A friend once made an observation about my writing. He said that most of my stories set themselves up as conventional morality plays with obvious moral messages only to take sharp unexpected turns at the end, leaving everything an ambiguous mess. There's some truth in that. He asked me if I thought that had anything to do with my conservative Christian upbringing vis-a-vis my liberal college education. Of course it did.
Take INDIAN RIVER ORANGES. No one's read it, but it is basically a study of human attitudes toward sex and death. Looking back on it, it was written at a time of tremendous change in my worldview. Evangelical Christianity is basically one big coping mechanism for sexual and mortal anxiety, and I had come to a point in my spiritual life where I had to ask tough questions of myself without the crutch of Christian sexual ethics and the promise of an eternal happy land in Heaven. The screenplay came out of the process of that questioning.
The reason I bring this up is that Randy Finch, my new screenwriting professor, is pushing us to explore why we write what we write. He said the best screenwriters keep hammering at the same themes over and over again throughout their careers. He calls that theme the central organizing principle behind their writing. I figured out that my c.o.p. involves isolation. Most of my work is about how isolated people find a way out of their isolation. So I guess that means I must feel isolated.
Why do I feel isolated? Maybe because I grew up feeling like Jesus was my (literal) best friend, and I don't feel that way anymore. That isn't to say I'm an atheist or that I've disavowed Christianity. I'm not and I haven't. But I do feel a profound sense of disappointment in the idea of Christianity, and I feel isolated from the God I'd always put my faith in. It doesn't mean I don't believe in him. It just means I better figure out a way to get by without God's help, because lately he's been letting a lot of people down.
So I guess that's the world I've created for my characters. It isn't a godless world. It's an "I'm sorry, but God's on the other line, can I take a message" world. A world where people, all people, are isolated and have to start figuring out a way to find comfort in each other rather than the Big Guy Upstairs.