Tuesday, March 14, 2017

SEEDS: It Needed to Focus Much More on Redemption

I recently received a fairly brutal review on my book SEEDS from a Christian reader who reads mostly good, clean Christian fiction. I can honestly say, I took this review in stride as merely her opinion. However, I do take my reviews seriously and really look at them as a way to improve my work. In this case, the reviewer gave a very thorough review that showed she is very detail oriented in her reading. I truly appreciate that she took the time to read my book, then took the time to post a review with such detail, however, something about it was nagging at me. Not in a "boo for you for not liking it" way, but something about it felt unfinished. I couldn't put my finger on what it was, but, finally, it hit me, so I'm going to share it with you.

This reviewer was obviously detail oriented. She mentioned typos, inappropriate ellipsis use, she attacked my characters as well as my setting, and didn't like the resolve of the story. She even mentioned that she forced herself to finish reading the book even though she didn't want to BECAUSE there was a statement in the beginning of the book where I, as the author, ask the reader to push through the discomfort of the subject matter to see the book as a whole. After carefully reading the review several times, I felt confident that she read it from cover to cover and paid attention.

I will quote what I felt was her biggest complaint of the book:

"It needed to focus much more on the transformation and the process of redemption and healing, instead of focusing on the sin and sex."

That sentence really stuck out to me. I began to ask myself why would she feel that way? Did I focus too much on the sin and not enough on the redemption?

BAM! It hit me like a picnic table being dropped on my big toe!

For all her criticism over something she felt she had been completely thorough with, she had actually missed something major. I'm not sure if it was a lack of understanding or perhaps a complete oversight, but the bottom line is this—her perceived thoroughness did not keep her from missing the ENTIRE point of the story. As such, her harsh judgement of the book ends up null and void to me.

Let me explain.

The book Seeds is based on the parable of the Seeds and the Sower, a story Jesus told in the Bible. This is clearly stated in the beginning of the book. I even included the parable in the beginning of the book.

The parable is the story of four seeds (God's word) being dropped in four different types of soil (a person's heart). The condition of the soil determines the longevity of the seeds. Three of the seeds die and only one flourishes. This is not a failing of the seed (God's word), but a warning that the condition of our soil (our heart) is the make-or-break part of the seed's ability to grow.

In addition to telling the reader the book is based on these scriptures, I also named each chapter very intentionally to go a long with the parable.

Examples:  CORY-The Soil,  CORY-The Seed, CORY-The Sowing,  CORY-The Failed Harvest

At the end of each chapter, I included a scripture from the parable to summarize the purpose of that particular chapter.

Example from the end of CORY-The Failed Harvest: "When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path."

In my book, each male character represents one of the soils from the parable, and since I was trying to show the importance of the condition of our hearts when God calls to us. Just like in the parable, three of the characters fail to "get it" and thus, are not able to transform or heal. Instead, they remain stuck in their sins even though God was clearly speaking to them, asking them to change. Only one character has the correct attitude, ability to hear and listen, and humility for God's calling. He flourishes.

If one understands this parable, and they understand the analogy I was trying to make, then they would understand that redemption is not the POINT of the story. NOT EVEN A LITTLE. The point of the story is that we are responsible for our soil.

I understand that this whole idea is not overwhelmingly positive. Three to one odds are low and can be seen as a bit hopeless and to be honest, I struggled with this as I prepared the book for publication. It seemed depressing. However, THIS IS THE POINT.  It's up to us, people with free-will, to be responsible for the condition of our hearts. It's an extremely difficult task to keep ourselves in check, especially when God is calling to us asking us to change something in our lives that we like. The Bible tells us, the narrow road is lightly traveled, while the wide is filled with the masses.

I had a hard time leaving my characters high and dry, so-to-speak, because I happen to know from personal experience, that a failed soil doesn't necessarily mean the area should be abandoned. God is the kind of God who continues dropping seeds in our soil all throughout our lives. He does this hoping that one of them will finally take. For this reason, I decided to add an additional chapter called "Second Chances" where each of the failed soils, the characters who were not ready for God, are given another opportunity to let God's seed grow. By the end of the book, every single character has hope for their future. No, they don't all go live happily-ever-after, but each story ends showing that the road to redemption has begun. And just so you know, the final three books of this series are about that redemption.

In closing, I just want to say that the review process can be frustrating, especially when something like this happens. I once had a reviewer criticize my writing in the beginning of this book, saying that after the first section, the writing got better. I realized what she was referring to was Cory's language. You see, I wasn't making errors, I was showing that Cory's character was not very educated and his speech reflected that. No, I didn't magically learn how to "write" in the second section. That was purposeful. I wonder if this reviewer was counting those errors against me as well. I assure you, the book was edited professionally and wasn't released until we felt it was as good as it could be.

As an author, it is my goal to provide people with quality entertainment. It is also my goal to share a message. My books come from my heart and putting them out there for the world is sort of like standing in the street naked. While reviews are very appreciated, I ask that as you go forward with them that you remember that each story has a person behind it. One with a heart and a love for what they do. Please, be kind, even in your criticism.

Blessings on your day - may your soil be rich with humility and grace!