The Poison Pill Of Culture


This article is a re-post of the one I wrote Monday for my Speculative Faith column.

Considering Travis Perry’s article last week [at Speculative Faith] (“Licking the Chocolate Off Poison Pills: A Comment on Cultural Engagement”), I suppose the obvious first question to ask is this: is culture really a poison pill? I mean, God quite purposefully left Christians in the world (“As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” –John 17:18). He did also say that said culture would hate Christians (“I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:14) and that we are not to be of the world (“They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” –John 17:16).

Of course, I’m interpreting “world” as “culture.” I’ve heard some scholars refer to it as the system of the world. Kind of like, the way the world operates.

Clearly, from what Jesus said in John, the way the world works is opposed to the way God works, the way Jesus works, and might fairly be considered a poison pill. So today the world preaches (yes, preaches) that we are all good and have this unlimited potential in us, that all we need to do is look within to find it. God says something quite different: we all have a sin nature and need to look to the cross; that when we are weak, then we are strong.

The world also says the one who carries out revenge is the hero, whereas God says, the one who forgives and loves the enemy is the hero.

Another current “truth” the world is currently preaching is that there is no truth. Nothing set in stone. All relative, flexible, contingent. God, on the other hand, specifies that His word is truth, even that Jesus is truth. And that truth is fixed in Heaven. So, truth according to God is not pliable. Not malleable, not subject to our indigestion brought on by a bit of cheese or the feelings we have today that we didn’t have yesterday.

There are so many others: attitudes about sexual promiscuity, pride, greed, lying, gossip, sexual identity, other gods beside the One True God, etc.

So, if there is so much poison in the world, how can a Christian engage culture and not be killed by it? Is the only way to survive to divorce ourselves from anything that could potentially harm us? Or our kids? Our families?

That approach doesn’t seem to explain why Jesus left us in the world instead of taking us out. It almost seems to say, God was wrong about leaving us here because it’s just too dangerous, so we’ll do what He didn’t: we’ll take ourselves out of the world as much as possible.

Not only is it contradictory to what God intended, including the commission He gave believers (Matt 28:19-20), but it doesn’t work. The real problem we are faced with is the sin in our own hearts. That’s why Jesus chastised the Pharisees for cleaning the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. His answer was not to build a shield around the cup to keep away people with dirty hands or even with evil intentions. His solution was to first clean the inside of the cup.

Key word: first. Matthew 23:26 makes the clear statement that the way to clean the outside is to clean the inside first:

You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

As I see things, the way to engage culture is with clean hands and a pure heart. These we find in God’s word, by cultivating a relationship with Him. Not by keeping a list of songs we won’t sing or TV programs we won’t watch, computer games we won’t play, books we won’t read, etc. In other words, we don’t get clean hands and we don’t carry out the charge Jesus gave us to go into all the world to make disciples, by engaging only part of culture.

What may seem contradictory is that I believe Travis is right: culture that “pushes the envelop,” that walks the edge of propriety, actually normalizes that behavior. I’ve seen this first hand with the issue of homosexuality (I guess because I’ve lived long enough to see our culture do a flip-flop on this subject). My mom, who graduated from college the same year my brother graduated from high school, way back in the 1960s, had a psych textbook that listed homosexuality as deviant behavior (among other inappropriate behaviors). I watched as our culture introduced homosexual jokes into society, then funny but likeable homosexual characters, and ultimately homosexual scenes on TV. All the while our government has passed law after law that gradually aimed, not only at permitting homosexual behavior but at supporting and encouraging its acceptance and practice. Now, here in California, legislators are trying to push through a law prohibiting professional counselors from engaging people who want help with same sex attraction by using strategies designed to help them choose heterosexuality instead.

What does that mean for writers and readers? Do we keep away from culture’s poison pills, or do we sue the pharmacies? Or do we clean our own cups instead?

I believe Travis was actually saying is that there isn’t a one-way-to-engage-culture rule, unless it’s this: “it’s actually normal to embrace a type of sorting process for popular culture and refuse to engage in areas we know are potential problems for us” (Travis Perry).

Refuse to engage in areas that are problems for us! Because it’s my problem, doesn’t mean no one else should therefore engage. Because it is not your problem, doesn’t mean I’m supposed to engage.

But what about the normalization process? I guess I’d add another layer of discernment or awareness: what things might be problems for the culture, for society at large? For instance, was the violence in Schindler’s List an encouragement of mass murder? I don’t see how. Was the promiscuity on display in Mash an undermining of monogamous marriage? I think it was. Was Harry Potter normalizing witchery? Not in the least.

So we can make choices, which must be informed choices. Nevertheless, the real first step is that “cleaning the inside of the cup” Jesus spoke of. In a discussion that includes “friendship with the world,” the epistle of James says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) Note, he didn’t say, Stand up to the world. Go to war against the world. Yes, resist Satan (James 4:7), but the focus is clearly on each Christian being in relation with God and in obedience to Him.

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Exploring Horror Or Exploring Light


300x179xthe-walking-dead-s4-e16-zombies-636-380-300x179.jpg.pagespeed.ic.35AUmep_fuWhen I first heard the term “Christian horror,” I laughed. I thought the person was kidding. I mean, how could blood and psycho-killers and hauntings and demon possession be Christian? Since then I’ve learned that some serious writers—including some Christians—believe horror fiction holds a necessary place in understanding evil, and therefore confronting it.

A number of years ago, for example, author Brian Godawa posted a three-part apology for Christian horror at Speculative Faith. More recently author and friend Mike Duran has published Christian Horror:On the Compatibility of a Biblical Worldview and the Horror Genre.

While I’ve moved from a hard stance against horror (I insisted that the genre existed to accomplish one thing—produce fear), conceding that some writers and readers confront evil and explore how to counter it through fiction, I’m far from holding the view that horror is “must read” fiction for Christians, that to turn away from an exploration of evil is to isolate ourselves from the reality of the world in which we live.

I expressed my thoughts in a post at Spec Faith nearly four years ago, ideas to which I still hold. The following is a slightly revised version of that post.

Author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire fiction and her conversions to and from Christianity, has stated that her vampire books were actually explorations of the spiritual. Spiritual light or spiritual darkness?

Some may say that an exploration of spiritual darkness must precede any look at spiritual light. I suppose this might be one of those areas that differ from person to person, but I can’t help but wonder why we Christians aren’t exploring the light more than we are the darkness.

Corrie ten Boom

Certainly darkness is in the world. Yet when I think of darkness, some of the most uplifting, true stories I’ve read come to mind. Take Corrie ten Boom, for example. Without a doubt, her story contains horrific elements, including the inhuman conditions in a Nazi concentration camp and the death of her dear sister as a result.

But throughout, from the decision to help Jews, to Corrie’s release from the camp and her subsequent commitment to show the love and forgiveness of God to victim and victimizer alike, the story is infused with hope and promise and the sovereign hand of God over all circumstances.

Elisabeth Elliot

The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, and Pete Fleming is similar. These young missionaries, so committed to sharing the gospel with a group of people who had never heard of Jesus, died at the hands of the people they wanted to save. More astounding, Jim’s wife Elisabeth and Nate’s wife Rachel returned to the tribe, lived with them for two years, and saw many come to Christ. The forgiveness and love these women lived out in the midst of tragedy and loss is a revelation of God’s love and forgiveness.

Joni Eareckson Tada’s story is equally inspirational. Injured as a seventeen year old, Joni has lived as a quadriplegic for forty-eight years.

Joni Eareckson Tada

Despite her disability, she shines the love of Jesus into the lives of hundreds of thousands through her writing, painting, and speaking. She has even put out a vocal recording and starred in the video of her life story. Perhaps her greatest work has been establishing Joni and Friends, an international disability center bringing hope and help to people throughout the world.

Hope. That seems to be a key thread that runs through these stories of triumph over tragedy. The darkness is very real in each one—Joni’s despair, the deaths of the missionaries and Corrie’s sister, the brutality of the Nazis—but triumph dominates the story.

The Hiding Place is not the story about Corrie’s sister dying but about God’s love and forgiveness manifested in an unspeakably cruel place.

Through Gates of Splendor is not a story about five twenty-something missionary men being killed but about the truth in this verse of the hymn from which the title of the book came:

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender.
Thine is the battle, Thine shall be the praise;
When passing through the gates of pearly splendor,
Victors, we rest with Thee, through endless days.

Joni is not the story of a seventeen-year-old whose life caved in, but of a God who brings meaning and purpose out of suffering.

You might wonder why I’m taking a look at all these true stories in a post about speculative fiction. I see how inspirational the lives of these three who suffered greatly have been. They personally explored the light in the midst of the darkness of their real circumstances. The result has been phenomenal. They have pointed generations of people to Christ.

Why, then, would a fiction writer not want to adopt this model — an exploration of light in the midst of darkness? Why go the other route and spend pages and pages exploring the dark, even if the light comes filtering in at the end?

I personally (and remember what I said at the beginning of this post about us all being different) find hope and help to be what I want to read. Darkness, I already know. Hope and help in the midst of darkness is compelling. Why aren’t more Christian speculative novels exploring the light?

It seems to me we are becoming fixated with what is true to the human experience, and as a result we are not setting our “mind on things above” (Col. 3:2). Do we think we know all there is to know about God, so we don’t need to focus on Him as much as we do the depravity and corruption sin causes?

Darkness will be a part of fiction, I believe. But I also see there are two ways of looking at it. In one case, stories seem to explore the darkness, in the other they seem to explore the light that triumphs over the darkness. This latter type is the kind of story I like to read and I want to write.

If It’s Friday, It’s Time For Fantasy


GoldenDaughtercoverI haven’t discussed fiction much of late, at least not here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, though I still post about fiction in general at my editing site and about Christian speculative fiction every Monday at Speculative Faith. It feels like it’s time to get back to my blogging roots for a day. 😉

When I first started blogging, Christian fantasy was almost an anomaly. Only a handful of writers were putting out true fantasy with Christian underpinnings. Donita Paul and Bryan Davis burst on the scene to join Stephen Lawhead and Karen Hancock, but back in those days fantasy primarily meant stories written in a medieval-type setting that included the equivalent of magic.

However, as the fantasy genre expanded in the general market to include urban fantasy, dystopian fantasy, fairytale fantasy, and more, the stories Christians wrote also ventured away from the classic form.

In addition, new authors have emerged—Jill Williamson, Andrew Peterson, Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Patrick Carr, R. J. Larson, John Otte and more recently Nadine Brandes, Ashlee Willis, and Mary Weber.

Over this time, publishing has changed, too. More and more small presses featuring Christian speculative fiction have come into being. First was Marcher Lord Press founded by the visionary Jeff Gerke. But others soon followed: Splashdown Books, AltWit Press, Castle Gate Press, and others.

This past year Jeff Gerke sold MLP to agent Steve Laube. The house now operates as Enclave Publishing and has just hired a director of sales and marketing. One of the goals for Enclave is to get their books into bookstores, something that can only enhance their visibility, even as the digital market expands.

Publishers with a long standing “no fantasy” policy have broken from their mold and are now joining the ranks of others with a growing group of fantasy authors.

By fantasy, of course, I mean this broader, more encompassing genre, which fans of Lord of the Rings might not recognize. Is this a good thing?

I absolutely think it’s a great thing. All types of fantasy stir the imagination. Dystopian or post-apocalyptic fantasy or science fantasy may not tell stories about sword-wielding, dragon-fighting heroes, but they still create a different world and show a struggle between good and evil. This latter, after all, is the single most important fantasy trope.

Interestingly, the once familiar good or evil fantasy creatures have been turned on their heads. Hence dragons may be good, and in the case of Donita Paul’s minor dragons in her DragonKeeper Chronicles, even cute and cuddly.

Still there remains an identifiable evil that characters must choose to fight. In Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series, for instance, there was no one villain but a system readers can equate with the world system that finds solutions to life’s problems by escaping into entertainment and pleasure.

Despite this expansion of the genre, epic fantasy seems to retain its popularity, as evidenced by the great success of first time novelist Patrick Carr’s A Cast of Stones and the following two books of the Staff and Sword trilogy.

And I haven’t yet mentioned self-publishing. With the changes in digital publishing, a writer can now publish their book with ease. Finding a readership remains the great challenge, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more and more viable stories out there among the self-published.

One of the functions Speculative Faith plays is to catalog Christian speculative fiction in the Library. Any book written with an overt or symbolic or suggestive worldview pointing toward some aspect of Christianity—regardless of publisher—may be included in the database. It’s a great tool to use to find books that might fit the genre or audience age a person is looking for.

Other developments have also enhanced Christian speculative fiction, not just fantasy—specifically the Realm Makers Conference which is planning for its third year in 2015, and the Clive Staples Award which will be entering its fifth year of operation.

My hope, of course, is that readers are finding these great fantasy books. If publishers are to continue producing them, readers need to buy them.

I’m happy to report I bought a fantasy today—Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s soon to release Golden Daughter. How about you? What fantasy have you recently purchased or read?

CSFF Blog Tour – Numb by John Otte


Numb-CoverSo imagine you’re a pastor, one in an evangelical church that believes the Bible is true and has been inspired by the Holy Spirit. And imagine you also love science fiction, that you even write science fiction. What kind of story would you write?

Anyone come up with a novel about an assassin, one hired by the church?

Yea, that would not have been my first guess either, but that’s what Pastor John Otte has written in Numb, his third novel published by Marcher Lord Press.

John, a contributor at Speculative Faith (his columns post every other Wednesday), and a long-time member of the CSFF Blog Tour, spends most of his time pastoring at Concordia Lutheran Church in South St. Paul, Minnesota.

The son of a pastor, you’d think John’s future course must have been established from his youth—that is, until you learn he graduated from college with a degree in theater!

Graduated summa cum laude.

Majoring in theater!

Of course, he did go on, after graduation, to attend seminary where he earned his Master of Divinity degree. Soon after he began serving as a youth pastor, then as a senior pastor in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He was installed as the new pastor at Concordia in December, 2007.

And yet, that theater major was still very much alive. John had been a writer as early as elementary school and even then intended his stories to find an audience with the public.

He was so serious about his writing that he joined American Christian Fiction Writers shortly after graduation, and it was through that organization he eventually met his agent and his acquiring editor/publisher.

After publishing two superhero type stories, John created Numb, a novel nominated for the Clive Staples Award and just last week, named as a finalist for the Christy Award, Visionary Category.

Which brings us back to the assassin working for the True Church. His role, as he sees it and as he’s been trained to believe, is to serve as the sword of judgment against heretics, dissenters, or heathen. Wherever his leaders send him, he goes. Whoever they order him to kill, he destroys. And he’s the best at what he does because he’s been gifted by God, he’s told, to feel nothing—little or no pain or emotion. All the sensations that could distract him are swallowed up in numbness.

If you’d like to learn more about this story, check out what others on the CSFF tour are saying about Numb, the novel no one would expect a pastor to write.

Truth Matters


cat-fight-1411617-mRecently on Facebook and over at Speculative Faith I’ve been discussing with others the movie Noah. It’s been interesting, and lots of fur has been flying all over the Internet as a result of various reviews.

At the same time, I learned today that opinion writer Rachel Held Evans, who previously identified as an evangelical though her views ran more nearly in line with “progressive Christians,” has decided to remove herself from the evangelical table. Her decision came as a result of the World Vision decision to re-instate their former employment policy describing marriage as between a man and a woman.

In both these diverse issues, there’s one thing in common–God’s Word.

In the discussions about Noah the movie, one line of thinking has dealt with the interpretation of storytelling. Do facts and details have to be true if the over arching theme is true? Isn’t the emotional experience of the theme more important? Shouldn’t readers or viewers have an experience with the story?

Interestingly, I had a discussion with several Progressives over at Mike Duran’s site some while ago, and their take on the Bible was exactly the same. The Bible is true, they believe, but whether the particulars are true isn’t important. It’s the meaning of the narrative and the poetry and the prophecy that is true irrespective of the how, who, when, and where.

This idea of Big Truth built on fables, myth, lore, or perhaps history, which some people determine the Bible to be, seems to me to be a slippery slope–perhaps the same slippery slope Rachel Held Evans has slid down.

Toward the end of his review at Spec Faith, Austin Gunderson said about Noah the movie, “It diminishes one truth to expand upon another.”

I get that in fiction–well, in nonfiction, too–it’s not possible to tell the whole Truth in a single work. I don’t think that telling some truth and not mentioning the rest is the same as distorting or diminishing one truth in order to make clear another truth.

Hence, my belief is that Noah, by diminishing God’s nature as a Person who communicates with the people He created, altered Truth. Leaving out the details that God gave Noah explicit instructions about building the ark, told him how many of each animal to take, and took it upon Himself to seal the door, shows God in a completely different light than He actually is.

Rachel Held Evans handles Scripture in a similar way it would seem. For her the Greater Truth is care and concern for people regardless of any diminishing of God’s holiness or authority. God does, in fact, care for the lost. Scripture says, While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). He declares that the second most important command is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But emphasis on that Truth should not diminish the Truth that the first command is to love God with all we are. Jesus explains that to love Him means to obey Him. Meaning, we don’t get to pick and choose which commands we will follow and which we will ignore.

It’s not OK to follow the world by condoning sin in the name of compassion. That’s diminishing one Truth in the attempt to expand another.

In short, Truth matters. The Grand Truth delivered through the meta narrative of the Bible and the Specific Truth delivered in each word the Holy Spirit inspired.

The Place Of Truth In Fiction


Truth in FictionFiction as truth? Almost any novelist will tell you that truth is an important component in storytelling. The setting needs to be believably true, the characters need to be true to their personality and experience, and the story needs to be true to its setup and foreshadowing. And all of it needs to ring true with the reader.

Behind the curtain, though, is a story’s theme, and the truth of the theme seems to be at the heart of understanding the place of truth in fiction. According to R. L. Copple in a recent article at Speculative Faith, there are two primary views of truth in fiction:

One view is that fiction is a teaching tool.

In that understanding, Christian fiction’s primary goal and purpose is to relate Biblical truths (as interpreted by a specific community of faith) in a systematic and accurate fashion. Ultimately, it should convey the Gospel message. The fear is that if it doesn’t do so, it will teach people untruths and lead them away from God, not to Him. Thus, any deviation from their perception of Biblical truth is cause for alarm and condemnation.

The other view is that fiction conveys an emotional experience of Christian themes.

Unlike God, who is infallible, authors are not writing the Bible, nor a systematic theology, but a story about fallible characters who may believe the wrong things, misunderstand God, in short, sin. It is a story depicting theology lived out, and thus like real life, messy. Not every question gets answered. Not all resolutions are in tidy, neatly wrapped packages.

The purpose of this type of Christian fiction is to wrestle with Christian themes in an emotionally engaging manner. To help people encounter and incarnate the truth within themselves. The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.(Emphases in the original.)

“The details are only important in conveying the story arc and theme in an engaging manner.” There’s some truth to this statement. In The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, for instance, the important details about Aslan dying on a stone table as a substitute for Edmund didn’t need to be true in the sense that a real lion talked and walked or sacrificed himself. Nor did the details have to match up with precision to that which the allegorical sacrifice depicted–Jesus Christ dying on a cross as the substitute for sinful humans.

However, there were details that did need to remain truthful if the story was to be true. The White Witch, for instance, couldn’t win the battle and become the new Aslan. Such an ending could well have been engaging, and there might even have been an engaging theme, perhaps even a truthful one, such as “Looks are deceiving” or “It’s better to obey those in authority than to rebel.”

Nevertheless, such themes do not mitigate the falsehood of evil winning out against good.

Does that mean, then, that fiction is supposed to teach? Well, sure! Fiction is supposed to teach the same way all of life teaches. For the Christian, this is mandated in Scripture:

You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. (Deut. 11:18-19)

And when you tell stories.

OK, the text doesn’t add he line about stories, but Jesus modeled the use of stories as a teaching device.

I honestly wonder what people mean when they question the idea that stories aren’t supposed to teach truth. It’s as if “teaching” has somehow become a suspect activity. We don’t want to indoctrinate our children or our readers or our colleagues or our friends.

Teaching is not indoctrination! In fact, the best teaching spurs the learner to think critically, to ask the hard questions, to dig for answers, to mull, cogitate, meditate, debate. The best stories, the truthful stories, ought to do that.

The problem isn’t that some stories teach truth and others let readers experience. Rather, it’s that some stories which teach truth do it badly. Of course, some stories that let readers experience, do that badly, too, because they aren’t truthful stories. The Shack had lots of people praising it because of what they experienced, but in the end, the story was filled with falsehood.

The place of truth in fiction? Right dab in the middle, as far as I’m concerned. Stories by Christians should be all about truth. But they ought to be artful in their expression of it, and yes, they should show truth instead of telling readers what is true.

Fantasy Friday – The Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction


CSAbutton 2013Over at Speculative Faith I’ve been going on and on for some time about the Clive Staples Award, but I realized today, I haven’t said anything about it here.

After two moderately successful years, the CSA looked as if it might be dead in the water, but this year Spec Faith is hosting it, still as a readers’ choice award, but with the support of an up and coming speculative writers’ conference, Realm Makers.

I’ve posted on the standards a best book ought to have (here and here). I’ve posted on the books eligible for nomination and about the eligibility of voters. I’ve posted the list of nominations and am currently featuring those books in Spec Faith news items, counting down to the beginning of our first round of voting. (See for example, today’s countdown post.)

Pretty much, if it needed saying, I said it. And probably a lot more that didn’t need saying. 😆

But I broke a cardinal rule. I didn’t tell the people I should have been telling–visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction.

The point is, reader awards only work if readers vote. Not as some kind of popularity contest, but as a serious effort to identify which book readers think was tops. Of course, readers can’t vote if they don’t know about the award, so we need you and all your friends to talk up the Clive Staples Award to any and every reader you know, in case by some chance they might be an eligible voter and might want very much to participate.

What, you ask, qualifies one as an eligible voter? Nothing more than having read AT LEAST TWO of the nominated books. Two. Out of thirty-three.

Yep. We had a 57% increase in the number of nominated books, which necessitated us holding two rounds. Round one will determine the five finalists, and round two will pick the winner.

OK, here’s the list of books. See if you yourself might be eligible to vote.

Words in the Wind by Yvonne Anderson (Risen Books)

Daughter of Light by Morgan L. Busse (Marcher Lord Press)

Devil’s Hit List: Book Three of the UNDERGROUND by Frank Creed (Splashdown Books)

Liberator (Dragons of Starlight series) by Bryan Davis (Zondervan)

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day (Hinterlands / Marcher Lord Press)

Mortal (The Books of Mortals) by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee (FaithWords)

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore (Thomas Nelson)

The Telling by Mike Duran (Realms Fiction)

Risk by Brock Eastman (P&R Publishing/Focus on the Family)

Live and Let Fly by Karina Fabian (Muse It Up Publishing)

I Am Ocilla by Diane Graham (Splashdown)

Seeking Unseen by Kat Heckenbach (Splashdown Books)

Remnant in the Stars by Cindy Koepp (Under The Moon)

The Unraveling of Wentwater (The Gates of Heaven Series) by C.S. Lakin (Living Ink Books)

Prophet by R. J. Larson (Bethany House)

Judge by R. J. Larson (Bethany House)

Spirit Fighter by Jerel Law (Thomas Nelson)

Fire Prophet by Jerel Law (Thomas Nelson)

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead (Thomas Nelson)

The Wrong Enemy by Jane Lebak (MuseItUp Publishing)

Alienation (A C.H.A.O.S. novel) by Jon S. Lewis (Thomas Nelson)

Curse Bearer by Rebecca P Minor (Written World Communications)

Rift Jump by Greg Mitchell (Splashdown Darkwater)

Bid the Gods Arise by Robert Mullin (Crimson Moon Press)

Prophetess (Winter Book 2) by Keven Newsome (Splashdown Darkwater)

Failstate by John W. Otte (Marcher Lord Press)

Soul’s Gate by James Rubart (Thomas Nelson)

Starflower by Anne Elizabeth Stengl (Bethany House)

Moonblood by Anne Elisabeth Stengl (Bethany House)

Star Of Justice by Robynn Tolbert (Splashdown Books)

Daystar by Kathy Tyers (Marcher Lord Press)

The New Recruit by Jill Williamson (Marcher Lord Press)

Replication: The Jason Experiment by Jill Williamson (Zonderkidz)

Interesting fact: 15 women authors and 14 men had books nominated. The numbers don’t add up because one book has co-authors and several writers had more than one book nominated.

I mention this gender fact because one person commenting on a blog said something about all those women writers nominated for the CSA, as if that was a slur. Well, I’m a woman writer, so I don’t think it’s a slur at all, but I also believe in being accurate. A list that is mixed like this says a lot about who is writing Christian speculative fiction.

Interesting fact #2: 17 of the nominations were published by “big houses”–ones known most for traditional publishing models and associated with bookstores and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association and 16 by smaller, newer, independent houses. Again, that balance seems like a big plus for Christian speculative fiction.

All that aside, the main thing you need to know for now: voting begins on Monday! Tell your friends and followers, please. 😀

Fantasy Friday – Spec Faith Makeover


Speculative Faith, the team blog started in 2006 by a group of Christian speculative writers headed up by Stuart Stockton, almost died out a few years ago. One thing and another happened, causing regular writers to drop off.

I was the last to keep the home fires burning, and then my computer crashed–or, more accurately, performed a slow meltdown. For a month I struggled to log on to our old site. When at last my computer came through surgery, new and improved, I didn’t want to face all the spam that had accumulated on our old site.

Enter Stephen Burnett. He’d earlier taken on the role of regular contributor but went on a hiatus–some excuse about getting married, or something … 😀 When Stephen returned and saw the spam situation at the old site, we did a confab and agreed to start over, importing as much content as was feasible.

Hence, Spec Faith 2.0 launched at our present WordPress site in the summer of 2010. Since then we’ve had steady growth, in large part due to Stephen’s watchful eye and innovative work.

He created a Spec Faith Facebook page, for example, and added the Spec Faith library which now has over 400 books. (If only we could actually lend them out!)

Today he introduced the latest upgrade, Spec Faith 3.0. Besides tweaking the already classy look of the site, he has enhanced our library by bringing the creation of and access to reviews to the forefront.

Now anyone interested in seeing what’s available in Christian speculative fiction can go to the library and find, not just a book cover and blurb, but reader reviews and comments.

Of course, to make this feature viable, we need readers to actually post reviews and comments. For comments–a quick recommendation, perhaps, a response to a previous review, or maybe a report on how many stars you’d give the book–visitors only need to locate the book of their choice and click on the comment link.

For reviews, there’s a basic form where a visitor leaves their review, and an administrator will add it in the appropriate place.

I don’t know about you, but I have begun to pay more attention to reviews. How great, then, to have all these Christian speculative titles all in one place, along with reviews to help potential readers sort out which are the best books.

Not only that, but the reviews will also post to Facebook, so the influence of each one is magnified. For reviewers who are re-posting from their own blog, there is also a link (I’m pretty sure) to the original site, so it’s also a way to attract visitors to the reviewer’s blog.

OK, enough of my chit-chat. It’s much more effective if you click on over and take a look at the site yourself. Enjoy.

Published in: on June 1, 2012 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off on Fantasy Friday – Spec Faith Makeover  
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Celebrity Influence


Today at Spec Faith I wrote a post about the “It Factor” — the something that some books seem to have that separates them from the crowd.

One of those is what I called “The Celebrity Factor,” by which I meant some writers by virtue of their name sell books. Marketing may call this “branding” — readers aren’t so much buying a book as they are buying the author.

Once musicians did the same thing, which is why they sold “the best of” albums and eventually CDs. Fans didn’t really care that they were simply buying a re-packaging of music they already owned. If the artist they followed put it out, they bought it.

Several people who commented on my Spec Faith post, however, looked at “The Celebrity Factor” in broader terms than just the celebrity standing of the author. They correctly identified the importance of celebrity influencers. One person mentioned how Oprah’s recommendation could sway people. This (from Facebook) is so good, you have to read it:

It could be old hat, new hat, or controversial & it will sell if any known person backs it. Oprah is the perfect example. If she promoted potato sack dresses with corn-on-the-cob belts, they’d be flying off the shelves tomorrow.

😆 I laughed at that one because I think she’s absolutely right. Personal taste would go out the window if a respected celebrity gives approval. Rather than wondering what happened to Oprah’s good sense, people would line up to get whatever it is she said is great.

The point is, it would become great because the influential celebrity said it was great.

I know I’m influenced by names I recognize and respect. My first awareness of Wayne Thomas Batson and his writing, for example, came one December when I was shopping in (the now defunct) Borders for Christmas presents. Right next to a new Cornelia Funk fantasy was this beautiful hardback book with the most intriguing cover. When I opened it, on the flyleaf was an endorsement by Josh McDowell. That’s when I realized the book was written, most likely, from a Christian worldview, and that’s when I knew I wanted to read that book.

The endorsement essentially sold me. I didn’t know anything about this Wayne Thomas Batson character ( 😉 ), but Josh McDowell I’d read. I knew what he stood for.

Interestingly, today on Facebook, author D. Barkley Briggs asked me to spread the word about a poll he is running (for the title of book 4 in his Legends of Karac Tor series) to my “network of fantasy friends.” After he clarified that he did indeed believe the friends are real, not make-believe, ( 😉 ) I got to thinking a bit more about the idea of finding the talkers.

I’d read about it before in Andy Sernovitz’s Word of Mouth Marketing: part of the strategy to get people talking is to identify the talkers — the people who know people and who will talk about your product.

I am certainly no Oprah, but Dean knows of my connection to the CSFF Blog Tour and to Spec Faith. In other words, he recognized that I could be one voice reaching out to his target audience. I then become one of his talkers.

The problem that I see with this “celebrity influence” is multifaceted. For one thing, in an area like Christian fantasy that is just developing legs, who are the celebrities? Wayne Batson went outside the genre to acquire his influencer, and that might be the way to go.

But there’s also the problem of access. There simply aren’t enough celebrities to go around, and the ones that exist are undoubtedly bombarded with requests. Many writers — not even of the celebrity category — have decided they must adopt a “no endorsements” rule because they receive so many requests. A few reserve their endorsements for personal friends. Which brings us back to the access issue. How does a beginning writer become the personal friend of a celebrity writer? Or a celebrity anything?

It feels a lot like the conundrums I faced as a young adult. In looking for my first teaching job, I was asked for my teaching experience … In applying for a credit card (in the days before they were handed out like candy at Halloween), I was asked for my credit history …

Here are a few closing thoughts on the subject. When writing about all the people who would line up to buy an Oprah-endorsed potato sack, I was reminded that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” How like sheep we are!

Regarding celebrity endorsements, I think how much better it is to have the King’s approval — the eternal King who knows the beginning from the end, who loves me and has my good at heart. With Him, I have no access problem. And I can be confident that He’ll see to it my writing will end up where He wants it.

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Don’t forget to vote in the “It’s All In The Opening” poll — it will remain open for four more days.

The Disobedient Harry Potter


Earlier this week I said critics of Harry Potter had two main complaints, one being the issues of wizardry and the second being Harry’s disobedience.

It’s true that Harry is not The Perfect Boy, but I wonder about this as a reason not to read the books. As I recall, Tom Sawyer wasn’t the perfect boy either, nor was Huck Finn. Ann Shirley wasn’t the perfect girl and neither was Jo March. To bring the discussion back to fantasy, Edmund Pevensie wasn’t the perfect boy, and his sister Lucy, as lovable as she is, happens to fall sort of being the perfect girl, too.

The point is, if readers are only going to pick books with perfect characters, then we all must stop reading fiction. Stephen Burnett in a post at Spec Faith does a brilliant job deconstructing this argument:

Jesus told parables in which people behave badly, using those to show points about His Kingdom and the natures of those who’ll dwell there…

[Examine this criticism] Harry Potter is a scoundrel. So was King David, the apostle Paul, and every person before Christ saved us (and quite a lot afterward, too!). Even for stories, whence comes this sudden rule that characters must behave perfectly? Jesus did not follow that “rule.” Instead He told stories about ten virgins behaving “selfishly” (Matt. 25: 1-13) and a shrewd money manager (Luke 16: 1-13), not to say “imitate all their behavior” but to say My Kingdom is coming; you’d best respond accordingly. (Anyway, Harry doesn’t stay a scoundrel; he grows, as part of a much bigger story.)

Because Christ Himself in his parables did not follow these “rules” for Christ-figures and moral behavior, why might we expect more of Potter?

Of course there is disobedience that serves to warn and there is disobedience that trumpets rebellion, so one might argue that when books do the latter, they should be shunned.

Does Harry Potter trumpet rebellion? I suppose the answer might be somewhat subjective, but I think I can build a case for the opposite. Harry Potter is not rebellious unless you think standing up to evil is rebellious.

Some of his teachers saw the Big Picture and understood the serious threat that Harry alone was qualified to fight. They counseled him and protected him as best they could, and at times that included extending him mercy. At other times, he faced just punishment. Never was he applauded for disobeying, however.

The overall impression, in my opinion, is that Harry obeyed as best he could.

He was shamefully abused by his uncle and aunt, yet early on he submitted to them. There came a time when he did stand up to them, yet in the end he righted the relationship to the best of his ability. If anything, his relationship with his relatives shows the growth in his character.

Some of the adults in Harry’s life were misguided and some were evil. Some Harry suspected of being evil but didn’t know for sure. Again, as best he could, he obeyed those in authority over him. When he disobeyed, he did so because he believed he was advancing good or standing against evil.

To discuss whether or not he should have made himself the authority to determine who he should or should not obey is similar to a discussion of whether or not Christians should have obeyed the Nazis.

Today the church is fiercely criticized for complying with Hitler’s forces. But I suspect at the time many believed they were doing the right thing to obey the authority over them.

Regardless of a person’s conclusion about Harry Potter’s virtue, I believe the books and movies offer rich opportunities to discuss just such matters. I can’t help but think society is better off if we discuss a topic like obedience after having read Harry Potter rather than something like vampire love after having read a certain set of popular books that escaped the vitriol aimed at the boy wizard.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (11)  
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