Don’t worry. I’m not trying to go all Matrix on you, and I’m certainly not pitching a new spec fiction concept. I’m just trying to understand why I behave the way I do – and why groups behave the way they do.
Sometimes when I’m writing or speaking to a predominantly Christian crowd (like right now for example), I find myself self-editing. Questions keep popping into my head:
• What would they think of me if they knew I thought thus ‘n’ such?
• Am I allowed to say thus ‘n’ such?
• If I admitted thus ‘n’ such, how would it impact my book sales?
In my experience the more judgmental the crowd and the more power it has to impact my life, the harder it is for me to see the world objectively. The more time I spend surrounded by the same crowd, the more my reality tends to get skewed.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In many ways it’s a good thing. It may be a useful survival instinct (actually the word ‘adaptation’ came to my mind, but of course my survival instinct kicked in immediately and edited it out). In general we tend to adapt to our peer group by avoiding behavior that causes us pain. It’s only natural – er … you know what I mean.
But what if the crowd is wrong?
If everybody in the crowd self-edits to be accepted by the rest of the crowd, then the views of the crowd will tend to drift away from reality. Why? Because the censure of the crowd has more immediate impact than straying from reality. The longer the crowd stays together and the more it isolates itself from the rest of society, the further it will drift. Which suggests that crowds are often wrong – especially in areas where they’re defensive.
The more judgmental the crowd, the faster it will drift away from reality, because the consequences of disagreeing will be more severe. On the other hand, the more loving and accepting the crowd, the less it’s likely to drift. Love and truth, it seems, go hand in hand.
So what does this have to do with Christian speculative fiction?
Probably nothing at all. I’ve been drifting away from reality for a long time. But I can’t help thinking it should impact our writing. Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to over the last several months:
1. We need to start writing speculative fiction that’s actually speculative. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of editing myself. I don’t care whether my books get published or not, but if my work isn’t centered on cold hard truth, if it isn’t questioning the status quo and ripping down every artifice of my heart, then I’m doing more harm than good. If the Emperor is naked, I need to call him naked to his face. If I don’t do it, then I’m only contributing to the delusion.
2. We need to stop worrying what people think. Readers, publishers, book store owners … The more we care what they think, the less we’ll be able to tell the truth. If we want to be effective writers, we can’t afford to give “the crowd” power over us. If we give it too much power, we’ll lose more than our ability to tell the truth. We’ll lose our ability to see the truth.
3. We need to re-imagine the Christian speculative fiction market. I’ve seen the emperor, and his tighty-whities are wearing thin. We have to admit to ourselves that we’re not a part of the “Christian market.” Traditional marketing methods aren’t going to work for us, because we’re anything but traditional. We’re not normal, and we don’t like reading about normal. So why should we expect normal marketing methods to work for us?
Allow me to speculate on the germ of an idea … What if we were to create a completely new market that does publishing in a totally different way? Marcher Lord Press is a good start, but what if we also worked together to create a giant online organization to build our market and promote the fiction we love? We could create our own retail outlets, automated marketing centers, crowd-sourced ratings systems and author co-ops. And the internet lets us automate almost all of it. This may sound like science fiction, but it’s not. Randy [Ingermanson] and I have the technology. I’ve been working on it for years. But I’m not a blogger or a community builder or loop reader. I like building technology, and I like reading good speculative fiction, but we need a lot more than that. We need a good leader and some administrators and bloggers and team builders and organizers and lots and lots of writers.
Anybody out there interested? How about a show of hands? It’s just a matter of organizing and working together to create a new world. And isn’t that what we’re supposed to be all about?
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John Olson is author or co-author of a number of novels, including the award winning science fiction Oxygen. He also is a popular writers’ conference speaker, specializing in teaching the elements of speculative fiction.