1. This article is just full of meat. Right now I’m brainstorming two possible future projects. One is decidedly fantasy, a genre that it new to me. Though Angel Eyes was often categorized as fantasy, I’m shooting for something that requires a whole new world (cue Aladdin).
    I’m looking for craft books and articles and such that are full of meaty thoughts like this one. Throw your recommendations my way if you’ve got any. 

  2. Galadriel says:

    I’m already planning to nominate Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s work for a C.S. Lewis award…some of the best new writing I’ve read in a while

  3. Are there any awards of this type that are open to self-pubbed titles? My debut novel The Little Seer fits squarely in the Christian speculative supernatural genre, but it’s just closed doors for awards and traditional accolades, it seems, no matter who raves about it or how many thousands download it on Kindle.

    • … Proving again that no matter how popular a Thing proves to be, someone out there will have never heard of it! (Your title is unknown in the Speculative Faith Library, Laura; do feel free to submit the title with our Submit Novel feature.)

      Are there any awards of this type that are open to self-pubbed titles?

      Here’s Becky’s answer from Reviving the Clive Staples Award:

      When we first conceived of this award, one of the goals was to bring awareness to publishers of the kind of books readers want to see in print. We also wanted to recognize and therefore to encourage the best writing. In that light, we followed the guidelines of the other key Christian fiction awards–the Christy and what is now know as the Carol.

      We did discuss the idea that “someday” we might include more than one award, either separating by genre (so that science fiction is pitted against fantasy and fantasy against horror) or by audience (so young adult and middle grade books aren’t up against adult books–a decided disadvantage to the latter ;-) ).

      Since the explosion of self-publishing, I can see a real need for a self-publishing division, too, but that has to remain a “someday” goal. The last year we ran the contest, we had 19 nominations. Imagine how many there would be if we added into the mix self-published books? What we end up with is a best book chosen by a majority voting, but not a consensus. In the end we’d have the kind of popularity contest we want to avoid.

      This is not a contest about who can get the most friends to click over to our site and punch in a vote for their book. We want genuine speculative fiction readers who have some discernment as to what makes a good book. That’s why we require voters to have read at least two of the nominations. It ought to be a higher number than that, but that will have to be a “someday” goal also.

    • Ben Avery says:

      Laura, I’d like to take a look at The Little Seer — is it available in the usual places?

  4. Lex Keating says:

    Curiously enough, the first recent title this article brings to mind is scifi, not fantasy. Ashley Hodges Bazer’s Asylum was published by Westbow last year. She incorporated a strong church presence into her story without putting God on the page. Was He evident and necessary? Yes. But all of the interaction with Him was kind of second-hand. Which may not be how I might tell a story, but I think it opened some doors that would be closed in other cases. (It certainly gave me something to think about in terms of nonbelievers. Having grown up in a Bible reading, church-oriented environment, language and behavior falls into very clear categories. This story wasn’t told from a nonbeliever’s point of view, but it allowed me to see “The Church’s” behavior through fresh eyes.) The allegory was transparent, but the reader was left to make his/her own decisions about that. 
    As to the idea of writing invitingly instead of persuasively, I do wonder if speculative writers feel pressured to overcompensate when telling a story about redemption or grace. If-I-add-more-magic-then-I-need-double-Jesus-points kind of thinking. Telling a story about atonement or second chances doesn’t require faith in Christ, after all. Plenty of books tell excellent stories with easily drawn parallels, but are they deliberate? It is so tempting for a reader to make excuses for a work (“If I see something good in here, that’s close enough to Jesus”), that sometimes readers give a story more credit and less caution than it deserves. 
    By that same token, a Christ-oriented story doesn’t have to preach salvation. But to present characters who believe without introducing the One they believe in, this skates a very fine line. The choice to be introduced through the story should be the reader’s, I believe, but the choice should still be clear.

    • Good thoughts, Lex.

      It is so tempting for a reader to make excuses for a work (“If I see something good in here, that’s close enough to Jesus”), that sometimes readers give a story more credit and less caution than it deserves.

      I saw this thinking with Avatar. I don’t know if writers try to overcompensate with the clarity of their Christian message because they use magic or are writing fantasy, but I know my initial feeling was, I didn’t want someone ascribing pagan meanings to my Christian work, so how else can you be sure unless you make it crystal clear?

      I’ve since rethought that position, but I can understand how a writer might be tempted to think.


  5. Timothy Stone says:

    So does this mean you can vote for the nominations Stephen?
    To Rebecca: The minimalist fantasy elements would be a mark of “low fantasy”. I think that term would describe it, except for the “high fantasy” elements. I have actually labeled books as being BOTH high fantasy and low fantasy at the same time.
    Aren’t we as readers partly to blame for the misunderstanding that “derivative” is bad. “Derivative” has to do with using ideas that were first used by others. There is some similarity there. If something is too much where it copies another work, then that might be bad. Sometimes, this isn’t horrible, as sometimes this is purposeful, like “x” title with a twist. But often, the use of similar ideas to Lewis or Tolkien is treated as a horror. We treat it that way, so we are to blame for this misconception that any similar ideas somehow “equals” plagiarism.

    • D.M. Dutcher says:

      It’s not so much about plagiarism, but tiredness. Epic fantasy, especially Christian fantasy in a Lewis/Tolkien mode, is almost as played out as Amish fiction or YA paranormal. The horror at being derivative comes from this. 
      Even the choice of authors: I would buy in a heartbeat a Christian author who says their work is inspired by Tanith Lee, Lovecraft, Stephen Donaldson, or even Mercedes Lackey if just because it shows their contact with fantasy is more than just the sacred duo there. There’s way too many Narnia or Middle Earth pastiches.

  6. Terry palmer says:

    Great articles as always.  Does anyone know of a fantasy critique group?  I’m busy writing ‘The Chronicles of Orm’ and would like some critique and also like a chance to see other work in progress.  Keep up the good work here.  Keep the fantasy alive.

  7. Kirsty says:

    something that draws people, maybe even causes them to say, Wouldn’t it be great to know someone like that?

    Just a couple of weeks ago a speaker at our church told of a lady he met who had watched/read the Narnia stories (not sure which), was very impressed by Aslan’s character,  and said, “I wish I could meet someone like that”…

  8. D.M. Dutcher says:

    I’m not really sure about surprises. Some of the better series that have used them have realized you can’t do big surprises: Harry, Hermione, and Ron will live to the end, and they won’t really be much changed, for example. A lot of the danger is not because it’s really dangerous, but because we expect it. It’s only a gutsy author who might kill Harry Potter, even if just to resurrect him in the end.

    What they use are small surprises. I’m currently watching Little Busters, and they do it in such a hilarious way that it never fails to make me laugh. They have a small surprise often in that the resident lunkhead is always challenging someone to fight. However, in order to prevent serious property damage, the condition of the battles is that they have to fight using whatever someone throws at them. Currently he’s fought battles using a nail clipper, a bar of soap, a small cat, and a piece of bread. It’s a surprise that’s impossible to predict, and it avoids the whole “Oh yeah, sure Harry’s going to get killed by Voldemort, right.”
    I think too many books try to go for a big surprise, but come on. It’s Jesus. We know how the stories end. If the guy in your book is old, has a beard, and is wise, I’m giving 70% odds he will pull a Gandalf. An atheist in your book? He’s a bad guy and a scientist. If you go big, go big and wild. 

    • Amen!  While storytelling tropes themselves are neither good nor bad, writers seem often to forget that at least half their usefulness stems from their power to lead readers down false trails.  If you know for a fact that your audience expects your Token Ancient Bearded Guy in a Funny Hat to fulfill the Mentor archetype, then it’ll be easy to pull a fast one on practically everybody by turning him into something else entirely.

      Fantasy is a genre that’s stagnated over the past several decades.  The fact that it’s impossible to out-Tolkien Tolkien or out-Lewis Lewis hasn’t impeded the seemingly endless quest to do just that.  But this situation, rather than giving me unease, makes me excited.  It’s quite fun to be writing fantasy at a time like this, when the element of surprise is a low-hanging fruit.

What do you think?