The Spirit and Place Festival invited me to write an essay on its theme of “Inspirational Places.” The essay is up on their site but I thought I’d preserve here also:

The terrible secret of my writing is that I don’t have a great
imagination. I have to go to a place, soak in its atmosphere, its
nuance, and let it speak to me. I’m sitting in a rear corner booth in
a bar/café in downtown Indianapolis, a known haunt for
prostitutes and strippers when they are “off shift.” Under the
crimson glare of the bar’s lights, I stare out at a sea of empty lives.
Women clinging to men to fill a void they might not even be aware
that they have; men searching for the momentary distraction of
bedroom companionship to numb themselves from the pain of
their reality. The décor reeks of a pervasive hopelessness that has
settled even into the formica tables; an air of desperation as thick
as the fumes of spent Scotch from the nearby table.

And here I find inspiration.

I’m a horror author, not a genre often associated with spiritual
musings. I have a novel to write—three, in fact, over the next
eighteen months—and some might not think what I choose to
write about honors God. It’s like we have come to believe that the
only thing that makes art redeemable is if it’s a set up for our
proselytizing sales pitches. But I believe that using your gifts to
your fullest—and bringing yourself to Him in worship—is what
pleases God.

My faith informs my writing, that secret alchemy of creation, that
strange union of art and spirituality. What we believe, why we
believe—from nihilistic to religious—are a part of us and thus a
part of our writing. We all have stories, mine is no better than
anyone else’s, all of us leading broken lives to one degree or
another. And I find inspiration writing about redemption, about
wringing hope from hopelessness.

To think, as I sit here drumming my fingers along this table waiting
for inspiration to hit, all I need is a pad and a pen and a place for
something mystical and profound, yet simple and ordinary, to
happen. I believe that we’re called to creative purpose. I write
because I have to, in order to still the voices in my head. Because
something in the core of my being crawls up and takes hold of me
and makes me move pen to paper. The Creative Spirit’s work, the
good news of grace, drives me into mission, to use my gifts to be a
blessing to others.

My notepad has been like my security blanket, since I never know
when a good idea will strike. My notepad is also my act of worship.
It contains my attempts to join in with the Holy Spirit by
participating in creation. I carve out places to write in the same
way that I carve out places to worship. We often think of church
as the building we go to in order to worship God. Yet, it’s just a
structure. There is nothing “sacred” about it until a sacred space is
carved out … by the people. The church is people, a sanctuary set
apart where heaven and earth meet and we can connect to God
… not a building. In the same way, I find my places of inspiration, to
get into that mental place, where I can capture the ever-elusive
ideas and words and wrestle them to this blank page which scares
me with its sheer … emptiness.

I love working on my stories at church, even (especially!) the
darker ones. Surrounding myself with reminders of who the
ultimate Author is, whose work I join in, I’m working out my
spiritual journey as much through my art as through my faith. So
it’s okay if we pursue art for art’s sake because creating beauty is
its own pursuit of truth and all truth points to God. I was born
with the gift to write and when you are doing what you were
created to do, you are doing God’s work.

Life is wondrous, even the dark sides of it, and there is a beauty
not only to Creation but in the act of creation. So be it a seedy
bar, a poorly lit street corner at 2 a.m., a neighborhood left
forgotten and abandoned by folks who lock their car doors while
speeding through them, or the other sides of a city hidden in
shadows, I carve out places to find inspiration. It’s no Walden Pond,
but it works for me.