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Christian Spec-Fic: At a Crossroads or a Cul-de-Sac?

Christian Spec-Fic: At a Crossroads or a Cul-de-Sac?

by Mike Duran · 128 comments

I’ve been following recaps of Realm Makers, which has been dubbed as “the first-ever Christian speculative conference.” For the record, I was invited by the founder Becky Minor to participate in the horror panel. My schedule realmmakers_finallogodidn’t permit me to attend, though I would have loved to been involved.

Despite the enthusiastic reports, I must say up front that I remain skeptical about the future of Christian speculative fiction.

Writer friend Kat Heckenbach was one of those who expressed great hope for the fledgling conference, going so far as to call it “the birth of a genre.”

From Kat’s piece, My A-ha Moment:

Christian Spec-fic is just being born right now. It’s been developing in a hidden place where so many people aren’t even aware. But it’s coming out! And everything — EVERYTHING — that happened at Realm Makers felt like it had God’s hand on it. God’s blessing.

We ARE honoring Him. We are birthing a genre that God wants out there. I could feel it, all weekend, with every word said, every friendship strengthened, every round of applause.

It’s hard to slight such enthusiasm. Christian spec writers have been voicing their frustration with mainstream religious fiction for the longest. When you consider the popularity of speculative fiction in culture, by comparison, speculative fiction is terribly under-represented among religious publishers. So gathering with other believers who have a vision for writing speculative fiction for the glory of God should be a cause for excitement.

But what is Kat excited about? I mean, what exactly does Realm Makers hope to accomplish that hasn’t yet been attempted? As many Christian publishers admit, if speculative fiction sold all that well, they’d be selling it. But frankly, we’ve been getting mixed messages from industry professionals for a while. So will this attempt change anything? Will Christian speculative fiction suddenly find its audience? Or, has there ever really been much of an audience?

I have suggested before that fundamental problems underlie the Christian speculative fiction genre. Namely that speculation does not jibe with theology. When you have Christians campaigning against books because some character casts a spell or wields a wand, you’re already behind the eight ball. Combine that with the normal CBA strictures of G / PG-rated fare and overt redemptive themes, it seems to me we’re back at square one. Add all the wizards and vortexes you want. In the end, we’re still preaching to the choir. Most of whom like Amish and Romance.

Fantasy writer Morgan Busse, in Realm Makers: What Could Be Next?, seemed a bit more pensive and probing.

I believe Realm Makers now stands at a crossroad. Where will it go next? Will it become another writing conference, or to morph into a true speculative conference?

In my own opinion, there are many venues that teach writing. But there are hardly (if any) venues where those who simply love speculative can attend. Yes, there are cons (Comic Con, Gen Con, Dragon con), but not one specifically geared toward the Christian view. Until now.

That is my personal hope for the future of Realm Makers: a place where Christian speculative fans can gather and enjoy both sci-fi/fantasy and God.

Morgan’s suggestion that Realm Makers morphs into “a true speculative conference” is rather fascinating. What is “a true speculative conference” anyway? And how would  “a true [Christian] speculative conference” be any different? To what extent would Christian theology, traditional Christian fiction mores, and hard-core spec fans find common ground?

Really, I don’t think they could.

I totally applaud what Becky Minor and her Realm Makers team is doing. May God bless them, give them vision, and expand the boundaries of their vision. I am absolutely supportive of more Christian writers celebrating sanctified imagination. Amen.

However, if Realm Makers is about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers, I believe we’ve failed. We’re still in the ghetto.  The only real “crossroads” Christian speculative fiction is at is whether or not it will remain simply an appendage to the existing Christian fiction industry or will blaze a trail, capture a new audience, and do more than just provide the “Christian alternative” to Neil Gaiman.

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{ 123 comments… read them below or add one }

Teddi Deppner August 12, 2013 at 5:30 PM

I can appreciate both sides (if you can call them sides) of this question.

As someone long skeptical of the idea that our job as Christians is to somehow provide a “clean alternative” to what the world has, I am skeptical of how some people approach “Christian speculative fiction”. If all you’re doing is re-creating something the world has so we can have it (or give it to our kids) with a clean conscience, that’s shallow and short-sighted.

However, as someone who has long felt like the lone lover of sci-fi and fantasy in any room, much less a room full of Christians, I have been over the moon to discover that there are insightful, intelligent, articulate spec fic fans who are also committed and thoughtful followers of Christ. I am not alone! There is yet a remnant!

Being the optimist that I am, I have two major thrusts of thought on this:

1) Spec fic in the secular market has a history of being a small slice of the pie. But recent trends (in culture, in technology) have brought it further into the mainstream. The exploding YA market seems to have a higher spec fic percentage than the adult fiction market (I don’t have stats to point to, but browsing the bookstores over the past few years I’ve seen shelves FULL of paranormal stuff in the kid section).

This gives me the idea that spec fic is a bigger market than it used to be, and I think the trend still has enough momentum to keep growing for a while.

2) I’m hopeful that Christian spec fic flopped in the past primarily because the kind of book that made it past the CBA gatekeepers did not live up to what spec fic readers who happen to be Christian really wanted. I say “hopeful” because I’m hoping that the new publishing frontiers will allow truly awesome spec-fic-that-happens-to-be-written-by-Christians to soar.

Of course, when I say “soar”, it may still be a tiny market compared to the general market mystery / thriller genre that dominates fiction sales. But people are making great success out of new markets more and more these days. For example, the “New Adult” genre (for college age) that has come out of the success of the “Young Adult” genre. Booming.

The fact that I’ve discovered a few dozen fantastic Christian authors who are passionate about spec fic tells me that there are plenty more out there. In hiding, maybe. In training, perhaps. Unaware that their dreams could become reality in the new marketplace. Unborn, even.

But honestly… even if there are only 100,000 Christians who love to read spec fic in the whole world (and I tend to believe there are a lot more than that), I say that’s good enough. Good enough that it’s worth having an annual conference to celebrate. Good enough that I’d be happy to compete with my esteemed fellow Christian spec fic authors for the attention of those lovely folks.

When you’ve lived your whole life thinking you’re the only one, finding a few thousand others is… life-changing. Life-affirming. And more than enough for me. :-)

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Kat Heckenbach August 12, 2013 at 5:36 PM

Mike, I really appreciate your consideration of this topic. I know it’s something that’s been close to your heart for a long time. I know we both have struggled with frustration because the CBA won’t take spec-fic seriously–and to be honest, we kinda don’t take the CBA seriously either (may I quote you here: “Christian fiction readers are by-and-large unsophisticated readers.”).

And while the future of Realm makers isn’t entirely clear right now, a con was a first step in telling the publishing world, “You may not take us seriously, but WE do.” Seriously enough to SELL OUT with our first conference. Seriously enough to have EVERY PERSON who attended excited about doing it again next year and for years to come. Seriously enough to prove with money paid and time spent that we are more than just lone, random voices on the internet.

There is a con in my town every year–for the past 30 years–that started as basically a sci-fi book club in someone’s living room. It now hosts over 1,000 attendees every year and we have guests like David Gerrold, Ben Bova, and Christopher Paolini. Everything starts somewhere.

Also, I want to point out something that I was talking about today–it’s not like we’ve been trying for decades to get this genre off the ground. Let’s be real here. There was the conception back in the time of the Inklings. But after them, where was there anything that could be considered “Christian spec-fic”? Frank Peretti is spiritual warfare, and Jenkins is tribulation fiction. (Ted Dekker is an anomaly.) It’s really only been the last few years that we’ve been trying with any real effort to make this happen. And that is a rather short time in the wider scope of things.

Lastly, one thing I believe wholeheartedly is that Realm Makers is NOT “about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers.”

Not. At. All.

Are there *some* speculative writers that are going to be CBA-like in their style? Sure. But I find Realm Makers to be something that is going to stand on its own. Something that will fill that gap between CBA and ABA when it comes to spec-fic. The place where Christians who *aren’t* “campaigning against books because some character casts a spell or wields a wand” and yet want allegory and all levels of Christian content from overt to way under the radar.

Anyway, none of us are without doubts, but my experience that weekend…I felt God there. I’m not sure how else to put it, but I think that really means something. :)

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Tony August 12, 2013 at 6:59 PM

“You may not take us seriously, but WE do.”

This was the same sort of foundation that the HWA was founded upon. I think it’s the first step to promoting any type of fiction. . .or anything, for that matter. As long as the idea is to promote and produce high quality Spec. Fiction.

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Kat Heckenbach August 12, 2013 at 7:12 PM

Thanks, Tony, and I agree–quality is a must.

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D.M. Dutcher August 12, 2013 at 7:37 PM

There was more back then than people thought. Stephen Lawhead first debuted in CBA with his Fienna books, Dream Thief, and the Dragon King trilogy. Calvin Miller did the Singreale books, and Roger Elwood did Angelwalk and some horror/sf. T Davis Bunn even tried his hand with The Dream Voyagers, and John White had his Geburah books. For kids, John Bibee had the Magic Bicycle series (which is very underrated) and Jeanne Norweb did her Dragon books, which I think were one of the first ones to use dragons against type, as friendly creatures. There was “Path of the Promise Keeper,” by Muriel Neeson (i think) which was Pentecostal christian children’s fantasy. Operation: Titan by Dilwyn Horvat was written in 1985.

There even was a Christian D&D-styled RPG, Dragonraid. While there’s probably more spec fic now due to the web presses, the old publishers still put some out, and I don’t remember as much of a stigma against it. Crossway books in particular put a lot of SF out, whether for adults or in their youth book line.

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 4:15 AM

Kat, I totally agree that the jury’s out on this. Building something with tenure and breadth will take time and vision. I think that’s why I appreciated Morgan’s mention of the group being at a “crossroads.” Without some type of extensive vision, which would include, for lack of better words, a “theology of Christian spec-fic,” we’re just mimicking ACFW, replacing Amish / Romance fans with spec fans. In order to compete with other professionals cons or associations, I believe we would have to address some of the same issues Christian fiction faces re: culture, theology, and art.

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Tony Breeden August 12, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Mike,

That was cynical, even for you. Grumpy Cat wants his keyboard back. I mean that with love, dude. ;]

For the record, I didn’t get to go to Realm Makers. But I hope to in the future.

I write speculative fiction as a Bible-affirming YEC preacher that is full of aliens, future tech, created life forms, super powers, space ships, dragons, robots and even werewolves and vampires. Yet I remain faithful to traditional Christian theology. I’m not alone. I’ve read lots of books by Christian spec-faith authors who are not content to write by CBA standards [esp. since they are formulated to sell Amish romances and not spec-faith] and are yet dedicated to Biblical authority and revelation. I can’t speak for all of those authors, but I get the impression that they’re a bit like me in at least one respect: we’re writing what we’d love to be reading. In my case, I also see spec-faith [esp. sci-fi] as an exploratory apologetic; rather like anticipating the faith conversations of the future and providing possible answers to the moral and theological problems we might face. Having said that, however noble our intentions, traditional CBA publishers aren’t likely to give spec-faith much play; to adapt one of Jesus’ parables: they’d rather bury their talent in the ground and keep what they have rather than take a risk which could result in losing it, even if it means they won’t expand their horizons any.

If there is a crossroads for Christian spec-faith it is this: will we continue to whine about this situation, will we continue to try to convince CBA publishers that this genre has a future in the hopes that they’ll adopt us, OR will we concentrate on building the genre. I think that Realm Makers as a true spec-fic conference is a push in the right direction. I also think we need to get more involved in established cons relating to our genre and audience [ie, DragonCon, PandoraCon, Comicon, etc] and show our fans and fellow geek-culture that we’re a force to be reckoned with. I’m also excited about this trend of authors supporting and promoting one another, encouraging one another, giving each other tough-love editing suggestions… We can’t do this alone. We weren’t meant to.

I remain irrepressibly enthusiastic about the future of Christian spec-fic because I believe it is what God wants me to do. I don’t expect it to be easy, any more than I expected it to be easy to raise four special needs kids. I’m doing this because I feel God’s pleasure when I do it; it’s what I was made to do. ;]

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 4:20 AM

Tony, I didn’t intend to come off as cynical. I want to see Christian spec-fic succeed! I want to see Realm Makers grow! If I am able, I would definitely plan on attending. I just happen to think we’re going to need more intellectual rigor and less costumes to get somewhere. Rah-rah enthusiasm is great for the game, but if you’re building a league, the pom-poms should remain in the trunk.

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 4:37 AM

I gotta point out here….the costumes were just one evening, after a very long day, a before a second very long day of serious *sessions*. It may seem, looking online, that the costume night was what it was all about because there are SO many pictures of it. But that’s because there are only so many pictures of people sitting in chairs taking notes one can look at before falling asleep, ya know? And during the sessions we were too busy thinking and learning to take photos. And even in the hallways, there was discussion going on constantly about the future of Christian spec-fic, the future of Realm Makers, the next steps we need to take. Also, we met together, took pics, ooh and aahed over each other’s costumes, and then *talked about writing* at the banquet.

And Mike, the fact is that the fandom for fantasy and sci-fi is FILLED with cosplayers who have really deep, thinky thoughts under all those elf ears and robotics. They’re not all just a bunch of airhead spec-fic cheerleaders–actually, very few of them are. I mentioned a local con I attend every year. We have fun things like trivia games and such, but we have scientific panels on stuff like nanotech and astronomy–and THOSE are the panels that pack out. I really think this is a classic case of judging books by their costumed covers.

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R.J. Anderson August 13, 2013 at 5:34 AM

The same thing is true of MythCon, which I attended for the first time this year and LOVED. Never have I felt so welcomed and accepted at a con *as a Christian* and not merely as a fellow lover of fantasy/SF. Yes, the day’s sessions consisted of the reading of rigorous academic papers on specific aspects of Lewis and Tolkien’s writing (albeit mostly Tolkien, since his worldbuilding gives more scope for that kind of academic analysis). But there was plenty of relaxed chatter and banter, a costume contest on the final night, a zany stage play called “Watership Downton” enacted by veteran attendees wearing cardboard bunny ears, and the whole thing wrapped up with singing several spontaneously-created verses “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Hobbit?”

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sally apokedak August 13, 2013 at 9:01 AM

ha ha thanks. Now “what shall we do with a drunken hobbit” is going to be running through my mind all day.

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Mike Duran August 14, 2013 at 4:57 AM

I’m not against cosplay. But in regards to forging a “new genre,” I totally stand behind my statement: “I just happen to think we’re going to need more intellectual rigor and less costumes to get somewhere.”

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Kat Heckenbach August 14, 2013 at 6:42 AM

Mike, with all due respect–and you know how much I respect you and consider you a friend–you were not there. You are judging based on some pictures and a lot of hooting and hollering online. You did not witness, as I did, all the thinking and discussion going on there. There WAS more intellectualism than costuming. The cosplay was ONE night, a total of a couple of hours in the course of a two-day (12-hour days, I might add) conference.

The banquet was focused on celebrating successes, like the Clive Staples Award and the Parable Award (for which YOUR book cover took second place, dude), and letting us appreciate those who put in SO MUCH work organizing RM, as well as letting a lot of authors stand up and speak about their writing.

And the rest of the con–getting serious about writing, our genres, our ways.

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Katherine Coble August 14, 2013 at 6:49 AM

1. Intellectual rigor might include knowing that it is “fewer costumes”.
2. Neither you nor I were there. We can’t speak to the ratio of intellectual rigor:cosplay
3. In Geek World, cosplay is considered an outward display of intellectual rigor. It’s a way that people show their devotion to a fandom, their creativity and their attention to detail. If you had followed the threads about certain attendees and the months of work that went into their costumes I doubt you could be anything but impressed.
4. The non-CBA world of spec Fic is Cosplay Central. What better way to show that this genre is a forward-moving thing?
5. I think you’re still hung up over the flap at ACFW. Funny to see you side with all the ROMANCE WRITERS who were offended by the spec Fic cosplayers.

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Kat Heckenbach August 14, 2013 at 7:08 AM

Thank you, Katherine.

And THIS is a BIGGIE: “The non-CBA world of spec Fic is Cosplay Central. What better way to show that this genre is a forward-moving thing?”

Mike, in other comments here you talk about how we need to hit READERS. Then you shun it when we show that we DO connect with them where they are (because we are them).

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Mike Duran August 14, 2013 at 9:04 AM

OK. For the record here, I did not mention one thing about cosplay in my post. It is not a big issue, frankly. I’m familiar with cosplay. I realize it’s a big part of cons. I do not live under a rock. The fact that my mention of it in my comments has garnered so much feedback sorta reinforces my feelings.

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 10:55 AM

Yes, and amen, Kat!

It’s good to have some curmudgeons like you around, Mike, just to balance things. But one of the great draws (for fans) of any big spec fic con I’m aware of is the cosplay! No matter how many cool celebrities are at the con, pictures of them talking at a panel are a tiny percentage compared to the hundreds of photos posted of the costumes. Heh.

And anybody who mocks the role of the cheerleader in sports really doesn’t understand it. In its purest, highest form, it is both a rigorous discipline in itself and a significant influence on players and crowd during the game.

(I say that both seriously, and laughing at the fact that I, of all people, am defending cheerleaders… and in a crowd of spec fic folks! So wrong…)

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Kevin Lucia August 13, 2013 at 1:53 PM

You should see the costume contest at Horrorfind every year…

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Tony Breeden August 13, 2013 at 10:45 AM

Mike,

If you’re building a league, promotion and enthusiasm are as essential to growth as drills and equipment. There cannot be a dichotomy if we wish to be successful.

My larger point is that we need to break free from the confines of CBA and build our genre rather than prove we’re viable so that he CBA will rescue us. In this, I think we agree.

btw, I was aiming for a gentle ribbing not an outright insult, so please forgive me if my cynicism comment mis-fired. I think you do great work and well I’m a bit of a cynic myself so I definitely wasn’t judging. [No room] ;]

-Tony

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Mike Duran August 14, 2013 at 4:59 AM

No offense taken, Tony. I agree that viability apart from the CBA is important here.

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Jill August 13, 2013 at 8:13 PM

I thought costume nights were must-haves at sci fi/fan conventions. Am I wrong about that?

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Katherine Coble August 14, 2013 at 6:50 AM

No. You’re spot on.

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H.G. Ferguson August 12, 2013 at 5:55 PM

Bravo, Mike. I could not agree with your concerns more. But make no mistake, my friend. Christian “speculative fiction” is about fantasy first, science fiction a far-off second, but not about…that. Horror. Now we are calling it “supernatural suspense” or some such to pretend avoiding the stigma. But you write…that…and push the envelope to much or tear it up entirely, you’re politely ignored and disregarded. …That…deserved more than a mere panel, given its popularity in the real world, being the genre of certain household names. Bravo, particularly your remark about a “Christian alternative to Neil Gaiman.” Thank you for voicing your concerns and daring to be a voice for godly discontent.

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Kat Heckenbach August 12, 2013 at 6:12 PM

I’m not going to deny that Christian horror seems to take a backseat to fantasy and sci-fi. It is definitely the most misunderstood. But as someone who was *on* the horror panel, I have to tell you–it was enthusiastically represented at Realm Makers. And surprisingly enthusiastically received. A lot of attendees commented about how enlightening the panel was, and how it gave them a new respect for the idea, and quite a few mentioned that it was a favorite session for them.

All I’m saying is don’t write off Realm Makers for only giving horror a “mere” panel–it was by no means a disrespect. There was one panel that COMBINED magic and science (and lasted only half an hour), one “sci-fi” panel that was actually entirely about a single online zine, and NO “fantasy” panels at all. The rest of the sessions were focused on topics that can be applied to ALL spec-fic genres. So if anything, horror got special attention.

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Robert H. Woodman August 12, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Mike, thanks for this post.

Teddi Deppner, you’re not the only committed Christian who likes science fiction. I have been reading science fiction since I discovered Isaac Asimov at the age of about 9 years old.

I’d like to see Christian speculative fiction succeed, but realistically, I’m with Mike on this one: theology and speculation can’t co-exist, mostly because of the theologians.

I love to read Christian science fiction writer David Weber. Not only is he a successful science fiction and fantasy writer, but he is also a Methodist lay preacher. Aside from his excellent plotting, pacing, and dialogue, Weber begins with the speculation that humanity will survive thousands of years in the future and expand into the far reaches of space, and the Christian religion will grow, expand, and in many ways change as it does. It’s fun speculation for me, but I know that it rankles some of my theologically conservative co-religionists, especially those who are convinced that Jesus is returning in the next few years, or the next generation at the latest.

But I also wonder why we really need “Christian speculative fiction”. Sure there is a huge amount of literary tripe (and worse) on the market these days, but if the goal is to reach as large an audience as possible, why not simply write excellent speculative fiction grounded in Christian moral principles? That’s what Tolkien did. C.S. Lewis did lots of that as well. Why not other Christian writers? Do we really NEED a “Christian speculative fiction” genre? I ask that in all seriousness.

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Teddi Deppner August 12, 2013 at 6:50 PM

Robert, I think that’s one of the challenges of this genre (and one of the obstacles it must overcome to succeed) — there are a number of different approaches and definitions of “Christian speculative fiction”.

Is it speculative fiction that happens to be written by Christians?

Is it speculative fiction that isn’t at odds with the Christian worldview?

Is it speculative fiction because it deals with the supernatural (angels, demons and God) and anything like that falls into the spec fic envelope?

Is it Christian speculative fiction because it deals with Christians topics — only “in space” or “on a unicorn”?

Personally, I think it can be any and all of that, and I’m content for it to remain broadly defined. But some really want to narrow it down and demand it be “just this” or “just that”.

If we can be unified enough to support the genre and yet allow it a broad enough scope to include a lot of folks, I think it can really take off.

Did the world really “need” science fiction? Did the world really “need” dystopian fiction?

The fact is, there are people who want to read it. And people who want to write it. For some reason, what’s out there does not satisfy us.

So yes, I think the world needs Christian speculative fiction. :-)

And a happy shout out to you for being a fellow long-time sci-fi reader! I love Weber, too! :-)

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Robert H. Woodman August 12, 2013 at 8:08 PM

Thanks for your response, and thanks for the shout-out! Weber is an awesome writer, and I’m glad to meet a fellow fan of his work. :-)

In answer to your questions, yes, the world does need science fiction, and even dystopian fiction. The need is emotional. I’m not sure (as I told Kat Heckenback, below) that the world needs “Christian speculative fiction”, but that’s just my opinion, and I may be wrong. (shocking! I know! :-) ) I do think that Christian speculative fiction should try and encompass as broad a swath of the reading public as it possibly can, and I worry that labeling it “Christian” may limit the swath that can be encompassed.

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Kat Heckenbach August 12, 2013 at 7:06 PM

“…why not simply write excellent speculative fiction grounded in Christian moral principles? That’s what Tolkien did. C.S. Lewis did lots of that as well. Why not other Christian writers?”

I would like the people who pose that question–and it happens a lot–to answer it please. I’m not being facetious. The fact is, everyone brings up Lewis and Tolkien as though they wrote their books like ten years ago. Instead of pointing fingers to everyone here, now–what happened in the last FIFTY YEARS?

I personally started writing with every intention of selling my book to a secular publisher. I have gotten reviews by Christians who say my YA fantasy books have “no spiritual value.” And all my horror–yes, I’m a girl horror writer too!–has been sold to secular magazines even though I consider my horror writing MORE Christian than my fantasy. But that doesn’t mean I will turn my back the idea of “Christian spec-fic.” I think Teddi said it well when she said (below) that we need to be unified AND broad in scope.

There is room for “Christian” spec-fic AND spec-fic “written by Christians.” Instead of turning against each other, we need to support each other.

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Robert H. Woodman August 12, 2013 at 8:04 PM

Kat, I appreciate your point. There can be room for “Christian” spec-fic AND spec-fic “written by Christians.”

I must confess that I always approach “Christian fiction” with trepidation and distrust, somewhat akin to the skepticism with which I approach a businessman who puts an ostentatious cross or Jesus fish on his or her business card. That skepticism comes from my being unpleasantly surprised more often than pleased by fiction books (and businessmen) that are overtly marketed as Christian.

And you are right, of course, that Tolkien and Lewis wrote more than fifty years ago. Tolkien seems to me to be timeless. Lewis isn’t timeless, but his writing ages very well. Too much fiction — Christian and non-Christian — doesn’t age well at all. Even Asimov (my introduction to science fiction) ages badly in some of his writings. Still, Tolkien and Lewis (at least in my mind) remain writers of enduring quality who are worthy of emulation (in a general sense) by current writers. Other people may feel differently about them, and I respect that.

Emotionally, the world needs good speculative fiction. Spiritually, the world needs Christ. I’m not sure that the world needs “Christian speculative fiction” as much as it needs speculative fiction that upholds Christian principles and values, but I’m just one man with one opinion (well, sometimes two or three opinions, but just one for now :-) ), and I’m willing to concede that my opinion may be wrong.

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Kat Heckenbach August 12, 2013 at 8:16 PM

I agree, Tolkien is timeless–and I actually think Lewis is too :). I do get a little frustrated when we ignore that they are timeless, but from a different time. I appreciate you being so tolerant of that!

And yes, I SO agree on the blatant flashing of Jesus fish and whatnot. It ends up coming across as the Good Housekeeping Seal or something. “Read this for safe and clean fiction, guaranteed not to offend!”

The thing is, some people really do want that, and so, the CBA was formed. That’s fine–except that they staked claim to the whole idea of Christian authorship, and that’s not fair. The ACFW calls themselves “the voice of Christian fiction.” I say, they are the voice of SOME Christian fiction. I think there can be multiple kinds–and I don’t want to dissuade you from your passion for great Christian authors writing good spec-fic that can be carried out into the secular market! I am totally FOR that! But I think a gradient, rather than a delineation needs to exist, and we can’t have that if every time anything even hinted at being Christian is sent to the ghetto aisle of the bookstores.

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Mike Duran August 14, 2013 at 5:06 AM

Kat, you said: “There is room for “Christian” spec-fic AND spec-fic “written by Christians.” Instead of turning against each other, we need to support each other.”

I absolutely agree with this statement. The question I would pose is whether “Christian speculative fiction” and, more specifically, Realm Makers, will address both. Because there’s a lot of Christians writing speculative fiction who would NOT fall within the guidelines of “Christian” lit. So if there’s room for both and I’m a Christian author who writes R-rated horror with only veiled spiritual content, does Realm Makers represent me?

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Kat Heckenbach August 14, 2013 at 6:28 AM

I thought I’d addressed that first question–as have several others, including Becky Minor. Yes. Yes. We do want to address both.

And, um, while I wouldn’t call my horror writing R-rated (although I read that and probably would write it), I fall generally into that latter category in that my spiritual content is veiled–to the point that some Christians have accused me of having *none*. And I’m represented by RM.

These are valid questions, Mike. BUT…asking so many and so intensely is a bit like following someone as they take their kid to the first day of kindergarten and asking, “So, what are his plans for college?”

Well, the parents know that college–or not, but *something*–is the plan for the child. The vision may not be crystal clear yet, but no one would say that unless you have the kid’s entire life’s path worked out it’s pointless to start him in kindergarten.

We had a con. It was a great success. It was a FIRST step. What are our plans??

To keep going, to learn along the way.

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D.M. Dutcher August 12, 2013 at 8:15 PM

You can’t divorce Christian moral principles from explicit Christian theology or God and Christ. It doesn’t work. Like, if you want say blessed are the meek, it really makes no sense unless you know there is a God that will give them the kingdom of heaven. A lot of the moral teaching can’t be extracted to stand on its own in a way palatable to secular readers. Mostly this winds up being “I’m Christian, my characters don’t swear or do kinky sex, and maybe I hint at God a couple of times in my book.” Which pretty much is the same as many secular writers.

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Marion August 12, 2013 at 6:33 PM

So then what we do? Do we just give up and rail at the publishing industry? As for someone who has lived in actual ghetto…..you try to make the best situation where you are until it gets better. Again, it seems like a lot people want that proverbial home-run into mainstream respectability. Instead of getting on base with singles, doubles, or even a triple.

As long as there’s the word Christian in front of fiction and any of its sub genres there will always be resistance and never total acceptance from the industry at large.

I just read an article from Ursula Le Guin and she lamented the fact that Margaret Atwood refuses to acknowledge her work (Cat’s Eye, Handmaid’s Tale…etc) is SF. Le Guin has chided Atwood for trying to distance herself from the genre she uses in her literary fiction. We are talking about two of giants in modern fiction and still secular SF is the stepchild of literature.

I applaud Realm Makers for trying something like this and hopefully it will succeed.

I have a question for you Mike or anybody else on your side of the fence:

What would be the perfect scenario for Christian Speculative Fiction?

Is it to get mainstream respectability and movin’ on up like Jeffersons from that 70′s sitcom?

Is it to have another patron saint like Tolkien or Lewis in order to show secular fiction lovers that there is depth and real literature in this genre?

Is it to convince the CBA to finally publish all stripes of Christian Speculative Fiction from Hard SF to Horror?

What’s the endgame for the growth of the genre?

As always…..an honest and thought-provoking blog post.

Marion

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Teddi Deppner August 12, 2013 at 6:57 PM

Really good point in terms of the world’s rejection of anything with the “Christian” label.

I suppose this is the only argument I’ve heard against promoting this genre that actually hits home to me.

I want my work to reach those who don’t like Christian stuff. I don’t want to be judged because of the label, I want them to judge the work itself. I want them to read and enjoy it.

So for those who are trying to reach a market beyond Christian readers… I suppose being categorized as “Christian speculative fiction” would be a detriment. *sigh*

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 4:36 AM

Marion, I believe the Christian publishing industry needs a Fiction Reformation of sorts. Our “theology of art” keeps us beholden to an ultra-conservative readership and stymies creativity. While I don’t believe Christians should ever have to apologize for their beliefs, I do think Realm Makers could benefit by actively distancing themselves from the existing industry and its strictures, determine to represent a larger swath of beliefs, and have a bit more of a “broad tent” approach regarding authors and audiences.

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 4:47 AM

By “represent a larger swath of beliefs” are you saying we ought to include other religious beliefs? Like, we should be open to Buddhist spec-fic writers, too? Atheist spec-fic writers?

Or that we should be stepping away from the uber-conservative Christian parameters implemented by the CBA–because, um, I don’t understand why you’re not getting that that’s what we’re saying we’re doing. The whole thing is centered around the idea that we want to be able to have more freedom. I, personally, want Realm Makers to be a place where I can discuss my theologically off-beat paranormal, my books with kids with magic, my horror stories with their dark symbolism….and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. It was time after time of people going, “It’s so good to talk to another Christian who doesn’t think I’m a freak for writing this kind of stuff!”

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Kevin Lucia August 14, 2013 at 4:19 PM

For what’s it’s worth, I don’t write “Christian fiction” and most my stories don’t even have Christian characters, and my fiction could definitely, in some cases, be classified as “R.” And I have no intention of ever publishing in the CBA, ever.

But I totally wanted to attend, and would like to attend next year, simply because I’d like to see more of these kinds of conversations take place. With the way self-publishing is growing, this is the perfect time to break away from the CBA and say: we don’t need you.

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Grace Bridges August 12, 2013 at 6:55 PM

Don’t know where you got the idea we’re aiming at the CBA. Splashdown sure isn’t.

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Teddi Deppner August 12, 2013 at 6:59 PM

That’s cool, and good to know, Grace. Do you actively distance Splashdown from the perception that its a Christian press? How do you approach it so as not to trigger the general reader’s anti-Christian radar?

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Grace Bridges August 12, 2013 at 8:09 PM

I work mainly with Christians, however of late I am discouraging submissions that are overly allegorical or with a too-transparent message. Good story and good writing must come first. I wasn’t always this way, but I am tired of the forced messages. Show-don’t-tell could easily be translated show-don’t-preach.

As for “radar” issues, when I’m with the nonreligious gang I market my “clean” titles – clean of Christian talk, that is :) And eventually such items will make up the majority of my output.

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Jill August 12, 2013 at 6:59 PM

This is really what I meant in my comment below about small presses and co-ops. These are people operating outside the CBA and doing their own thing.

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 5:12 AM

Grace, I don’t see Splashdown as “aiming at the CBA.” For instance, I think Kat’s books would fit in just fine outside the Religious Fiction shelves. However, the majority of folks I recognize at RM are ACFW contingents. My concern would be that we simply comport all the CBA strictures into RM strictures, attract the same disgruntled CBA spec-fic crowd, and — poof — a new genre is born.

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Grace Bridges August 13, 2013 at 6:28 AM

There were some ACFW people there, for sure. But there is room for them if they don’t mind that there is room for all kinds. I did have a number of books pitched to me that were too preachy for Splashdown, irrespective of writing quality, though most needed work in that department too.
What surprised me most about RM was the large proportion of people I didn’t know at all, from anywhere – not ACFW, not Lost Genre Guild, nothing. It’s a whole new circle with a little overlap from the old guard.

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Jill August 12, 2013 at 6:58 PM

I’m not much of a visionary, so I can’t look at the future and see success on the horizon. However, I’ve noticed a lot of small presses and co-ops spring up over the last several years. Maybe that’s where it’s at.

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Tony August 12, 2013 at 7:00 PM

I think so. Marcher Lord Press seems to be giving it quite a hard push. And I think they could benefit from the press a conference like this could provide.

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Katherine Coble August 12, 2013 at 7:42 PM

Marcher Lord is much-touted but just one among many. There’s Splashdown and the newest one from Jessica Tescher Thomas.

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Tony August 12, 2013 at 8:23 PM

Of course. MLP is just the one that leaps to mind. Regardless, more press for these small but forward-thinking publishers is definitely a good thing.

BTW, you mentioned a new press from Jessica Tescher Thomas? What’s the name? Or is it only in the works right now?

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Katherine Coble August 12, 2013 at 8:52 PM

I had to look it up. I’m forever just thinking of it as “Jessica’s new press”. It is Provision Books. In a post further down Jill links to their online journal.

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Jessica Thomas August 13, 2013 at 5:57 AM

Thanks for the mention, Katherine!

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Serena Chase August 12, 2013 at 7:36 PM

What cave have I been living in that I am just now hearing about this? I love the idea of a “con” type experience for Christian readers of spec fic (like Morgan spoke of)! Will there be another one of these conferences?

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Kristen Stieffel August 13, 2013 at 3:43 PM

Serena — yes, we’re working on it, though they may be writers conferences more than fan conventions for a while yet. Look up the Realm Makers page on Facebook for updates. Or follow the blog at http://www.realmmakers.com.

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Keith J. Henry August 12, 2013 at 7:51 PM

As a person who is about to start shopping around Sci-fi story with a Christian slant, its good to hear that some in the Christian publishing world might be interested.

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Jill August 12, 2013 at 8:00 PM

Here is a new journal that you could try (chances are better at getting accepted in a new journal): PBOJ. For the record, it isn’t my journal. ;)

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Jessica Thomas August 13, 2013 at 6:23 AM

Thanks Jill!

The name of the journal will be changing prior to the first release in September, but everything else will remain the same.

I received a question regarding the submission guidelines and suspect it came from this thread. Since there’s also some talk about horror on this thread, I’ll post my response here as well. The commenter asked what I mean by “mild” horror. Here’s my response: ‘I threw “mild” in there because I don’t want gratuitous blood and guts, where some creepy character goes around killing people. I’m not into being scared just for the sake of being scared. I prefer some kind of redemptive theme behind it, or an idea that gets me thinking about important moral questions. Good doesn’t necessarily have to win in the story, but I’m not likely to publish anything that glorifies evil.’

Regarding Realm Makers, I wanted to go so badly. I’ve met many wonderful people online who were also attending the conference, and it would have been a blast to meet them face to face. I still look forward to the possibility in the future, which is why I’m very much hoping for a repeat next year. Selfishly, I’d like it to remain writing focused, although I understand those who are interested in seeing it become more of a “con” type atmosphere.

I don’t think Christian speculative fiction is going anywhere, but I’m not convinced it will “break out” either. I think the misgivings some discerning Christians have regarding the genre are warranted to a degree, and they are cautions Christian specfic authors (aspiring and otherwise) would be wise to keep in the back of their minds as they are writing. I do think it’s possible to take speculation to the point where it is contrary to the gospel. Where that point is, I’m not sure. It’s a gray line, and as such (imo) requires constant evaluation and re-evaluation.

I have my doubts that the CBA will ever be up to the task of marketing Christian SpecFic, but I’m quite certain those of us who love to write it (who are also Christians) won’t let that stop us, and with the emerging technologies, the sky is the limit at this point. The real challenge now is getting anyone to notice or care and that’s a *huge* challenge.

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Jessica Thomas August 13, 2013 at 6:37 AM

“(who are also Christians) ” This is redundant. Sorry. Typo.

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Katherine Coble August 12, 2013 at 8:05 PM

GREAT GOD PAN!!! Can we all stop dumping on Amish Romance already?!?

I hate it because I hate how much of it makes me and my kin look two-dimensional and Magic Other.

But so WHAT if people like to read it? Who cares? They aren’t bad for not liking the same stuff you like.

I READ ROMANCE NOVELS. I WRITE ROMANCE NOVELS. IT ISN’T A CRIME AND I AM NOT MENTALLY SUBNORMAL.

There. I feel kind of better.

Also, I think Realm Makers is exactly as advertised. They are creating the world in which they wish to live.

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 5:15 AM

Katherine, my problem isn’t that some people like / read / write Amish fiction, but that that genre of fiction has come to so define the religious market. This, I think, says lots.

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Matthew Sample II August 13, 2013 at 8:23 AM

I hear that Amish is out and that CBA publishers are looking for early 1800s fiction now.

So… are there any early 1800s/speculative crossovers that could bridge the gap markets and bring over new readers? What would be an ideal story to do that?

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Katherine Coble August 13, 2013 at 9:01 AM

In all fairness to the much-maligned period romance in Christian fiction…

They are allowed to define the genre in no small part because they _built_ the genre.
Grace Livingston Hill
Janette Oke
Bodie Thoene

These are the people (or corporations) who wrote the books that took Christian Fiction from a couple of random books in the Church Library to a behemoth that almost unfailingly makes money. They invented the genre of “Christian Fiction” out of nothing.

Never forget that the much-balleyhooed Inklings wrote for and were published in the General Market.

To look at these romances and say “no fair, you hog the marketplace” is like yelling at hamburgers for being the bulk of the McDonalds menu.

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sally apokedak August 13, 2013 at 9:12 AM

I may be wrong, but I believe romance takes over 50% of both markets, CBA and general market. It’s not a CBA problem. They are catering to the readers, most of whom, Christian or not, like romance.

There is more spec fic in the general market, but there’s quite a bit in the CBA now, too. I think every CBA house is publishing fantasy now, and many have several series.

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 1:43 PM

No, you’re not wrong, Sally. A romance writer spoke at a secular writers group I attended and she said it was more like 60% or more that is romance. I don’t think we see it reflected as much when going into Barnes & Noble, but that’s because romance was the FIRST genre to jump on the ebook bandwagon. Seriously–women able to read whatever they wanted whenever, without fear of people judging them for the bare-chested guy on the cover. (Not making this up–friends who read romance have essentially told me this–they LOVE their ereaders for that very reason.)

And Katherine, I so agree. I am only deducing, but everything I’ve seen points to the fact that Christian fiction grew out of the desire for Christian romance readers to have books that are free of explicit sex scenes. The fact that ACFW used to be ACRW (American Christian Romance Writers) is a huge clue.

But what happened was then the secular market started sending all the Christian stuff that way. So while Lewis and Tolkien were published in the General Market, these days they’d be shunted over to the CBA. (Or at least Lewis, since Tolkien’s a little less obvious.)

My point being, we often get into this argument as though there has always been some kind of delineation–but it wasn’t always so. There WAS a time when publishers were publishers and *novels* didn’t get labeled “Christian” at all. It would be awesome if that could be the case again! But this society has turned into one of labels and diagnoses, which is why I focus more on trying to bridge the gap than argue over whether I should be in the CBA or ABA.

(And for the record–if romance readers want that safe zone, I don’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed it. )

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Tim Ward August 12, 2013 at 8:07 PM

I am not sure what Kat means by “birthing” a new genre, but I do wonder if a new movement has been birthed. Where CBA spec fix has been the small table in the corner of past conventions, now it has its own convention, which may appeal to CBA geeks who had no interest in going to a convention that featured literary, biography and Amish fiction. What I would love to see out of this conference is an avenue of exposure to the Christian authors of Spec-fic for Christian readers (I’d love for non-Christians to experience this conference, but the first open Bible from a speaker could shoo that chance). I was not there, mostly because of cost and choosing editing cost over travel, but I wonder how the programming was balanced between a reading or writing audience. Both are needed, I just wonder if the former was less emphasized.The question of where to find Christians who read specific may start with Christian writers of Specific making enough noise. Who knows where the most effective place to make noise is, but this could be a good start. Did any youth groups come? Local churches notified? I could surely see something like this growing and building a readership.

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Kat Heckenbach August 12, 2013 at 8:23 PM

Tim, maybe genre isn’t the right word–since it’s really multiple genres–but I do think we’re bringing this movement, as you say, out into the world.

Yes, this con was heavily aimed at writers. But that’s because Becky — rightly — didn’t want to tackle everything at once. The goal is, though, to expand to reach readers-who-aren’t-writers.

No youth “groups” came, but I was amazed by how many young writers were there! That part was awesome!

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Ruth Mills August 12, 2013 at 10:40 PM

Im not sure where the idea that Realm Makers is geared toward the CBA came from either. It is my understanding that we are Christians who happen to write spec-fi, vs. Spec-fi writers trying to break into the Chrisitan market. Splashdown and Hinterlands both fall into the former in terms of what they contract as well as Port Yonder.

I for one aim for the secular market while respecting my Judeo-Christian world-view (which, by the way, is not a fancy way of saying ‘family friendly’ ‘safe’ or ‘Jesus allegory lion’) because I personally see no reason why I should be morally compelled to write to a (sub)standard set by a segment of folk who have selective memory as to the nature of the human condition and much of scripture. Let them write as their conscience dictates and for the people for whom that works. I have no desire to wage a theological war so I can horn my way into a group that will inevitably be divided over whether I’m a ministry or a curse. I don’t aim to be either and i certainly don’t want to cause division. May they abstain from meat in peace and, for those to whom this applies, may I respect them their weakness in love.

On the subject of what a conference is supposed to be, getting fifteen minutes with an editor seems like the only real concrete benefit of attending *any* conference I’ve been to. Sure there are classes and such but the real reason an established writer would go (at least I think I can say this for the females) is for friendship, encouragement, understanding, and refueling because we need fellowship, those little islands in the vast ocean desert to get us through this lonely thing. We need the iron on iron too.

For me, Realm Makers was a total joy because who on earth could I hold nearer to my heart than God’s people who are as quirky and wonderful and awkward and scarred and as bursting with imagination as I am? What other people group could I possibly walk into and feel so blessed by their very existence? Or the buzz of mental engagement. Live! In person! With flesh! Not that all things can be this way. But when you experience them, they are a gift.

My hope is that is long as Realm Makers is firmly rooted in seeking excellence where excellence is found (whether that be in the Christian or secular worlds) and maintains itself as a haven to discuss said things without caving under the pressure by some to adhere to bonnet theology, it will grow and thrive because I believe there is a great, hungry need for the meat eaters amongst Christian artists to have each other.

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 5:23 AM

Ruth said, “Im not sure where the idea that Realm Makers is geared toward the CBA came from either.”

As I said to Grace above, the majority of folks I recognize at RM are/were ACFW contingents. This convo about Christian spec-fic started among those writers /readers who bemoaned the lack of such titles in the mainstream religious market. My concern would be that we simply comport all the CBA strictures into RM strictures, attract the same disgruntled CBA spec-fic crowd, and claim that a new genre is being born. I mean, other than writing speculative fiction, how is RM different from ACFW?

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 5:54 AM

I think you’re not looking at the whole picture. Ask yourself WHY those ACFWers were disgruntled. Is it *just* because they write spec-fic and that *genre* isn’t taken well by the CBA or ACFW?

Or, could it be much more than that. Could it be they want to write spec-fic AND write it in a way the CBA would never be okay with?

So many of those people originally attended ACFW because it was their only option. I’ve never been to ACFW, but I have been to a Christian writers convention in Florida and I’m guessing they’re pretty much the same. I felt like a total outcast at the one I went to–not just because I write spec, but because I write altogether differently. Yet, I went two years in a row, because the secular *writers* convention around here is filled with authors who write smut–or I must assume so based on the fact that most of the authors within that organization write smut.

I attend two local monthly Christian writers groups as well, and again, it’s not just the spec part that’s a problem. I have actually been asked at one of those groups to be careful about what I bring for critique because of content and theological issues–but the fact is, because we connect on the Christian level I continue to go. But my critique mainly comes from writers I know online, writers like the ones attending RM because they “get” me.

Try reading some of the work by these authors–Becky Minor’s books, Robynn Toblert’s book–these are NOT spec-fic novels written *at all* like CBA stock.

Not sure how to put this without just saying it. We’re not trying to be CBA bashers, but I promise you, there was much discussion about what is wrong with the CBA and ACFW that went far beyond “they won’t publish our books.”

We. Do. Not. Want. CBA. Strictures.

There.

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 10:23 AM

Love this, Kat. Yes!

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 1:43 PM

Thanks, Teddi :).

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Mike Duran August 14, 2013 at 5:34 AM

Kat, if Realm Makers will represent “spec-fic novels [NOT] written *at all* like CBA stock” I’d like to know what that means. If “We. Do. Not. Want. CBA. Strictures.” what strictures are being cast off and why? And what happens when the Realm Makers’ contingent who DOES want CBA strictures in their stories starts railing against theological tinkering, spells, and witches? And “good” vampires. Musn’t forget them.

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Kat Heckenbach August 14, 2013 at 6:36 AM

When I go to a Mexican restaurant I order my food with no cheese. It’s not an issue generally (the only exception being a quesadilla wouldn’t be a quesadilla without cheese). But just because I don’t order my stuff with cheese, doesn’t mean other patrons can’t.

That is Realm Makers. If a writer *wants* self-imposed strictures (cheese on everything ‘cos that’s how Mexican is “supposed” to be) then fine. But the *freedom to choose* is there.

(To continue my analogy, the ACFW is more like an Italian restaurant. The ONLY thing you can order without cheese is bland chicken or fish, or maybe spaghetti with meatballs. You want something that isn’t going to fall apart without cheese, you’re out of luck.)

(I must be hungry this morning.)

And again–this is the beginning. We held this con to get things rolling, to make a move that’s not just, as I said in a comment above, lone, random voices. We did this to show our commitment, traveling and gathering to find a way to make this forward movement work.

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Kevin Lucia August 14, 2013 at 4:22 PM

This why you need Michelle Pendergrass and I there next year on the horror panel…

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Morgan L. Busse August 13, 2013 at 6:11 AM

Mike,
That is the question I am asking as well: where will Realm Makers go next? As a disclaimer, I wrote that article as an attender, not as an official representative of Realm Makers to hopefully facilitate discussion and ideas for Realm Maker’s future.

From what I saw and experienced, I would not say RM is ACFW:Speculative edition. The topics and classes were not something I would see at an ACFW conference, such as the horror panel (as Kat brought up), a class on comics by Matt Yocum who writes for Marvel, and both Hinterlands and Splashdown’s spotlights.

I would say RM’s core (theologically) is conservative. That serves as our anchor. But then we have the freedom to soar with our imaginations and ask “what if?” At ACFW (and Christianity at large), that kind of freedom can scare people. At RM, that kind of thinking was not only allowed, but encouraged.

However, I would like to see more than just writing. I think RM could become a place where all arts and fans could come. And I believe that is the direction Becky eventually wants to take RM.

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 6:59 AM

I should clarify — I’m not posting as a representative of RM either. I attended and spoke on a couple of panels, but I was not truly part of organizing it. I’m posting based on things I personally observed, and things that I just know from speaking with other authors attending there.

Maybe I need to go poke Becky Minor and have her pop in here.

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Jenni Noordhoek August 12, 2013 at 11:18 PM

I sort of didn’t pay attention to Realm Makers. I think, though, it would be really cool for us to have a convention in the ComicCon vein of things that was focused on Christian content creators. But at the same time, I think some Christians whose work is in the mainstream market might not want that kind of attention. If Realmmakers is trying to do that, then bravo to them and I’d like to see where it goes in the next few years.

As a side note, are there really people out there trying to come up with Christian alternatives to Neil Gaiman? If I start seeing novels with “the next Neil Gaiman” on the cover I’m going to scream. =P *is kind of a fan*

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Yes, Jenni! (re: Neil Gaiman) Me, too!

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Katherine Coble August 13, 2013 at 4:41 AM

” To what extent would Christian theology, traditional Christian fiction mores, and hard-core spec fans find common ground?”

It works well in my own life. Don’t see why it can’t work in the macro.

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Exactly. I think that’s the part that stumps some folks, Katherine. How it looks in the macro.

But I agree — if *I* exist, and if I’ve found a bunch of other folk like me out there… Why can’t we come together and harness the power that brings (whether for encouragement, improvement, publishing power, social promotion, etc)?

We won’t all be exactly on the same page. We’re a spectrum, a gradient (as someone called it). Some are heavier on the theology, some heavier on the science, some for allegory and some for under the radar. All writing for Him. And for awesome spec fic. I love it.

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Morgan L. Busse August 13, 2013 at 10:52 AM

“But I agree — if *I* exist, and if I’ve found a bunch of other folk like me out there… Why can’t we come together and harness the power that brings (whether for encouragement, improvement, publishing power, social promotion, etc)?

We won’t all be exactly on the same page. We’re a spectrum, a gradient (as someone called it). Some are heavier on the theology, some heavier on the science, some for allegory and some for under the radar. All writing for Him. And for awesome spec fic.”

YES! I could not have written it any better. We are all different (the spectrum analogy is great). But at the core of every one of us is a love for Jesus and a desire to follow Him. That is what I experienced at Realm Makers: a connection with people who are different than me, yet we all are connected at the deepest level: by Christ. And I loved how we had the freedom to be different. After all, I think the world can only handle one of each of us ;)

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 2:46 PM

“After all, I think the world can only handle one of each of us.”

*grin* You’re right. Another reason why we mustn’t encounter ourselves when we time travel. It would diametrically oppose the delicate balance of the space-time continuum. Ha!

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Bryon Quertermous August 13, 2013 at 7:04 AM

Putting Christian before any genre is putting the message before the story and is inherently wrong. Christians are called to be the best at what they do and trying to create fiction that is explicitly Christian is not the best use of a novel. Readers in the world, the people we as Christians should care about reaching with our fiction not those who already believe the way we do, they care about plot and writing and structure and dialogue and subtle themes and these are the elements that all genres of Christian fiction fail at more often than not.

As an example from my own writing life, when I was younger I wrote Christian fiction that I passed around to my Christian friends and my Christians family and everyone told me how great it was and what a great testimony I had. My non-Christian friends who read it pointed out the flaws and rolled their eyes so I lost an opportunity to have a great discussion about Jesus as the source of my talent because my talent was poorly displayed.

Jump to 20 years later and I’m writing crime fiction that my family hates and that people in my church don’t read but is of a high enough quality for professional publication and awards. Through these stories I have befriended a number of non-Christians who I’ve been able to have amazing theological discussions with and who are willing to listen to me, as opposed to the other Christians they’ve encountered, because they respect my talent. That’s what we should be doing as Christians and as authors.

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Bryon Quertermous August 13, 2013 at 7:07 AM

Also, as far as the CBA content guidelines go, GAME OF THRONES is way more representative of the content of the Bible than any CBA offering and nobody disputes it’s power to convert.

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Matthew Sample II August 13, 2013 at 7:52 AM

The children’s entertainment of this generation will be the trends of the next generation of adult products. The younger generations have been reading and watching an increasing diet of speculative and fantasy titles. Christian fiction will follow that trend … eventually, after this current fad of early 1800s books dies out.

Just saying. ;)

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 1:52 PM

Matthew, I’ve joked in the past (before I actually landed a publisher) that I’d just wait ’til the teens of today take over the publishing world, and then I’m *in.* Because what I see is a HUGE number of young writers choosing spec-fic. I taught a creative writing class for homeschoolers. It was small–only 8 students–but 6 of the 8 wrote spec-fic. (And these are homeschoolers, a supposedly sheltered and uber-conservative demographic.)

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Matthew Sample II August 13, 2013 at 2:48 PM

As a homeschooler, I find it very interesting that other homeschoolers are relating to spec lit. Perhaps they feel a bit like they don’t understand their world yet.

But then, when I recall my teenage years, I tended to lean toward books full of mystery or fantasy—scifi—cryptozoology—extra-terrestrial—yeah… that may just go with the territory of being young and insatiably curious about our world.

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Kat Heckenbach August 13, 2013 at 2:59 PM

I don’t know what it is exactly. I wasn’t homeschooled, but I was ALWAYS a spec-fic fan. It probably does have to do with that stranger in a strange world thing, though :).

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Matthew Sample II August 13, 2013 at 3:58 PM
Becky Minor August 13, 2013 at 8:30 AM

I will admit, I have been pretty much in hibernation for the past week–the product of an introvert pretending to be an extrovert for longer than the old emotional battery can sustain. ;) But I’m glad to see so many people really looking at this topic in depth.

To address the “ACFW” question: honestly, the reason we saw a lot of overlap from the ACFW contingent is merely due to my limited reach in this first year. I have not yet managed to circulate outside of the circles populated by “the usual suspects” as much as I would like, and hence, those who heard about this and with whom I had enough relationship to bring onto the faculty were limited by my active social circles. But going forward, nothing would please me more than to gather together more folks who work inthe secular marketplace but happen to be Christians. A theme I would like to have underpin the conference going forward is: How to make what you love for the broadest possible audience without compromising your convictions.

As for the genre, I share some of the skepticism that Christian Speculative Fiction will ever have enough room within the CBA strictures to truly spread its wings like it should. Some folks do very well within the CBA, and that’s great for them. But for most of us, if we want enough audience to make this more than a cute (though monstrously time-consuming) hobby, we’re going to have to come at this from a different angle than we have been for the past decade. Do I know precisely what that angle is? No. I’m digging for the answer–and honestly, another part of what I hope to do with this conference is bring together enough people from enough corners of the literary world that we can find the best model to write what we love, refuse to compromise our worldview, and have our work published at the best possible quality.

And to be fair, folks are right to say that “writers conference” is only the jumping off point. Down the road, I see there being a novelist track for classes. As soon as next summer, I would like to add either a filmmaking track or perhaps a comic/illustration track. It has everything to do with who I can harangue into teaching those classes, and then who I can convince they’re worth attending.

I could address any number of a dozen other points you folks have all brought up, but life won’t allow the dissertation at the moment. But I do thank all of you for the dialogue, and I thank those who attended the conference for being a voice on its behalf.

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Jessica Thomas August 13, 2013 at 9:22 AM

Becky, Keep this guy on your radar for the illustration track.

http://www.oddmrt.com/oddmrt_1.com/Odd_Mr_T.html

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Becky Minor August 13, 2013 at 10:36 AM

Thanks for the heads up on taking a look at his work. (Nudge, nudge…tell him to post more 2D art if he has it…) :)

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Jessica Thomas August 13, 2013 at 12:05 PM

He will shortly. He’s illustrating my upcoming short story collection, and he’ll also be doing the cover art for the new online journal at Provision Books. It’s funny you wrote comic/illustration because he decided yesterday he wanted to take the covers in a “comic” direction. I said, sure, why not… Anything he does will be far and above what I could come up with. He has a retro fascination as well, so I’m sure that will come into play.

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Mike Duran August 13, 2013 at 9:54 AM

Thanks for commenting, Becky. I appreciate the time you put into making the conference work. Godspeed on your follow-up projects.

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Becky Minor August 13, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Thanks Mike–I appreciate you hosting the discussion here, and I’m glad you’re playing devil’s advocate to some degree. No idea is worth much if it can’t stand up in the face of scrutiny. Sure, this conference was a ton of fun, but I certainly want it to continually be a good investment for people who are serious about producing science fiction- and fantasy-related content.

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R.J. Anderson August 13, 2013 at 1:17 PM

“…nothing would please me more than to gather together more folks who work in the secular marketplace but happen to be Christians.”

*sticks up hand meekly*

I’m just saying. And I know a few other general-market YA authors who are Christians as well. I didn’t get to Realm Makers this year because it was too far for me to travel without a plane ticket and I was already signed up for MythCon, but I would certainly consider attending another year if the conference continues.

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Matthew Sample II August 13, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Becky, have you guys considered doing crossover books that are both Amish and speculative, or have both 1800s romance and fantasy elements to them?

Also, do the YA and Middle Reader markets have as many authors as the adult spec/fantasy seems to have?

Just curious how this genre is currently being promoted.

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Becky Minor August 13, 2013 at 4:51 PM

Hey Matthew–have you heard that Marcher Lord Press indeed has Amish Vampires in Space slated for an October release? That’s not the title, but Jeff Gerke was talking about it at the conference. Should be amusing to see how that one is recieved.

I don’t know if anyone is doing circa 1800′s, but I know the speculative that has romantic elements tends to do pretty well among female readers, if the facebook buzz and likes are to be believed. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to centralize any romance in my books. There’s often a tiny romantic subplot, but I don’t have a mushy bone in my body, so I can’t really write the stuff.

One self-pubbed author I know has chosen to write romance shorts in order to have something that sells in addition to writing his speculative, which is the passion of his heart. But he writes the romance under a pseudonym, so it may be that he’s doing nothing for his platform by doing so.

This would be an interesting topic to explore, though–does romance as a primary plot element help sales?

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D.M. Dutcher August 13, 2013 at 5:33 PM

Not sure romance as opposed to general women-centeredness. Seems like the model that works is soft SF or fantasy close to Anne McCaffrey or Mercedes Lackey in style but with little to no paranormal. Female protagonist, light on the speculation or hardness of science as well as worldbuilding. Can have romance, can avoid it.

Starflower by Anne Elizabeth Stengl is a good example. I don’t think the romantic elements were very prominent in it, but it reminded me of Lackey a bit, and I could see other female authors in the secular field being templates.

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Matthew Sample II August 13, 2013 at 7:36 PM

Interesting. Yes, I’m very curious about how to introduce an underdog industry to new readers.

Especially since I’ve got a fantasy graphic novel in the works. Right now publishing seems like the wild west, and I feel like I’m watching bull riders, hoping to see how they do it for when my time comes.

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Kerry Nietz August 21, 2013 at 10:26 AM

For the record “Amish Vampires in Space” IS the title. ;)

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Bob Avey August 13, 2013 at 10:57 AM

The essence of this post reminds me of the texture, if you will, of a sermon series our pastor has been discussing for the last few Sundays. He’s been going through the book of Daniel, using the book as a guide as to how Christians should approach living in a secular world. The thrust of the series is that Christians typically opt for the either, or approach with only two options available: You either adopt the world and its secular ways – which by definition isn’t Christian – or you isolate yourself and condemn the world. According to our pastor, there is a third option, which is really the only true option, and that is to emulate the life of Daniel, who kept his faith, remaining true to God while living among the Babylonians.

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Kristen Stieffel August 13, 2013 at 4:46 PM

Mike asked: “…what exactly does Realm Makers hope to accomplish that hasn’t yet been attempted? As many Christian publishers admit, if speculative fiction sold all that well, they’d be selling it.”

CBA publishers don’t know how to sell SpecFic. I’m not even sure they know how to sell fiction, period. Several CBA publishers have closed down their fiction lines this year. Their sales are closely tied to big-box stores, which is probably the root of the problem.

What Realm Makers hoped to accomplish this year was to provide a place where Christians who happen to write speculative fiction could discuss their faith and craft without being made to feel “weird” about either one. Because honestly, if you go to a secular conference and talk about your faith, you get “Oh,” with a blank stare. And if you go to a Christian writers conference and talk about specfic, you get a similar reaction. At Realm Makers, there was none of that. So I believe we met that goal.

Onward…I think the next step is tackling the discoverability problem. We all know there are Christians who read speculative fiction—they’re reading it now. But they are getting it from the ABA, not the CBA, because the CBA doesn’t reach those readers. As a genre — or a movement — we need to figure out how to reach the readers who will love our stories. I don’t have the answer, but I know Realm Makers comprised a remarkable collection of creative people. I believe that in time, they’ll find answers.

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D.M. Dutcher August 13, 2013 at 5:19 PM

I’ve been thinking on the main post, and I’d agree with you Mike. I think cul-de-sac, mostly because its all writers doing the pushing. The Christians who like spec fic see nothing wrong with reading secular books and authors that often disparage their faith and write counter-Christian themes. The publishers are making hand over money as it is; why take risks or spend money trying to grow a new market?

I’d like to be proven wrong, but I don’t think it’s happening. I think we might as well admit that the model for Christian fiction is going to be the rare “great” book that passes muster once every few years, a handful of small presses, and that’s it.

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 8:12 PM

LOL! “…and that’s it.”

On the one hand, you’ve got a good point, D.M. At the moment, what we’re seeing is a ground-swell of Christians who enjoy both reading and writing speculative fiction. Whether this will be translated into a tsunami of excellent speculative fiction books (which happen to be written by Christians and are assumably compatible with a Christian worldview) released into the hands of eager readers who know they exist and know how to find them… is yet to be seen.

However, spec fic writers are spunky underdogs with super powers (especially the ones who know Jesus), so I had to laugh at your “might as well admit” dismissal of our enthusiasm. From your other comments (and your own blog), I suspect you are one of the spunky underdogs and are sharing your doubts rather than making a strong assertion that you actually hope will come true. :-)

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D.M. Dutcher August 13, 2013 at 11:22 PM

I don’t like saying this either. Writers though can’t push through changes in a genre all themselves. They need readers and publishers behind them.

Readers need to support the genre through its growing pains. I think people forget how absolutely dreadful many 30-60s and even later SF was. The readership though ate it up, and over time the genre advanced in quality. With Christian SF people seem to be waiting it out, but writers wont learn their craft if they can’t get early works published for money.

Publishers need to take chances too. The small presses are great, but they usually act as feeders and experimental places for the mainstream publishers. Marcher Lord and Splashdown I don’t think can be big enough to hold up the genre themselves. The CBA needs to take a risk and make a spec fic imprint; they have the muscle to get books into bookstores and can afford advertising campaigns based from the profits of best sellers.

Until then I really don’t think my gripe will be disproved. Enthusiasm is cool, but there are systemic issues that either have to change or need ways found to mitigate them.

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 11:30 PM

If the whole world of publishing hadn’t changed in the last 5-10 years, I might feel the same way, D.M.

But since it has, and since revolutionary (as in “change the whole freaking way we publish and consume books revolutionary”) opportunities have presented themselves, I am hopeful.

And I am willing to be part of those who dive in and see what kind of waves we can make. ANYTHING is possible at this point. Just think about how different your life was 20 years ago. Cell phones. Tablet computers. E-book readers. Cheap HD video cameras so that talented teenagers can make amazing YouTube entertainment.

Everything has changed. Anything is possible.

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 11:43 PM

And I vehemently disagree with the CBA “needing” to make a spec fic imprint. Bad idea. Bad! B-A-D.

That’s the last thing I want (and it’s not what I’m hearing from most of the other pro-Christian-spec-fic commenters here, either).

First of all, the CBA has shown they can’t make it work. (Not blaming them, just saying they’ve tried as much as they dared, it didn’t fly.)

And last of all, I have completely lost faith in the traditional publishing approach and don’t put my hopes in any of the established publishers (CBA or ABA). Not saying I’d turn them down if the offer was appropriate to my project, but the days of their domination of the market are over.

They have no muscle to put things in bookstores anymore — what bookstores? Bookstores are closing all over. Shelf space is at more of a premium than ever!

What the new order of power will be has yet to be seen. But I don’t think it will have anything to do with traditional publishers. The more they tighten their grip, the more star systems will slip through their fingers.

;-)

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D.M. Dutcher August 14, 2013 at 11:55 AM

They haven’t dared much. They’ve mostly just dumped the books out like any other, without any real savvy in marketing, advertising, or audience-building. I think they are too used to their captive audience in some genres to feel the need to market efficiently or pursue strategies to grow a readership.

They also have the muscle and cash to do things like advertise and build infrastructure. I don’t think people get how important those things are, and how hard it is to bootstrap them. I remember when people were writing about the Christy Awards, Marcher Lord press mentioned that the writers paid the $500 fee or something, because margins were that tight. It’s dangerous to have too high an estimation of non-traditional publishing.

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Kristen Stieffel August 14, 2013 at 9:15 AM

DM said: “With Christian SF people seem to be waiting it out…”

You mean readers? I disagree. They’re not waiting. They’re clueless. They don’t know it’s there. I was there, once. I happened upon Karen Hancock’s books by accident when I was looking for something else. And then — hey — there’s Donia K. Paul, too. I had no idea. There must be many more just like that. They’re reading the ABA writers because they don’t know there’s an alternative. What we have to do is find and educate readers that there are SpecFic literature choices that line up with their Christian worldview. I was fortunate to have had a happy accident in a bookstore. We can’t rely on happy accidents. We have to be intentional about finding SpecFic readers and showing them what we have to offer.

And I agree with Teddi — the CBA can’t do this. They don’t know how to reach those readers. I don’t either, but I love this conversation, because it’s helping us sort out that problem.

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Teddi Deppner August 14, 2013 at 11:55 AM

I’ve spent the last 15 years of my professional life helping businesses use the Internet to spread the word about their existence and what they have to offer. Not saying I can make it happen all by myself or that it succeeds every time… but I have a number of ideas about how we can leverage our enthusiasm and our assets to achieve this goal, Kristen. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from me in the near future…

And with all the other smart people we’ve got in this conversation, with so many different perspectives and experiences, I am more optimistic than ever about our chances. We need all of us, even the “devil’s advocates” — Mike, your role in prompting this discussion is invaluable and I am super thrilled to see how it has sparked such passion.

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Tony August 16, 2013 at 4:10 AM

“With Christian SF people seem to be waiting it out, but writers wont learn their craft if they can’t get early works published for money.”

Are you implying that we should publish/spend our hard-earned money/take time to read subpar manuscripts so writers will bother learning their craft? Maybe I’m misunderstanding?

I don’t read much Christian Fiction because of this attitude. The idea that they’ll get better with time. Well, let them get better, THEN publish them. Too much crap published in the CBA market anyway.

But, again, maybe I’m misunderstanding.

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D.M. Dutcher August 16, 2013 at 3:51 PM

I don’t get this attitude, personally. When I first found out there was Christian SF as a young man, my reaction was “wow, science fiction that actually talks about Jesus.” Were there some bad ones? Yeah, but same as secular spec fic at the time; a tremendous amount of junk was published in that market too. But I was excited that there was finally works of art that addressed my faith instead of ignoring it or at worse making it an enemy.

It’s kind of like steampunk. A majority of steampunk isn’t very good, but fans of that genre aren’t saying “meh, I won’t read it until they get as good as Nebula award winners.” They like the genre and devour whatever they can get their hands on. Because of this fanbase, money flows into the genre and the quality rises because people can make a living or at least a decent paycheck. Without it, it doesn’t get written.

I don’t know, I guess a lot of Christians in the end really don’t care as much about explicit portrayals of Christianity in fiction as they think.

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Matthew Sample II August 16, 2013 at 4:07 PM

Profound statement alert: “I guess a lot of Christians in the end really don’t care as much about explicit portrayals of Christianity in fiction as they think.”

There are so many different ways to unpack that statement.

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Teddi Deppner August 16, 2013 at 5:27 PM

Great point, D.M.

I’m kinda split between these two camps. On the one hand, I do buy poorly written or edited stuff sometimes to support a friend or a budding genre. On the other hand, I want to see improvement. I’m not okay with things remaining under-par across the board.

There’s some stuff I enjoy a LOT even though it’s amateur work (local bands, online comics, online YouTube filmmakers, etc). If I get hooked enough, I might even pay for it.

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Mike Duran August 14, 2013 at 5:47 AM

Davide, I agree totally with these two concerns / statements:

It’s “writers doing the pushing.” Which leads me to believe we mistake enthusiasm by a small group of spec-fic writers / fans as representative of a larger readership (a concern I’ve heard expressed often by Christian publishers).

and

“The Christians who like spec fic see nothing wrong with reading secular books and authors that often disparage their faith and write counter-Christian themes.” Exactly what I feel about Christian readers who are hard-core spec-fans. After a diet of mainstream spec-fic, the Christian stuff is too tame.

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Kat Heckenbach August 14, 2013 at 6:56 AM

Most writers start off as readers. They become infatuated with a genre and end up writing it. But I find it very, very hard to believe that EVERY Christian spec-fic fan takes it upon themselves to start writing the genre and therefore there’s no one out there but us interested in it. We are those few or many. Simple statistics.

Math is your friend.

The second I can agree with. But, I’m a hard-core secular spec-fic fan and I’m finding some up-and-coming authors in the Christian spec-fic realm that are writing on par with secular writers. Some, I’d dare say, are writing better (again, I mention Robynn Tolbert. And let me add Robert Mullin). I have been giving out 2-star reviews of secular, big-press books in the YA spec-fic categories a lot lately. They are getting stale. It’s why I do back-flips when I find books like those by Patrick Rothfuss (not YA, but still) because even the secular market is suffering from bland and sometimes downright stupid writing. Some of it relies *too much* on grit–it comes across like some geeky teen trying to be tough by throwing out the f-bomb every other word.

My point being, things ARE changing. And a lot of it has to do with writing just going, screw it, I’m writing what I *want* to write. Those are the books that are making waves.

And much of the problem is the definition of “tame”. I don’t know that that is ever going to be sorted out, to be honest. We all come at that from different angles.

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Jessica Thomas August 13, 2013 at 5:37 PM

I tend to be cynical, but I don’t get the Negative Nancy-ism here. Currently, the publishing world is wide open, thanks to ebooks, and the Web is a free medium still as well. When I first met Grace, she had recently self-published on Lulu, and now she’s established her own small press. Just a few years ago, Marcher Lord Press’ site was still clunky, and the idea of a Christian spec fic conference was a mere dream, and now somebody’s gone and done that too. Speaking for myself, I’m soon to release high quality products (books) with custom cover, and original images. And I’ve laid my print copy out in professional desktop publishing software that I can access on the cloud. All the tools we need to do it ourselves are at our fingertips and that’s freaking A-mazing!! So, let’s get to it. Cul-de-sac schmul-de-sac.

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Katherine Coble August 13, 2013 at 7:03 PM

Thank you. And Amen.

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Jill August 13, 2013 at 8:22 PM

Agree! Freaking amazing!

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Teddi Deppner August 13, 2013 at 9:03 PM

Excelsior!

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E. Stephen Burnett August 14, 2013 at 7:54 AM

All the great jingles in the world for dog-food won’t matter if the dogs don’t like it.

Similarly, if the readers of Christian publishers’ books don’t like the product, it doesn’t matter how big the conference is, or how much or pressure we put on Christian publishers. There’s nothing we can do in those fields if readers want only “clean” ripoffs of secular products or forced-Gritty products designed only to evangelize more effectively than the clean stuff (without ever questioning whether the chief end of storytelling is religious “evangelism” proper anyway — one of the very assumptions that led to the keep-it-clean-boys-and-girls rules).

I’m with Mike:

I just happen to think we’re going to need more intellectual rigor and less costumes to get somewhere.

… And I can encourage you, brother, joining with Kat, Kristen and others: the intellectual vigor was there. (Spoiler: Watch for more of that to be told, both at Speculative Faith and at Christ and Pop Culture.) But I’m not surprised if many attenders are still in a “wow! you too! there actually more people like me! squee!” sort of mode. As I’ve been to a few writers’ conferences in which even a few Christian-spec fans are present, I suppose I’m more accustomed to that realization (“others like Christian spec-fic too? Duh”). But I recognize others are still, well, beginners. It may take a while for us all to develop as we pursue more actualized advocacy of this genre beyond the abstract blogs.

And no matter one’s “ranking,” let’s face it, for a beginning conference, it’s the costume dinner that is more photogenic than the guys teaching in-depth about hero’s journeys (as Bryan Davis did) and worldviews (as L.B. Graham did). Naturally people will more likely share those photos. But I need not re-advertise Speculative Faith or its Facebook page, with all its coverage and photos of the full conference’s substance, to demonstrate that for you. Others, however, might find that more encouraging.

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Chana Keefer August 16, 2013 at 11:26 AM

I read A LOT of the comments then had to give up since, being writers, we tend to be a long-winded lot. ;) (love intended)

That said, can we not just connect deeply with God and let our writing be an outgrowth of what He burns in our hearts? I confess when I started writing like an explosion of Mt. Vesuvius, genre was not even a glimmer in the back of my mind. I understand now that it is necessary (evil necessity sometimes) and helps interested readers find what they seek. However, I do NOT want genre to become my aim. Give me the center of God’s heart and then define it by genre later.

So far my books ended up being Christian Spec. Fic and then Contemporary Romance (hate to call it Historical when it’s only the 1980′s). Genre will not be my God & neither will reading trends. (declarative fist in air).

However, I do love the idea of supporting my misfit author bros and sisters.

Please, lets not resort to taking pot-shots at authors of other genres. Friendly fire is an ugly thing.

Be encouraged. Seek God with all your heart and WRITE ON!

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