My friend Robert Swartwood is on a blog tour supporting his book, The Calling. I’ve invited him to stop by and discuss a formative book for Christian writers (my experience echoes his) and its impact on him: Stephen King’s Desperation.
Robert Swartwood’s work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, Postscripts, ChiZine, Space and Time, and PANK. He is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. Visit him at www.robertswartwood.com.
It’s a little known fact that during my formative years, I attended a private Christian school. It wasn’t a overly religious atmosphere, but through the years I did see different types of Christians. The ones that always bugged me were the hypocritical ones, or the ones who thought they were better than everyone else. There were not many — in fact, I don’t think there were really any — of what I like to call Hollywood Christians, which are the ones that you oftentimes see portrayed in movies and on TV. Those types of Christians do exist, but I’ve always found those to be more hyperbole than anything else.
Despite attending a Christian school, almost all of my reading was authored by secular writers. In middle school I started reading Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, baby!) and from there I transitioned into Stephen King. And, like most writers who dabble in the supernatural, King was a major influence. I started reading all his books. Sometimes a teacher would point out that there were other authors than just Stephen King. Christian authors were mentioned, the most notable one being Frank Peretti. And while I knew of his books and how he too dabbled in supernatural, I never had much desire to read him. I had read other books published by Christian authors — and this begs the question just what makes a Christian author; is it the message, the publisher, the content, or the fact that the author is in fact a Christian? (I believe it was C.S. Lewis who once said something along the lines that the world doesn’t need more Christian writers, but more writers who are Christians.) — and almost every book followed the same kind of formula: the protagonist starts out the book as a nonbeliever and then somewhere near the end becomes a believer. Along the way, some things happen, but I never found any of those things very exciting.
Then, in 1996, Stephen King published Desperation. I was a high school freshman then and tore through the almost 700 pages in no time. Despite its many characters, it was such a fast-paced story that had (in my opinion at least) a great ending, which is rare because oftentimes King disappoints with his endings. But most importantly, it was a novel that took a serious look at God and faith and didn’t attempt to shrug off religion as a joke.
One of the main characters, a boy named David Carver, has a very special connection with God. In fact, it seems he can sometimes perform miracles. But King handles the character in such a deft way that the kid doesn’t come off as being a stereotype. David isn’t one of those Hollywood Christians, and at the time I found that refreshing. Here Stephen King had actually written a Christian novel — I remember he even said as much in an interview — but it wasn’t one of those token Christian novels that tried to preach to the reader. It was just a novel, a horror novel, that dealt seriously with God and faith.
As it’s been over a decade I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure Desperation played a major factor in my eventual first novel, The Calling. The stories are completely different — well, okay, in mine there is also a young boy who is like a prophet of God – but it too takes a serious look at God and faith. It was important to me that both did not become trivialized. It was finding this balance that was tricky, because many people are instantly turned off at the slightest hint of religion. And who can blame them when you have psychos like the Westboro Baptist Church causing disturbances and telling you that because you didn’t trim your toenails you’re going to hell? (Okay, maybe they haven’t gone that far yet, but give them time.) Obviously these overzealous crazies ruin it for the rest of the “normal” Christians in the world. It’s because of this small percentage that Hollywood loves to make fun of Christians. And so when I wrote The Calling and knew that it would feature Christians — two main characters are a reverend and his son who are called by God to travel around the country to try to stop disasters — I wanted to tell a story about God and faith but did not want to make it preachy. I wanted to tell a story that featured some Christians who were not Hollywood cliches. But most importantly, I just wanted to tell a great story. In the end, despite your religion or what you believe in, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?
Robert invites you to join him on Monday, April 18, at 7 pm EST, where he will be doing a live reading at his website.