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Does Non-Acquisition of “Hinterlands” Signal End to Christian Fiction’s “Mature-Content Experiment”?

Does Non-Acquisition of “Hinterlands” Signal End to Christian Fiction’s “Mature-Content Experiment”?

by Mike Duran · 50 comments

Depending upon who you are and what you want, “status quo” can be a good thing. If the recent sale of Marcher Lord Press signals anything, it is that the status quo will be served.

Hinterlands-Logo-150x150The response to the sale of Marcher Lord Press to Steve Laube has been overwhelmingly positive. In many ways, I share the sentiment. I have no doubt that  Steve Laube will continue the MLP tradition of publishing good quality Christian speculative fiction. Steve is a spec fan and a well-known industry professional. I wish him nothing but the absolute best. That said, as I mentioned on my social media feeds when the sale was announced, the most telling aspect of this transaction is not the passing of the baton from one industry professional to the next. The most telling aspect of the sale of MLP is the non-acquisition of Hinterlands Press in the deal.

Here’s the Q & A section of Steve Laube’s announcement that touched upon this detail:

What about books published under the Hinterlands imprint of Marcher Lord Press and the recently released Amish Vampires in Space?

These are actually two different issues and should be treated separately. I chose not to purchase those assets and agreed to have those publication rights sold elsewhere or revert to their respective authors.

Hinterlands was created in 2012 as an imprint of MLP to publish science-fiction and fantasy stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or R-rated language, sexuality, and violence). That imprint and all those titles have been sold by Jeff Gerke to a third party and will likely reappear under a new publishing name in the near future.

Amish Vampires in Space was not part of Hinterlands and is a well written book (no surprise considering Kerry Neitz is the author). Jeff Gerke, Kerry Neitz, and I discussed this prior to my purchasing MLP. While we have differing opinions on its publication, ultimately it would not have been a book I would have published had I been the publisher. The title has reverted to Kerry and the book is still available for sale in most major online outlets.

Okay. So not much there… other than the obvious — “stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or R-rated language, sexuality, and violence)” were NOT part of the deal. Is this a surprise? I don’t think so.

At the time of its launch, I hailed Gerke’s Hinterlands imprint as a step in the right direction for Christian publishing. Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge advocate for less sanitized Christian fiction. I’m not going to cover that ground again except to say that when it comes to spec-fic, pushing boundaries is par for the course. But “boundaries” are exactly what mainstream Christian fiction readers don’t like stretched.

Early last year, Jeff Gerke discussed the inception of Hinterlands. Unsurprisingly, the idea for a separate label, distinct from MLP, was the result of a “threat” from “a prominent Christian fiction writers group.” Jeff writes:

I got a note from the folks at a prominent Christian fiction writers group in America saying that if we released this book [Vox Day's A Throne of Bones], they would take MLP off their list of approved publishers. That meant that all MLP books would not be eligible for their annual award.

As much as I believed in this book and its author and our goals, I was not prepared to let one book sabotage the chances of all my other authors receiving an award I think has value.

Does anyone else find this weird? “[P]rominent Christian fiction writers group” threatens to bounce press for publishing mature content. It makes one wonder what other types of power such Christian fiction writers groups wield over publishers.

As I concluded in my post on Jeff Gerke’s “experiment”:

I plan on purchasing “A Throne of Bones” [the signature Hinterlands title] and supporting Hinterlands. But the project faces some important hurdles. The main one being the conservative Christian culture that keeps such “experiments” forever in check. Huge props to Jeff Gerke for taking this step. Godspeed to his endeavors.

Now, if only he can find “mature” Christians to go along with him…

So does the non-acquisition of Hinterlands signal the end of Christian publishing’s “mature-content experiment”? Is Steve Laube’s purchase of MLP indication that Hinterland-style imprints will never find traction in the mainstream Christian fiction market? Is this deal a nod to the status quo?

Before you answer, consider that the Hinterlands label, as it existed, may have been a skewed sample.

In his comments at my Facebook page, Jeff Gerke admitted that there were “astonishingly few” submissions to Hinterlands. What makes this perplexing is that, from what I understand, Vox Day’s Throne of Bones was/is the biggest selling title Gerke had ever acquired. (I could not find links / statements to corroborate sales figures on this, so unless someone can provide contradictory info, you’ll have to take my word on it.) So the question is, Why did the imprint that had so much success with its inaugural release receive so few submissions? If there really is a market for Christian-spec with mature content, and Hinterlands proved that with their first release, why weren’t more writers clambering to take hold of those coattails?

On my Facebook page,  Katherine Coble asked this:

Has anyone considered that the one-two controversial punches of Vox Day and AVIS [Amish Vampires in Space]limited the appeal of Hinterlands to other authors?

After what went down between Day and the SFWA I had several conversations with “edgy” Spec Fic authors who swore they’d never consent to be published by the same house.

I find this observation quite keen.

As Steve Laube noted in his Q&A, Amish Vampires in Space was not part of Hinterlands. Apparently, however, the title “would not have been a book [Laube] would have published had [he] been the publisher.” Why? He doesn’t say. My conclusion is that AViS was just too far outside the boundaries of what mainstream Christian fiction readers want, reinforcing my suspicion that this purchase has lots to do with industry status quo.

Katherine’s mention of Vox Day, the polarizing author of Throne of Bones, infers another issue. I had no knowledge of Day before the Hinterlands imprint and have only marginally followed his skirmish with SFWA. I’m not the person to speak for him, his opinions, his fanbase, or his writing. For others, however, he is a HUGE deal. In light of this, it’s possible that  the non-acquisition of Hinterlands is more of a renunciation of Vox Day than a rejection of mature content. This is not something Steve Laube inferred. At all. I’m just reading my own conclusions into this.

If this is true, then there is still hope for someone like me who believes that Christian fiction can still use a good dose of “mature content.” The problem is, will Christian readers ever find a purveyor of mature content whom they DON’T find controversial?

Either way, it makes me wonder whether Hinterlands actually provides a good test sample.

Perhaps the jury’s still out on Christian fiction’s mature-content experiment. I hope so. Until then, I continue to feel that MLP, for all the good they’ve done in proving there IS an audience for Christian spec-fic, has simply moved spec fans back into the CBA / ECPA fold. The only real “trail-blazing” that has gone on here is the one that has returned us to the original trail.

So while the acquisition of MLP proves that CBA spec-fic is alive and well, those of us who pine for the hinterlands will, apparently, remain outsiders.

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

Becky Minor January 8, 2014 at 7:05 AM

I guess a lot of what happens to the “mature content trail” hangs on who acquired Hinterlands and what they intend to do with it. I haven’t seen any news or specifics there, so it has me wondering.

The other question I continue to have is this: if authors want to write “mature content,” why publish with the CBA and its limited reach to speculative fiction audiences at all? Surely there is an ABA publishing house or two out there that doesn’t mind a little religion mixed with their sex and violence. Some of the members of the Mormon Mafia (David Farland’s term, not mine) who write for publishers like Tor and Baen have religious systems that get a pass in the ABA. Or is it that the moment your story’s religious system starts looking a little bit too much like Christianity, your manuscript gets a pass? Having only received a 10th generation photocopy rejection letter from Tor in my submission journey, these are questions I’d love to hear people’s input on.

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Mike Duran January 8, 2014 at 9:09 AM

Becky, I’ve resisted the “if you don’t like the CBA, go to the ABA” default response for several reasons: (1) It reinforces a caricature of what Christian art is; it’s a concession that “Christian art is THIS not THAT… and that’s final. (2) It’s sort of like saying, “If you don’t like America, move to Ecuador.” Thankfully, some “disgruntled” Americans hang around long enough to change things. (3) Why can’t “mature” content and explicit Christian context coexist? And if they can, why can’t they coexist under a Christian label? (4) ABA Christian authors are still faced with the dilemma of how “edgy” they can be — that is, how much religion their stories can contain.

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Becky Minor January 8, 2014 at 11:07 AM

I can appreciate your take on all this, Mike. Your 2nd point about folks who don’t like the status quo sticking around and working for change is a good one, and I admire people who are willing to do it.

I do hope the folks with a “front line” temperament will continue to demand change. I also hope that people with the talent and experience to run publishing houses that can produce excellent books with both challenging content and unswerving worldview will emerge and take up the Hinterlands mantle.

It’s likely that my response is fueled by that feeling that so many of us have of being stuck in the middle. (Not tidy enough for CBA, but not interested in muting the worldview to get a foot in the door with the ABA.) Does anyone feel that there is a publishing house that exists right now that successfully crosses over those restrictive lines? If it exists, or is born soon, I think a huge population of authors and readers would benefit.

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Jessica E. Thomas January 8, 2014 at 7:43 AM

I noticed this myself and thought, “hmmm”. My initial reaction was that MLP offerings will become more sanitized and CBA-like, but I could be wrong. Perhaps they are CBA-like now. I haven’t read enough MLP titles to make a valid assessment.

I’ve been wrestling with some of this as I think about the direction I want to take Provision Books. I’m discouraged by the mob mentality, where large groups of Christians say, “We won’t touch that because the author used the word ‘balls’.” Heh. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating, but as I’ve been preparing my first novel for release I’ve had to ask myself who I am turning off by using certains words and situations, and whether or not I can afford to alienate those folks. It’s a bit sad really, but it’s also just a reality of marketing. (I conciously removed the f-bombs from my novel, but I did leave things like ‘dammit’, ‘@ss’, and ‘hell’, so maybe I’m still shooting myself in the foot. We’ll see.)

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CKoepp January 8, 2014 at 7:47 AM

I don’t think it’s the end of the “mature content” in Christianity. There are other presses that will take these kinds of tales even if there’s Christian content. For example, you have small presses like PDMI that will publish pretty much anything that has a good/non-generic story line, good characterization, and a writer who isn’t afraid to play nicely with others.

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Jill January 8, 2014 at 8:33 AM

This whole thing makes me cynical, and I don’t want to be cynical anymore. If Gerke had wanted to publish more in Hinterlands, I’m sure he could’ve found work to publish. He apparently received tons of submissions for MLP–how hard would it have been to spot something with potential edge for his other line? But the problem is he created it for Vox Day’s book. Maybe that was the self-limiting (psychological) factor, right there. Oh, well, I guess I don’t care, since I went to the self-pub market for my own books and have so many books on my Kindle and by my bed that I couldn’t care less about edgy Christian work being published. I’m overwhelmed with what’s already being published. I know that YOU (Mike) care, and that is the only way I can force myself to care. I honestly want my writer friends to succeed in their career paths and have avenues for publishing.

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Jessica E. Thomas January 8, 2014 at 8:42 AM

I agree on the ‘overwhelmed’ factor, which I think highlights Mike’s point. With an imprint like Hinterlands, people at least knew of a place to go. Otherwise the market is pretty much a free-for-all, and good luck finding something you actually want to read.

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Mir January 8, 2014 at 8:41 AM

Add me to the list of the overwhelmed right next to that sofa Kat sits upon. I still get the vast bulk of my reads from the secular market (fiction). I buy more non-fiction work from the “CBA” type writers. I didn’t follow Hinterlands or the Vox Dah thing, but I will say this: It bothers me that a writer’s group would kick out a publisher of Christian Fiction because a part of the publication is more mature. That bugs me A LOT. And I can easily guess who did this. I’m a member. The other thing: Why would an author boycott a line because it publishes a writer? So, if I sold to Hachette, I’d have to vet every author they published, or Tor, or HarperCollins, etc, in order to see if they were okay to take me, cause God forbid I disagree with their portfolio or think one of their authors (or many) are misogynists, antichristians, or world class twerps?

I dunno. That just doesn’t seem to jive for me. Freedom of expression–but damn you if you publish that jerk! Uh-huh.

Now, if it was self-protective, I get that: I don’t want to be associated with X. But the truth is that if folks judge a person/writer by one or two fellow authors in an imprint, that’s very, very sad. And dumb.

I assume that Laube will want a CBA-friendly line-up. I don’t see edgy coming into play. Perhaps some other Gerke-ish guy or gal will start an imprint for the mature CSF and only focus on that. I think if the sales are VERY good, that would be the doorbuster. And maybe they’d have to give up the opportunity for an X award, but then maybe they’d be good enough and not disqualifyingly-preachy to qualify for Hugo/Nebula or other secular award. And there’s that rock and hard place again. Too edgy for CBA; too Christian for ABA.

Sheesh.

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Mir January 8, 2014 at 8:42 AM

DAY not dah. hah.

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Jessica E. Thomas January 8, 2014 at 8:48 AM

You said Gerke-ish and now I’m thinking about pickles.

Good points. That’s why the mob mentality makes me shudder. It’s not rational and it seeks to personally and financially harm others for simply disagreeing. Not very Christ-like. Doctrinal rifts happen, I get that, and sometimes they need to, but a rift over a word-choice? Petty and immature.

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Jill January 8, 2014 at 9:12 AM

I’ve always thought of pickles when I read the name Gerke. I say things like, you know, the publishing house run by the Pickle Man. I say it in good fun, though–not mockery. Just for the record. ;)

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Becky Minor January 8, 2014 at 11:10 AM

Also not in mockery, when I first started talking about Jeff and MLP, my husband jokingly said, “Who names their kid Beef Jerky?” I’m sure he’s heard them all.

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Mike Duran January 8, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Mir, I too found the Christian writers group threat really weird. Perhaps, like Johne mentions below, Vox Day was just too toxic for a Christian outfit to even associate with. That’s possible. I’ve had several conversations with authors who believe — as potentially absurd as this may sound — that the Christian fiction industry is steered by a rather small, powerful group of individuals. Sort of Christian fiction’s version of Opus Dei. Not kidding. I did some research, made a few contacts, and just felt there was no basis for such a conspiracy. However, I have to admit, stories like this about writers groups threatening expulsion for mature content — if indeed it was about mature content and not toxic individuals — seem to lend credence to such conspiratorial thinking.

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Becky Minor January 8, 2014 at 11:22 AM

The group in question simply has very specific guidelines as to what a publisher can and cannot publish and still make their “approved publishers list,” and criterion #1 on their website says (to paraphrase) “A member publisher’s books may not contain any explicit profanity, violence, or sex or ‘objectionable material.’” If you are found to have that kind of material, then you will not be approved as a new member, could be dismissed as a member, and may not submit books for their annual award.

As I recall Jeff explaining when he started Hinterlands, he did it so he could still submit MLP books for the award, and not make the rest of his authors ineligible because of one book he decided to take on that would violate the organizations guidelines. So it wasn’t so much a reaction to Vox Day as it was a specific situation where Jeff had to ensure MLP would still retain it’s eligible status.

This same organization, even if the publisher professes to print only family friendly, clean fiction, (all content tidy enough to get past the meekest grandmother) but may publish books that don’t contain a specific “Christian message,” will also be declined for membership, by the by.

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Jessica Thomas January 8, 2014 at 11:28 AM

Well, shucks. I suppose *dammit* is on the bad list.

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Becky Minor January 8, 2014 at 11:51 AM

Sigh….probably. I don’t know who the arbiter is of what goes on the potty-mouth list, but it’s all this “Christian Enough” posturing that makes me weary. Power of message should not be undermined by the vocabulary police. Maybe there needs to be another, highly-reputable award established that will fill the gap for all those books that are awesome, faith-filled, and untidy.

And my apologies for the horrible incoherence in my last paragraph up above. That’s what happens when life interrupts your typing and you then post without proofing. (author fail.)

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Kat Heckenbach January 8, 2014 at 9:06 PM

Doesn’t the fact that everyone here is saying things like “prominent Christian writers group” and “the group in question” and NOT saying….”ACFW”….shows exactly how much pull they have? As if they’re Voldemort or something. They Who Shall Not Be Named….

I’m not saying I think the ACFW runs all of the Christian fiction industry. But they do call themselves “The Voice of Christian Fiction”…

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Johne Cook January 8, 2014 at 8:47 AM

In my opinion, a Christ-follower should bring honor to his Master and glory to his God. (I fail this regularly.)

Theodore Beale (aka Vox Day) is a toxic figure in SF/F circles to the point where he was expelled from the SFWA in 2013, a rare event. It is already hard enough to get good Christian speculative fiction published. I fail to see why it would make any sense to embrace his tarnished notoriety and make it any /more/ difficult. (Saying you are Christian and acting in a Christlike fashion are two very different things. I was deeply uncomfortable seeing his work on the MLP roster as a representation of Christian speculative fiction.)

Full disclosure: the only writing of his I have read are his blog posts and tweets and we have never met. All I have to go on are what I have read online. If you can tell a tree by its fruit, his fruit was, shall we say, ‘suspect.’ I am convinced he has a high IQ, great knowledge in a wide variety of fields, and a genuine way with words. It is his way with people that troubles me. If a Christ-follower should bring honor to his Master, there is enough of a paper trail to steer me clear of this author at this time.

I think there is still a market for more mature content. Some of the better writing on TV write now is in the Justified series. The Season 4 redemption of Ellen May (and, to a lesser degree, Drew Thompson) was spectacular. I would love to see more of those real world redemption storylines in speculative fiction in a way that ultimately brings readers into the fold and glory to God.

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Mir January 8, 2014 at 9:30 AM

Yeah, when folks I respect like you and Katherine say this guy is really bad fruit, then I believe it, even without reading on the matter myself. And to get expelled from the SFWA is, well, dang. What can I say?

I do know that horrible things can be said ABOUT Christians by SFWA writers and that get a pass, which I suppose means as long as it’s not aimed at a specific person, call them boneheads, throwback idiots, homophobic morons, or whatever else they feel like calling religious folks, and that’s fine. Been that way for ages. But Christians should not be that way–no matter whom we address, it should be loving. Loving. period. Even when angry or disagreeing, it should show respect for the person’s being, even if their position is whack. :D

I’m really sorry Vox Day (what a dorky pen name)/Beale did this and brought dishonor to a group/imprint. And probably a hella lot of stress to Jeff and fellow writers.

I think writers of CSF who want to be traditionally published by a house that offers advances of some decent sort will have to choose: Tone down the religious and go ABA, tone down the mature content or eliminate it and go CBA. Otherwise, the only alternatives are very small presses (like no or tiny advance) or self-publishing.

Either way, it’s not easy, and for some of us, it’s gotta be a form of compromise unless we self-publish. I don’t think for one moment that using terms like balls, hell, bitch, or using violence in a story or even some level of eroticism etc are dishonoring to God, or there would be no violence or eroticism in the Bible, frankly, and there is; and I don’t think traditional/orthodox moral positions should be verboten in “free speech” publishing in a country that allows folks to have religious freedom and dissent from popular views. BUT..if a publisher doesn’t want it, if an audience you seek doesn’t want it, what you gonna do…you cave in some way or go maverick and hope you find your readers. End of story.

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Johne Cook January 8, 2014 at 9:42 AM

I think being Christian is to be a Christ-follower, a person who is changed from the inside-out by God’s unbelievable (and frankly unwarranted) grace. Being ‘Christian’ is not a political party or a position or a stance.

I have used the world’s tactics to fight the world before and I was wrong. God calls us to a better way of humility and confession and grace and I don’t see that reflected in his attitude or writings.

I do think there is room for more mature Christian fiction – we just have to keep picking away at the right way to present it and support it.

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D.M. Dutcher January 8, 2014 at 9:47 AM

Uh…everyone does know Vox was published before Hinterlands existed, right? Summa Elvetica was under the normal MLP imprint, and for all those sensibilities I didn’t hear anyone say we should boycott MLP then. I think he’s being used as a whipping boy here because he was the only author published. Steve didn’t want Hinterlands because he plans to expand his readership to the CBA market. Any Hinterlands book would be an issue, and I think Vox would have taken all his books out because they all are a shared world save for Quantum Mortis.

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Mike Duran January 8, 2014 at 11:02 AM

David, you might be right about Day being a “whipping boy” here. I’m not sure of the chronology of controversy, though. Was Day as popular and polarizing on his first stint with MLP? Or has that been acquired since?

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D.M. Dutcher January 8, 2014 at 11:21 AM

I don’t know how long he’s being doing it. I’m not saying that it would be wrong to drop him for his views, because TBH I was surprised that MLP published him at all. I don’t like his embrace of Game, nor the style of his posts on his blog. I was hoping honestly that being published by MLP would change him a bit.

I’m just saying that ultimately we can’t make him a scapegoat for the reason why Hinterlands is canceled. If it were just him, Steve would have let him go and kept the imprint. I think the reason he gave-that he wanted to appeal to more mainstream a market-is probably the best explanation. Saying its Vox is reading into his words, and I don’t think its healthy to start assuming MLP’s new owner is going to say one thing and always mean another.

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Frank Luke January 17, 2014 at 2:37 PM

I read his first offering from MLP, *Summa Elvetica*, and enjoyed it very much. I have reread it within the last year or so. I recall a small amount of swearing (but IIRC you had to translate it to get it). The most it had with sexuality was a kiss and that was off page (a bad choice as the kiss and aftermath was talked about later as a crucial moment in the plot).

At that time of first reading (2008), I had only heard of Beale b/c of MLP. I looked him up and saw that he was not loved by rationalists for some of his statements about atheism, but found no indication he was a polarizing figure. I didn’t do a full background check, though.

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Lyn Perry January 17, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Mir, you mentioned Ted Beale’s dorky pen name. I find it quite presumptuous – voice of God? Really? (Day being a stand in for Dei.) And his doctrine is suspect. Here is but one example: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2012/03/false-doctrine-of-trinity.html

As to the ACFW’s issue with him, is it an issue of him being a whipping boy or is this simply an example of literary karma?

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Kessie January 8, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Steve Laube said in his interview, “[Hinterlands] and all those titles have been sold by Jeff Gerke to a third party and will likely reappear under a new publishing name in the near future.”

http://stevelaube.com/steve-laube-buys-marcher-lord-press/

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D.M. Dutcher January 8, 2014 at 9:49 AM

This isn’t correct. Vox has the rights to his own work, and as far as I know is publishing it through the same company that is working on his game. Alpenwolf I think? He owns his rights. If there were any unpublished titles, maybe, or Vox himself bought the name.

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Teddi Deppner January 8, 2014 at 9:55 AM

For those interested in sources, Vox mentions this here: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-new-marcher-lord-press.html

Still doesn’t definitively answer the question of Hinterlands’ final destiny. I really like the name “Hinterlands” in the context of Christian spec fic, somebody oughta use it!

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Teddi Deppner January 8, 2014 at 9:49 AM

Thanks for pointing this out, Kessie. I was starting to wonder if I was the only one that caught that detail. :-)

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Teddi Deppner January 8, 2014 at 10:16 AM

With all this talk about “edgy” or “mature” content being written by polarizing personalities and which authors you associate with by contracting under the same publisher, it seems like we need a Christian spec fic publisher whose theme is Romans 14:4.

“Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.”

How about it? A publishing house who does the job of publisher, but makes it clear that each author is following the path they feel God has them on. The publisher is there to facilitate the books getting out, to collect titles that fall under “Christian speculative fiction” in one place, but isn’t obligated to comment upon or defend the content of the books. If that was the brand, then at least those associated with it wouldn’t have to spend as much time defending what someone else did.

Christian spec fic books need someone who is good at marketing books who cross the traditional boundaries. One who excels at composing the title, blurb, keywords and sample so that readers can figure out for themselves whether the book is “too edgy” for them.

Or maybe call it Master’s Field Press — where the wheat grows with the tares and it’s all sorted out later (Matthew 13). Heh-heh.

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Johne Cook January 8, 2014 at 10:19 AM

With /bullets/! ;)

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Johne Cook January 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

With /bullets!/ ;)

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D.M. Dutcher January 8, 2014 at 11:39 AM

AViS also is not a Hinterlands book.

I’m going to slip into my cynical side for a moment. Yeah, it’s done. If anything, I worry that Steve is going to turn MLP into Girls in Dresses press, because that’s the kind of books the CBA market wants. Not only will any hint of edginess be bad, but the books themselves will be sanitized even more.

I mean, he keeps going on about Firebird, but while Firebird is a good novel, it’s a historical romance dressed up in SF tropes. This was Anne McCaffrey’s secret too; taking romance tropes and translating them into science fiction. This isn’t a bad thing in itself, but that’s only a part of SF and fantasy, not the whole.

The edgy thing isn’t really about profanity, it’s about the freedom to rise above the rather stifling way Christian spec fic has developed in the CBA market. Having MLP choose to focus on it is not good unless Steve sticks to his guns, and getting rid of both of these things makes me wonder what kind of guns he had in the beginning to stick to.

That being said, I still think we should wait and see. What I wrote is just my fear of bad change; there’s always the possibility of good and better change. I’ll keep buying MLP’s books and supporting them, but until I see that change I’m going to have to sit on my negativity a bit more than usual.

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Steve Rzasa January 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Tell you what: as the only MLPer who’s weighing in on this subject so far, and someone who’s been published by them since 2009, I’ll let you know if Steve Laube decides to be pro- or anti- edgy. :)

As for Vox by Association, well, I haven’t received any hate mail yet. So I figure he’s not all bad. Either that or nobody who is offended by him has figured out where my website is…

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Mike Duran January 8, 2014 at 2:33 PM

Steve, do you think Day’s controversy and/or expulsion from SFWA tainted the Hinterlands label or played any part in its non-sale to Laube?

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Steve Rzasa January 8, 2014 at 4:21 PM

I really don’t know. If those were factors I wasn’t told. My own assumption (and again, this is based only on my own reasoning and no external information from anyone) is that the decision was made based on the contents of the book: namely, explicit sex, profanity of the more extreme variety, and very bloody violence.

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Steve Rzasa January 8, 2014 at 4:21 PM

I really don’t know. If those were factors I wasn’t told. My own assumption (and again, this is based only on my own reasoning and no external information from anyone) is that the decision was made based on the contents of the books: namely, explicit sex, profanity of the more extreme variety, and very bloody violence.

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Katherine Coble January 8, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Let me answer the many nested questions above here, because I can’t figure out where exactly to stick the answers.

Yes, Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) was published (with Pocket Books) before he was picked up by MLP/Hinterlands. I suspect that he was acquired because he was that white doe in current publishing circles–an author with an established fan base whose books would market themselves to a prebuilt audience.

Yes, Theodore Beale (AKA Vox Day) has long been a figgur of fun on these interwebs for his wit–which is good–and his cruelty–which is not. He is definitely a persona. As a long-term Christian Libertarian I’ve been crossing paths with him on lots of occasions. But I don’t like to be ridiculed for being fat, so I try not to address him directly. (He does that sort of thing. Links provided upon request, maybe, if I feel like it. Or you can google “fat frog Hayden”. )

What happened that was sort of the burning cross in the yard of the Interwebs was last June. AFTER Jeff Gerke published his book to mega-sales. If you want to read the entire bloody, and I do mean that, story you can google Vox Day Jemisin and see his take as well as everyone else’s.

Anyway, he said some VERY volatile and inappropriate things last June. It was, if you will, a trial run for the Duck Dynasty flap. Same principle, actually, but grotesque. This was said very publicly, and broadcast to the SFWA twitter stream. That’s ultimately what got him kicked out. He was the first person in like forever to be expunged.

So yes, he’s always been controversial but in fora that were separate enough from his Christian Writer persona that most Christian Writers didn’t know about the Racist Misogynist persona. They happened to intersect last summer.

And the SFWA writers….who don’t pay attention to Christian publishing in general because it doesn’t always apply to them…have had an ongoing discussion about “why would a Christian publish that guy?” They keep asking me and I keep telling them “built in audience, etc.” and they look at me like I’ve lost my bleeding head. But what can you do? I don’t know any other reason to publish him.

The man walked down the aisle of his wedding to Darth Vader’s theme. THAT should tell you that he courts controversy, is proud of courting controversy and really doesn’t mind what people think. Which is fine if you’re going for “internet personality”. But if you’re going for Christian Writer personality….is it fine? I don’t know.

So yes. He’s always been up to shenanigans. But unfortunately his worst shenanigans, most public shenanigans happened while he was published with Hinterlands and ended up in Hinterlands getting a whole passel of negative attention at exactly the wrong time for a start up press.

—–
Some disclosure: I’m friends with many of the people in the SFWA who were most vocal about what happened. The subject of Beale’s attacks–N.K. Jemison–is close friends with one of my closest friends. (I don’t know Jemison personally, however. We’re friends once-removed, I guess.) I’m also friends with some folks associated with Tor and Baen. Like, real life friends who eat in restaurants, not just internet friends.
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Teddi Deppner January 8, 2014 at 4:39 PM

I keep wondering why (certain) publishers feel book content needs to be so stringently censored. Don’t they feel Christians can choose for themselves what kind of content they want going into their heads?

To me, it’s more an issue of full disclosure, one of good labeling.

Why can’t we have something similar to film ratings (http://www.mpaa.org/ratings) for books? Why can’t we just say “this rated-R story has Christian themes” and let people choose if that’s their thing? The ratings clearly indicate what prompted them (violence, sex, profanity, etc). To me, that would eliminate the surprise factor and leave the choice in the reader’s hands.

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Katherine Coble January 8, 2014 at 5:53 PM

Every time this comes up, people protest that secular books don’t carry same warnings and that this solution unfairly prejudices people against Christian authors.

I personally remember when BOM would label books “explicit”. That worked for me.

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Steve Rzasa January 8, 2014 at 6:36 PM

I would have no problem with rating labels on my books. People who ask about them invariably ask, “What age is this appropriate for?” especially if they have boys ages 11 and up. So if there were some sort of rating system in place, just like movies have, I would be cool with it.

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R. L. Copple January 9, 2014 at 12:50 AM

I keep wondering why (certain) publishers feel book content needs to be so stringently censored. Don’t they feel Christians can choose for themselves what kind of content they want going into their heads?

To me, it’s more an issue of full disclosure, one of good labeling.

It is more about what they can sell and starts at the bookstore. Bookstore owner stocks a book. Christian buys it, reads it, finds offensive material in it. Christian goes to a church that buys a lot of material from bookstore, big account. The Christian approaches bookstore owner, “Did you know there’s sex in this evil book? How could you sell this?”

Owner can only reply “Oh, really?” and return the book if he doesn’t want rumors going around that he is selling smut. So any hint of a book containing “mature” content he refuses to buy…too risky. Publisher complains they can’t sell that type of book, so will reject manuscripts with such content.

So it isn’t really the publishers deciding what can and can’t be published. They are publishing what in their experience sells.

The big difference now days is bookstores are not the only retail outlet for books anymore. Amazon isn’t going to care too much unless it receives a very high number of complaints, and usually has to be pretty bad.

But even today, the major publishers still depend upon bookstores to move their books. They are not going to risk offending their customer base, and would only occasionally risk a more mature content book because they know those are a hard sell. MLP had more success because they didn’t rely upon bookstores to sell their books. So Jeff could publish it, and only deal with the threat of not being able to submit for awards, which he avoided by starting the imprint.

So my theory is once traditional publishers ever get to the place where bookstore sales become a secondary revenue source to online retail, you’ll see Christian publishers publishing more “edgier” books. Especially if they sell well online.

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Teddi Deppner January 9, 2014 at 9:38 AM

Ah, yes. I keep forgetting that the CBA is a world that exists in the closet realm of Christian bookstores (and churches and CBD catalogs). The realities of that world are so far from my daily existence.

I don’t buy my entertainment reading material in Christian bookstores, so my entire consciousness of what makes sense is based in a different realm. Haven’t even used physical bookstores as my primary purchasing outlet for over a decade — ever since Amazon.com brought the biggest catalog and cheapest prices right to my computer screen in my own home.

Thanks for the reminder, Rick. Makes perfect sense in context.

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Mir January 9, 2014 at 10:10 AM

I suppose one could hope the delivery system for CF changes so much that stores do not need to be gatekeepers.

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Johne Cook January 8, 2014 at 7:41 PM

I hate the idea of ratings. Just read a review or two – you’ll get a better idea of the content and the tone and you don’t need the arbitrary ratings thing. I’d hate to have a complex, nuanced work be overlooked because someone thought it had too much this or that. I haven’t looked at movie ratings in years – it simply isn’t the way I make my decisions on what to see.

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Teddi Deppner January 8, 2014 at 8:21 PM

I understand. If there’s a movie with a trailer or storyline that I really want to see, I don’t generally care what the rating is. But I have noticed a pattern in my own watching, and movies that have certain ratings tend not to be ones I care to stick in my head.

I don’t think I cared about rating entertainment content as much until I became a mom. Now I find it frustrating that I can’t be sure whether something is appropriate for my kids to read without having to read the whole thing myself. I like having at least a hint of what might be an issue — “adventure violence” never bothers us but profanity or sex scenes isn’t something I want my 10 yr old digesting quite yet.

There’s probably no easy answer. I personally intend to label and market my self-published books in such a way that people understand what they’re getting into. I’m also playing with the idea of selling two versions of the same story — the director’s cut and the PG-13 rated one.

Or even having a G-rated version if the story indicates that might be cool. Have you noticed how Lego toys have made cute versions of characters from some movies that are really dark and might be a bit much for children in your typical Christian household (Pirates of the Caribbean, Batman movies, Indiana Jones, etc)? And there are books in the children’s section of libraries that are the edited, simplified and sanitized versions of adult movies or books.

For example, Doctor Who has episodes that are practically horror movie stuff (which we don’t watch AT ALL with our kids), so it really wouldn’t fly for some folks. But the core story of a man with a time machine is a great children’s story, if you want to write it that way. And there’s a few folks out there making DW story books for children.

I know it’s a little outside the box, but I envision creating a story universe where you can make fans of kids when they’re little and feed them stories that they’ll enjoy as they grow and graduate to the various levels of maturity. But that’s just a little idea I have, not seriously in line with what we’re talking about here.

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Iola January 9, 2014 at 2:30 PM

“Does Non-Acquisition of “Hinterlands” Signal End to Christian Fiction’s “Mature-Content Experiment”?”

To me, it says Steve Laube has read the press around Vox Day. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Karen P. January 10, 2014 at 7:18 PM

Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if it turns out to be Vox who bought Hinterlands? ha ha ha!

oh..ok…maybe not. never mind.

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Beckie Burnham January 12, 2014 at 12:45 PM

Mike, I stumbled upon this discussion from your tweet. I found it very interesting as a non-writer reader. I generally read Christian authors, but do cross-over too. And I review almost exclusively Christian books. This discussion is very timely for me. I was reading for review a self-published Christian novel with speculative elements. Please note: was. I was forewarned by the publicist that it contained some content that could be considered offensive. Each chapter began with scripture and then went on to include lots of profanity, not of the mild kind, and vulgar descriptions of women and sexual acts. It had jumped over the edge of edgy. There are lots of books out there and I don’t have time to waste on content that will stick in my brain, no matter how hard I try to get it out, so this book hit the reject pile.

So how do we define edgy? And when does smut become just that, not the artist’s/authors right to expression? Maybe we just know it when we see it. (A Supreme cop-out!)

Thanks for everyone’s thoughts.

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