Previously, I’ve written about my African Violet Club mystery series because those are the books I’ve been working on over the past couple of years. But before I wrote a straight cozy book, I was inspired to write a slightly different series, something that touched me closer to home. Not that Lilliana and her friends with their stories don’t touch me. They do. But there’s a clear separation between Lilliana and myself. Not so much with Faith Andersen, the heroine of my Christian mystery series.
I’d read a little Christian fiction, but not much, because the stories I’d read were too simplistic to match my own experience. People had problems. They struggled with them. Then they were “saved” and everything worked out perfectly. They went from fighting belief to believing wholeheartedly.
That hadn’t been my experience.
I grew up going to a mainstream Protestant church every Sunday. I went to Sunday school and sang in the choir. I never questioned what I was taught. It was the same for my friends, although we weren’t all of the same religion. My best friend was Catholic, as were several other families on the block. We even had one Jewish family, although after a few years they moved. I was never conscious of anti-Semitism, but maybe it was there. Or maybe it was just cultural or economical, since he was a lawyer, if I recall correctly, while the other fathers were blue-collar workers.
When I went away to college, I was exposed to different thoughts, different philosophies. It was the late sixties, early seventies, a time of turmoil and change. There was the Vietnam War, a conflict no one seemed to know why we were in, except for some strange political thing called the Domino Theory. It was the time of the hippies and LSD and free love. George Harrison learned to play the sitar and The Beatles went off for a retreat with an Indian guru.
I took lots of philosophy classes and one in comparative religion. The nature of God became more complicated in my mind. And, for a lot of personal reasons, the traditional church I grew up in seemed to have gotten a lot wrong. By the time I graduated from college, I no longer went to church or prayed. My focus turned to building a career and getting married and having a family.
Then 9/11 happened, and I needed to make sense of things. For the first time, I realized I might not reach that distant “some day” when I’d figure out what my belief system was. Thousands of people had left to go to work or got on a plane to take a vacation, never expecting to die that day. But they did.
In between the frequent periods of crying over the next few weeks, I gave serious consideration to what I would regret not doing should I face death unexpectedly. One was being a writer, which had been my dream since I was five years old. The other was sorting out what I believed and practicing my faith.
I belonged to a Unitarian church in Massachusetts for a while, which isn’t a bad place to be when you’re unsure of what you believe, since Unitarians believe in a kind of roll-your-own religion. You can be a Christian-Unitarian, a Wiccan-Unitarian, or even an atheist-Unitarian. I never did understand how that last one worked. That’s the church I attended, if I attended any church at all, when 9/11 happened. The following Sunday, I found out that Unitarianism wasn’t for me. I needed something more solid, more grounded in a belief in God.
I did a lot of exploring. Eventually, I wound up in a church very like the one I grew up in. But I still wasn’t one-hundred percent sure I believed everything it taught. Far from it.
At the same time, I started writing a mystery novel. It was what I read, so an obvious choice for what I wrote. I joined Sisters in Crime, which I still belong to today.
Then I lost my job, and to have another one, I had to move to Arizona. I discovered a culture very different from what I’d experienced in the northeast. A large portion of the population is Hispanic, there was something called the border problem, and the desert climate was dramatically different from living near the ocean. There were cowboys and a rodeo. And guns.
Churches out here were a little different, too. Because of the climate, churches were built with lighter colors, more airy than the Gothic style of my childhood or the traditional white churches of New England. I found a church where the pastor’s Bible study class was a place to learn a lot about the Bible, the history of the times it was written in, and even ask uncomfortable questions. And I had—and have—a lot of questions.
So did other members of the class. I learned it was okay to have periods of doubt. That there were times when the answer might be I don’t know.
At the same time, every time I tried to work on that Boston-area mystery novel, I started crying. I was homesick. There came a time when I realized that book was my under-the-bed novel, the one you write for practice and can’t really be fixed, no matter how many revisions you go through.
So I decided to write a book based in Arizona, which I had come to love in a different way than I loved New England. And I wanted to write a book about a woman like me, not like those perfect Christian fiction heroines in the books I’d read. She doesn’t have a particular moment when she’s saved. Instead, she’s on a faith journey, moving a few steps forward, then falling back, picking herself up and giving it another try. I’d found out there might be more Christians of that kind than the other, although they might not admit that they’ve faltered in their belief.
As I read through the first three books I’ve written in preparation for starting the fourth, I’m rediscovering why I wrote those books. I like the tone of them, the way they’re real to me instead of fairy tales. They may not sell a lot, since they don’t fit the mold of traditional Christian fiction, but they’re good books. Hopefully, you’ll find them interesting reads as well.