Lost Genres

I was thinking this morning about the phrase “lost genre” and all that phrase implies. I mean, I know we use it on the Lost Genre Guild Blog to mean Biblical speculative fiction. But the more I think about it, the more I think that there must be other lost genres out there. We just have to realize what they are.

After all, Christian fiction has done a pretty great job exploring slice-of-life genre, romance genre, even fantasy. But there are other other genres it could explore which it frankly has not. Genres such as mysteries, for instance. Not a lot of Christian mystery writers since G K Chesterton and Dorothea Sayers. The only one I can think of is P D James. I used to like even the flaky genres: the Christian boarding school genre for instance: Tom Brown's Schooldays and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, genres that explored coming of age and spiritual growth of either children or schoolteachers. And then there are genres which no one really has explored. The only recent coming of age schoolboy stories I can remember tend to be stories of nihilism or stories where someone accepts his sexuality or alienation from society, stories such as A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye.

One lost genre I really miss is, ANTHROPOLOGICAL FANTASY. Being a minority, a person whose background is non-European, a lover of missionary stories, and someone who is always reading or watching something about tribal people, I'm drawn to this kind of fantasy. And it seems to me that with so many Christian missionaries out in the world, we Christians should really have done more anthropological fantasy than we have. Have we even done any? I can think of anthropological novels written by non-Christians --Michaela Roessner's Walkabout Woman, for example is one of many. But the only Christian anthropological I can think of is Susan Palwick’s second novel The Necessary Beggar. (The book is fairly kind to Christians so maybe Palwick is.)

We Christians have seen some missionary or other coming and we listen enrapt and look at the slides of exotice children, women and warriors in elaborate clothing... and then we leave the church and... forget.

Perhaps we just don’t like dealing with cultures that aren’t western. Perhaps we don’t connect to cultures that are too foreign to us. Perhaps we don't think they have grand noble stories, histories, and folklore. Perhaps we Christians are just insular. Perhaps we simply don’t love our far-off neighbors as ourselves.

Don Richardson’s missionary book, “Eternity in their hearts,” is a book which talks about the spirituality and folklore of pagan cultures. He describes the spiritual hooks contained in those cultures that lead people to Christ. Cultures which have prophecies of a Lost Book. Cultures where God’s name is known. Cultures which have some amazing folklore that points to God. Consider the Chinese definition of righteousness. It’s a pictograph depicting a man underneath a bloody lamb.

How much fun it would be to write a book about a person from one of those cultures finding that his religion and writing alphabet point to the risen Christ as savior. And if you don’t want to deal with actual societies, consider how much fun it is to create a whole society out of whole cloth...to create clans, religions, tribes, and a spiritual hook that will lead the characters of that society to Christ.

How much fun it would be to trust the Comforter to create a society for us with a strange religion that secretly has the gospel hidden inside it. I’m creating a sotry world now where everyone is deaf-mute. I’m so excited wondering what kind of religion a culture like this will have...and what kind of spiritual hook God would put into a culture such as this.

We’re at the end of time now. We were called to go from Jerusalem first, then Samaria, then to the outermost parts of the world. It does make me sad to think that western Christian writers have spent so much time exploring European cultures when Christianity is (and the United States is fast becoming) multicultural.

Christian fantasy is to enamored of Gaelic fairies and English lords and dukes. And Christian science fiction concerns itself only with the apocalypse....and how the apocalypse affects the western world. Is anyone out there ready to do an apocalyptical story about an unsaved tribe in the middle of nowhere? I’d like to think someone could write it.

As I said there are probably many lost genres out there that most of us haven't thought of. I heard once that there is a genre in the Japanese publishing world called The Business Novel. Oh, that sounds neat! I could see that as a great Christian genre too. All the ethics of greed versus issues of poverty versus issues of stewardship. There's the social upheaval novel. Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe comes to mind. Also those novels by Sinclair Lewis. (Okay, okay, Frank Peretti tackled abortion with The Prophet but that book was way way too preachy...and..if I may say so from a secular reader's viewpoint ...very badly written.)

Will anyone write these? And write them in an exciting way? God only knows. -C


The Conundrum Of The Christian Author

In writing science fiction and/or fantasy from a Christian perspective or world view, there's a built-in conundrum.

On the one hand, reading such work requires (on the part of readers) a suspension of reality: a willingness to abandon the frame of reference of their everyday lives and insert themselves into the fictional, imaginary, made-up world of the author. They are willing to make this mental shift of perspective in the hope of being entertained.

On the other hand, the author seeks to insert into his or her imaginary world a sense or perspective of faith that is the foundation of our perception of reality. As believers we choose to base our lives on the perceived reality of our religious beliefs. To us they aren't an imaginary construct (even though to non-believers it may seem that way) but a concrete foundation for all other elements of our lives.

Thus the conundrum. The reader is required to enter an imaginary reality; but the author wants the reader to understand the concrete reality of religious faith underpinning the imaginary world of which he or she writes. On the one hand belief inspires, informs and guides the author of the work; on the other, the reader suspends belief in order to participate in it.

I can already hear some objecting that the 'belief' suspended by the reader isn't religious belief, but the evidence of his or her senses, education and world view. However, isn't it precisely those things that give rise to our religious understanding? Can we expect to understand a fictional work's religious allegory when we've already suspended our expectations of reality in terms of its plot, characters and development?

The conflict of understanding that this conundrum can produce is perhaps most clearly illustrated by that greatest of fantastic Christian allegories, The Lord Of The Rings. Upon publication of the first volume a reviewer, Edwin Muir, wrote in the Observer that Tolkien:

" . . . describes a tremendous conflict between good and evil, on which hangs the future of life on earth. But his good people are consistently good, his evil figures immutably evil; and he has no room in his world for a Satan both evil and tragic."

Clearly Mr. Muir overlooked both Saruman and Gollum, the one dragged down from the pinnacle of good by evil, the other overwhelmed by evil but very nearly redeemed from its clutches - and perhaps, in the end, truly redeemed? We are left to speculate.

Another reviewer, J. W. Lambert, declared in the Sunday Times that the book had "no religious spirit of any kind". Today, however, any objective reader will affirm the solid underlying Christianity of The Lord Of The Rings - indeed, it's impossible to fully understand the book and the author's intention without this perspective.

This, in turn, highlights our quandary as authors. Are we to write in such a way that our faith is clear in our work, immediately perceptible to and accessible by our readers? If so, we risk alienating many who have no particular faith. On the other hand, if we write to attract the latter in the hope that they will 'get the message' and come to a deeper understanding of faith, we must necessarily conceal our true motives behind so many disguises, circumlocutions and artifices that we risk not only failure to convey the message of faith, but also alienating those who do believe and who seek evidence of our belief in our work.

I don't think there's an easy answer to this. I look forward to readers' comments in response to this post. Perhaps I should close by quoting the Master himself. Amused by the controversy over The Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien wrote:

The Lord Of The Rings
is one of those things:
if you like it, you do:
if you don't, then you boo!



Christian Fiction Blog Tours -- yikes!

Yes, I know it isn't my day to blog but I promise this will be a short one.

To follow up on the article written about the Christian fiction industry, an article has just been posted at Associated Content about Christian blog tours that I think is just as interesting.

Off and on the LGG list, people have discussed fiction blog tours over the past year. Something Sue Dent and I discovered is that the big tour: Christian Fiction Blog Alliance (CFBA) is exclusive to books published by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (and their affliation with the Christian Booksellers Association).

I was shocked to hear this . . . to hear that yet another organization was exclusive and refuses to acknowledge the quality of fiction published by small, mid-line and large independent Christian publishers as well as Christian fiction published by mainstream publishers.

For a long time, the CFBA kept its cards close to its vest. After all, they toured Never Ceese just over a year ago—a grand novel, yes, but one published by a Christian company not affliated with the ECPA or CBA.

I had my suspicions when I asked Bonnie Calhoun if she would tour Flashpoint and Forever Richard but tried anyway. It wasn't until later, in communication with Sue Dent, that the CFBA administrator said "CBA" only, that they received too many books and needed to draw the line somewhere . . . and that independent, self published, POD publications are usually inferior.
After this point, a note was posted at the bottom of the home page.

Interestingly, a couple of CFBA blog members argued the point in a previous blog . . . they said that there was no way that the blog tour was exclusive. Even their own members aren't/ weren't aware of this.

Because of this we researched the other blog tours to see what stipulations they had and this is the crux of the article.

If anyone has additional information about other blog tours (not review sites) . . . please let us know.

So, go and check out Frank Creed's articles! at Associated Content


To Persevere or Not to Persevere...

At the end of 2006, our pastor encouraged us to select one word (www.myoneword.org) that would be our motivation for godly living this year. I picked “surrender” for 2007. There were several things in life I gave up as a result of this. One being writing. I felt God’s call to do that. However, he has given me this thing back for some reason. Despite its serious toll on my mind and emotions, God has not taken away the desire to craft a novel. He has only deepened it.

And so, wanting to complete a rough draft of about 75,000 words before I turn 40 in September, I’m going to need a lot of my “one word.” It is “perseverance.” The driving force behind this word is the scripture found in James 1:4—“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Certainly, James is speaking of spiritual perseverance, of what Paul would call "finishing the race" or "fighting the good fight." But I think we writers can relate perseverance to our writing journeys. Anything worth doing is worth doing well, and in my experience, writing is doggone difficult. It has taken me years to even break through the top layer of ice of writing. We can keep going deeper and deeper into themes, research, and creativity. But we have to keep on.

I need perseverance to finish my work in progress. I know my tendency to get excited about something, obsess about it, and then let it fall by the wayside later. If I’m to achieve my goal, I need to stick to the plan and write about 307 words a day. Thank God it’s a leap year—I get an extra day. Woohoo!

I pray for those in the LGG and readers of this blog who are also writers. We need to encourage each other to stick with it and not give up. Though the task seems near impossible, we know that God provides all we need in order to do his will.

God help us!