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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?

E. Stephen Burnett explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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