CSFF Blog Tour – Captives by Jill Williamson, Day 3

CaptivesSafeLandscoverAnother set of interesting posts in the CSFF Blog Tour for Captives by Jill Williamson, including an enjoyable interview with the author. Be sure to check out the other blogs featuring this intriguing, in some ways, disturbing, young adult dystopian fantasy.

From my perspective, Captives is an example of what Christian speculative fiction should be. There’s been some recent discussion at author and friend Mike Duran’s site about speculative fiction. In the concluding paragraph of his post, Mike says

if Realm Makers [the recent conference for Christian speculative fiction] is about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers, I believe we’ve failed. (emphasis in the original)

Later, in one of his comments, Mike adds

Without some type of extensive vision, which would include, for lack of better words, a “theology of Christian spec-fic,” we’re just mimicking ACFW, replacing Amish / Romance fans with spec fans. In order to compete with other professionals cons or associations, I believe we would have to address some of the same issues Christian fiction faces re: culture, theology, and art.

Further on he calls for “more intellectual rigor”and then goes on to say

I believe the Christian publishing industry needs a Fiction Reformation of sorts. Our “theology of art” keeps us beholden to an ultra-conservative readership and stymies creativity. While I don’t believe Christians should ever have to apologize for their beliefs, I do think Realm Makers could benefit by actively distancing themselves from the existing industry and its strictures, determine to represent a larger swath of beliefs, and have a bit more of a “broad tent” approach regarding authors and audiences.

Because I’m invested in speculative fiction, fantasy in particular, this discussion has been of considerable interest to me. I’m also a Christian, believing the Bible to be true and authoritative and inspired by God Himself. From some people’s perspective, I’m hamstrung as a fantasy writer because I have this box constructed by my theology that keeps me hemmed in.

I’ve refuted that notion from time to time, but as I read Mike’s remarks, I realized I don’t want to be in a “broad tent” with “a larger swath of beliefs” if that means cozying up to falsehood.

I guess you’d say my theology of art means that I aim to show truth through the means of beauty. Not that I write about beauty or that my writing must be poetic and lyrical (though that isn’t a bad thing, either). Rather, the novel art form needs to be “pulled off” well. The story needs to be entertaining, the characters well-developed and properly motivated, the setting fully created, and the theme tightly woven throughout.

Which brings me to truth. What Jill has done, in my opinion, is show this world, our world, as it is by creating the dystopian world of her story. Shannon McDermott put it this way:

the dual worlds of this dystopia are not too unlike the dual worlds of our present time.

The world is not as dissolute or libertine as the Safe Lands; the Christian community is not as strict or isolated as Glenrock. Yet the parallels may be drawn long.

The Christian community, like Glenrock, has a sternness – you could almost say a harshness – that stands against the looseness of worldly ways. “Take the straight and narrow path, or you’ll go to hell;” “Don’t do that, don’t go there, don’t even think about that.” A Christian is called by the unyielding will and holiness of God to a web of commands and duties.

And the young, brought up in that web and looking out, see the world – all awhirl, glittering with lights and flashing with colors. It promises all you could ever want.

So the Safe Lands were to Mia and Omar, and they believed the promise. But as the whole book shows, the beauty of the world is shallow, and beneath the foam of pleasure is an ocean of despair.

The lessons of Captives – how one can be corrupted by bad company, how the small falls make the large ones easy, how deceptive the world’s seduction is – are good for anyone.

So here’s the thing. Jill showed the fallacies of both worlds and of the different characters. She also did it within the “strictures of the CBA,” meaning that she didn’t use cussing as we know it, she didn’t gratuitously linger on the violence, and she didn’t have graphic sex scenes. Does that make her story lacking in “intellectual rigor”?

She created a story that qualifies as a “beautiful novel,” in the sense that it excelled in each of the structure elements. It also was a truthful novel–truthful about our world and truthful about God’s truth (which we really ought not to see as two different things, in my opinion). So what intellectual rigor is missing?

In the end, I guess I’m saying, I think it’s a false assumption that a Christian writer can’t honor conservative mores and still create quality literature. I think it’s a false assumption to say that “CBA fiction” all falls into the category of lacking intellectual rigor. It’s no more true than that all general market fiction achieves intellectual rigor.

But here’s the thing. Only the people who read Christian speculative fiction are in a position to know whether it is “second class” because of the strictures to which it must adhere. I for one didn’t find Captives wanting in any way compared to the last three general market young adult fantasies I’ve read.

I think this book says a lot for Jill Williamson as a writer, but I also think it says a lot for Zondervan and their new Blink imprint. This “isn’t your grandma’s fiction.”

CSFF Blog Tour – Merlin’s Blade by Robert Treskillard, Day 1

Robert_TreskillardIt’s always fun for me when CSFF features a book by one of our members. Robert Treskillard has been a part of the Blog Tour since its early days, supporting other writers and discussing books we highlight. Now we get to do that for him. His debut novel, Merlin’s Blade, is the first in the Merlin Spiral Trilogy, published under Zondervan’s new young adult imprint, Blink.

All this brings so much to my mind–the growing popularity of young adult novels, not just with teens but with adults, the unique goals of the new Blink line, and of course, Robert himself. Who is this man who wrote another story in a long line of tales derived from the Arthurian myth?

I think, for readers like me, I need to address one other question which the last one in the previous paragraph alludes to: do we actually need yet one more tale about Arthur and company? Some people, of course, are huge fans of the Arthurian legend and can immerse themselves in the numerous novels and movies and TV shows. Others of us tend more toward Arthurian weariness (I’m sorry, all you dedicated, loyal Arthur fans–it’s just the way it is).

I cut my teeth on Arthur on a Classic Comic of Idylls of the King. Later my high school produced Camelot a year or two before the musical by the same name hit the big screen. I’ve seen many other productions and read any number of other versions of the myth, or portions of it, since then, to the point that I began to think there couldn’t possibly be another new slant, take, interpretation, or approach to the story.

Surprise! Robert found one.

It’s interesting to read a story that has such familiar elements and yet be surprised when they pop up. For much of Merlin’s Blade I was reading as if the book was about someone else named Merlin, not the famous Merlin everyone knows from the Arthur stories.

And when parts of the legend did appear, I still was left guessing how they would congeal with the story unfolding before me and with the aspects of the legend with which I was familiar. In short, from the early pages, Merlin’s Blade had me off center, offering me a story I didn’t expect.

In the end, my Arthurian myth weariness played no part in my reaction to Merlin’s Blade. In much the same way that Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes books upset my thinking about angel books, Robert’s story has upset my thinking about Arthur myth novels. And that’s what good books do.

I’ll have much more to say about the book, but I recommend you visit the blogs of others participating in the tour and see what they think. I’m looking forward to making the rounds myself.

Oh, one more important thing. I have an Advance Reading Copy to give away during the tour. Anyone interested may leave a comment to this post, and I’ll draw for the winner on Friday. In addition, Robert has a REAL contest running in conjunction with all of the books in the trilogy. You might take a look at his intro blog post announcing it.

Here are the other CSFFers participating in the tour this month. Once again check marks will link you to a CSFF tour-related article.

Fantasy Friday – A Success Story

I heard some great news this week. Long time CSFF Blog Tour member (he joined in 2007) Robert Treskillard has signed a publishing contract with Zondervan. His series The Merlin Spiral will begin releasing February 2013 with book one, Merlin’s Blade.

Robert has been on this path to publication for some time, starting with his love for all things Celtic and a decision sparked by his son to learn blacksmithing and sword making. What I love is that in the process of writing and seeking publication, Robert worked on behalf of others who were writing and promoting the kinds of books he wanted to see on bookshelves — Christian fantasy.

For example Robert’s participation in the CSFF Blog Tour has gone beyond joining the occasional tour. He designed the CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award button and has made invaluable suggestions of books to tour. When he has participated in the tour, his posts are exemplary (witness the fact that he’s won the Top Tour Blogger Award four times!)

In addition, he was instrumental in the creation of the fan book trailers for Jill Williamson’s The Blood of King series — To Darkness Fled and From Darkness Won.

All last year Robert was “close.” He submitted to publishers, sought out an agent, went to a conference, and waited.

Meanwhile, he continued to support other writers — rejoicing, for example, with fellow Missourian L. B. Graham (The Binding of the Blade series) when he recently received a contract from AMG for a new series.

At long last the news came that his books will go into print. It’s a great individual story and a great story of success for Christian fantasy.

For those of you who, like me, are excited to learn that more Christian fantasy is on the way, take a moment and visit Robert’s Facebook page and friend him — you can tell him I sent you. 😉

Published in: on April 13, 2012 at 7:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy Friday – (And It Really Is)

First, I almost didn’t want to post because I don’t want to bury the poll for the October CSFF Top Blogger Award. So far there’s been good participation, but I tend to adhere to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory.

Of course I had the option of putting the poll on a static page, but I don’t want regular visitors to think there was no new content, since I’ve never gone the static-page route before. A second option was to put the poll in the sidebar, but I should have done that when I first posted it. Since I haven’t experimented with doing that, and didn’t have the time for that, I discarded that idea as well. So that brings us to me including the poll link for the rest of the week, to make it easy to find for those wishing to vote.

Are you ready? You can find the October CSFF Top Blogger Award Poll HERE.

And now, on to fantasy. I’ve subscribed to Google Alert, so I receive an email notice when the term “Christian fantasy” comes up in a blog. This week another Christian author wrote about Christian fantasy, and the conclusion wasn’t flattering. I’m referring to Timothy Fish’s post, Is This Christian Fantasy? And his conclusion:

There are many people who think Christian Fantasy would sell if the publishers would publish it. Some publishers are moving in that direction, but could it be that the problem isn’t the lack of fans or the unwillingness of publishers to meet the demand, but a deficiency in the quality of manuscripts authors are submitting?

Ouch! 😮 Since I’m a proponent of Christian fantasy, I hate it when the genre takes a hit. The truth is, like any other genre, there are some well-written stories, some poorly written stories, and lots in between (but when it comes to Christian fantasy “lots” is relative). I’ve read all three. Apparently Timothy, who admittedly hasn’t “seen the body of Christian Fantasy,” stumbled upon a book he found to be weak in plot … or perhaps characters, as the post the following day would suggest.

Do such Christian fantasies exist? They do. Would that we Christian fantasy authors were all better writers. But the conclusion is unacceptable, in my opinion. Does one poorly written cozy mystery mean all cozy mysteries being submitted for publication are poor? Or one poorly crafted historical? Or one poorly crafted romance? In that vein, a person could conclude that all Christian fiction must be terrible because one book was terrible. Or, for that matter, that all novels, Christian or otherwise, are terrible because one novel is terrible.

The point is, drawing a damning conclusion from one sampling of whatever doesn’t seem to be a wise course. Unfortunately, this is the kind of fire-quenching scuttlebutt that can create negative buzz just when Christian fantasy is beginning to be noticed and accepted.

On the plus side, kudos to Zondervan for accepting science fiction and fantasy in their contest (co-sponsored with Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference). Happily, they seem to be moving forward in producing speculative literature. May their tribe increase. 😀

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