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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Sellout (05/26/11)

TITLE: Don't (always) Kill Your Darlings
By sandra hoolihan


The mail arrived today with a letter of acceptance and news of a generous advance for my first book. With this offer, I could finally drop “aspiring” from my title. I would start referring to myself as a professional writer; better yet, a published author.

My husband, knowing what this meant to me, grabbed the bottle of champagne that had been chilling in the fridge since 2008. The wide bottomed bottle had taken up prime real estate in our fridge but we allowed it live on the shelf reminding me to keep focused on my writing goals.

“I knew you would do it,” he said with a perm-a-grin as wide as mine. There was laughing and hugging and a bit of jumping around. I reverted to a six year old being told I was going to Disney World.

The letter expressed the standard verbiage I had been told to expect. “It is with great pleasure bla bla bla….” I could hardly focus as I relished in my success. “Please make the following revisions before the editing process: cut the word count by 3,000 words, correct the POV issues in Section 3 and alter wording to sound less religious in tone. Please make MC less of a churchy type; moral or ethical ok.” My heart dropped.

My husband still bounding around the kitchen and enjoying his happy dance noticed I was glaring at the letter red faced. He stopped mid spin. “What is it?”

“I need to revise the story. My main character is too religious.” My eyes started to sting and the intermittent cool and heat of frustration rushed up my neck.

“How do you do that?” my husband asked naively.

“I guess she needs to play more bunco and attend less church activities. When she survives the climatic car crash, she should attribute it to luck, coincidence or karma instead of God unless, of course, He is referred to as a big white light and spelled with a lower case g. Apparently, my characters are a group of bible thumping maniacs and that doesn’t sell.” I answered with a crescendo of hostility.

My husband responded with a stoic look and deafening silence.

I sat down at the breakfast table to take a couple breaths and think things through. I could be over-reacting. Maybe I could change a couple things. Dilute the religious overtones a bit, but sneak in a couple generic spiritual references. I could make my main character decent and moral. She could do more volunteer work; help at an animal shelter or with underprivileged kids. I could make her likable and give her deep ethical dilemmas that she would solve by searching deep within herself. That would work right?

I knew I would still be a sellout.

When I began to write I did so, partly, because I was tired of reading books that were remarkable in every way but never seemed to include a thread of Christianity. I secretly wanted to be a fictional missionary and introduce my favorite secular characters to the one thing they never spoke of. When I was 8, I wanted to invite little orphan Annie to church with me. I wondered, hopefully, if Daddy Warbucks made it a point to bring her there on Sundays or if he thought his love and billions of dollars were enough. I liked Annie, but felt like I related better to Laura Ingalls who, I knew, attended service in Walnut Grove.

Many of my favorite authors either tiptoed around religion, watered it down to a universal spirituality or mocked it completely leaving me with a sour aftertaste. I enjoyed when authors sprinkled Christianity into their story like a subtle secret ingredient. It may not be every writer’s goal, but it was mine. Not every story lent itself to a religious backdrop, but the one I submitted did.

My husband was standing as still as a headstone, holding the bottle in one hand and the champagne flutes in the other.

“I’m not going to do it. I’m calling her and if she won’t keep the religious references, I will look for another publisher.”

The champagne got stuffed back on the shelf and I gave my husband a hug.

“Good luck.” he said in an attempt to be supportive.

“Oh, I can assure you,” I said smiling at the blessing I had just received. “This has nothing to do with luck.”

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Member Comments
Member Date
Sydney Avey06/02/11
I love the way you presented Christianity as the subtle, secret ingredient. What a challenge to us all to do that well. We have to fight cliches as well (good = time served at the table of this season's politically correct cause) God be with your MC in that push back!
Robyn Burke06/02/11
I'm 'write' there with you. I want to see more books with the message of Hope in Jesus Christ woven into the storyline. They need to be real so people can relate without being so 'religious' that a non-believer would never pick the book up in the first place. Good story.
Barbara Mahler 06/08/11
Thanks so much for sharing your strength and belief in yourself! Not comprising or succumbing to easy-road temptation is always difficult, but I believe well worth it long-term