The Readers’ Choice – Clive Staples Award

It’s official. The Readers’ Choice Survey to determine the winner of the 2009 Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction is ready. You can visit the Award site for details or go directly to the survey from here.

Please pass the links on to your friends, but let them know they must have read at least one of the nominated books in order to be eligible to vote. Hopefully that will discourage “ballot stuffing.” We want readers to have a voice, not just willing friends who like a particular author.

To make this work, however, readers have to know about this award and their opportunity to express their opinion. That’s where you all come in. You may or may not be a fan of Christian speculative fiction, but the chances are, someone you know is. If you would mention the award on your blog or in your emails, I would really appreciate it.

Published in: on October 31, 2009 at 1:57 pm  Comments (2)  

Conquering the Computer

I’ll never conquer the computer, I’m pretty sure, but happily, the email problems I’ve been experiencing are being worked out by a competent professional. Once I have everything updated, I’ll be able to post a proper article. Maybe even a Saturday special. 😀

Published in: on October 30, 2009 at 4:12 pm  Comments (2)  

Pride and Criticism

It seems to me that criticism can be an outgrowth of pride. Strange, I suspect, coming from one who, in part, earned a living, as a teacher and coach, evaluating students’ work or performance. And who now regularly critiques the writing of others, either as a paid editor or as an occasional book blogger.

Writing book reviews and editing, teaching and coaching, may not seem like “criticism,” but there is a shared element. In each instance, the one reviewing, editing, or evaluating is taking the position of judge, even if only for a short time and in a narrow jurisdiction. Generally the person in such positions has the right, and in many cases, the responsibility, to exercise a degree of criticism. How much would students learn if teachers refrained from instructive criticism and became mere cheerleaders in the classroom?

But there’s a danger in taking on that role of judge—the temptation to think more highly of oneself than he should.

Being in authority, even for brief moments, can be a heady experience. I’ll never forget my first day of teaching when I told my homeroom students to take out a piece of paper … and they DID. I was shocked by the fact that thirty-one twelve-year-olds were doing what I told them to. It was a little heady (until the day they decided to test me to see what would happen if they didn’t listen and obey. 🙄 )

Here’s where I’m going. In our contemporary American culture, we all act as if we have the right to criticize … anyone and anything at any time. We criticize the coach of our favorite team if they lose, or the best player on the team if he has a sub-par performance. We criticize the President and Congress, generals and governors, police officers and city council members, teachers and pastors, political parties and … the Church.

Am I saying we should shut up and dutifully toe the line when we have serious disagreements with any of these people? No. In all cases we need to be praying. In some, we have the responsibility stated in Scripture to go to individuals and confront them. Other times we need to state our points of disagreement publicly, for the sake of people who may be blind to the things we’re seeing.

But this last is tricky. How do we point the finger at others and say they need to do thus and so or refrain from this or that, without pointing the other three fingers back at ourselves? We can’t, and that fact ought to make those of us giving critiques, reviews, evaluations some pause. We ought to dole out a little honey with the sting, a little mercy with the judgment.

How much more so is this true when we’re talking about the Church! Yet there is a growing number of professing Christians who vilify the Bride of Christ, as if it is their right, even their responsibility … not to lovingly correct those in their immediate sphere of influence, but to condemn the institution as we know it, and by extension those who remain a part and a support of the institution.

As if only those who separate from the traditional church know what it means to be spiritual. Everyone still a part is too wrapped up in programs and lists of thou-shalt-nots and (horrors!) doctrine.

Here are some of the things I see regarding this current movement among professing Christians to disdain the Church:

Anyone rightfully giving criticism does so with construction in mind, not destruction. Can someone who has left the Church rightfully be said to have constructive goals?

Criticism sometimes puts the spotlight on the critic, in which case the goal seems self-centered, not redemptive or even corrective.

Disdaining the Church as a whole implies more knowledge and spiritual insight than all pastors, seminary teachers, Bible scholars, and lay leaders throughout the world.

I wonder. Is it too far fetched to think pride may be playing a part in this current movement against the Church from the ranks of professing Christians?

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 5:32 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , ,

Just Criticism or Bashing?

One of the current fads seems to be church bashing. Or is it just (as in, fair and balanced) criticism?

Bashing or criticizing, whichever we decide it to be, has shown up in non-fiction, magazines, blogs, fiction. Some people say they are fed up with the church and opt to “drop out” of formalized religion. They are followers of Jesus, they say, and evidently that exempts them from “doing church.”

Curious, because I thought church was who we were, not what we did. Seems like I remember the Apostle Paul writing an analogy about the church and the body. We aren’t all feet, he said, because how could we then see? And we take special care of those who are weak.

Is that what’s happening when Christians hurl vindictive comments at the “failed institution”?

Let’s admit, the church is filled with sinners. Forgiven, yes. And in need of forgiveness. One of the sins we commit is pride, certainly, a particularly egregious sin the drop outs point to. You’ll find no argument from me. Pride is egregious. The church has prideful people. I know because I’m one.

But doesn’t that mean that we are the ones in need of special care? Care, in the form of loving confrontation and encouragement and forgiveness and counsel and discipleship and prayer. How can drop outs minister to those in the greatest need if they are out, not in? if they don’t know the needs of their weaker brothers and sisters? if they aren’t around to model humility as they imitate Christ?

Which makes me wonder if the criticism leveled at the church isn’t actually bashing. When was the last time you railed against your hand for dropping something? Or against your toe for stubbing itself on the end table. Well, idiot, you wouldn’t be throbbing in pain right now if you didn’t stick out so far or if you’d only LOOK where you were going. Why don’t you grow a pair of eyes, for goodness sake!

Interestingly, Paul, in I Thessalonians, calls the Christians he was writing to, “brethren beloved by God.” How would that phrase fit in with the criticism of the church today? Brethren beloved by God, I can’t stand what you’re doing on Sunday morning. Your formal worship is a mockery of what God intended. Your evangelistic efforts are cheesy. You don’t do half as much as you should to help the needy. Why don’t you get out of your safe little bubble you’ve created for yourself, brethren beloved by God?

How would that strike someone coming from a person on the outside?

Honestly, it reminds me a lot of the criticisms leveled against Christian fiction by readers who admit they haven’t read Christian fiction. In order to join the conversation, don’t you first have to be a part of the reading audience? Or the church-goers?

A final observation. It’s amazing how a person in Florida or St. Louis or Phoenix can make a judgment about the Church universal. I’ve read, for example, the church is doing the worst job of evangelizing in the history of the world! Do people who make these kinds of statements know what’s going on in Colorado or Illinois or Georgia, let alone what’s happening in China or Kenya or Bolivia?

So a person has a bad experience in church. Maybe in several churches. Do these experiences then override the counsel of Scripture and give a person the right to stop assembling with other believers? And if an individual stops assembling with other believers, is he giving just criticism of the body he’s left, or is he bashing his brothers and sisters when they need him most?

What are your thoughts?

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 5:02 pm  Comments (4)  
Tags: ,

Christian Fiction and the CSFF October Poll

If you came by on Friday looking for a post or the tour poll, I apologize for not having anything for you. More email problems, and by the time I gave up trying to fix my primary program, I had nothing to say worth saying in a blog post! 🙄

We’ve had good discussions over the last two posts, and I hesitate to move off the topic of Christian fiction. At the same time I don’t want to pulverize sand.

Here are a couple things I’d like to emphasize before moving on:

1. As long as Christians write fiction and/or Christian publishers publish fiction, we’ll probably have the debate about what constitutes a story written from a Christian point of view.

2. Fiction that relies on reality needs to be faithful to said reality. Consequently, if a story takes place in San Francisco 2009 and isn’t speculative, then there needs to be a Golden Gate Bridge, the city won’t be rebuilding after an earthquake flattened it, and Christian revival won’t be the cultural norm.

In the same way, unless there are speculative elements, documented historical events must remain in place. Abraham Lincoln can’t avoid assassination, England can’t defeat the American colonists, Hitler can’t be kept from power.

So too with Biblical events. What the Bible states unequivocally must be adhered to in fiction.

3. Fiction that speculates may imagine a world that is different from contemporary reality and historical reality and even spiritual reality as long as God is not besmirched. Satan, for example, can’t be shown as more powerful than God. God can’t be fragmented or shown as a thing or a force instead of a person.

4. Some truths should not come under speculation. I’m on somewhat shaky ground here and haven’t thought about this a lot, but I don’t think Christians should speculate about Salvation: What if God chose to save Man in some other way than sending His Son? I am confident we shouldn’t speculate about God’s character: What if God wasn’t good? This last could be written as irony I suppose, to prove the opposite.

But my point here is, some truths are more important than the freedom to speculate or to write a good story. I say frequently that story trumps all when it comes to fiction, but I believe that truth should trump story. Or more accurately, story should serve truth, and if it does not, then the story is off.

– – –

And now to our poll. Those bloggers eligible to win the October CSFF Top Blogger Award are the following:

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 12:20 pm  Comments (6)  
Tags: ,

Christian … or Fiction?

Haunt of Jackals by Eric Wilson, second in the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, stirred up considerable discussion. To be honest, I think that’s great. I like, above all else, people thinking about what they read, and discussing their thoughts with others.

In the end, though, the question about Haunt seems to focus on Wilson’s decision to weave together real-world settings, vampire myth, and Biblical history.

One tour participant, Cris Jesse, had this to say:

With the story being set in our world, it just comes too close to reality for the unaware reader to differentiate between Bible truths and fictional elements.

Also, as Sally Apokedak asked in her comment,

Is it obvious to the reader that the undead are make-believe but the blood of Christ is real?

So here we are again—how is fiction to handle God and/or Biblical history? Should it? Or should fiction be fiction and the Bible be the Bible? And if the latter, then can God be part of fiction? I mean, He is real and fiction is … well, not.

You may already know I think God can show up in fiction, but when He does, the author should be consistent with Scripture. I discussed this at some length over at Speculative Faith during the August tour for Offworld.

But what about other Biblical elements? May we speculate about things and people introduced in Scripture, such as the soldiers who gambled for Christ’s robe as He hung on the cross? (The basis of the novel The Robe) Or the fate of the Ark of the Covenant (central to the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark). How about Jesus’s life as a pre-adolescent (Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt)?

What about the tower of Babel or Noah’s experiences on the ark (Bryan Davis’s Eye of the Oracle)? Or the existence of the Nephilim (The Enclave by Karen Hancock)? Or Judas’s blood, Barabbas, the demons Christ sent into the swine and … Christ’s blood—all (and more) in the current work under discussion?

Are all of these free game for the novelist to incorporate in fiction by way of speculation? Or are some things untouchable, if a work is based on the Christian worldview?

My answer may be different from yours and I’ll be interested in your thoughts. Here’s my thinking: I believe some things must be untouchable because to speculate about them would 1) twist the truth of Scripture; or 2) bring them down to the level of the fictitious.

By saying they are “untouchable,” I don’t mean they can’t be included in fiction. For example, The Bronze Bow is a story set in Biblical times and the main character has an encounter with Jesus completely consistent with the Biblical account of the days when Jesus was surrounded by sick people begging to be healed.

The speculation centers on the story of a person in the crowd, not the historical event or Jesus Himself.

There’s a fine line between appropriate speculation and inappropriate, one I choose not to walk. No wonder other bloggers called Eric Wilson courageous.

Your turn. Are there some untouchables if a work of fiction is Christian or written from a Christian worldview?

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm  Comments (13)  
Tags: , , ,

Haunt of Jackals – A Review, CSFF Blog Tour, Day 3

Haunt of Jackals (Thomas Nelson), the October CSFF Blog Tour feature by Eric Wilson, is the perfect book to discuss as we approach Halloween, especially since it is a part of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy.

Undead. That concept alone speaks volumes, and to be honest, it should have been enough to ward me off. But no. I decided it was time I see what this vampire story stuff was all about, especially since Eric Wilson, as a Christian, approached the subject from a spiritual-warfare angle, clearly in opposition to the current fad of “good vampires.”

Of course, vampires are imaginary creatures, but the idea that one person gains life by taking from another is hard to justify as something other than evil. As near as I can tell, the “good vampires” are those who deny their desires, which seems consistent with our current cultural bent toward finding strength within.

No, Eric’s vampires (called Collectors) are actually demons inhabiting the bodies of their previously dead hosts. I suspect the set-up is made clear in book one, Field of Blood. Not having read that, I admit the murkiness I found regarding these creatures and those fighting against them was probably my problem. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Story. At the heart of the Undead trilogy is Gina Lazarescu, a half mortal. She can die, but also can be resuscitated within three days if He Who Knows How can reach her in time.

The story opens with Gina struggling against a Collector who had kidnapped her. She escapes, and the rest of the book revolves around her efforts to defeat or evade or hide from the Collectors as they plot and plan against her and a group of good Undead assigned to protect Mankind.

Strengths. Eric is good writer. In essence, I came into the middle of the story, and yet I could follow the flow. I thought the “What Came Before” section was helpful.

Certainly his villains were appropriately villainous. His protagonists, Gina and her dad Cal, were both appropriately flawed but also likable because of their self-sacrificial desire to protect others.

The theme seemed clear—the blood of Christ saves. This message was delivered in the context of the story and didn’t seem at all forced or delivered by the author to the reader.

Weaknesses. ***May contain some spoilers***

My main problem with this book was point of view. Besides shifting constantly, which is something I don’t like, a large portion of the story was from the perspective of several of the Collectors … to the point that I found myself as much hoping for Erota to unite with Natira and defeat Megiste as I was that Gina and Cal would overcome the Collectors.

At the same time, I had a hard time worrying about Gina, a half-mortal, and Cal, an immortal. They could get hurt, but the stakes didn’t seem sufficiently high because they didn’t seem seriously at risk. The highest tension came when Dov, the mortal teen, or Kenny, the mortal pre-teen were threatened. In the latter instance, however, Gina’s initial sympathy for the attacker weakened my concern.

I also had some issues with the writing, though I tend to think I would have overlooked these if I had a more positive reaction to the story. For example, Gina escaped from Romania and apparently Cal planted the story that she had died. This seemed like a workable device, but lo and behold, the same ploy showed up at the climax, though shown in depth, giving this critical portion of the story a “been there” feel.

And then there was the darkness, the gore. Frankly, I didn’t like being in the heads of the Collectors. I didn’t like seeing them attack their victims or seeing the blood spurt and splash.

I had to think about this a lot because I have some really dark sections in my second book. I wondered what made me think those were okay, even necessary, but these scenes in Haunt were distasteful. I finally decided the point of view issue was central.

One other thing troubled me—the use of Biblical history. Judas’s blood has some power for evil evidently, Jesus’s blood is an actual physical entity, a dagger used for good is made of the bronze serpent-turned-idol, the demons are the same ones Jesus sent into the swine, and so on. As I see it, these twists in the Biblical account weaken Scripture rather than strengthening the fictional narrative. It drags history into the realm of speculation in a way I don’t care for when it comes to the God-breathed record of events.

Recommendation. I don’t know enough about the vampire genre to know if readers who enjoy Ann Rice’s vampire stories would like Haunt of Jackals or not. I’m confident Twilight fans would not care for this book. For me not being a vampire-story fan, this book did not change my opinion. Undoubtedly there is a niche audience who will like the spills and thrills. For them, I recommend Haunt.

Don’t forget to check out the other blog articles discussing the book (a list of these is posted at the end of my Day 2 article).

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 12:13 pm  Comments (9)  
Tags: , ,

Eric Wilson, Author – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 2

Eric WilsonYou may be more familiar with Eric Wilson as the author of the novelization Fireproof. Or perhaps you know him for his book version of Facing Giants. As it turns out, this prolific author, when writing “from scratch,” creating his own characters and his own plot line, writes speculative fiction.

Okay, he also has a couple suspense novels out there too, but his most recent work is speculative—the vampire novels known as the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy. This month the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring book two, Haunt of Jackals, but I wanted to find out a little more about the writer.

Happily, one of our tour participants, By Darkness Hid author Jill Williamson, who has met Eric and who wrote an endorsement for the book, interviewed him. In addition, Brandon Barr pointed to a fairly lengthy interview in his tour post.

The thing that caught my eye most, however, was a callout box on Eric’s bio page at his Web site:

I was first inspired to write by the imagination in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. My childhood influences ranged from J.R.R. Tolkien, to S.E. Hinton, to Arthur Catherall. As a teen, I turned to Alistair MacLean, Robert Ludlum, and John LeCarre.

What an eclectic group of writers. But it started with fantasy. Is it any surprise, then, that Eric, in writing about vampires, wanted to return the tradition to it’s original overtones:

“It is really a modern version of ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis mixed with a traditional vampire story,” Wilson said. “I’ve seen a lot of vampire books come out recently with a post-modern approach to vampires where they are not even a question of good or evil or spirituality but just a fictional form of the monster. I wanted to go back to a traditional vampire story …” (“‘Fireproof’ novelist wrestles with the supernatural” by Ken Beck, The Wilson Post)

The “traditional vampire story,” it would seem, calls evil by its name and establishes a clear connection between Christ’s death and its defeat.

So why, I ask myself, do I not like vampire stories? Lots of people do. Eric clearly desires to throw light on God’s redemptive work, at one point equating his work with that of a missionary:

“I see my writing being missionary work but kind of in a tent-making mode (the apostle Paul made tents while spreading the Gospel), telling stories that prod and challenge people to think.”

Fantasy roots, a good versus evil motif, a desire to present the truth of the gospel through story. I should be in love with Eric’s vampire stories. I wish I were.

See who else on the tour thinks as I do and who has become a fan of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy:

Vampires and Christian Fiction – Haunt of Jackals Tour, Day 1

The Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour is featuring Haunt of Jackals, book two of the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, Eric Wilson‘s supernatural suspense. Read, “vampire story.”

Apparently this kind of dark speculative fiction is the new trend in Christian publishing, perhaps spurred by Mormon author Stephenie Meyer’s huge success with the Twilight books. But I’ll be honest—I’m puzzled by this trend.

When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, it seemed to have no impact on the kinds of books publishing houses acquired. Acquisition editor and agent alike turned a “read this before” eye to stories that seemed remotely similar to Tolkien’s version of the hero’s journey.

Was this because no new epic fantasy had made it big, breaking out of the fantasy niche in the general market, since Rings? Perhaps.

But I am puzzled as to why Christian publishing houses are now willing to pursue the dark side of fantasy, even with the Twilight success. After all, the “typical” buyer of Christian fiction hardly seems to fit the target audience of dark fantasy.

Did they think the numbers of teenage girls and women who flocked to Twilight would translate into big numbers buying demon-vampire stories? If so, then I think there was a misunderstanding. As near as I can tell, the Twilight books are popular because of their forbidden love theme—love (or more accurately, lust) for the bad boy and in turn, the bad boy restraining his badness for the sake of his love.

John Olson’s vampireless vampire story Shade and Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead Trilogy are far from the Stephenie Meyer type vampire story.

But will the fans of the Dracula type vampire story be inclined to pick up the Christian versions—stories that ascribe supernatural demonic activity to the existence of vampires?

How many readers looking for a good vampire story will go to the Christian fiction aisle of their local book store, or to a Christian store? In short, Christian vampire stories seem like they could languish for lack of an audience.

Ironically, this is the same argument I’ve heard against fantasy for years. So what’s different about vampire stories? I mean, they are popular in the secular culture, though their popularity may now be declining.

The difference in my mind is one of degree or emphasis. In epic fantasy the central motif is the struggle between good and evil. Certainly there are dark sections of such a story. The Harry Potter series had several books that fell under the tag of “dark.” The Lord of the Rings had large sections, especially in the final book, that were dark, as evil appeared to be winning.

The good, however much an underdog, continued to struggle, and there was hope in that struggle. This struggle and the equally important underdog role of the forces of good seem to resonate with people across cultural and generational and gender lines.

Is the same true with vampire stories? You tell me. I’ll be interested in your thoughts.

Also, be sure to check out what others on the tour for Haunt of Jackals are saying about the book and related topics.

CFBA Tour – Leaving Yesterday

I’ll admit, I’m not on top of things with this tour for Leaving Yesterday by Kathryn (Katie) Cushman. First, I forgot I’d signed up for this tour and went ahead and posted my review over two weeks ago.

Second, I chose to post on the last day of the tour, but email problems and ultimately computer problems meant that I’m scrambling to get my post in under the wire (it’s still Friday on the West Coast. 😉 )

All this is unfortunate because this is a book I thoroughly enjoyed and I was only too happy to highlight it again. As I thought about my post tonight, I started kicking myself for not asking Katie for an interview. I’m sure she’d have much more interesting things to say than I will, but I’ll give it a go.

First, the author herself. I met Katie by way of a car pool to the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference three years ago. She had just recently received a contract with Bethany and was looking forward to the release of her first book A Promise to Remember.

All the way up the coast and back the group of us talked about writing and our conference experience. Then we did it again the next year. Through that time I learned that Katie is kind, unpretentious, a good driver, a woman who enjoys simple traditions, loves her family above all else, has a tender heart, is organized, appreciates God’s hand in her journey to publication, is open, intelligent, interesting.

I discovered one other thing when I read her work—she’s a talented writer. Not surprisingly, as a mom of two, Katie writes some of her best fiction (in my opinion) with a mom as her protagonist. The great thing is, she shows universal truths through the life and struggles of this “ordinary” woman.

Katie’s writing is entertaining, insightful, though-provoking. She doesn’t hide from the temptations of life, or the failures. But she follows them up with hope and mercy and redemption.

I’ll reiterate my recommendation of Leaving Yesterday:

Undoubtedly the book, marketed as contemporary fiction, will appeal most to women, but I think men can enjoy the story too. It’s a well-written, important story, and I suggest it’s a must read for Christian women. I highly recommend it to Christian guys as well.

But in the final analysis, I’d recommend you keep your eye on the name Kathryn Cushman and snag her next book as well, and her next, and her next, and her next. She’s just flat out a talented author.

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 10:04 pm  Comments Off on CFBA Tour – Leaving Yesterday  
Tags: , ,
%d bloggers like this: