Lately his name has been in the news; you would recognize it, as a popular Christian leader. Once I pitched him on my novel project, and I don’t even want to recall my age then.
It was 1990-something. (Please, God, let it have been then, and not later than 2000.) I had learned this leader was speaking at a local church. I must have just finished a recent re-editing, and I felt more prepared than ever. Unlike all those Other Times that failed, This Was It. I had the most well-written, original, ground-breaking, God-blessed manuscript yet.
Did I include the entire manuscript in that manila folder? I doubt it; the folder couldn’t have held that much. Lord, I hope I didn’t needlessly slaughter that many of Your good trees.
I arrived early and made sure to sit behind this leader. Then I engaged in conversation. Gave a quick pitch. I tried not to imply what I had already begun to suspect: that my novel’s themes would be such a help the ministry’s cause.
And he listened — before not rudely, but briskly, tossing the package to a ministry aide.
Not only recently have I concluded what I should have known before. That was a long shot, and within hours of it I determined why it fall short. First, a Christian ministry is not in the fiction-publishing business. Second, I cannot imagine what kinds of quacks, weirdoes, gadflies, and slobbering faith-based fanboys (all those other people, you see) that Christian leaders encounter. You’re so cool, you helped my faith, would you let me help you because I know X issue that you’d teach about more effectively if you only listened to me, please, please?
Third, it’s not only the soaring experience of a speculative story, or the promotion of such stories, that evil human hearts can hijack and steer toward idolatry. One may neglect the destination to which great stories should fly, and focused only on the craft of writing.
Idol identified: ambitions to write the next Great Speculative Novel
Not long ago, a few other Speculative Faith writers and I began to wake up and realize something. I do not know who awakened first, to poke the other one. Nor did we have some deep brainstorming session, followed by note-taking and mission ratification. Instead this simply arrived: the fact that it’s very difficult to encourage mainly enjoying speculative stories “Christianly.” Rather, temptation presses us to recite mainly Writing Tips and Tricks: Here’s what publisher X is doing. Here’s what may be changing. Here’s a new agent who is open to these stories. Active voice, passive voice, point of view, proposals, queries.
All this may ultimately encourage one thing: Self. With all this, Self has greater opportunity to become, not the author of the next great American novel, but the author of the next great Chronicles of Zimb’warl’déem novels. So move over, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Katniss Everdeen, and whoever was in those awful atheistic books with the talking polar bear!
Are your defenses on red alert? Mine too.
After all, earlier today I felt this impulse again, thanks to some news about one mainstream publisher that has chosen to — foolishly, perhaps! — remove all its publishing submission restraints for two weeks in October. (Talk about being confronted with crazed fanboys.)
Let me be blunt. Deep down, where others can’t see, this kind of impulse says this:
Other Christian speculative novels simply can’t go far because of (insert wise-sounding culturally savvy reason). I think I may have Cracked the Culture Code and could go where no Christian novelist has gone before. Now all I need is craft. More craft. Time to write and rewrite, deep point of view, make this subtler, make that clearer, sharpen dialogue, tighten action. …
It’s exhausting. And let me clear: I don’t believe this is evil. Authors need writing skills, discipline, craft, and professional, Christ-exalting teachers who impart their knowledge. The last thing we need is demonization of artistic skill. But the next-to-last thing we need is idolizing such skill — or idolizing ambition to write the next Zimb’warl’déem-ian novel.
Cure: Loving God’s Story and great stories more than their craft
At Speculative Faith, we stress Christlike reading first, craft-of-writing second. This is by design, likely because of what seems a glut of writing-and-industry-oriented material. Yet I realize it also may help combat what is otherwise a secret assumption: that we have been there, done that, mastered the reasons why we love Christian speculative stories, and now we only need to discuss how to write more of them and get them sold and become famous.
But I’m not convinced that’s in the past. I’m sure we still need to discuss why we love these stories, not because they’re a means of a pyramid scheme, but because we love them. And that love is based in the love of the true Epic Story, by the ultimate Speculative Novelist, whose truths and beauties are uniquely reflected in speculative stories.
That helps on days (or weeks, as has recently been true for me) when we can’t write. Or when we don’t want to read novels for what they can teach about Craft, but for delights.
For readers: what keeps you loving these stories, other than authorial ambitions?
For aspiring authors: if for the rest of your life you were unable to write, would you still love speculative stories for their unique delights?