July 26, 2009

Slice of PIE: Why Do We Need Christian Spec Fic Publishers?

I receive in my email box, the monthly announcements of Marcher Lord Press (http://www.marcherlordpress.com/MLP_Publishing_Model.htm ) and I’ve submitted stories to a POD anthology called COACH’S MIDNIGHT DINER (http://www.themidnightdiner.com/).

Both of these publish a genre they call “Christian Speculative Fiction” (speculative fiction, also known as spec fic includes science fiction, fantasy, myths, fairy tales, horror and any combination of these genres).

With hundreds of publishers already producing spec fic in the secular world, why do we need a Christian spec fic publisher? While it’s difficult to dispute their call to minister to God’s people in this way, I have serious questions to which I’d like to hear answers.

In COACH’S, out of 21 authors, only two have publications in “secularly recognized” venues. Of Marcher Lord Press’ six authors, only one is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. The people who publish in this genre, as far as I can tell, are people who can’t make it in the secular speculative fiction markets. By extension then, these authors are not the best in the field yet they are being published as representative of the BEST the Christian spec fic market can produce. These authors represent Christ – at least in the speculative fiction field – to the entire world. It’s not important that Marcher Lord Press has a disclaimer saying that they aren’t TRYING to reach the world for Christ (see above link), that they are just trying to entertain a small fraction of a specialized market. Scripture is very, very clear with regards to that attitude: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17) The fact is that when people buy these books and give them to their spec fic reading unsaved friends, they’ll be compared unfavorably to what is being published in the secular press.

CS Lewis, who not only wrote spec fic for a secular publisher, and published short fiction in the secular market (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction published three of his stories) spoke eloquently to the issue: “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects with their Christianity latent.” GOD IN THE DOCK, p. 93

Beth Moore as well points out in her scripture workbook: “We cannot seclude ourselves indefinitely in Christian hideouts. Our lives must be poured out like healing ointment on this injured land.” DANIEL: LIVES OF INTEGRITY, WORDS OF PROPHECY, p. 128

Finally, Reggie McNeal: “The truth is that the North American church culture extracts salt from the world and diminishes the amount of light available to those who need to find their way.” THE PRESENT FUTURE, p. 72

It’s clear to me that these Christian publishers have, with the greatest of good will and firm belief that they were serving Christ, created a ghetto in which they might wallow in self-satisfied glory, believing that they are reaching the world but in fact creating nothing more than a spectacle of themselves at which the secular world peeks, points their fingers, laughs and then moves on its way to the REALLY important work.

And that leaves the secular world effectively unreached. It also leaves us effectively responsible for their loss from the Kingdom of God and leaves us open to the reprimand of our Lord. Matthew 25: 34-40 are verses we often quote to ourselves, patting ourselves on the back…but that’s a subject for another essay. But here, we deserve what Jesus says in verses 41-46: "Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’”

We still have time to become the BEST in the secular world and reach the lost for Jesus Christ.

That’s where my mission is.



Anonymous said...

This essay is slightly irritating to me.
I do see your point, some of it at least.
But on the other hand, one of my peers at school (it would be a stretch to call them friend) believes that ALL original fantasy and spec fic has roots within Christianity. (I am not including books that include Pagan Patheons like Percy Jackson or Runemarks.)

Her opinion is true for the most part, there are roots in the Bible. But she believes that ALL original Spec fic written by known Christians has refrences to God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

But now I'm starting to veer off topic, forgive me.

GuyStewart/DISCOVERCHURCH said...

I agree with THAT point! The thing I still wonder about is why we "need" a Christian publisher for "Christian" speculative fiction. Shouldn't everything we write be Christian -- and shouldn't we submit it to secular magazines. And even if you use the argument that satan will block "us" from getting our stuff published...isn't that limiting God? Hmmmm...

Jonathan K. said...

Perhaps I can irritate in return. Your application of Matt. 25:34-40 seems a little stretched to me. All of the actions Jesus refers to there are intended to meet "obvious," real needs. Where does spec fic fit? I suppose someone might try to categorize Christianized spec fic as prison ministry, though I personally would find that a metaphorical leap of Olympic size. The other possibilities are no better. While I must act on God's command to be responsible for treating others as though they were Jesus Himself, I need to make sure I am going about it based first on a plain reading of His instructions.

I think a better motivation for Christian spec fic is Ephesians 4:15-16, which talks about the Body of Christ speaking the truth in love, "as each part does its work." Maybe spec fic can be thought of as bait on the hook.

Paul said...

It seems to me Christian speculative fiction is a ghetto within a ghetto. Your words, "creating nothing more than a spectacle of themselves at which the secular world peeks, points their fingers, laughs and then moves on its way to the REALLY important work," could, by changing "secular" to "mainstream" or "literary," just as easily apply to speculative fiction in general.

But why Christian publishers of Christian speculative fiction, by Christians, for Christians? Because it's safe. Because it does some of the readers' thinking for them. Because some people think works of high aesthetic achievement can't point to the divine unless the works, or their creators, or their distributors, do so explicitly. Because some people insist on putting God in a box and can't envision God showing up outside it, saying, "Hey! Over here, you shmucks!"

Mike Duran said...

Guy, I'm an editor with Coach's Midnight Diner. The publisher has absolutely no motivation to perpetuate a "Christian ghetto," which is why they started Relief Journal and The Diner. The "ghetto" was formed as Christians withdrew from culture, imposed their own sanctions on content, and lowered artistic standards in favor of propaganda. Both Relief and the Diner impose no such constraints. Explicit religious themes are not necessary, Christianese is not tolerated, and preachiness is definitely disallowed.

And quality craft is expected.

Which is why I would take exception to this assessment: "The people who publish in this genre, as far as I can tell, are people who can’t make it in the secular speculative fiction markets. By extension then, these authors are not the best in the field yet they are being published as representative of the BEST the Christian spec fic market can produce."

While all our published authors might not be "the best in field," (and in a pulp-style genre mag like the Diner, literary expertise is not at the forefront of criteria), most of them have mainstream cred. For instance, Kim Paffenroth (in the latest Diner) won the 2006 Bram Stoker Award, Dan Keohane has published in Cemetery Dance, Apex and Shroud, Maggie Stiefvater has several books in the mainstream market, and there's others. Relief authors (of which I'm one) have received several Pushcart nominations. Personally, I've had stories published in a few secular mags and my first novel is currently under consideration by an ABA publisher.

My intent is not to defend the artistic ghetto you rightly criticize, but to suggest that Christian authors -- or Christian spec mags -- are not nearly as bad as you seem to suggest. Blessings!

GuyStewart/DISCOVERCHURCH said...

I don't want to imply that they are bad -- only to shake up the tree some. Working in a Barnes & Noble, I see all of the "Christian stuff" neatly shelved in the "Christian Inspiration" and the "Christian" and the "Religious Fiction" section. My intent is to say "why give [the secular world] the opportunity to shelve us 'there'?" There shouldn't BE a "there".

I wish nothing ill upon Marcher Lord Press or COACH'S and I praise God for your review at cnn.com, but...but...but... We need to reach that mass of SF/F readers who won't go to MLP and won't see COACH'S because of where they are marketed. Maggie's books are GOOD. They may very well lead others back to COACH'S. But they won't find THE PERSONIFID INVASION at B&N and while we may not agree that it SHOULD be found there, I maintain that it SHOULD be found there.

Also, I mean no disrespect to the authors. Perhaps you could include a bit more in their bios so that schmucks like me can check them out more completely (though I haven't read the second COACH'S yet...)BUT...I still maintain that the greatest effort we make as Christians should be to invade the stronghold of secular Spec Fic with our absolute best work and keep hammering until He comes to take us home, we break down the wall, or they pour boiling oil over us...

GuyStewart/DISCOVERCHURCH said...

Jonathan K.: nope, it don't irritate me. It just makes me sad. I am in love with the speculative fiction field -- science fiction first, fantasy second and horror third. Other things fall in there, but my top three are right there.

While there are contemprary Christian writers there, they are not...prominent. Whispered about. Muttered at. But not Out There. I've only seen a few proclaim their faith -- and at least one repudiate their faith in text while praising Jesus in private. (I have trouble with that. Lots.) While it is certain that there ARE Christian spec fic writers, I am at a loss as to where to go to SEE them or HEAR them. Are they shy? Afraid? Don't care? Whatever the reason, it's my opinion that they should be KNOWN as followers of Christ and they should be witnesses. Otherwise they fall under Christ's condemnation.

I know I fall under it. But I'm trying to work out my salvation as regards my writing and while it ain't easy, I'm finding that there are plenty of people willing to talk about it!

Arisia said...

You might be interested to read this: http://www.teddekker.com/2008/12/08/latent-christianity/

Thin Places said...

Though I don't specifically call for Christian writing for my magazine Beorh Quarterly, if it's well-written it gets priority over other writing. I accept very little, but if it is about the Kingdom in some way, the broader the better, I seriously consider it.

Scáth Beorh