Advice on Writing Fiction Without the “God Crutch”

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© Susan K. Perry

Rudy Dees

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

How did your social psychology training and your work as an advice columnist affect your novel about a woman forced to endure life’s harshest loss?

SKP: As Kylie’s Heel was being written and revised many times over nearly a decade, and as my own non-theistic views became firmer, the focus of the novel evolved a bit. My social psychology training taught me to take account of facts, credible studies, science, and so on, and I wanted to include that focus. Somehow I got the idea of incorporating a Q&A column into the novel, where Kylie could be absolutely direct about her beliefs. I certainly expected that there were enough readers who think like I do, or who would be interested in an unusual novel like this, that a focus on an atheist woman’s struggles would be a positive marketing point.

Throughout Kylie’s Heel, you have shown that people can survive great loss without a god—what inspired you to share this experience with fiction readers?

SKP: Great loss is barely tolerable. I know that. But it doesn’t help to suddenly believe in a supernatural answer. I hope that more and more people will become more rational and less gullible. If you believe in a supernatural being, you might also follow a political or church leader who lies to you and makes you believe in his unreal power to give you what you want. I wanted to do my small share to get that idea across that we can make the most of this life and not have to count on another one after this.

What is the most important trait or quality a person needs to have in order to face life’s difficult hurdles without “a god crutch to fall back on” as the American Humanist Association said?

SKP: I might choose open-mindedness: the ability to accept that some things are unknown, that humanity must keep striving to learn, and that when we stop questioning, we become intellectually and psychologically poorer.

As the brilliant neurologist and author Oliver Sacks recently wrote in the New York Times when he unexpectedly learned he had terminal cancer, “I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written… Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Susan K Perry is a writer, novelist, social psychologist and the author of Kylie’s Heel.

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