Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Why Writers Should Read-Taking Risks

I went on a hike to Sioux Charley Lake located in the Rocky Mountains this last week. What a blast. What a challenge. 

Sometimes...somethings are worth the risk.

Back at home, with a tall glass of ice tea, I read House of Secrets by Tracie Peterson. The lesson I learned from her well crafted book: don't be afraid to take risks.

There are few fiction authors who have successfully tackled deep topics like mental health, child abuse, and etc. House of Secret by Tracie Peterson, Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth, and Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers are excellent examples.

Tips for Taking Risks

1. Always have a plan: In House of Secrets, three sisters lives have been affected by a schizophrenic mother. Peterson throws the reader into the sister's shaken twenty-year-old world to experience affect and healing.

The book could have focused on the sisters as children, as Mary DeMuth did in Daisy Chain. This presentation had an equally powerful impact.

Or the book could have touched the young life, expanded the in-between-years then settled in the life of a twenty-year-old as Francine Rivers did in Redeeming Love for a riviting presentation.

Tender topics need a plan of action. I am a Pantster not a Plotter. However, my current work is about the homeless. Tough stuff. I am definitely plotting my way through this book.

2. Present information about the issue in subtle ways. This is not nonfiction! Grocery lists and pages of information are not allowed. Readers want to walk with someone on their journey not sit in a classroom.

In House of Secrets, Peterson used conversation between the sisters to help the reader understand basics of schizophrenia. Action throughout the story helps readers feel the emotions with the sisters as the present is explained with unveiled past.

In Daisy Chain, DeMuth weaves the destruction of alcoholism, and child abuse with fine, gentle threads heralding a truth.

In Redeeming Love, Francine Rivers, also weaves her topic throughout the story but with a thick, strong thread...mighty like Samson.

Key: progressive unraveling of the issue and its impact

3. Don't shy from a risky topic.  Your work may help someone suffering or watching a person suffering from the issue. Research the topic. Make sure you're an expert. Tracie Peterson's dedication reads: With thanks to Angie B for her willingness to share. Tracie not only researched the topic but spoke with those who had experiences to share. DeMuth pulled from her own life experiences, and Rivers pulled from the Bible. All three also insured vocabulary, expressions, and medical terms aligned with the topic presented.

4. Provide resources for the readers. Include discussion questions for groups, places to find more information, organizations that can help those in need.  Information and organizations need to be easily accessible for anyone in the US or readership domain.

Can I say again, don't shy from these topics? There are a lot of non fiction books covering these issues, but a fiction book gently says, Yes, there are others who have walked in your shoes. You are not alone. Here is what we did. Here is where you can go for help. Someone cares about you.

Has a book you've read dealt with a risky topic? Which topic did it address? 
Do you have a difficult topic to present in the fiction format? 

Once again I am looking for reading partners for another two week challenge. Will you commit with me to read one book in two weeks?


This blog post is by Mary Vee
Mary lives in Montana with her husband and loves to hear from her three college kids. She writes contemporary Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories.

Come Step into Someone Else's World with Mary's writing

To learn more about Mary, visit her new blog launches 7/1/12
Or her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids:
Or email her at


Lisa Jordan said...

Love your thoughts, Mary. I loved Redeeming Love. Francine Rivers did a beautiful job portraying Biblical truth through fiction. The characters didn't have it easy, but they found hope, redemption and love. I have House of Secrets in my to-be-read pile, but I haven't read Daisy Chain.

Presenting a tough topic in fiction is sometimes easier than sharing it as non-fiction. If written correctly, the reader can feel along with the character and walk away with a better understanding of the topic.

Christa Allen does a wonderful job in dealing with alcoholism in Breaking Glass.

My novel coming out in August deals with parental struggles of caring for a dying child and caring for a sibling with special needs. Tough, tough stuff.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thank you for your added thoughts! And for other books to read with tough subjects.
I'm thinking it would be nice to have a resource list of Christian fiction books dealing with difficult issues and the specific topic they address. Then a specific book could be given those we know who are hurting
Great ideas.
Thanks for stopping by, Lisa.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Recently I read "Words" by Ginny Yttrup. It's about a 10-year-old girl who is abandoned by her drug-addicted mother and left with a man who sexually abuses her. It was so difficult to read, but the subject HAS to be discussed. It can't just be buried. The novel wasn't gratuitous by any means. Still the subject is hard to read about. But there is hope in Jesus. That's the thing. We deal with issues like this in reality; books should do the same, but offer hope.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I agree Lindsay.
Christian fiction books that address these issues not only talk about the issue but also share the Hope.
Thanks for stopping by today.

Julia M. Reffner said...


Thank you! Lately you are sharing just what I need to hear each time and I leave so refreshed. As you know by now, I do deal with difficult subjects and judging by the ideas I come up with I think I have a few more stories on difficult topics in the works.

Now that I'm done with reviewing for a bit I would like to commit to finishing a book with you in the next 2 weeks.

Oh, being subtle is so hard. I've been told I give too much and then when I edit been told I'm not giving enough at times.

I LOVE Mary's trilogy. I think the third book was the toughest to make it through but the first was my favorite. And Rivers, of course, always does such a great job on this. I've never read Tracie Peterson, but this one sounds fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Mary - great post today. I, too, am a panster, and when I really get to know my characters, I realize that they have deep back stories that need to be revealed. But like getting to know anyone in real life (like my people aren't real? Pshaw!) it takes time and things usually get exposed one layer at a time. I love the classroom vs. journey analogy.

Thank you for your words of encouragement. Praying that the Lord blesses you today in a special way!

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks, Julia,

For the sake of our readers, Julia, what difficult topic are you addressing in your WIP?

I will email you for the reading challenge.

Anonymous said...

Mary, such a great post. Difficult topics--something about dealing with such topics in story form has the capacity to speak to readers' hearts.

My WIP deals with a marriage in trouble. Two books I've read that deal with abortion/rape are The Atonement Child, by Francine Rivers and In the Still of Night, by Deborah Raney. Also, Leota's Garden deals with euthenasia.

I'm running now, but I appreciate your words of wisdom in dealing with tough topics in our writing.

I'm in with you for the next challenge. :)

PS--Love your new pic!

Unknown said...

Wonderful post, Mary! I was excited to hear you're writing about those who are homeless. I work for a Christ-centered homeless ministry and have wondered before if what I see/experience here will ever make it into a book. Someday, I'm sure. It's definitely a topic you don't read about much in fiction (and if you do, many times it's pretty stereotypical).

Loved your tips for tackling big issues!

Cindy R. Wilson said...

It takes a special writer to deal with topics like this and write them well. You gave some great tips and I'm so appreciative there are writers who are brave enough to take on serious topics like this.

Sarah Forgrave said...

What an excellent post, Mary. I haven't tackled any risky topics yet, but that doesn't mean it won't happen. :) (Love your new picture, btw!)

Julia M. Reffner said...

My first WIP is about a Mormon cult, very similiar to FLDS. Warren Jeffs & the "children" removal really brought this group into the news.

My second WIP (so far in brainstorming phase) is about someone with OCD. I really enjoy reading journeys to Truth.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thank you for stopping in today.
Yes those deep stories behind the character are rich and add flavor to our characters. Revealing the richness one layer at a time adds a mysterious component.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks Jeanne for the added titles. I am now compelled to compile the ones shared in comments today and list them next time.
See you in this week's challenge.
I found a super photographer:)

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I see you could be a great resource for me. Mind if I bounce future questions off you. I also work with the homeless, but in a case management aspect. Your point of view would add light.
Thanks for stopping by today.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Me too. These books, even in the Christian fiction mode are difficult to read...but so essential.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Tackling a difficult issue would seem to be stressful and heartbreaking, yet immensely rewarding.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Thanks Julia.
Sometimes I don't think we realize how many ideas need to be written about to help the hurting masses.

Casey said...

Loved your points, Mary (and the pic, too funny!). It seems so hard to tackle such tough topics, but those that are really good in their craft do so with grace and wonderful ability to heal and change reader's hearts.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I remember when Francine Rivers wrote The Shofar Blew. It was about a minister and wife who had marital troubles. While my marriage is wonderful, I knew someone who was going through that very thing and I was so touched by that book. It made me think. It made me angry. It made me cry.

I wish I could write like that. I tend to write what I think might sell. Bleh.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

Aww Case, did you figure out we set the camera at a convenient angle? rats.
I agree about the gifted who can minister to those in need.

Mary Vee Storyteller said...

I think we all get bit with the only write what others say will sell bug. I hear the Shofar Blew is excellent. I will have to add that book to my reading list.

Angie Dicken said...

Great, knowledge-filled post, Mary! I am not necessarily writing a risky topic, but since it is historical I feel very convicted to stay as true to the facts as possible. It's really hard for me to be okay with creative license...but that's a topic for another blog post! :)

Beth K. Vogt said...

I've really been enjoying these posts, Mary.
And you're gleaning such good information from what you're reading.