Jonathan Cooper, my sixteen-year-old main character in Caught in the Crossfire (Bold Strokes Books, June 16th), showed up at Spirit Lake Bible Camp for the summer with his camera.
Let me say that I didn’t consciously choose to give Jonathan photography as a hobby. When I first started writing him, I was far more aware of the bigger issues in his life. The fact that he believed in God. The fact that he’d fallen in love with another boy at camp, Ian McGuire. The fact that reconciling those two truths in his life seemed impossible in the evangelical Christian world in which he lived. But he showed up on the page packing a Nikon and talking about his desire to capture the perfect black-and-white photo, and so I went with it. Turns out that was a really good call.
Why? Because black-and-white photography was more than just a hobby to Jonathan. Initially it was the way he believed he could bring focus to a world that was spinning out of control through the simple twist of his camera’s lens. Eventually it was the means through which he glimpsed the shades of gray.
But why don’t I let Jonathan tell you? An excerpt from Caught in the Crossfire:
I wandered from illuminated scene to scene, peering through my camera lens. A ladybug crawled on a leaf. Cool. But not right for black-and-white shots. I stepped out of the forest and into the campground. The moon was throwing one heck of a party and all the big stars had made an appearance: Cassiopeia, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Orion, even the North Star. That view tied for first place with the scent of the wind in the category of Things I Love Best About Northern Minnesota. In the distance, the crickets called me. I walked forward, camera still in hand, studying the moonlight and the way it changed everything. Suddenly the perfect black- and-white shot appeared.
I ran my hand over the scar on the smooth, gleaming skin of the birch tree. There was a story there.
The light was tricky. I set my Nikon to manual mode and my shutter speed to thirty seconds. Kneeling on the ground, I made a tripod by resting my elbow on my knee. I zoomed in until the whole frame filled with the scarred skin. Click.
This passage immediately follows a scene where Jonathan and Ian were subjected to a diatribe about how God considers homosexuality an abomination. When I first drafted this passage I didn’t know that Jonathan’s interest in photography would be important. I only knew that he was hurting and needed to escape by heading into the forest with his camera. Imagine my surprise when he took a picture of Spirit Lake, only to discover that Ian was on the shore, kicking the crap out of the camp’s cross.
I looked at the cross and then at Ian. The damage that had been done could not be undone. Each bore the scars, but Ian’s were written on his heart and in his eyes.
“I thought I could handle it, the way you hide behind a faith that doesn’t want anything to do with the real you. But I can’t. Know why? Because you’re hiding even from yourself. You’re just as angry as I am. You’re just not as honest.” Ian took one long look at me and walked away.
The camera felt heavy in my hands. Like a friendship that was too hard to bear. I hit the review button and zoomed in on the last shot, the full beach scene. There, in perfect-silhouetted clarity, I’d captured Ian: face contorted in anger...foot striking the cross. My hand trembled as I pressed the delete button.
Erase image? Yes or No? the camera asked. My chest tightened. It was a fair question. The default answer was no. Keep this image, it argued. It’s proof.
The other choice was yes. Delete this image and protect him. He has a right to be angry, it argued. So do you.
A fair question. Just not an easy one.
Sometimes, when we’re lucky, magic strikes the page and things we’ve written become unexpectedly important and meaningful in ways we never imagined they could be. The second excerpt is just such an example of that magic. The black-and-white photo of the birch tree’s blemish suddenly is more. It foreshadows a much deeper scar: the one that Ian carries within and that he tries so desperately to vent on the cross.
Now, here’s the truth. I didn’t know that scene was going to take that direction when I wrote it. Not at all. No one was more surprised than I when Jonathan was photographing Ian assaulting the cross and the decision to save or delete the photo became a symbol of a much bigger choice. I hadn’t plotted it or planned it. But I had set Jonathan wandering through that forest armed with his desire to see truth through the lens of his camera, and so truth did indeed show up on the page.
Now that I’ve written Caught in the Crossfire as well as the sequel, Searching for Grace (Bold Strokes Books, Sept. 16th, 2014) in which my three main characters are all artists in some regard, I realize the best scenes in my books have all unfolded as a direct result of giving my characters passionate interests. And so I would advise aspiring writers who seek this magic to think about what your characters love to do when they’re not actively engaged in detangling your book’s plot.
- What do they dream about?
- Where do they find inspiration?
- How do they cope when life spins out of focus?
And who knows?
At the very least your characters will be fully rounded people. But perhaps, just perhaps, your muse will answer your invitation and magic will strike the pages of your book. Certainly it will be when you least expect it, revealing more truth about what you are writing than even you know.
© 2014 Juliann Rich. All rights reserved.
© 2014 Juliann Rich. All rights reserved.
Juliann is a PFLAG mom who can be found walking Pride parades with her son. She is also the daughter of evangelical Christian parents. As such she has been caught in the crossfire of the most heated topic to challenge our society and our churches today. She is committed to writing stories that shed light on the conflicts that arise when sexual orientation, spirituality, family dynamics and peer relationships collide.
Juliann recently won the Emerging Writer Award at The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans.
Juliann lives with her husband and their two chronically disobedient dachshunds in the beautiful Minnesota River Valley.
About Caught in the Crossfire:
Date Published: 6/16/2014
Two boys at bible camp. One forbidden love.
That’s the dilemma Jonathan Cooper faces when he goes away to Spirit Lake Bible Camp, situated along Minnesota’s rugged north shore, for a summer of fun. He is expecting mosquito bites, bonfires with S’Mores, and photography classes with Simon, his favorite counselor who always helps him see life in perfect focus.
What he isn’t expecting is Ian McGuire, a new camper who openly argues against phrases like pray the gay away. Ian is certain of many things, including what could happen between them if only Jonathan could surrender to his feelings.
Jonathan, however, tosses in a storm of indecision between his belief in God and his inability to stay away from Ian. When a real storm hits and Ian is lost in it, Jonathan is forced to make a public decision that changes his life.