CSFF Blog Tour: DKA, Day 2; Edginess

Thanks to Todd, Jason, and Frank for the great comments about free web-zines. I think I’m convinced—the existence of these venues is not just good for readers, but for writers as well.

That Dragons, Knights, and Angels, the October CSFF Blog Tour featured web-zine, is good for readers seems like a given, but I don’t want to brush that point aside too lightly.

Do you like a good science fiction or fantasy stories, such as ET, Star Wars, or Narnia? Then consider reading the stories published at DKA, because their expressed purpose, as stated in the submission guidelines, is to examine the merits of a work first as SF or fantasy.

Do you want stories that build you up without being preachy, that make you better for having read them? Then consider reading DKA because the editors look for stories that “entertain, uplift, and enlighten.”

Especially for those of you who are Christian SFFan’ers (my version of a science fiction and/or fantasy aficionado) but you a) have run out of novels in the genre and don’t want to go back to the secular stuff; or b) you don’t have time to sit with a novel, then the stories and poems at DKA are for you.

BTW, we have a wonderful group of bloggers participating in the tour this month. Special feature today is Rachel Marks, who is posting an interview with DKA managing editor, Selena Thomason.

Ah, but what about this “edgy” issue?

One line from the DKA submission guidelines touched one of my sore spots: “DKA is open to edgy stories that explore the fullness of life.”

I have developed quite a resistence to the notion that Christians should write “edgy” fiction, primarily because I think Christians use the word to mean one thing when the world uses it to mean something quite different. This redefining of terms with a Christian slant is, in my opinion, more of the “Christianese” that fiction writers are so often accused of.

It’s apparent to me by the next qualifying sentences that DKA’s “edgy” would, in all likelihood, be considered “mild” by the world:

However, sexual content, profanity, and other elements that would be considered offensive to the general Christian community must be handled with great care and be essential to the story.  Profanity can almost always be omitted, suggested, or implied.  Sexual content can almost always be removed or referred to, rather than explicitly stated.

Don’t get me wrong. I am in no way in disagreement with DKA’s standards. I am, however, objecting to the idea that these stories would qualify as “edgy” unless the word is specificially defined in Christian terms.

Why do we want to use such a word? Why do we want to write to the edge? Or at least make people think we are writing to the edge?

Which brings up the question, To the edge of what?

I think the world answers that as, the edge of what is the norm of society. That would be society that accepts divorce as a standard option to solve an unhappy marriage, believes that a woman’s choice to kill her baby should be a legally-protected right, that two men should be granted marital status if they so choose. Society that rages against young American men dying in Iraq but is silent about the young men dying on the streets of every inner city across the land. This is the society that laughs at pornography and nudity on TV and has an underground child porn industry along with a child prostitution industry that rivals the drug trade. What is the edge of this society?

I suggest it is not the same as the edge to which DKA is referring. In many ways, from what I have read on some Christian writer forums, I think this Christian version of edge actually means the edge of Christian society—where safe sex means monogamous sex, and even that is only alluded to. Again, I’m not disagreeing with this standard. I believe in this standard, in fact, because I think it squares with Scripture.

What I object to is calling a story edgy because it deals with what is part of normal society—society beyond the ideal or even the existent, imperfect Christian community, but nevertheless well within the range of our greater culture. I think the world would laugh at the notion that such a story is “edgy.”

If they’re going to laugh, let it be because of our belief in Christ, our belief in redemption through His shed blood, and our hope for His return because of His resurrection, not because of a mistaken view of the world around us.

– – –

Check out what other participants on the CSFF Tour are saying about DKA:

  • Jim Black
  • Jackie Castle
  • Valerie Comer
  • Frank Creed
  • Chris Deanne
  • Kameron M. Franklin
  • Beth Goddard
  • Todd Michael Greene
  • Leathel Grody
  • Karen Hancock
  • Elliot Hanowski
  • Katie Hart
  • Sherrie Hibbs
  • Joleen Howell
  • Jason Joyner
  • Karen and at Karen’s myspace
  • Oliver King
  • Tina Kulesa
  • Lost Genre Guild
  • Kevin Lucia
  • Rachel Marks
  • Shannon McNear
  • Caleb Newell
  • John Otte
  • Cheryl Russel
  • Mirtika Schultz
  • Stuart Stockton
  • Steve Trower
  • Speculative Faith
  • Published in: on October 31, 2006 at 12:33 pm  Comments (23)  

    CSFF Blog Tour—DKA, Day 1; The Question of Reading for Free

    Yay! 😀 You know what’s on tap for today, right? We’re TOURING!

    I must let you know, our tour hostess, Mirtika Schultz , graciously extended an offer for her critique services as a prize for tour-participant contests this month. If you leave a comment here, I will enter your name in the drawing for a free five-page critique by Mirtika, winner of ACFW’s Genesis contest, SFF division. Well worth the few moments a comment will take you.

    Our feature this month is Dragons, Knights, and Angels. This Christian science fiction and fantasy e-zine contains a collection of short stories and poems, all available for free.

    I encourage you to spend some time enjoying the varied offerings. In fact, Mirtika, DKA poetry editor, announced the winner of the latest poetry contest today.

    In taking a look at what DKA publishes this weekend, I had to wonder, Is offering quality writing for free something that will advance the cause of writers or retard it?

    What am I getting at? To me, the “cause of writers” means more publication opportunities, ones that pay something close to what the work is worth in light of the time spent.

    DKA is somewhat unique in that they pay their authors at all. Since the e-zine does not charge a subscription fee, they generate income through contests (such as the just-completed poetry contest) and donation campaigns. In some ways, these methods work as a volunteer subscription fee, because readers who want to see the stories they love available will support the publication.

    However, there are those who will read for free, because it is just that—free. They, therefore, have no need to buy Christian SFF novels. Their desire for speculative stories is adequately met.

    So what do you think? Are writers who publish in free e-zines selling themselves short and threatening the book industry as we know it? Or are they on the cutting edge of what is bound to become the exclusive reading venue of the future? Do magazines like DKA generate enthusiasm for Christian SFF? Or do the free stories sate the palate of those whose tastes run to the speculative?

    I have to say, I don’t know what to think. There are times I believe we writers need to stop giving our writing away, but the reality is, we are in a buyer’s market. There are many, many writers out there wanting nothing more than an audience, so if I refrain from seeking e-zine publication, there will be plenty of others to replace me, and some may not have the same commitment to craft as professional writers should have.

    Other times I think we OUGHT to develop viable short-fiction venues in order to build a following, that by putting SFF before Christians we will actually build a thirst for more.

    What do you think?

    After you comment here, and after you check out DKA, be sure to see what the other participants in this CSFF blog tour are saying:

  • Jim Black
  • Jackie Castle
  • Valerie Comer
  • Frank Creed
  • Chris Deanne
  • Kameron M. Franklin
  • Beth Goddard
  • Todd Michael Greene
  • Leathel Grody
  • Karen Hancock
  • Elliot Hanowski
  • Katie Hart
  • Sherrie Hibbs
  • Joleen Howell
  • Jason Joyner
  • Karen and at Karen’s myspace
  • Oliver King
  • Tina Kulesa
  • Lost Genre Guild
  • Kevin Lucia
  • Rachel Marks
  • Shannon McNear
  • Caleb Newell
  • John Otte
  • Cheryl Russel
  • Mirtika Schultz
  • Stuart Stockton
  • Steve Trower
  • Speculative Faith
  • Published in: on October 30, 2006 at 9:21 am  Comments (9)  

    Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 4

    Thanks to each of you who stopped at the Lost Genre Guild to check out yesterday’s interview. Not that I revealed any little-known secrets. But I do enjoy talking about fantasy and Christian SFF in particular, whether it’s the story end of the subject or the business/marketing end.

    Which reminds me. We are starting the October CSFF Blog Tour on Monday. Have I mentioned that I LOVE blog tours? 😉

    By way of preview, I’ll mention that I’ll be holding a contest in conjunction with Mirtika Schultz, especially for writers. You’ll need to check back here Monday for the details. Plan on saving yourself some reading time, too, because the tour is best when you experience all of it, making the rounds of the other bloggers participating. I know—not always possible, but maybe if you know ahead of time …

    – – –

    Good characters in Christian fiction—books geared more for the general market than for an exclusively Christian audience.

    For me, I think the key trait needed is authenticity. That’s not revolutionary. Most readers say, Of course. Most writers say, How? How do we show Christian characters as distinct in a novel that isn’t set in a Christian community? How do we keep from showing our non-Christian characters as potential notches on the cover of an evangelist’s Bible?

    My answer to those questions is not particularly profound: We show these characters in the same manner we relate with real-life people.

    For example, when I’m with a group of non-Christians, I sometimes feel a tension, wondering if I should say something about my faith. Let your characters experience such tension.

    Sometimes I’ve passed up open doors, when the opportunity to talk about God fit naturally in the conversation and I clammed up, then felt guilty as a result. Let your characters experience such guilt.

    I’ve had times when I opened the door to discuss spiritual things by answering the “what do you do” question with, I write Christian fantasy.” (Or in the past, “I teach in a Christian school). A good number of those times, that answer was a conversation killer and I’ve felt like a failure. Let your characters feel like failures.

    The unifying factor in all these examples—and I think it applies to lots of other areas, not just making the character’s Christianity known—is the thought life of the character. To authentically show how a Christian interacts with the world at large, the writer needs to show the character grappling with the circumstances before him in light of his overarching desire to please God.

    A second avenue to create an authentic character is to show non-Christians reacting to this religious nut. Do they mock him? Then how does he react? Do they isolate him? Make snide remarks? (“Oh, right, you can’t come on Sunday because of your church thing. Hey, we do our share of praying, too, but so far the golf gods aren’t listening.”) Or maybe they grill him. (“So, what’s it like to sleep with only one woman?”)

    A third path is to show the Christian character doing what real Christians do—sinning and repenting, accepting forgiveness, enjoying restoration. I’m thinking specifically with other characters here, Christian or non-Christian. Sure, he can repent before God in prayer, too, but I think forgiving and being forgiven are distinctives that Christians should demonstrate, so why not Christian characters?

    A final manner that a writer can use to show a Christian character in an authentic way is to show how he treats others—people he doesn’t know. Does he use them? Or serve them? Does he look down on the down-and-outers or does he lift them from the gutter? Does he favor the rich or does he treat them as berift of what they need for life and Godliness?

    This is not exhaustive, I’m sure. It’s a peek at creating characters who we force into circumstances that test them, not only as detectives or journalists or students or secret agents or artists, but as believers in Jesus Christ.

    What does their faith mean to them? How does it affect their daily lives? Is it as important as their job? Their girlfriend? The upcoming business meeting?

    In other words, how do their core values rise to the surface?

    And, by the way, each character should be different.

    Published in: on October 27, 2006 at 11:21 am  Comments (2)  

    A First Ever

    Firsts are fun, but we so rarely remember our own—first birthday, first Christmas, first Thanksgiving, that sort of thing.

    I do remember my first interview—vaguely. I was a brand new 22-year-old teacher, and one of the junior high newspaper reporters did a profile on me. I think some of the questions were things like favorite food and favorite Bible verse. Deep stuff, you know? Right in line with where junior highers (now called middle schoolers) are at. 😉

    Well, here’s another first: my first every (maybe a one and only—who knows?) on-line interview. It’s posted at Lost Genre Guild, and I encourage you to go there for today.

    Published in: on October 26, 2006 at 9:50 am  Comments (7)  

    Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 3

    Brandilyn Collins, suspense author with Zondervan, made some interesting observations in Tuesday’s post on her blog Forensics and Faith. She identifies the current tendency for Christian authors to hold back presenting Christ, to the point that Christian characters no longer pray, talk with other Christians about spiritual things, or—Heaven forbid—witness to non-Christians.

    In other words, her take on it is, they do not act the way true Christians act. This kind of plastic Christian character is no better than the cardboard ones of an earlier era that never sinned or so much as contemplated sin unless it was to condemn it.

    Some of the comments from Brandilyn’s readers were interesting as well. One person pointed out that the author might actually be depicting Christians as he has experienced them to be.

    That was a little frightening. Not because there are baby Christians out there who don’t have developed prayer lives, but that these might be the Christian fiction writers publishers are choosing to put in print. And even if the writers are mature Christians—who themselves have an active prayer life and have no trouble discussing spiritual things whenever the occasion arises—why are publishers not recognizing that the Christian characters aren’t acting in a natural way?

    ‘Tis a mystery.

    Best thing a writer can do, I am convinced, is to pursue quality with a whole heart: “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph. 6:7).

    So my Christian characters need to reflect their core beliefs—what their nature is, the old and the new. There should be some spiritual dimension to their internal conflict. Their relationship with God should spill out into their words and behavior, at least in a crisis. Or they should be troubled that it doesn’t.

    One of the finest examples of an author who writes Christian characters in a real, natural way is Sharon Hinck. I’ll be posting a review shortly on her second novel, Renovating Becky Miller.

    Undoubtedly, as another of Brandilyn’s readers pointed out, non-Christians would be baffled by the concerns the characters express, the fears, desires, tensions they deal with.

    Such a book that portrays Christians relating with other Christians is obviously limited to a Christian market. So what. Do all Christian novels have to center on outreach?

    But my next question is, if the Christian character is relating largely to non-Christians, how, then, does the author show the distinction without preaching?

    I’ll share some thoughts on that next time.

    Published in: on October 25, 2006 at 11:55 am  Comments (3)  

    Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 2

    Do characters have to be quirky to be interesting? Bad to keep from being boring?

    Donald Maass, in his book Writing the Breakout Novel says the character should be larger than life, and one characteristic of such is “a New York attitude.” He means a boldness, even brashness, that lets the character do and say things we wish we had the courage to do and say.

    I struggled with this for a long time. I don’t like stories with smart-alecky kids who are telling their parents and teachers off. I don’t like the renegade cop who breaks all the rules to uphold the law. For a time, I thought maybe I would just have to disagree with Maass on that point.

    Yet it’s hard to disagree with a man who has so much insight and experience with fiction.

    I began to think of another key component Maass identifies:

    Before we leave the subject of strength and sympathy, I would like to suggest that there are two character qualities that leave a deeper, more lasting and powerful impression of a character than any other. Forgiveness and self-sacrifice.

    So is it possible, I wondered, to combine a New York attitude with forgiveness and self-sacrifice? Then it hit me. That’s essentially what Paul Hutchens did with Little Jim in that piece I quoted from the Sugar Creek Gang in yesterday’s post.

    Not only did Little Jim say something out of the ordinary for a kid, it was grand because it called for forgiveness.

    What I did NOT quote was what happened next. The younger boys watched from a hiding place in the bushes as Big Jim and Circus confronted the man they thought was raiding the traps. He ran, straight toward the young lurkers.

    Well, there the four of us littlest guys were, without either Big Jim or Circus to help us, and the man or bully or whoever or whatever he was, was running in our direction waving his lantern in front of him to see his way and stumbling along like he was drunk, toward the fir tree behind which we were hiding.

    Say, I guessed what he was going to try to do, though … He was making a dive for the mouth of the cave, which was just about fifty feet to the left of us, and in order to get to it he would have to pass the fir tree where we four littlest guys were.

    I don’t know how I ever managed to think straight, but I must have ’cause I heard myself saying to the other guys with me, “Wait’ll he gets here and then all four of us dive in and tackle him football style.”

    Boy oh boy, I certainly couldn’t think straight, but it seemed all of a sudden like with Big Jim gone, and also Circus, that I was the leader of our little gang, so I felt very brave, in spite of being scared, and was all set to be the first one to dive in and grab the man when he got up to where we were. But say, I didn’t even have a chance to be a hero—not the first one, anyway. We were all crouched there, waiting, when all of a sudden, when he got close enough, Little Jim shot out from beside me and shoved his stick right between the man’s flying legs, and boy oh boy! ker-whamety-squash-squash-flop, right down in front of us that guy fell in a tangled up sprawl.

    So there was Little Jim, the one who spoke of forgiveness, putting himself at risk to implement an idea he came up with on his own. Little Jim as a character became more and more likeable. Maybe even larger than life.

    Published in: on October 24, 2006 at 2:02 pm  Comments Off on Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 2  

    Good Characters and Christian Fiction

    I’ve shared some ideas about creating engaging characters, ones readers will care about. Now how does that translate into Christian fiction?

    The general advice to Christians writing fiction is, write a good story. But then comes the inevitible question: what makes a story Christian?

    One answer is that it has Christian characters acting like Christians.

    Recently, I found one of my childhood favorites, a book in the Sugar Creek Gang series by Paul Hutchens. I was a little surprised that the book met my expectations—it was well written, painted wonderful characters, and wove Biblical truth into the story without being intrusive.

    Maybe by today’s standards it might seem a tad heavy-handed, but I think the WAY Hutchens portrayed the characters is the key.

    First is William Collins, from son Bill’s first person point of view:

    Then Pop, who, as I told you, is a swell Christian, and is always giving me some good common sense advice which is sometimes hard for me to take, but which is good for me, said, “Remember, every boy has a soul, Bill, and that he needs a Saviour, and sometimes a boy needs a friend, too, before he will become a Christian.”

    Later, one of the gang members, Little Jim makes this comment, again relayed to the reader via Bill’s perspective:

    Then Little Jim sidled up to me a little closer and whispered something which I knew he must have been thinking about for quite awhile, he being the only one of the Sugar Creek Gang who thought things like that all by himself, and what he said was:

    “I’ll bet it’ll be easier to get him to be a Christian now than it was.”

    “Get who to become a Christian?” I asked.

    And Little Jim didn’t even know he was saying something very important, which any minister might be proud to even think of, and it was, “The thief. Now that he’s stolen and done something kinda big to be sorry for, maybe it won’t take God so long to show him he is a sinner and needs to be saved.” Imagine a little guy like Little Jim being able to think of a thing like that! I knew he’d probably heard his mom or his pop say something like that at home, though, maybe, ’cause it sounded like things I’d heard his pretty mom say before, his mom being a swell Christian as well as the pianist in our church and a music teacher.

    Interestingly, once the thief is unmasked in the end, he does NOT become a Christian. Instead these lines in the resolution:

    [Little Jim is talking]”Big Jim gave his blood for Bob in Chicago once, and now he is trying to be kind to him, and Bob is still mean … It’s just like what happened in the Bible, I’ll bet, ’cause Somebody gave His blood on the cross for John Till and Bob, and they’re running away from Him, too.”

    Earlier, in the midst of a fight, when the gang tries to stop the guy they think is raiding animal traps, this:

    Even while I was holding on like a bull dog to that man’s right leg and Circus was holding on o his other leg, and Poetry and Big Jim and Little Jim and Dragonfly were tumbling all over him and getting socked with the man’s fists every now and then before we could get him under control—even while we were doing all that, I was sorry that Little Jim had to be there, ’cause honestly I never heard a man swear so much in my life. The words that came out of that man’s mouth were actually worse to hear than the mud in our barnyard looks in the spring when the ground has begun to thaw out after a long winter.

    The swearing was terrible, and if there is anything Little Jim can’t stand any more than anthing else it is to hear anybody swear, on account of Little Jim not only knows it is wrong to swear but he has a special reverence for the Bible and for the One who is the main character in it.

    But say it didn’t take us any more than a short jiffy to get that guy down and all of us sitting, and half lying down, on him …

    That’s about it. Maybe one or two other references—prayer and morning Scripture reading before breakfast, I think. Singing and prayer to dedicate a new addition in a home.

    The point is, these were Christians acting like Christians in the 1940’s would act. The wonderful voice of the protagonist didn’t change into something church-y even as he made the observations about his dad or his friend. It was more matter-of-fact, with a touch of amazement thrown in.

    Certainly one option in Christian fiction is to write about Christian characters acting like Christians, who sin and who repent, who are kind and who jump to the wrong conclusions, who help old men and who get in fights with bullies. They are real people who happen to be Christians.

    Published in: on October 23, 2006 at 10:26 am  Comments (5)  

    Good Characters—Day 5

    There’s probably a lot more territory I could cover on this subject, but I’m going to end this mini-series with one last element I think is essential if a character is going to grab a hold of me early on and not let go.

    Clear, understandable motivation. Poor motivation can derail the reading experience in so many ways.

    Sometimes, when there is no clear story reason for a character doing or saying what he does or says, the hand of the author becomes all too apparent. Character A goes to place X simply because the author now wants him in place X. Nothing in the story requires this change, but the author intrusively makes the character do this unmotivated action, yanking the reader away from the belief that the character has wants and wishes, desires and dreams.

    Or, if the character does something with weak motivation, he might appear stupid or foolish. Why would he fall for the same lie from the same evil woman after the first nine times he ended up in dire peril? It makes him look too gullible, too weak to cheer for.

    (I’ve often thought that about Samson, to be honest. I mean, how many times did Delilah have to bring the Philistines around before he figured out that he couldn’t trust this woman? In all fairness to the man, I now wonder if he actually knew they were there, or if instead she called out and said they were there, but they escaped as soon as he flexed, because they realized he was still strong.)

    Think Frodo for clear motivation. He first wants to dump the dangerous ring with someone far wiser than himself. Then when he learns of its power and danger, he accepts the assignment to destroy it—for the sake of the Shire and the peaceful way of life he now realizes he loves, for the people of the Shire, for the world of elves and dwarves, too.

    Here we have a marriage of clear motivation with self-sacrifice. Frodo, of course, is also independent—a Hobbit after Uncle Bilbo’s own heart. He is also strong but vulnerable, as are all the Hobbits. He’s certainly complex, definitely takes action, and is self aware, more than Sam realizes in those last days.

    Yep, I think Frodo is a pretty good character—engaging and memorable. I wouldn’t mind having him in my books.

    OK, he’s been taken. One like him, then. 😉

    Published in: on October 20, 2006 at 1:05 pm  Comments (5)  

    Good Characters—Day 4

    I guess the next element that helps make a character memorable as well as engaging would be self-awareness.

    A character who knows he has weaknesses and wants to change, who recognizes what he needs, not just externally but internally, and goes out to get it. This quality makes it possible for him to see others more accurately, as well. When he admires another character, I trust his assessment. When he is wary, I am too.

    Sometimes, of course, the protagonist might be missing something that would give him an accurate opinion of another character. That doesn’t really weaken my trust in him or her.

    A good example of this is the heroine in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orzy (a book—set in 18th century revolutionary France—I highly recommend for those of you who like historicals).

    Lady Maguerite Blakeney was known as “the cleverest woman in Europe,” and yet, after marrying into a wealthy English family finds herself in a situation she had not bargained for:

    And Marguerite could not speak to her brother about the secrets of her heart; she hardly understood them herself, she only knew that, in the midst of luxury, she felt lonely and unhappy.

    Her self-awareness, among other traits, makes her endearing, but she ends up being as wrong as she could be.

    I’ll say no more for fear of spoiling the story.

    BTW, a warning. This book, as are many of the classics, is written in the omniscient POV. It’s a masterful piece of writing that allows the reader to shift smoothly from an intimate understanding, first of one character, then of another, all within the same scene. There is no feeling of “head hopping” nor any sense of distance unless the author intends it.

    Too bad contemporary fiction looks down on that mode of writing.

    Published in: on October 19, 2006 at 11:58 am  Comments (3)  

    Good Characters—Day 3

    This title is misleading, perhaps. Not good characters in the sense that they do no wrong but in the sense that they are characters readers care about, become involved with, and above all, remember.

    Today I want to add another trait to the list. Along with a combination of strength and vulnerability, independence (which might best be stated as influential), action, and complexity, I think characters are engaging when they are sacrificial.

    It’s the opposite of selfish. The character has a higher cause, a greater love, a more noble passion for something or someone other than himself. This, to me, is admirable. It is this kind of character I not only can root for, I want to root for.

    Not trying to promote Superman at all, but it is this self-sacrifice that makes him so endearing, especially in the TV series, Smallville. Here he is, as a teen, realizing that to disclose his identity to the girl he loves would bring him the closeness he wants but would put her life forever after in jeopardy. He chooses to give up what he most wants in order to keep her safe.

    WOW! Now that’s a hero I can love.

    Published in: on October 18, 2006 at 11:57 am  Comments (2)  
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