Last week, I talked about how Monica Valentinelli and I (the pic is me and Monica, with Anton Strout determined to photobomb us!) were discussing faith in writing. Monica started us off, I followed it up with Part II, then she picked it up with Part III on her website.  We conclude with Part IV with her asking:

How integral to a plot is your views on faith?

MB: The weird thing is I know there are people who read about me and assume I must be cramming Christianity down my readers folks every chance I get.  And it’s true:  just the other day I was plotting my vampire story and while being chased by said vampire, my heroine turned to him and asked him if he knew Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

Or maybe I didn’t.  (Although, now that I think about that, that would be pretty funny).

My plots are integral to my plots, meaning that my job as a writer is to service the story.  Who I am is a Christian, a person of faith.  Sometimes the two intersect, sometimes they do not.  I’m currently writing a steam punk romance story.  Faith doesn’t play a part of the story because neither the plot nor the characters themselves demand them.  I’m not going to shoehorn in some Jesus just to do it.  Then again, this story began with an editor approaching me and asking me to write a steam punk romance story.

Sometimes though, my stories begin with a question, specifically some idea related to faith that I’m trying to work out in my head.  for example, what if science believed it could cure people’s “sin nature” through gene therapy (“broken strand” apex magazine) or what does a saving/real faith look like (“orgy of souls” apex books) or what if a person who thinks they have faith is confronted with the reality of their belief (“nurse’s requiem”, dark dreams III).

Then again, I’m always prone to over-sharing.

Do you think you owe it as an artist to share all parts of your life, your hopes, fears, and even your faith as a part of your art?  Is this even a struggle or tension for you?

MLV: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I went to college. The first story that I wrote in a writing workshop I pretended to be very dramatic and smart, using butterflies as a euphemism for a summer fling that never was. I was young. I was immature. And I was embarrassed. (Think sappy haute couture literary romance.) The experience taught me something. I can be inspired to write by the things that happen in my life, but I am not driven to express or share them with other people. Add social media on top of that, and I need a part of me to remain private. Especially since I’m eighty-percent introvert with twenty-percent extrovert. 😀

There are a few things that scream Monica that are found within my writing, though. Often, my stories (like “Pie” from Buried Tales of Pinebox, Texas) are a “story within a story.” When you read my work, there’s always a sense of something greater, that you’re reading something in context. That is very, very “me.” The other thing about my work is that I like to venture off into new territory by experimenting with character viewpoints and formatting. When unleashed, I produce things like “The Queen of Crows.”

My struggle is more along the lines with “Does this suck?” than “What message do I have to say?” At the end of the day, no matter how much of my personality I put into my work, the only thing that matters is whether or not I told a good story. After all, the reader wears the crown.


(Continued from part I, as Monica Valentinelli and I engage in a dialogue about our worldviews and how we approach our craft) Has anyone ever accused you of being non-Christian because you write horror? How do you respond to something like that?

MB: Honestly, my spiritual life functions pretty much the same way.  I’m a trained scientist and I know our culture swims in waters of rational explanation first.  So that creates stumbling blocks in my faith as well as strengthens it.  On the plus side, I question a lot of things and explore why I believe what I believe.  On the negative side, I wish I had more faith some days.  Faith in prayer, faith in spiritual gifts, faith in the reality of the supernatural.  I believe, but if I’m honest with myself, I wonder how much I truly believe.

So when people accuse me of not being Christian, my answer depends on what kind of day I’m having.  some days it’s something along the lines of I don’t think you can judge where I’m at with Christ until you’ve actually engaged me in conversation and gotten to know my heart.  Some days it’s something like horror is how I grapple with the reality of darkness, evil, and the supernatural in the reality of my life.  Some days it’s there’s a lot of what you call “horror” in the bible, it’s easy to label things if you don’t want to think.  Some days it’s just kiss my non-Christian black ass, but that’s not terribly helpful.  Though sometimes satisfying.

We are people of varying worldviews.  Do you think there is a dearth of spiritual or religious exploration in the genre?  Why do you think writers shy away from it?  Is it something you explore at all?

MLV: I’ve talked to a lot of writers who avoid sensitive subjects in general because they’re concerned with marketing: what sells, what their platform is, whether or not they’ll alienate readers? I haven’t read every story or book that’s out there, but I feel that

spiritual/religious exploration is affected by the current climate and the glut of tropes that are out there. Obviously, those tropes aren’t meant to be an accurate depiction of any faith, but I still feel they lurk in the background. What’s interesting to me is how these tropes affect what a reader’s preconceived notions are of a particular monster. Big difference between a Western European vampire and a Chinese vampire.

Anyway, I do explore these concepts from a character’s perspective if it fits the story. In “The Queen of Crows,” the Native American character turns his back on his faith to save his people. In a recent flash fiction piece that’s coming out, I wrote a story about a manticore set in a salt mine. When I was doing my research, apparently miners in Poland carved whole chapels into the rock salt and added saints, etc. Great setting with religious overtones built in; so I utilized that in the story’s plot.

While spirituality/religion isn’t part of my platform, it’s a part of yours. Why did you decide to go that route?