Spec Fic With Gravy on the Side

Spec Fic With Gravy on the Side

Maybe it's the fact that it's the day before Thanksgiving.
Maybe it's the weather-- a blustery, wet Noreaster that makes one
curl up inside and think warm thoughts. Or maybe having my baby
Ember has just softened up me a little.

Whatever the reason, today my thoughts turn to a part of writing
that it's easy to forget amidst the hustle and bustle of creating
stories. I am absolutely, utterly grateful that God chose me to write.
When I was still being formed in the secret places of my mother's womb,
He decided to tweak things so that I would have this gift, and
stories have just seemed to be a natural part of my life since
childhood. He could have chosen someone else to glorify him through words;
certainly at times I think He could have found someone more worthy,
less insecure, more bold. But He gave it to me. And even at the most
frustrating moments, when my stories seem stale and my self-doubt is
ranting in the back of my mind, I know that writing is like breathing.
I can no more stop one than the other.

Writing has given me a portal into hundreds of worlds, introduced me
to characters through whose struggles I find hope for my own. Words
give me a way to put my passion onto paper, or to grapple with a fear,
or to take up arms against an evil or injustice. If I combine them
with music, I have a wonderful and powerful way to praise my God.
I love that He's put it in my heart to write speculative fiction and
explore the countless possibilities of the genre.

So, on the eve of turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, I just want
to stand up and say thank you-- to God, for His unspeakable mercy
and grace, and also to my fellow wordsmiths, for joining together in faith
and community, helping one another use the gift God has placed in us.



Writing about the darker side of faith.

On the surface, I appear normal. My chosen attire is usually jeans and a sweater, but I'll wear khakis for interviews and meetings. I have five girls, a husband, and the normal pets -- a goofy lab and a lazy cat. But there is a darker side of me -- a fascination with ghosts, spirits, demons and witches that I don't normally talk about with casual acquaintances. I don't think one ever gets used to the shocked, wide-eyed look that comes when I tell people that I've written Christian horror. That disbelief generally precedes the protest that it's an oxymoron. But like in "Fair Balance" you can't judge based on appearances. My past, on one level was quite normal -- in fact, the joke in my circles is that I was raised by Ward and June Cleaver. But when the house was dark and quiet and everyone was asleep, my world could have been born from a marriage of Stephen King and Ann Rice.

As a child and teenager, I was plagued by chronic nightmares. Demons, death, and fear greeted me every evening to the point I was averaging about two hours sleep a night -- generally from the time my parents woke up at five in the morning until seven when I had to get ready for school. I still remember every detail of some of therecurringg ones. In the end was always a church I stumbled upon. But instead of being a safe haven, it was a place of fear and isolation.

One of the most recurringg nightmares involved me being trapped in a house that was demon possessed. During the course of this dream, I tried to escape while voices echoed through the dark home that I would die. I would duck flying objects, scramble to free myself from some unseen force trying to pin me down. I would somehow escape and run until I saw church. The church should be a safe haven, but it wasn't. I could call out to God and He would save me, but the church only incited terror.

I'm not a psychologist. I don't know why I had these dreams. I had a pretty boring existence as far as teenagers go. I did not live in an abusive or cold home. My love for reading and writing was encouraged as was church and sports. Writing became my passion but I did not write about the things that kept me up at night. Even though I knew God was bigger than whatever was going on, I was terrified into silence. But it did put me on a path of morbid curiosity. What was on the other side? Why was it plaguing me? Anything black and sinister captured my attention, like I had a disease and needed to know everything about it in order to cure it. Maybe they didn't cause all my bad dreams, but they caused some, perhaps just enough to get my imagination rolling.

After years of spiritual wanderings, I came back to the faith of my youth. The fascination of demons and devils and evil never left me. The difference was as a child, I knew God was bigger than all the nightmares and demons and spirits, but for whatever reason, I couldn't get to Him and let Him protect me. Now, I know He's protecting me. However, I don't cower behind Him in fear. He didn't create me to have a spirit of fear. But I do let Him shield me. The nightmares have stopped, but now a mission remains.

"Fair Balance" was the first, but it won't be the last horror story I write. That dark side of my faith is too strong and not enough people acknowledge it's existence. I know because in the last decade, I've only heard it mentioned once or twice in church. I'm no longer surprised that the church in my dream was cold, distant and inattentive of this part of Christianity. I'm only saddened by it and pray that the people who feel as I do can read my stories and know they have a kindred spirit in the foothills of Georgia.


Changing Lives with the Lost Genre

In my previous posts I have explored a little of what our work can mean for us and our readers, and for myself as a reader of speculative fiction. The more I ponder it, and the more I read of the other posts on this blog, the more I have come to the conclusion that my heart’s goal all along has been to change lives with the Lost Genre. I don’t know if that’s everyone’s ideal, but I do know that its effect can range from the beginnings of granting someone an escape from a hard life to a beautiful world for a few hours, all the way to actually influencing someone to accept Christ. To be honest, I would be happy with anything between these two extremes.

There are books that show such strength of character that it cannot help but change me as I read it – for example, Lawhead’s Merlin, Hancock’s Arena, or beyond spec-fic, Alcott’s Little Women, just to name a few. There are books that expand the horizons of the possible, like Empyrion, or the Narnia stories, or indeed most if not all of the Lost Genre. Yes, it blows my mind. But I enjoy having my mind blown, and when my horizons have been expanded, I can think outside the box, I can see beyond my immediate situation and grasp hope for my future.

Sometimes after reading a particularly mind-expanding tale, it has the effect on me that I start coming up with ideas for my own writing. Sometimes it’s an adrenaline rush as plots and ideas are hammered out in my mind before I can even reach for pen and paper. I don’t mean copying, but simply an inspiration set free by glowing examples to fly further than I ever dreamed, discovering even more strange new worlds that never existed before. And as we all know, a little inspiration must be followed by a great deal of perspiration if we want to get anywhere at all.

I am very interested in “genre crossover” books – Lost Genre stories able to be read by people who profess no interest in speculative fiction. Maybe it’s the “foot in the door” that can broaden our niche readership. For example, “An Alien at St. Wilfred’s” by Adrian Plass. Here, a visit from a childlike alien, perpetually asking simple questions, causes an Anglican priest and an assortment of parishioners to penetrate the darkness in their own souls. It’s a tale of deep brokenness and honesty and healing, a tale of very ordinary people, except that one of them is an alien. My friend, not a LG fan, read it and loved it, although she did say the presence of the alien was a little disturbing. Even so, this book still has the potential to touch someone very deeply AND win another reader for the genre.

I’m sure we all agree that inviting the Lost Genre into our lives is a significant change and a valuable enrichment!

Of course I would be the first to agree that hard-core LG is worthy of pursuit, and as Frank said in his interview, there is a place for all varieties and all angles and purposes. No need to fight over that. Still, for myself at this point, I would like to hope that my writing is just this kind of “soft-core” speculative fiction, that it’s all about people who aren’t so different to us, with enough speculative aspects to broaden horizons, give hope, and perhaps even be enjoyable for readers who may be just beginning to discover the genre.

And, my friends, if we can manage that, then the world is ours for the taking…

(sorry this is late! I wasn't at home this week and couldn't log in to Blogger from Geneva... well, better late than never?)