Where is that magic line that delineates secular sci-fi/fantasy from speculative fiction? Must the name of Jesus be used "X" number of times? Must a salvation message be slipped in, thus providing a Sunday sermon dressed up in Monday's blue jeans? Or are we writing spec-fic for our fellow Christians, couched in the jargon of the sanctified, which unbelievers may not clearly understand?
Now before the indignant barrage of boulder-sized stones start flying, let me state emphatically that I truly want to glorify God with my writing. I want non-believers to be drawn closer to the Lord's embrace, and I want Christians to feel strengthened, encouraged, and uplifted. Now comes the "however" that you've already braced yourself for.
One of my "pet peeves" in Christian fiction is the author that batters the reader continually from beginning to end with Christian jargon or Bible verse after Bible verse. Obviously, I am not opposed to Scriptures, but it is not necessary to use every verse you know (or can find in a concordance) in your fiction. If the reader is not engaged by the characters, if he/she doesn't care what happens to them, it won't matter how many Scriptures you've quoted to back up your plot. The reader will sigh, close the book, and place it - unfinished - on the darkest corner of the bookcase.
Personally speaking, my goal is to write memorable literature, good stories with strong characters, and plots that won't easily be forgotten. I want my readers to see people they can relate to, struggling with moral dilemmas that they face themselves. My goal is to build the story around the characters and how they deal with life, spiritual battles - whatever pitfalls I've created for them to overcome. That's why people buy fiction.
I'll be honest here, although it may get me nailed to the nearest tree. I read very few "Christian" authors. Frank Peretti, yes, as I mentioned in my last post, and I love the fiction of Francine Rivers, especially her Mark of the Lion trilogy, which I read for about the thirtieth time last week. In fact, I've read the first in the series, "A Voice in the Wind", so many times I had to replace it about a year ago because all the pages were falling out! Her characters are so multi-layered and real, I don't even see them as fictional creations, but as living, breathing people I wish I could go back in time to meet.
An even better example is author Madeleine L'Engle. She has written shelves and shelves of wonderful books from adult fiction to young adult fiction to poetry to thought-provoking non-fiction. Her non-fiction is filled with her own struggles to reach out and touch Jesus, to overcome her own frailties, and to share her journey along the way.
But her fiction is an entirely different matter. Madeleine L'Engle is the author of the award-winning spec-fic young adult series, The Time Quartet, comprised of "A Wrinkle in Time", "A Wind in the Door", "A Swiftly Tilting Planet", and "Many Waters". She used the concepts of physics to create other worlds for the Murry family to explore in time and space. It's page-turning spec-fic for all ages. On the other hand, Ms. L'Engle's adult novels, "The Small Rain", "The Severed Wasp", "Certain Women", and (my all time favorite!) "The Other Side of the Sun", are not even classed in bookstores as Christian fiction. Her characters face life, death, wrong choices, unbelief, and spiritual darkness, but her faith rings clearly by the end of her stories. Very few writers have ever captured me and held me like this author. Her books are beacons of light, and examples I strive to live up to. They ARE the epitome of exemplary literature.
The point I'm trying to make is this. If you want to minister directly to a certain demographic or a particular issue, write a non-fiction book and cite references to your heart's content. Pull out that thirty pound concordance and preach, baby, preach! I'll sit on the front row and shout, "Amen!"
But if you choose to write fiction, particularly spec-fic, remember that the reader is buying your book to escape into another world. Create characters that will take the readers by the hand and coax them down Alice's rabbit hole. Build worlds that capture them so completely, they're ready to pack up the family space ship and fly away. If I can challenge the reader, slip the message of God's love between the lines, give them something to mull over long after they've closed the back cover, then I will have achieved what I set out to do. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. After all, we don't save people - Jesus does. If we give our Lord fine literature to work with, HE will have a vehicle through which to woo hearts, and we'll have the assurance of knowing that we are only vessels in the Master's hands.
It's been a privilege to work with the writers of the Lost Genre Guild to create the anthology you'll soon see on the bookstore shelves. They have all lived up to the same standards I hold dear, and hopefully we are sending our work out into the world to shine God's light in the world's darkness.
NOW you can throw those stones!