Author Victoria Christopher Murray Talks ‘Sinners & Saints’ and Why She Doesn’t Like to be Called a “Christian Author”
Well, you know I’m not inspired in a way where like people are inspired to write songs or anything. I always say that from the bottom of my heart I know that I’ve been given a gift by God. I know that writing is one hundred percent a gift from him. I once heard Michael Jackson say that every song that he was ever going to write was already inside of him when he was born. God had already put it in him and it was his job to pull it out and I said you know that’s exactly how it is with me. All of these stories were already inside of me and so all I had to do was pull it out. As far as Jasmine is concerned it wasn’t so much the character it was the story I wanted to tell in Temptations. I wanted to tell a story of a loving Christian couple who ran into temptation. Jasmine was only there to mess up the couple. She wasn’t even meant to be a major character. That was my first novel and then people kept sending my e-mails asking “When are you gonna bring back Jasmine?” I’m like “I thought you hated her” and they’re like “Yeah, we really do. We wanna hate her some more.” I didn’t even bring her back until my fifth book because she wasn’t even in my head. I’m more interested in the stories than the characters. I think that as a writer you have to write so that your books are character driven but when I first sit down my first thing is a ‘what if’ question. I start with the story then I develop characters to tell the story so Jasmine only came about because she was the best person to tell that story.
What initiated the collaboration between you and ReShonda Tate Billingsley?
Now, that was actually something. We’re both with Simon & Schuster but with different imprints and her publisher Louise Burke once said “I think you and Victoria should write a book together”. So we were like “Oh, that’s a good idea”. We had never thought about it and you know no one had been doing stuff like this. I had never thought about really doing it and so it actually took us some time to put it together because when we first suggested it my publisher they were like “Absolutely not. We don’t want you doing a collaboration. Your sales are fine by yourself. It’s not gonna be good with someone else”. I guess they really didn’t know how it was going to work. The thing that is so interesting about this is that usually the publisher’s words are the last words because they make the decisions about our careers, which is one of the tough things about being with a publisher. But, I pushed and I pushed and it took about two years and we finally got my publisher to agree to do it and it’s so funny that they weren’t interested in doing it and they didn’t want me to do it but then, it turned into a two book deal because they decided okay if we’re doing we’re gonna do the first book and her publisher can do the second book so we still laugh about that to this day.
So I guess that answers my next question, which was going to be “Is this the last that we will see of Lady Jasmine?”
I cannot see myself writing another book about Jasmine alone. I’ve written five books about her by myself and after Sins of the Mother I never planned to write a book about her again because I felt I had taken her as far as I could take her and what I mean by that is that she has grown in her Christian walk and the thing that makes her such an interesting character is that with the things she would do she is really getting closer to God. She like prays to God and then she gets up off of the floor and tries to help God out you know because she thinks God needs some help. I had done that enough times that if I had kept going the storyline would begin to become predictable so I hadn’t planned on writing about her. To be able to do a collaboration with ReShonda Tate Billingsley was a gift because now I can bring Jasmine back and she’s motivated by this new character who is so much like her yet so different, which makes it so much fun. For example Jasmine is older and Rachel is younger, Jasmine is from the north and Rachel is from the south, Jasmine is bougie and Rachel is purely country. Although ReShonda and I are not those characters we have the same sensibility and we realized that I really am Jasmine and she really is Rachel, which makes it so much fun because we can kind of act it out on the road and on Facebook and just have a lot of fun with it. So, you will see Jasmine again because I have the second book with ReShonda and we just gave a proposal for a third book with Jasmine and Rachel.
Was there a specific message you had in mind when writing Sinners and Saints?
You know what’s so interesting is I think when people read my books and get messages out of my books they’re absolutely sure that I must sit down and say “Okay, this is the message I want to come out of it” and its so not like that. I come up with a story, then I develop characters to tell the story and then I just let it go because I know that my faith, which is so important to me is going to show up in the book. I always tell people that no matter what I would’ve done in my life my faith was gonna show up. If I was a teacher people would be saying “You know there goes that Christian teacher.” If I was a bus driver people would say “Hey, there goes that Christian bus driver.” My faith is always going to be who I am and so I never have to worry about writing a specific message I just go ahead and let the message show up. What I find fascinating about that is I think God meets the people on the page and people are like I got this and that from your book and I’m thinking “what page is that on? I didn’t write that” but what is is that people are met wherever they are.
So that sort of lead into my other question which was ‘Why Christian Fiction?”
Okay, I’ve never wanted to write Christian Fiction. Ever. I’m still like schizophrenic. Christian Fiction, I don’t like that title. It’s just a problem for me. I believe it has hurt my sales and another thing that bothers me about it is that my publisher doesn’t call me Christian Fiction because they’re not a Christian publisher. The bookstores don’t call me Christian Fiction. They don’t have me in a Christian Fiction section, which I’m glad about. The only people that call me a Christian writer are the readers and then they say that my books are not “Christian” enough because I get a lot of criticism from readers. Often times they’re stating that they don’t like the sex, it doesn’t feel like real Christian, Jasmine is not a real Christian and so it is such a hard label to wear. There seems to be nothing that I can do about it. It is a label that I have been given and no matter what I do I can’t get out of it. So as a result I’ve lost a lot of readers or I will get e-mails from people often who say “People told me this was a Christian book and I wasn’t interested in being preached to so I didn’t want to read it and then I read it and it was so good and I’m going to go get your other books and so the label has truly, truly hurt me.” But, it is what it is and as I said no matter what my faith is going to show up and I put my faith into whatever I do and so I love the label in terms of people knowing who I am when I walk in a room but, the other part of it is really hard. If I could do anything to go back and get that label away from me I would have.
I think what I love most about your books is that they’re safe. They’re entertaining books that I know I can read safely without being exposed to overly explicit sex scenes, profanity and just craziness that many novels consist of.
You know what is interesting about that is that’s who my books turned out to be for but I never set out to write books for you. I wanted to write books for women who would never walk into the church. I just wanted to show them that you don’t have to be perfect to go to a church and that Christians are flawed as well. I always say we all have the same trials, tribulations and temptations but it is how we solve our problems that make the difference.
It is said that ‘art reflects life’. Would you say that Jasmine and Rachel’s conniving antics are a reflection of today’s church or was it purely for entertainment?
It’s purely entertainment. I don’t think there is any way that people can write books or movies or songs without life getting into it. You have to pull on something so our books are not indicative of the church, meaning every single church in America but are there first ladies like Jasmine and Rachel? Sure. Are there conventions like the one we wrote about? Sure. I’ve never been to one but ReShonda used to be a reporter and has reported on some of those and according to the e-mails that we have been getting people are saying that we’ve been hitting it dead on and there are a lot of politics in religion.
What do you hope for readers to walk away with after reading Sinners & Saints?
I want them to walk away with great entertainment. Really, I am not trying to be a minister. I leave that part up to God so I hope they walk away with great entertainment and if a seed needed to be planted I hope that I planted it and someone comes along and waters it and God does the rest. I’m not that deep.
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