fights it, and in the process stops an actual serial killer. Sort of.
There was a generally dark tone to the whole story, for obvious reasons. But apparently, the horror genre lends itself very well to intensely moral storytelling (think Frankenstein and Dracula) without drifting into purple preachiness (think Uncle Tom’s Cabin). A couple of parts in the book actually drew tears.
- The second book was God Is: How Christianity Explains Everything, by Doug Wilson. This is his short response to Christopher Hitchens’ anti-Christianity book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. It was short and fun. I recommend it for anybody who enjoys a good smackdown, or for anybody who actually had their faith shaken or hackles raised by Hitchens’ book.