f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: What If Donald Miller Were Fictional?

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

What If Donald Miller Were Fictional?

I’ve never met Don Miller, purported author and main character in spiritual memoir Blue Like Jazz, so it’s entirely possible that he is not real. Just because a person’s name is on a book doesn’t mean much. George Sand isn’t real. Lemony Snicket isn’t real. Perhaps Don Miller is a similar fiction.

But no…it turns out that I know real people who know the real Don Miller. He’s alive, a breathing, flesh-and-bones guy (supposedly a good guy, too) living out in Portland or somewhere doing his thing which includes being the author of the new Searching for God Knows What and the big-buzz-book Blue Like Jazz.

I’m coming late to Jazz so I’m won’t claim to be doing anything but bandwagon climbing. I heard about the book months before at ECPA Publishing University and more lately it’s been chatted up elsewhere, most noticeably at Mick Silva’s blog. Which makes this post merely the latest to use Don Miller’s name in some weird heading that has very little to do with the man’s book or self.

What I’m trying to figure out after reading Blue Like Jazz is: A) How did Miller get away with it? and B) At what point can we use the book as proof of what is possible?

If Donald Miller—the Donald Miller that appears in Blue Like Jazz—were a fictional character, my gut is that there’s very few CBA publishing houses that would accept him as is. He smokes for one, fairly unapologetically. Doesn’t deny drinking or doing drugs, though mainly in the past. He hangs out mainly in a bastion of liberal, tree-hugging, communist ‘shroom abusers—and loves it. He dares to question our Unimpeachable President. He’s rough around the edges. Maybe doesn’t shave quite as often as we’d like. Gets a kick out of people who swear.

Does this remind you of any characters you’ve seen in our fiction? Nyet. And yet this book came out from Thomas Nelson, the #1 Christian publisher in the world.

Now granted, it’s not for CBA fiction readers. It’s an emergent voice, though to pigeonhole him like that is…blah. So the people who dare to pick up the book are ones whose tolerance is unlikely to be quite so dainty. The thing is, it’s out there and I’m assuming it’s doing very, very well.

But it’s not fiction. For a long time, sales and marketing people have said that there is no confluence of postmoderns or emergent readers. No way to reach them en masse. Does this book—and A New Kind of Christian—begin to shift that thinking? And does it mean anything for fiction?

Here’s the thing, Miller in his book makes one scripted apologetics pitch. And it’s not the C. S. Lewis version of almost mathematically proving God or the Josh McDowell pitch of archeologically proving God or Lee Strobel’s journalistically proving God. Instead he looks at the structure of story and its resonance in human life as a proof that there is an archetypical “story” in history that sets the pattern for all the stories to come after.

Story! Freaking story! This guy is a book guy. A writer. A word lover. And we’re supposed to believe this audience--his audience--doesn’t also love those same things, of which fiction is a dear and deep part? Hogwash!

So as Mick Silva and I and many others have been wondering, where then are the stories? The memoirs, sure. The creative nonfiction, sure. But fiction, too. That’s what I can take across my desk. Because, frankly, the debate is very nearly over. We simply need the proof now. And proof only comes in black-and-white ink on white pages.