12.30.2006

HH Com 665

A steel-toed boot nudged his injured arm, causing the man to wake with a start, a stifled scream on his lips. He looked up into the gray blue muzzle of his captor's rifle.
"You are the only one to ever escape from me, but it looks like your luck has run out." The sound of the bolt engaging was very loud. "You're going to hell, you godless fuck. Prepare to meet your maker Satan."
The man looked at the muzzle and then his captor's face, defiance matching up with the fear he felt, but he said nothing.
A single shot echoed through the woods, scaring up a nearby doe and her two fawns.

(your hook starts here)
Jimmy is just a regular guy – hard working, friendly, opinionated, passionate, and involved in a complex relationship with a beautiful woman. Oh yeah, he is also an atheist. Jimmy’s world quickly slides into the surreal when the Covert Christian Cabal, a secret Religious Right group, kidnaps Betsy, his Christian girlfriend, in order to get to him.
Their mission: Rid the USA of secularism by any means possible, even killing off atheists one at a time.
Jimmy’s mission: Make the leader of this group an atheist.
“Creak: An Atheist’s Tale” follows Jimmy into the bowels of the CCC headquarters. Is he able to use his wits and strong opinions to save Betsy and himself? Or is he about to become another bug squashed by the inexorable march of the Religious Right?

Dog spare me from polemics.
You don't have story, you're arguing a political point.
Tell a good story, you'll make a point without needing to make it.

Start with making your characters more than one dimension.

27 comments:

merper said...

Although I hate the Christian right as much as the next rational person, even I have to say this book does seem "surreal." Even if its a comedy, which seems unlikely from the excerpt, its not believable. As an action/thriller plot it's even more ridiculous.

What's even the plot. Why don't they just shoot him right away? A society bent on killing every atheist in the country can't have the time to go through kidnapping each one and bringing them to the leader to have a long talk with them.

jamiehall said...

I second merper's comments. Everthing doesn't quite add up.

Also, it is very hard to sell a novel that sounds as if it is going to be preachy. This is true regardless of what it is preaching.

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading some of my fav writers when they went preachy. Whether it waspolitics or religion and regardless of their position and whether I agreed or not, the instant they started sending a message that wasn't via Western Union I stopped buying and ain't been back.

Young writer, go thou and do likewise. Tell a story, don't prove me no points.

Anonymous said...

Why does Jimmy want to make the group leader an atheist? I mean, I'm about as heathen as they come, but I don't go around trying to convert people, partly because it's a hopeless task and partly because I couldn't care less what other people choose to believe. You need to explain why Jimmy is so militant.

Beth said...

Speaking as both a member of the much maligned and misunderstood Christian Right, and as a rational person (hi, Merper), I have to say--this plot stretches the suspension of disbelief so far past the breaking point it's likely to snap back in your face. Pick some other group to be your villain. This dog won't hunt.

BenPanced said...

I've seen this before, except the atheists are after the Christians and forcing them to join their secret cabal. Though if everybody knows about it, how can it be secret? And if I can pretty much guess the ending from this description, what's the point of reading the entire story?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments.

Just a few thoughts on my story:
merper - The general society is not "bent on killing evey atheist in the country", only the far right leaning secret cabal of the Religious Right is. The average Religious Right member isn't aware at all that this group exists (or would even approve of them...I think). The CCC has to act under the radar to stay undetected, so they don't just shoot en masse - they take atheists one at a time.

jamiehall and anonymous1 - you are right of course. It is preachy, and I'm trying to cut that out.

anonymous2 - 250 word limit got me. The leader of the CCC actually challenges Jimmy to "make me an atheist", which is of course hopeless. Jimmy is very much like you - he doesn't care what others believe, he is just put in this situation because of his beliefs.

beth - I like this group as a villian (sorry!) When I see documentaries like "Jesus Camp" and "Deliver Us From Evil", I am definitely afraid of the potential for abuse of power in religious organizations.

benpanced - Have you read a book with the plot you described? I would be very interested in reading it. In my story, the cabal is known to very few, so it is secret. I will say, the ending of my story isn't "the atheist wins. The end.", so it may be different than you expect.

Thanks again for the comments.

Bernita said...

So, removing hot button words like "cabal"...it's simply another terrorist cult story?

merper said...

Well, there's no way they can accomplish their goal killing people one by one. I still don't understand why they shoot him right away. Unless they operate in a tightly knit area, no detective would even consider that the victims' atheism had anything to do with the crime.

Even still, this can't really work, because even if the villian is pursing an irrational goal they will still pursue it by rational means. For all their faults, the far Right is not dumb enough to think that shooting atheists one by one will stop atheism. They would need some sort of WMD that targets only atheists...somehow. Or they would only go after high profile targets, say a Richard Dawkins or some prominent scientist.

The Christian Right can work as a villain, and there are extremist pockets who engage in acts of terror, but your approach needs to be much less heavy handed. Also, I don't think any group, much less one who thinks they're carrying out the work of god, would refer to themselves as a Cabal.

Leah said...

I am an atheist.

I am not interested by this hook.


It sounds extremely contrived and not funny. I don't want to read a novel length arguement with occasional gunfire.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comments.

bernita – I used the word Cabal (a conspiratorial group of plotters or intriguers; a secret scheme or plot) since it seemed to fit this renegade group (and still does imo). It could be viewed as a ‘terrorist cult’ story, although I view that as only one facet of the story. I want the relationships between Jimmy and his main captor, Jimmy and his girlfriend, and Jimmy and the friend helping him to drive the story. I admit I did not do well in showing this aspect for the hook.

merper – I see your point about the attempt to kill atheists one by one. It was a part of the story I had the most difficulty with. My thoughts were that the head of the CCC would appear to be a normal average man in most roles (father, husband, friend), but the more Jimmy talks with him about conflicts with theism vs. atheism, the more paranoid and psychotic he becomes in this role (protector of Xtianity). That is why he routinely covers all his tracks when grabbing active atheists on his long term crusade to eradicate atheism – a hopeless task, but to him, his “mission from God” (maybe Dawkins would be a target in the future if the CCC is hugely successful). God has given him this mission, but I will try to look at this from different angles for possibly better realism.

See response to bernita for my view on the word Cabal.

Leah – I wrote this book to try to humanize atheists; it’s meant for the religious person who still harbors ideas that atheists are immoral, untrustworthy, selfish, or just plain mean (I left out ‘evil’ and ‘Satan worshipper’ but those beliefs are out there as well). I tried to write the discussion points from an everyman’s POV, not steeped in scientific jargon or deep philosophy. That is my market (plus people who like a shoot out or two).

Thanks again for the comments.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

"...it’s meant for the religious person who still harbors ideas that atheists are immoral, untrustworthy, selfish, or just plain mean...."

Author, you've not only missed the boat, you've missed the whole cottonpickin' ocean. There is no way in hell a religious person is going to read your book. Doesn't look like the irreligious are interested, either.

Anonymous said...

laura(southernxyl) - thank you for your observation, but I beg to differ. While I am sure there are a significant number of religious and non-religious people who wouldn't want to read this type of story for various reasons, I am equally sure there are religious and non-religious people out there like myself who enjoy reading / learning about differing and similar points of view on subjects of interest (and religion is definitely a point of interest for a vast majority of the world, regardless whether your personal point of view is pro or con). That's why debate occurs, and why blogs and forums are stuffed with respondents like ourselves.

elaine said...

Merper: "Although I hate the Christian right as much as the next rational person..."

Do I detect the stench of bigotry?

Why yes, I think I do.

And if anyone doesn't believe me, try replacing "Christian right" with Jew or Muslim or Catholic and see how that statement strikes you.

As to the piece under discussion--Author, what people want is a good story, not a sermon in your own version of morality. Naturally you can choose any person or group to be the villain that you want, no matter who it makes mad, but if it's going to work, it has to be believable. And this premise isn't.

Shannon said...

I think the key to this story is to show humanity on both sides - the atheist and the terrorist. By showing the positive points/flaws/everything on both sides, you can avoid being preachy. If it truly is about the relationship between Jimmy/Betsy and her captor as you say it is and it is well-written (very difficult), I think it could be a fascinating book.

In terms of the atheist business, why would they target him? How would they even know he was an atheist? Is he outspoken about it? Is he a pro-choice or other "liberal" cause advocate that would put him in the spotlight? Most atheists tend to keep their beliefs to themselves on the "I'll respect you if you respect me" basis. However, I've known some "fundamentalist" atheists who feel the need to push their non-faith on everyone they know (they often tend to be teenagers). However, this sort of person would (probably) never date a practicing Christian - because they have such a strong prejudice against them. (Believe me - my early high school boyfriend was one of these guys and he broke up with me for being a "Jesus freak" as my faith was just developing.) On the other hand, many Christians whose faith is central to their lives would not seriously date an atheist just because their values/priorities would be so different. It might work better if they're just really good friends.

Shannon said...

Also, I'm rather curious at to what Jimmy's argument is for atheism, in terms of convincing the leader. Most of the famous logical arguments were just recently described in Dawkin's The God Delusion, and I'm sure the leaders have heard them all already. However, an event from Jimmy's life that made him an atheist and would be heart-shattering might work (although those sort of events are sometimes viewed as God's work by other people!).

merper said...

For the record, I hate all right(aka fundamentalist) sects(Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Christian) equally. It's just that this book happens to be about the Christian right.

I know it's off topic, but I wanted to clarify that.

Anonymous said...

elaine - I agree that people like a good story, but I also see on the best sellers list many thought provoking titles as well (mostly non-fiction it's true). Recent books by authors like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have opened the atheistic worldview to more exposure than any time I can remember. In fact, a perusal of the best sellers list, particularly non-fiction, reveals many people buying what amounts to a 'sermon' of the author's version of [insert pet cause here]. My book is an attempt to meld thriller based fiction with this recent increased exposure to atheism. It may or may not work out, but I've had a blast writing this story.

And as for believability of what Religious Right extremists will do, all I can say is - abortion clinic murders/bombings.

Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Shannon - thanks for the excellent questions.

I believe I show both sides to be a combination of positives and negatives; I went out of my way in the book to show the leader of the CCC as a doting father, good husband, good conversationalist, and fairly well rounded - his one blind spot is his extreme adherence to what he sees as 'God's mission'. Jimmy could probably use more flaws (and his Christian girlfriend less), and I will work on that.

Some specifics for your questions:
Jimmy was targeted due to his increased outspokenness of his atheism; I call him a 'Born Again Atheist', and it somewhat mirrors my recent experiences over the past several years.

The CCC sees him being more outspoken on atheist websites they monitor on the Internet - that is what puts him in their spotlight, plus his continuing relationship with his Christian girlfriend.

Many atheists stay quiet because they repects others' beliefs, but also because of persecution (perceived, unconscious, passive or otherwise) that US society hands out on a daily basis. Keep track of how many God references you hear on a daily basis, along with other specific religious items you see (churches, crosses, etc.) - I see and hear a lot all day every day.

I've been married to a Christian for 19+ years; we are going through a divorce, partly due to our differing belief systems, but also because of many other factors. I also know quite a few atheists married to Christians; their relationships run the gamut from happy to unhappy. This type of relationship is possible, but I will consider the friends angle as well.

The arguments Jimmy use in his discussion with the CCC leader (Jimmy won't convince him; the challenge from the leader is impossible) are nothing radical, just concepts put in conversational terms (ex. Morality seen as an instinctual, innate human concept, not divinely inspired). I enjoy Dawkins, Harris et al, but they can be somewhat scholarly at times. The CCC leader has seen the various arguments, but he is on a 'mission', so he is unpersuaded.

Thanks again.

elaine said...

The author said: Many atheists stay quiet because they repects others' beliefs, but also because of persecution (perceived, unconscious, passive or otherwise) that US society hands out on a daily basis. Keep track of how many God references you hear on a daily basis, along with other specific religious items you see (churches, crosses, etc.) - I see and hear a lot all day every day.

Ummm...since when does the free practice of religion or the public expression of religious beliefs constitute persecution of those who have no religion? There is no such thing as a right to freedom from religion, you know. Or a right not to be offended.

Anonymous said...

elaine - quite true (that is why I put the qualifiers 'perceived, unconscious, passive or otherwise' in parentheses after 'persecution') - it's not malicious or intentional persecution, but what is perceived or felt.

A religious person in the US lives in a society that routinely affirms their beliefs many times and in many ways every day - is is accepted, and as natural for their lives as breathing. My experience is that this constant affirmation appears to be like 'white noise' to a religious person. They aren't even aware how pervasive it is. Coupled with this is the dismissive attitude towards atheism when the subject come up. We are usually lumped together as immoral, evil, devil worshippers, etc., instead of being seen as people with hopes, dreams, and desires, the only difference is living life without a god concept.

For an atheist in the US, every day brings many overt and covert religious based items/sayings into their reality. An example - Something as small as watching a TV show where a character says, "I guess the Big Guy was looking out for you", or going by churches with their signs (Saw this yesterday - "New Year's Resolution - More Jesus in 2007!"). There are too many other examples to give, since they are a daily occurence. But this gives a sense of what I am saying.

These are fine within the context of today's USA, and the majority accepts them as norms. But for a small minority, they are constant reminders of a differing worldview. This is where the persecution feelings come in. The minority view, in most cases, will feel persecuted when living within a differing majority. Look at race relations and cultural differences all over the world.

Imagine how you (I assume you are religious) would feel if your religious worldview was slighted and discounted (or even scoffed at) every day all day. This is one way feelings of persecution could arise, warranted or not.

I understand the role of the atheist in US society, which is what compelled me to write this story.

But enough preaching...

elaine said...

Imagine how you (I assume you are religious) would feel if your religious worldview was slighted and discounted (or even scoffed at) every day all day.

I encounter that quite frequently. Right here in this comment trail, for instance.

Listen, I consider myself a Christian, but if I moved to, say, Israel, I would live with constant reminders of the Jewish faith. I would not find this unexpected or in the least offensive, nor would it give me a feeling of being persecuted to be in the minority. The same if I moved to a Muslim country, though I daresay in that case they would find me offensive.

Now, when you are not allowed to speak of your beliefs (or lack thereof) in public, when you are discriminated against or physically threatened, when you fear for your life because you are an atheist--that is persecution. Just being surrounded by a culture that believes differently from you, or encountering people who don't like you because of your position, is not.

Anonymous said...

Elaine – you aren’t seriously comparing the comment you saw on this thread with what an atheist faces in the God-drenched USA, are you? This thread is specifically about a book with atheism as a main theme, so you might meet some individual resistance to your worldview here. But that is not the case in the real world.

The USA (population 300 million people) is overwhelmingly religious, and a good chunk of them are Christians. Every single politician in power is religious, and a good chunk of them are Christians. In fact, it is hard to get elected if you don’t publicly proclaim some type of faith, even Muslim as seen by the latest election. To date, there is not one self-proclaimed atheist in any elected office in the entire USA, even with Article VI, Clause 3 of the Constitution, which states in part, “…but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”. Bottom line – you can’t get elected to public office in the USA if you are an atheist.

Google ‘Religion and Politics: Contention and Consensus’. A quote from the survey: “At the same time, significant numbers of Americans say they would be reluctant to vote for a presidential candidate even if generally well-qualified if the candidate was a member of a specific faith. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) say they would not vote for a well-qualified Muslim for president, and 15% express concern about voting for a well-qualified evangelical Christian. Far fewer say they would not vote for a Jewish (10%) or Catholic (8%) candidate. But fully half say they would not vote for a well-qualified atheist.” This is not too long after 9/11, the defining moment of this generation, yet at that time (2003) more people surveyed would vote for a well-qualified Muslim (62%) for President that a well-qualified atheist (<50%). So less than 2 years after the worst terrorist attack in US history, perpetuated by Muslim extremists, atheists were still seen as less desirable. This has been confirmed in other surveys as well.

Google ‘bush and atheists’. Check out what then V-P Bush the First stated in 1987 when campaigning for the highest office in the land. When asked if he “recognize[d] the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists?”, Bush the First replied, “No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” The man who became President feels that atheists shouldn’t even be citizens of the USA. Now do what you suggested merper do: replace ‘atheists’ with Jew, Muslim, or other grouping like black or gay, and see how that statement strikes you. Bigotry indeed. Even given a chance to retract his statement, the President refused, stating through council, “As you are aware, the President is a religious man who neither supports atheism nor believes that atheism should be unnecessarily encouraged or supported by the government”. Just another example of persecution and discrimination of atheists in the USA.

As for not being able to speak of your beliefs or (lack thereof) in public, many atheists (myself included) do not make this common knowledge at the workplace because of the huge potential for recrimination, up to and including being fired. Physically threatened – I have read of atheists having their cars vandalized because of having a Darwin fish magnet (like the Xtian fish magnets) on their car. I have seen stories of Atheists being suspended from schools and even forced to move due to refusal to say the Pledge of Allegiance (because of the “Under God” wording). I have even read a story of an atheist receiving death threats because a newspaper (against the man’s wishes) voluntarily put his address down in an atheism-related article.

Persecution of atheists definitely happens; it’s just hard to see from the other side of the fence.

thraesja said...

Ouch, Anon Author. I hope it is not as truly bad as that in the US. My own experiences tend to make me believe you, however. I'll have to look into some of the stats you mentioned. I had no idea Bush had made the statement concerning citizenship. Another quote for me to look up and read the context.

Unlike you, I do not feel slighted by sit-com quips about help from the Big Guy, or by church signs (although some of those I find humourous and/or ironic). I am indeed afraid to put the Darwin fish on my car, although I have enjoyed seeing it on the cars of braver people than I.

I do however feel uncomfortable when a coworker asks me how I can possibly know right from wrong. I do not exist in a moral vacuum because I do not believe I will be punished by a Supreme Being in an afterlife. In some ways I think that gives me a better capacity to appreciate good from evil, as no reward/punishment system (apart from a legal one) controls my acts.

My parents insisting on dictating the holiday schedule my husband and I were to follow, as "Christmas is meaningless to you anyway", was also painful. I no longer belive in the original meaning of Christmas, but having grown up in a Western society, the holiday of Christmas will always be a time of love and family. I love buying presents to think of the happiness they will bring, and I love large intricate meals that allow me to spend time with family and friends. Not at all meaningless. It really hurt me that my parents don't think Christmastime is special for me too. They'd have been much more tactful if I'd converted to Judaism or Islam.

I do not believe you will reach your target audience. The Christians who are bigoted against athiests will not read this book. People will rarely read message books that are against their world view. You can have a novel where the main character is an athiest, and show his or her struggles, but with the Christian Right as the baddie, I think you have no hope of doing anything but alienating your target audience. You might get away with it if you made it a Sci-Fi or fantasy setting, with a made up religion. Or just be more subtle. Anne McCaffrey manages to do it in her Pern series just by having no religion present on her planet at all. I don't know her personal beliefs, but she has full characters, both good and evil, not one of which believes in a supreme being or an afterlife.

Anonymous said...

Thanks thraesja, I’m glad to see you know where I’m coming from. I appreciate all your excellent observations.

With regards to the sit-com quips and church signs. Individually, they don’t bother me either. I have thought about it, and what bothers me is the experience of 30+ years as an agnostic and then atheist, and the build-up over time of these harmless items. This is also aggravated by my relatively more active atheism – I spent years keeping my atheism inside my own head, and only in the past two years or so have I sought out other like-minded folks. Being more focused on it has sharpened my perception of the role of the atheist in the USA. This is both good and bad – I am much more knowledgeable about the subject, but each new development is akin to the Chinese Water Torture. I keep waiting for the next drop. It’s not as bad as it sounds, but I definitely notice each religious incident when it occurs.

I agree with the Christmas thing – it’s still a great reason to get together with family and friends for a good time. Kinda like a giant weeklong end of the year ‘weekend’.

This book may never hit its target audience, and I’m okay with that. I originally wrote it because I had all these ideas bouncing around in my head about atheism, and only a few people actually hearing them (and I’ve always liked to read and write). Many of my observations are conversations I’ve had on forums of atheists and Christians alike. I was just confident enough to think I could write a book, and I did – for a target audience of one. Only after I finished did I even think I could possibly publish this on a larger scale, and in a perfect world I would want to that target to be ANY religious person – curious, open-minded, uninformed about atheism, set in their ways, conservative, liberal, etc (or any type of atheist for that matter). But I’ve already achieved what I wanted to, and I love my baby. It really was a labor of love.

Plus…my other writings are all Sci-Fi and horror (yeah!); this book was more personal.

Thanks again for the comments.

Twill said...

Sigh. Author, no one uses "Covert" or "Cabal" to describe themselves. If they really were either of those things, they wouldn't advertise it, they would call themselves the "Christian Puppies Club" or "Apple Pie for Christ" or "Mothers against Atheistic Driving".

Now, if that title was bestowed by a journalist or some other nutjob, and their name was really something else with those initials, then maybe. But you've already started out in the region of farce, or parody, or parable or allegory at best. If you want that dog to hunt, you'll need a Christian co-writer to punch up the other side of the argument. Or change your bad guy's name to Judas Straw.

Anonymous said...

Thanks twill for your comments.

That's one problem with a 250 word hook limit; all the nuances are swept to the side in favor of a general overview. Plus, as I look over the hook information that Miss Snark gave us, I see I did it all wrong. Hopefully I will be able to correct this for any future needs.

I did miss this misconception (the Religious Right group calling itself the CCC) in earlier posts. You did partially hit the explanation. The secret Religious Right group is called the CCC for identification purposes by the small group of rag-tag atheists (nameless) who are trying to fight them. The renegade Religious Right group is so secretly embedded within the Religious Right as to be nameless - they definitely don't call themselves the CCC, although they are aware this label is out there (each group is aware of the other's existence, but imperfectly so).

I was raised Catholic, so I do have a grounding in religious belief. But I do agree that I could use some punching up of the religious side of the argument.