People often ask me why, as a non-believer, I'm writing a thriller series that revolves around religion-related concepts. (The Awakening series follows a young woman whose virgin pregnancy might bring the world a female messiah or trigger Armageddon.) First, completely aside from religion, I’ve always been intrigued by world changing or world ending stories. A great example of this type of story is my favorite movie, The Terminator.
|The Awakening (Book 1) and The Unbelievers (Book 2).
Second, the role of women in myth and religion fascinates me. I grew up learning about Christianity from the Catholic perspective, and the Catholic religion is filled with contradictions in its view of Mary, believed to be the mother of Jesus. I had friends in other Christian churches who told me Catholicism was wrong or evil because Catholics “worship” Mary. Apparently aware of that critique, the priests at the church my family attended were careful to emphasize that Mary is not a deity in her own right. On the other hand, though it appears nowhere in the Church’s written gospels, Catholics believe that Mary in and of herself is unique among humans. For one, she is believed to be the only human being conceived without Original Sin, which is the actual meaning of the term Immaculate Conception. And for another, she supposedly never died. Instead, her body was “assumed” into heaven. A pretty amazing feat for someone who is not divine. Many Catholics also believe she has special powers to intercede with Jesus/God and see that prayers are answered.
For all the interest in Mary in the Catholic Church, the Bible coverage of her is limited. If she were real, what was her life like? In her time, far more than now, being unmarried and pregnant did not bode well for a young woman. Yet the Bible says nothing about what she told her parents, relatives, or friends about her situation. The only mention is that Joseph initially intended to reject her, but changed his mind after an angel visited him.
Perhaps because I ultimately found I didn’t believe most of the stories I grew up with, I’m intrigued by the reasoning of those who continue to do so, which is the majority of people in the Chicago area where I live. What I found myself asking is how literal people’s beliefs are. Are they convinced that a little over two thousand years ago a woman named Mary actually one day found herself pregnant despite never having had sex? And, if so, how would they react to a young woman who made that same claim today? It’s one thing to believe that in Biblical times Moses parted the Red Sea or Jesus was born of a virgin, but it’s another to believe anyone who claims to perform miracles today.
Along with that “What if” came my other issue with the major monotheistic religions—that God is represented as male. So when I began putting together my plot idea for The Awakening series, I considered not only what opposition and disbelief a pregnant virgin today would face, but how that might change once she revealed her child would be a girl.
I also wanted to explore many potential causes for such an event, as not all the world is Christian. In fact, my protagonist, Tara Spencer, is not herself religious, though her parents are, which adds to her confusion and makes the issue more complex. The event that starts the story could have been caused by some sort of god, an adversary to god (such as Satan as he is traditionally depicted in our culture), a different supernatural being or force altogether, a scheming scientist, evolution…the possibilities are endless. All these causes remain on the table for most of the series, so the answer to the other question often asked of me, which is whether the series is a Christian one, is no.
I chose to go beyond one thriller and into a four-book series in part due to my original thought that the Biblical character of Mary gets short shrift. In the end, her value is mainly as a Mother with a capital M. (Though Catholicism borrowed a lot of goddess lore in its depiction of her, attempting to draw in believers in goddess culture with some success, thus its contradictory stance on Mary.) Likewise, in stories that flip the narrative and portray a supernatural pregnancy that is a danger to the woman or perhaps to the world, such as Rosemary’s Baby (one of my favorite books), the woman’s role also is primarily as a mother/victim/woman in peril. In contrast, I wanted to explore Tara Spencer, my protagonist, as a protagonist. As a person who is a force in the world who has her own goals, powers, and challenges. Her own friends and enemies. In short, her own life. The Awakening series is primarily about Tara as a person, not as a pregnant woman.
All of the above sometimes leaves me at a loss at cocktail parties or in interviews when I’m asked how I categorize The Awakening series. Books 1 and 2 have spent significant time in Amazon’s Top 100 Occult and Horror best seller lists, though I admit the series has as much in common with The Da Vinci Code as Rosemary’s Baby, as one reviewer pointed out. Religious conspiracy series also seems to fit, though it bothers me because it puts the emphasis on the religious order opposing Tara, the Brotherhood of Andrew, rather than on Tara herself. But the people whose eyes light up when I describe the concept often also love books described as religious conspiracy thrillers, including those of Dan Brown and Joanna Penn. I’ve used the term paranormal thriller, but “paranormal” for the last decade or two seems to call up visions of the Twilight series or paranormal romances. Science fiction/fantasy fans often also like the series, though I don’t usually read the genre. (One exception is that I love Dan Simmons' Hyperion series which, perhaps not coincidentally, includes a female messiah-type character.) Recently Amazon added a category “Supernatural Thriller,” and that may be the best fit of The Awakening, The Unbelievers, and the last two books in the series.
The reality is, of course, most of us read in more than one genre. I love horror, suspense, mystery, occult, thrillers, and supernatural books. Further, all of us also tend to sub-specialize in our genre reading. I like horror but not gore. I like mysteries and particularly detective stories but not cozies. Other people love suspense but won’t read anything with any hint of the supernatural. In the end, I suppose that’s why I love reading and writing fiction so much. There are so many great stories, and so many ways to tell them.
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