Marionette is the first book in my Agent Ko Spy Thriller Series, and let me tell you, this has been my most difficult writing project by far. To give you some perspective, I wrote the novel Flower Swallow in eleven days. I started my Ko series in February of 2015. That's a year and a half ago, and I'm just now getting ready to release the first two books.
Well, you can tease all you want for it taking me that long. I'm just thankful it got written at all. The entire ordeal was similar to a bad dating relationship, with me giving up on the project at least a dozen times only to pick it back up again (often against what felt like the better side of reason).
Why was it so hard? What was so different about this series that made it such a challenge?
Fear of secular/Christian labels. It used to be that you could write a novel that had Christian characters or themes and it was just a novel. Now, it's a Christian novel, and Christian novels come with a pretty strict list of do's and don'ts (don't swear, don't have characters sleeping together, do show someone getting saved, do present the gospel message). I knew my Ko series wouldn't conform to these expectations, and I lost hours of sleep and paced dozens of miles trying to figure out exactly how to label my book. Eventually, I had to admit that Marionette is not a Christian book, and that's probably where my troubles started.
Fear of being called a sell-out. Believe me, this one was a doozie. I like to think that I've developed a thicker set of skin over the years since I first started writing novels, but when it comes right down to it, I want people to like me. I knew if I wrote a series that didn't conform to the Christian fiction standards, some readers would call me a sell-out. They'd think my choice was strictly about money. (It's not, by the way. In fact, all the ebook sales from Marionette are being donated to Liberty in North Korea and their underground railroad for refugees, which kind of silences that argument pretty fast.)
Fear of losing my readers' respect. Did I mention I want people to like me? Did I mention I'm insecure? I can't tell you how many times I polled Facebook friends and forums basically asking, "Would you still respect a Christian author who writes non-Christian books?" Some said yes. Some said no. Some said no quite forcefully. I was scared.
Fear of stepping out of God's will. I know it will sound weird to some of you, but I felt called to write this spy series. I have no idea why. All I know was it was a very strong feeling, more than what I've experienced with any of my other books. But what if I was wrong? What if I was just making all that up? What if God didn't want me writing these books? Would he stop blessing my Christian novels if I dabbled in the world of mainstream writing?
Fear of bad reviews. I've gotten bad reviews because one of my books had an intense medical scene a reader found too disturbing. I've gotten bad reviews because my main character didn't act "Christian" enough. I've gotten bad reviews because I didn't use the "right" Bible when I quoted Scripture. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to my ratings when I write about a spy recruit whose roommate sleeps around shamelessly or a director who uses a plethora of colorful idioms.
Fear of using the wrong words. Gritty as they are, the characters in Marionette don't swear. The worse words you'll come across are crap and hell (used as a noun and not as an expletive). Still, that director I mentioned has a crass way of talking. What will Christian readers think of his constant berating and his shameless euphemisms? What will mainstream readers think of an author who still uses the word butt instead of other synonyms? Will my characters come across as realistic to someone who's used to reading thrillers that drop an F-bomb or two every chapter?
Fear of misunderstanding. It seems like you can't write a novel today without someone assuming you're pushing an agenda. If I have a character who's a vegetarian, there's going to be at least one or two readers out there who assume I'm out there to convince everyone to turn vegan. (For the record, I ate a moose burger for dinner and enjoyed it quite thoroughly.) But that nagging fear was constant in the back of my mind as I worked on Ko's story. If I write about a character who doesn't think or act the way people assume a good Christian should, will I run into readers who assume I'm condoning every single choice she makes?
Fear of offending Christian readers. As you can tell, there's a common theme running through these roadblocks, and they all have to do with fear. Thankfully, I was able to deal with each one in turn so that now I have the first two books in the Agent Ko Spy Thriller Series edited and ready to release in the next few weeks. I hope one day I'll look back and laugh at myself for all my petty worries and anxieties.
There's one fear on my list that is quite valid in my opinion, and that's the fear of offending my readers. I know that some readers stick to Christian fiction because it goes against their conscience to read about characters who swear or sleep around. (For the record, it goes against my conviction as an author to write explicit sex scenes, so you'll never have to worry about that in any of my books. I'm not judging what you write or read. I'm just stating my own stance on the subject.) One of my goals as a Christian author is to encourage and uplift my readers. If my novels causes you to betray your conscience, I've made a serious mistake.
That's why my Ko series is published under my initials, A. J. Terry. It's a visual distinction between my secular books and my Christian ones. I've also included a short disclaimer at the beginning of Marionette. If books with gritty scenes, intense violence, and non-Christian behavior will get you down or offend you, I completely respect your right to choose your own reading materials, and I invite you to continue reading my Alana Terry books which conform to a stricter sense of propriety.
If, however, an edgy, fast-paced spy thriller is your cup of tea, you may find Agent Ko to be the protagonist you've been waiting for this whole time.