Introducing my gorgeous third special guest, Serena Chase.
SERENA CHASE is the author of the critically-acclaimed Eyes of E’veria epic fantasy series and the contemporary YA coming-of-age romance, Intermission. A respected industry influencer and frequent contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog, Serena Chase believes in the power of Story as a connective tool to impact individual lives and thereby bring about change in the world. Although the voice in which she writes varies stylistically between genres and the fairy tale in question may be metaphorical, her author tagline "find yourself in the fairy tale" carries her hope that readers will be able to identify with her stories on a deeply personal level while being thoroughly entertained.
1. If you write romance into your stories, how much intimacy are you comfortable writing, and why?
Serena: I’ve written a romance plot into all of my books thus far, but the level and style of intimacy—which I assume means “heat” in this context—that has landed on the page has varied, depending on each story’s unique characters, settings & cultures, and the requirements of the romance plot within the story. Not gonna lie: I have a lot of fun writing kissing scenes. Especially “first kiss” scenes. But whether writing or reading, I prefer the bedroom door closes when physical intimacy goes much beyond a passionate kiss.
Just as with *real* human behaviour, fictional characters respond to romantic physical touch based not only on principles of attraction but on their cultural/familial upbringing and individual personality. Whereas one character might find a hand resting on the small of her back quite romantic—an intimate gesture of care—another might see that same gesture as nothing more than simple courtesy or as a threat—an unwanted claim of possession. But . . . what was the intent of that contact’s initiator?
Every physical expression has a not only a receiver who will interpret it based on their own life experience and perceptions, but also an initiator who has an entirely different set of life experiences, possibly even different cultural mores, which could invoke other meanings. When writing heat within physical intimacy, all those details need to be taken into consideration to make it a believable part of a character arc.
In the end, I believe every phrase of every story has to earn its keep. Gratuitous content that has no bearing on plot or character development should meet the red pen of doom.
2. If you write scenes with violence, what do you rely on as a guide/gauge?
Serena: I write the level of violence that is appropriate for the story and its point-of-view characters. A story from the point of view of a sheltered princess will not have the same level of gore as that written from the point of view of a pirate with a thirst for justice. If there is a particularly violent/gory scene, the point of view character’s reaction to it will be the gauge for how the reader should see it, too (since they are living the scene vicariously through that character.) I don’t believe in coddling my characters—or my readers, through them. I want readers fully engaged, engrossed, 100% of the time.
3. If you write magic into your work, could you please explain why you choose to do so?
Serena: I suppose my answer depends on your definition of “magic.” While I do think of my Eyes of E’veria series as having magical elements, those elements generally appear as gifts/abilities inborn in characters (Books 1-4), objects found in nature (Book 2, 3, 4) or created by scientifically manipulating/altering something found in nature (Book 4), rather than based on spellwork, incantations, or whatever.
When I create magical elements in my fantasy fiction, they serve either worldbuilding or character building efforts and will be used, at some point, to forward the plot. However, since I write fantasy from a Christian worldview, the good guys will (eventually) give credit for those abilities to the divine source from which they spring.
4. In your opinion is Christian Fantasy becoming too worldly?
Serena: Hmm. I’m going to go with “no.” But . . . to be honest, I don’t read a lot of Christian fantasy these days. So much of the (categorized/marketed as) Christian Fantasy I have read has been “lesson-heavy” instead of a story-heavy. A lot of those books contain multiple scenes that serve neither worldbuilding, character building, or a plot’s forward motion, but instead, come off as the author proselytizing through his/her characters. (And if I am being honest, I may have even written a few of those types of scenes myself in my early work!)
When I read, I want a story, not a lesson. But I also believe truth can be infused into a story in a natural way that enhances the plot and characters without shoving a “lesson” down a reader’s throat. That’s what I aim for in my writing these days.
5. In your own words, how would you define ‘clean’ fiction?
Serena: That’s a tough question! I’m tempted to write a definition based on how I think many conservative readers of Christian fiction would define the word “clean”—which would, in my opinion, give all of my books the left foot of fellowship right out of that category! But that’s not what you asked.
The Bible is a sometimes violent, sometimes sensual book that shows human nature at its best and worst. It is, by its nature, an “offensive book” because it has not been scrubbed of the truths of human nature, God’s wrath/mercy/justice/grace, the need for repentance, the path of salvation, or the consequences of sin. That being said, the content is never gratuitous; everything in that Book is there to further develop the Gospel story.
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I believe the purity of a fictional story can be just as easily soiled by censoring it as it can by inserting unnecessarily graphic details. A story that has been so scrubbed of all things that might offend has been sterilized; it not only carries the scent of a chemically altered environment, but is “sterile” in that it is unable to reproduce identifiable characters, situations, and responses. I wish ‘clean’ fiction was defined along the lines of “stories without the extraneous burden of content expectation, giving credence to the believability of a character’s behaviour while presenting an accurate picture of the temptations and responses of a character within that story’s environmental, cultural, and relational structures.” But . . . it would be easier to say, “Clean fiction contains content no more graphic than what the story requires.”
Unfortunately, that leaves a larger definition gap than many Christian readers—or authors!—would likely find comfortable. But then again, if we are Christian authors writing from a Christian worldview, are we writing stories for shock or titillation value or for story value? Stories written for story value from a Christian worldview will be crafted through a partnership with Truth and through the eyes of a particular author’s theology, by way of the discernment of that author’s spirit.
For me as an author, that means there will be some steam in physically intimate moments; not to titillate the reader, but to express the TRUTH about my characters’ emotions, actions, and responses. But it also means that at a certain point, the metaphorical “bedroom door” will close; and, while readers will *know* what is going on beyond that closed door, my characters are given their privacy.
For language, this gets a little dicier. I truly believe that any word, said with specific violent or insulting intent, is profanity. If I call were say “French fry” with a specific, toxic tone, it could be considered profane, in my opinion.
It’s also important to know that different words have different meanings on the profanity spectrum—even across the English-speaking world—than I will ever understand in my little corner of the globe. A word that seems mild in the U.S. could be one considered quite profane in the U.K. and vice versa. I think we spend entirely too much effort policing and criticizing language/profanity in Christian fiction. For a book categorized as such, I would assume the author is writing from a Christian worldview. If it’s a good story, I’ll trust the author to let their characters speak however they needed to in each specific story moment, believing there is a justifiable reason for any ‘profanity’ that ensues. (That being said, it would probably be wise for an author including words commonly categorized as profane to put a content warning on their book.)
I received some criticism and several “content warnings” for profanity (i.e. “language”) used in my contemporary YA romance, Intermission. But I’ve not received a drop of the same for my Eyes of E’veria fantasy series—and that makes me laugh! The pirates in books 3&4 swear quite casually; the difference being that their profanity is world-specific and, therefore, not considered profane even to my most conservative readers. But when my protagonist in Intermission (a contemporary romance) said a boy was “hella cute,” the sirens went off!
To me, that smells a bit of hypocrisy. And I should know, since I am often a hypocrite, too, when confronted by the casual public use of certain words my society has deemed profane. Violent words, violently spoken scare me. But I also believe there are situations for which strong language is appropriate, because the situation calls for it, and characters who swear casually because I have people like that in my life.
Also, sometimes toes get stubbed and those unmentionable words slip through my own lips.
And a couple of random questions completely unrelated to this topic just because I’m nosy and have your attention.
What is always in your refrigerator that never gets eaten?
Serena: I’m always throwing out avocados. I love them, but they’re not ripe yet when I buy them and by the time they are, I’ve often forgotten I bought them! It makes me so sad to throw them out.
The worst thing someone ever said about your writing?
Serena: I haven’t been irreparably wounded by any criticism I’ve received since becoming a published author. But I do remember, as a child of six or seven, my grandfather read a story I’d written and, rather than praising my efforts as I’d expected, he said it wasn’t realistic, that the situation would never happen like that in real life. It was a shocker, and hit me harder than warranted because he was one of the kindest, most wonderful humans God ever created.
Worst haircut experience?
Serena: For the last decade or so, I’ve changed my hair color and/or style several times a year, and I’ve come to a place where I pretty much shrug off a bad cut or color, knowing it has an expiration date. But I do remember a haircut in 6th grade that was so short—much shorter than I’d wanted—that a classmate asked if my parents had used the sheep shears on my head!
Favourite sandwich fillings?
Serena: Olive oil mayo with a light dusting of Cavender’s Greek Seasoning and dried basil (unless I have fresh!), green peppers, spinach, & red onions—with turkey or with shaved turkey, ham, & roast beef. Sometimes, a bit of honey mustard.
Thank you so much to Serena Chase, I hope you enjoyed hearing her thoughts.
Please join me again tomorrow as Lauricia Matuska answers the same questions.