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