The Stereotype That Keeps On Slamming Doors

Over and over I hear or see statements like, I don’t read Christian fiction because it is so ___. Fill in the blank — preachy, poorly written, predictable, unrealistic, sanitized.

I’m not going to pretend that all Christian fiction is well-crafted, with deep spiritual themes that demand real thinking while telling a captivating story.

But I think it’s fair to ask those who make negative declarations, especially categorical ones, about Christian fiction, What have you read lately?

Author friend Mike Duran began a discussion today on his site Decompose that has generated a number of slam-the-door-on-Christian-fiction comments. So I decided to provide short excerpts of a few of my favorite novels — YA or adult, mostly speculative, but not all — which fall under the Christian fiction umbrella, as evidence that readers would do well to prop the door open.

We must counter ignorance with facts, I think, or the same negative lines get repeated over and over. That’s a sure way of chasing off potential readers! After all, why should a reader pick up a Christian novel if a bunch of insiders agree Christian fiction is bad?

Here is a smattering of evidence that such a conclusion is faulty (links are to longer excerpts so you can read more if you wish):

The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers — a YA fantasy stand-alone

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass.

I’ve run across folks claim they know everything about their birthday—where it happened, who they was with, what day it was. But if you really press them on it, turns out they don’t remember no more about it than I do. They only know what somebody told them.

I don’t care who you are—when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else’s word for it. That’s where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.

Vanish by Tom Pawlick — first in a series of adult supernatural suspense

It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.

Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.

He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.

Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn’t felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

It had begun early that morning when he stopped for gas. He could have sworn the guy at the next pump was staring at him. Conner saw his face for only an instant. But it looked strange somehow — dark, as if shrouded by a passing shadow. And his eyes . . .

For a moment, his eyes looked completely white.

Then the shadow passed and the guy turned away.

On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson — Middle Grade/YA fantasy

Just outside the town of Glipwood, perched near the edge of the cliffs above the Dark Sea sat a little cottage where lived the Igiby family. The cottage was rather plain, except for how comfortable it was, and how nicely it had been built, and how neatly it was kept in spite of the three children who lived there, and except for the love that glowed from it like firelight from its windows at night.

As for the Igiby family? Well, except for the way they always sat late into the night beside the hearth telling stories, and when they sang in the garden while they gathered the harvest, and when the grandfather, Podo Helmer, sat on the porch blowing smoke rings, and except for all the good, warm things that filled their days there like cider in a mug on a winter night, they were quite miserable. Quite miserable indeed, in that land where walked the Fangs of Dang.

Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand — first in the Roland March Mystery series, adult mystery

I’m on the way out. They can all tell, which is why the crime scene technicians hardly acknowledge my presence, and my own colleagues do a double take whenever I speak. Like they’re surprised to find me still here.

But I am here, staring down into the waxy face of a man who, with a change of wardrobe, could pass for a martyred saint.

It’s all in the eyes. Rolling heavenward in agony, brows arched in acute pain. A pencil mustache clinging to the vaulted upper lip, blood seeping through the cracks between the teeth. The ink on his biceps. Blessed Virgins and barb-wired hearts and a haloed man with a cleft beard.

But instead of a volley of arrows or a vat of boiling oil, this one took a shotgun blast point-blank just under the rib cage, flaying his wife-beater and the chest cavity beneath. He fell backward onto the bed, arms out, bleeding out onto the dingy sheets.

Lorenz stands next to me, holding the victim’s wallet. He slips the license out and whistles. “Our boy here is Octavio Morales.”

He’s speaking to the room, not me personally, but I answer anyway. “The money guy?”

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet — adult fantasy (this excerpt is from the Auralia Thread series summary leading up to this book)


The ale boy was once an errand runner, almost invisible as he served House Abascar. As he grew up—an orphan raised by House Abascar’s beer brewer and winemaker—his real name remained a secret, even from him.

But what he did know proved useful indeed. As he gathered the harvest fruits beyond Abascar’s walls, worked with brewers below ground, delivered drinks across the city, and served the king his favorite liquor, the ale boy learned the shortcuts and secrets of that oppressed kingdom.

When the ale boy met Auralia, a mysterious and artistic young woman from the wilderness, they formed a friendship that would change the world. Auralia’s artistry shone with colors no one had ever seen, and when she revealed her masterpiece within House Abascar, the kingdom erupted in turmoil that ended in a calamitous collapse. Auralia vanished, as did her enchanting colors. And hundreds of people died.

Brokenhearted but brave, the ale boy sought out survivors in Abascar’s ruins and helped them find their way to a refuge in the Cliffs of Barnashum.There, led by their new king, Cal-raven, the people endured a harsh winter and an attack from the Cent Regus beastmen.

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs — YA fantasy

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.

Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm, wind, and lightning, and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callus earned hacking through its branches.

Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka (maybe the best of them all) — adult fantasy

“On a post. In a pond.”

Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.

It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.

The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.

The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson — adult magic realism (sadly I can’t copy any of the excerpt of this one, so you’ll have to click on the link to get a flavor of the book.

Mind you, this sampling doesn’t include a single author of women’s fiction. In that genre I’d recommend Julie Carobini, Kathryn Cushman, Kathleen Popa, Sharon Souza, Debbie Thomas, and that’s right off the top of my head.

I’m just saying, good Christian fiction is available.

When readers listen to those who don’t (or who no longer) read the genre, they are insuring that publishers will not aim for a larger audience — because when they do, insiders will say, Those genres don’t sell. And they’ll be right because those not informed about the latest books and newest authors are telling potential readers how horrible Christian fiction is. Who wants to buy books when the buzz about them is so negative?

How about, let’s at least keep an open mind, so when someone like me or Tim George who reviews for Fiction Addict or any of the CSFF Tour bloggers gives a contrasting opinion to the “Christian fiction is bad” mantra, we might consider that it’s possible there are some worthwhile books published by Christian houses.

Let’s All Write the Same

I hope you realize I’m being facetious by suggesting all writers should write in the same way. However, I sometimes get the feeling that advocates of certain writing approaches think this outcome would be desirable.

I recently read a review that criticized a work for what it did NOT do, as if all works had, in fact, to do exactly the same thing. Now if the criticism was that the story did not have a likable protagonist or it did not have sufficient conflict or a central theme, then I would understand. These are things necessary to every story. But this was not the case.

Instead this criticism centered on a style. I’ll use an example. James Scott Bell, in his excellent book Plot & Structure advocates using the “three-act structure.” Does that mean this is the only structure a novel can follow?

Apparently some people believe so, religiously, to the point of criticizing any novel that dares to use a different structure as if it is inferior or deficient. The fact is, the three-act structure is one way of telling a story, but not the only way. James Bell himself says so:

Can You Play With Structure?
Of course. Once you understand why it works, you are free to use that understanding to fit your artistic purposes … So grasp the worth of structure, then write what you will.
– p. 24

Jim does go on to say that even in non-linear plots eventually the same elements and information found in a plot organized into three acts will also surface.

But what if a reviewer uses the three-act structure as his bible for The Way Stories Should Be, and he comes across a story like Lost Mission by Athol Dickson? Anyone reading the various posts during the CSFF Blog Tour for this book probably knows Athol did not follow the three-act structure.

And I suggest, the literary world is better for it. We’re better for books like George Bryan Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon, too, that creates “story movement” as John Truby calls it, through a means other than linear story telling.

My point is simply this: when an author is allowed to actually create, his work may be very different from some of the patterns advocated in writing instruction books. Truth is, it may be inaccessible, as I find A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to be, no matter how acclaimed a writer James Joyce is. But it also might be brilliant and award winning (think, Gilead by Marianne Robinson) and wonderfully fresh and even wildly successful (think Harry Potter).

The alternative is for authors to put creativity aside and work exclusively within the cookie-cutter structure of screenplays. All books would soon become predictable (have you started noticing that the least likely suspect is almost always the culprit?) and characters, interchangeable.

The same is true of any other dearly held belief about writing. Some of the oft repeated writer advice—avoid an omniscient point of view, strip away all adverbs, don’t use “was,” kill off -ing words, and so on—ends up sterilizing writing. No longer does an author have a unique voice, a creative story, a fresh approach. Instead, it all needs to sound the same, only better.

I think the “only better” part is accurate. I’m taking issue with the hard and fast approaches that render fiction too much the same.

Fantasy Friday — Blaggards and Heros

Please take a moment to help determine the April CSFF Top Blogger Award winner. Round one ends next Wednesday.

And speaking of the April tour, one more participant has posted about Blaggard’s Moon. Stop by Reviews Plus and see what Caleb has to say.

I’ve been thinking about something since I read Chawna’s post, Heroic Heroes in which she expresses a desire for heroic heroes in fiction, ones that will be models for us, that will challenge us to live better, truer, more generously, more nobly.

While I agree that in each of us is the desire for a heroic hero to show up and save us (even as some, like the drowning man with a would-be rescuer, fight Him off when He comes), I wonder about putting heroic heroes into our fiction.

As I see it, the world is propagating the belief that Mankind is good. A common theme in fiction, from TV to children’s books, is that all we have to do is reach down inside us and become who we are capable of becoming.

So I wonder, if a Christian writes a story with a heroic hero, won’t it look so much like that message of the world that readers may miss the point?

Personally, I thought Blaggard’s Moon author, George Bryan Polivka, did a wonderful job creating a type of Christ (“a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something”).


Damrick Fellows rescued Jenta. He loved her and was willing to give his life to her even though he thought she deserved death.

Then she raised the pistol, and aimed it at him.

Damrick shook his head. His mind turned. She was a pirate, then. She had a gun. So did he. The oaths he’d made others take, his calling, his mission, justice, the law, even his instincts…all led him to one single conclusion. She should die.

Jenta clicked back the pistol’s hammer. Her eyes were empty and dark.

…He made his choice. Without taking his eyes off her, he set his pistol on the bar.

“I’m not leaving you to him,” he told her.

To me, that’s a type of Christ. Loving us, making the church His bride.

Of course, in the story, Damrick later tells Jenta that she saved him. So the character found personal redemption that was not associated with his representative act of salvation.

Personally, I find this to be heroic and true, without giving the world’s message that heroism is within each one of us, if we just follow an example or dig down deep and become like the one we emulate.

Maybe the story isn’t quite as satisfying, but that’s as it should be too, I think. Because we won’t find true satisfaction in this life or apart from Christ. We will continue to long. And hope.

A story that shows that part of life seems to me to be the truest kind.

Published in: on April 24, 2009 at 10:33 am  Comments (6)  
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CSFF Blog Tour — Blaggard’s Moon, a Review

trophy-chase-logoWhen a talented writer creates an entertaining story, the result is a worthwhile book, one that will linger long in the minds and imaginations of its readers. The components are all here when we look at this month’s CSFF feature, Blaggard’s Moon. George Bryan Polivka is unquestionably a talented author. And the prequel to the Trophy Chase Trilogy is an entertaining story. I can only hope, for their sakes, that readers will discover this gem.

By the way, lest I forget, I encourage you to read Brandon Barr’s two-part interview with Mr. Polivka, here and here. Brandon asked some outstanding questions, and as a result, you’ll learn a lot about who Bryan Polivka is, not just who his favorite authors are (though that comes out, too).

The Story. Blaggard’s Moon is a unique book because it is actually three stories. In the opening, pirate Smith Delaney, who readers of the Trophy Chase Trilogy will know, is sitting on a post with piranha swimming below. Through his musings, the reader learns that he’s been abandoned there as punishment for some unknown deed. Throughout most of the book, Delaney is remembering his life, particularly his decision to become a pirate. But in the remembering, he recalls a period of time when the storyteller on board, Ham Drumbone, related to his pirate shipmates the tale of Jenta Stillmithers and the Hell’s Gatemen. The majority of the book is Jenta’s story—one of hope and sacrifice and redemption and love and fear and grief and conviction.

Yes, there are battles, though not related in the blow-by-blow style most common today. Still, there are sword fights and gun battles and ship-to-ship assaults. There is blood on the deck and in the water. There are bodies on the pier and skeletons on the ocean floor. This is definitely a pirates’ story. But at the center is Jenta.

Strengths. If you’ve read my previous posts, you already can tell that this is a book I’m excited about. The packaging is terrific—Harvest House did a wonderful job with the cover, the paper, the interior art.

The writing is terrific. Perhaps because of the non-linear structure of the story, it has a somewhat literary feel. Certainly there is a wonderful rhythm to the writing, and the descriptions are vivid and evocative.

The characters win the day, though. In my opinion, Mr. Polivka is masterful in developing believable, authentic characters. It is their authenticity that make them memorable and engaging, in my opinion. I’ll have more to say about that in my post at Speculative Faith.

While the characters make the reader care, the story keeps the reader turning pages. It is amazing that Delaney didn’t leave his post for 330 pages, but the tension and suspense of his story line consistently grew.

Ultimately, Blaggard’s Moon is important because it carries a timeless message. Rachel Starr Thomson perhaps said it best in her review:

Yet beneath all of that [the entertaining qualities] is a lament for a world gone wrong, for a world where good people can suffer while evil men prosper. It’s the lament of Ecclesiastes and Job and some of the Psalms, and like them it asks us to find hope in the goodness of God while never asking us to pretend that hope negates the sadness.

I’d add one more thing. It asks us to be willing to make the choice for good, for God, knowing that we may suffer for it.

Weaknesses. For someone wanting faster action, this book may seem slow. Clearly, this is intended to be a book that readers remember, not one they will forget amid multiple ho-hum battles. While a movie version might capitalize on the fight scenes—and certainly there are places aplenty for special effects—the book is a deeper story. Readers who want one chase scene after another, separated by a bit of steamy romance, will be disappointed.

For me, the main hurtle was the decision to read another pirate story, but I touched on that subject Monday. The other issue was that about the time I became interested in Delaney’s situation, the story switched to the flashback of Ham telling Jenta’s story. And about the time I really started caring what was going on with Jenta, the story switched back to Delaney. Eventually I came to care about both equally and felt satisfied in either place of the story. So these aren’t weaknesses, really. More how I reacted to the story.

Recommendation. I feel confident that Blaggard’s Moon is destined to win Mr. Polivka another Christy Award nomination. (For those who may not remember, the third book in the Trophy Chase Trilogy, The Battle for Vast Dominion, has been nominated this year.) Readers should not think of this book as “just a pirate story.” It is more, and readers of fantasy, of historical, romance, suspense, or literary fiction will find a satisfying novel. I recommend Blaggard’s Moon as a must read. Those who enjoy a faster-paced story will find enough here to keep them entertained, and they may be surprised by how a deeper tale affects them.

Published in: on April 22, 2009 at 9:44 am  Comments (10)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Blaggard’s Moon, Day 2

I was miffed, to say the least, when I discovered yesterday that the post I’d set to publish in the morning, didn’t. For those of you who stopped by hoping to find a list of participating blogger links, I apologize.

But I’m not about to let a rough start spoil this tour for Blaggard’s Moon. With good reason, this is one of those books that gets high acclaim from a wide variety of readers. For an excellent story summary, I suggest Fred Warren‘s. Rachel Starr Thomson has an especially thoughtful post. Brandon Barr, Jill Williamson, and Epic Rat posted reviews you might be interested in (and if you’d like to win a free copy Epic Rat is holding a contest)—you’ll get an interesting balance if you look at all three.

Keanan Brand has a study of the word “blaggard” that is interesting as well as a post highlighting his favorite passage. How different from the one I want to share!

polivka-at-booksigningPhyllis Wheeler takes an excellent look at The Nearing Vast Web site. Her post prompted me to visit there again myself—which is where I found this picture of our quiet, hard-working author, George Bryan (he goes by Bryan) Polivka, here participating in a book signing.

Jason Joyner does a nice overview (with links to several reviews) of the Trophy Chase Trilogy—and has some pirate fun along the way. Certainly for anyone who just discovered Nearing Vast, I hope you put the trilogy on your to-buy list, along with Blaggard’s Moon.

So here’s the writing sample I chose, in part because it shows the depth of character development, in part because it shows the writer’s and the character’s voice so well. In part because it shows how Polivka weaves his themes into the story seamlessly.

It seemed to Delaney like it was usually women that made up those things a man couldn’t ever get over. Like Yer Poor Ma, who he could never forget. She’d been his whole world once, though she was in fact just a small, no-account woman who got herself married to a drunk, and had a kid. She wasn’t any kind of special person in any way. But she was still his Poor Ma. She still had magic in her songs, and a heart that blazed like a cookstove in his memory, and she was all inside him and would never leave him. She would always be singing him lullabies as the dark waves rose.

And Maybelle Cuddy. Just a barmaid, a plain barmaid, not like Jenta, but a regular girl serving up ale and getting pinched and slapping away rude hands and counting her tips at the end of a day. But oh, those eyes. That voice. Those things she said to him. He thought he could leave her behind, but he couldn’t. She’d always be in his heart now, always promising she’d love him forever [….]

It was as though men just couldn’t help themselves. Look at Conch Imbry, as fierce a man as ever was, and yet Jenta Stillmithers had softened him all up. She was stroking his hand, and he was a puppy dog. It was like … it was like women were made to do that to men. Like men were made with a big soft spot, and no matter how tough they got they couldn’t protect themselves there. Like maybe, when God took that rib from the man to make the woman, the way the priests told it from their Scripture books, he left a hole in the man. One that she could always slide into. And the man couldn’t stop her doing it, either.

Hmmm. Pretty good writing, don’t you think?

Published in: on April 21, 2009 at 10:20 am  Comments (9)  
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What I’m Reading

I don’t know what got into me, but I’ve gone book crazy. I’d already pulled Bryan Davis’s second book in the Echoes from the Edge series, Eternity’s Edge, off the shelf at my church library. Then I made a stop at my local Christian bookstore.

I went because I wanted to do a little research connected to a book idea I have—a non-fiction project. But then I went and bought five books. Five! True, some I’m giving away, but still.

One was Stepping into Sunlight (Bethany) by Sharon Hinck. Somehow or other I must have gotten bumped off the reviewer list for Sharon’s books. I keep hearing great things about this one, and I really like Sharon’s writing, so I just couldn’t resist.

Then I stumbled on Randy Ingermanson’s Premonition (Zondervan). I’m not a particular fan of time travel, but I like Randy’s writing, too, so I decided to take advantage of a discount and picked that one up as well.

But I wasn’t finished. I also saw a book I figured a Christian fantasy writer should have, just to understand the discussion about fantasy among Christians. Until I got online, I had no idea there were believers who thought there was something spiritually wrong with the fantasy genre. Anyway, the book I found is Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings: What you need to know about fantasy books and movies by Richard Abanes (Harvest House). I’ve only dipped into it, but I’ll undoubtedly be reporting back on this one.

What else am I reading? Well our April CSFF Blog Tour book arrived: Blaggard’s Moon by (newly nominated Christy Award author) George Bryan Polivka (Harvest House), so I’ve started that one. Bryan’s writing is so good. He has a wonderful voice for his pirate protagonist and another delightful one for the entertaining storyteller. I have a feeling this upcoming tour will be a good one.

Then Sunday I was at our church library again, and I saw Wayne Thomas Batson’s Isle of Fire. I’ve read the Door Within trilogy and the Isle of Swords, so it just seemed right that I pick up this one too. I’ve liked each of Wayne’s books better than the one before it, so it will be fun to discover what goods this story holds.

Well, there was another one I saw in the library—one I don’t actually want to read, but one I think I should. I’m talking about The Shack. I’ve read so many reviews, commented, discussed, listened to just about everyone I know give their views, and I figured I needed to stop giving a second-hand opinion, and read the book for myself.

I’m also reading about three other non-fiction works—a couple history-of-the-church books and Gracia Burnham’s second book To Fly Again: Surviving the Tailspins of Life Those I nibble at as time allows. Good stuff, but not meant to be devoured.

So what about you? What’s on the top of your to be read pile these days?

Fantasy Friday (Posted Saturday) – The Best Bookstore

It felt like a fantasy. There I stood, in a Christian bookstore, with a fiction shelf extending across three aisles. All the books were face out except some multiple copies. And the capper—the books were organized according to genre, with Fantasy/Futuristic/Allegory one of the categories.

Pinch me. Was it real? You can see it for yourself, if you’re in the Los Angeles area. The bookstore is Lighthouse Christian Store (3008 N Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, CA 90808, phone 562-425-1211).

As if to bring me back to reality, about half the store carries gift items, cards, and apparel, but as you can see by the name, it is not pretending to be an exclusive bookstore. Nevertheless, I think this development—a store that thinks enough of Christian fiction to sort the books by categories—is a positive sign.

And even more so is the inclusion of Fantasy as part of the name for the “speculative” category. Of course, this left Austin Boyd’s Mars Hill Classified science fiction trilogy to be shelved with the suspense/mystery books. But then Robin Parrish‘s superhero books (latest release, Merciless, Bethany House) were there as well. However, that’s by publisher’s choice, since BHP markets those as suspense, not fantasy.

I was gratified to see all the best fantasy authors represented, though Bryan Polivka‘s books were sadly misplaced. Somehow, someone thought The Trophy Chase Trilogy, with a first book entitled The Legend of the Firefish, belonged in the Contemporary Fiction section. 😮

But I’m not complaining. I was thoroughly delighted to see Auralia’s Colors (Jeffrey Overstreet, WaterBrook), The DragonKeeper Chronicles (Donita Paul, WaterBrook), The Return of the Guardian King (Karen Hancock, Bethany House) two of the Swords of Lyric series (Sharon Hinck, NavPress), and others all collected in one location.

The books for youth didn’t fare quite as well. The placement was odd for one thing—sandwiched between the books for toddlers and the DVD’s for pre-schoolers. The selection wasn’t great, just half a section of shelves. Wayne Batson (The Door Within Trilogy, The Isle of Fire, and The Isle of the Sword; Thomas Nelson) had the best display (of course his books have those beautiful covers, so I guess that’s not a surprise). Other fantasies were there, too: Andrew Peterson‘s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Bryan Davis‘s Eye of the Oracle, and a number of the Landon Snow books by R. K. Mortenson. Since it seems so many of the new fantasies coming out are aimed at middle grade or young adult readers, I guess that small selection was the biggest surprise to me.

Still, I came away from that bookstore feeling happy that Christian fantasy has taken another step forward.

In Fantasy’s Defense

I mentioned last Friday that I’d followed a link to an anti-fantasy article, especially railing against C.S. Lewis. In truth, I’ve heard others talk about encountering such people, but I haven’t come up against them much and certainly not in a full-blown article reasoning against the genre at such a thoughtful level.

By saying “thoughtful,” I don’t mean to convey any agreement. I think it is not unusual for people to think something over, to reason it out, and to come to the wrong conclusion. Fantasy, however, doesn’t generally seem to be one of those topics. Instead, people seem to react emotionally. In reality, they are reacting to code words such as witch, magic, dragon, wizard, and such.

Not more that a day or so passed, and an author in an email group pointed to a discussion about theology and fiction in which another anti-fantasy writer condemned the genre as evil. YIKES! 😮 They DO exist. The do still exist! And are growing more vocal, it would seem, possibly because Christian fantasy is finally taking hold.

Ironically, this writer taking the anti-fantasy stand described the evils of “‘Christian’ fantasy” with apparently no knowledge of the genre. She repeatedly condemned it for using “evil”:

I will reiterate again – if life’s experiences lead you to share a story about how God has impacted your life, cool. But to make up stories using characters and images that have already been used for evil and then try to twist them into something godly – is to taint and corrupt any perceived “good”. You are giving satan the glory, not God.

I immediately ran over the books of Christian fantasy I’ve most recently read: George Bryan Polivka‘s – no, no witches, goblins; Sharon Hinck – none in her books either; Jeffrey Overstreet – don’t remember any; Andrew Peterson – no. Karen Hancock – not those either. Sure, each of these books have creatures representing evil, but they don’t fall into the category of “images that have already been used for evil.”

Granted, both Donita Paul and Bryan Davis have books about dragons and they make those dragons good. Davis actually gives a story explanation that gives God credit for the transformation. Paul seems to take a more traditional approach, letting the reader conclude on his own that wizards in the DragonKeeper Chronicles can be good or bad, that dragons are good but can be captured and/or corrupted.

Which brings up the issue. If some other writer uses a dragon as a symbol of evil, are all writers thereafter obligated to make the dragon a symbol of evil? I would loudly proclaim, NO! To take such a stand is to deny God’s power of redemption.

Ah, one might say, Satan is beyond redemption, and the Dragon is a symbol of Satan in Scripture. One writer in the discussion pointed out that we should not confuse the Dragon with dragons. The latter, of course, don’t actually exist! They once might have. Some people think possibly dragons were dinosaurs. Nevertheless, in literature today, they can take on the value the writer gives them.

To think otherwise is a kind of prejudice, akin to saying Germans were evil in the 1930’s and 40’s and therefore they must be considered evil in all writing from then on. Odd to think that people can be prejudiced against creatures that don’t actually exist, but there it is.

As you might suppose, I have much more to say on this subject, but will save it for Fantasy Friday. 😀

Christian Fiction—Art or Tract?—Part 2

Author Gene Curtis made the comment to yesterday’s post that the premise of “Christian Fiction—Art or Tract?” is wrong, that there is no one way and that God can use a Christian’s work regardless if it was intended as “secular or evangelistic.”

In large part, I think Gene has it right, but I think there are a couple things that need to be cleared up.

First, preachiness is poor writing, but a novel with a clear Christian message is not necessarily preachy.

Somehow the idea has filtered into the Christian writing community that a solid, clear theme equates with preachy, and that just is not so.

“Preachy” is when the message comes directly from the author to the reader. I suppose it could even be from a character to the reader. The point is, if the message is delivered in such a way as to intrude upon the story and make the reader think, He’s telling me this, then it is preachy. It’s bad fiction. It’s the exact same thing authors do with background or setting if they don’t understand how to skillfully weave the information into the story. (Those are sometimes called info dumps and feel the same as preachiness—this information is in this part of the story because the author wants ME, the reader, to know this).

Having said that, I want to clearly state, I do not think fiction should be a tract. Tract writing is non-fiction writing and therefore governed by a different set of rules. To write fiction as a tract would mean the author is employing non-fiction rules for a story. That will inevitably end up with a story that is preachy.

Please hold off on the comments because there’s more. Writers can write compelling stories with overt Christian messages. Sharon Hinck‘s Becky Miller books come to mind, as does Julie Carobini’s Chocolate Beach. From what I’ve heard Katie Cushman‘s A Promise to Remember would fall into that category as well (it’s on my to be read pile—Christy Award winner John Olson called it “flat out brilliant.”) I’ve mentioned George Bryan Polivka‘s Trophy Chase Trilogy as examples of overt Christianity in the fantasy realm.

Fantasy authors can also write allegory, or stories with thinly-veiled representations of God and Jesus. If these are done well, just like stories with overt Christianity, they should not be denigrated because they contain a clear message consistent with the Christian message. They are not tracts. They are not preachy.

They also may or may not be art.

If an author aims to create art, I think there is a timeless and universal value to the work that he aims for. Can such a work include the Christian message?

What else is more timeless or universal?

The next question then is, how? I’ve already said, I think overt Christianity is one way—the story is about Christian characters acting as they do, with the struggles they face. I’ve also mentioned “allegory” (we call it that, but apart from John Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress, few stories are real allegories).

Then there are stories like Auralia’s Colors, simply a fairy tale with no intention of showing God, but authors say they believe the art itself reflects Him.

Yesterday I mentioned a third way—not overtly Christian in any of the ways I described above, but also more than just a beautiful story. This third method of writing is to weave the message below the surface, below the thin veil, far enough below that people may miss it or wonder if what they’re seeing is really there at all. These stories would aim to employ unexpected types, not allegorical representations. Things won’t “add up” in a neat and complete way, but there will be truth moments when the character learns or grows—and does not summarize what it is he’s learned for the benefit of the reader.

I know that isn’t particularly clear. I think an illustration or two will help. Look for that on Monday. Or more on Book Buzz. Or something about something else. 😉

Buzz at Work—Book Buzz, Part 5

Hey all! I was just on Wayne Thomas Batson’s blog, at It’s a really fascinating site, with links to other Christian fantasy authors. Mr. Batson is the author of the Door Within Trilogy and Isle of Swords. These novels are among my favorites, and are growing immensely in their popularity right now. There is even talk of making a movie! Only time will tell, I suppose.

So said the author of the blog Writer’s Passion last Thursday.

A week ago, Saturday, the blogger writing Books under the Bridge said this:

Recommended: The Legend of the Firefish (George Bryan Polivka), Book 1 of The Trophy Chase Trilogy.

I first heard about this book by browsing around the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour. It’s George Bryan Polivka’s first fantasy publication, published in March of 2007.

These are specific examples of the way buzz works. Wayne Batson creates a “fascinating site,” but also links to other Christian fantasy writers. Blog visitor Araken then writes about Wayne’s site, linking to it. And here I am, writing about both Araken’s blog and Wayne’s. And each person who reads my post or Araken’s, or who clicks over to Wayne’s site is introduced or reminded of his books. We are engaged in book buzzing.

Same with Bryan Polivka‘s, only this buzz was an outgrowth of a direct attempt to stir buzz. The point is, having a good blog helps and having your book featured on a blog tour helps.

It does seem to be an obvious corollary that the more places an author’s name appears, the more places his name will appear. Buzz actually works much like the dollars publishers spend for marketing—more to the well-known and selling well than to Brand New Author.

I finally understand what I heard from editors years ago—the time to start marketing your book is before you publish. This is true in part because of the Author Trust factor I mentioned last week. It is possible to build up author trust before readers have picked up your book. One obvious way is through speaking, but another way is through blogging.

I think there are some general “rules” to keep in mind, however, if “blogging” is actually going to result in buzz. (I suppose this really fits in with the blogging content post, but part of the problem with blogging is that you publish before you have the whole enchilada assembled.) In no special order, and largely to remind myself:

    1) write regularly
    2) keep the length manageable (posts that are long may chase away busy people)
    3) link to others, and better yet, exchange links as often as possible
    4) participate in blog rings or blog tours (but keep in mind that content ought not be a copy-and-paste edition of what readers can find elsewhere—it kills their motivation to visit.)
    5) broaden your web presence by visiting new sites and leaving comments. (One professional says to do a set number of things every day to promote your work, and visiting new sites certainly counts.)
    6) invite guests to blog (often their readers will follow them over to your site)
    7) keep your content focused on a particular topic, one in which you have some experience or knowledge
    8 ) to the best of your ability, make use of new technology such as podcasting

I’m sure there are others I could list, but I’ve already gone on too long. 😉

Published in: on January 14, 2008 at 1:49 pm  Comments Off on Buzz at Work—Book Buzz, Part 5  
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