Then and Now, AKA She Who Walked Away From CSF… and What Would Bring Her Back

Change looks to be good. That small vision the CBA had when it came to SF is now irrelevant to me, the reader; but it cheers me to see more fantasy (even if it’s mostly YA) flying off their presses.
on Feb 14, 2014 · 40 comments

MirtikaStep back with me to 2006 and 2007:

I was the Friday Femme here on Speculative Faith, a site I helped to found. Oh, that was a fun year, 2006. Lots of us who had met online through blogs or through chatting it up on the ACFW forum on the subject of Christian Speculative Fiction (CSF), we who were aching to see the CBA address our reader wants and needs, we who were writing CSF and seeking to define it more clearly, we who were passionate about the SF genre. Yeah, a great sort of simmering summer gave birth to this website. Our little group also got the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour going. Those two years blazed: I was editing and writing with fire in my soul. I won the SF category in the ACFW’s Genesis Contest. I was blogging furiously on matters of reading SF, writing SF, loving SF, SF art, SF poetry. I edited CSF at the defunct DRAGONS, KNIGHTS & ANGELS webzine, then at MINDFLIGHTS, another CSF-friendly webzine. Oh, and I won two short story contests, one poetry contest, and I had a Rhysling nominated poem, too.

Then, I walked away.

I stopped writing. I stopped reading CSF, pretty much, except for what I was editing. Naturally, there were some exceptions, but not many.

What happened? Specifically, what happened to me as a reader?  And I would ask: has this happened to you as well? Did you self-exile from CSF? Were you disappointed by the offerings from the CBA?

Part of my disenchantment came from realizing that the CBA continued to be pretty hostile to most SF, and many agents outright stated they’d not consider clients who wrote CSF. (And yes, I know the term CBA is archaic, but I continue to use it to mean the Christian publishing establishment, as separate from the ABA.)

firebird coverThe rest of my disillusionment—most, to be honest—was born from a fundamental realization: I was not enjoying, was not even finishing, most of the books we were promoting, blogging about, and supporting. Those CSF books coming out from CBA publishers bored me. Minority characters were nearly non-existent, as if the church were devoid of any but the white and the Western. The emphasis on YA books left me out quite often. Some novels/series were fun—FIREBIRD, THE BIRTHRIGHT PROJECT, RESTORER, to name three. And some others were quite good reads, but I felt the wonder was mostly lacking. Sometimes, I’d find a skilled writer telling a tale of wonder with a Biblical heart was pretty much an outcast to the CBA because of A or B. Example: 2007’s  WIND FOLLOWER by Carole McDonnell. Inspired in part by some Old Testament familial conflicts, it includes rape and marital conjugal situations. Yeah, that goes over well with the CBA. Never mind Tamar and never mind Solomon and his harem.

So, that was it. Boredom. Didn’t find the quality up-to-snuff when I compared it to what I was reading in the ABA.

I was not alone. I found that out later, though.

This week I asked some simple questions and some readers of CSF answered. Here are snippets of their responses to me on this subject:

“Up until just a couple of years ago (maybe 2010?) I had pretty much given up on Christian speculative fiction. Christian fiction had lost my trust.

It is only recently that it’s starting to gain it back. And not because of anything I’ve seen in the CBA. It’s because of solid storytellers like Mike Duran, Ashley Bazer, Kat Heckenbach, Jill Domschot and Robynn Tolbert. Even some of the more overtly Christian stories, like ones by Kevin Newsome and Ellen C. Maze, I really enjoyed.

The Christian fiction establishment (CBA) isn’t changing enough to really impress me.”


“What I’ve noticed is that it’s taken authors publishing outside the CBA to get stuff out there that I enjoy reading. The “spec fic” being published within the CBA feels too much like standard CBA fiction, but with swords and dragons!

I have very little hope that the CBA will embrace real spec-fic. Not the kind that appeals to true geeks. But I also don’t think sending it all to the secular market will work either. I, personally, think a new field needs to emerge. A truly Christian Spec-Fic market all its own. A place where faith meets weird, and authors have the freedom to explore both Christianity in an overt way and to write the kinds of stories real sf/f geeks want to read.”


“I grew very dissatisfied with Christian spec fic long ago. I like that I don’t have to wade through a bunch of junk with Christian sf – such as language, world views that I find distasteful (or worse), but I don’t like that so many stories felt like thinly disguised preaching. Yeah, yeah – same ol’ record, I know.

What I’d like to see is just a good story, written by someone with a worldview that doesn’t glorify things that well, shouldn’t be glorified (the story can contain them but there’s a difference between being real and glorifying garbage – and I think you know what I mean by that). No preaching, just a doggoned good story.

And perhaps they’re out there. But I haven’t read any CBA in years, so I don’t know what’s out there right now. I only know what turned me off to buying CBA SF.”


The recent publication of Patrick Carr’s The Staff and the Sword series gives me hope that good epic fantasy is making a comeback. I also enjoy reading Mike Duran. He doesn’t shy away from the dark and difficult. I hope this trend continues. Reading about perfect people gets boring. Reading about heroes who have faith, yet fail, gives me hope that I might yet find something heroic within myself.


Regarding Christian Spec fic, I think that many novels fall into the typical “end times prophecy” formula, or the “bible story fantasy allegory,” which is boring and repetitive. I’d rather more creative and original dystopian and sci-fi stories. More stories on how Christians would cope living in dystopian society or on another planet – the choices they would make. I have a really hard time with Christian spec fic, as I’m not into angels, and I am sick of the imitations of the Left Behind books. I just don’t read much of it anymore. Sorry to be so negative, but there it is!


I’ve noticed the development of a lot of Christian spec fic indie presses. It’s opened a whole new world of “cafes” with their own brands of gourmet coffee–some offering a better cup than others.

My personal favorite is Splashdown. I like Grace’s sense of whimsy, but nothing too light and frothy—hints of rich darkness, too. That is something I’ve noticed with a lot of Christian spec fic. Even the dark stories don’t feel as tortured to me as they might. Dark, but palatable—as though the authors have cleansed souls or something (imagine that). It’s not even the content I’m talking about. I don’t need clean content. It’s the spirit of the work. I loved P.A. Baines. I want to know where his second book is. I have loved Kevin Newsome and, of course, Kat Heckenbach, though YA isn’t my personal favorite.


I think the best thing about Christian spec-fic is that it’s moving away from being message-driven.  Before I started reading it, I’d been told that too often it was often Christians vs. The World (the Scientist, The Whatever). Now, the plots are more complex as are the characters and situations. Christianity is, in many cases, simply a defining aspect of the character, much like in secular fantasy, the hero might follow a made-up god or goddess and it’s part of who that person is.


Back to Me: These sentiments mirror my own.

Look, I read SF above all for that sense of wonder. Sometimes, I’m after mental stimulation. Sometimes, I’m after some really cool social or religious or psychological or supernatural ideas working themselves out in a skillfully crafted story. I like weird. I like unexpected. I don’t expect a theology lesson in my SF, unless it’s passed on organically, beautifully, even surprisingly. I like pretty, writerly writing. I cannot bear to wade through clunky or lackluster prose. I’ve read SF since the ‘70s. Know what that means? That old hat ideas presented with just as old a chapeau of execution do not work for me. I get bored. Fast.

So, I left. Pretty quietly.

Then the publishing revolution happened while I was gone. I kept one eye on part of it–Marcher Lord Press. I kept the other eye on the other part, one that was even more interesting: the Amazon behemoth’s platform for independent publishers. I kept a hand in judging contests until 2010 or so, and one of the entries was polished and snappy and good. I thought, “This will see print.” And it has.  By a CBA publisher. And readers like it.

Change looks to be good. That small vision the CBA had when it came to SF is now irrelevant to me, the reader; but it cheers me to see more fantasy (even if it’s mostly YA) flying off their presses.

Yes, things are hotting up all over.

I’m excited to see what will be produced sans gatekeepers. Will we finally see our new Nebula-level Christian storytellers set free from CBA constrictions as they self-publish and give us the delights and wonders we have been waiting for–dazzling stories written with unique voices that aren’t afraid to push boundaries while maintaining a Christian heart and spirit? Our next generation of Gene Wolfes and Connie Willises and R.A. Laffertys and Dean Koontzes?

Yes, I think we just might. There’s no one to say NO now.  Writers can’t be stopped at the gate anymore. And if the talent is there, self-published or small-press published, we have to make sure to seek it. Someone will find it and tell us, be it on Twitter or Facebook or Goodreads or other emerging places.  Be it HERE, on this site, in enthusiastic reviews. We should look for them. We should tell each other when they show up. Pass the good word. The reader is now the caller at the gate.

This is not 2006. I am heartened. The revolution we wanted to see in the CBA will happen, is happening, just not where we imagined it must happen. We can’t be snobs who think only legacy publishers have the goods.

These are exciting times for readers (and writers) of Christian Speculative Fiction. I think we can come back now, with hope. We don’t have to be exiles. Keep your eyes open. Tell me when you spot something that will rock my world.  Comment with your recommendations and tell me WHY I should read it, WHY it’s fresh, and WHY it’s as good as anything in the ABA. Don’t just post links or books names. Gimme a reason. Tell me why you’re passionate.

I’m listening. Again.

After all, it’s St. Valentine’s Day. A good day to rekindle love, even for a subgenre.


Finding-Angel-coverFor those interested, here are AMAZON LINKS to books/authors mentioned or recommended by those who responded to my questions:

  1. R. L. Copple says:

    Well put, Mir. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  2. Kessie says:

    I don’t read much science fiction, but I love fantasy. Have you happened across Rebecca Minor’s Windrider books? A grouchy, snarky elf captain get his own dragon, but only at the behest of a prophetess who is a spoof of preachy Christian characters. She’s overbearing and stuck up and both of them are totally endearing. Not to mention the rest of the cast! Her prequel series, starting with Curse Bearer, is almost as good and I mostly recommend it because Culduin is awesome. And hot.
    So yeah, that’s my fan geekery for the day.

  3. “I read SF above all for that sense of wonder … I like unexpected. I don’t expect a theology lesson in my SF, unless it’s passed on organically, beautifully, even surprisingly. I like pretty, writerly writing. I cannot bear to wade through clunky or lackluster prose.”

    Amen.  Delight isn’t a fringe benefit of reading — it’s the crux of the pursuit.  If I read a story because it’s “good for me,” then that story has utterly failed.  Fiction is an art, a song of syntax, a delicate dance of diction, not a three-point sermon.  Nor still is it a formula to get readers interested in a sermon.  If a story’s to pierce my heart then it must first germinate in the writer’s heart.  Its language must be emotional, not merely mental.  I must feel it.  And no one can tell me to experience an emotion; it’ll happen organically or not at all.

    It’s brainbreaking work to craft a story that transfers one’s emotions into another’s heart.  And any writer of fiction who isn’t ready to break his brain for that end needs to reevaluate his priorities.

    • Mirtika says:

      I don’t think anyone who has not tried to write a story with depth and richness understands how very hard it is. OK, for some more natural and less hard, for others brain-busting. So, when I read something that pushes most or all the buttons, I am so full of gratitude for that person’s gift and hard work. Good stories take effort. 🙂

  4. Literaturelady says:

    Great post!  I also look for well-written, wondrous fantasy stories–and finding one is like hitting an oasis in the desert.  You might like the Auralia Thread by Jeffrey Overstreet.  The story is set in a world where jealousy has stifled wonder and creativity, where acclaim and false praise has become a higher goal than creating beauty and finding truth.  The characters, seeing a glimpse of their world’s beauty and truth long declared illegal, wrestle with doubt and questions, make mistakes, and make sacrifices.  I love Prince Cal-Raven–he’s bold and passionate, wanting to do the right thing, but sometimes doing it the wrong way.  I’ve never read a story where beauty and creativity are glorified like they are in the Auralia Thread.
    In addition to Christian SF, I would love to see the genre of Christian Fiction become more well-written, tackling hard questions and sticking characters between a rock and a hard place.  Out of 28 Christian Fiction books I’ve read (and three others I skimmed), only nine were powerful, only nine dealt with hard questions, and made me excited again about the Christian faith.  (These rare books were the Life of Faith Millie Keith series [eight books] and The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers, if you were curious.)  That’s so sad, because we Christians have the most powerful, most joyful message in the world, and so many writers squash it in attempt to proclaim it.

    • Literaturelady, I submit that you (and all the rest of y’all reading this comment right now — yes, you) should consider writing some book reviews for SpecFaith. Your opinions as a reader are, by definition, valid and important. And the Christian spec-fic community really needs to propel its cream to the top. We must promote the change we wish to see. And for that, there’s no better venue than SpecFaith! 😉

      • Literaturelady says:

        You know, I did consider it a while ago, but I didn’t have much time (or rather, I had higher priorities).  But I will consider it again! 

      • Please do. We’re expanding to cover novels/films/shows/games/etc. not in the SpecFaith Library — e.g., Christian perspectives on not-specifically-Christian stuff.

    • Mirtika says:

      I own both Auralia and Sin Eater. 🙂  And Overstreet has some very nice prose work. I used to read Rivers in her secular days, read her some when she came over to CBA, then lost interest. I think because I’m a genre gal, and when she went more Women’s Fiction, she lost me.

  5. I hate to sound like a broken record, but I guess the old idea that people need to see a thing seven times before they’ll buy might apply. Mir, you asked for books. Here’s my short list of the most current:

    Dystopian – Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands series (Captives and Outcasts are out). Well written. Deals with the concept of “being in the world” and shows one character’s struggle with lust and addiction–along with other themes. The story is the thing. It’s not perfect, but it’s entertaining from the first page as a group of villagers are captured to be used as surrogates and sperm donors to keep the civilization of the Safe Lands alive.

    Arthurian legend – Robert Treskillard’s Merlin Spiral series (Merlin’s Blade and Merlin’s Shadow are out). Imaginative use of myth–fresh take on who Merlin is. Gripping story involving a Satanic rock, druids, supernatural sight (good and evil), human sacrifice, political intrigue, betrayal, and a determination to keep the infant Arthur alive.

    Epic fantasy – Patrick Carr’s The Staff & Sword series (A Cast of Stones, The Hero’s Lot, and A Draw of Kings are all out). Quests, political intrigue, betrayal, love, heroism, sacrifice–the story is well-told, the characters captivating, the themes oblique.

    Fairytale fantasy – Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s Tales of Goldstone Wood series (there are six out, I think, my favorite being Dragonwitch, with Snowflower second–I haven’t read the most recent yet.) Talk about inventive! This fantasy world verges on Alice’s Wonderland at times. Fairies, magic, a demon hoard, evil dragons, a dragonwitch, dogs of death, but there is also love, and sacrifice, and courage, and hope.

    Contemporary supernatural – Shannon Dittemore’s Angel Eyes series (all three are out – Angel Eyes, Broken Wings, Dark Halo). Strong on character and relationship; a beautiful story about the seen and the unseen colliding, complete with love and fear and sacrifice.

    I could go on–R. J. Larson’s fantasy trilogy Prophet, Judge, King; Jill Williamson’s Mission League series, Stephen Lawhead’s Bright Empires series, John Otte’s newly released Numb. In fact, I think the entire list of last year’s Clive Staples Award nominees–33 books in all–might be a good place to start. I haven’t read them all, but obviously the readers who nominated them thought they were high quality.


    • Julie D says:

      Just as a note, I love Stengl’s work, and am fairly sure you were referring to Starflower, as she hasn’t written anything called Snowflower.

    • Mirtika says:

      Thanks, pal. I already knew you recommended these from your blogging, but I think it’s valuable to have this brief, concise list with the whys for those coming by hoping for a clue about where to start delving back into CSF. 🙂

  6. Mir, I was very interested to read your history. I think there are many Christian readers out there who don’t know there are now some really terrific books they should check out, written from a Christian worldview, speculative and otherwise. Not sure how to get their attention.

    • Mirtika says:

      I remember that early in the CSFF blog tour, self or indie published books were not included. Whether they are now, I’m not sure–well, more cause my memory sucks and I wasn’t paying attention to the publishing platform.  I do agree with one of my question-respondents that a new way, a broader fandom–a place where CSF fans who accept all forms of publishing as long as the quality is there, and who accept edgier and more mature forms of CSF without censorship as worthy of discussion and promotion, where the CBA offerings are just one aspect, and not the main (as it was when the current promotional and discussion forums emerged). The best writer of CSF I know writes solely in the ABA and has won awards and has been praised and admired by the likes of a “pagan” like Neil Gaiman. Talent wins out. 🙂  So, that’s what I’m hoping for. For a broader fandom, a bigger vision, and larger talent not to be stuck in limbo because it’s “too Christian” for ABA and “too dark” or “too mature” or “too Catholic” for CBA. A bigger tent–where CHristendom’s writers of all denominations (as long as there is the fundamental agreement on what I’d call “the creed”–Jesus is the son of God, died for our sins, rose from the dead, One God/Three persons, Bible as Word of God–Yay.) THat means that Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Baptist, Presbyterian, Mennonite, Anglican, etc, can all fit in this tent without some big argument about the secondary aspects of doctrine (that isn’t resolved in real life, so let’s not bring the schisms into art).

      • Here’s the info from the CSFF Blog Tour official page:

        At this time, we only feature books published by royalty paying houses. If the company uses print-on-demand or electronic publishing technology, we are not opposed to featuring their books, provided either the house or the author is willing to provide our bloggers with review copies. Works that are self-published, whether by electronic means or by POD, are not within our capacity to review, nor are they consistent with our overarching goal—to see traditional publishers increase the number of Christian speculative titles they produce.   Self-published include content from site such as Smashwords, LuLu, Barnes & Noble “PubIt!” content, and self published content through Amazon Kindle’s Publishing Program.

  7. Becky says:

    As I read this post (amid the nodding and amen-ing) I realized I can’t remember the last time I read a Christian SF book. They used to make up the majority of my bookshelf, but now I have to dig to find one. Like you said, they all bored me after a while. This post gives me hope that all may not be lost. I look forward to checking out some of the books mentioned here.
    Also, I am currently embarking on my personal solution for the Christian SF drought: if I don’t see anything I like, I write it!

    • Mirtika says:

      Yes. Let’s all try at least one of the recommendations given in the post or in the comments. And by all means, add to the art. ADD TO THE ART. 😀

  8. Timothy Stone says:

    I agree with a lot of what you say, Mirta. The only part that I don’t is the question about Western versus other culture and so forth. I love anime and so forth, but when I watch or read stuff, the gender/race/so on is not anything I really pay attention to. I pride myself that when I watch an anime with subtitles that I get so immersed into the medium that I stop noticing I am reading something, and I don’t notice that the actors (for live action shows) are Japanese.

    By the by, I have been getting into Super Sentai and Kamen Rider recently, and those are the live-action shows I referred to.

    Then again, perhaps I’m a hypocrite, because I freely admit I seek out and enjoy Japanese stuff over other (including American) stuff.

    I must say that one thing that particularly gets me, Mirta, is how some of these books and so on in the CSF were boring at times. There are more than you think that are good, but they are sometimes like (to quote Aladdin) “diamonds in the rough”.

    Things are getting better though.

    • Mirtika says:

      I have often felt critical of anime from Japan for having “non-Japanese” looking Japanese folks. 🙂  I watch J-Drama and Anime and I want it to feel Asian, not American, so I especially enjoy when they add their own myth/folk tales and daily customs, such as the excellent Uchouten Kazoku or Ayakashi (especially the BRILLIANT “Bake Neko” segment that riffs off Kabuki theater). Or the speculative/magical realism in something like Eva Luna or Like Water For Chocolate, which integrates the fantasy so literarily seamlessly that one believes the world operates thusly. And in the recent THE CONSTANT TOWER by McDonnell, you have a sense of language, culture, otherness that is FRESH (in fact, reminded me a bit of Octavia Butler, and that’s a compliment of high order). One of things I sometimes sent back as a critique when I edited on DKA and MindFlights was, “You have an earth spaceship and everyone is Anglo. Did all the minorities on Earth die? Was there a plague that only spared English/Irish/Scandinavians? CAuse, they might have been, and you could justify the all-white crew this way, but you need to justify it, not just assume it.” Even in the sixties in Star Trek, we had black and Asian. 🙂  I think the CSF world needs to remember that this nation is diverse and Christianity moreso (all tribes, all tongues, all colors, all ages, etc).
      I’m optimistic now. Unlike 2007. The shelf is so much bigger with the changes in publishing. Write, my lovelies. And put it out there.

  9. I’m excited about the changes in the publishing industry. Glad for the changes in the Christian publishing world, too, but those wheels do seem to turn more slowly and within boundaries that are still too limited for my tastes.
    Another thing that is greatly encouraging: online communities like this one. Christians who enjoy speculative fiction, gathering together and stirring each other up in our passion for the genre and its ability to ignite our sense of wonder. God is expansive and marvelous and worthy of our efforts to walk in His footsteps as creators. May many Christian authors take up the torch and hold high the light of creative expression in such a way that God’s glory shines forth!
    My reading time has been limited for the past 10 years, as I’ve been raising small children and they take a lot of time and attention. But I’ve found myself with more time lately and do hope to dive into the world of speculative fiction again — especially that written by authors with worldviews similar to mine. I’ll be sure to pass those things along as I find them!

    • Mirtika says:

      My reading time was limited for years due to statins (which made it nearly impossible for me to read long works, no concentration). Glad to be off those. And then by middle-aged eyes that get tired fast. The days of me reading a novel a day or even a couple novels a week are over. So, I”m even CHOOSIER. WHen one’s reading time is limited, who wants to waste it on mediocre or boring stuff? I know readers who will read it all if they paid for it. Me, time is more valuable. If it isn’t dazling me with some aspect of the story, I”m outta there (unless I made a review commitment.) So, yeah, it’s exciting this revolution. I hope the frustrated CSF writers will be free to write their vision as they wish without the editorial limitations that the CBA houses have traditionally employed (for the meager bit of SF hey were willing to accept).

  10. Kessie says:

    We need more Christian writers like N.D.Wilson, who make it totally awesome to be a Christian. Check out this quote from Empire of Bones:
    “To love is to be selfless. To be selfless is to be fearless. To be fearless is to strip your enemies of their greatest weapon. Even if they break our bodies and drain our blood, we are unvanquished. Our goal was never to live; our goal is to love. It is the goal of all truly noble men and women. Give all that can be given. Give even your life itself.”

  11. dmdutcher says:

    I’ve argued and felt the same. But the only way this ever will be solved is if fans actually read, talk about, and buy Christian spec fic. And for some people who are tempted to go the ABA route, swallow it and publish explicit Christian fic.  A lot of talk on this is wishing that other people would make something for other people to buy.
    I’d also highlight something called the Tebow effect, where we only care about the most lauded and hottest Christian thing. Who CARES what Neil Gaiman thinks? When did we desire to become respected by the world anyways? Who cares about the Nebulas? Yes, good fiction is great, and we always try our hardest and appreciate quality in the arts, but a lot of this is that at heart we want to be accepted and lauded by the world. 
    I think this is more a subject for a rant though, and I’ll stop here.

    • Mir says:

      I care what peers think. I care what people whose craft I admire think. If Connie Willis read something of mine and said, “Well done. Exceptional. The level of your craft is astounding,” I’d care very much indeed, because these are experts at storytellng of the sort I enjoy (speculative).  It’s no different than someone who is a martial artist caring if the master of their particular branch deems them “master of the art.” Or if one of the world’s greatest skaters tells you that your triple axel is superb. Or if you were a surgeon and your surgical peers would recommend you as one of the best for your type of surgery in the nation. It’s an honor.  If you don’t see why it matters or says something special, well, then we see things a lot differently. And when I say “Nebula-level,” I’m talking about craft, not awards. Stories so well done that they’d be recognized by the best artists and craftpersons as “the best of the best.”  So, yeah, I’d be thrilled if Neil Gaiman thought I was one of the best the genre or literature had to offer. If that’s meaningless to you, power to you.

      • dmdutcher says:

        It’s not craft I was getting at. I don’t like the mindset that we need to constantly hold a Nebula standard for Christian fiction. I don’t like the idea that we only are valid if we can write a book that makes Connie Willis or Neil Gaiman stand up and notice us. It won’t work that way, in the same way all Christian athletes aren’t going to be Tebow at his hottest.
        I don’t see this as helpful. I don’t see Christian books being written by people with that burden over their shoulders. It’s more that people who aren’t much good choose to write because they care about Christianity and want it to be explicit in fiction, because everyone else is either paralyzed by quality or trying to get into the secular market to get that Gaiman blurb on their back cover and a nebula nomination.
        Sorry Mir, I’m just really frustrated about this. 

        • Mir says:

          Well, most of the Christian writers of SF in my acquaintance weren’t/aren’t in search of secular back-patting. It does not negate the fact that when someone who is a master of their craft says, “well done,” it’s a mark of respect. It should not be pooh-poohed.  I also notice lots of  Christian trying to get blurbs from fellow Christians, particular those with a platform/audience/selling record/award record. That’s called business. But when it’s not a blurb on a book but a spontaneous compliment given freely, out of respect, not tit for tat, just a  “this person is a literary gem,” this is something anyone should feel good about.
          Why this is an issue, I don’t get it. I think it’s pretty logical.

          My point in singling out the Gaiman is that he is well-known not to be a pal to traditional Christian beliefs, so when he praises the work of an openly religious man who has written explicitly Christian stories (as Wolfe has), then that is even more meaningful. The art is so good that it rises above any objection to worldview. If you don’t see the merit in that, again, we see this very differently.

        • What I don’t see as helpful is a dismissive attitude toward the intrinsic value of objective quality.  This is a real danger for the Christian speculative fiction community, already prone as it is to an insular, almost incestuous conceit.  After all, our fiction, unlike that stuff published for heathen infidels by heathen infidels, is intended to glorify God.  Our fiction doesn’t include Bad Content.  Our fiction preaches Good Messages.  But what’s lost in the stampede toward specialness and separateness are the realities that all truth is God’s truth and that beauty — as distinct from truth and goodness — is incalculably important in the quest to bring glory to the Source of beauty Himself.

          Nebula award-winning novels are objectively beautiful.  For that reason alone, they deserve our admiration and acclaim.

          What’s the downside of striving for excellence, even award-calibur excellence?  What negative outcome can arise from a writer pushing himself to the limits of his technical capabilities?  Why is it a bad thing for writers of “Christian” spec-fic to glance up and compare the quality of their work with that of the broader market?

          I find it painfully ironic that the folks who advocate for a “Christian subculture” in publishing tend to be the very same folks who decry any attempt to compare the product-quality of said subculture to that of the larger market.  Well, if you didn’t want to deal with such a negative comparison, you shouldn’t have set up a “Christian” empire as some kind of alternative to the larger “secular” empire!  If Christian publishing wants to present itself as such an alternative, then we should be able to readily point out a slew of Christian novels whose technical quality equals that of “secular” Nebula-winners.  The fact that we can’t — moreover, that we want to make excuses not to — is a sure sign that we’ve become complacent as writers and readers.

          And complacency doesn’t glorify God.

          • dmdutcher says:

            Because this is a unicorn hunt that people use to justify to themselves why they don’t read Christian SF. It puts the blame on the writers, who can’t win either way. Somehow they’re expected to write Nebula quality fiction while self-pubbing and being lucky to get $1-2k over the life of the book. When they don’t, and still manage to write solid midlist or B-level fiction, they don’t get read because people are too busy reading secular authors.
            I don’t think people really get how hard it is to be a Christian interested in creating things. We have more restrictions with less compensation and audience, while being expected to be better than the very best in the world because our fandom can’t be pulled away from secular things to read works that actually contain faith in them. 
            It was the same with CCM in the eighties. They were constantly ripped on as being inferior to the world despite the fact that these guys were literally sleeping in churches and getting paid when people passed the collection plate around after their church concert. Considering that, the music they made was amazing. Now though I don’t think authors can match this, because they aren’t getting supported to even that level.

            • What on earth does compensation have to do with writing quality? If an author’s paid more, will the quality of his writing necessarily improve? How exactly does that connection work? Music groups can improve their product with better equipment, yes. But all you need in order to create a novel is a word processor and a work ethic! Writing’s easier than ever before in human history. And I can’t help thinking about all the universally-recognized masters of the craft who died without ever seeing wealth in their lifetimes. And what of the award-winning writers who crafted their masterpieces while holding down day-jobs? Not to be trite, but what about Tolkien? Can The Hobbit be attributed to a huge advance? I think not.
              And besides, should admittedly Christian writers be content to produce subpar work for subpar compensation? Who do we think we’re working for, anyway?

              • dmdutcher says:

                The Hobbit took seven years for Tolkien to write, and he had connections most writers would dream of. 

                Yeah, compensation matters. If you self-pub, you simply can’t afford to publish one book a year and gamble that it becomes viral. Most books these days by themselves just don’t earn enough, and that’s why we see so many series and dime novels that are capable of being churned out. If your book doesn’t sell, there is no advance to cushion the loss nor some other author whose success will underwrite your second try. That means you can’t afford to be experimental or not know your audience, and don’t even get me started on how hard it is to be discovered by that audience.

                It does shape how things work. Things like series books are common as to be ridiculous, because it’s easier to make money that way. Creativity and even good writing won’t help if you can’t sell the book.

              • Ah, so what you’re really talking about here is sales and recognition. But that wasn’t the original topic. We were talking about writing quality.
                I agree that it’s insanely difficult for self-published writers to get recognized, accumulate readership, and reach the point where they can quit their day-jobs. But, once again, what on earth does that have to do with the objective quality of their writing itself? I don’t have to achieve earthly success as a writer in order to strive for excellence in my craft.

            • Mirtika says:

              As someone who in “flusher” times was a patron of the Christian arts (poetry, fiction, art), I know exactly how hard it is. But more importantly, I know that it’s hard no matter if one is Christian or secular or Buddhist or whatever. Art has always been a difficult thing to make a living at. Ask a painter, sculptor, poet if they can quit their dayjob. Usually: no.
              I’ve spent hundreds (okay, closer to thousands if you count buying books I never intended to read to support the CSF genre) to sponsor webzines, contests, KickStarters, GoFundMes, painters via originally commissioned or purchases of originals. When I could, I really tried hard to be supportive. I still subscribe to IMAGE, though it’s a costly journal, to which I”ve subscribed for more than a decade, because the quality is unimpeachable. It’s amazing writing-poetry, fiction, non-fiction-and art. Any Christian who cares about quality writing and “faith and the arts” should go over and subscribe. Put money where mouth be.
              But the recession took its toll on lots of us. I don’t have the extra cash like I used to to sponsor CSF endeavors. And now, I figure, why should I? I will buy what I want to read, and if it’s not CBA, then it doesn’t matter. I’ll buy self-published, which puts MORE money in the author’s pocket than a legacy published book.
              All of us here at Spec Faith, readers and writers, want CSF to flourish. But no one said it would be easy. Before, we wanted the CBA to take it more seriously. Now, I simply want the writers to take it seriously and put it out there for us. Let it sink or swim with the rest the literary world has to offer. What we should be concerned about is being the tribe that pushes the best we’ve got so others find it. We need to be the writer’s network, system, Twitterers, Facebookers, bloggers, reviewers, pom-pom shakers.

              If you thrill me as a reader, I”ll promote you. If you don’t, I don’t. End of story. 😀 I put in my dues editing for free, sponsoring contests, etc, and in the self-publishing age, no one has an excuse not to put it out there and see if it has wings. We can only be the air under the wings–for those we believe in.
              I don’t aspire to the Nebula. Or Hugo. I plan to consider how to be as “sellable” in the self-publishing sphere as my faith allows. I want to write in my voice–which can be snarky–and not care about what limitations some of my fellow believers would put on me. I have no intention of writing steamy sex or vicious cussing or gory serial killers (well, I don’t rule out the last), but I do like the sense of freedom that comes with the SP revolution. Pharisees got no hold on the CSF world anymore. It’s a freer playground. Write what your conscience permits, and I will write what mine permits, and then let’s help each other find our readers.
              It’s what we wanted to do from the beginning here on Spec Faith: help readers find authors and help authors find a way to get the word out and maybe push the CBA to open more doors for SF. And, well, all sorts of doors now.
              And no artist can control how much they make. What? You think all those CBA published CSF authors were making big bucks? Do you think all ABA SF authors are making big bucks? No. Even award-winning ones often need a day job.
              As far as money and quality: HAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!!
              Go take a look-see at some of the top sellers at Amazon in genre fiction. HAHAHAHAH!!!!!!  No, really, I’m dying here.

              • Mirtika says:

                Man, I wish the “time left to edit” was longer. I always run out of time WHILE editing a comment.
                Anyway, meant to say in terms of support, that I also paid a conference fee (300+) for a CSF writer so she could attend a conference that might have helped her career. So, again, we’re all free to help out CSF authors in all sorts of ways besides the free–reviews, tweets, etc. You can also write them a check to help them get to a conference to meet an agent or to help a self-pubbed one get a nice cover, and so forth.

                Buying the books themselves, natch, but for the REALLY supportive, it can go as deep as you want.

              • dmdutcher says:

                I agree with you, but people can’t do this unless they read or buy the books. I just don’t want people to have these huge expectations of self-pubbed books, open them up, get disappointed and then say CSF sucks. We’re at the point where CSF is like the pulps of the 1930s. It’s a space where people are finding their voices and working on their craft, but it’s also a space where we get a lot of rough and bad fiction. Over time, craft will rise naturally as the market develops. We see this in CBA; compared to the fiction of the 80s and 90s, there is improvement in change.
                It’s just if the market doesn’t develop, I think CSF will go back into dormancy. I agree with your points, and I try to do my part by buying and reviewing works too, but I guess I’m just worried. There’s a lot of rumbling in the blogosphere from writers about how they can’t seem to make it in christian spec fiction.

              • Mir says:

                No, you cannot compare CSF to the pulps. The people who write CSF have been reading good SF that’s been written over the decades. This is not a fledgling and ridiculed genre anymore, as it was in pulp days.

                And what do you  mean RUMBLINGs that CSF is bad? Let’s say the rumblings that some or a lot of CSF is bad, and some is okay, and some is quite good. That would be more precise. Besides….  Plenty of us have been bemoaning the CSF offerings–lack of variety, lack of quantity, etc– for a decade or more already. And the reason being that there are so many limitations and strictures–due to the limited, niche audience of CBA, that does not include all Christendom, anyway–that it stifled a lot of writers. Safe. Clean. Inoffensive. Can’t be too Catholic. Can’t be too Eastern Orthodox. Can’t be too dark or mature. And those strictures defined by the houses of CBA in order not to get complaints from the niche readership.

                If an author wants to make money self-pubbing, they will need to have a lot of books out there, usually, keep them going, build a network, get supporters, be social media savvy, invest in quality formatting and covers and occasional ads. It becomes entrepreneurship, where you risk the initial outlay for the hope of eventual greater gains. Capitalism, that is. The most recent gleanings of info (new, incomplete, first steps) indicates that self-pubbing is more and more viable, and at least as well-paying overall as traditional publishing. And for writers who connect with their niche, they can supply FASTER than through legacy publishers, who might hold up the publication a year or more. You may want to check out for some of the beginnings of trying to get data.

                The point is that for CSF, self-pubbing may be its salvation. It may be where the audience FINALLY meets the authors and stories and gel, because that great % of audience might never step foot in a  Family Bookstore and may not wander away from the SF sections of the (dying) bookstores to visit the Religion/Spirituality section, where CSF tends to get shelved. Borders is gone. B&N is shutting stores and struggling. Online is where it’s at when it comes to books (and niche independent booksellers who find their select customer base). If an author wants to find readers, they will have to do it online.

                So, the question isn’t self-pub or not. The question is: How to find the good CSF and forget about the lousy CSF, no matter who or what is publishing it. And if the best comes from a tiny indie press or a self-pubbed author, so be it. Give them the $$$. I’d rather an author get 70% of esales than less than 25% (when you factor in discounts, etc). Support the AUTHORS, not the publishing house, unless the publishing house is publishing EXACTLY what you long to read. 😀

  12. Mir says:

    Oh, and if CSF goes into dormancy–doubt it, as long as there are believers who love and read and want to write SF/fantasy/horror/magical realism/slipstream. If it does, though, it will be because we either failed to find the audience and connect writer-to-reader, or it will be because what was put out there, collectively–self-pub, small press, large traditional publisher–was not good enough to grab the SF reader friendly to the Christian worldview. We can’t expect to grab the reader hostile to the Christian worldview. We’re simply seeking those who WANT that mindset in their stories (even if it’s just having a character who is demonstrably and unashamedly a believer, such as Carpenter in the DRESDEN novels, Lord, bless him) or who aren’t believers but aren’t put-off by such inclusion of themes, characters, philosophy.
    If the readers aren’t there, you can’t make them come.
    If they are there, all you can do is work to find them.

What do you think?