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.