ordwayIn his interview with professor and apologist Holly Ordway, Brandon Vogt asks about her conversion from atheism to Catholicism, as recounted in her latest book Not God’s Type: An Atheist Academic Lays Down Her Arms. Interestingly enough, it started with “Christian literature.”

…classic Christian literature planted seeds in my imagination as a young girl, something I write about in more detail in my book. Later, Christian authors provided dissenting voices to the naturalistic narrative that I’d accepted—the only possible dissenting voice, since I wasn’t interested in reading anything that directly dealt with the subject of faith or Christianity, and thus wasn’t exposed to serious Christian thought.

I found that my favorite authors were men and women of deep Christian faith. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien above all; and then the poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, George Herbert, John Donne, and others. Their work was unsettling to my atheist convictions, in part because I couldn’t sort their poetry into neat ‘religious’ and ‘non-religious’ categories; their faith infused all their work, and the poems that most moved me, from Hopkins’ “The Windhover” to Donne’s Holy Sonnets, were explicitly Christian. I tried to view their faith as a something I could separate from the aesthetic power of their writing, but that kind of compartmentalization didn’t work well, especially not with a work of literature as rich and complex as The Lord of the Rings.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to ask more questions. I needed to find out what a man like Donne meant when he talked about faith in God, because whatever he meant, it didn’t seem to be ‘blind faith, contrary to reason’.

The Christian writers did more than pique my interest as to the meaning of ‘faith’. Over the years, reading works like the Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Hopkins’ poetry had given me a glimpse of a different way of seeing the world. It was a vision of the world that was richly meaningful and beautiful, and that also made sense of both the joy and sorrow, the light and dark that I could see and experience. My atheist view of the world was, in comparison, narrow and flat; it could not explain why I was moved by beauty and cared about truth. The Christian claim might not be true, I thought to myself, but it had depth to it that was worth investigating. (bold, mine)

In this podcast, Ordway talks about the “inconsolable longing” that novels by Tolkien and Lewis evoked in her. Even though their stories were not explicitly “Christian,” it was their perspective, their worldview, that “planted seeds” in her imagination and drove her to find out more about the authors. In fact, it was this research which led her to discover the religious beliefs of the authors and the stories’ Christian underpinnings. At first, Ordway felt somehow tricked. The sense of hope, transcendence, and beauty evoked by these novels was an outgrowth of the beliefs of their authors. Yet this reality is what eventually initiated her journey to Christianity.

There is a belief among many evangelical authors that fiction can only be “Christian” insofar as Christian elements and themes are explicit. I think Ms. Ordway’s testimony challenges that assumption.

There is, without question, different views as to the aim of Christian fiction. On one side are those who believe Christian fiction should target Christians — encourage them, inspire them, reinforce their values, and ultimately make them better believers.  On the other side are those who believe Christian authors should target seekers — whet their spiritual appetite, disarm antagonism, simplify biblical themes, reinforce a biblical worldview, and leave them thinking about God, Christ, sin, and/or heaven and hell. Or simply pique their interest in the author and where she is coming from.

However, for the most part, writers and publishers of Christian fiction aim at the Church, not the world. This is a fatal error. The downside of such an approach is that, though well-intentioned, writing and marketing novels exclusively to Christians limits the degree to which authors can “plant seeds” in the imaginations of seekers. Ordway’s testimony is a reminder that simple worldview elements can stoke a reader’s spiritual quest.

Interestingly enough, many question whether or not novels like The Lord of the Rings trilogy should even be considered “Christian.” In Ordway’s case, it was “Christian enough” to prompt her to begin a quest — a quest to research the author. She came to the conclusion that she “needed to ask questions” about why men like Donne, Lewis, and Tolkien all shared this same worldview.

Their poems and novels led her to investigate the authors and their faith.

And this is where I believe many Christian fiction defenders err. The best apologetic for a specific worldview is not the story, but the author. This isn’t to say that our stories should not contain Light. Rather, theological specificity should not be sought in fictional tales. In fact, the more we demand a doctrinal checklist from one’s novels, the further we move from telling stories to preaching sermons. Ultimately, the best apologetic is the author, not the story. If people want to know what an author believes they should ask them, listen to them, research them. But demanding theological specificity from fiction eliminates the author’s ability to “plant seeds in the imagination” and the reader’s desire to, as Ms. Ordway did, “ask more questions.”

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fanfic

Authors understandably have mixed feelings about fan fiction. For example, in How authors feel about fan fiction, George R.R. Martin is quoted as saying, “Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out.” Martin is joined by others like Anne Rice, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. LeGuin as opposing fan fiction involving their characters and stories. On the other hand are novelists like J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, and Charlie Stross who are a bit more tolerant.

Meanwhile, the popularity of fan fiction has exploded, with some even calling it the future of publishing. And with this explosion comes increased debate about the stories one creates and the degree to which an author actually owns them.

Stephen King famously described writing in terms of archaeological excavation. In his memoir on the craft King writes,

“Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

It’s a unique way to look at it. The suggestion is that stories somehow exist independent of their authors. Or perhaps they exist uniquely “inside” their authors, part of our “collective unconscious,” like some weird offspring seeking to be birthed into the world. But IF stories exist independent of their authors, then shouldn’t they be held loosely? And really that’s what I find most interesting about this debate — what fanfic tells us about the nature of story.

In The Power of Fanworks In Sci Fi, Fantasy Is Now Undeniable Inverse estimates that “There are over 22,000 fandoms represented with fan fiction.” Quoting Tea Fougner, a fanwork creator and co-editor of RAW: A Hannibal/Will Fanthology,

“When you deeply identify with a character or a narrative, exploring it is second nature I think we often forget this today in the world of corporate IP, but for millennia, stories were a collaboration across generations: oral tradition and the scarcity of literacy or written texts meant that sharing stories by necessity meant retelling them to a degree, and building on top of the creative work of those who came before, whether it was embellishing their stories, or creating more stories about the same characters, or commenting critically on the original work by creating new stories, were all extremely common activities. It’s how we get things like the Argonautica, or Paradise Lost, or many of Shakespeare’s plays.”

Sadly, the article veers into to the popularity of fanfiction as an ability to insert “queer characters” and minority characters into existing story worlds.

“I think that fandom often points to gaps in what popular media is presenting,” says Fougner. “So much fanwork is created by people and for people who aren’t seeing the kinds of stories they want to read being produced on a larger scale. There’s a great deal of fanwork that is specifically about queer identities, or about characters of color, for example, because fans who want to read about characters like that are feeling let down by pop media.”

This is, frankly, one of the reasons many authors hedge at sharing their characters with other creatives. According to an official statement from her agent, Rowlings desires that Harry Potter fanfic remain PG-rated.

“…she is very flattered by the fact there is such great interest in her Harry Potter series and that people take the time to write their own stories. Her concern would be to make sure that it remains a non-commercial activity to ensure fans are not exploited and it is not being published in the strict sense of traditional print publishing… The books may be getting older, but they are still aimed at young children. If young children were to stumble on Harry Potter in a an X-rated story, that would be a problem.”

An X-rated Harry Potter strikes me more as artistic hijacking than “collaboration.” Nevertheless, this is one of the motivations behind the fanfic craze — to synthesize characters we love with agendas and lifestyles we value. But even more than that, it is the ability to insert ourselves into fictional storyworlds that is so compelling. According to Fougner, this is a reaction to the sting of isolation that mainstream media can create in viewers.

“…fandom is something of a salve for the sting of a mainstream media that doesn’t include us. To see yourself in work you love is to see yourself as a part of the world, and even when mainstream media won’t give us that luxury, fan creators and fanworks do.”

We read and view epic adventures only to return to our mundane lives. Fanfiction empowers us to “collaborate” with the adventurers, to see ourselves in the works we love, to continue the journey in whatever direction we choose. Now, the fanfic writer need never leave Pottermore.

Even if it means damning authorial intent and stripping the characters of autonomy.

Undoubtedly, legalities and copyright issues remain the big issue. On her website, Anne Rice puts it bluntly: “I do not allow fan-fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan-fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes.” While I totally respect (and probably agree with), Ms. Rice’s sentiments, it’s readers desires to even consider tinkering with an author’s characters that fascinates me.

Shelley may have excavated the Monster, but is it right to think the creature is only hers’? Or Dr. Frankenstein’s?

What we often lose sight of in the debate about fanfiction is what it tells us about the nature of “story.” If King is correct, that stories are “part of an undiscovered pre-existing world,” then how much credit can one author really take for “excavating” it? Of course, you could argue that Lestat did not exist until Rice dredged him up. Then again, maybe Lestat, Potter, and Frankenstein’s Monster were always there, existing in some type of Platonic Form, just waiting for some eager, imaginative author to start digging where no one else had broken ground. In that case, even though Harry Potter may have been around long before than J.K. Rowling, at the least we must give her credit for excavating a character that others had left buried.

And that alone should cause fandom to respect both her — and Harry’s — wishes.

 

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whw16

I’m fortunate to be part of a great writing group. There’s five of us, and we’ve been blessed with moderate success, being published across a fairly wide spectrum of genres and markets, traditionally and independently, fiction and non-fiction. Our members have experience in numerous areas, including editing (copy and content), marketing, cover design, formatting, etc., we are (mostly) agented, and several of us have led workshops and been included in conference faculty. I have immensely benefited from the collective wisdom and experience of this group. In fact, we have often discussed how privileged we are to share such valuable camaraderie and wish that other writers could share in and benefit from our experiences.

And now we’re offering to do just that!

writing-groupOn September 20th, we’re going to be paying it forward, extending an opportunity for five other writers to receive some one-on-one advice, encouragement, and practical assistance. From 10 AM to 11:45 PM (UTC+05:30) we’ll be hosting a Facebook event in which our group will be accepting (written) pitches. We’ll each select one pitch and work with that person in whatever capacity they might need, whether to get the first 5 pages of their WIP ready for submission, or a synopsis or query letter ready to send out to agents and editors.

WHO WE ARE AND WHAT WE’RE LOOKING FOR

  • Mike Duran: I write in the General Market and CBA, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Horror
    What I’m looking for: Adult Urban Fantasy, Horror, Dark Fantasy, Paranormal
    What I’m NOT looking for: Romance
  • Merrie Destefano: I write for the General Market, YA, Adult, SciFi, Fantasy, Contemporary, Gothic Romance
    What I’m looking for: General market, YA or adult, SciFi, Fantasy, Contemporary, or Literary, Mystery.
    What I’m NOT looking for: Romance, Dark Horror, Non-Fiction
  • Rachel Marks: I write for the YA market, urban and high fantasy.
    What I’m looking for: Anything YA, Fantasy, Light Horror, Romance. A mystery element is a plus.
    What I’m NOT looking for: Non-fiction, Straight Horror
  • Rebecca Luella Miller: I write in the General Market
    What I’m looking for: Any Genre, Any Market, Any Age
    Accepting the first 5 pages only, not a synopsis or a query letter.
  • Paul Regnier: I write in the CBA market, SciFi, Fantasy
    What I’m looking for: Speculative Fiction, SciFi, Paranormal
    What I’m NOT looking for: Romance, Horror

So on Tuesday, Sept. 20th, I’m inviting you to attend our Facebook event and pitch your idea to us.  More details will be posted on that page as the date approaches. But if you’re interested, you should consider working on a short paragraph of pithy, punchy, compelling, provocative, stainless steel details about your project that will appeal to someone in our writing group. We’re calling this Writers Helping Writers #WHW16 and hope to see and your friends there!

 

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mysterious-galaxyEven with the publishing industry in major flux, Mysterious Galaxy has run a thriving brick-and-mortar store, becoming one of the premiere independent booksellers in SoCal. The store hosts hundreds of authors a year for signings, discussions, launch parties, and other events. Mysterious Galaxy also hosts a monthly Writers Coffeehouse workshop led by local author and five-time Bram Stoker award winner, Jonathan Maberry, as well as regular book discussion groups and occasional non-author events. So I’m excited to be part of the store’s most recent Author Event. I’ll be signing copies of The Ghost Box and Saint Death at Mysterious Galaxy, San Diego, this weekend, from 12-3. If you’re in the area, please plan on dropping by, saying hi, and supporting your local indie authors and bookseller.

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all-seeing-eye-of-godThe last half of my “writing life” has involved unlearning much of what I learned in the first half.

Perhaps it’s necessary to teach beginning writers the “writing rules.” Some of those rules are:

  • Show Don’t Tell — Use action and dialog rather than exposition
  • POV — Maintain a consistent, realistic narrative point-of-view; don’t “head hop” from one person to the next in the same scene
  • Avoid Passives — Keep tenses active; Dean strangled the cat is better than The cat was killed by Dean

Of course, there’s many other rules and literary conventions, most of which have developed over time and are reinforced by academics, experts, or people in the know (i.e. published authors). But those are some of the biggies.

One such writing rule that I was taught was to avoid was omniscient Point of View. Sure, much of the dissuasion was not because of an essential flaw in the approach, but that it had fallen out of literary favor. But, alas, like many of the things I was taught to avoid, it appears that OPOV isn’t quite the bugaboo the church ladies told me.

In The Return of Omniscience, novelist Elliot Holt muses about recent appearances of the beloved eye in the sky. Interestingly, Elliot traces the 19th century falling out of OPOV to modernism’s emphasis upon the self and individual consciousness.

Gustave Flaubert believed that the ideal author should be “present everywhere and visible nowhere,” but in stressing invisibility, Flaubert was ahead of his time. Most 19th-­century novelists didn’t try to hide their authorial presence. With modernism’s emphasis on the self and the rendering of individual consciousness, omniscience became unfashionable. ­Twentieth-century realists moved closer to their characters and wrote in the first person or limited third.

So it was a shift away from “authorial presence” to the recognition of other presences, other minds, that inspired the abandonment of omniscience. The author’s “authority” was eventually seen less in her ability to get out of a character’s head and into a character’s head.

It is quite fascinating then to watch the slow return. And as Elliot observes, it has as much to do with postmodernism’s peculiarities as the falling out did with modernism’s peculiarities:

The old metaphor for omniscience was “author as God,” but in our largely secular digital age, authorial divinity could be replaced by a new analogy: author as smartphone. Computers augment our intelligence. Contemporary writers have the power to see streets they’ve never walked on and find historical dates and images in seconds. Browsing the internet is its own kind of omniscience: so much information, and all just a few clicks away. Perhaps the return of omniscient narrators reflects the sense we all have, as internet users, of access to unlimited knowledge.

And, conversely, in a world where our movements are tracked, where our web searches leave cookie crumbs, and where privacy is increasingly compromised, omniscient narrators resonate with readers. We know we’re being watched, by traffic and security cameras, by our employers, by the N.S.A., by random people taking pictures with their phones. We’re aware of the threat of hackers and cybercrime; artificial intelligence is getting smarter every day… Technological transcendence is “spooky”: Perhaps omniscience taps into this collective fear about loss of privacy.

Apparently, the literary world has nurtured modernism’s micro-narrative long enough. Why “head hop” when we can “world hop”, or “time hop”? Authors have proven that they can get under a character’s skin. So maybe it’s time that we return to the bigger picture, the “author as God.” Or should I say, “author as smartphone.” In this way, OPOV is the “meta-narrative”of our technologically transcendent society. Omniscience doesn’t dash the novelist’s need to see through others’ eyes. Rather, it reinforces the novelist as creator — both IN and ABOVE her creation.

In this era of omnipotent smartness, that lost mode of storytelling takes on new urgency. Technology forces us to see the world — and construct the stories we tell about it — differently.

I’m not sure how the country club, the ever-present defenders of the “writing rules” will feel about this. But as an author, it predicts worlds of possibility.

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Horror v. Sci-Fi as a Vehicle for Morality

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One of the common arguments against a Materialistic, Naturalistic worldview is its inability to define or present a compelling Moral universe. And as much contemporary sci-fi is tethered to such a worldview, it could be asked whether science fiction (at least, of the Materialistic cloth) is a fitting vehicle to address issues of morality. The […]

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“Clean Fiction” as Evangelical White Magic

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Evangelical readers’ objection to fictional magic — i.e., Harry Potter-like spells and witchery — is far less evil than the actual incantations and “spiritual formulas” wielded by many believers. At least, that’s the going thesis in E. Stephen Burnett’s article, Six Christian White Magic Spells Worse Than Fantasy Magic. What are those “magic spells” evangelicals naively […]

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Novelist Tim Ward on Biblical Worldview in Fiction

4 comments

Tim Ward is a Hugo Nominee, former Producer / Editor at Adventures in SciFi Publishing, and the author of several popular futuristic thrillers. His latest novel  Godsknife: Revolt, is an apocalyptic fantasy set in the rift between Iowa and the Abyss. Tim joins us today to contribute to our ongoing discussion about integrating a biblical worldview into […]

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Goodreads Giveaway: Saint Death

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Giving away three autographed copies of “Saint Death” at Goodreads. Enter HERE. * * * Reagan Moon didn’t plan on being an earth guardian. He was your average paranormal reporter…until 1,000 volts of raw electricity fused an ancient relic into his sternum. It left him with Powers and lets him do things most humans can’t. […]

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Pete’s Dragon & Evil Archetypes

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A while back, I posited that traditional archetypes should be fair game for religious authors to tinker with, subvert, and even transform. Like vampires. In my article, The Good Vampire, one commenter expressed the misgivings of the evangelical community in general when she wrote: “My biggest nit with reclaiming vampires is that traditionally, they have […]

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Portraying Santa Muerte in “Saint Death”

3 comments

I received a nice review of Saint Death over at the Black Gate (HERE). The reviewer mentioned something that I thought worth addressing — my depiction of Santa Muerte in the novel. Some might find Mike Duran’s handling of the Santa Muerte folk religion troubling. Since in his book it’s used as a front for […]

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The Future of Realm Makers: A Conference Divided Between Markets

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So much great conversation has ensued following Realm Makers 2016. One person I’ve really enjoyed chatting with about RM, the Christian speculative community, and related publishing trends, is author and founder of Uncommon Universes Press, Janeen Ippolito. Janeen had some interesting (and I think, important) observations about the conference and where the Christian spec community […]

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