July 27, 2008


One of the objections I hear leveled against Christianity is its exclusivity.

The argument runs something like this: “I can’t believe in a God who would throw people into hell just because they didn’t believe in Him/Her/It self. God is love and love covers a multitude of sins and lets everyone into heaven. There are multiple roads to heaven and trying to claim that Christianity is the ‘only’ way to get there is unacceptable to me as a reasoning individual.”

Reflecting on a recent encounter with this, I discovered a speculative fiction response:

Schmidt, Van Gelder, Williams, McCarthy, Schubert, Flint, VanderMeer, Campbell/Gordon and Cox are all names of magazine editors recognized and respected in science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. These are perhaps the best-known editors of the “professional markets” for speculative fiction. (I’m sure I’ve missed a few. Please pardon my omissions.)

These men and women reject thousands of submitted manuscripts every year. Each magazine, whether online or paper, has a very particular set of parameters for what they consider publishable stories. These editors have clear standards of what counts as professional quality writing. While the exact likes, dislikes, standards and “flavor” of each editor are as different as the magazines they work to select stories for, all of them strive to choose stories that will create a clearly identifiable product. Stan Schmidt seeks “ANALOG stories”; Shawna McCarthy seeks “REALMS stories”. Each market has an unmistakable identity and while they are radically different, they are all “pro markets” for a spec fic writer’s work. These markets have clearly understood, near-universally accepted standards.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is an organization whose membership is made up of writers who have had three stories or one novel published by someone on the “pro” list. It is so exclusive that if you have three publications in what are considered “semi-pro” venues, you are not welcome as a full member of SFFWA. They have clearly delineated and published standards and if you do not meet the standards, then you cannot be a member.

Professional publication, mediated by professional editors and recognized by a professional organization is the “golden ring” of many, many spec fic writers. They attempt to write to the standards of professionalism espoused by these markets and SFFWA. Once they get their “three professional sales” – when they meet the standard – many join SFFWA. So when these professional editors reject a manuscript, people weep – whether in fact or metaphorically. They rail. They rant. They blog.

Some of the strongest objections to Christianity have come from these writers and while they accept and sometimes revel in the exclusivity of professional publication, they refuse to grant that God can have standards.

Imagine the protest if Gordon Van Gelder simply accepted every story that crossed his desk for F&SF. What if he decided that he would publish any story whose author went so far as to put their MS into the accepted format, on unlined paper with black ink and then mailed it with a SASE to his editorial attention? Such a writer would obviously be very sincere and deserve to get published, correct? Most professional writers would agree that that is ridiculous and would lead to the ruin of F&SF.

My argument is that if the prozines and SFFWA can have standards, then certainly God can have standards. Those who don’t like God’s standards can no more change those standards than I can change Sheila Williams’ standards. If I want to be published in ASIMOVS, I have to meet her editorial standards. If I want to get into heaven, I have to meet God’s standards: believe that I am a sinner, have broken God’s laws and deserve punishment for breaking the laws; believe that Jesus as God’s Son came to take my place for the punishment; and that when I acknowledge that He took my place, I can claim that salvation for myself.

God’s standards are no more or less exclusive than the ones I need to meet to make a pro sale and be a member of SFFWA. So what’s the problem?

July 20, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Absolutely Basic Flash Fiction

Flash fiction is all the rage lately. Magazines, anthologies and ezines are devoted to it. I'm experimenting with it myself -- as you may have noticed with my short short stories in fictional worlds I've created HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES (= HEIRS), THREAT OF MAGIC (= THREAT) and THIRTEEN SQUARE MILES (= THIRTEEN). Some people seem to think that flash fiction (aka: short-short stories, sudden, postcard, minute, furious, fast, quick, skinny, and micro fiction) is a recent phenomenon. I'm here to say that it's a form as old as Christendom.

Flash fiction needs to meet several criteria -- you can link to a more complete discussion here:
http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/flash.shtml . However, it might be most easily summarized by saying that it is a complete story with a beginning, middle and end in less than a 1000 words.

Vignettes and scene descriptions, snatches of dialogue and story snapshots are NOT flash fiction. Each piece MUST have characters, setting, problem, complication and denouement and the entire story must use a thousand words or less.

This is difficult to do. But wait! Christians have been memorizing and passing flash fiction back and forth for over two millenia. We call the flash fiction of Jesus "parables". I talked about parables before (http://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/2008/06/possibly-irritating-essay-is-there-any.html ) and I maintain that while The Parable of the Sower and the Seed is certainly TRUE, it's not necessarily FACT. C.S. Lewis discusses the difference between something being "true" and something being a "fact" -- I can't find the reference right now -- I will and insert it here. So in its essence, the Sower and the Seed is true even though it is fiction. Therefore, it meets the criteria of being a piece of flash fiction and falls under the heading of "Kinds Of Long-Lasting Writing I Should Try And Copy".

All of the parables of Jesus had a clear beginning, middle and end. He was writing flash fiction WAY before it became a fad. I can take comfort in this as I try and work the bugs out of my magical (THREAT), alien (HEIRS) and mundane (THIRTEEN) worlds by writing flash fiction stories. (I had the thought today that I might try creating some parables in the worlds. You'll have to read the results and tell me what you think.)

So first things first: quit reading my blog and GO WRITE YOUR OWN STORIES!

July 13, 2008

A Slice of PIE: Oprah, THE SECRET, Rhonda Byrnes, PIE and Quantum Entanglement

What do Oprah, Australian television writer and producer, Rhonda Byrne, THE SECRET and “Christianity, faith, science fiction and writing” have to do with each other?

Oprah’s promotion of Byrne’s 2006 “self-help” book, THE SECRET on her talk show, helped lead the book to blockbuster status. For me, THE SECRET was “A story that immerses you in its detail so that as you are reading it you feel almost as if you were surrounded by a whole world of people, things, and events...” alpha.fdu.edu/~jbecker/americanlit/literaryterms-fiction.html).

Based on this, I’m going to classify THE SECRET as a novel. During Rhonda Byrne’s February 8, 2007 TV interview with Oprah, she also “defines The Secret as the law of attraction, which is the principle that ‘like attracts like.’ Rhonda calls it ‘the most powerful law in the universe,’ and says it is working all the time. ‘What we do is we attract into our lives the things we want, and that is based on what we're thinking and feeling,’ Rhonda says. The principle explains that we create our own circumstances by the choices we make in life. And the choices we make are fueled by our thoughts—which means our thoughts are the most powerful things we have here on earth.’” (http://www.oprah.com/spiritself/slide/20070208/ss_20070208_284_101.jhtml).

I was reading about quantum entanglement this morning. It’s a…“phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects are linked together so that one object can no longer be adequately described without full mention of its counterpart — even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. This interconnection leads to correlations between observable physical properties of remote systems.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_entanglement

In my opinion, The Secret is fiction that Rhonda Byrnes cobbled together from sources purportedly 3500 years old then labeled it “the most powerful law in the universe”. This appellation suggests that The Secret supersedes the laws of gravity, light speed, entropy and motion. She is fiddling with science in a work of fiction. By definition, she has written science fiction.

If it’s SF she’s writing, I don’t think she’s gone far enough. If she’s going to talk about how our “thoughts” can alter physical reality, why use three-millenia-old mumbo-jumbo? Why not use the most obvious modern explanation: quantum entanglement? According to THE SECRET, we need only think and the universe will change to accommodate us – this happens of course, because when we “think” something, we alter the quantum states of the particles nearest to us. Because they are entangled with other particles, the states change there as well. By thinking positive, we change the spin of nearby quantum particles to reflect a more positive spin. As they spin positively, the particles that they are entangled with will begin to spin in a positive way, thereby increasing positive energy both near us and at other places. That much positive spin couldn’t help but begin to change physical things for us in a more positive direction. Right?

Ah yes, THE SECRET is so much easier to believe than that God loves us and sacrificed his only Son to take on the sins of the world – just so that we might live in His perfect will with his blessings forever.


PS: On February 6, 2008, Oprah continued: “No matter any criticism for The Secret, Oprah says she still believes it's valuable. ‘I'm grateful that for so many millions of people the door was at least opened to the idea that we are each responsible for the quality of our lives,’ she says. ‘The Secret was really just the beginning.’" http://www.oprah.com/spiritself/slide/20080206/ss_20080206_284_101.jhtml

The beginning of WHAT?

July 6, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: The Divine Work of the Editor

Hebrews 12:2 says, “…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

God is the author (“the person who originates or gives existence to anything” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Author) of our faith (“to trust; to commit oneself to act based on self experience to warrant belief, but without absolute proof” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faith). He wrote our faith – our story. After Adam and Eve sinned, our faith, the story, was screwed up. God sent Jesus into the world to…edit…the story. Jesus came to save the story. We are the story and He is the Perfect Son. God created faith and Jesus is editing it to make it back into the perfect story.

As an author, I’ve created more than 400 manuscripts of various sorts from three line nature haiku to a 500-page hard science fiction novel. Once I’m done writing, I have to edit until it’s either ready to send out or I put it back in the drawer and leave it. As an author, I create; as an editor, I take on a “divine work” and try to make the story the best it can be. My intent is to write a story to share with others then edit the story so that it is good enough to send out into the world and share with readers.

The editor (“responsible for overall content of the paper, makes sure everything runs to plan and has the final say on what appears in the paper”image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Guardian/documents/2006/07/10/Resourcesforschools.doc) of a magazine or a publishing company takes up that “divine work” – they follow in the tread of Jesus, so to speak. They take on the responsibility to edit the work until it’s as perfect as it can be so that when it sees publication, it does what the author and editor intended it to do: make a difference in the world.