Nine Marks Of Widescreen Stories, Part 4

After a two-week break, I’m back to the series on what I consider Nine Marks of Widescreen Stories — speculative, epic-minded works of fantasy/sci-fi/whatever works for awesome storytelling. As we keep moving away from the original don’ts I find I […]
| Nov 15, 2006 | No comments

After a two-week break, I’m back to the series on what I consider Nine Marks of Widescreen Stories — speculative, epic-minded works of fantasy/sci-fi/whatever works for awesome storytelling. As we keep moving away from the original don’ts I find I keep writing about, I’ll hope to focus even more strongly on the dos.

One of the greatest advantages Christ-following authors have over “secular” authors is access to a wealth of incredible themes that preempt just about anything they can come up with. For example, by writing about science, or law, “secular” authors are accidentally plagiarizing the Bible, I wrote back in part 3.

The same is true when we write about moral struggles, virtues or the lack thereof, and the battle of good versus evil. “Secular” authors have secondhand access to the truths of goodness and virtue; whereas Christians, in direct contact with the Source of that material, can portray these themes much more directly. I say “can portray,” though, because of course some books I’ve seen were evidently authored by those who have opted instead to broaden the moral themes, and follow after the “secular” conventions once again …

4. Focusing on deeper, more-timeless themes

The other night my sister and I were doing some research into whatever Pixar Animation Studios has been up to the past several months.

Yes, it seems that after watching Cars, we were further interested as to the themes of their 2007 release Ratatouille, which revolves around the adventures of a rat who dreams of being a chef in a fine Paris restaurant. One primary location to find this information is the Internet Movie Database; the other, Wikipedia, where volunteer authors have affixed the Disney/Pixar press release:

Remy finds himself torn between his calling and passion in life or returning forever to his previous existence as a rat. He learns the truth about friendship, family and having no choice but to be who he really is, a rat who wants to be a chef.

First I must heartily disclaim: I love Pixar!

As far as I’m concerned Pixar Can Do No Wrong.

If Pixar made a movie about living talking pots and pans trying to find a way out of Dishwasher-Land, it would be fantastic.

And yet at least the Disney/Pixar marketing here, anyway, rings the cliché bell. As my sister remarked, “When do we get a movie that’s not about friendship and family and following your dreams?”

Those themes have indeed been done multiple times — to the point where I know already that friendship is very important, and so is family (although “family can mean anything” according to a few movie outputs I’ve seen) and that it really doesn’t matter what others say so long as you follow your dream with all your heart and believe very strongly, etc., etc.

Hacking away at hackneyed

More recently I’ve seen some films “break out” of these common messages. Spider-Man 2, for example, played off the following-your-dream theme and instead reminded viewers of the powerful truth: “Sometimes, to do what’s right, we have to be steady, and give up the thing we want the most — even our dreams.”

And perhaps because a few “secular” storytellers are striking out in this direction, the Christian storytellers won’t be far behind, following as usual (as I complained just a little in my last installment).

But so far, it’s hard to see the same conventions going away anytime soon in Christian fiction, where the chief themes are often the same: family, friendship, following your dream — only supplemented by some specifically Christian virtues such as forgiveness, and of course the Gospel message and salvation.

Of course these should be nonnegotiable hallmarks of Christ-centered creativity. But perhaps more publishers, anyway, would do well not to act as though books about such topics somehow stand out — among all those other books that perhaps promote division in families, enemies, and making 180-degree turns away from your dream.

It’s like a politician who claims he strongly advocates the best health care and clean water and happiness for all — as opposed to the other candidate who, by implication, sincerely wants everyone to be miserable.

Fact is, Christian novels that “teach” important virtue like love, faith, family and forgiveness have already been far overdone — and again, while those elements are crucial, they are also naturally occurring for the Christ-following writer.

Speculative fiction encompasses these themes, of course, but they should be naturally occurring, not presented as though they are some hallmark of this particular story. If anything, the story itself should rise above and beyond any particular Take-Away Value some editors or marketers may try to assign to it.

That is why “simple” stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia work so well: you can’t stamp A Lesson in Self-Esteem on the front like you can with a VeggieTales DVD because Narnia just isn’t like that. A VeggieTales DVD can be about Self-Esteem, but what happens when you ask about the theme of The Silver Chair? “Well, it’s — it’s about two children, who are called into Narnia, and they have to learn — they have to obey Aslan, and — they meet some giants, and then Puddleglum put his foot in …”

Isn’t that great? The themes are so embedded, so deep and epic, that one cannot in good conscience say It’s A Story About Following Your Dream. The same is true of just about every timelessness-proved work of literature: you can’t pin down its Take-Away Value.

Time-release revelations

This is perhaps no more true than with the Bible itself — the Book that in my last installment I suggested is our “ultimate source material” and thus available for creative quasi-plagiarism. I think people often pick up the Bible with this mindset, asking, what is the Take-Away Value for me? On TV, we find brightly smiling motivational-types reading selections and snapping out the Lesson right away. It’s a lesson in Self-Esteem! It’s a lesson in Forgiveness! It’s a lesson in Following Your Dream!

Guess what: a Biblical passage might just be all of those meanings. Perhaps the meanings will occur naturally to the growing, Christ-following reader, in a form of Holy Spirit-guided word-search puzzle over the months or years.

If you’ve read the Bible — and any good book — multiple times, you probably can’t count the even greater amount of times this has happened. You’ll be reading the same passage again, and suddenly a hidden meaning leaps out at you. Incredible! This stuff has onionlike layers — except that, “unlike an onion, the inside is always bigger than the outside.” And the more you read, and the more experiences you may have had in the meantime, the more meaning one can glean from the passage, as its buried truths are finally unearthed like time capsules.

But of even greater importance is the idea that everything in Scripture, or any Christian story, must be read with a single lesson in mind, a Take-Away Value for us, about friendship, or forgiveness, or …

To that I would quickly answer: No. The Bible is primarily about God, not about us. Any messages we receive from it about our life applications are secondary to what we can learn about the nature of God and His plan for the universe.

That’s widescreen. And I believe our fiction should focus on that more strongly: God’s plans, what He has done, what He is doing, and people’s present and future role in His sovereign will. If secondary moral themes do find their way into the story — then they can imbed themselves naturally, just as our presentations of the Gospel should get in there on their own and not from propagandistic intention.

Most people already know anyway about friendship, family, faith and other fullscreen themes that are portrayed in countless made-for-TV movies. Therefore, for epic-focused, Christ-centered fiction, let’s expand the view even more!

Alternate World Traveler

One of the most popular styles of CSFF in the CBA has been that of taking a person from our real world and transplanting them through some means into an alternate reality. From Narnia to Arena, Chronicles of Anthropos to […]
| Nov 14, 2006 | No comments |

One of the most popular styles of CSFF in the CBA has been that of taking a person from our real world and transplanting them through some means into an alternate reality. From Narnia to Arena, Chronicles of Anthropos to Empyrion, Landon Snow to The Song of Albion.

It is interesting to look at this type of story and how it tends to come across. The person sucked into the new world and has some key role to play there (why else would they have been hand-picked to be pulled through a rift in reality in the first place). And often it deals with bringing God’s truth back to the world, while at the same time resolving their crisis of faith.

Though I admit, I often wonder how these characters cope with their newfound faith rebirth once they finally return to the “real” world. After having such an awakening in a world where often the spiritual rules, while similar are also quite different, could the reconcile that with Christianity, or would they try to hold onto what they found in the other world, or perhaps become more like Susan and simply drift away?

If you could travel to an alternate world, which one would you go to? What character would you most want to meet (who isn’t a Christ figure)? If you got sucked into an alternate world, what would be the first thing you would do, knowing what you do of all the like adventures written by other authors?

Deep thoughts, I know.

Let There Be Snow—CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1

Landon’s land. That’s not an official name for it, but the fantasy world that Landon Snow and eventually both his sisters are drawn into has a unique need for him. I am, of course, referring to the middle grade fantasy […]
| Nov 13, 2006 | No comments |

Landon’s land. That’s not an official name for it, but the fantasy world that Landon Snow and eventually both his sisters are drawn into has a unique need for him. I am, of course, referring to the middle grade fantasy novels by R. K. Mortenson.

This month the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (CSFF) Blog Tour is featuring the third in the Landon Snow series, Landon Snow and the Island of Arcanum (Barbour Publishing). One look at the cover or at the drawings at the beginning of each chapter, and you can see the promise of fun that awaits. For samples, see the Landon Snow web site.

Beyond the wonderful packaging—art work, paper quality, hard cover, colored print—the writing makes these books worthy additions to a fantasy-lover’s library, not to mention a desirable Christmas gift for any middle grade reader.

Here’s a sample:

Even Bridget’s little voice echoed in the tall marble lobby. “Do you think we should be in here?” Landon’s shoes squeaked as if he were on a basketball court. He finally resorted to walking on his tiptoes to keep them quiet. The chandelier sparkled high overhead. As they passed by the rowboat-shaped tombstone for the library’s famous founder, Bartholomew G. Benneford, Landon stopped, squeak, and motioned for his sisters to stop too.

“Listen,” he said, half turning his head. “What is that noise?”

It sounded rather like a drum. Like one of those big drums in a symphony orchestra—a kettle drum or timpani. Plumb. Plumb.

It was quiet.

And then— plumb.

“Over there,” said Bridget, her voice light as a feather.

At the far end of the lobby, opposite the log wall of Bart’s Reading Room, something round and large and red sat on the floor. Plumb. Bridget was right, the sound seemed to be coming from it. They crept closer, and a tiny swift movement caught Landon’s eye …

That little snippet gives you a taste of Mortenson’s voice. Writers talk about the importance of voice, though it is a difficult thing to define and harder to create. But when a writer has it, it seems to leap off the page.

In my opinion, Mortenson’s voice comes in part from his sense of humor and in part from his sense of intrigue. He isn’t afraid to judiciously use adverbs (those dreaded -ly’s that Browne-and-King disciples scrub off every page). Or rhyme, if it helps characterize the Odds, the former name of the people in the fantasy world. There’s a bit of tongue firmly pressing the cheek to his writing. It’s fun. But it’s serious too.

I highly recommend the entire series; all three books are small, easy to read, and delightful. But don’t take my word alone. Check out what the other bloggers on the tour are saying:

  • Jim Black
  • Jackie Castle
  • Valerie Comer
  • Frank Creed
  • Gene Curtis
  • Chris Deanne
  • Janey DeMeo
  • April Erwin
  • Beth Goddard
  • Todd Michael Greene
  • Leathel Grody
  • Karen Hancock
  • Katie Hart
  • Sherrie Hibbs
  • Sharon Hinck
  • Joleen Howell
  • Jason Joyner
  • Karen and at Karen’s myspace
  • Oliver King
  • Tina Kulesa
  • Lost Genre Guild
  • Kevin Lucia
  • Rachel Marks
  • Shannon McNear
  • Rebecca LuElla Miller
  • Caleb Newell
  • John Otte
  • Cheryl Russel
  • Hannah Sandvig
  • Mirtika Schultz
  • Stuart Stockton
  • Steve Trower
  • Speculative Faith
  • Chris Walley
  • Daniel I. Weaver
  • Part Three: How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead & Into The Light

    Do not throw stones at ravens. I said last week: “Ravens? What have ravens to do with anything?” Well, in myths and fairy tales—and symbolically—quite a bit. Odin had two, Hunnin and Munnin, thought and memory by meaning, and they […]
    | Nov 10, 2006 | No comments |

    Do not throw stones at ravens.

    I said last week:Ravens? What have ravens to do with anything?”

    Well, in myths and fairy tales—and symbolically—quite a bit.

    Odin had two, Hunnin and Munnin, thought and memory by meaning, and they roamed the world and brought the god news. In Celtic myth, they are associated with death and war and prophesy. In Greek myth, the raven started out white, but Apollo turned it black for bearing bad news. A variant of the King Arthur stories claims the king did not die, but rather turned into a raven. The raven (and its cousin the crow) figure in various Aesop’s fables, including one where the raven is said to feed on the food offerings on altars and longs to be white and lovely as a swan. (I can see a story with racial issues right there.) The Brothers Grimm give us two famous tales, both among my favorites as a child: “The Seven Ravens” and “The Twelve Brothers.” Yes, the brothers of a royal girl child are turned into ravens in both tales.

    If we were to write a retold tale with a raven, it’s not too hard a leap to ask, “How are ravens used in the Bible?”

    Well, Noah used a raven to scout the earth in Genesis. In Leviticus, the raven is branded as an unclean creature. In Matthew, Jesus speaks of the ravens thusly:

    “And He said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:22-24 RSV)

    A swirl of stories fill my head at imagining how to blend the Biblical with the mythological and the folktale. How about you?

    If you’re still not clear on how you can leap into new stories that speak of the doctrines of our faith, consider this, which is one that I may yet write:

    In “The Seven Ravens” an unwise king who guards not his tongue from foolish utterances, curses his sons, and they become ravens. His subsequent child, a daughter, when she grows old enough to hear tales of her cursed siblings, shows herself to be courageous and persistent and unselfish, and will not cease wandering the world until she finds her lost, transformed brothers and breaks the curse that binds them. She ultimately saves them from their bondage.

    The princess is a savior figure. The brothers are bound by their father’s sin. An act of supreme sacrifice is required to release those in bondage. The biblical doctrines are already contained in the tale.

    But to turn all that into modern story that’s more than the old folktale, the blanks in motivation, characterization and plot need to be filled in. I must, as a writer, give a reason why the father longs so much for a daughter that he would curse all his sons. Considering that, historically, kings wanted sons above all, that’s just a big, gaping hole. I would need to give a sense of what has formed the princess to be who she is with her character so much better than that of her parents. I would need to say more about her journey and suffering, and how she herself is transformed by her trials and adventures.

    Because blood matters so much, I would add blood to the redemption of the brothers in some way.

    I am thinking that one way I would add another biblical element is to blend the fairy tale with this passage concerning Elijah from 1 Kings 17:

    So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

    Why can’t the brothers become the ravens that feed the prophet? And perhaps their eventual rescue is a result of obedience to God in this act? Perhaps the sister encounters the prophet, who gives her the key to freeing her brothers. Ravens, symbol of prophesy? Well, seems like we could just have a prophet in there, too, a real one.

    Works for me. Needs for flesh on the story bones, but sounds workable and full of spiritual possibilities for the characterization and plot.

    What would you do with ravens? What would you do with Noah and a fairy tale with ravens or some other bird—a dove, a crow, a sparrow, a swan? How might you mix an event in the life of Jesus and a fairy tale you love?

    You may ask wolves for help, but you should not believe what they tell you. They do not think carefully. They do not think as we do.

    Now it’s your turn to take the bones and come up with new skin.

    Let’s see. You know at least two myths or tale with wolves. Come on. You know you do. (Hint: Grandma. Hint: Romulus and Remus. Hint: Pig triplets) Now, what’s a scriptural doctrine that might apply in these tales? What motivations and characterization changes can you make? How might you alter the plot? Who is your narrator? Where in the Bible are wolves mentioned? Can you use that?

    Go on, impress me.

    Finally, last week I wrote this to give you a heads up on what’s ahead: What myth inspired a novel by C.S. Lewis? How did he change it to write the truth he needed to tell?

    The myth—one of the most fascinating one to my childhood mind—was that of Cupid and Psyche. (Some relegate it to folktale, rather than myth status, but it feels like myth, so I call it that.) Parts of the myth are familiar to you (those who haven’t read it) from your readings of Beauty and the Beast. There’s an element of Pandora in it, too.

    Lewis rewrote it, retold it, in his novel TILL WE HAVE FACES. If anyone thinks it’s silly to retell such tales, or that pagan tales have no place in Christian fiction, I suggest you reconsider. I suggest you take a look at Lewis’ novel.

    So, ahead of us, more opening up of souls by resurrecting wonder tales. Ahead of us, wolves, beasts, gods and goddesses…and creating true faces.

    Again, the italicized quotes are from Veronica Schanoes short story which inspired the title of this series. Read it here:
    http://www.endicott-studio.com/rdrm/rrBackFromDead.html

    NEXT WEEK: Part Four of How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From the Dead and Into the Light—

    She is so tired. And she hurts. She hurts so much. She is confused. She doesn’t know where she is. She won’t thank you. She will blink and sit up.Take her by the hand. Hold her tightly.

    Give her one of your torches.

    More Trouble With Time Travel

    James Drury posted a comment to my previous post titled the Trouble with Time Travel: The Alternate Reality version of time travel has been the accepted theory in Marvel Comics for some time and seems to be the easiest route […]
    | Nov 9, 2006 | No comments |

    James Drury posted a comment to my previous post titled the Trouble with Time Travel:

    The Alternate Reality version of time travel has been the accepted theory in Marvel Comics for some time and seems to be the easiest route to avoid most paradoxes. Even if you went back and killed your grandfather, YOU would still be alive because you can’t disrupt your own personal timeline.

 Of course, if you have multiple timelines running in parallel (like railroad tracks), who can say if you’re actually travelling in time or just switching tracks? One timeline may look like yours hundreds or thousands of years ago but is completely separate, similiar to C.S. Lewis’ view in the Narnia books.

There are all sorts of variations from which to choose!

    Thanks for your comments and all of the other mind-boggling comments. There appears to be an answer to the trouble with time travel. Multiple universes? That’s a discussion for another day.

    Dean Koontz has his own thoughts about the subject. In my previous post I included his dislike of time travel from a Q&A. From his Writing Popular Fiction (1972), he gives examples of the limitless paradoxes. Here’s one.

    If you traveled back to last Thursday morning in a time machine and met yourself back then and told yourself to invest in a certain company because their stock would soar during the next week, what would happen if the Early You, did as the Later You wished? When the Later You returned to the present, would he find himself rich? Or perhaps, while the Early You was running to the stock broker, he was stricken by an automobile and suffered two broken legs. When the Later You returned to the present, would he find himself with two broken legs? Perhaps you would end up hospitalized, never having been able to make the trip in the first place because your legs were broken a week ago. Yet, if you had never taken the time trip, you wouldn’t have sent your early Self into the path of the car and would not have broken legs. Yet, if you did make the trip, and had the broken legs, you couldn’t have made the trip because of the broken legs and. . .

    He does go on to suggest reading Up the Line by Robert Silverberg.  In it Silverberg explores “every conceivable time paradox and carries them all to their wildly absurd and fascinating conclusion.”

    Anyone read this?

    But Orson Scott Card presents a different view. Make up your own rules. In How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, he presents a few examples. (I think that’s what’s been done with the alternative reality scenario that Jim mentioned)

    If you go back in time:

    1. you can make any changes you want in the past and you’ll continue to exist, because
    the very act of traveling in time takes you outside of the time stream and removes you from the effects of changes in history.

    2. you can make changes that destroy your own society—so time travel is a closely guarded secret and those who travel in time are only the most skilled and trusted people.

    3. if you go back far enough, any changes you make won’t have major effects in your own time, because history has a kind of inertia and tends to get itself back on track.

    4. you are only able to make changes that have no long-term effects, since any universe in which you change your own future could not exist.

    5. you’re invisible and unable to affect anything. But you can watch.

    6. Time travel consists of going back into the mind of somebody living in the past, seeing events through his eyes. He doesn’t know you’re there.

    And the list continues. . .

    Personally I like the idea of making up specific rules to counter any paradoxes.

    Speculative Faith: Seeing Beyond Christian Story Stigmatisms

    This week, you’ll find the following a slight departure from the Nine Marks of Widescreen Fiction series, whose third installment went live two weeks ago. I’m still working on part 4, following a very harrowing Wednesday, but the following is […]
    | Nov 8, 2006 | No comments

    This week, you’ll find the following a slight departure from the Nine Marks of Widescreen Fiction series, whose third installment went live two weeks ago. I’m still working on part 4, following a very harrowing Wednesday, but the following is edited from another pending series about many similar themes. …

    It’s just slightly difficult to be a neo-sci-fi guy at the American Christian Fiction Writers 2006 conference last weekend in Dallas, Texas.

    Actually, it’s even more difficult to be a guy altogether, at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference.

    Intro: An AFCW Aftermath

    Some estimated the conference’s attendance at about 95 percent women. I think that’s about right, so long as one doesn’t count the hotel bellhops and the concierge. Also, leave out the imaginary males who probably inhabit most of those writing women’s fiction works, whether published or not. Those males, of course, are quite dashing and handsome and just the sort of chaps who can ease the loneliness filling women’s hearts on the barren prairie.

    Ah, but this is facetious. Not all the novelists, male or female, were purveyors of the Prairie Romances. Some were authors of cozy romance, inspirational romance, Scottish / Irish romance, World War II-era romance, romantic comedy, romantic suspense, chick lit romance, contemporary romance …

    Here I even more speak the truth: after the first day, they doubled the first-floor restroom space for women, which of course resulted in a 100 percent cut for the males in attendance. I, as a male, adapted well; others were more annoyed, including author Randall Ingermanson (City of God series, Oxygen, The Fifth Man) who I heard secondhand was tempted to go in there nonetheless.

    However, another rumor held that most women, understandably, didn’t want to go in the men’s room anyway. I would think half of the implements therein would likely be useless to the women no matter what — and that’s all I have to say about that.

    Well, I suppose it hasn’t been too long since the organization changed its named from American Christian Romance Writers. Inevitably there would be a lag time.

    Vital storytelling statistics

    Readership in the Christian Booksellers’ Association (CBA), the catch-all term for Christian publishing, is just a little more balanced: most put it at 80-20, still slanted toward women. Secular publishers have about the same ratio, though, so this isn’t unique to Christendom

    Guys read more nonfiction, one of the conference’s organizers told me. Fine, that is sensible, I say, but that still fails to explain the smashing success of the nonfiction (ahem) author and decidedly-non-Alpha-Male-ish Joel Osteen.

    With this general market from which to draw, it’s understandable that Romance and all its related modifiers would prove the more popular genres. Behind the counters of a Christian bookstore myself, I have seen these customers: they are mostly middle-aged and older women, and often members of a certain denomination (Southern Baptist) who much enjoy this sort of thing in their reading material.

    So, one really can’t “blame” the publishers for frowning upon alternative genres, such as the neo-sci-fi story I advocate and the fantasy / sci-fi hybrids underway by many other Christ-honoring writers.

    After all, that sort of thing just won’t sell, claimed one editor during the publisher’s panel the first afternoon. And after a sneaked-in question (another ahem) about whether the hugely increased popularity of Tolkien and Lewis was affecting the CBA’s offerings at all, David Long, editor from Bethany House and Faith*in*Fiction blogger, was quite direct: “No” — instantly prompting raised imaginary phasers and battle staffs from the outraged fantasy / sci-fi warriors.

    Ergo, sci-fi and fantasy are genres with a stigma — their own sub-stigma within a “niche market” that itself has long been stigmatized in the publishing world.

    Yet Lord willing, both of those stigmas may be changing.

    But that leads to another quandary, something I had been thinking about recently: the phenomenon of Christian storytelling and publishing as it relates to true Christlike living in our culture.

    Regarding the latter, the Creator is clear that His children will often seem a bit weird, if not outright evil, to the majority of others — that is, stigmatized, and unavoidably so.

    Yet when it comes to media and storytelling, we need attempt to avoid some stigmas in order to appeal to wider demographics. And this is something the Western church is doing more often as well: consciously deciding not to talk about tough Biblical topics such as God’s Law and justice in order to avoid offending people (which, by the way, is something the Bible frowns upon, to put it mildly).

    Therefore, how are we as Christians to balance the stigma of existing as Christians ourselves, with the stigma against Christian publishing — and particularly Christian speculative fiction, an even narrower segment?

    Should we attempt broadening our stories’ focii beyond specifically Biblically inspired beliefs, and thus ensure more people can be exposed to a few truths that will lead them to search for more Truth? Or permit the faith elements to manifest themselves in whatever way possible and trust the Creator to forge a path for success if He so chooses? … Or, perhaps a combination?

    Speculative Politics

    And I bet you thought you could get away from it all by coming here didn’t you? But on this election day in the U.S. I thought it might be interesting to look at how the political systems we choose […]
    | Nov 7, 2006 | No comments |

    And I bet you thought you could get away from it all by coming here didn’t you? But on this election day in the U.S. I thought it might be interesting to look at how the political systems we choose to use in our stories can enhance the themes and worlds that we communicate to the readers.

    Whether it is the incredibly complex and intricate Imperial feudalism of Dune, the idealistic socialism of the Federation, or the corrupt and bloated democracy of the Republic, every tale that works on an epic scale impacts the governing system at some point or another. And the way that system is represented can say a lot about the spiritual state of a world, and can serve as a strong symbol to comment on our own world, without necessarily being overt.

    Think about the monarchies of Middle Earth and how Aragon’s journey from Ranger to High King impacted you. As well as the attitudes of the other monarchs encountered.

    Or what about the theocratic empire of Narnia (Emperor beyond the Sea, who’s son is Aslan, King of Narnia). Or the simple theocracy of the inhabitants of Mars, with unassuming social structures of an unfallen, but damaged, peoples in Out of the Silent Planet.

    What are some political systems that have stood out to you as being more than just window dressing and have moved farther into becoming defining attributes of a foundational worldview that is directing the course of events within a created world?

    Who Lost The Genre? An Interview With The Lost Genre Guild’s Founder

    Recently some of us here at Speculative Faith “discovered” a similar group of writers who also want to spread the word that Christian science fiction and fantasy does exist. This organization the Lost Genre Guild was founded by an author […]

    Recently some of us here at Speculative Faith “discovered” a similar group of writers who also want to spread the word that Christian science fiction and fantasy does exist. This organization the Lost Genre Guild was founded by an author writing under the pen name Frank Creed.

    I interviewed Frank so that readers here at Speculative Faith can be encouraged. Our group is one of how many similar groups who need simply to find each other?

    The interview:

    RLM: Frank, tell us a little about yourself. How did you become a Christian?

    FC: Baptized, schooled, and Confirmed in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I never understood how Scripture’s idealism applied to real life. From the time I graduated high school and escaped an over-protective home in ‘84, until the summer of ‘92, I lived for my appetites. My God-shaped hole swallowed all Hedonism. Then, working at a sheet-metal shop in Chicago’s western burbs, a coworker leant me a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There. It blew my mind. I devoured He is There and He is Not Silent, and How Shall we Then Live? God used Schaeffer to connect my dots, and it changed my life.

    RLM What about writing? How did God lead you into this profession?

    FC: This is a life story, so I’ll nutshell the timeline. 1970s: mom sent me to a program at the Public Library, where we read and discussed Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. I already loved reading, but that hooked me. 1980s: my high school creative writing teacher encouraged me to enter a contest with students from three or four states. My short story took first place. 1990s: Reading Schaeffer had focused me on life’s meaning, and I struggled with a Biblical fantasy novella and a sci-fi novel in spare moments—until May 9, 1998. On that day, I survived a head-on collision that should have killed me. Doctors bolted my broken body, but I’d suffered a severe closed-head injury. As loved-ones learned that I should be able to feed myself after a year of rehab, my pastor strolled-in for a visit. I’m told he and I enjoyed my first lucid conversation in eighteen days. We prayed, I went to sleep, then awoke in my current capacity. The only lingering conditions are short-term memory lapses and an inability to multitask.

    I returned to my factory job, but advancing osteo-arthritis and bursitis forced me to seek white-collar work. The fiction with which I once struggled, now pours like liquid. The people, tools, and learning that He’s provided have shoved, not led, me into fiction. My first novel is due out in late-winter, 2007.

    RLM But speculative fiction? Why that genre?

    FC: We glorify Him where He’s placed us in space and time, by dwelling at the intersection of given talents and passions. Narnia and Middle Earth first captured my heart. Whenever mom would take me into a Christian bookstore, I’d scour fiction shelves for more Christian fantasy. After years of drought, I learned speculative fiction could only be found in secular stores.

    After reading Schaeffer in my mid-twenties, I wondered why Christian publishers stopped using our genre’s obvious world-view strength. Other philosophers employed spec-fic shelves, how had we dropped-the-ball? Asimov, Heinlein and Leiber had taught me that speculative fiction grants total creative license of setting and character—make an issue believable to your reader, and it’s just part of the story. Narnia and Middle Earth now tasted too allegorical. Lewis’ Space Trilogy inspired me, but his prose was thirty years old. Entertaining spec-fic, in modern English—the perfect delivery system for providing new-believes with meat. I’d found my motivation.

    RLM You’ve initiated or combined forces with others to publicize what you term bib-spec-fic. What are some of the steps you’ve taken?

    FC: I have to smile. It’s not as organized as you make it sound. Even though we shared memberships a few news-groups, Daniel I. Weaver and I officially met six months ago. We shared ideas. Next thing you know, Dan’s founded a spec-fic critique group, I’ve formed the Lost Genre Guild, and we’re both included in the Light at the Edge of Darkness anthology. It’s been a blur. We’ve just been developing ideas and opportunities as they’ve appeared, and this is where He’s led us.

    Two months ago it occurred to me how many debates I’ve seen about what Christian fiction should be. Do Christian authors glorify God through overt Biblical themes, or should we be writing general fiction-of-quality, and then credit Him as our Maker? As if God gave us all the same motivations, purposes, and gifts. As if one position were right and the other wrong. I don’t see this as an either-or proposition. Does the confusion center around the term Christian fiction? What if there were another term with which to create a distinction? Biblical fiction was born, and bib-spec-fic became a natural place to start.

    RLM You mentioned the Lost Genre Guild. What is that and what are your goals for such an organization?

    FC: The Lost Genre Guild is an organization through which authors of Christianity’s Lost Genre can promote our genre, and our fiction ministries. The LGG’s domain is still rough. Our tools are press releases, Web-forums, a list of endorsed works, group e-mail, the LGG blog, and a members’ database for promotion and networking. Membership is free, but we may eventually employ a publicist and require that published members pay a membership fee. The LGG will not seek to profit from this fee.

    RLM You and I have talked about collaborating on a publication. Explain a little about what we’re hoping to put out.

    FC: We envision a bib-spec-fic thumbnail of industry news, published author events, contests, conferences, and opportunities. We intend on keeping subscribers more genre-informed than they’d ever thought possible. That’s all for now, but keep your ears-on.

    RLM In an ideal publishing world, what would you like to see for science fiction and fantasy written from a Biblical worldview?

    FC: Speculative fiction is the best-selling secular fiction genre. Sci-fi has been called “the handmaiden of philosophy.” (Thought Probes, Fred D. Miller, Nicholas D. Smith, Prentice-Hall). We have a laser-sharp ministry tool, but none can free it from the stone. I understand that publishers make decisions based on risk and profit potential. Authors and fans are out there. I’d like to see the publisher that realizes our market niche, and fills it.

    RLM: From your perspective, what’s the most important thing a Christian writer of speculative fiction should know?

    FC: Two things. One: faith. Step-out in faith. Live at the intersection of your talent and passion. If you want assurances, open a savings account. If bib-spec-fic is your calling, do what He created you to do, and leave the rest to Him. If He’s with you, none can stand against.

    Two: If this is your calling, learn the craft. Qualitative fiction of any genre will eventually break through. Easier said than done? No. Don’t need no library card, don’t need to buy books. Do it for the cost of your ISP. Seek out critique groups, join groups, and read posted critiques. When you find yourself learning from a critiquer, seek out their critiques of other works. There’s no faster way to learn the craft.

    RLM: Thanks, Frank. I look forward to what God will accomplish as we work together.

    If you’d like to take a look at Frank’s book review blog (where he posts for the CSFF Blog Tour), I’m sure he’d love to hear from you. Or leave questions here and I’ll see if I can convince him to stop by later to field them.

    Part Two: How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead & Into The Light

    You will travel for a long time, holding your two torches. You must not stray from the path and you must not pick the flowers. You may ask for help. You will ask the sun for direction and you will […]
    | Nov 3, 2006 | No comments |

    You will travel for a long time, holding your two torches. You must not stray from the path and you must not pick the flowers. You may ask for help. You will ask the sun for direction and you will ask the moon. (Shanoes, “How To Bring Someone Back From The Dead”)

    What are your two torches, SF writer?

    Your imagination. Your truth. One makes old things new. The other makes dead things revive.

    Vivian Vande Velde took the old fairy tale of “Rumpelstiltzkin” and made a new thing in her story “Straw Into Gold.” (Find it in the collection titled TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM AND THE SISTERS WEIRD.) She added a kindly elf. She added a sense of humor. She kept the greedy royal and the straw that must be turned into gold or off with the head. But this story added something new from Vande Velde’s imagination: a happy ending that makes sense to a modern sensibility. Yes, an elf can walk between the particles of walls and stupid servants can’t get names right, but the miller’s daughter ends up taking her baby girl and leaving her forced and loveless marriage to the shallow, greedy king. She finds happiness with the generous, kind Rumpelstiltzkin, who sees the value of a girl-child and a destitute miller’s daughter, which is vaster than the worth of gold. This protagonist learned the lesson the original protagonist did not: No one can change straw into gold. Some things are just straw, and some things are gold. And sometimes you just have to know which is which.

    In Scripture, straw is worthless and burns up. (That Bema Seat is HOT!) Gold is precious and can be refined, but not destroyed. It doesn’t burn up. A good, generous heart is gold and is precious. A greedy, vain one is straw, and has little worth.

    I happen to prefer Vande Velde’s ending to the original, despite what some legalists might say about the whole marriage thing.

    One could take a different tack: God can change straw to gold. That is a second torch proposition: a truth.

    From that perspective, that starting point, we can develop a different variation of “Rumpelstiltzkin.” You can set it in the past, set it in the present, set it in the future, set it in an alternate reality or a fantasy or a sci-fi world, any world where shallow and vain people do, in fact, change due to…what?

    What are the causes of such change from our believing perspective? Interaction with the virtuous? The movement of some eternal force into the heart? The hearing of strange, powerful words? That’s where your first torch, imagination, has to shine extra brightly. Anyone want to offer some ideas of how the avaricious king becomes a doting husband and father, unwilling to lose his child to the gold-spinning…what? Elf? Dwarf? Alien? Demon? Demi-god? Witch? Wizard? Elemental? Mad scientist? Alchemist?

    Why is the gold needed? Why would a woman surrender her first-born? How does spiritual need manifest in this scenario, and is satisfied; and how do the moral questions that arise get answered in the drama (or comedy), so that we feel the second torch’s brilliance in our hearts when we reach the end?

    “Perhaps you will have to make your way through thorns and brambles.
    Perhaps the thorns will take out your eyes and you will not see anything at all. “

    The fairy of Sleeping Beauty. The myth of Oedipus. Thorns and blindness. How do these converge?

    Suppose you wanted to retell not just a fairy tale or a myth, but combine them and tell a hybrid tale, a chimera story?

    What do they have in common? What do they teach?

    In Sleeping Beauty, as I recall, the parents never seek to pacify the cursing fairy. Why? As a kid, that seemed the right thing to do. Say, “Sorry. We were afraid to invite you, but we were very rude not to.” Be nice to people who, when ticked off, can curse you, I say. The fairy was…bristly. Her pride got offended. Why did they not seek the remedy in apology, in redress of grievances of some sort ? No, they seek to bypass the consequence by ridding the kingdom of that which might harm the princess.

    Oedipus attempts to avoid fulfilling a dreadful prophecy by leaving his city and family, rather than by doing what seems most logical to someone like me reading the tale: Never have sex at all, or at minimum not with anyone remotely older than you. Never raising your hand to kill anyone, especially anyone older than you. This would probably assure you don’t kill your dad and marry your mom, I’d think. But his solution is simply to think he can outwit fate by just..er…leaving his family.

    We know they all failed. The princess pricks her finger. Oedipus does the nasty with mom and kills his pa.

    So, the story could focus on a character who thinks his ability are greater than some prophecy, and rather than humbling himself to seek the advice of prophets and priests (or wise woman or oracle) or make atonement to an offended angel/divinity/sage/sorcerer.

    All great tales have great lessons. Arachne’s pride led to her eventual spidery state. (Never mind that it seemed okay for Athena to be at least as proud and easily miffed. Greek gods and goddesses were not really terrific role models, what with all the fornicating and vengefulness.) Orpheus’ impatience and lack of trust lost him a second chance to regain his bride. The Witch Queen of the Snow White tale was so vain that it led to great evil actions and her downfall.

    What does the Lord teach about pride? (Watch out! Fall ahead!) What do the gospels and epistles say about patience and trust in God’s promises? (Hades promised Orpheus could have Eurydice if he did not look back until he was clear of the underworld.) If Charm is deceitful and beauty vain…what has value? (Fear of the Lord, anyone?)

    “Lead her out. Don’t look back…Give her one of your torches….Don’t worry if she doesn’t talk at first. Voices take a long time to come back.”

    Orpheus only had one torch. You, believer-writer, have two: Imagination and truth. And you have one more: love of God. The third and brightest. Unlike Orpheus, you can bring the dead out into the light and make them breath again.

    Eurydice was myth. Lazarus was history.

    But we all yearn for resurrection. That’s a universal. We want to live.

    What can you do to a myth, to a fairy tale, to make your SF story ring with the power of those archetypes and moral lessons? How can you make the relevant to the modern reader who, grown old and sarcastic and cynical, doesn’t believe in the tales of her youth, but who, deep down, wants to believe again in princes who will not be stopped by dangers until the princess is kissed and won, and in wives who will wear out one, two, three pairs of iron shoes searching the world for their lost husbands, undaunted until each holds her man again, liberating them all from painful enchantment?

    We all want to be set free and we all want to be loved. More universals to consider.

    Will you make Eurydice a chatterbox (instead of a silent spirit tugged along by her husband’s undying desire), one who kind of had a crush on Hades, so she’d really rather Orpheus just got on with his life, since it was “til death do us part, dear.” That’s a truth, too. Love can survive death, but marriage does not.

    Find your voice. It’s yours. Look at your truths. Be guided by your love of the eternal. Those torches will illuminate for you the form YOUR tales must take.
    I hope I got your imagination torch flaring. I hope you write a wonder tale/myth-based story with all your torches ablaze this week. (Unless you’re NaNo-ing, then wait til Dec. 1.)

    Question for the coming weeks of this series: What myth inspired a novel by C.S. Lewis? How did he change it to write the truth he needed to tell? What fairy tale(s) are closely linked to this same myth? Ravens? What have ravens to do with anything?

    Next Week: Part Three of How To Bring Myths & Fairy Tales Back From The Dead & Into The Light

    Teaser: Do not throw stones at ravens. You may ask wolves for help, but you should not believe what they tell you. They do not think carefully. They do not think as we do.

    Focusing on The Redemptive

    The complaint is often made that “Christian” novels, SF/F ones included, are too full of conversion scenes. As believers, it’s only natural that we like conversion scenes, to a certain extent—they remind us of our own experience, even help us […]
    | Nov 2, 2006 | No comments |

    The complaint is often made that “Christian” novels, SF/F ones included, are too full of conversion scenes. As believers, it’s only natural that we like conversion scenes, to a certain extent—they remind us of our own experience, even help us keep our own fresh by seeing how others make their journey to belief in Christ.

    Are conversions becoming too common? Or is it that the ones we read in popular Christian fiction made common because belief comes too “easy” … and we know that in real life, easy belief is sometimes no belief at all.

    It’s my thought that it takes more than a conversion scene to make a Christian novel. For a while now I’ve been contemplating the shift in my perceptions about what is acceptable to me as a Christian and what is not. I realized slowly that it’s more than the absence of “bad” language, excessive violence, and explicit sexual content—as I’ve tried to explain with some frustration to one film company that strives to be family friendly, but still retains other elements that I find less-than-wonderful.

    That isn’t to say that I don’t find much objectionable content—objectionable. But I’ve learned to look beyond it in certain works, to find the redemptive.

    I looked up the meaning of the word:

    redemptive – Serving or tending to redeem; redeeming; as, the redemptive work of Christ.

    redemption – the act of purchasing back something previously sold; (Christianity) the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil

    So … a comprehensive definition of redemptive could be something that delivers from sin or saves from evil.

    I’ve already touched on how what one person sees as redemptive might not be what another does, but it has been an eye-opening experience to consciously look for the redemptive in various things I watch and read, rather than focus on the “ick.” And isn’t that the essence of Philippians 4:8, focusing on the true and honorable and virtuous?

    Of course, that probably isn’t news to longtime SF/F, but it was a neat, new way to view things, for me.

    Later, I hope to visit particular films or books and look at what I found redemptive about them.