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  • Writer's pictureSarahHauer

Flannery and Me (And A Book Update)

I am a new fan of Maya Hawke. I was already a fan of Stranger Things on Netflix, so I knew who she was; but, I just found out she discovered Flannery O'Connor a few years before I did and has made a biopic about the author with her father, Ethan Hawke. I watched an interview of the two of them with Bishop Robert Barron on the Word On Fire podcast discussing Flannery, and I fell in love with Maya's take on her.

Maya Hawke and Ethan Hawke created a movie called Wildcat about the life of Flannery O'Connor in her younger years. I haven't seen it yet, so I don't feel comfortable giving a review about it, but I am excited to see it.

Flannery O'Connor was a brilliant novelist and author of novels, short stories, essays, and in-depth letters all centered around the ideas of what it means to be human and have faith in a world filled with pain and hardship. Flannery understood pain well. She died at the young age of 39 from Lupus, a disease that kept her quite isolated from the world.

I heard about Flannery O'Connor a few years ago when I was extremely ill from the same disease and was embarking on my own writing journey. Finding her works was challenging until I saw that World On Fire, a Catholic Ministry that encompasses a blog, recorded sermons, interviews, and books, recently created a collection of O'Conner's work. I ordered up a copy immediately and dove right in.

Flannery O'Connor's writing is controversial, and I love it. The more I understand of her life, the more I love it. The more I look into her relationship with God within the Catholic Church in relationship to what she endured, the more I love her as a person. I relate to her so much in ways I have yet to develop the skills to express.

O'Connor didn't write flowery novels about love and innocence and happy endings. She wrote in a genre of Christian Realism that I didn't know existed until I found her. Ironic, as that is closer to the genre my last book false under, and I hope my next novel does as well.

I am hesitant to delve too deeply into her style and characters. Both because she is remarkably complex, and because Maya Hawke has already done it.

What I love about Flannery O'Connor and I feel Maya Hawke loved about her too, is her tenacity to show how grace shows up in the real trials of life. Despite the pressure from others to write her stories to be nicer and more genteel, O'Connor goes for the grit. Her stories were, are, controversial. They even made me uncomfortable. Where others might toss the book aside in disgust swearing to never read her work again, I smile and say, "Well, done, Flannery! Way to keep it real."

I say that because that is exactly what I try to do. Her stories, and mine, are fiction, but the quality of her characters are real. I strive for that realism. Not that their names are real or the facts of their stories are real. No. The realism is in the feelings, the disappointments of unmet expectations, the horrors, the regrets, the desires to stand up and keep going. You cannot create those real emotions and psychological states playing nice with the characters.

What about playing nice with the readers? I think O'Connor would quarry that question with a more southern, genteel form of responding, "What about the reader?"

A reader is going to get whatever they are going to get out of a story based on their own life experiences; and, hopefully, they gain new experiences by reading and getting a little uncomfortable. They will get out of it what they choose to get out of it depending on how open they are to the struggles of the characters, if they are interested in putting their feet into the shoes of another that have holes in them.

I am chuckling as I write this because someone dear to me talked to me yesterday to say that some who have read my books are uncomfortable with the sex scenes. They missed the fact that the sex scenes were intended to make them uncomfortable. The reader absolutely should be uncomfortable. My hope is that the reader takes those uncomfortable scenes and puts them into context. Actually, two are sex scenes that are both deliberately inappropriate. The other is an attempted sexual assault.

For example, in Shattered Crystal, Crys is in the tub while a child sex-trafficker invades. With her Lupus and her nudity, I hope the reader considers in the back of their mind that as vulnerable as Crys is, she is not as vulnerable as the children that monster sends to other monsters as bad and worse than he is. The reader should be extremely uncomfortable. The reader should be angry to the point of wanting to do something to help prevent another child from being a victim, to take down one of these networks in real life.

The very first chapter in The Power of Ketchup, the sex scene is of a woman doing what she was taught to do using her body to appease a man in a way she detests to obtain things she needs to survive because that is all she knows she is worth. In God's eyes, she is worth so much more. Readers should be uncomfortable with this. My hope is they look around at the women around them who face hardships and ask why? How did you get to this place in your life and in your heart? What can be done about this? How is it you feel this is all you are here to do and be?

When this person was telling me this concern, I laughed, and that confused her. She thought she was giving me direction on where my writing should go. Instead, she showed me it is going where I want it to go. My books are not intended to be syrupy sweet with big pink ribbons because life isn't syrupy sweet with big pink ribbons contrary to much of social media. My stories are not for a Hallmark audience.

I am aiming for the Christian Realism of Flannery O'Connor. Real crap that happens in life, because that is where God is found. Just like her, I don't want to waste my precious time on fluff.

Where is God in real life? In church? Yes. He is also in the streets. He is in happy homes, and homes in turmoil. He is in with the priest and out there with the murder victim. He is holding the hand of the proper lady receiving Communion, and out in the street wanting to hold the hand of the drug addict.

For Flannery O'Connor and I, time is precious. Life is precious.

I was finally diagnosed with Lupus at the age of 41, two years after the age O'Connor died from it. After decades of having it without treatment, I should not be alive today. I have more time than she had, but I almost didn't. She wrote from a place of death lurking around the corner. So have I. Thankfully, for me, it has backed off.

Being that ill has the potential of a different perspective than most have. Hers, and I hope mine too, is about looking for the grace of God offered to all of us all the time. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 412 quotes St. Paul, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Living in near constant pain and isolation adds to that perspective. It made me want to dig deeper into what makes people tick inside, what makes them turn away instead of turn toward. Most of the time, the reason for any turn is pain. Pain is a driving force of humanity. And, so is joy, and love, and hope.

No, I am not a theologian. I don't claim to be. I write from my joys and my pains. That is what Humor In Chaos is. Joy and pain co-existing.

Speaking of which, I promised a book update in the title of this blog post. I have started and tossed out my next book so many times, I have lost count. They haven't been good enough. Life, of course, keeps getting in the way as well. I endured the loss of my marriage and stopped to help relieve the trauma it caused my family and friends. Even though the fourth book has been set aside yet again, I am writing a book - something different.

Many who have journeyed with me have requested I write my experiences in all my pain challenges and how it is I am smiling today right on through them. The short answer is God. That is the book I am writing now. It isn't a memoire. It isn't a gossip book. It is about my emotional calisthenics to go from despair to joy again while still enduring pain. I am roughly half-way through the first draft, so please be patient.

I am grateful to Maya Hawke and her father for the timely creation and release of the film Wildcat. I believe it and Flannery O'Connor are helping me stay real to who I am as a writer.

If you were a writer, what genre would you want to write in, and who would be your inspiration?

Thanks for reading!

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Humor In Chaos


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