Interview with J.F. Lewis: Excommunicated author on what happened

There seems to be some discussion about Jeremy F. Lewis’s “excommunication*” being a publicity stunt. It’s not, folks. Here’s more to the story: (And thank you to J. F. Lewis for agreeing to answer my questions.)

1) Is it true? Or is it a publicity stunt?

Yes, it’s true.  While it certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings if some good came of it, I’d rather the elders had taken the time to read the book, evaluate it in whole rather than part, and given me the benefit of the doubt.  I also wish that I’d brought an audio recorder with me to the various meetings we had so that when they denied (in later meetings) having said some of the things they said (in earlier meetings), I’d have had some sort of documentation, so that I could go…  No, let me play it back for you.  This is when you made the stoning comment.  This is when you called me a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  This is when you accused me of committing adultery because I wrote a sex scene.  Etc.

2) Who is your target audience, and what did you have in mind when you wrote Staked? Clearly not anything like excommunication, but what did attract you to urban fantasy and vampires?

My basic goal for writing anything is to entertain people.  That’s it.  Sure there are things that I was addressing in the book, but entertainment is my end goal.

As far as target audience, I intended Staked to be the perfect vampire book for people who hate vampire books while still appealing to the urban fantasy lovers out there.  When people ask me if Staked is appropriate for their children to read, I tell them that, in movie terms, it’s a very strong R and leave it up to them to decide.

I’ve always been intrigued by vampires, whether in the form of Dracula… in the book or the Hammer films, other films like Fright Night, or even roleplaying games.  Before trying to write about vampires, though, I tried to write family friendly fiction.  Very light.  Very fluffy.  Very unsold.  I’d had the character of Eric in my head for a long time and I’d tried various ways to write his story, but I kept watering him down.  Eric is the guy who is not afraid to express himself in whatever terms he feels appropriate, so trying to censor him never worked.

With that caveat, the first draft of Staked was written in  direct response to a vampire novel I was reading.  It was a book I’d enjoyed before, but for some reason, in that particular read through, the main character’s whining irritated me.  He was drowning in his own ennui.  I kept thinking there is no way Eric would be whining like that.

So I thought… if that character thinks he has it rough, I want to write a book about a vampire that really has it rough, set in a world where being a vampire truly *is* unpleasant.  Vampires would have cool powers, but the price they paid for those powers would be more than staying out of the sun and having to drink blood.  My main character also needed to be someone that could endure it all without whining and still find the time to crack-wise… a sort of vampire John McClane, if you will.  Which suited Eric just fine and when I wrote him in Staked, if he would have said it or thought it or done it… I wrote it.

With that in mind, when people ask me if Staked is appropriate for their children to read, I tell them that, in movie terms, it’s a very strong R.

3) Some would argue that this isn’t much of a loss, since the church clearly isn’t such a welcoming place. Kind of in the same way that a friend who stabbed you in the back couldn’t have been much of a friend. What does this loss mean to you? Were you active in the church community?

My attendance certainly wasn’t the best.  We participated in the work groups (folks who help out members in need or send cards to visitors, provide rides to the elderly, that sort of thing.  We went and helped one of the elderly members of the congregation move).  When it was my turn to serve on the Lord’s table, or give the invitation, I gladly did so.  I will say that our participation in the group meetings were somewhat curtailed when we discovered the extent to which our two boys are allergic to nuts.  Not everyone really reads the packages on everything reliably enough and since my eldest is off the chart allergic… well, if the meeting was at the church building and didn’t involve food, we tried to stay, but otherwise, we stopped going to them.

That’s the easy part to answer.  The harder part is talking about how it affected me.  I think I’ll hold that for one of the other questions though.

4) Did you have any idea the church would hold your fictional work as truth? That is, to your knowledge, has the church shunned any other works of fiction? (Some readers out of spite have speculated the church may have been part of the Harry Potter backlash.)

I wouldn’t say they held my fictional work as truth.  I’d say that have a very unfortunate failure to understand the process of writing fiction.  To my knowledge the Elders haven’t singled out any books and said don’t read these (not even mine except by example).  I’d previously felt very welcome there, because I’d never before attended anywhere where the preacher might use the Lord of the Rings as a positive example in a sermon.  They aren’t bad people, by any stretch of the imagination.  Everybody makes mistakes.

5) What will you do now? Will you seek another church?

We’re stilling thinking it over.  My wife is still a member there, so she and the boys still go and the times I’ve gone since they withdrew fellowship, I get some weird looks, but no one says anything or refuses to pass me the plate during the Lord’s Supper.  They aren’t mean people.  And scripturally, they aren’t supposed to do anything worse than refuse to participate in social situations with me… and so far, they are doing their best to hold to that.

6) How has this ordeal affected your faith? And your family?

Not to sound overly dramatic, but it felt like God was personally turning his back on me.  And since the Elders didn’t just hold me responsible, they held my wife responsible, too… I really can’t describe the turmoil it unleashed in my home.  Things have calmed down considerably, but it’s still an issue we deal with every day.  It’s silly of me to hold God responsible for what are essentially the actions of a few men, but for awhile I was very angry with Him.

7) How has this ordeal affected you as a person? As a writer? Will this affect your desire to write about vampires or other paranormal stuff in the future?

It still messes with my head, but I’m in a better place now, which is why I let the announcement run in Locus.  I wanted to stop worrying that people would find out about my getting kicked out of church somehow and hold it against me.  I thought, “Fine.  Let people know.  So what.”

It was very hard to write while I was going through the process and afterwards, I could revise what I’d already written, but writing vampire stories in Void City made me feel guilty… like I was doing something wrong even though deep down I knew that I wasn’t.  Fortunately, I’m a very bull-headed person about things like that.  I just needed time to let that part of my nature kick in.  After all, I decided to write genre fiction when a creative writing professor told me that he wished I’d stop wasting my time at something that was “a masturbatory effort.”  In short, I guess what I’m trying to say is – as long as I have good ideas for paranormal stories and as long as people want to publish them and read them, I’ll keep writing them.

8) What bothers you most about this whole thing? Is there anything you’d like tell readers?

They went after my wife, too…. tried to hold her partially responsible for what I wrote because she did my website.  They used my dedication against me, tried to make her ashamed of being named in it.  I’m still mad about that.

* Although the church in question is refusing to use the word “excommunicated”, Merriam-Webster defines the word as “an ecclesiastical censure depriving a person of the rights of church membership” and “exclusion from fellowship in a group or community”. Both definitions seem to fit this case to me.

13 comments on “Interview with J.F. Lewis: Excommunicated author on what happened

  1. It is a pity that the church authorities felt they needed to protect their parishioners from Mr. Lewis. One assumes they are trying to prevent the spread of his way of thinking–“pluck out the eye that offends”, and such. That kind of thinking has caused the darkest times the human race has known. I hope Mr. Lewis and his family find spiritual strength and balance through this.

  2. I would hope that they were trying to protect mr. lewis from mr. lewis. However– they should have at least read the book.

    who knows. maybe they were just trying to protect themselves. the church being made up of us, is not perfect, only Christ (God) is perfect.

    they shouldn’t have went after his wife.. they shouldn’t have disfellowshiped him.

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  4. Would it be impolite to inquire what denomination the church is?

    I am not much of a church-goer, and things like this stack up on the side of “reasons why I like it that way.”

  5. I wasn’t aware that Protestant Churches used the term excommunicate or that they even condoned the practice. Excommunication under the Catholic Church not only denies membership, but the offender is denied communion. (The Lord’s Supper.)

    As a Catholic, this subject weighs on my mind a lot. I’m seriously considering submitting under a pen name to avoid the grief.

  6. I can certainly understand that, though Heather Harper is a darn good name. I think J.S. is better off without them, and I feel terrible he and his family had to go through this painful experience. In real life, he’s about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.

  7. Nicola – it’s nondenominational.

    Heather – Protestant churches (AFAIK) don’t “excommunicate” people, they just make them feel unwelcome. As a Baptist, I always heard it referred to as being ‘churched’ – the equivalent of being ‘shunned’ by the Amish (Mennonites?). I had also never heard of it actually being done.

    I went to (this) church with J and his family a couple of times, and the people there were really nice – very welcoming – and the second time I was there (weeks later), they even remembered my name. I don’t think there was any element of “meanness” in this; I think they were truly concerned about J. They’re pretty much good folks. They’re just wrong about this.

    And Kosmo’s right – Real Life J is about the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.

  8. And that s a good exemple of why church is a very bad idea and should have been abolished long ago. Quite frankly, it looks like a crutch more than anything. The idea of mortal men taking action in the name of god is just wrong in my opinion and that s why while i believe in god i will never go to church to pray or follow any direction given by a member of said church.

  9. You should have asked them why Anne Rice wasn’t tossed out of her church when she wrote her vampire chronicles. Not to mention her erotica stuff.
    Though I said this at another blog, I’m going to post it here too
    Jeremy, I’m truly sorry you’ve been subjected to this kind of narrow mindedness, but sometimes these things happen for a reason. Maybe God is letting you know that it is time for you and your family to move to another church. Talk to some other pastors up front and let them know about your writing career to see how they feel about it. If they are as closed minded as the old church, then it is not where you need to be to worship. Please don’t allow these people to weaken or doubt your faith though. I’ll be keeping you and your family in my prayers.

  10. Ann Rice is Catholic and can confess after the fact. It takes very specific offenses within canon law to actually get yourself excommunicated. I suffered many years of Catholic School and actually paid attention despite never being Catholic.

  11. Crazy… but mostly just sad.

    That a church would WANT to exclude people is so strange (and somewhat antithetical to Christian belief if not Christian tradition). That they would deprive someone of religion because of a book … and a book like this no less … is ridiculous.

    I suppose any group of people – even if gathered to do good – is capable of the daily petty cruelties that make us human.

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  13. Maybe those people in that church should focus on reading their Bibles instead of trying to crucify writers making an honest living. Good grief.

    And people wonder why I’ve chosen to be a Pagan? Ugh.

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