11/08/2007

Are Christian Writers Obligated to Christian Themes?

We've been having some interesting discussions in the Lost Genre Guild about what it means to be a Christian writer. Does it mean limiting your works to those that are purposely focused on the Lord and His Message? Or can we, like carpenters and electricians and even factory workers, still be following His will for us by simply honing our talents and keeping true to our convictions whether we're writing a Biblically-based romance or a techno-thriller that may or may not have obviously Christian characters or themes?

As you can imagine, the opinion varied according to one's experiences. It really is a personal choice, so my answer today is not a statement of how it should be, but how it seems to have worked for me.

My motto is "fiction, faith and fun," yet I never intended to be labeled as a Christian writer. For the first part of my career, my works were predominantly secular--and I still think of most of my writing that way. The fact that there are Christian or Catholic characters is not usually a conscious choice; and when it is, it's often because the character demands it or because it makes for an interesting twist.

My DragonEye, PI, character is a good example. I wanted a dragon character--and what's a dragon without a St. George? Well, wouldn't it be fun if instead of killing him, George converted him--or at least compelled his obedience… Before I knew it, Vern the dragon was not only attending Catholic Mass but had a nun for a partner. I've written several stories with them and have their first book, Magic, Mensa and Mayhem coming in early 2009 by Swimming Kangaroo.

Then there's the Rescue Sisters world my husband Rob and I created. We just thought it'd be fun to have nuns in space--no real message except the understanding that humankind won't outgrow religion. Those stories led us to create Leaps of Faith, a Christian sci-fi anthology; and Infinite Space, Infinite God--an anthology of thought provoking science fiction with a Catholic twist. ISIG came out in August by Twilight Times Books and Leaps of Faith is coming Summer 2008 from The Writers' Café Press.

The Writers' Café Press is a Christian publisher, but both ISIG and Magic, Mensa and Mayhem are being published by secular publishers. (In fact, the publishers at Swimming Kangaroo are atheists.) I'm neither proud of not surprised by this, really. I write for fantasy/sci fi readers. Well, not even that, really. I write for the characters and for me. And who it impresses, I leave to God.

What has surprised and impressed me, however, is how God has used my writing. I've been told both in reviews and personal letters how touched people are by the expressions of faith in the storesin Infinite Space, Infinite God. I've also been told how the stories have not only challenged people to think about their faith. One mother said every Christian teen should read this book because the stories examined issues they would face in the future, while a Catholic mom told me her daughter found answers to some of her faith questions in the stories. Rob and I compiled ISIG for fun; the only "educational" value we thought it had was in the introductions, but people are being touched--mind and soul--by the stories themselves.

So where do I stand on the "Christian writing" issue? I am a Catholic Christian. I am a writer. They are a part of my identity. They mix when they mix, but I won't limit my writing to only Catholic works any more than I'd limit my worship to only writing. I craft my words as well as I can, then get them to readers in whatever venue God brings my way. I trust that if I have done my best, God will make sure they get to the right hands--and He'll surprise me in the process.

9 comments:

Andrea Graham said...

Um, Karina, who are you arguing with? If this is a response to my post, you totally and completely missed what I said. The only person you need to be defending your writing to is God. That goes for everyone here. Everyone, please stop. You need to be praying and telling Him all this, not me. Because I did not say anything you all seem to think I said. If anyone is taking issue with what you're writing, it's the Holy Spirit.

cyn said...

Ah, Karina you've unwittlingly moved into a whole new area of debate.

Here is a pop quiz: What is a Christian publisher?

1. a publisher who is Christian;
2. a publisher who publishes Christian books;
3. a publisher who publishes books written by Christians.
4. a publisher with the given or surname of "Christian."
5. some of the above.

Isn't it kind of like the debate over what is a "Christian author?"

One of the reasons I contemplated and decided against joining the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association is because I want the freedom to publish quality books. I don't want to have the Christian Booksellers Assoc. (CBA) dictating what I can and can't publish (or, to be more precise, what they will and won't sell). The standards of content (note: not quality) set by the CBA stifle, in my opinion, creativity, e.g. blanket rules such as tell don't show in cases of violence.

TWCP's first book was secular, second was written by a Jewish gentleman, third, fourth, and fifth were Christian fiction, the sixth, secular.

TWCP specializes in Biblical speculative fiction, but TWCP is not a Christian publisher. TWCP is a traditional house that publishes quality fiction—and remains independent of association.

Deborah Cullins Smith said...

I can appreciate your testimony, Karina. Thanks for sharing it. I'm eager to read Vern's adventures! As an avid dragon lover, I'm sure I'll enjoy it, and as much as I loved Infinite Space, Infinite God, I look forward to more of your work on the market!

Frank Creed said...

Karina--
This is why I coined the term Bilical speculative fiction. My novelist-in-crime, linguist Steven L. Rice wrote the Wikkipedia defninition. I was so tired of the debate about subtle & overt. This goes all the way back to Tolkien and Lewis, who argued wether fantasy should be overt or subtle.

We're all given our own fiction-ministry from the Editor-in-Chief Himself. I've heard He's even been known to inspire Catholic dragon PIs. *wink*

It's all about fun--I'd put that first on your list. Fiction's first job is to entertain. Sermons are in the non-fiction section.

Y'all--
Here's a reader tip.
For new Christian fiction authors, feedback from readers is what we live for. We've been through critiquers and editors. Knowing an actual reader has been inspired? That's why we write. I've gotten some reader notes like Karina's. Authors wonder why we do what we do every day. Don't be afraid to look up your favorite author on the Web and encourage him. One of my favorite Cyberpunk authors is Mel Odom. I dropped Mr Odom a message one night before bed. Next morning I found a real reply in my inbox. As a fan, I was thrilled.

The Web is a wonderful place for readers and writers. I'm not even going to ramble about my favorite living Christian author, M.L. Tyndall. Not only can I mail with her, we've reviewed each other's books. As a life-long reader, you have no idea what this is like for me. Communicating with a legend.

Now I've rambled.
I'm Lutheran (Missouri Synod even), and I love Karina's Catholic science fiction. On my list of favorites she ranks only behind Karen McSpadden and C.S. Lewis. Read whatever you can find by Karina Fabian.

Faith,
f

Anonymous said...

Frank --

Then plug her work anywhere and everywhere you can. We need the publicity, we need the sales. Only if they sell well will there be a market for more like them.

Ken Pick
Co-author, "Mask of the Ferret"
in Infinite Space, Infinite God

Anonymous said...

Rob and I compiled ISIG for fun; the only "educational" value we thought it had was in the introductions, but people are being touched--mind and soul--by the stories themselves.

Karina, I think Lewis said something similar about happiness -- you can't achieve it by aiming deliberately for it, you aim elsewhere and it appears as a byproduct.

The problem with "aiming directly" at "educational" and "witnessing" is it turns all too easily into preachy propaganda. And we've seen too much of that in Christian genre fiction, to the point that the audience is now vaccinated against it.

Ken Pick
Co-author, "Mask of the Ferret"
in Infinite Space, Infinite God

Unknown said...

Andrea, I'm not arguing with anyone. I'm just stating my own thoughts on the topic that's been bandied around in several groups I'm in, not just LGG. Seems like an interesting topic for a blog post.

I don't defend my writing. I don't need to. I used my own experiences to illustrate that we don't need to feel limited publishing-wise if our work has Christian themes. Publishers are looking for good, marketable writing.

Now, I have had people who think I'm some kind of a nut for writing a book that is Catholic and sci-fi, but those that take a chance on it come away seeing the mix works, regardless of one's faith beliefs.

TWCP publishes some incredible Christian fiction. that gives it an identity as a Christian publisher. However, Cyn, that doesn't mean you're limited to Christian publishing. Like Ken often reminds me with ISIG--just because it's Catholic SF doesn't mean it isn't just great SF. I've become identified as a faith-filled fiction writer--that doesn't mean I'm limited to Christian and Catholic works, or even just fiction.

Deborah and Frank--thanks for the kind words about my stuff. (Frank's FLASHPOINT, incidentally, is just really great fun to read, and I'm hoping he'll have something for me for ISIG II.)

Ken, I agree with Lewis (and you): I know if I am at a moral, I preach instead of tell a story. And I'm an awful semonizer unless it's to my kids! :)

Unknown said...

Andrea, I'm not arguing with anyone. I'm just stating my own thoughts on the topic that's been bandied around in several groups I'm in, not just LGG. Seems like an interesting topic for a blog post.

I don't defend my writing. I don't need to. I used my own experiences to illustrate that we don't need to feel limited publishing-wise if our work has Christian themes. Publishers are looking for good, marketable writing.

Now, I have had people who think I'm some kind of a nut for writing a book that is Catholic and sci-fi, but those that take a chance on it come away seeing the mix works, regardless of one's faith beliefs.

TWCP publishes some incredible Christian fiction. that gives it an identity as a Christian publisher. However, Cyn, that doesn't mean you're limited to Christian publishing. Like Ken often reminds me with ISIG--just because it's Catholic SF doesn't mean it isn't just great SF. I've become identified as a faith-filled fiction writer--that doesn't mean I'm limited to Christian and Catholic works, or even just fiction.

Deborah and Frank--thanks for the kind words about my stuff. (Frank's FLASHPOINT, incidentally, is just really great fun to read, and I'm hoping he'll have something for me for ISIG II.)

Ken, I agree with Lewis (and you): I know if I am at a moral, I preach instead of tell a story. And I'm an awful semonizer unless it's to my kids! :)

Anonymous said...

Didn't see my first two posts in this thread, so this might cover the same ground...

Or can we, like carpenters and electricians and even factory workers, still be following His will for us by simply honing our talents and keeping true to our convictions whether we're writing a Biblically-based romance or a techno-thriller that may or may not have obviously Christian characters or themes?

That's always been my take, Tolkien instead of Lewis (who himself is parsecs better than LaHaye & Jenkins). Too often I've seen the "C.S.Lewis in Reverse" attempt, where the writer tries for an Important Christian Message Allegory.

Tip: Lewis wrote Narnia more-or-less allegorically because his mind naturally worked that way; if your's doesn't (and you're not Lewis), it's going to come out forced and preachy. Too often what passes for Christian "Fiction" is better described as Christian Propaganda, preaching to the choir.

"And Litfans are no bloody fools --
You bet that litfans see!"

Lewis himself said (about happiness) that it comes as a byproduct of something else, and I apply that principle to Christian theme in writing -- it comes as a byproduct of your storytelling.

When I write, my standards are whether my stories could have gone head-to-head with Poul Anderson or H Beam Piper in their prime, not LaHaye & Jenkins. Whether they'd be on the shelves besides Analog, not CBA-approved whatever. That's the standards of my chosen genre, Classic SF/slightly-harder space opera.

Ken Pick
Co-author, "Mask of the Ferret"
in Infinite Space, Infinite God
(Hi, Karina! Just got my authors' copies for LosCon this weekend!)