From the Publisher’s Desk

Thoughts on the industry, storytelling, and book and film releases

Stories are our passion and calling…so we give them a lot of thought. Join the publishing team and authors as we wax philosophical about all things story-related.

A Closer Look at Women’s Fiction

Why I love Reading–and Writing–Women’s Fiction

by April McGowan

I’ve always been drawn to reading Women’s Fiction. Even as a middle-schooler, I was interested in novels that pulled you into one woman’s story and showed the evolution of her character from downtrodden and empty to overcoming—or not. What is Women’s Fiction? It’s a sweeping subject that allows the author to write about events or situations that affect, usually, one or two main characters. It’s a look at a chunk of time in that character’s life where they faced something harrowing, or challenging, and an in-depth look at the choices they made and how the event affected their lives.

These books are usually packed with emotion. And unlike other genres, the character isn’t locked into one area of their life. They can experience drama, joy, humor, and romance—even suspense. They can go on a journey to discover who they really are, or face a situation that needs forgiveness or healing. They can uncover a lie, search for the truth, or go on an adventure!

But a women’s fiction story is always very personal to the main character. They don’t have to be married by the end (romance), but they can discover who they are deep down. They don’t have to overcome the issue they are facing, but have hope that the next time, they will! These books can be slices of life (a small chunk of time) or encompass the entire life of the character. They can be set in a contemporary setting, or they can be historical. But by the time you are done with the book, you feel you have a new friend. You think about them, still, even though the story is over, and you’d like to beg the author for just one more scene or even a sequel.

But whatever you choose, you know you will never look at that kind of situation or that kind of character with the same eyes again. They’ve changed how you feel inside. They’ve shared their story with you, and you’re enriched by it.

Forever.

Women’s Fiction books draw you into a similar world to your own, or one in history, that reveals a tragedy and makes you wonder how it will change that main character. If makes you think and agree or disagree with the choices the characters make. They create empathy, tears, and laughter as you read and find something in their story you can identify with. They invite you in to share your own thoughts and ideas.

I’d love to say more, but I need to go read!

By April McGowan

Women’s Fiction from WhiteFire

A Closer Look at Middle Grade Fiction

Growing Stronger Children
through Quality Middle Grade Fiction

by Susan Thogerson Maas

When people ask why I write middle grade fiction, I sometimes say, “Maybe because I never grew up.” While there is likely some truth to that, there is also a deeper reason. As a child, I was constantly reading, retreating into worlds I couldn’t visit on my own—whether wilderness settings as in My Side of the Mountain, British manors as in The Secret Garden, or mysterious, magical worlds such as The Children of the Green Knowe. Horse books were my very favorite, and I consumed every book Walter Farley (The Black Stallion series) and Marguerite Henry (Misty of Chincoteague and others) wrote. From there I moved on to other nature-based books, and eventually to most of the books on the children’s shelf of our local library. I’ve forgotten the plots and even many of the characters in these books. What I remember is how they made me feel. When I finished the last page of a good book, I felt like I was a better person than when I began—a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more committed to doing what is right and good.

In The Help by Kathryn Stockett (and in the movie), Mae Mobley is a little girl whose mother dislikes her because she is a bit chubby and not what her mother considers beautiful. Aibileen, the maid, does all she can to counteract the mother’s influence by assuring Mae Mobley that she is special. Every day, Aibileen tells the little girl, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important,” and has Mae Mobley repeat it back to her, so she will remember. That is what a good children’s book does—it lets children know that they are important and makes them feel that they can make a difference in the world.

As a child, books about nature increased my love of God’s magnificent Creation and the many plants and animals that inhabit it. Books set in distant lands opened my eyes to different ways of living. Books about children with problems and difficult lives grew my compassion. And books about kids like me made me feel that I mattered and that I could overcome my little challenges just like the kids in the books did. Sadly, books in my youth were rather limited. Most had protagonists a lot like me—white and middle class with few major problems. Now there are so many books to choose from. Books about children from all ethnic groups, children with physical and mental challenges, children in different countries or different living situations. Every child has a chance to imagine himself or herself as the protagonist of the story, to identify with the difficulties presented, and to find hope that they, too, can overcome the hurdles they face.

Finding hope. That, to me, is the most important aspect of any book, but especially books written for children. As children watch the news and hear the adults around them talk about the issues in today’s world, they may feel discouraged. If adults see only darkness and despair, how can a child look forward to the future? A good middle grade novel can be an escape from the problems, as the child vicariously lives another life. But even more, a book that ends in hope can plant a seed of encouragement and give the reader a reason to keep believing—in God, in the future, and in themselves.

Sometimes I hear general market writers say they should write whatever they want, that it isn’t important to worry about theme or what message the book sends—just be true to yourself. When writing for adults, that may be true, but when writing for children, I feel this attitude is short-sighted. As children grow, they absorb the attitudes around them. Everything they see, hear, and do makes an impression on them and helps to shape them into the adults they are becoming. Today’s world is filled with negative influences, including bad language, violence, racism, and other negative attitudes and practices. If children are to grow up to be “kind, smart, and important,” they need positive influences—which definitely includes quality children’s books. Books can help children cope with life and its myriad difficulties. Good books can give them hope that, in the long run, justice and mercy will prevail. And the best books will inspire children to do what is right and to help make this world a better place for all.

By Susan Thogerson Maas

Middle Grade Fiction from WhiteSpark

A Closer Look at Royal Fiction (Princess Books!)

Why We LOVE All Things Royal

by Hannah Currie

Maybe it’s Cinderella’s fault, or Belle with her gorgeous yellow gown, but for as long as I can remember, I’ve loved reading about royalty. Princesses, in particular. There’s just something about them which captivates me. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Kiera Cass’s Selection series, Rachel Hauck’s Royal Wedding series, Jody Hedlund’s Lost Princesses, Lori Wick’s The Princess, Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, just to name a few. Basically, if a book has a pretty gown on the cover, a prince or princess as a main character, and/or a tiara or some jewels, it’s highly likely I’ll read it. As to the why?

Admittedly, when I was young, it was mostly about the sparkle. Beautiful gowns, sparkly jewels, glittery tiaras, royal balls – what more could a girl want? But alongside that was the idea that anything was possible. I knew it wasn’t likely I’d get out of tidying my room by some fairy godmother suddenly whisking me off to a royal ball, or come across a grand palace (with an endless library of books) while traipsing through my suburban neighborhood, but that never stopped me from dreaming about it.

But these days? When I’m past those childhood dreams of meeting royalty and getting out of chores? What is it now that still draws me to royal fiction? Not only to read but to write?

Here are just a few reasons I still love it:

The Expectations

The number one reason I love royal fiction is because of the expectations that come with being a royal – and what happens when they go awry. Which, inevitably, in some form or another, happens in every royal-based novel.

Whether or not we say it out loud, we all hold certain expectations of royals – like the fact that they’re beautiful, they’re well behaved, they care more about their people than themselves, they say the right things, they marry certain people.

But what happens when they don’t live up to those expectations? When they fall for the ‘wrong’ person. Or hate the spotlight. When they’re not classically beautiful, or prefer high tops to high heels. When a word spoken in frustration becomes something they’ll never live down because of who happened to hear it. When a simple mistake becomes worldwide drama.

It makes royal fiction so much more interesting because the characters are under that added level of pressure. Every decision they make affects not only themselves but their country and all the people looking up to them. When torn between two decisions, do they do what’s best for themselves or what’s best for their country? What if choosing their country means denying their own heart? Ahhh… the dilemmas!

A Momentary Escape from Reality

I’m never going to be a royal. And, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to. That level of scrutiny? All those rules and regulations? Having to dress up all the time and never have an ‘off day’??? No way. Give me my jeans, privacy, and simple life any day.

But there is something nice about ‘living’ that life for a little while and, through books, being swept away into a royal world of gowns and intrigue and decisions so much bigger than I’ll ever have to make. It’s exciting and grand – and makes me appreciate my life even more when I get back.  

The Gowns and Grandeur

I admit it, this is still a pull. I might have grown up but I’m still that little girl dreaming of pretty dresses. The gowns, the tiaras, the endless wardrobe (which totally suits the girl and no one ever seems to have to pay for). No, I don’t want to be a princess but I love a good ballgown, and the idea of being dressed in one, my hair and makeup done beautifully (by someone else, of course) and feeling like a princess for a night? Sign me up!  I always sigh in that moment in books/movies when the princess walks down the stairs in all her finery and the prince catches his breath at the sight of her. What girl doesn’t want to be thought of as beautiful?

The Prince

Speaking of the prince… I’m just going to say it. Royal fiction is that much better because it has a prince. Call me old-fashioned but there’s something so romantic about a prince coming to a girl’s rescue. Could she save herself? Probably. In some books, she does. In some books, she’s the one to rescue him (which is also sweet). But, I’ll be the one swooning every time when a prince steps up and saves the girl, proving himself worthy of her love.

Maybe it’s the romantic in me which finds this so captivating, but maybe it’s something deeper. I wonder, sometimes, if stories like that make my heart cheer because it reminds me of what God did for me. The King, sending his Son into the mire and darkness of my life to fight my dragons, save me and pull me out of my messy life when I was an absolute nobody. Not a princess. Not a royal of any kind. Simply a commoner. Not because I had anything to offer but simply because He loved me. Because He saw something in me that He thought beautiful. Because He thought me worth the rescue. Worth a room in His palace. Worth a life lived with Him forevermore.

Happily Ever After

Which brings me to one more thing I love – happily ever afters.

There’s a lot of mess in this world. A lot of not very happy moments. A lot of reasons to give up. Royal romances, with their happily ever afters, remind me that there’s still good too. There’s still a reason to hope and dream and believe.

Seems I have a lot to thank Cinderella for after all.

Want to hear more about Young Adult fiction?
Read S.E. Clancy’s Take on Sarcastic YA Fiction

Listen to Hannah’s Podcast on unExpressed!

Where she and publisher David White chat more about princess books and young adult fiction in general, and how it’s had a profound impact on her life.

Books by Hannah Currie

Other Books You May Enjoy

A Closer Look at … Love Stories

The Love Story ~ A Priceless Gift

By Camille Eide

Do you love a good love story? A pulse-quickening, breath-stealing, all-the-feels love story?

According to the Beatles, all you need is love! (Yes, I’m a Boomer, if it wasn’t obvious.) That’s a great line, but outside of relationships, love means very little. The term is easily applied to things like Nacho Cheese Doritos, sunsets, and chocolate. Not that you can’t have a relationship with chocolate…

I adore love! Especially in a believable love story, whether it be a tender but powerful romance, a family relationship restored, or the undying love of a friend. The first real book I read was Charlotte’s Web, which left a deep impression on my little seven-year-old heart about the importance of loyalty and the selfless love of a true friend.

I am equally drawn to relational dramas and romance, which is why I write stories that are often equal parts romantic and relationship love. I love stories about two people who fall for each other’s character, not just their appearance. This is why I’m such a fan of Jane Austen. I love that her heroes develop a desperate need for WHO the heroine is, not just what she looks like, because, let’s face it, there will always be a prettier face and better bod. Always. We want that handsome, big-hearted hero confessing that he cannot live without her.

What is it about love stories that we can’t get enough of? Why do we watch and read about falling in love and sacrificial friendships and restored relationships? Think of your favorite love story, whether it be a romance or a relationship of the heart. Have you read or watched it a million times? Why? What draws you back to it?

Good love stories engage our emotions. They provide cathartic release. Some give us hope. They remind us that goodness, honor, and courage exist. They can provide momentary escape and happily ever afters. (Who isn’t ready for a little HEA right about now??)

A love story can remind or introduce us to the hope of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. It can encourage us to believe that love conquers all, and challenge us to stay in the battle because love is worth fighting for.

The things we derive from love stories are rewarding and uplifting and meaningful and important. But in our broken world, these things, while wonderful, are temporary, and at best, merely shadows of something far better, and far more lasting.

Whether it’s a tender romance, estranged sisters reunited, or the loyalty of brothers in arms; the fierce love of a parent for a child, a friend who would lay down his life, a faithful furbaby, or the love of country or Shire or fellow man, love stories remind us that we were made to love and be loved. I believe we are made to crave love.

Love stories not only remind us of this craving, but they keep our hearts yearning for satisfaction. And I believe that this yearning is a good thing. Critical, in fact.

I believe love stories are a priceless gift to the human spirit because they encourage and remind us to hope, and to keep seeking the One in whose image we were made, the ultimate Lover of our soul. The One who created relationship. The One who, in his very triune nature, embodies relationship.

I’m still mulling over the characters from my newest novel (in progress). , mothers, and daughters. Some of the characters question the stability of love, others, the cost of love. Some struggle with not being enough, and some with the pain of love lost. Josie, the main character, longs to be truly seen and loved, flaws and all. In fact, the idea of being seen both thrills and terrifies her. At a point of heartbreak, she finds herself pondering the truth of these lines from Shakespeare:

Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken…

A beautiful thing about love stories is that they remind us (lest we forget) that we want to be loved completely, unconditionally and without end. We’re wired to love and be loved, but not carelessly or capriciously. We long to be fully seen and fully loved in spite of our imperfections. We are bewitched (that’s Austenese) by the idea that someone could love us no matter what.

Unfortunately, even the best love story ever imagined or lived will always fall short of perfection.

And I believe that’s a good thing.

Because no matter how fulfilling human relationships are—real or imaginary—they are still no match for the beauty and immensity of God’s love. The joy of being loved by the most amazing person on earth is still no match for the miracle of God’s unfathomable, unshakable love for each one of us. He knows us intimately. He knows our every wayward thought and self-indulgent attitude, our every act of disobedience, and yet he loves us so passionately that he gave what was most priceless in order to rescue us in our distress and call us his precious beloved, forever.

That’s a powerful story. In fact, the story of the cross is the winningest love story of all time.

I love to read and write stories that remind us that love truly does conquer all, and that it IS worth fighting for. And that even when we struggle with brokenness and loss and dissatisfaction in this life, there is hope that one day, all the brokenness will be no more.

Love stories reminds us that there is a Hero who loves without end. So let me encourage you to embrace the gift of love story, and embrace both the reminder and the promise that there truly is a love beyond measure and without end!

Listen to Camille’s Podcast on unExpressed!

Where she and publisher David White talk about how self reflection helps bring life to characters and situations, how filling her time and thinking with good things help make her a better writer and her most recent novel Wings Like a Dove that released in December 2019

Books by Camille Eide

More Love Stories from READ

A Closer Look at … [Sarcastic] YA Fiction

The Joys of Sarcastic Teens

By S.E. Clancy

There’s nothing like an eyeroll from your teenager first thing in the morning. Just start that second cup of coffee brewing.

Welcome, friends, to the realm of Young Adult readers. This is where older teen and young adult heroes and heroines thwart injustice, fight government plots, or simply relish in a summertime adventure. On a rare occasion, a parental figure will name an appearance. Usually to make a dimwitted decision or in a picture to remind the reader that there’s no one to help the main character.

Why?

Because a greater portion of YA readers know all of the answers. Or pretending to know everything is close enough. Those of us who survived that perpetual ebb and flow part of life look back and see it differently. But we still have those rose-colored glasses and remember when…

I’m speaking from a spot of experience. I grew up rather sheltered as a pastor’s kid. What I learned about cussing and sex from overheard conversations is now on bumper stickers and nearly every television show. Unless you live on a commune with no internet, the pervasiveness of what is readily accepted in society now is available with a swipe of a finger.

God thought it’d be hilarious to bless me with two daughters, who are now teenagers. At the same time. Holy hormones! One of the questions I wrestled with as my oldest blasted through books at the library was how to give her “clean reads.”

What’s a clean read? The concept is pretty straightforward: no swearing, no sex. Let me tell you how difficult it is to find those gems now. That’s where I got into trouble, though. I lamented the lack of material and made the off-handed comment that I could write better than some of the stuff that is out there. Hands on hips, my oldest looked at me and said, “Fine. Do it.”

Me and my big mouth. But why turn from a challenge when I can prove my kid wrong?

My first novel was awful. I’ve tried to read back through it a few times and cringe. The characters are shallow. Their motives are basic. The plot is predictable. And she loved it. What magic did I put into her breakfast to warrant such praise?

She didn’t mind my shortcomings because she got wrapped up in the story. Those superficial main characters had flaws like anger and doubt. The same kind of things I saw my own kid struggle with. I wrote about friends who didn’t stick around. Disappointment. And hope.

Call me a dirty cheater, but I really used the material in front of me. I still do. The person who sent me a random text with a picture of her knee hair? In a book. A conversation with a friend who worked at a care facility where a client only spoke French? Fully fleshed-out book outline. The roadside down the street from me? One of the main character’s name in my debut YA: Marigold.

If you’ve made it this far in the article, I commend you. You’ve also caught my underlying sarcasm. I write, eat, and breathe sarcasm and make it relevant in my books. God said “Thou shall not kill” not “Thou shall not thrill.”

There is a fine line between sass and inappropriate. It gives me leverage in my stories, a place that many Christian authors shy from. I embrace the snark, sprinkle it with hope, and spread it like Nutella on toast. I kept writing for my kids and honed my sassy voice to shine through. To be able to reach a reader through that gift is just as important as touching a grieving heart. It is less “JESUS LOVES YOU!” and more “Hey, dork, Jesus needs ya to get it through your thick skull.” Kinda like a helping your friend up from the floor after you’ve laughed.

Sarcasm can be a glint of hope for some in dark places where verses and Christian sayings have been thrown like candy from a parade float. It uses that edge to crack the shadows and let hope in. Or even the story of hope. And on the heels of hope, love pokes its nose around.

Jesus used different stories to get his message out to varied crowds. I am no Son of Man, but He loves my readers more than I ever could. It would be a pity to let my God-given sarcasm go to waste when maybe someone needed a snarky heroine to show them hope.

Want to hear more about Young Adult fiction?
Read Hannah Currie’s take on Princess YA Fiction

Listen to Sarah Clancy’s Podcast on unExpressed!

Where she and publisher David White talk about her upcoming release Victoria Grace the Jerkface, her love of sarcasm, hatred of condiments and how to navigate the difficulties of raising teens in the modern age.

Books by S.E. Clancy

More YA from READ

A Closer Look at … Christian Romance

Why We NEED Christian Romance

By Roseanna M. White

Christian Romance has taken a lot of flack over the years—from being equated with evil by some church leaders to just being dismissed by the intelligentsia. Authors of the genre have had to fight for respect, for understanding, even for legitimacy. Which is funny…because it’s always been (and will likely always be) the sales leader in book circles.

Ever wonder why?

As a writer, editor, cover designer, and reader of Christian Romance, I have. I’ve given it years’ worth of thought. And I think it’s no coincidence that stories that focus on the heart, on finding “the one,” continue to resonate with readers. They resonate, because it’s a common experience. It’s a subject that is of the utmost importance in all our lives. And we see it time and again as symbol of that greatest Love of all.

So let’s examine some of the arguments against the genre…and why I think those “weaknesses” are in fact its strength.

Argument 1: It leads married women to be dissatisfied with their marriages.

In a rather lengthy article back in 2011, a prominent pastor not only accused Christian romance novels of leading women to becoming dissatisfied with their marriages by comparing their husbands to the “perfect alpha-males” of the romance genre, he equated it with “emotional pornography.”

As a writer who considers her books a ministry, I was deeply offended by this assumption, which based its argument more on erotica books than any Christian romance I’d ever read, and made the claim that Christian romance simply “replaced sex with prayer” in the pages. Um…no.

Rebuttal to Argument 1

Any book, even the Bible itself, can stir negative thoughts in the reader. A woman who is unhappy in her marriage can find a million ways to compare her husband to others and find him lacking—in books, on television shows, even in church, when she sees other men acting with love toward their spouses. These women who are aware of their own tendencies and make strides to keep them in check by not reading romance are very wise to do so. And it is my prayer—and should be the prayer of every Christian author—that any book I have anything to do with will NOT make it into the hands of anyone whom it could hurt.

But for the majority of women, romance novels don’t make us compare: they remind us. They remind us of the importance of love. They remind us of that excitement we felt when we first met our husbands. They remind us that we have the power to choose, every day, to be the kind of wife he needs. More, a Christian romance shows us what a godly romance should look like; that it’s about more than boy + girl. It’s about boy + girl + God. And that by drawing ever closer to Him, we can draw closer to each other.

Argument 2: It can “awaken passion before its time” in unmarried women.

I’ve heard quite a few Christian parents say that unmarried young women should steer clear of anything with a whiff of romance. That if a girl fills her mind with such stories, she’s going to be thinking way too much about it. She’s going to be neglecting her own goals, her own calling, her own education, and instead thinking about finding Mr. Right. And that if she’s so focused on romance, she’s also more likely to fall into sexual sins.

Rebuttal to Argument 2

I can see the wisdom in discouraging teens from reading secular romances that are all about the physical side of things…but Christian Romance is something entirely different. And here’s why.

First, the majority of romances in the genre have strong heroines who are chasing dreams, pursuing their callings, and seeking full lives on their own before love finds them. The focus is not on physical passion…but it’s probably going to come up. And this is IMPORTANT. Why? Because it WILL COME UP for us all. And if we’ve given no thought to it, how do we know how to handle it?

A Christian romance novel will show us what a godly love story looks like—how we can choose to stay strong even when tempted; how two people that God has yoked together can be stronger together than apart (though individually strong); how we should treat each other.

So shouldn’t we be taught how to differentiate between emotion and something deeper? Shouldn’t we identify what makes someone a good versus a bad partner? Shouldn’t we have an idea of what a relationship with a godly man should look like? This is actually what I love about Christian romance–it’s not all about finding the alpha male who’s super sexy. It’s about finding someone who makes the heroine better. Through whom they grow closer to God. It’s about showing us all that we are worthy of love.

Argument 3: It degrades women by saying our identity is wrapped up in a man.

Some will claim that if so much attention is focused on finding a mate, a woman won’t actually be an independent person.

Rebuttal to Argument 3

We are communal creatures. Tribal. Family-oriented. We are created to live with others. Doing so doesn’t negate our personal identities—it enhances them.

Let’s be real here: most of us will get married. Have kids. Not all, obviously—but the majority. This is part of our DNA…and more, part of God’s plan for us. If we argue with that, aren’t we in fact arguing with Him?

Christian Romances show us how we can take our own dreams and meld them with another’s. This isn’t a negative—it’s a positive. And moreover, it’s a high calling indeed to build a family. Why would we judge each other or a heroine in a novel for wanting that? For desiring above all to follow that very first directive God gave us? But wanting to be a wife and mother doesn’t make us less. It makes us more.

Argument 4: They’re just stupid.

Okay, this is a paraphrase, but I’m using it to sum up all the arguments I’ve heard over many, many years that basically call any romantic novel “trash,” unworthy of anyone who’s serious. Why not just read non-fiction? Or literary fiction? What in the world is the point of this nonsense?

Rebuttal to Argument 4

As Shakespeare said, “The play is the thing.” Stories have immense power—power to make us think new thoughts, to empathize, to feel things we’ve never felt before. Stories show us Truth that mere facts often can’t.

And Christian Romances in particular…they show us how God loves us. Have you ever counted how many times Jesus uses brides, bridegrooms, and weddings in his illustrations or analogies? He even calls the Church His bride!

Why does He choose this analogy? Well, I daresay in part because it’s basic, common, something easily understood. But that’s not the only reason. It’s also because the love we feel for that special someone is such a perfect analogy for our relationship with Him.

He pursues us. We wait for Him. We can live our lives on our own, yes, but we are oh so much better once we put our hand in His. We’re stronger together. And once we’ve found Him, we know we always have someone to turn to. Someone to comfort us in our tears and laugh with us in our joys. Someone to work through the problems with us and whisper encouragement in our ear when we think we can’t take one more step.

We have a Savior who sacrificed everything for us. And that’s a kind of love I’ve seen played out time and again in the pages of a good Christian Romance novel. Which is why, time and again, I’ll turn to them when I need a reminder of how much God loves me…and of how I’m called to love in return.

Listen to Roseanna’s Podcast on unExpressed!

Where she and publisher David White talk about the foundation and calling of WhiteFire, here career’s ups and downs, why everyone should read romance, and why we need to #bebetter. 

Books by Roseanna M. White

More Romance from READ

Who Are You?

Learning Compassion and building Community when you feel alone

David White, Publisher

You know you’re different.  I know this because I’m different, too.  Different from people in the church.  Different from people in the world.  Some you recognize as more like you than others.  Some surprise you as more different than you would expect. 

Sometimes you feel alone.

Sometimes you feel like you’re the only one who…

But you know that can’t be true.  You know there have to be others.  Others like you.  You also know that it’s not enough just to find them.  Others want to be like you – need to be like you.  You have a deep passion to serve them – if only you could see how to. 

You want to show grace, but both the world and the church are full of condemnation. 

Maybe you wonder if you are too. 

It isn’t enough to want to talk about grace or forgiveness or redemption.  You want to show it.  To be a part of it.  You want to actually bring real healing and catharsis into a broken world.

But you can’t do it alone. 

And where do you start?

You think about the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.  Somehow they’re almost too distant and maybe too different.   You don’t understand them.  You don’t know their struggles, and even if you did, you can’t imagine how to express to them all the things you want to show them. 

This is a picture I’ve drawn of myself, and I suspect I’ve drawn it of you too. 

Where do we go?  What do we do? 

Maybe you’ve tried teaching a Bible study or volunteered at a food pantry or even gone on a mission trip.  And these things have satisfied, to a greater or lesser extent, some of those desires.  Maybe for you, you’ve even found a calling, a vocation, if you will, that you can do consistently and with purpose.  Maybe, though, you continue to look for that next thing like an itch that never seems to be scratched. 

But, again, in either case, there’s a good chance you feel alone.  Finding a community in which you not only feel at home but where you can act, being both supporter and supported in accomplishing things larger than yourself, seems increasingly difficult. 

You realize that there’s a good chance you have to build this community.  But you can’t do it through shame and you can’t do it through judgement.  So how do you do it?

The compassion you feel might not be felt by others.  Compassion isn’t something you can force, and it isn’t something you can develop through force of will and desire.  You can’t even learn it from reading the scriptures.  You learn that it’s necessary, sure, and maybe you’re convicted that you don’t have enough of it.

But compassion can only be learned by living it.  By humbling yourself before our fellow people. Interestingly, sometimes you learn it by proxy. 

Sometimes you find yourself moved with compassion when you hear a story about people on the other side of the world.   That’s why when a missionary who speaks to your church doesn’t give a PowerPoint with facts and figures about the good work they do.  They tell stories about the people they help.  They put a human face – one that you can understand – on the people they’re helping.  Suddenly you see this person, literally, through the eyes of that missionary.  You’re able to build empathy just by hearing the story.

You can gain experience of the people you want to serve just by hearing or reading about those people.  Stories motivate and creates communities more than any self-improvement program ever could. 

So consider telling stories.  Seek them out and find the ones that best touch your heart.  They’ll touch others too. 

You can build a common sense of purpose around these stories. 

Choose stories that fit with the “mission” you want to accomplish.  Tell missionary stories if you want to build a missionary community.  Tell stories about the homeless of you want to minister there.  Tell tragic stories about those who are in prison if you want to build a ministry to those people. 

Remember that those people you want to help are, well, people.  And people are their stories – the stories they tell about themselves and the stories that are told about them.  And don’t get too caught up in the details – there’s always nuance.  Not all stories have to be “true stories” with all the details wrapped up in a bow.  What matters is the heart.  What captures your heart?

If you do this, you’ll build a world where you’re still different.  But you’re no longer alone.  There are others around you who share a story – you share an identity with each other. 

Together you – we – can be co-laborers together.  Together we can change the world.

So does this feel like you? Are you willing to take a risk to change the world? Consider sharing this article with one other person who you think might feel this way too. Perhaps it could open a dialog between you and start building a small community of which you can be a part.

Equally as important, though, is if this doesn’t feel like you or you feel like it almost rings true let me know where I went wrong. Chances are I did miss on something and I’d love your feedback and the chance to correct or at least discuss it. Please email me through our contact form.

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Stories Change the World

David White, Publisher

At WhiteFire we believe that stories change the world.  It’s a bit of a foregone conclusion from our point of view – one that we’re entirely sold out to.  But because its important to understand why a thing is (or, some would say, because I tend to overthink things) I found myself wondering why stories change the world.

But why isn’t really the right question, is it? It really does seem obvious that we’re creatures of story.  We learn things better when they’re told in that form, and we’ll spend endless hours listening, watching, reading, and telling them. 

Maybe the right question is how do stories change the world?  That question naturally leads us in two different directions, depending on how you interpret the word how.  (Has the world now lost all meaning for you?)

It breaks down like this.  One question means “What are the methods by which stories change the world?”  That one’s pretty technical to me, as a publisher and wannabe storyteller (I’m a complete hack compared with our authors – if you’re just here for this article and what I’m writing, you’re doing it wrong – go over here and check them out).  I tend to think about this a lot.  Previously I wrote on emotionally connecting to the audience, and for one of my next articles I’m considering writing on character driven stories and why I think they’re so powerful.  But that’s still not the how I want to focus on this week.

The how I want to talk about is “In what way do you want to change, or at least influence, the world?”

That one’s much more fun, right?

So how to answer? 

For the better.

So how do we go about doing that?  It turns out that this is a very hard question, especially in the Christian space or even just from a Christian point of view.  Even if you’re not coming at story from that angle, it’s still an important question.  If we really believe that, (1.) Stories have a profound effect on society, and (2.) that we’re, in some way, accountable for the ways we’re changing the world, then we’re responsible for making sure the end result is positive.

One thing we do as Christian writers/editors/publishers/producers is talk about not doing harm to the audience.  This isn’t necessarily the same thing, though, as a positive end result, and it’s a massive question for me.  And I think its also the wrong one.  I, personally, think that doing harm is absolutely fine sometimes. You have to break your audience to change them (I personally felt harmed seeing the movie Unplanned, but I hope that that harm was good and necessary).

So, I’m OK with harming the audience – if it’s for the right purpose and done in the right way.  Another argument that gets thrown around a lot is that it “damages our witness.”  This one feels like nails on a chalkboard just to type, it bothers me so much.  What kind of things damage our witness?  Drinking?  Smoking?  Infidelity?  How about lying, stealing, cheating?  What do we call those things?  Right – sinning.  It’s a strange thing that we’re afraid to portray those things to the outside world.  Guess what – they know Christians sin.  They’re not surprised.  What they find foolish is that they don’t understand (1.) Why we view certain things as sin and (2.) Why we care to cover it up. 

On number 2 I agree with them wholeheartedly.  In a previous post we were talking about making characters relatable to the outside world?  One of the things I listed was struggle.  There are things we all struggle with.  One of the powerful tools of Christian storytelling is having those outside the church see us struggle with things they don’t.  It makes them curious, and we become a puzzle they have to figure out.  This can play out over and over and in a multitude of different ways.  Embrace the dissonance. 

But as Christian storytellers, we do take things out, right?  Language.  Sex.  Stuff like that.  Why?  Should we put it back in because its true?  After all, Christians do swear and have sex (sometimes with people other than their spouse!).  There’s an argument to be made that we should show this sin in all its disgusting, broken, heartbreaking mess.  It’s an argument I’m tempted by.  But I always ask myself two questions – and they aren’t “does it do harm” or “does it damage my witness.” 

Instead I ask why I’m doing something.  Is it for shock value?  If so, then is there a better way?  I really don’t want to emotionally counterfeit the audience.  Can I make the audience dread the sin?  If they don’t want it and it happens anyway, then that affects them deep down.  I also try to use the most powerful tool in a storyteller’s tool bag – the audience’s own imagination.  If I can get them to wonder and imagine the most horrible things, then I’ve connected them emotionally to the characters.  And if I can change the characters (convincingly) through the story, then I have a chance to also change the audience. 

There, see, isn’t that better than not doing harm or worrying about my reputation?  Also, you can’t hurt Jesus’ reputation.  He hung out with sinners and was crucified as a criminal, and He’s doing ok.  Remember, though, that if you open someone’s heart emotionally, you do have a responsibility to help them close it again.  Healing and catharsis play key roles in stories changing the world for the better.

Which brings me back to the first question once again.  How do stories change the world?  One really powerful way is to open people up emotionally and then leave them alone.  This is something that has become quite popular in the post-modern world – tearing something down for the sake of tearing it down and replacing it with nothing.  I believe that this is one of the sins of storytelling that we really need to avoid.  This is a question of real, true harm.  If you break someone emotionally, you have a responsibility to put them back together. 

Like with everything else, though, there are exceptions to the rule.  One such example is Bach’s St Matthew Passion.  It’s traditionally performed on Good Friday, lasts for hours, and is designed to break down the listeners.  It ends, unfinished and unresolved, with Christs death.  It’s a breaking down without a building up.  The audience is left to go home and meditate on what they experienced.  Bach doesn’t try to build them back up again.  That’s not his job.  But they will be rebuilt – by both the contemplation that Bach and Good Friday calls us to (that is, of Christ’s sacrifice and our redemption) and the soon to come celebration of the Resurrection.

So what happens if (1.) You don’t do it or, worse, (2.) Do it wrong?  If you don’t do it, you’ve opened people up emotionally and they will fill that gap up with whatever they can find.  Sin is usually pretty good at this kind of filling.  There’s a chance that the Church, God, and the Spirit can fill that gap (as is the case with Bach’s Passion).  Always leave room for these to work in whatever story you tell.  If you wrote a story where this can happen, that’s awesome (in the best sense of the word). But don’t count on it.  Remember the old adage – “you break it, you bought it.”  You own you audience’s emotional and spiritual brokenness if you were the cause of it. 

So why do I say doing it wrong is worse than not doing it at all?  When someone has an injury, we work hard to keep the wound clean, right?  But if you don’t do the hard work to clean out a wound and bandage it up tight – if you put a band-aid on a deep, wide cut – the audience might feel better temporarily, but eventually that band-aid comes of, the wound reopens, and they don’t trust the band-aid anymore.  And what happens to them when they think that the Gospel message is just a band-aid?  They don’t trust it. 

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a message preached, or a story told, and I was caught up in the flow of the argument.  It seemed true.  But the more I thought about it, the less true it rang.  The more flaws I found.  Even if that message ended in the right place, but got there through bad, untrue reasoning, I found I didn’t trust the destination.  This is another kind of Counterfeiting.  Where we give the real thing, but we do it in a way that makes the audience doubt it. 

If you put your faith in something that lets you down or comes off as false, you’re much less likely to believe it later.

Christian storytelling is a multifaceted exercise in spiritual warfare.

And so, as storytellers, it isn’t just important that we open our audience’s heart—we have a responsibility to heal it again. Not just to slap a bandage on it, but to offer genuine, authentic truth. This is how we change the world…for the better. Doing ultimate good, even if it causes temporary emotional harm.

(This is the opinion of the author – it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of WhiteFire Publishing or any of its authors)

Speaking Foolishness

David White, Publisher

In the circles of Christian art (books, film, music, even visual arts), we often hear talk about the purpose of our work. Of how to make the end result positive. But what, exactly, does that mean?  We tend to answer with things like “to make sure God/Christ is glorified” through our art.  That’s a bit of a difficult standard, really, when you think about it.  If the things of God are foolishness to those outside the church, then glorifying God in a godly way isn’t going to connect with the outside audience in a traditional way.  Meaning that logical arguments for the Gospel message don’t make sense (all the time—there are of course, exceptions), and worldly appeals to the gospel risk damaging the message itself.  You also can’t connect with the outside audience in the same way that you would with the church/Christian audience.  We understand things completely differently.

What that means, to me at least, is that we have to be aware that we’re speaking foolishness to the outside world.  I know that scares some people. They want a “clear presentation of the Gospel message.”  But as storytellers it ought to thrill us.  Confusion and wonder are awesome tools in our tool bag (as long as you’re being clear in the confusion you’re using – confused yet?)  There are cases of truly bad storytelling where confusion brings the audience out of the story, but when done well it makes the audience wonder why a character did/said a thing. 

So, confusion of the outside audience is a powerful tool.  A great example of this doesn’t come from storytelling, but it is a great story.  In the Roman era unwanted children were left exposed outside the city gates.  When Christians came along and collected up these children and raised them at great expense to themselves, it made all of Roman society stand up and ask, “Why would they do this?”  They’re confused – what the church did looked like foolishness to them.  And then they were given an answer – because all life is sacred.  Again, the answer to them was foolishness.  Obviously, all life isn’t sacred.  So the church had to keep playing the fool while showing the heart of the church and the Gospel message.  And, so, while the ideas like Grace and Sacrifice (particularly for things lacking perceived nobility) looked to the Romans like foolishness it was the Christian’s passion that intrigued them.  That passionate foolishness made the Romans wonder and that wonder brought many to Christ. That Church embraced the position of fool for Christ. 

That’s one part of telling stories, from the Christian prospective, that changes the world.  But playing the fool is just the catalyst in telling a good story.  So what’s next?

We’ve now built up the Christian, from the POV of the world, as the fool.  Now we need to show the world, not that they aren’t foolish (that’s just foolishness), but that, in many if not most ways, Christians aren’t that different from everyone else.  We need to eat.  We struggle.   We love.  The human condition is universal.  Now you’ve established trust.  And created more wonder—this time in other characters.  They ask, “Why would this person who’s like me behave in this strange way?”  Then they also start to wonder, Why do I behave in the way I do? 

As a storyteller if you can get your characters to ask this question believably, you’re well on your way to changing your audience.  If you’ve gotten them to connect with your characters, they’ll also start wondering along with them.  Now here’s the hard part—don’t give them easy answers.  Ever.  Because there aren’t any.  I know I hear you saying things like “Christ’s gift is free” and “His burden is light,” but remember while its certainly true it’s also foolishness.  Remember we’re also to be slaves to Christ.  When you tell me how being a slave is easy, then I (and the world) will agree with you.  Until then remember that there are lots of reasons not to be a Christian and, frankly, not many good ones by earthly logic.  It’s much easier to drive down a wide road than a narrow one (if you’ve ever driven in parts of England or Ireland, you know what I’m talking about).

So you can’t give them easy answers.  That’s great, because your audience doesn’t want them!  You’ve brought the audience on quite a journey so far—from being confused about why your characters are foolish, to realizing that your characters are like them, to wondering why they are the way they are. Now you need to provide them with real substantial motivation for why they should change. 

And at that point, you’re kind of on your own.  I’m not trying to give you a formula for writing a Christian Story (I really hope there isn’t one). This is where you decide how your story can be the vehicle for delivering that essential truth: that the things of God are foolishness to us…but that His foolishness is wiser than our own wisdom. 

(This is the opinion of the author – it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of WhiteFire Publishing or any of its authors)

Unplanned (Movie Review)

David White, Publisher

I got to see an early screening of Unplanned.  I was prepared to be shocked.  That was, after all, what all the hype was about.  But shock isn’t what I got.  I got dread. 

I was expecting to be told what was happening – to watch the character develop and culminate in her seeing the abortion of a child on a monitor. 

I was wrong. 

The best thing the filmmakers have done is set us up knowing that this scene was in the film.  (I hope in the home video versions they have a warning at the beginning to set it up.)  I was expecting it to be toward the end.  I was expecting to follow Abby through her journey to that moment and be forever changed.  But Abby’s story wasn’t the one that mattered. Our story – the audience’s – was. 

So we start with that scene.  With no time to prepare yourself with story or character development.  Boy, does that front-load the dread.  The whole scene is set up in such a way as to build this tension, and it doesn’t’ stop.  From there on everything in the film is predicated on this scene.  Everything you see – everything you feel.

The writers (I believe Abby herself wrote the basic form in her book by the same name) added every scene to keep up this audience reaction.  By skipping around in time a bit and telling the end first, then Abby’s story, we’re constantly in wonder about how she got there  and in dread because we know its not over.

When I’ve told people about this film, I’ve described it this way: “It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen – you should see it.”

Both are true.  I believe that the reaction that the writers were looking to evoke was disgust and sadness at the abortion industry.  I think they nailed it – in that it’s truly terrible,in the most classic sense of the word.  Maybe that’s what I meant when I say “worst.”

Interestingly, at the same time and by starting the story where they do, they manage not to make us hate Abby.  We get to experience the dread with her.  We then get to experience her life.  It makes us empathize with people like her – those that have had abortions and (at least some) of the people who work in the clinics.  We’re on their side.

At least for a while.  We do get a hint of darkness in Abby, but I think we need this too.  The message is “if you don’t turn away from evil, this is what it makes you.”  Abby doesn’t like what she’s becoming.  It gives the audience a choice – asks us a question. “Is this who we want to be?”  Her answer is complicated and takes some time. 

And I think that all these things add up to a truly authentic story.  Does it matter that it’s a true story – that it really happened?  I don’t know.  It takes some of the sting of the counterfeit away, knowing its true.  If it was pure fiction, I suppose it could be dismissed.  Regardless, the storytelling principles remain the same.  They could have told the same, true story in a different way and still counterfeited us, the audience.  They didn’t.  I’m thankful for it. 

PS

I’m still troubled by the question of who should see this.  I know that most adults should be able to handle it.  But when you’re messing with the audience emotions, you’re playing with fire.  I’m further hindered by my own emotional reaction. 

Should my 13-year-old daughter see it?  I don’t think so.  Maybe that’s me being over protective. 

But again, I don’t think so.  Do I want to fill her with that kind of dread?  In the end, the story’s one of redemption and light, and I don’t think you can have that without some element of sin and death.  I’d rather fill her with compassion.  Compassion for those who have experienced things like Abby did – for the children lost.

But the overwhelming emotion the audience feels is pain, sadness and dread.  Even the ending – even knowing it in advance – is tinged with just a bit of that dread and thinking, “Maybe this doesn’t go so well after all.”

So even with all the complaints about the MPAA’s R rating, I think they did us a service (and not just for the film’s PR).  This is something we need to think about before going to see it.  To know it’s going to affect us.  If that rating had been PG-13, a lot of people would have gone without thinking about it, and this is a film deserving of consideration both before and after viewing. 

So use your judgement.  I stand by my statement (with some small corrections): “This is a terrible film.  Everyone should probably see it.”

This review was original published with the article Emotional Counterfeiting click here to read the whole article.

(This is the opinion of the author – it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of WhiteFire Publishing or any of its authors)

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