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Feeding souls

Christian fiction writer Nate Wilson says Christians should model their writing after the work of the Great Storyteller

Nate Wilson (Photo by Mark Lamoreaux)

Feeding souls
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Our March 10 issue included an interview with youth fiction writer and videographer Nate Wilson. At 33 he's not old enough to be an old gray head concerning writing, but he's put on lots of mileage. Here are some of his thoughts on writing.

What's the earliest memory of writing that you have? One of the most dramatic moments of my childhood was getting to stand in the front yard, watching the roof of my home disappear in flames. Around the sixth grade I remember trying to describe firelight. I vividly remember thinking "dancing firelight"-the most clichéd thing you could come up with, ever. I thought to myself, "Yes, I've got it. That one's nailed, that one's in the bag." I remember the satisfaction that came from that, and the later discovery that it was not any good.

What would be a better way to describe "dancing firelight"? Any other way.

You wrote some short stories in college? Through my undergrad and into graduate school: Published a lot of short, creative sketches and short fiction starting then, and then attempted novels right out of grad school. I'd heard that writers should write every day, so I set out to write a novel and thought, "I will do three thousand words a day. That'll be great, that's a very reasonable expectation." And so I did, and it was awful.

How awful? Horrible stuff. I wrote the first novel, got to the end of it, printed it out, read it, and dropped the whole thing in the trash can-and then made a list of everything I hated about it, and taped it to the wall by my computer-everything I hated about the pace, the characters, the villain, everything.

To remind you ... I started working on the next one and had this constant reminder on the wall of everything I'd messed up last time. I wrote the first one too short and too fast-40,000 words, something like that. This next one was 175,000 words, out of control the opposite way. So I made another list of things I hated.

Do you still think a writer has to write every day? Writing every day is very, very helpful, but set the bar at a place where you have no excuse: It doesn't matter how tired you are, how late it is, you will do it. So if you say, "I will write one hundred words a day"-set the bar there, and then you can actually get over that bar.

Excuses like "writer's block" don't get far with you? "Writer's block"-so what? Write something bad. Just throw it in the trash can when you're done, you're always improving. That kind of writing is like doing a bunch of push-ups: Every individual push-up is not the important thing. On Tuesday you're going to think, "Is it really important that I do it today?" No, but the collective impact is. If you write every day, you will improve.

Hard work, but not self-torture? Writing is intense, so if you try to clear yourself eight hours to do it, you're going to collapse. Until you've really built up endurance for that kind of thing, it's going to be exhausting. So I would advise small, Flintstone-vitamin-size things early on: Do it every day, get yourself in the routine.

As you revise your stories, do you have an underlying goal? Honestly, it's about efficacy of reaching human beings, as opposed to the philosophical construction of the narrative-so, what will be best for kids now? What do these kids need? When I write fiction, I feel like I'm cooking for a crowd of strangers; I'm cooking something that I hope is wholesome and feeds their imagination and feeds their souls and gives them a taste of something good.

How do you try to feed souls? I try to reach what I would call "father-hunger." Our culture is so father-absent-absent dads, unengaged dads, dads who aren't even there, dads who took off-that there's this deep hunger, and that hunger feeds naturally into atheism. So, there is no father; all you know of "father" is absence, so you then project that absence and work from there-you are all on your own, you're alone, you're lost, and so on. So trying to write to feed that is a big thing for me, but I do that through my stories.

Who are your favorite current novelists? I enjoy Megan Whalen Turner [author of fantasy fiction for young adults]. I really admire Tom Wolfe.

Conceptually, stylistically? Stylistically and conceptually: his insight into humans as individuals and as collective units. These are not necessarily recommendable books, like, "Oh, go be entertained by this." But Wolfe tells these stories of little decisions that make you who you are, and in the end damn or redeem you. C.S. Lewis does the same: The Great Divorce is all about these tiny pieces of pride that people can't sacrifice.

Do evangelicals tend to resist reading about darkness? We tend as a Christian people to react either into baskets of kittens on posters with Bible verses, or with "I'm an edgy hipster and Tarantino is the best storyteller of our time." Choose your path: kittens or Kill Bill? Which is it? The key is to look at the character of God. God made kittens. They are cute, even in baskets. They are also killing machines. People who like kittens in baskets want to forget that part, and ignore that if kittens were big enough they would kill you: Your own house cat would take you down. But God made them. Look at tornadoes. Did God make them?

Do some writers fail by only seeing the killing machines? Yes. Does God tell stories of heroin addicts in alleys in Seattle? Yes, He does, so you have the edgy hipster types who say, "That'll be the only story I'll tell. I will spend all my time in the alleys of Seattle, and I will not acknowledge the presence of anything cute. Sunsets-kind of tacky. I will always have the sun setting over an industrial wasteland. I will never have that pink, fluffy, cumulus effect, because that's just weak."

You want us to keep in mind both. For secular respect some might veer into a treatment of darkness without hope or light. Others veer off into cutesiness. Our goal should be to be as much like God, the storyteller, as we can be. Which means, can you use pink? Well, have you ever seen anybody use more pink than God? Yes, the sky is pink, and yet it's pink because all of Montana burned in a forest fire. We think, "This is an amazing sunset. I'm inspired." Meanwhile, tens of thousands of smoke jumpers and helicopters, and acres are burning.

Watch Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Nate Wilson:

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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