Why Fantasy? – Part 4

A fantasy-style story with Christian themes or world view seems more readily accepted in mainstream circles than Christian-themed stories in other genres. This is one of the main reasons I decided to write fantasy – I wanted to take my […]
| Sep 13, 2006 | No comments |

A fantasy-style story with Christian themes or world view seems more readily accepted in mainstream circles than Christian-themed stories in other genres. This is one of the main reasons I decided to write fantasy – I wanted to take my books into the public schools, to young people who might never hear the gospel or be exposed to any kind of Christian message.

As most of you know, Narnia and LOTR are standard reading material in public schools all across the United States, probably because the faith themes aren’t overt. I have heard from students who say their teachers had no clue that Aslan is a Christ-type figure, so, even the most obvious parallel in Lewis’s stories escapes the grasp of some in the public square.

In my own writing, I wanted cling to a fantasy premise that might open doors in the schools, while daring to be more overt. I thought a contemporary setting might be more relevant to young people and deliver a more powerful faith message, but this required me to have a real God and a real Christ. The challenge was to push the faith message as far as I could without crossing a line that the public schools had drawn. The problem is that the line is difficult to know and varies from school district to school district, so I just had to guess what would work best.

So far, it seems that there are very few closed doors in the public schools for my series. They were accepted to the national Accelerated Reader list, and I have been welcomed in these schools all across the country. So far for my fall tour, I have scheduled 17 public schools and 12 Christian schools, so there’s a wonderful balance between the two.

Here in Florida, I have yet to be turned down as a visiting author simply because of the faith content of my books. I have been told by more than one teacher that the fantasy premise makes the powers-that-be more comfortable with the Christian elements.

What kind of content would cross that acceptability line in public schools, even in a fantasy story? My guess is that the number one no-no would be an overt come-to-Jesus altar call conversion. Probably frequent Bible quotes would make some administrators sweat. But these are likely issues only in a contemporary setting. Since much fantasy takes place in other worlds, we usually don’t have that problem.

How about some feedback? What else would keep a fantasy story out of public schools, whether contemporary or “other-world”? How concerned should we be about this? Have you heard stories about authors or books not being accepted in a school system because of faith?

This is my last Wednesday entry for a while. I’m going on an insanely busy book tour soon. I would appreciate it if you would consider praying for me.

Bryan Davis
http://www.dragonsinourmidst.com

The Joy Of Creation

One of the things I enjoy most about reading and writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is the sheer joy of creating. Creating the mental images and histories when reading others works, and creating the worlds and characters themselves when writing […]
| Sep 12, 2006 | No comments |

One of the things I enjoy most about reading and writing Science Fiction and Fantasy is the sheer joy of creating. Creating the mental images and histories when reading others works, and creating the worlds and characters themselves when writing my own. Especially early on, when I let myself go and just see what comes.  Usually something that starts with a single image, idea or what if?

Like one story I’m currently working on. It started with the image of a battle weary warrior, a dragon slayer. Slowly over time the character behind that image emerged, his past hard and violent. Eventually my vision widened and I began to see the world around him, bit by bit.  Flashes of more images, some from the past, some from the future in relation to the original character image.

This particular story has been percolating in the background of my mind since high school, put on the back burner while I focused more on my Science Fiction world and the stories in it. But when I completed the manuscript for Starfire, I began filtering through my story ideas for something different that might be more marketable.

This story popped to the surface quickly and suddenly the world was ready to be fleshed out even more. A fantasy but set in a not-quite industrial revolution time period, along the lines of Steampunk, but not quite. And one not set in a European type setting, but more of a North American setting. Foregoing dwarves and elves for new races.

As of yet there was still only the rudimentary idea for a story, one involving a dragon slayer. Yet as the world continued to grow and expand, with the inhabitants and technology in my mind, the story grew with it. Until at last the basic premise blossomed into the full fledged plot.

A dragon slayer, cursed with the memories of a dragon, must seek out a lost chamber where he hopes to find the means to lift the curse. Along the way he gains a troupe of mismatched adventurers, each with an agenda of their own. Together they must face a sinister evil and its nightmare minions, while constantly being hounded by bounty hunters. But the slayer is determined that nothing will stop him from lifting his curse, not even the end of the world.

And once the plot fell into place, that is when the creation really takes off, as with each new scene some new tidbit of information, geography, technology, character, plant, animal or society arises. And each tidbit triggers many more sparks of insight that deepen the world and the people that inhabit it.

That’s what I love about this genre. The freedom to go where the whim takes you. The ability to shape worlds.

Thoughts About Fantasy on 9/11

Part of the Fantasy motif is the struggle between good and evil (for a more detailed discussion, see the good-and-evil portion of A Christian Worldview of Fantasy at A Christian Worldview of Fiction). That evil exists became stamped upon the […]
| Sep 11, 2006 | No comments |

Part of the Fantasy motif is the struggle between good and evil (for a more detailed discussion, see the good-and-evil portion of A Christian Worldview of Fantasy at A Christian Worldview of Fiction). That evil exists became stamped upon the minds of Americans with the images of airplanes smashing into high-rises.

But what was the evil? Osama bin Laden and the Taliban? Muslims of all stripes? American greed and decadence that called down the wrath of Allah? or of God?

I think one of the best definitions I’ve heard for evil came from Beth Goddard:

Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God’s love present in his heart.

I think Scripture bears out this definition: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You” (Psalm 5:4).

And yet, the Bible more often discusses the effects of evil—evil thoughts, actions, lives. Proverbs is particularly clear. The righteous should not hang out with evil men. Or evil women. The wicked will be captured by their own sin. Evil things come out of the mouths of evil people.

What does this have to do with fantasy? Above all other genres, fantasy is designed to define evil the way God does, to show it as He sees it.

I found nowhere in Scripture that God explained evil men or women by delving into their childhood. Instead He talks about the perversity of evil people, their need to perpetuate evil, their evil plans, and words. He also talks about the consequences of their evil, how it trips them up, snares them, entangles them.

Far be it from me as a writer, then, to soften evil for the sake of creating a more “believable” character. Yes, evil characters need proper motivation, but that should be within the realm of their evil intentions.

Their motives should be centered on their desire to promote themselves, satisfy their lusts, reap revenge. These are believable because they are in the heart of Man.

We sinners know what that feels like because we have felt the desire to be first or to be the one in charge. We’ve felt the pull of the flesh, to live for the pleasure of the moment. We have known hatred and the desire to strike back against those who hurt us.

That the evil characters give in to those desires—or perhaps, more accurately, dedicate themselves to those desires—is what sets them apart. They are content to be the rulers of their own lives, in continued rebellion to the One who wants to set us free from the tyranny and ravages of sin.

This is the evil Christian fantasy can show. Is it the evil Christian fantasy MUST show?

Part 2: An Analysis Of Gene Wolfe’s “Bed and Breakfast”: Is It CSF? What Can We Learn?

~This will be longish. I decided not to stretch it to three parts, hence the length. Remember: I’ll be choosing a winner for a free book (Strange Travelers, Gene Wolfe) from the comments relating to last Friday’s or today’s post. […]
| Sep 8, 2006 | No comments |

~This will be longish. I decided not to stretch it to three parts, hence the length. Remember: I’ll be choosing a winner for a free book (Strange Travelers, Gene Wolfe) from the comments relating to last Friday’s or today’s post. My fave wins.

I asked some questions last Friday, and here’s my answer to the first, “How would this story play out if it were written for a CBA book?”

Because there is a fictional tradition within Christendom that includes Dante’s INFERNO and Lewis’ THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, and Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, we could keep the set-up exactly as is without being mavericks: a bureaucratic hell with levels of hellishness, a runaway woman of what we’d categorize of minor evilness, a demon who comes across as a businessman with malicious intent, a narrator caught in a moral bind. Probably the conversations would establish more clearly that the woman never accepted Christ as Savior-Lord and that’s why she’s damned. The man’s spiritual struggle would be played up, and he certainly would not indulge in a sexual barter. No sexualized scene would be thinkable. If one wanted a CBA happy ending, there might be a divine intervention that gave the damned woman a second chance (ie, time reversal?), and the narrator would make a profession of faith, too. The demons would have lost, and God would have won, and the narrator and runaway might be get married. A less happy ending might focus on the salvation of the narrator, yet sadly, the woman’s plight would be hopeless. Her talewould be merely cautionary. But demons would have still lost the narrator, God would have the glory, and the B&B would not be visited again by the narrator (who may or may not go on to enter an anti-Hell ministry).

Answering the next question: A less theistically inclined writer in the ABA might make hell seem a heckuva lot more fun and God a lot less just.

But this is how it actually plays out in this ABA published story:

~~Man and runaway hellizen meet in the B&B’s kitchen, eat, talk, and once the demon presence intrudes, the conversation becomes a three-way one. Information about hell is given, but there is much that is only revealed aslant (part of the brilliance of the use of dialogue). Eventually, before everyone retires, the woman makes a sexual bargain with the narrator. Her in his bed for a night’s protection.

The man has some sort of occultic protective knowledge, so the room is fortified against demonic intrusion. During the sexual encounter (not indulgently described such as in erotica, but discreetly alluded to, mostly in directions or suggestions in dialogue), the man gains some direct and indirect information from the woman about her miserable marriage, her infidelities, and the one man she remembers fondly with whom she had no sex, but almost turned to for rescue. It becomes evident she’s using the narrator, as she’s used men in the past, and the narrator is quite happy to be used, enthralled as he is by this beautiful runaway.

In the morning, he asks the demon—in case this demon is the one who’s been sent to retrieve her—to grant him more time with her, a couple weeks. The demon, Foulweather by name, says he’s not after her. If he were assigned to her, he says, he’d have been with her all along (a sort of hellish guardian angel). In fact, he reveals, the “boys downstairs” would be displeased if he interfered with what is transpiring. He says the narrator can have her forever, and there is a sinister phrasing in the demon’s dialogue hinting at things that trouble the narrator.

The woman leaves with the narrator, and they soon part company. He investigates news archives and finds her identity (maybe). Her name is not Eira (meaning snow). She had killed her husband several decades before and suicided while awaiting trial. The narrator has on the day of his narration received mail from her, with her number and a suggestive note. And he’s wondering if he’s the victim of a trick, or if he’s mad, or if there is some demonic plan at work. The story ends with, “Will I call her? Do I dare?”~~

It’s very difficult to convey the subtleties, because any really good story depends on its form and elements, and can’t be merely described.. It’s told in the way it needs to be told. The dialogue must be paid attention to. The actions. The assumptions. The hints. I can’t summarize those.

I can say that the story would not be accepted in the CBA as is. No one is redeemed. No one overtly repents. Sexual activity is the background of an extended bout of pillow talk. While the demon is evident, the angel who might counter the demon is not.

So, is it CSF?

It does not fit precisely all the guidelines we spoke of in a previous post. This one is straddling a line. Not CBA does not = not CSF, imo. But does this qualify as CSF? I think it does. Let me clarify:

The tone of this story is strongly cautionary about flirting with the things of the devil (figuratively and literally). And it takes for granted judgment for sin. There is a hell, the story says. Don’t be overly fascinated by it and the demons associated with it. If you go too near the fire, you may get burned. The devil will come at you where you’re weak. All your occultic tricks won’t save you if you do not wish to be truly saved at the level understood by Christians. In other words, the way to conquer demonic intrusion is to have the Holy Spirit. In God’s name, demons may be authoritatively defeated or told to flee.

Without being preachy, the story presents Christian ideas. Bible verses are even alluded to: “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” The Dantean phrase about abandoning hope in hell comes up more than once. Allusion to portions of the last book of the Bible, notably the beholding of God’s face in heaven and the eternal praising of Him. The “dead” in sin are alluded to. And the Scriptural characteristic of demons/devils is clearly presented—they are liars and not to be trusted. Ever. This plays an enormous part in the story. Who is to be believed? A demon is not to be trusted, right? They will say things with a twist, to confuse, to corrupt, and to distract.

And the story ends at the point of a key life decision. We suspect, after all those pages, that the narrator has sensed deep in his soul that this is a major juncture. If he pursues Eira (the runaway from Hell), what he is actually committing himself to, most likely, is his own damnation. He is at the crux. Will he choose Hell? (I am not even delving into the other possibilities, such as his being insane, thereby invalidating the narrative.)

For those who require hope, one can say that there is the element of hope in his realizing that he has a choice to make. But is there? His act of chivalry had as much self-interest as anything. He wanted this woman, fell for her, made his bargain, and was willing to turn her over after a couple of weeks of sexual bliss. What does it mean when he says near the end, “Perhaps I may be a man of courage after all, a man who has never truly understood his own character.”

Wolfe leaves you to make your decision. Mine hinges on a very pertinent anecdote the demon tells early on to answer Eira’s questions about why hellbound souls come dutifully to the mouth of hell; why they casually stop off sometimes at the B&B before reporting to their final place; why they don’t run away as far as they can get. An anecdote that ends with, “He felt he belonged there.”

And this is my decision about the story:

He will call her. He will choose Hell. He is a man who, without true necessity, has been visiting (perhaps very often, even several times a month) a B&B near Hell. He’s learned enough magical arts to ward off overt demon intrusion, but he keeps putting himself in harm’s way. He is a man who, suspecting a woman is from Hell, dead and damned, nevertheless finds her increasingly desirable and beds her. A man who is willing to make bargains with demons. His true character is that of a man who is comfortable with Hell. He belongs there.

At no point does he call on God for assistance. And even realizing that this woman may be the one sent for him, the way Wormwood was sent for “the Patient,” he entertains the idea of calling her. Sin hasn’t just crouched at his door, it’s made itself at home on his sofa. I don’t’ think it’s an accident that she has chosen the name Eira (“snow”). That sounds suspiciously like “error”, if I’m pronouncing it right. And she’s part of Hell’s snow job on him. (At least in MY interpretation.)

I would say that this story is just inside the line of CSF by my definition, mostly because it doesn’t minimize the cost of giving into temptation nor flirting with the things of Hell and it shows how easy it is to fall into its trap when one is doing it by one’s power alone. It accepts the dark reality of life: demons, temptation, lust, sin, weakness, and damnation. We choose Hell or Heaven, but we choose.

Elliot H. of Claw of the Conciliator blog (a big Gene Wolfe fan, and one of the Speculative Faith readers who has read the story) had this comment, which I quote here because his points are, I believe, on target:

The demon in Bed & Breakfast seems like a tribute to Lewis’ Wormwood. This isn’t a Romantic demon in heroic rebellion against God – he’s a nasty piece of work. And Hell is very real. I particularly liked the anecdote the demon tells to illustrate why people stay in Hell when they could leave – again, very C.S. Lewis.

The protagonist is not discernably a Christian – he seems more like a magician of some sort, who knows enough to fear Hell and its demons, but who still meddles with them. He think’s he’s able protect himself from direct demonic attacks with his magic, but he’s wide open to a moral attack, through temptation, and that’s the question that haunts him at the story’s end. Is his encounter with the escaped woman all an elaborate scheme to damn him?

So it struck me as a combination of a Screwtape-style story with a realistic portrayal of ordinary humans in a morally questionable situation. One point that I remember is the protagonist’s explanation that men are often just as foolishly romantic as women are said to be, just in a different way, which rang true to me.

I, obviously, agree, with Elliot. Hell knew that the narrator’s weakness was sexual and emotional (he needed to feel wanted, he needed to feel heroic to a woman). It makes us stop and think, “Where is our armor’s chink? Who would Hell send after us to do us in?”

Do you disagree with my conclusions? Agree? How else might this have been revised to fit the CBA audience? What is the chink in your fictional character’s moral armor?

What can we learn as writers?

Let people be less than ideal: The best way to show how weak people are in the face of temptation and sin is to let them fall. If all your characters resist temptation, they are cardboard. Only Jesus was able to resist all temptations. Every other human being screwed up—sexually or otherwise.

Let some characters be ambiguous and non-transparent: A character who cannot be trusted in what they say is interesting. It means you have to keep looking for clues to truth. In real life, we’ve all known folks who lie with regularity, who bend stories to their purpose, who justify themselves with fibs, who alter their life histories. Your liar doesn’t have to be utterly evil, just like the liars we know may have many virtues in other areas. But interesting things can happen if a plot point hinges on an untrustworthy character.

Use allusions: The references to the Bible and Dante are part of a conversation where they feel right. They don’t feel out of place or plopped in to make a moral point. They feel appropriate to the people and situation.

Make the most of dialogue: Don’t always be obvious or overexplain. Weave some confusion and mystery into some dialogue encounters. I would assign this story to anyone trying to learn how to improve their own fictional dialogue. So much goes on. Words are not wasted. Subtext adds interest and engages the reader. What is said, how it is said, reveals character.

Next Week: First part of the examination of “Hell is the Absence of God” by Ted Chiang. Please read it before we start. It’s downloadable online for a modest fee at http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/Ebook4145.htm
Excerpt: This is the story of a man named Neil Fisk, and how he came to love God. The pivotal event in Neil’s life was an occurrence both terrible and ordinary: the death of his wife Sarah. Neil was consumed with grief after she died, a grief that was excruciating not only because of its intrinsic magnitude, but because it also renewed and emphasized the previous pains of his life. Her death forced him to reexamine his relationship with God, and in doing so he began a journey that would change him forever.

EDITED TO ADD THIS: I had a really tough time picking between three posts I liked. Ultimately, I have to pick Matt M’s Sunday (long) post because it brought up some things that hadn’t occurred to me, and that got me rethinking. So, Matt, it sounds like you may already have Strange Travelers. If you don’t, then it’s ours. Email me at Mirathon atsy AOL dotsy com with your snail mail info. If you already have it, then YOU get to pick your favorite comment and that will be the book winner. Just post here, in either case. THANKS ALL for participating. Come back for the Chiang discussion.

Something Else To Learn From The Secular, Part 1

Yes, I’m unashamedly riffing off of Becky’s Most Excellent Title of a few weeks ago. (AND borrowing a Mir phrase. I’m so unoriginal … but hey, there’s nothing new under the sun.) The discussion du jour on one of my […]
| Sep 7, 2006 | No comments |

Yes, I’m unashamedly riffing off of Becky’s Most Excellent Title of a few weeks ago. (AND borrowing a Mir phrase. I’m so unoriginal … but hey, there’s nothing new under the sun.)

The discussion du jour on one of my Christian SF/F fanlists is what we consider “must-reads” on the Christian side of the genre. The point was made that what goes for good writing for secular side goes for Christians, too, and so the list of must-reads was expanded to include more than what’s been put out by the CBA.

To longtime fans of the genre, I’m sure this seems a no-brainer. Christian fans of SF/F are often quite a different lot from the average “Christian reader,” though.

I do not intend that as an insult to either side. I’ve been on both sides myself—first a teenager who dived heedlessly into whatever tickled my fancy, then gradually becoming aware that I didn’t like how I felt inside after reading certain stories. Eventually, I nearly stopped reading fiction altogether because the need of my life was not being met by anything I read at the time. When I made my foray back into fiction, it was cautiously, because I was still very sensitive spiritually, and I chose mostly Christian fiction to read because of the content of much secular work. But by that time, I’d learned enough to realize that some people really do have more tolerance for “unwanted” elements. I’m one of those impressionable types who, if I read too much profanity, I find that it starts permeating my thinking, and then my speech. My husband, on the other hand, despite years in the military and a varied diet of both secular and Christian authors, does not have my propensity to salty language—even when he’s furious.

So, I shouldn’t have found it surprising, when I made my foray into the Christian fen community (their collective term for SF/F fans), that so many people were more fond of “secular” SF/F, and less of the “Christian” variety. But I did. Even more surprising, though, was to find that many contemporary authors being published on the secular side are believers, and that their stories are thus infused with solid moral if not openly Christian themes. Where were these people when I was originally into the genre?

I’ve done a lot of thinking, though, about why longtime fans of the genre aren’t fond of CBA SF/F. I’ve come to the conclusion that there will always be some who, for various reasons, use how “clean” a work is as their first criteria for what they read. Some of these would argue that all Christians should hold this as their primary criteria. But I have come to see the value of looking for the redemptive in pieces that some might not choose to read (or view, in the case of film), because of certain content.

So where do we draw the line between secular fiction that may contain objectionable material, but is still good fiction, and the stuff that is truly trash? I’m afraid that answer is going to be different for everyone. Sounds like a cop-out, perhaps, but there is Scriptural evidence that God will send some of His people where He forbids others to go.

And there is plenty of Scriptural precedent for taking things of the world—even works of art dedicated to idolatry—and using it to convince people of God’s truth. More on that next time.

Why Fantasy? – Part 3

Sometimes I feel like the most blessed person on earth. Every single day I get messages, either through e-mail or postal mail, telling me how my books have affected someone’s life for the better. When I first began writing Christian-based […]
| Sep 6, 2006 | No comments |

Sometimes I feel like the most blessed person on earth. Every single day I get messages, either through e-mail or postal mail, telling me how my books have affected someone’s life for the better. When I first began writing Christian-based fantasy, I hoped the stories would help some readers, but I had no idea that the response would be so huge.

I put together a page of some of the responses to give you an idea of their content. Here’s the link: Click Here

These are just a few, and although I haven’t counted, I think the number of responses I’ve received is now over two thousand—from simple rebuilding of faith to prevention of suicide. And when I think that each message probably represents many, many more, I am overwhelmed with blessed satisfaction.

Why does Christian fantasy affect readers so profoundly? I don’t know for sure, but I have an idea.

I believe fantasy allows us to write about characters we would all like to be. It displays heroes who are powerful, courageous, and holy. The overwhelming favorite character in my series is a teenager named Bonnie Silver. She is faithful, brave, and loyal—my ideal girl. She has fears and doubts, but she conquers them with an amazing faith.

Some have called her “unrealistic,” but my readers (and I) beg to differ. They believe they can be like her. One girl embroidered “Bonnie Silver” on her cap. She told me that every time she puts it on, it reminds her to have faith like Bonnie’s. Another girl and her friend memorized a prayer Bonnie says, a two-and-a-half page prayer, and they pray it together before school, putting the names of their unsaved friends in the prayer.

The fantasy hero, usually an unlikely hero, is someone we can identify with. Most of us long to do something great, to step beyond the mundane and make a real difference. When we see a fantasy character achieving that kind of great feat, our hearts are right with him. The unbelievable, at least for a moment, becomes believable, and our hearts leap.

I think God programs that desire into us. He wants us to step beyond the normal and walk into the realm of what seems impossible. As we walk in that realm with Him, He shows us how to achieve something great for His kingdom. What seemed fantastic and beyond our reach, comes into view and into our grasp, and we really can complete that fantasy journey.

So, I believe Christian fantasy, unlike any other genre, opens the door of faith to allow us to believe the impossible. It shows us that the spiritual world is real, and we can be those unlikely heroes who complete awesome adventures. We really can be strong, brave, and holy.

As each new message comes into my mailbox, I realize that my own awesome adventure, my dream of how writing can change lives, is coming true, and in a way that is far beyond anything I hoped for.

Bryan Davis
http://www.dragonsinourmdist.com

Interview With Jeff Gerke

I’m pleased to be able to present this interview with freelance editor, Jeff Gerke. Jeff has been influential in forwarding the cause of Christian speculative fiction within the Christian fiction market. He is continuing the championing of the speculative genres […]
| Sep 5, 2006 | No comments |

I’m pleased to be able to present this interview with freelance editor, Jeff Gerke. Jeff has been influential in forwarding the cause of Christian speculative fiction within the Christian fiction market. He is continuing the championing of the speculative genres with his new site www.wherethemapends.com.  But I’ll let him tell you more about that. So without further ado, let the interview begin.

1. If you were an alien or fantasy being, what kind would you be, and why?

Awesome first question. Totally gets me into the mood of the interview. I thought about saying I’d be some kind of non-human character, but whenever I dream about living in fantasy worlds I’m always a human paladin. In the epic fantasy novel I’m currently working on the hero is a Luke Skywalker-type young man from the backwoods who dreams of becoming a paladin—and gets his wish. Paladins are warriors, hardened from training and discipline. But they’re also holy men, men of prayer. The idea of the holy warrior is very appealing to me as a writer and a person.

2. What Christian speculative fiction work is your favorite or has most influenced you?

Definitely Lord of the Rings. Boring and predictable, I know, but what can I say? I discovered LOTR in college and couldn’t read them fast enough. I thought, if fiction can do that, I want to figure out how to do fiction.

3. What secular speculative fiction work is your favorite or has most influenced you?

Do movies count? If so, I’ll have to say the original Star Wars (Episode IV). I encountered that when I was 12. It impacted me on a tremendously deep level, as if George Lucas had figured out how to plug his movie straight into my cerebral cortex. Note that Luke was also a holy warrior.

The cool thing about both Star Wars and LOTR (and several other fantasies) is that they’re both “hero’s journey” stories. I’m referring to Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth,” the story of stories he encountered in every civilization throughout history. I see this story as man’s story, and as such, as part of the fingerprint of God in every human soul. There’s a reason this story—of a young person dreaming for adventure and finally cast into it, of learning the spiritual truths of the world, of encountering the evil one, and of returning home with wisdom—resonates with all of us. I think God’s hand is involved in that.

The epic fantasy I’m working on is a hero’s journey story.

4. What is your vision for Christian speculative fiction?

Part of my vision is what I’m doing over at WhereTheMapEnds.com. I long for a place—similar to ritersbloc [Ed. Speculative Faith]—where those of us who love Christian speculative fiction can come together and celebrate the wonder of the kind of fiction we love.

From my perspective from both sides of the author/editor scenario in Christian publishing—both as a published novelist and as a fiction editor—is that Christian speculative fiction has made some progress since This Present Darkness, but not much. There are more titles in these genres than we realize (the booklist I have at WhereTheMapEnds.com features over 250 Christian speculative novels), but still there is not much, all things considered.

My desire is for Christian speculative fiction to not have to justify its existence anymore, that it can stand unashamedly next to romances and chick-lits, that no one raises an eyebrow if there’s a dragon or spaceship on the front cover of a Christian novel.

Through WhereTheMapEnds.com I have a dream of becoming a small print-on-demand publisher producing original novels in this genre. If the site goes well and begins generating some income, I may be able to do that sooner rather than later. By offering original Christian speculative fiction directly to the people who want it, we bypass whatever roadblocks there may be in the current CBA system.

5. Print on demand books have a real stigma in many circles, being seen as not a valid avenue of publishing, or of being of an equal quality with books from more traditional publishers. Do you have a plan on how to overcome that stigma? Or is that something you see as slipping into the past?

I understand that question and the stigma. I think the quality issue is a thing of the past, though. The samples I’ve received from LightingSource have been high quality. They look like they came from a standard publisher. The cover design for Marcher Lord Press books would be done by the same guys who are doing the covers for all the major CBA publishers, so no quality drop there. The editing, copyediting, and typesetting, too, will be done by professionals in the industry, people doing the same work for CBA publishers today. No quality drop there, either. And, of course, the writing will be great.

I can see how an author, especially one just getting started, might not want to publish with a POD outfit because the unit sales are not typically as high as with standard CBA publishers. Such an author might not want to have such low-selling titles on his or her résumé. I completely understand that stance. However, once you’ve been around that block a few times, as I have, you may find that those things aren’t as important to you as they once were. You realize that you know enough people and have enough connections that you could probably get published somewhere with just about anything you’d like to write.

So then you start thinking about what you want to write. You start getting back to the stories burning in your heart that have not been welcomed by the major publishers. You start yearning for a way to get the goods straight to the people who want them. You start writing something because it’s what you want to write, or feel led to write, not what will necessarily please the masses.

Don’t hear me saying that every author ought to “see the light” and begin POD publishing. No. Most CBA novelists are right where they need to be. But a few of us have reached a point where we want to get the speculative stories we want to write to the people who can appreciate them. Even if that means taking a lower advance. Even if the sales numbers won’t equal what we’d get with other stories at traditional publishers.

Who knows, maybe if we do this for a while the rest of the industry will see that this kind of fiction is a safe bet and will be willing to open the door even wider to speculative fiction. Then everybody wins.

6. What are some common mistakes you’ve seen in aspiring speculative fiction writers?

Good question. There’s really no difference between the mistakes aspiring speculative fiction writers make vs. the mistakes aspiring novelists in any genre make. The first is simply not taking the time to learn the craft of fiction. You may have the coolest Zubonian Rhymbots ever seen by man or beast, but if you haven’t mastered POV and show vs. tell and character and pacing and the rest, your wonderful world will never see the light of publishing day. Get a copy of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King and master its every technique.

There may actually be one fiction gaffe that afflicts speculative novelists more than other novelists, and that’s the danger of falling in love with the made-up world to the point of having no story or characters. Usually a beginning novelist is much better at either plot or characters. Both have to be good or the novel doesn’t work. But with speculative fiction there’s a third pitfall: being good at creating the world but not being good at plot and characters as well.

We can become so interested in our world and its history and government systems and legends, etc., that we forget (or never knew how in the first place) to make a great story with interesting characters in that great world. It’s possible, as with Tolkien, to make the land a character in the book. But it can’t be the only character.

7. Should Christians really be exploring the various genres of speculative fiction and would you consider anything to be off limits?

Absolutely we should be exploring them. We ought to own these genres. Who knows good vs. evil better than Christians? Who understands demonic enemies better than Christians? Who understands archangels and paragons of good, who understands the fantastic invading the mundane, who understands accessing extradimensional power better than Christians? Secular SFF is full of spiritual and supernatural elements these days. That’s our territory and it’s time we took it back.

As far as off-limits, I think we should stay away from anything that stirs up the flesh. I think we could be telling vampire tales, for instance, but we shouldn’t be taking the sensual, even erotic, route that secular vampire stories take. We could be doing Goth and horror (though I prefer the term “chiller”) and the rest, I suppose, though we need to be sure we’re not providing the godless elements that the secular counterparts provide. Horror for the purpose of giving Christians the creeps…? I don’t know. I’d best withhold judgment. If God is leading someone to write in a certain genre, I wouldn’t want to be speaking against that. We just need to be sure we’re not sowing to the flesh when we do it (Galatians 6:8).

8. What is WheretheMapEnds.com?

Glad you asked! There are many wonderful sites out there, like ritersbloc, that offer a great place to go and congregate for people who love Christian speculative fiction. However, I thought that because of my background I could provide one that was slightly different. The emphasis at WhereTheMapEnds.com is a little more geared toward those who wish to write and publish in these genres.

Of course I offer a lot to those who love to simply read in the genres: a giant booklist of Christian speculative fiction, interviews with the pillars in the industry (my first interview is with Frank Peretti; Jerry Jenkins is next, followed by Ted Dekker), and even original short fiction by some of these authors. But I also offer a ton of information, resources, and utilities for those who are all about creating their own speculative stories: articles on writing, idea starters, world builders, and information on the current state of the Christian publishing industry.

If I’m known for anything in the Christian publishing industry it’s for liking this kind of fiction. I’m the editor who likes “the weird stuff.” (I love it.) So it made sense for me to create a site that pulled all of this together.
Through the site I’ll also be offering my services as a book doctor, editor, and even writer or co-writer.
I hope WhereTheMapEnds.com will be a helpful addition to the great sites that are already out there for people who like this kind of fiction. I hope to provide an element that might be missing from the aggregate.

Future plans for the site include contests, live chats, forums, collaborative fiction projects, and even the publication of original speculative novels.

9. What inspired you to start the site?

Partially because I wanted to create a place for these people to come together. It’s a genre I love. It’s a group of people I love. Because I know so many of the authors writing in these genres and because I’m kind of known for liking this fiction, it was a natural for me to do a site like this.

I also wanted to do it for myself. I love wading in these waters. I was amazed and personally helped when I saw that the booklist I generated (which I hope will instantly become the premier such list on the Web) had so many titles. I looked around at other lists online and saw some that had 20 or even 40 titles, so imagine my surprise when mine had 250 and could’ve had more! That was cool.

I think it would also be cool if the site generated a large readership that would then be interested in original Christian speculative novels when I was able to produce them. Instead of me having to go out and find the people who might be interested in these novels, those people would’ve already found me and I could just say, “Oh, by the way, we now offer these new novels. Might you be interested?”

It’s all part of my master plan, you see. Everything is proceeding according to my ultimate design…

10. Can you tell us a bit about your own journey of writing and editing speculative fiction?

My first-ever novel was a fantasy about a guy who had the gifts of a warrior but who was bound by his faith’s restrictions against taking human life. I was very interested in that dilemma. Still am, actually—my 4th, 5th, and 6th published novels are about a modern-day warrior who has strong feelings against killing. Anyway, that first novel was pretty awful and will never be published, but oh the joy of creating and living in an alternate world. I was completely hooked.

My first published novels were only a little less speculative: they were near-future SF stories involving virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering. The idea of virtual worlds, and virtual life, was and is very interesting to me.

The novel I’m working on now (which can be sampled at www.jeffersonscott.com/swordmakers_charm.htm) is an epic fantasy. It is the novel of my life, my magnum opus. No pressure, right? I’ve been working on the world, the plot, and the characters for over 4 years now. Ahhhh…

As far as editing, the first speculative novel I ever edited was Nancy Moser’s Time Lottery, an awesome story about people who get to go back in time to a crucial point in their own lives and decide whether or not to take a different path this time around. That novel won a Christy Award in the Visionary category.

When I was on staff at Strang Communications I had the honor of conceiving, designing, crafting, and launching Realms, an imprint dedicated to Christian speculative fiction. The first imprint of its kind in the CBA. We launched with an epic fantasy, a time travel novel, a SF, and a spiritual warfare novel. I acquired and edited all of those. Amazing fun.

When I moved to NavPress to direct their fiction line I was always looking to bring in more speculative fiction. I acquired a fantasy trilogy by Sharon Hinck, aided the development of Austin Boyd’s SF trilogy about manned voyages to Mars, and acquired a novel that was essentially a book-long conversation between the reader and a demon.

If I could do nothing but help Christian speculative novelists do their thing, I would be perfectly happy. So long as I could do my own writing, too.

In a way, that’s what I’m hoping to do now that I’m a freelancer. Through WhereTheMapEnds.com I hope to work with individuals—like your readers—who long to be published with their fiction but who need a little experienced help. That’s what I’m there for! Now if I could just figure out how to move my own novels forward, too…

11. Are you currently working on any new writing projects?

Just the epic fantasy referenced above. Ahhh… (www.jeffersonscott.com/swordmakers_charm.htm)

12. Which of your published works are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all six of my novels. The ones that get the least recognition become my favorites, just because they’re my babies, too, and I want them to have a fair shot. I’ve done two trilogies, both of which I love. The first books are near-future technothrillers. The second books are Christian military thrillers with enough high-tech gadgetry to please the staunchest spec fiction fan. Check ’em all out at www.jeffersonscott.com.

13. Which of your unpublished works excites you the most?

Definitely my epic fantasy. I’ve written around 85,000 words of that thing—just in my notes!

14. Any thoughts on how to build grassroots support for the Christian speculative fiction market?

Things like what you’re doing here and what I’m doing at WhereTheMapEnds.com have to be at the top of the list. Blog tours are good, too.

Then if we can just generate a little niche publishing operation, as well, we wouldn’t even need the existing system of Christian publishers and Christian bookstores. Not that those things aren’t important or should go away. Not at all. It’s just that I’d be happy to let them keep doing their thing and serving their demographic so long as we in our demographic can happily do our thing, too.

15. You’ve recently become a freelance editor. Do you have a price list for services yet? How should people contact you for more information?

I’m a full-service editorial provider. [grin] Whatever you need—anything from reviewing a proposal for you before you take it to a writer’s conference, to providing book doctoring services, to performing full edits—I know I can find a way to accommodate you. For current rates, just send a blank e-mail message to rates@wherethemapends.com. That will generate an automatic message with my services and rates. For direct contact with me, folks can write me at editorial_services@wherethemapends.com.

16. How can we pray for you during this time of transition in your life?

Thank you for asking. Pray that through my various editorial and writing endeavors I can generate a solid and steady income that will be sufficient to support my family for the long haul. Freelancing is perfect for my temperament—but it has to work financially or I have to give it up and get a real job. Pray also that God will make a way for me to write and publish my own fiction, as well. When I’m not writing, a part of me suffers.
Thank you for the prayers and for having me as a guest of your awesome site!

The Hero’s Journey—Just A Thought, Just A Question

First a bit of news. There are some exciting things happening with Christian fantasy and science fiction, including the rapid development of the CSFF Blog Tour. Thanks to one of our participants, the organization has a web site, a place […]

First a bit of news. There are some exciting things happening with Christian fantasy and science fiction, including the rapid development of the CSFF Blog Tour. Thanks to one of our participants, the organization has a web site, a place to inform readers where the tour will be headed and who all is involved. If you’re interested, check out the CSFF Tour page.

Also, tomorrow Donita Paul will be doing a live chat with the ACFW book club which has spent the last week discussing her latest release, DragonKnight. Here is the announcement from the Book Club Coordinator:

The ACFW Book Club will be chatting with Donita K. Paul, www.donitakpaul.com, Tuesday night, September 5, at 7:00 PM CT. Everyone is welcome, so feel free to forward this email to anyone who would be interested in attending. We have just finished reading Donita’s book, DragonKnight. Our discussion will include, but is not limited to, this book. Please drop by and make Donita feel welcome! 8 PM ET 7 PM CT 6 PM MT 5 PM PT

Here is the link to the ***NEW*** ACFW chat room: www.acfw.com/fchat

You do NOT have to register. Just type in a username and login.

– – –

Maybe in part because of a question to Donita about one of her characters, Paladin, who appears to be a Christ figure, I’ve been thinking about what part God should play in our fantasy.

Some Christian authors take the tack of showing God by creating a fantasy religion that mirrors Christianity. Others show Him by creating a type of Christ who enters into the story. Still others only allude to Him while showing His followers engaged in activity to combat His enemy.

It strikes me that in these various methods of “dealing with God” in our stories, we may unintentionally be lessening His impact. Rarely is God the hero of the story.

Instead, in the words of Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey, drawn from the mythic studies of Joseph Campbell, God is reduced to the status of mentor, a wise old man or woman:

[The Mentor] stands for the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, god and man.

It seems to me, then, that the protagonist as hero is a subtle way of supplanting God’s powerful, daily presence that makes all things possible. Vogler again:

It seems obvious that the hero should be the one to act in this climactic moment. But many writers make the mistake of having the hero rescued from death by a timely intervention from an Ally – the equivalent of the cavalry coming to save the day. Heroes can get surprise assistance, but it’s best for the hero to be the one to perform the decisive action; to deliver the death blow to fear or the Shadow; to be active rather than passive, at this [the climax] of all times.

My question. If the protagonist is the hero and he is to render the deathblow, what role does that leave for God?

OK, I have another question. Shouldn’t we as Christian authors, because of the conviction of our worldview, write in a way that sets us apart from the mythic form of the rest of society?

Part One: An Analysis Of Gene Wolfe’s “Bed and Breakfast”: Is It CSF? What Can We Learn?

Note: AT THE BOTTOM of this post, you’ll learn how to win a copy of the collection in which this story may be found. This story stars with one of my favorite “first lines” of all time:  I know an old couple who […]
| Sep 1, 2006 | No comments |

Note: AT THE BOTTOM of this post, you’ll learn how to win a copy of the collection in which this story may be found.

This story stars with one of my favorite “first lines” of all time: 

I know an old couple who live near Hell.

I don’t know how anyone can resist reading on. I certainly could not. What follows is a complex interaction of dialogue and narrative and characterization and situation that leaves us wondering what is truly going on. And that’s a good thing for a reader. And that’s a worthy thing to study for a writer.

Quick Synopsis: A man who regularly visits a rather extraordinarily situated B&B meets a woman who may not be what she says, a demon who may not be who he seems, and finds that the events of a single night may be the crux of his own salvation or damnation. Is he falling in love with a runaway from Hell? Is the demon out to bring her back? Is there a complex devilish (literally) plot to snare his soul? Has he gone mad and none of what’s going on is what he thinks it is?

Structure: This is a first person short story (28 pages) that is the narrator telling an event of his own life from a week prior. Dialogue is of crucial importance, as is the introspection of the narrator. The ending leaves many questions in the air.

Characters: If we take the narrator as reliable—he states himself that he only lies when forced to, and we must decide if he has reason to lie—then the characters are 1. a living human man, 2. a demon, and 3. a dead female runaway from Hell. Secondary character:  the B&B proprietor. No Christians are identified in this tale.

I’m doing this analysis in two parts, because this tale quite longer story than the previous Wolfe story, and longer than the Yolen and the Willis, too.

IS IT CSF?

This is a fantasy story that presumes Hell is real (ergo Heaven is, also), and that angels and demons are also real. In this world, demons are powerful and ruthless and do harm, much harm, to mortals. And they cannot be trusted. This fits well with the Scriptural teachings.

Because it is fantasy, the Hell is the Hell we are familiar with not from the Bible but from works such as Dante and onwards; which is to say, not precisely subtle or populated only by the souls of the lost.  This Hell has demons and devils in a business hierarchy that has its headquarters down below.  Dante is mentioned more than once in the story, so we are to assume that Wolfe is paying homage to the poet’s imagery.

The heart of the story is about Hell—though we never see it—and those bound there. In that the first line is more than a “hook.” It’s utterly brilliant. “I know and old couple who live near Hell.” It’s so mundanely written. They could as easily live near Mount Vernon or The Metropolitan Museum of Art or Niagara Falls. And that is an important point. This is the mundane reality. We all live near Hell. We are all living in proximity to our doom—unless we make the choice otherwise, the conscious choice not to live near Hell, but to live for Heaven.

I’m so jealous I didn’t come up with that line. Sigh.

This is a totally Christian idea: We choose Hell, just as clearly as we can choose Heaven. God is there, inviting the world to choose, from the beginning of human life: choose where you’ll live. Be careful the choices you make, they have consequences.

And this is a story about choices. The runaway’s, the demon’s, the bosses of Hell, and, most importantly, the narrator’s.
I hope I’ve piqued your interest, because now we get to the part where you think and we discuss—

Assignment: Knowing the set-up of this story—a runaway woman from hell drops by as a beggar for a night’s meal and shelter at a Bed & Breakfast, where she meets the narrator, a man who is regularly drawn to this strange place near Hell, and where a demons casually register as guests on their way to and from “business”. The woman seeks the narrator’s aid and protection for the night. The narrator is attracted to the woman—as he is attracted to Hell, itself, surely—and agrees to help. He has  “guards” against demonic influence. But does he?

What will happen next? What will the woman say? What will the demon? What will the narrator?  How do you see this story playing out if it were written for the CBA? How do you think it works out as an ABA story?

Once you comment on where you think it could go, should go, must go, then we’ll discuss where it does go. And then I’ll tell you if this is CSF, and what we can learn as writers (and readers) from this excellent story.  I’ll also post comments from Wolfephile, Elliot H. of Claw of the Conciliator blog.

BOOK GIVEAWAY BLESSING: Because I love this story, I’ll be giving away a free copy of STRANGE TRAVELERS—the collection of Wolfe stories that carries this work—to whomever posts the comment I most enjoy during this two-part analysis. It’s totally subjective and up to me. No names from a hat. And I will not play favorites. If my favorite comment in answer to some of the above questions or next week’s discussion comes from a total stranger, said stranger gets the book.  Also, this is voluntary. If you don’t want the book, I won’t foist it upon the winner. I give you….a choice. Winner will be chosen next weekend. Note that I will need your name and snail mail to send the book if you CHOOSE to accept the prize.

If you need incentive to join the verbal fray for the collection, here is some info from Wikipedia that those of us who have read in SF for years and years already had heard many times:

Although not a best-selling author, Wolfe is highly regarded by critics and fellow writers, and considered by many to be one of the best living science fiction authors. Indeed, he has sometimes been called the best living American writer regardless of genre. Award-winning science fiction author Michael Swanwick has said: “Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today. Let me repeat that: Gene Wolfe is the greatest writer in the English language alive today! I mean it. Shakespeare was a better stylist, Melville was more important to American letters, and Charles Dickens had a defter hand at creating characters. But among living writers, there is nobody who can even approach Gene Wolfe for brilliance of prose, clarity of thought, and depth in meaning.”.

Among others, writers Neil Gaiman and Patrick O’Leary have credited Wolfe for inspiration. O’Leary has said: “Forget ‘Speculative Fiction’. Gene Wolfe is the best writer alive. Period.

If that doesn’t make you want the book, well, I’m aghast and befuddled. 😯

Til next week, my dears.

The Unbeliever

The Unbeliever Finally, I’m back! Many thanks to Shannon for picking up the slack. Stealing  from Stuart’s title, I’ve gotta warning of my own. I have nothing deep and meaningful to say. There is enough intellectual blogging on Spec Faith […]
| Aug 31, 2006 | No comments |

The Unbeliever

Finally, I’m back! Many thanks to Shannon for picking up the slack. Stealing  from Stuart’s title, I’ve gotta warning of my own. I have nothing deep and meaningful to say. There is enough intellectual blogging on Spec Faith to make up for me.

It just so happens that the week I’m able to return to Spec Faith is also my week at Favorite Pastimes. That means I’m not getting much of anything done in the way of preparing for the upcoming ACFW conference or writing my novel. While I’m writing this post, the family is watching Sleepy Hollow. Have you ever seen that? It creeps me out. (Do people still say that?)

Okay, on to something you’re interested in. Maybe. Someone posted a question on one of the many loops I browse that caught my attention. The question pertained to The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever—does anyone still read those? I’m not sure if it was worded exactly that way. Hey, was that you, Mir?

On my first and only post for Spec Faith, I mentioned an editor writing out a list of books for me to read of secular fantasy. One of the books, or I should say six of those books, was/were the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. From now on, I’ll refer to it as Covenant. I’m on book number five now, one to go. It’s really titled the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant Book Two, but it’s actually book five. Okay, starting from THIS point, I’ll refer to it as Covenant.

As a “newby” to the secular fantasy market there are things that I questioned from the beginning about these books. First, the editor told me that he waited until all six books were out, then he read them one after the other. Immediately that brings to mind the question of how did he know there would be six books. Does anyone know the history here? Did Stephen Donaldson sign a six-book contract with the publisher? Really, I want to know.

Second, I’m always one to look for spiritual meaning in EVERTHING and sometimes this may be a problem because perhaps the author never intended there to be any meaning whatsoever—especially one on a spiritual plane. Nevertheless, I look for meaning. Of course the title itself contains a wealth of meaning for one reading from a Christian worldview. The stories contain mention of the creator and how the despiser came to be in control of “the land.” Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Yet I’ve been told that Stephen Donaldson is NOT a Christian. His father was a missionary to India, a doctor caring for the lepers. I’m left to ponder the author’s intensions and abundant symbolism within his novels. This is a conundrum, to be sure, because my thinking is that a blog post should be informative, yet I’ve provided you with nothing but questions. Still, these are questions that I’d love to hear answered if anyone has a clue. And I’d love to discuss further your take on these novels.

Blessings!
Beth.