Monday, June 12, 2017

Little Pitchers Have Hungry Eyes

by Peter Leavell @peterleavell

Peter sits at his desk in seventh grade.

Teacher: “Does anyone know what fuel is used to propel the shuttle into space?”

Peter’s imagination immediately kicks in, and he sees one million scenarios unfold in his mind regarding space travel.

Teacher: “No one?”

Peter wakes enough to know the teacher might start calling on one of eight students. The odds are not in little Peter’s favor, so he slips lower in his chair. His imagination kicks into pragmatist mode: don’t make eye contact.

Teacher: “Fine. I’ll call on someone.”

Peter is now horizontal under his desk.

Teacher: “Peter, I see you. Tell me. What fuels are used in the booster rockets?”

The world moves to slow motion as his blood is replaced with adrenaline.

His brain skips through ideas—Tuck into fetal position. Run into the nearby fields and live off the land for the rest of his life. Pretend to be deaf.

Teacher: “It won’t do to pretend you’re deaf again. I need an answer this time.”

Tongue cut out by brigands won’t work again either.

Flashback—two years. Peter’s only diet of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and television has been stories of Jules Verne. So consuming is his passion for any of Verne’s stories, the sacred possession in his cash box under his bed is rumored to be a slender bone fragment—spine—of Jules Verne. While everyone believes the soft tissue is a splinter of a book stolen from the local school library, Peter has stronger faith.

Teacher and students wait as Peter, dry-mouthed and pale, pleads for answers.

Ask and you shall receive. He’d read this. In Jules Verne.

He takes a breath of confidence and relief that only a man who has faced a firing squad and is given a last second reprieve can feel. Chin up now, shoulders back, sitting high in his desk’s seat, he offers the answer:

“A cannon is drilled into the earth through great human effort, and thousands of tons of explosives are stuffed at the bottom, and a bullet with human inside is lowered. And then, BOOM,” he hits his desk, “glory and honor and fortune for the explorer.”

Let’s make an important point now—

What goes into the mind comes out of the mind.

You don’t see this, but what you read comes out in your writing, in your life. Now, I read a lot of Christian fiction, and frankly, while the literature is fine, you don’t want to make a steady diet of the romances.

I’m seeing little girls handed Christian romance novels as the only safe reads, their only literary diets, and they’re walking, talking, longing little things as pathetic as little Peter was.

So writers,

—are you working novels with characters who have well-rounded desires?

—are you including cool little nuances that teach science, art, history, math, music, etc, etc, etc?

—is romantic love the greatest good? Or do you reach higher?

—do you make your reader laugh? Or only cry?

—are the interpersonal problems coming only from inside the relationship? Or can you test the relationship from outside forces?

—can you coax them to be curious and unafraid of learning? That would mean creating characters that are more than the sum of their relationships.

Christian fiction is fantastic stuff. But if it’s the only reading diet, which, for many, it is, writers are going to need to step up the game a bit by keeping those tips in mind.

Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing's Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter's books, research, and family adventures at


  1. Thought-provoking post, Peter! Especially for a romance writer! LOL! Since I write historicals, I hope readers are learning about the time period. ;-) And hopefully there is enough depth the stories and characters that readers close my books also feeling challenged and inspired.

  2. I agree with Dawn and have many of the same hopes for my CBA romantic fiction. I think we have to be careful not to come across as if we're denouncing any of the genres. We don't know which books will speak to which hearts, and we're all humbling trying to walk out our callings from what I can see. We can all support each other because writing is hard work. I agree that what we read comes out in our writing, even when we're unaware. Sometimes only an objective observer can tell us. I also agree that we can learn from many genres. Due to my editing work, I read in genres I may not normally choose in my down time. Lately, the autobiographies I've read have inspired me as both a writer and a worshiper. All that said, I enjoy your writing voice, Peter. Thanks for the post. Write (and read) on, friends!

  3. Those are excellent points, Dawn and Annette. I think we have an excellent opportunity to help these young girls to see a huge, amazing world of opportunities!

  4. "Teacher: “It won’t do to pretend you’re deaf again. I need an answer this time.” " i am literally LOLOLOL-ing!!! *snort giggle!

    great post, and I daresay, a great answer to those writers who don't read (for whatever reason) I've seen it in my own writing, not copying but gleaning from the strength of others and applying it to my own stories.
    (and yes, I totally get the slinking in the desk bit... )

    1. That's fantastic, Robin! And I'm glad I'm not the only slinker.

  5. I actually love to read Christian romances and find the stories usually include characters with very interesting backgrounds, jobs, hobbies, etc. As interesting as action, speculative or any other genre. And I find the same in secular novels. But I don't think it's a little girl problem anymore than little boys who just want to read action hero type novels and believe they'll grow up to become one or adults who can't read outside their comfort range. I like to read outside my comfort zone but for those that don't - that's ok too.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, LTR! I've been seeing a lot of children given only Christian Fiction to read, and not allowed to read outside their comfort zone. When I was growing up, some boys were only allowed to read The Sugar Creek Gang books, which discovered issues you might find in your VBS and Sunday School friends. While I'm not too interested in tackling the question of that being good or bad, I'm just eager to give kids and adults who feel they can only read Christian Fiction a bit more bang for their buck. I'm specifically thinking books by Sarah Sundin, Jocelyn Green, Cara Putnam, Rachel Mcmillan, Susie Finkbeiner, Heather Gilbert, Karen Barnett, and many many more. But my son and I, like many others, devour 50-75 books a year, so I'm looking for more!!! Woohoo! more good stuff!

  6. I enjoy writing and reading Christian fiction in a wide range of genres - romance, mystery, romantic suspense, women's fiction, and speculative. I also read secular fiction. None of it's real life. Characters are always larger than life and love stories are very different from real life dating. But it's fiction and as long as the reader keeps that in mind I don't see a problem with young girls reading them.

    1. You're right, Terri! No problem for girls reading them. Especially with the publications the past decade. But do you see the Traditionally published books genre list narrowing a bit again?

  7. Yes, yes, yes! Science, history, depth of emotion, wrestling with deep faith issues--we should all be striving for that. I've always been afraid of my novels devolving into fluff, and I'm determined not to let it happen. :) Thanks for pushing us, Peter!

    1. I don't know, Karen. I'm enjoying a male fluff book right now. Ego driven, action packed, women of all sorts falling at his feet without him doing anything particularly amazing except pull triggers...I'm rethinking this blog. Ha! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Hmm, I agree that wide reading habits are good (probably 20% of my reading is CBA, mostly because I love non-fiction and memoir even more than fiction right now), but why single out Christian romance? I would venture to say you're going to find a higher goal than romantic love in Christian fiction a lot sooner than you will in secular romance...

    I suspect there may be a wanted poster with your face on it when you get to ACFW this year... :D

    1. Lol, you may be right, Carla...there may be a price on my head. Ha! In this case, I'm specifically bringing up the many (hundreds) of families I've met at homeschool conferences and churches who only allow their children read Christian Fiction because it's safe, although they are praying Christian Spec fiction goes away because of magic between the covers. There's no reason to question their decisions here, but in this case, I'm encouraging those authors who write Christian Fiction Romance (all they're allowed to read) in the traditional CBA to add a bit of educational material to their books.

      I've singled out Christian Fiction because I can't quite think of any other reason parents limit children's reading (age appropriate reasons aside) except for religious reasons, although I could include LDS or Islam presses here, I suppose. I do know families who won't let their children read Christian Fiction, but that's for religious reasons as well (fiction is lying and sinful). I'm babbling now...


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