Gina Holmes is not one to avoid tough issues. Her third novel, Wings of Glass, is no exception. The story centers around an abusive relationship and the troubled psychology of the woman who can’t wrench herself free. Wings of Glass released February 2013 and has already earned a starred review from Library Journal, a Romantic Times Top Pick and a Southern Indie Bookseller’s Okra Pick. Gina graciously took time to answer some questions about her new novel and the subject matter that touches a very personal nerve.
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MIKE: Thanks for visiting, Gina! Your first two novels dealt respectively with a dying mother and a cheating husband, not exactly uplifting subjects. Your latest novel deals with domestic abuse. So does Gina Holmes have a breezy, light-hearted, unabashedly romantic, feel-good novel inside her?
GINA: Not exactly uplifting subjects when you put it THAT way, ha! How about the first , (Crossing Oceans), dealt with forgiveness, love, and sacrifice and the second (Dry as Rain), with reconciliation, being who you really are, and strengthening marriage?
So, I think they were plenty uplifting.
Do I have a breezy, light-hearted, feel-good novel inside of me? Hmmm. I’ve had people tell me I should write chick-lit in the steps of Bridgett Jones’ Diary because I have a snarky wit and some funny insights into human behavior, and I think I could pull it off… maybe… but I don’t see the world that way for the most part.
It may be cliché that God’s light shines the brightest in the darkness, but I’ve found that to be true in my own life. I’ve gone through some tough things in my life, (who hasn’t?), but God’s gifted me with the ability to truly understand a lot about the human condition and it isn’t usually pretty, but I see God’s hand in everything—His grace, His love, His providence.
MIKE: Your three novels obviously deal with gritty, realistic subjects and, on occasion, you get flak for dealing with such issues. Why do you think Christian readers have difficulty with such “heavy” subject matter? Shouldn’t Christian fiction be more uplifting and inspirational?
GINA: I don’t get a lot of flak, believe it or not. I get some, but even then the lighter reads get criticized so that just comes with the territory. What I do get are a lot of behind the scenes thank you’s for taking on real subjects that real people are struggling with.
There is definitely a market for lighter stories, but that’s not what I write. I struggle with real issues and I know readers do too. My niche is that area. It’s sort of self-help fiction in that, (I hope), readers don’t just get an entertaining story, but also a takeaway that changes their life for the better. I think my books are inspirational. Even in death, there is hope. How much more inspiration could you ask for?
MIKE: Wings of Glass is about a Christian woman in an abusive relationship. From your experience, is domestic abuse a big issue in the Church? If so, why, and why isn’t it discussed more openly?
GINA: Great question and I’m glad you asked. It’s a HUGE issue. Not just in the church but everywhere. Emotional abuse runs rampant throughout our society (and I suspect societies everywhere). Just because a person isn’t having their arm broken does not mean they’re not being abused. Everyone seems to understand that if you come to church, or work with a black eye, you need to remove yourself from that situation, but when your spouse is cutting you with words, we tend to have less sympathy. The biggest problem I think lies with those in good relationships. They think that when a person is hinting things aren’t okay at home, that they’re dealing with the same issues that every marriage does, like not picking up socks, or hogging the TV or whatever. They haven’t walked a mile in an abuse victim’s shoes and can’t understand it. I’m praying Wings of Glass will help some finally understand what can go on behind closed doors.
MIKE: Some reviewers appeared to struggle with Wings of Glass on the grounds that it sends mixed messages to abused women. One reviewer knocked off stars because she couldn’t “understand or relate with the excuses that battered women make.” Another says, “While [the husband’s] abusive behavior is not condoned… some of the other thoughts in the book stick to the idea that the man is in charge.” So does Wings of Glass send “mixed messages”? Did you purposely avoid a cut-and-dried answer to the protag’s situation?
GINA: Did I intend to give mixed messages? Absolutely. That was the toughest part of writing this book. In the Christian faith, abuse isn’t dealt with as clearly as say infidelity. I struggled with this question of can I divorce as a Christian and no matter where I looked in the Bible there was no get out of jail free card, with the exception of separation. My own answer came in the form of personal wrestling with God and ultimately, I didn’t have to make the decision myself. It was made for me (my ex divorced me). I think everyone has to come to their own conclusions and so I presented both sides of the argument for and against divorce in the book through characters, never answering the question for the reader. Each of us must give an account to God and I have no desire to answer for anyone else.
As far as the man being in charge, the Bible is clear on the husband being the head of the household, so if someone has a problem with that, they can take it up with Him. The question comes in when the husband is not doing his Biblical duty in loving his wife as Christ loved the church. It’s easy to let a man like that lead. When he’s not being the husband God commanded him to be, this changes things. Again, this is for each to wrestle with on their own. I hope I give the readers a lot to ponder.
MIKE: So what do you think those reviewers who were critical of the book were missing?
It saddens me that someone could read Wings and still not get it. If you grew up in an emotionally healthy home, you’re much less likely to end up in an abusive relationship because your thinking hasn’t been twisted. Those who stay in abusive relationships didn’t start with a level playing field. I tried my best to explain the thought process of a victim, always hoping, always trying to make it work, making excuses and why… I don’t condone that kind of thinking but I do understand it because I lived it. I really tried to help the readers live it through Penny too. Not everyone’s going to get it. That’s okay, there’s more than one way for God to skin that cat.
MIKE: So how does the stigma of divorce and the traditional view of “male dominance” contribute to domestic abuse in Christian relationships? I mean, it almost seems like the Church can unintentionally perpetuate abusive relationships by over-emphasizing reconciliation or forgiveness. Am I wrong?
GINA: When I was in an abusive marriage, some Christians I sought counsel from seemed to have a one-track mind: Stay married at any cost. It doesn’t matter if you’re being beat down. It doesn’t matter if your husband is no husband. It just mattered that you stay married. It becomes very legalistic feeling and not seeing the forest for the trees. Unfortunately, I’ve been guilty of this as well.
I had a coworker who was discussing divorce and without knowing she was being terribly abused, at least emotionally, I tried to talk her into working it out. I later realized just how bad things were for her and her children—unbearable.
Codependency is practically encouraged in many churches and boundaries may as well be a four-letter word. I think this isn’t meant to be malicious, it’s just ignorance. I encourage everyone to get a copy of “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, even if you don’t think you have boundary problems. I bought it thinking others around me had boundary issues and wanted to know how to better deal with them. It helped that, but I also realized I had boundary problems too. That book should be required reading for everyone. It’s a life changer.
As far as the stigma of divorce goes, I don’t think it exists like it once did. People are still whispering about it, but they don’t need to. Most people aren’t judging you and if they are, that’s on them. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
MIKE: What would you say to the Christian woman who remains in an abusive relationship because she doesn’t want to be an “unsubmissive wife” and bring shame upon herself through separation or divorce?
GINA: Someone recently said to me that God cares even more about the souls within the marriage than the marriage itself. I think that’s true.
It will seem very self-serving but I’d give this woman a copy of Wings of Glass, and Boundaries, and Codependent No More. That might be enough to change her thought process. I’d also ask her to consider what she would do if her daughter, (or son), told her that she/he were being abused, would she tell that child to stay in the marriage? I’m guessing not. That’s not God’s plan for anyone I don’t think. God loves us more than we love our own children. The Bible does clearly allow separation and I would recommend that until things can be sorted out with counseling, rehab or ultimately divorce.
MIKE: This reviewer described your book as “a feminist novel”? And you say…?
GINA: I laughed when I read that because it had Christian and feminist in the same sentence or paragraph. Not something you see every day.
The definition of feminist is one who supports feminism. The definition of feminism is: “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” So, yeah, I guess it is. The Bible gives men and women different roles but in no way are they unequal.
MIKE: What advice would you give to a Christian artist, writer, or filmmaker who wants to probe more difficult, controversial subject matter but is fearful of the criticism they might receive from other believers?
GINA: Surprisingly, Christians aren’t half as judgmental as we fear they are. When I went through divorce, I was afraid of being outted. When I was, I received nothing but support and love. My books have done quite well when many thought they wouldn’t because of the tougher storylines. I think there’s been a huge shift in authenticity among Christian writers and few of us these days, (at least in my circles) are pretending to be perfect or holier than though, so please, minister to people. They’re hungry for it.
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You can find out more about Gina Holmes, her books and upcoming appearances at her website. Thanks so much, Gina!