A matter of faith

    Several months ago, I lurked through a back-and-forth between romance readers about speech that offended them in romance novels. Many of them felt it was offensive and therefore wrong for a writer to include phrases like "Jesus Christ" and "goddamn" in novels because these words constitute "blasphemy." I lurked and said nothing...

    A few weeks ago, I got a letter from a reader thanking me for making my characters' religions a real part of my historicals. She said that most historicals reflect modern biases either by creating characters that have no religion or by putting it in the background. This bothers her because it's historically inaccurate. (I think I posted her letter as a Letter of the Week.) I really appreciated what she said because religion did play a major role in people lives historically speaking, killing, dying, emigrating to new lands. One can't downplay the importance religion had in people's lives throughout history. I was happy that she noticed the effort I put into being true to that fact.

    I found these two topics to be very interesting because they illustrate for me what place I believe religion ought to hold in novels. Let's see if I can explain.

    For me, characters rule everything. If I have a character who is a devout Catholic, then I want to portray a heartfelt Catholicism in that character, which means that I as a non-Catholic have a lot of research to do. I've had a lot of Catholic characters — in Carnal Gift and then again in the MacKinnon's Rangers series — and have gone so far as to burn votive candles and buy rosaries for Morgan and Amalie, which two of my Catholic friends used to say the Rosary once to "break them in."

    (Writing Catholic characters from historical times also means I get to put Latin in the story, and I like that. It's my inner Latin geek coming out to play.)

    Morgan's plain wooden rosary that he wore around his neck.

    Obviously, when I write about any faith from the point of view of characters who practice that faith, I try to be very true to the faith and respectful of it. It's conceivable that I might have a character who would be very at odds with his/her faith, and in those cases I would portray that tension realistically. Kat in Naked Edge will be my first non-Christian character, though I suppose a great many of my I-Team characters probably fall into the category of agnostic, reflecting the times we live in now.

    In short, I respect the religion of my characters and I make it a part of the story because it's part of who they are.

    Mitakuye Oyasin! We are all one.

    But when it comes to offending people with language, that's something very different. Again, it's my characters that rule. If I have a character to says "Jesus Christ!" I put it in the story. If it offends readers, there's really nothing I can do about it. I don't write inspirationals and so I don't feel compelled to constrain the language in my stories or the behavior of my characters to the external ideals and beliefs of readers.

    Though I would certainly stand behind every person's right to the free exercise of her religion (within certain bounds -- I don't believe in forced teen marriage, honor killing or polygamy), I don't feel that it's my job to reflect other people's faiths in my writing or to write in such a way that doesn't offend their sensibilities. I don't set out to offend people, however.

    Does that make sense?

    I guess the easiest way to summarize my view on this is that my characters' religion (if they have one) is the only one that matters to me in my writing. For me, blasphemy means not being true to my characters and that's it.

    Now, for the results of my last poll....

    Some 12 percent of you are fans of the Man Slut. You want the hero to have as much experience in bed as possible.

    The vast majority of you — a whopping 55 percent — want the hero to have enough sexual experience to know his way around a woman's body.

    A solid 25 percent say it's okay if the hero has has a few partners, but you don't want him to be a Lothario.

    And 7 percent of you would like to see romance authors try harder to incorporate virgin heroes into their stories.

    Very interesting!

    Check for my new poll and vote!

    This is going to be an extraordinarily busy month at the paper. I'll try to keep up with my blog, but I make no guarantees. Benjy is home for spring break. The two of us spent today at Denver Botanic Gardens looking at orchids, tulips and other pretty things (including a very lazy squirrel napping on a pine bough). I doubt I'll make much progress on my story until after Benjy goes back to school. I just hate to take time when he's home to write, especially when I'm not getting any time off from work to be with him.

    Have a great week everyone!

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