Monday, June 27, 2011

Looking at things from a new angle...

Recently, I posted my review of Chasing Sunsets on Amazon.  The author, Eva Marie Everson, commented on my review and we began a short dialogue about her book.  I was challenged and encouraged by the dialogue.  So, I asked her if I could repost it here and she acquiesced, so here it is.  I hope you will find it interesting:

My review (which I've previously posted on this blog):
Ah, Christian romance. I haven't read one in a while. I've been very hesitant to, actually. I decided to read a new one coming out titled Chasing Sunsets by Eva Marie Everson

Storyline: Kim has two boys, 10 and 14 years old. She and her husband, Charlie, divorced a year ago. Her dad convinces her to go to Cedar Key for a vacation while her ex-husband has her boys during the summer. There she begins to process her family's past and her present. She meets up with her first love, Steven. The story is about her facing the truth and coming through the fire.

Writing: This story is written well and Ms. Everson is very descriptive of the setting and characters.

Plot: The plot is developed slowly and well. It is set in the present, though the main character is surprisingly technology free.

I feel like writing a review like they do on Focus on the Family's website Plugged-in. I've included the positive parts. Now, I want to explain the sexual content and negative parts.

Sexual Content is a funny word to use in regard to Christian books, so perhaps I should use a different phrase like "Romantic Elements".

This book centers on the ending, healing, and beginning of romantic relationships. So, it is understandable that there would be some mention of physical intimacy. Now, this book doesn't go as far as Amy Inspired, a book I reviewed some months ago--and don't recommend at all. But, I wish there weren't as many mentions of Kim and Steven kissing and how attracted they were to each other. Those passages made the book seem more like a Harlequin Romance than a Christian fiction book, though I'm sure they weren't as graphic as Harlequin books probably are.

There is one negative aspect to the book that didn't sit well with me. I discussed it with my mom. It didn't strike her the way it did me, but I know that I am particularly concerned about nuances in language and wording. There is a scene on pg. 366 when Kim says "we both deserve to be happy again, however we choose to find that happiness...just because we're parents doesn't mean we've stopped being human." I believe that what we write reflects what we think. The word "deserve" sets off a huge alarm in my head. We live in an age where divorce is so prevalent. When I was first married, the Lord convicted me that if I began thinking about how I "deserved" to be treated or "deserved" to feel, then I would be headed down a very slippery slope. The Bible talks about joy and God promises to give us hope (Jer. 28:13), but there is no promise that we have a right to or that we deserve to be happy. This assumption is at the core of this story and I think it's a very deceptive, and even dangerous belief.

This book is a well written, enjoyable story. It will draw you in and let you escape for a few hours. I know I'm picky about the messages that fiction impress upon us. I think that being aware of them helps us filter them out and that is my hope in writing what I have about the romantic and negative aspects of this book.

Ms. Everson's response:

Oh, I love a good debate! :)
First, thank you so much for reading Chasing Sunsets and for giving your honest, heart-felt opinion. I'd love to discuss it with you, as I believe good writing causes us to want to debate the issues we face in this life. Since this is our place to do so, here are my comments back to you on the book, the characters, and the writing of both.

First, I do hope you noticed that as believers, Kim and Steven held back from what would be a true, physical attraction. Just because we are Christians doesn't mean we don't have feelings. AND, as divorced Christians, those feelings have already been "awakened" as Song of Solomon so subtly puts it. As a woman whose first husband chose to leave, I remember well the issues surrounding being divorced...and I've certainly counseled those who face and fight those feelings as well. (I've now been re-married for some 30-plus years. :) ) But Kim and Steven make conscious efforts to NOT walk down a dark path that could only lead to additional heartache.

On the topic of what we deserve. Please know that when I write FICTION, I am writing out of a character's head. I so totally immerse myself in my characters and my stories, my family has to wait for me to decompress (or decompose, according to how you look at it ... LOL) when I come out of my office. They know by the look on my face that I'm someone else, somewhere else. It'll only take me a minute or two, but I'll be back! :)

Do I personally believe we DESERVE to be happy...not always, no. To DESERVE means you EARNED something. In Kim's mind, she hasn't DONE anything to NOT deserve being happy. She gave her marriage everything she could. But Kim also understands that one day her boys will grow up and get married and have families of their own. Her dilemma is making sure that--with a fine man like Steven (he's not a convict or an abuser of any kind!)--she can convince her son that while he has a right to live his life, so does she (to a degree). Parents will sacrifice for a season for their children, but their is a line and a boundary. As a parent myself, I made certain that my ENTIRE world did not revolve around my children. I am a wife, FIRST. There were times when being a mother slipped around that first place entry, but I always knew that one day, my children would leave (they have...) and find their own mates (they have...) and have their own children (they have...) and I would do well to get a phone call. :) I know parents who have made their children their ALL and when those kids leave, they are depressed, without a life, without a purpose, without a goal. It's soooo sad to me. Kim WANTS to be happy. Who doesn't? She thought she was happy in her marriage...and I think she was...but Charlie (the cad!) wasn't. :) So does that mean she doesn't get a second chance to be happy with someone? I don't think so. Remember, Kim wasn't saying she deserved to be happy in her marriage. Her marriage was over. I think there is a BIG difference.

And, boy oh boy!!! Do I agree with you on the whole "deserve to be happy in marriage" point! I get so rattled when I hear that. "I'm not happy anymore..." Well, I don't remember hearing anything about happiness in your marriage vows. :) (I'm just tough like that, I guess...)

One point I hope you caught (and if not, think about it now...) is the thread of a father's role in our lives. Kim has a good father (not perfect, but good). He's been the rock in their home. Steven is the godly single dad we see so few of these days. Rosa's father was NOT a good father. Patsy's bio-dad was a good man, her step-father was a creep. Charlie...well... Charlie THINKS he's a good dad ...and sometimes he IS a good dad...but Charlie truly is selfish. You can be that just as soon as something doesn't sit well with him in his new agreement with Kim, there's gonna be a me-me-me moment. Kim is ready to face that now.

Thank you again for your review! It means a lot to me! :)

Eva Marie Everson
Chasing Sunsets

My response:

Thank you for several things... 1) for receiving my review well. I strove to write my comments in a way that would not come across as harsh or critical of you as the author of this book. I always keep that in mind as I review a book. I have reviewed well over 200 books in the last 3 years and as I've corresponded with authors I am very aware that you invest your heart in what you write. 2) for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my review. I appreciate each of your points.

So, let me respond...
My mother is divorced. She is a believer and my dad is not. So, the question of how Christians feel about divorce is indeed a personal one for me.

Yes, they did hold back from their attraction and indeed that is a good thing to note. I read (and reviewed) a Christian book once that I literally set down because I thought the characters had had sex in the book. I am so sorry that you went through what you did--but I trust that God has worked through it. One of my best friends has also gone through her husband leaving her several years ago. I really appreciate what you've written in your comment about that aspect of their relationship. I hadn't examined it in that light.

Your point that it is fiction--yes it is. What I've found that concerns me as I've read so many books is the trends and themes that I see across books. Often I find the same value among several characters and my concern is what that implicitly says to the women reading the books. Though you are not responsible for what someone thinks when they read the book, I think fiction is powerful because of the messages readers take from it. Two years ago, I remember reading three or four fiction books in a row that all carried the same theme. Jerry Bridges writes in Respectable Sins about his concern that what we consider sin today will be seen as acceptable 10 years from now (this concern is based upon how much our culture has changed in the past 10 years). I share that concern and so I am sensitive about the values have (and develop) and lessons characters learn in the course of the story. As my pastor said to me in a discussion I had with him about books--"what we read, we believe".

I agree with you about what the word "deserve" means. What you wrote is really a catch 22, though. In saying that we don't deserve to be happy, that doesn't mean we deserve not to be unhappy. Actually, in the Bible God tells us that we will suffer in this life. It isn't going to be easy. I do agree with her explaining to her son that while he may disagree with her, she is the parent. I would phrase it differently though. She is an adult and he is not her parent. Just as she cannot live his life for him, he cannot live hers. I don't think it's really a matter of having a "right to live" the way she wants to.

I am on the same page with you about parenting. We have to protect and guard our marriages. We are wives before we are mothers. I remember hearing that when I first got married in a talk on Family Life and that conviction has stayed with me for the past 10 years.

I don't know that the idea is much different between saying we "deserve" to be happy in life and we "deserve to be happy in marriage. I don't think we "deserve" to be happy in life. If we are and if we find happiness, what a blessing that is! That is a gift of mercy and grace from the Lord. I love Ecclesiastes 3:1-14.

I did notice the different fathers and I did admire Steven's commitment to being a good father. I also noticed Rosa's husband and how he loved her and their children. Kim's father was an interesting character to me. He reminded me of the imperfections that we all have as parents. Many times in life we are simply coping with the challenges in our lives. There may be times when our children don't understand our decisions, yet we do what we feel we must--and we pray every step of the way.

Thank you again for your comment and sharing me so many of the things you thought about as you wrote your book. Because of your comments and what you have challenged me to consider, I will probably choose to read your second book if it comes across my email...

In Christ,
Ms. Everson's 2nd response:
Thank you again for your comment and sharing me so many of the things you thought about as you wrote your book. Because of your comments and what you have challenged me to consider, I will probably choose to read your second book if it comes across my email..

From Eva Marie: Well, you better! :) I wouldn't have it any other way. I love that we are discussing this.

Perhaps the best phrase when it comes to happiness is this: "I deserve to try to find happiness."

As a believer, I have noticed so many in my ministry who wallow in their self-pity. All the while, I'm looking at them thinking, "You have so much to be grateful for. Now be grateful!" :) Being grateful may just be the start to being matter our circumstance. As Paul said, being satisfied in all things. Rich or poor. Healthy or sick. I'm paraphrasing, but you get my point.

Boy, do I agree with you on the 10 year issue. I cannot believe the state of our world. I really cannot. My mother died this past year and, as I told my brother, she was really ready to go because she had gotten so discouraged with the state of this world and even with the condition of the church.

I see so many in the church who are just not walking intimately with Christ and are therefore stretching the boundaries. Some of my characters are just like this...but I want them to reach a place by the end of the book in which they realize something has to change.

At the same time, I don't want to beat people over the head! :)

Thx for your comment back!

Eva Marie

What I most appreciated about Ms. Everson's comments was her willingness to dialogue with me about her book.  Her points challenged me to think about her book from different angles than I had been looking at it from.

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