I’m Still Perturbed

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One of the things that disturbs me about American culture is our “can do” attitude. While our nation is incredibly diverse, one thing seems to unite us—for the most part, we all came from somewhere else. The very fact that either we or our ancestors had the courage to carve out a life in a new land is admirable.

But that very courage has warped into prideful self-reliance. This didn’t happen over night, but in a crisis we still seemed willing to turn to God, however briefly, as recently as 2001 when the terrorists attacked New York and Washington.

A scant eight years later and we are in an economic mess of our own making, and yet there is certainly not that national humility that fell upon the nation those first weeks after 9/11.

Instead, lawmakers reassure the people by giving “yes we can” speeches and by coming up with plans to restore our financial equilibrium by capitalizing on our citizens’ vices. As I see it, these schemes are nothing more than our god of choice.

Rather than saying, God is trying to get our attention.

We’ve had a devastating hurricane, killer tornadoes, blizzards, floods, fires, and now an economic crisis with global repercussions, yet we seem to think the solution is within us. We need to be kinder to our environment, and we can. We need to be more organized in our relief efforts, and we can do that too. We can fix our roads and schools, bail out our failing banks and automobile industry, mandate health insurance, and lift the restrictions on scientific research (those babies were going to be killed anyway, so let’s make good use of their stem cells). We can do it, yes we can. Why? Because we are … the incredible, amazing, can-do Americans.

OK, half of that paragraph is tongue-in-cheek. I happen to love my country. I’ve lived in enough other places to know what an incredible place this is. I also happen to think President Obama has powerful leadership ability. He has studied the Presidents of recent history who commanded language, and he seems to be purposefully putting into practice what he’s learned. He has adapted FDR’s radio fireside chats to the Internet, he has picked up on JFK’s and Ronald Reagan’s delivery of memorable and motivating one-liners.

The problem is, we are completely ignoring the idea that maybe, just maybe God wants us to look to Him instead of to ourselves. Where are the leaders saying that to our nation?

Sadly, when a few Christians suggested our sins were behind the 9/11 attacks, they were vilified. Maybe they didn’t say “our sins,” but “their sins.” I don’t know. The point is, no one else seems willing to bring up the idea that God still judges nations.

I know I asked that question shortly after a string of disasters: an earthquake in Northridge, CA, the Oklahoma bombing, 9/11. Quite frankly, my doubt is gone. I don’t believe in coincidences, for one thing.

While God doesn’t change, clearly His way of working with Mankind has changed, but I don’t know if His way of working with nations has. He judged the nations living in the Promised Land, which is why He gave it to Israel. He judged Assyria and Babylon and a host of other nations—Edom and Moab, Syria, Philistia, Midian—even though He didn’t make a covenant with them as He did with Israel. So why would we think He stopped judging nations?

Here’s what He told Israel when they looked elsewhere for help instead of turning to Him:

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
And rely on horses,
And trust in chariots because they are many
And in horsemen because they are very strong,
But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD!
Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster
And does not retract His words,
But will arise against the house of evildoers
nd against the help of the workers of iniquity.
Now the Egyptians are men and not God,
And their horses are flesh and not spirit;
So the LORD will stretch out His hand,
And he who helps will stumble
And he who is helped will fall,
And all of them will come to an end together.

– Isaiah 31:1-3

Whether or not God has purposed to get America’s attention through the string of disasters and difficulties or whether He is judging the nation because of our turning our backs on Him, I think it’s fair to say, He wants our attention individually. He wants us to turn to Him and not to the devices of our own making. He wants us to repent.

And after all, what is a nation but a collection of individuals?

Published in: on March 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm  Comments (8)  
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I’m Perturbed

Fair warning—this is a rant. The thing is, I’m bothered by so much, I’m not sure where to start. It’s what we’re doing in this culture that is getting to me.

For instance, last year’s winner of Celebrity Apprentice did some promotional clips in which he says, Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. Then you turn to the news and there is Bernie Madhoff being hauled into court and vilified. I’m thinking, Wait a minute. Wasn’t he just trying to win?

So we teach a whole generation of people—everyone who first heard Oakland Raider owner Al Davis say, Just win, baby, and believed it—that nice guys finish last and that it’s not personal, just business. And we laugh at lines from the upcoming movie that says a business lie isn’t the same as a life lie, then wonder how those AIG execs could take million dollar bonuses.

Excuse me? They could because we taught them that winning is the only thing that matters. Who cares who you fleece?

And that’s just where the philosophy is at its most obvious. Look a little further into our consumer culture and you’ll see how doctors, who used to be held up as selfless and sacrificial, are now part of why our health care is in such deep trouble. Teachers who once were all about the needs of children are now ready to man the picket line and fight for their share of the pie. Attorneys who once were the advocates of the defenseless are now manipulators of the system. And politicians who once were servants of the people are now petty, bickering, self-serving megalomaniacs.

All the while, the majority of people are looking for little beyond comfort and ease and a little pleasure. Like getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day or drugged out during Spring break. (Curse those drug lords for making Mexico so unsafe. How could they!)

One recent email forward (I hardly ever read them—please don’t add me to your list!) had it right. The Bible prophesies against those who call good evil and evil good, yet that’s exactly what we do:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight!

Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine And valiant men in mixing strong drink,

Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!

– Isa 5:20-23

Lo and behold, our culture is right there. We call abortion, choice. We call pornography, free speech. We call homosexual sin, gay rights.

And now there’s a movement afoot here in California to legalize drugs so they can be taxed (solve our budget problem and stop all the gang activity, the theory goes). That must have gotten the pols thinking, because they also want to add a tax on patrons of strip joints.

Let’s see, the idea isn’t to dissuade men from patronizing the places. It’s to make money off them. So, how many zoning laws will change if local governments realize there is money to make in hosting such places?

We are in a financial crisis in America, but instead of getting down on our knees and begging God to forgive us for turning our faces from Him, we’re packing our bags, ready to head off to Egypt.

And it’s not just non-Christians. Believers aren’t far behind. But I’ll rant about that another day.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm  Comments (17)  
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Why Do They DO That?

OK, this is a rant. Fair warning.

Of late, I’ve been asking myself the “Why do they DO that?” question more and more. Seems like there is less and less “common” sense going around.

Take NBC and the Olympics coverage. How many times do they tell us they are giving us live coverage of this or that event? Except they delay the feed to the West Coast and, I presume, to the Mountain Time Zone, as well. Rather than watching true live coverage from 5 PM to 9 or 10, no. We on the West Coast must wait until 8:00 and either stay up late, tape (and watch the next day—a 24-hour delay), or miss the “live coverage” completely. Why do that DO that?

Or take the oil companies, who did—to the extreme—their annual price hike. First gas at the pump skyrockets to the point that consumers actually start to do something, then the prices plunge, but never quite to pre-rocket levels. Yet there’s a collective sigh of relief from drivers who are now saddled with a significant increase in price from the previous year. All the while, the oil execs rack up huge salaries and stock holders rake in untold profits. All this, despite the fact that America went through gas rationing and long lines at the pump back in the 70’s. We’ve known for 30 years that being at the mercy of foreign interests when it comes to a vital resource such as oil leads eventually to trouble. So where are the electric cars and hybrids? Still on the fringe? Why didn’t the car manufactures DO something to prepare for this eventuality?

Then there’s the “fair and balanced reporting” of any network on the current presidential candidates. One will be featured with a pithy sound bite, backdropped by cheering, smiling faces and lots of handshakes. And the other is captured in a clip commenting about the first candidate, with no audience response, in fact, with no audience—as if the speech was delivered from an empty studio. Or how about the pictures of Unpopular Political Figure? Always the person is in mid-sentence, making his facial expression appear somewhat dopey. Whereas Popular Political Figure has a picture making him look especially young and handsome. Perfect propaganda procedures, which I was taught to recognized way back when the Communists were the ones who used such tactics. Why do we put up with this in America?

The writing community is not without our share of people who inspire the question. Some people in the business treat every piece of correspondence, every personal contact, every discussion board post as a commercial. Sure, buried in there somewhere might be the information you’re looking for … if you can keep reading beyond the self-serving content. But the overall effect is to leave a bad, bad taste. So why do they DO that?

Published in: on August 21, 2008 at 12:21 pm  Comments (6)  
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It Really Is Up to Readers

As near as I can tell, editors and agents are just too busy to know what readers actually want. As Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt admitted in a blog post last May, publishers do not do market studies. They rely on “the Book Industry Study Group and various trade associations … but very little is done at the individual publisher level.” Instead, marketing trends become apparent after the fact, based on the sales record of particular books.

In my mind, this explains some of the tendencies I see in the CBA, one being the slow response to the fantasy craze in the culture. This, from agent Steve Laube via Chip MacGreagor’s blog,

We get the same problem with science-fiction and fantasy (which are two distinct genres, contrary to common verbiage). I championed that category when I was at Bethany House and we launched Karen Hancock, Randy Ingermanson, John Olson, and Kathy Tyres. Unfortunately the market was soft and the category sort of frittered away to where the 2007 Christy Awards didn’t even have the category designated for an award. However at the same time we have observed the wild success of CBA YA fantasy novels from both Donita K. Paul and Bryan Davis. That success has opened a small window of opportunity in this category for adults too. Only a couple publishers are looking, and I can state that they will probably only release one or two authors, and wait for the market to vote. If the numbers are not strong? The cycle will begin all over again.

Steve is right about the publishers waiting “for the market to vote.” I’ve had two acquisitions editors tell me personally or publicly that they are waiting to see how current projects do before making a decision about acquiring additional fantasy projects.

As a writer on the out, looking in, I feel frustrated at times. Granted, Donita Paul and Bryan Davis are selling well. To have Steve characterize their works as wildly successful is incredibly encouraging. But isn’t Wayne Batson also wildly successful? Doesn’t the media attention from this summer (remember the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly articles), not to mention the soon-to-be released Reuters interview with Batson and Christopher Hopper, count for something when publishers consider what projects to pursue? From where I sit (outside looking in, remember) it appears that sales trump all.

How unfortunate. Of the authors that Steve Laube contracted for Bethany, only one is a fantasy writer, so as a reader I admit I was not out there buying science fiction. But the combined genre got a black eye because the sales of all the books weren’t … what? Making money hand over fist? 🙂 I admit, I don’t even know what publishers consider “successful.” And in any case, I don’t have any real sales numbers to go by, anyway.

So guess what? It keeps coming back to the same thing—if we want Christian fantasy, we have to buy Christian fantasy.

So, who’s on your Christmas list that could surely benefit from reading a good fantasy? 😀

Clawing Up the Mountain of Misinformation

It turns out, the same day Chip MacGregor posted his interview with Dave Horton of Bethany House, INFUZE Magazine posted an article by Nathan Lambes about Christian speculative fiction.

While I agree with Mr. Lambes’ conclusion, he said some things in the article that I think need to be countered. It is in the endless repetition of false ideas that impressions are built or cemented in the minds of readers (who happen to also be the book buyers) and acquisition editors and marketing execs.

Here’s the first statement.

And while the genre has arguably been around since Milton and Bunyan, Christian speculative fiction isn’t selling as well as the work of those two men. And while the writings of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien are in vogue, the more recent works of Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers stay untouched on their shelves.

First, I seriously doubt that Milton and Bunyan are selling particularly well these days! Sure, they have the standing as classics and many students still read them, but as pleasure reading? I doubt it. However, the worst part of the statement is the latter—that Karen Hancock and Kathy Tyers “stay untouched on their shelves.” That’s just plain not true. Would Bethany contract Karen Hancock for another series of books if her earlier ones were “untouched on their shelves”?

I did a little research to see what the current status of those books is at Amazon. Yes, I know some insiders claim Amazon isn’t an accurate way to measure the success of a book. But by using Title Z, you can see the lifetime ranking of a book, and there has been research to show what those numbers mean. From “What’t a Good Sales Rank”:

Less than 100: Best-seller. Author, publisher, agent are all getting rich
101-1000: Extremely good performer. Any publisher/author would be thrilled.
1001-10,000: Very successful book. A few of these can sustain a small publishing company.
10,001-50,000: A successful book by most industry standards.
50,001-100,000: Not bad.
100,000 – 500,000: Not good.
500,000 or more: Poor.

Admittedly, Kathy Tyers’ Firebird-A Trilogy, with a current ranking of 141,000, is selling in the Not Good range, but then the book is four years old. Karen Hancock, on the other hand, has four titles currently within or hovering near the “successful book” ranking, while the lifetime (the average includes the months Amazon listed them before release) of the books is just outside the Not bad rating.

Clearly, someone is “touching” these books.

Personal anecdote. In 2004, after discovering Light of Eidon, I requested our church librarian purchase the book. She did. Without me making any other request, she proceeded to purchase the other books in the Guardian-King series. I can only suppose that other readers of the first book requested the next ones in the series, because certainly there aren’t dollars to waste in our church library budget for books no one wants to read.

But back to the INFUZE article. I noticed that Mr. Lambes didn’t mention any of the newer authors. How does he explain the incontrovertible success of Donita Paul, Wayne Batson, Bryan Davis?

But there’s more.

The second function is of an evangelistic nature. These are the Christian novels that cross over into the secular mainstream and preach loud the gospel of Christ. One doesn’t have to think hard to call up images of the Left Behind frenzy from a scant few years ago.

I won’t go into another of my rants right now, but it is apparent that Mr. Lambes, like so many writers, doesn’t understand that fiction can have a Christian theme without having an “evangelistic” purpose and without “preaching loud” the gospel of Christ. Ironically he says the alternative is to make the message so obscure no one gets it.

simply by merit of going through a Christian publisher such as Tyndale, Westbow, or Bethany House one is almost doomed to a presence on only the shelves of Christian bookstores, limiting evangelistic potency. Add this to the fact that the Christian thematic elements in Christian speculative fiction are either too overt to be palatable by a non-believing audience or too vague to have an impact and you have a genre that is effectively evangelistically neutered.

First, I wonder if Mr. Lambes has looked for any Christian fantasy in Borders or Barnes and Noble of late. Wayne Batson just posted about his book signing in Texas at a HUGE Borders. And if memory serves me correctly, the Fantasy Four Tour included a number of not-Christian bookstores. However, in response to the point of the quote, my question is, do readers have any confusion about what Herman Melville believes about God after finishing Moby Dick? Why is it that a non-Christian can write using symbols and types that are not misunderstood, but somehow a Christian doing so is considered to be doing just a self-sacrifice story like so many other writers? OK, the rant is rising up, so I’ll move on. 😉

Here’s a statement in the article, I just don’t understand. Perhaps one of you can enlighten me.

Christian speculative fiction is by Christians, for Christians. While I’m sure any author would love to have their stories read and appreciated by a secular audience, the price they would have to pay to make them appealing to that group would be too high.

What price is he referring to—the watering down of the Christian themes? I suppose that’s it, but I completely disagree. The price we have to pay to have a secular audience read our stories is to write good ones, engaging ones that anyone will love. Look at Narnia. Not only Christians read Narnia. How many non-Christians came to an understanding of what Jesus did at the cross because of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It’s an indeterminate number, but that doesn’t mean it is a non-existent group. And this would not happen if those people found a bad story. The story has to be well crafted, which means the theme also must be well crafted.

Is the price of writing good stories too high? I’ll admit, sometimes it feels very high. Sometimes I wish I could settle for something that would be a guaranteed sale or that I could actually finish, no matter if the work has some snags here and there! 😮 Writing epic fantasy while you’re trying to learn to write fiction is not a path I recommend to ANYONE!

In the end, though, I don’t believe God calls writers to anything short of writing the best “good stories” we’re capable of.

Let me get to the conclusion of the article:

Positive word of mouth is a huge factor in the success of a book, and in this case, the word isn’t being spread. And since we’re already talking about a small market that’s having problems raising money, it doesn’t have the funding to help get that word around through conventional advertisement.

Well, again he’s missed the point—the Fantasy Four Tour this past summer, CSFF Blog Tours, Latest In Spec, the Lost Genre Guild, Where the Map Ends, Christian Fandom, Spec Faith—these and many other efforts ARE making a difference … or Reuters wouldn’t be interviewing Wayne Batson and Christopher Hopper.

In the end it is up to the readers to decide. It’s survival of the fittest out here.

And with this statement, I agree. Which is why I am holding the Fantasy Challenge II. Readers need to let their friends know what books they like and should buy, and they need to tell their bookstores what books they should put on their shelves. In the end—on the human level, at least—it does boil down to us buying books.

So What Really Matters?

Sometimes I get so irate about the focus of certain CBA critics, including insiders, not because there isn’t something to criticize, but because the criticism, in my view, misses what is really important. I read one this morning essentially taking the industry to task because of its stand regarding alcohol. At least that was a different slant. The usual target is the “no cursing” restriction. The implication in the post was that these restrictions lessen the quality of art.

I doubt seriously whether secular reviewers consider CBA books as less than best because of these “restrictions.”

In high school and as a literature major in college, I read dozens of classics, and as I recall, few, very few used cursing. Probably more included drinking, but I don’t remember which did or didn’t. It was a non-issue. The story or characters didn’t revolve around these superficial elements. Yes, superficial. Good writers will find a way to characterize and dramatize within whatever guidelines, or restrictions, they’ve been handed.

I read just recently in the local newspaper’s weekend section about how screenwriters in the ’40s and ’50s had to be much more creative when the studio system in Hollywood kept explicit sex out of movies. How ironic, I thought, that secular writers have discovered the strength of art written under restrictions, at the same time Christian writers are claiming restrictions stifle their creativity.

To be honest, this is the line that was the last straw: We may well continue to see the standard in Christian publishing shifting from “clean” to “true.”

😮 Where do I start.

There’s the idea that “clean” isn’t true, as if there aren’t Christians (or Mormons or even Muslims) who live their lives without drinking or cursing.

Then there’s the idea that “true” is the highest value, which would be right if we’re talking about Truth. We’re not. This “true” means “what actually exists in the world.” So why should we stop by showing people drinking? Why not populate our novels with atheists and kiddie-porn peddlers? In our society those things and much, much more are “true.” If being “true” is required to create art, where do you stop disgorging the profane and vulgar of our society? And who’s to decide if your art or mine has enough that is “true”?

But ultimately, here’s my problem. Why don’t people who want Christian fiction to be “true” cry just as loudly about the false or ambiguous or erroneous depictions of God? Why is it we get so worked up about needing to show man in his reality, but we seem to turn a blind eye at showing God as Someone weak or uncaring, Someone to take for granted or use?

If we as Christian writers really believe art must be true, why not spend a bit more time discussing how we portray God rather than whining about whether we can or can’t have a character drinking alcohol, whether in excess or in moderation.

And by the way, the last two CSFF Blog Tour selections Legend of the Firefish and The Return included considerable drinking. Was that a problem? I don’t remember anyone on either tour mentioning it one way or the other!

I suppose in all fairness, I should give you the link to the blogger’s post. You may well have a different take on the topic once you read the whole article. Which is fine. I freely admit, this just hit one of my hot buttons—Christian writers complaining about the non-essentials while overlooking the vital.

If you care to, you can find the article here

Published in: on September 26, 2007 at 12:48 pm  Comments (13)  

What’s the Church For?

I saw a headline this morning from One News Now about how children are not equipped to evangelize. The answer, according to the article? Open more Christian schools to teach them.

But what is it churches are doing? Could it be they have become sidetracked from the function of equipping the saints? Perhaps they are too busy serving coffee and donuts on Sunday morning, or planning camping trips, or organizing rallies against abortion or homosexuality or drumming up support for their favorite political candidate.

Don’t get me wrong. In the US we have the responsibility of voting and should take that obligation seriously, and I believe the Bible gives clear principles opposing abortion and homosexuality. But when it comes to changing lives, Scripture makes it plain that all of us need regeneration which comes from believing in what Jesus accomplished through His shed blood.

The other activities—fellowship gatherings and the like—certainly, are not WRONG, in and of themselves. But isn’t the church the place where believers are to be equipped to face the world so they can be salt and light?

Please understand, I taught in Christian schools as long as I was an educator. I love Christian schools centered on teaching truth through the lens of Scripture. It makes the most sense to me, and I doubt I could teach any other way.

However, I do not think Christian schools should be looked at as the answer for failing homes or for failing churches.

Christian schools, in my opinion, should not be reformatories when parents have lost their ability to discipline their kids; and neither should Christian schools be founded to equip the saints when churches have stopped trying.

Worst of all, this call for more Christian schools was a denominational thing. Instead of the denominational leadership admonishing their pastors and church leaders to equip their people, especially their youth, they decide a school is needed instead.

How about a return to pastors teaching the Word of God? Seems like there are some pretty good examples in the Bible of how to evangelize.

Published in: on September 11, 2007 at 11:03 am  Comments (6)  

Warmed Up Leftovers?

Usually after blog tours, I have this warm glow, having enjoyed the interaction—debate, discussion, agreement arising from the numerous posts and comments. I have to say, I am a little distracted this time. Troubled, even.

A week ago Wayne Thomas Batson appeared on Fox and Friends, seemingly a result of an article that appeared on the front page of the Washington Post. Mind you, that is not what is troubling me. It is the comments left in response to the Web version of the article. I’ve saved two I want to address.

Here’s the one for today:

No Magic? Please, to think that Mr. Batson writes anything other than what is magic with a didactic and simple-minded allusion to the myth of the Christ resurrection is ludicrous. Christians are indeed entitled to their popular pulp fiction and fantasy, but to pretend that it is somehow more spiritually edifying or morally superior is hilarious.

The reluctance to engage in real culture is the reason why evangelical Christians are left to imitate those with real talent. They employ the literary (and I hesitate to use that word here) trope and add Jesus and suddenly- it must be a miracle! – the book, the hip-hop or rap song or whatever it is they’re imitating is sanctified.

This way the faithful don’t really have to create, think or take any cultural risks. They, rather than being the salt of the earth, prefer to be merely the warmed leftovers.

Stephen Burnett has a wonderful post We Had It First, over at Spec Faith that gives an outstanding rebuttal to these points. However, I can’t help noticing that in the eyes of this non-Christian, evangelical Christians are all about imitating the culture.

I have to agree with the man (I neglected to copy the name), at least in part. Not that I think writers aren’t taking risks. It’s publishers who aren’t taking risks. Yes, it comes down to dollars and cents. If you have a blockbuster bringing in major money, you can afford to take a chance on something new and different. It’s a bit of a gamble, but if you lose, you have a source of income to cover the loss.

For a smaller company, can the CEO’s take such a chance?

I may be looking at this in too simplistic a way, but I tend to think our “Christian publishers” have opted to conduct business the way the world does rather than the risky way a Christian often needs to live life. Think about Abraham for a second. God tells him to move. Pull up stakes, leave your family, and go until I tell you to stop.

As if that wasn’t enough, He later told him to take his son to a mountain top and put him on an altar for a sacrifice.

How about the people of Israel, 600,000 strong marching across the desert, in the wake of a cloud—or a pillar of fire—stopping when it stopped and going when it went. Not easy to make long term plans, I’d think.

The point is, God puts His people in risky places at times so we depend completely on Him.

Has that element been completely stripped from Christian publishing?

I hope not.

I long for the day when Christian art once again leads the culture, rather than following five years behind.

Published in: on July 27, 2007 at 12:56 pm  Comments (10)  

It’s All about Crafting

I’m cheerin’. I finally found a Christian writer, who happens to author a fantasy trilogy, no less, voicing what I believe about theme.

In an interview at Novel Journey posted yesterday, George Bryan Polivka, author of The Legend of the Firefish (Harvest House) answered a question about his pet peeve regarding the industry:

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

I’m new to it, after all these years, and it’s quite exciting for me, so there’s nothing I could say that peeves me. But there does seem to be a lot of focus on writing and being a writer, instead of on the content and meaning of what’s written. That has sort of surprised me. There’s a lot of theology between the lines in my books, and few seem to want to address it directly. And yet, that’s the important stuff. What does it mean? I’d love to see more dialog in the industry around that question.

Amen! Yet, that’s the important stuff. What does it mean?

It seems to me, we Christian fiction writers have taken our eyes off that point. Not everyone, certainly. I tend to think fantasy writers have a greater grasp on the question, what does it mean, than the average novelist.

But the denigration of “preachiness” and allegory, I believe stems in large part from falling for the lie that writing to a greater meaning is somehow bad writing.

On the contrary, all the greats, all the classics are just that because they have more to say than a quick story for the purpose of entertaining. Or beautiful language for the purpose of beautiful language.

Certainly I do believe a story should entertain and that it should be artistic in its presentation. But fiction is a form of communication, first and foremost. In that regard, the writer should have something to say or he should remain quiet.

Secular writers, it would seem, experience no angst over communicating their deepest held beliefs in their fiction. Only Christians seem to believe the meaning part of our stories should be excised.

Or that the meaning should simply ooze out unintentionally because of the author’s worldview.

The thing is, I as an author, can create all kinds of characters, some very different from myself. Because I have that ability, I can choose to write a story devoid of redemptive value. My character is godless, living in a godless world, with nothing of god entering in. The theme might, therefore, be nihilistic or humanistic. I could write that. It would be like playing a part in a stage production.

I understand that Christian writers are saying they make no conscious choice, so what meaning comes out is the default meaning of their own personal worldview. As if that is enough. As if not thinking deeply, not crafting intentionally, will make the meaning of the work strong and vibrant and important.

How can we expect readers to think a work is important when we writers do not think what we have to say is important enough to intentionally craft into our stories?

Published in: on June 13, 2007 at 11:23 am  Comments (2)  

Periodic Fantasy Rant

Yep, those of you who know what I’m going to say probably don’t need to keep reading. It’s not like it’s a new position. I’m taking the time because it seems editors aren’t changing their tune.

In a recent blog post at Charis Connection, this question was posed to the contributing authors/editors:

s there a genre not yet in vogue that you would like to see developed?

One answer struck my fantasy nerve, so tender as is:

I would love to see fantasy and science fiction more fully explored and embraced by the Christian market. But aside from a few exceptions, which I’m watching with great excitement and interest, the Christian readers haven’t been responsive to recent attempts in these two genres. Unfortunately, until the readers demonstrate that there really is a market out there–translation: BUY the books that are released in this genre–publishers, the one I work for included, aren’t overly interested in these genres. Sad, but true. Karen Ball

Where do I start?

First, I’d love to have a dollar, just a dollar, for every comment or email I’ve received that is some variation to, I had no idea there even was such a thing as Christian fantasy. My point is, how can readers buy what they do not know exists?

Sometimes it feels like unpublished writers and readers are more invested in trying to get more fantasy sold than the publishers are. I’m not saying that’s fact, just that’s how it feels at times. Publishers support the blog tour, for example. Without their work to get books into our hands, we would not have a blog tour, I don’t think.

But where are the visionary thinkers, the people working to utilize the changing technology to help authors sell books?

In a couple months the CSFF Blog Tour will feature Robin Parrish, author of Fearless and Relentless, and I think he has some surprises to unveil in connection to promoting his work.

The fact is, when a publisher put some money into a series—such as Thomas Nelson did for Wayne Thomas Batson‘s Door Within trilogy—sales soared.

Which brings me to my next gripe. Yep, it’s a gripe. After all this is a rant! 😦

How many of these “few exceptions” do there have to be before the genre is recognized? Karen Hancock’s Amazon sales for Return of the Guardian-King compare favorably, for example, with Lori Wick’s White Chocolate Moments, Brandilyn Collins’s Coral Moon, Robin Lee Hatcher’s Sweet Dreams Crossing, Angela Hunt’s Uncharted, and undoubtedly a host of others. By the way, these books have one thing in common—they are recent releases, when interest is probably at its highest.

On Amazon, Batson’s first book is outselling Katherine Paterson’s (author of Bridge to Terebithia) newest release and compares favorably with Orson Scott Card’s latest. In fact, in the teen fantasy section, Batson’s The Final Storm is ranked #52 in best-sellers, ahead of books by Philip Pullman, Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl), and, yes, J. K. Rowling.

But are only Hancock and Batson selling well? What about Donita Paul, Bryan Davis, R. K. Mortenson? According to the PW article, Paul’s DragonKeeper Chronicles have sold over 150,000 books. Davis’s books are frequently on the CBA best-seller lists, and if my memory is correct, Mortenson’s first book was a CBA #1 seller in youth books.

The point is, when readers discover Christian fantasy, they DO buy the books. The task is to let readers know about them. This will not happen as long as editors take this tepid, wait-and-see attitude.

I’ll tell you which publisher is doing the impressive thing right now—Thomas Nelson. Not only did they do a wonderful job with the Door Within books, they are re-releasing Kathryn Mackel’s science fantasy. Hopefully that will lead to publication of the third book in what was intended to be a trilogy. Thomas Nelson’s name also came up over and over as we complied the list of books nominated for the new *** Award we want to give as a supplement to the missing Christy Visionary.

Why editors do not see the cultural trends and want to run ahead and provide excellent Christian literature is a mystery to me. Sales, they say. So, if we readers buy and buy and buy, then the publishers will have no place to go but in search for more authors to satisfy the growing desire for quality Christian fantasy.

Published in: on May 25, 2007 at 1:03 pm  Comments (18)  
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