A friend of mine at Gather.com posted a photo today of her peach tree, laden with fruit almost ready to pick. Thoughts of enjoying juicy, ripe peaches fresh from the tree, still warm from the sunshine, made me mourn all over again for our own lost crop.
Our cherry, pear and apple trees at the new parsonage in Hudson, IA burst into bloom early this spring, each delicate blossom filling my head with thoughts of spiced pear jelly, fresh-baked apple pies and sitting on the back steps eating dark, sweet cherries and spitting out the seeds.
The trees were still in bloom, along with two rows of raspberry bushes, when we had a hard frost. We hoped it wouldn’t matter, but now it is summer, and there is not a single piece of fruit to be found on any of our trees. Nipped in the bud, literally. Thanks to a drought this summer, and to many excessively hot days, our corn crop doesn’t look much better.
It’s painful to watch hope turn into disappointment. When hopes are crushed by random acts of nature, it’s one thing, but I especially hate it when something you’re excited about fizzles and dies because someone purposely takes a pin and pops your balloon.
I recently felt this way when I got a note about my new Christian Inspirational novel, Love Notes. The caller had read Love Notes, and was distressed because she didn’t feel she could recommend it to her friends, even though she liked the book very much, because it contained a word that is evidently not allowable in Christian fiction. I immediately deduced that the word was spoken by Billy Bjorklund, the vulgar, hate-crazed bad guy of Embarrass. On doing a search later that day, I discovered that I used the word 8 – 12 times. I will be the first to admit that the word is probably considered offensive, but I personally do not consider it a swear word, or I never would have used it. Her suggestion was that instead of using the word, I should have said “He swore profusely,” or “He called her every bad name he could think of,” or “He uttered a string of expletives.” Both my husband and I agreed that if we read any of these phrases in a book, we would think of words far worse than what currently comes out of Billy’s mouth, which starts with a b and ends with a ch.
So, as Barney Fife always said, “We’ve got a situation on our hands.” The logical action, since the last thing I want to do is to offend the very readers I’m trying to attract, is to (also compliments of good, oldBarney) Nip it in the bud!” I spoke to my editor, and they agreed that I could edit the word out of future copies if I wanted to.
So my dilemma is this: I truly feel like I am da..ed if I do and da..ed if I don’t remove the word. Here’s why: Some of the Christians I know will never even pick up a copy of Love Notes because I have previously written books that include steamy scenes. I’ve already been judged, pegged and deemed irredeemable. Others, even if they are not offended by the word Billy utters 8-12 times, or even if I take it out, will find something else to be offended about. Tommy Love, my hero, has been divorced twice. He encounters groupies. He’s going through a midlife crisis and thinks he wants to write hip hop. Billy, the bad guy, has a beer in one scene. He does several wicked and dastardly things. He thinks heinous thoughts. Evil is not glorified in this book, but it is present, an adversary to be overcome.
And if I leave the word in? As we’ve learned this past week, a person can also get into trouble for simply being open about their faith and beliefs. It’s certainly possible that other readers, some of whom do not share my Christian beliefs, may conversely be offended by certain God things and events in this book. God is at work in the lives of the characters in Love Notes, convicting, guiding, making things of beauty out of chaos. This may not sit well with some. Being openly Christian is not exactly a popular thing in today’s culture.
My conclusion is that if I try to re-write the book with the intent of offending no one, it would very probably end up so watered down and without heart that no one would want to read it.
So, I guess what I’m saying is, take me as I am or leave me. My books have always been honest, candid and character-driven. Each of my books, steamy or inspirational, contains references to faith and old-fashioned, traditional values, and Scripture-based wisdom. I have always tried not to unduly offend while at the same time being true to my characters and the story as it comes to me.
My closing thoughts. Christians, be careful that you are not the hard frost that freezes the blossoms off the fruit trees. Sadly, at this point, I think the best thing for me to do may be to stop labeling Love Notes as a Christian inspirational, which I think is a shame, as it has a beautiful Christian message about the God-given gifts of hope, joy, peace and true love. I will say that if you are a Christian reader, it’s your loss if you let one somewhat offensive word ruin a perfectly lovely love story.
Now the song Accentuate the Positive is running through my head. Personally, I prefer its attitude to Barney’s “Nip it in the Bud.” So take me or leave me, just as I am. Thankfully, God does.