Friday, April 10, 2009

The Most Terrifying Power of Love

This week, I stumbled across a blog wondering if Christians could write or read erotica. I wouldn't class my work as erotica, but RT does name my books "hot." And yet, I've often slipped in scenes that might fit in anyone's inspirational. I don't think life can be sub-divided neatly into genres the way fiction can and my goal is always to write about life.

Today, on Good Friday, I want to share an excerpt from one of my books written as Diana Groe, SILK DREAMS. My hero, Erik (who won a K.I.S.S Knight in Shining Silver designation from Romantic Times) has lost the woman he loves to a harem and the ship he commanded in a supposedly choreographed "spectacle" in the Miklagaard harbor went down in flames. Erik was the sole survivor, nursed back to health by some men of faith.


On the rickety rooftop of the poorest monastery in the Studion, the foulest section of the great city, the Varangian growled in disgust. He lowered the ocular device that allowed him to watch the couple on the rooftop several blocks away, wincing at the pain the sudden movement cost him.

“Careful, my brother,” the toothless monk at his side said. “Your burns are not yet healed. The skin is fragile at this stage, but God is good. It appears you will live.”

“But I’ll never look like anything again,” Erik said softly.

The monk smiled at him, the expression one of almost childlike sweetness. “It doesn’t matter, Air-ryck.” He struggled to force the percussive foreign name through his lips. “In the eyes of the Almighty, we all look the same.”

Erik glanced once more toward Habib Ibn Mahomet’s rooftop. Even without the looking glass, he could see that Valdis and the eunuch were no longer there.

It was just as well. Seeing the woman he loved beyond his reach would only eat away at his heart the way the cursed Greek Fire had gnawed his flesh. Memories of the spectacle-turned-disaster churned his gut.

His right shoulder was burned. Scarred flesh pebbled his neck and across one cheek. Fire claimed one ear, sizzled away his beard and much of his hair on the right side, but at least it left both eyes intact.

“Your thoughts are troubled, brother,” the monk said. “A peaceful heart will help your flesh mend sooner.”

“Believe me, Nestor, my flesh will be whole ahead of my heart.”

The monk cast a glance toward the silk merchant’s grand house. “The woman is beautiful, without doubt. But be warned by the story of King David. No good can come of gazing at a woman on another man’s rooftop.”

Erik smiled wryly. Almost as soon as Erik had regained consciousness, Nestor began telling him stories to help the time pass quicker. It eased his suffering to listen to tales of wise kings who behaved foolishly and pillars of fire and sons who squandered their inheritance in a far country.

Lately, Erik suspected Nestor told him stories not to keep him amused and distracted from the pain, but to woo him gently into the monk’s faith. There was little chance of that. The Christian’s god was weak and powerless. What kind of god let himself be killed without lifting a finger in protest? A god that puny, who couldn’t even save himself, couldn’t be counted on to come to the aid of his devotees either.

“Who is Olaf?” Nestor asked.

Erik looked at him sharply. He was sure he’d never mentioned his brother to Nestor. “What are you? Some kind of diviner?”

“No, just one who listens, friend. When you were in the throes of fever, you called out the name. Many times. It seemed to give you as much pain as the burn.”

Erik had only nightmarish flashes of the time he languished on the cusp between this world and the next. Rising from the icy mists of Hel, the shade of his brother came to reproach him.

Or to drag Erik back to that cold hall with him.

“It’s a long tale,” Erik said.

“Then I’d better get comfortable.” Nestor settled next to Erik, splaying his gnarled fingers on his knees and looking at him with expectation.

In a flat voice, Erik told Nestor of his wife’s faithlessness and his brother’s betrayal. Then with more difficulty, he relived the killing, or at least as much of it as he could remember through the black berserkr haze.

“So, you have done murder,” Nestor said thoughtfully. “And yet, he was your brother and you loved him, so the memory pains you.”

Tears pressed against his eyes. He blinked them back. He never cried. Not at the funeral biers of his parents. Not even when Olaf’s body was burned before Erik was sentenced to banishment. Not over the men he’d led to their deaths in the Harbor of Theodosius. A warrior didn’t weep. Still, a tear slid down his cheek, scalding a salty path over his abraded skin. He swiped it away, heedless of the extra agony the rough touch cost him.

“Bah! Pain has made me womanish.”

“No,” Nestor corrected. “Do not be afraid to shed tears. You have earned them. The evidence of your remorse gives me hope for your soul. Even our Lord wept. Better men than you have let grief seep from their eyes.”

“I have no doubt of that,” Erik said sourly.

“You were banished for your crime and yet your punishment has brought you no peace.” Nestor seemed to be mulling over the problem as if he were a physic diagnosing a patient. “In ancient times, a murderer might be condemned to drag the body of his victim with him as punishment. Bound wrist to wrist and ankle to ankle with the decaying corpse, the killer would bear a constant reminder of the wrong done. No one could remove it till the bones loosed from their sockets and fell away of their own accord. I cannot see your brother’s body on your back, Erik, and yet you bear it just the same. O wretched man, who will deliver you from the body of this death?”

The image of his brother’s moldering corpse made him want to retch. Nestor was right. Erik bore the load of his crime in his own heart. He’d never really believed in the Christian idea of sin, but he felt the weight of his guilt bearing down on him anyway.

“There is only one thing you can do,” Nestor went on. “You must forgive your brother.”

Erik couldn’t have been more surprised if Nestor had slapped him. “Olaf is dead. Surely there’s no going back now,” Erik stood and paced toward the parapet. “Even if such a thing were possible, I’m the one who needs forgiveness.”

“You’re right in that,” Nestor said agreeably. “Yet, it is a principle woven into the fabric of the universe. In the measure that we forgive others, we ourselves find pardon. Release Olaf from the wrong he did you and you release yourself.”

Olaf’s face rose up in Erik’s mind again, as he was as a boy. A sob fought its way out of Erik’s throat and this time, not a single tear, but a torrent poured from his eyes. He buried his face in his hands and wept like a lost child. From his heart, he forgave Olaf for bedding his wife. He wiped the offense from his mind. He buried the hurt as a dog might bury a bone and resolved not to take it out and worry it again. The knot of bitterness in his chest dissolved into tiny pieces and washed away with the salty river of his tears.

He felt Nestor’s fingers on his shoulder, easing the shudder that coursed through him.

“Yes, my brother,” the little monk said. “Now you have tasted the most terrifying power of Love. The power to forgive.”

As his soul quieted in heart-broken peace, Erik decided maybe the Christian’s god wasn’t as weak as he thought.

17 comments:

Rachel said...

Emily:
Powerful. Beautiful. True.

Rachel

EmilyBryan said...

Thank you, Rachel. I wept as I wrote it.

Jane L said...

OH Emily! I had tears in my eyes reading this! So very inspiring! I think its amazing when an author can send a message like you have here, where the reader least expects it! You're one of the best!! I keep telling people this! Have a wonderful Easter!

Sandy said...

Emily,

Wonderful.

Now, for your question should we write sex in inspirational stories?

My answer is Yes. God put us here to procreate, and how could we do it without making love? It's a part of life. I'm a romance mystery writer, and I always have God in my stories somewhere.

He was a part of my life growing up, and I would never leave me out. There might be some who say I shouldn't do that because I'm not writing inspirational love stories. It doesn't matter what they say. I have to write it my way.

Very powerful.

Sandy

Donna Marie Rogers said...

Wow, what a wonderful excerpt, Emily. Very powerful indeed. I read so few historicals these days, but I definitely plan to pick up yours. :-)

I happen to write erotic romance under the name Liza James, and I had a friend who writes inspirational tell me she LOVES my erotic stories. LOL

EmilyBryan said...

Jane-Thanks so much. I'm glad it moved you. Happy Easter to you too.

Sandy-I don't think the inspirational market is ready for steamy scenes, but I don't see why my characters in historical romance novels can't grapple with spiritual issues. The basic questions of life--Why am I here? What manner of being am I? Is there anything after death? Is there a God?--are things everyone thinks about to some degree. Isn't it odd if our characters don't?

Donna--My Dh just emailed me to come pick him up at works, so I'll respond to you when I get back home. Thanks for stopping by!

LuAnn said...

I agree with Sandy. Good grief! Doesn't God expect us to enjoy our lives? And part of that enjoyment involves family, a husband (two shall become one?) and children. We have to get those children somehow!

EmilyBryan said...

Donna--Thanks for your kind words and your patience. DH home now and working in the other room. Fortunately, his job will allow him to work from here sometimes.

Erotic is one of those terms that is so subjective, it's hard to pin it down. When Paul Norman of Books Monthly asked why I'd decided to write an erotic novel (talking about DISTRACTING THE DUCHESS) I was frankly floored. (Would have surprised my mother's prayer group too! Some of them have read it!) Because my love scenes are one man/one woman, I didn't think of them as erotic, just very sensual. But erotic is in eye of the beholder, I guess.

LuAnn--I'm sure God wants us to enjoy our lives--Sex was His idea, after all. What I meant was I'm not sure the inspirational market is ready for explicit scenes, even though there are few books more straightforward about sex of all sorts than the Bible.

In his book THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, CS Lewis is writing as a senior demon instructing his junior in the best way to tempt his assigned human to destruction. The demon bemoans the fact that Satan is unable to manufacture a single pleasure. That gift is God's alone. All Satan can do is twist and pervert and misuse what God has given till it brings harm.

One of my favorite Bible verses is "Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."

God's gift of sex is perfect. We're the ones who mess it up.

Francine Rivers wrote a beautiful re-telling of the book of Hosea called REDEEMING LOVE. Since the biblical story involves a man who marries a prostitute, who is subsequently unfaithful to him, Ms. Rivers had to include some intimate scenes (though for most readers this would still be a "warm" read at most). The way the man woos his wandering wife back is heart-breaking redemption at its best.

But there was still a strongly worded warning at the beginning of REDEEMING LOVE about the sensual content from the publisher. I think they were afraid of offending readers. Since it's sold over a million copies, I'm guessing not so much.

Amanda McIntyre said...

Interesting topic Miss Emily! An extremely poignant excerpt, thank you for sharing it.

I too am a fan of the Screwtape letters (my poor little battered copy) and also agree that we humans quite often are the culprits in "messing" up God's gifts. And just as sure that we are human, that's likely not about to change real soon;)

Addressing the question of can a Christian read or write erotica? I feel the term is very subjective and open to a broad spectrum of definition. And is it only the "act" itself , or is it the lusting that is the real issue?

I would pose the question , can a Christian read and/or write about murder?

I write erotic historical, my characters ofttimes have more than one partner in their lifetime, but usually end up with one man-the hero- at the end. Their story is a realistic journey (like the prostitute in Redeeming Love, a wonderful book, btw) one that is rocky and riddled with poor choices, but also a time of growth.

Even God loved sinners.

There are many erotic books that I choose not to pick up, there are many traditional romance books that I've read and thought-whoa, they touched on some really sensitive issues here and maybe I would have apreciated a note in the front of the book!;)

For my part in my writing, I tend to choose the lesser liked characters of life. The social outcasts and quite often, sexual promiscuity is a part of their lives--quite often out of survival sake alone.

My fav Bible passages:
"Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."

Amanda McIntyre

Anna said...

I remember the sheer beauty of reading that passage from Silk Dreams for the first time and thinking how true that was.

I'm of the opinion that an apple tree can only grow apples, so what's in a writer is going to show through no matter what label is on the spine. Some of the most moving inspirational moments I've read have been in general market romances. Shoot, I even gave a message at church once, using an illustration from a Maggie Osborne novel.

Nynke said...

Hi Emily,
it's been said before, but what a touching scene. Gets my eyes wet every time. Isn't forgiveness a great thing? Thanks for sharing this and reminding us :).
I also love that idea from the Screwtape Letters. Food for thought.
Everyone, have a happy Easter, with a sense wonder about this great gift of life we've been given and a sense of forgiveness where applicable!

Nynke

EmilyBryan said...

Amanda, I have no stone to throw.

Hey Anna! Which Maggie Osborn book?

Nynke, forgiveness is a wonderful, healing thing. Thanks for sharing.

Happy Easter/Passover everyone!

Amanda McIntyre said...

Nor I, Emily, I know you are not casting stones here. Completely the opposite.


Im sorry if my post seemed otherwise.

My agreement is with you in that life, nor people can be neatly sub-divided into genres.

Amanda

Amanda

EmilyBryan said...

Amanda, my friend.

The internet is wonderful except when it isn't. I didn't take any offense at anything you said and I'm sorry my comment made you think so.

What is it they say, that 70% or more of our communication is non-verbal? We lose things in translation this way.

I'm looking forward to your visit here with me in August for your next release!

Anna said...

The Maggie Osborne book I used for the message illustration was Silver Lining.

Genella deGrey said...

Emily - It's scary how much you and I are alike.

I hope you get a chance to read my ebook, "Remember Me." I'll have smoldering sexual tension/love scenes in one chapter and inspirational exchanges in the next.

I was told this book would never sell because God was a character.

Well, it seems God likes my book - otherwise it would have remained under my bed for eternity.
:)
G.

PS - After PTP, I'm jumping into SD. I *love* your work, girl!

EmilyBryan said...

Thanks, Anna!

Genella--Thanks so much for your kind words! Hope you love Silk Dreams. And I can't wait to meet you in Orlando!