Posts Tagged 'Christian Fantasy'

Is Fantasy Only for Kids? No Way!

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure where this idea that fantasy is only for kids came from. I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy since middle school. I started with Madeline L’Engle and Andre Norton, progressed to Heinlein, Asimov, and Herbert. I read C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy as a teen, and unbeliever, and had no idea they were allegorical (I found Perelandra to be boring, and That Hideous Strength incomprehensible – they were better when I reread them ten years later as a believer).

Anyway, I never would have thought any of those were “for children,” not even Lord of the Rings which I devoured in high school. Yes, it has dwarves and hobbits and some funny bits, but the devotion to fantastical histories, the density of the prose and the sheer expanse of the tale was unlike any kids’ books I was familiar with.

From there it was Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Watership Down, Patricia McKillip, Anne McCaffrey, C.J. Cherryh, Katherine Kurtz, Stephen Donaldson, and more recently, Robert Jordan and Robin Hobb.

With the exception of Watership Down, I would never have considered any of these writers or books as being for children. Thus it never even entered my mind when I began writing fantasies of my own, that they should be written for children. As I detail in my article Why I Write Fantasy (see the tab above), my intent in part was to analogize the angelic conflict all Christians have been entered in at the moment of new birth after believing in Christ. And I didn’t wish to do it in a simplistic manner. It was also, particularly with Legends of the Guardian King, to trace the trajectory of a man’s spiritual life from unbelief to salvation and on through the various stages of spiritual growth.

Clearly the issues on my radar would be issues faced by an adult, not a child. The spiritual precepts would include those wrestled with by adults, not children.

It was not until I entered the field of Christian Fantasy, that I discovered — to my great dismay — the assumption that all fantasy is for children or young adults and should therefore be “clean” and free of sex or “gruesome” or “extreme” violence. I had well-meaning acquaintances tell me how they had given or recommended my books to the eleven-year-old boy next door, or their nine-year-old nephew.

It’s possible an eleven-year-old could follow the main line of the action, but much of the meat of the story I would think would go right over his head. Not that that’s a bad thing. I read my own share of books just that way – following the action, or certain story lines while the bulk of what was going on remained out of my grasp… (Lord of the Rings comes to mind in that regard – my perception of it as a 40+ year old was far different than when I was 16). It’s just… middle school kids were never my primary audience, and here I was facing a mindset that assumed they were not just my primary audience but my only audience!

And since I was writing for kids… how dare I insert into my book the heresy of having my – adult, male, spiritually disillusioned and until-then-celibate – hero commit a sexual sin! I received irate letters from grandmothers who bought the novel for their grandsons, forced to tear the offending two pages from the book before they could pass it on.

Outraged reviews turned up from mothers on Amazon and Christian Book dot com who, having read the book to make sure it was suitable for their young sons, had discovered it wasn’t. How dare I try to trick them like that and put such a thing in a Christian fantasy!

I remain bemused. I know in time past the entire field of speculative fiction was regarded as juvenile and struggled to gain legitimacy as acceptable reading material for American adults. The reason, supposedly was because none of it was “real.”

This objection has been nullified for science fiction for the most part as more and more of what went for science fiction in the old days has become science fact in ours.

So that leaves fantasy, the last bastion of the “make believe” and the “not real” and only children believe in such … well… fantasies.

As if many romances today are not “fantasy”; or many detective and spy novels! And what about Stephen King and Dean Koontz? Most of what they write about is “not real,” but somehow their books are not seen as “only for children.” In fact they are not seen as being for children at all. (Particularly King’s).

So why does fantasy still have the bad rap of being kidstuff?

The only answer I can think of is that it really does provide an excellent vehicle for portraying truths of the Christian life related to the angelic conflict. And since part of the intent of the opposition force in that conflict is to hide the fact that it exists… well then…. The one genre that people should pay the least attention to is the one that can actually reveal the most about what is really going on… and historically has.

Which makes the whole kidstuff thing almost… acceptable.  Almost.

For a more detailed treatise on all the ways fantasy does what it does, see my aforementioned article in the tabs above: “Why I Write Fantasy.” And if you want to know more about the angelic conflict, check out the tab called “The Angelic Conflict.”

Light of Eidon Scrapbook

Continuing my series highlighting the first book in my Legends of the Guardian King series, The Light of Eidon, I thought today I’d draw your attention to the scrapbook I developed for it, similar to the one I did for Arena.

In it I put up several photos of the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, which served as inspiration for the canyons of the SaHal in which the action plays out at the end of the book. There’s even a link to a virtual tour of the area.

Also included is a picture of an LL Bean model from the late 70′s that served as the inspiration for Abramm,

some information on swords, a map of the city of Jarnek,

and a cartoon that was pinned to my bulletin board for years.   If you’ve read The Light of Eidon, you’ll probably get the connection. If not… well… as you know, it’s being offered free as an e-book this week HERE… or you can try your local library. Amazon even has a few paper copies both new and used for sale…

To visit my scrapbook for The Light of Eidon, click HERE.

 

The Genesis of The Light of Eidon

As I mentioned yesterday, in light of this being the last week that the first volume of my Guardian King series, The Light of Eidon will be offered free as an e-book by various vendors, I thought I’d pursue a theme of putting up some posts about the book.

In a previous post, I related that the inspiration for the series sprang from my seeing the very first Star Wars film (A New Hope) – which, like a lot of other people, I fell in love with – coupled with spiritual truths I was learning from a Bible study book by Col R. B. Thieme, Jr, called The Christian Warrior.

In Star Wars, I especially loved the idea of the hero’s journey from weakness to strength, the light sabers, and the concept of The Force, which at the time seemed like a great metaphor for the Holy Spirit.   

Especially in light of The Christian Warrior, which explores the biblical subject of warfare, both temporal and spiritual, using the template of a Roman soldier as a metaphor for exploring, defining and illustrating comparable qualities, preparations and experiences for the Christian soldier.  (“Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”  2 Ti 2:3,4)

 Major chapter headings include Temporal Warfare, The Cause for Warfare, Jesus Christ Controls History, The Principles of Warfare, Military Metaphors in Scripture, Paul’s Contact with the Roman Military, The Roman Soldier in Paul’s Day, Roman Decorations and Surpassing Grace Rewards, and so on.  

Toward the middle of the book Col Thieme discusses the equipment we’ve been provided as Christians for the conflict, itemized in Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit.

I loved the idea of the filling of the Spirit providing the light for the sword, something that might come and go depending on whether the soldier was in fellowship at any given moment. So that’s where I started.

The Bible teaches that our warfare in this age is invisible. We cannot see our real enemies, the fallen angels, nor do we see the Holy Spirit, indwelling all believers, nor Risen Christ, seated at the Father’s right hand.

Like them, if we actually learn to put on our armor, take up sword and shield to enter the conflict, we will be “Invisible heroes”. Which may be one reason why I am so drawn to many of the superhero stories: they often have a mild-mannered persona that leads most people upon meeting them to discount them – eg, Superman’s Clark Kent, Spiderman’s Peter Parker, Batman’s Bruce Wayne. 

I see in them a perfect metaphor for the Christian soldier, who is among the “not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” of 1 Cor 1:26.  Like them we are “unknown but well-known” (2 Co 6:9). Unknown to most of the world, well-known to those we fight and those we fight alongside. And the angels who are watching us.

So I wanted that element in the story as well — someone who is perceived as weak by all, turning out to be not so weak after all. Especially as he uses the power of God.   Thus I would to tell the story of a man moving from weakness to strength, both physically and spiritually, and at the same time illustrate the entire trajectory of the Christian life, as well… chronicling the coming to faith in Christ, (or in this case Eidon,) then growing through the three stages of the spiritual life: babyhood, adolescence and finally maturity. Which is the ultimate of going from weakness to strength.

I was green enough, and deluded enough to think I might accomplish all that in a single book!

Somewhere toward the end of writing the first draft of what is now The Light of Eidon, I realized that was not going to happen. And even though trilogies were all the thing at the time, I had to settle for a tetralogy. The Light of Eidon would be Abramm’s journey to Eidon himself, as well as being molded into a hero strong enough to fulfill the destiny Eidon had for him.

In the five-year gap that occurs between The Light Eidon and The Shadow Within, I skipped over his baby phase and moved right to the end of that stage where he takes the first step of walking into his destiny… in this case, contesting his younger brother for the crown of the land that Abramm should rightfully wear.

Shadow over Kiriath brings him through spiritual adolescence and The Return of the Guardian King embodies the evidence testing, as Col Thieme called it, of the mature believer. By which he meant the believer’s ability through spiritual growth to reach a place where he can be deliberately tested by Satan as to just how far he will trust God, how much will he stick with what God’s word says. This is illustrated by Job’s experience and Jesus’s own testing in the wilderness by Satan in Matt 4– though Abramm’s testing is more like Job’s than Jesus’s.)

It was all so nice and tidy when I outlined it. Trying to put flesh on the outline was something else entirely, far more messy and complicated than I ever could have dreamed.

 Looking back, I should have known it was going to take a long time.  You can’t write about a journey like that without living at least some of it. The funny thing, at least for me, is that “maturity” always seems like something off there in the future.   The end of the story doesn’t really end until you’re dead. Or “promoted” as I like to think of it.

Col Thieme called it a “Permanent Change of Station.” I like that, too.

In any case, I originally had ideas for Abramm’s death, for his sons to carry on, for the Dorsaddi to return…

If we stick around as a nation long enough, and I finally manage to finish my current WIP, I’d like to go back to Abramm’s world and tackle that. But we’ll see what the Lord has in mind.

Again, if you’d like to try out the first volume of my Guardian King series, as a free e-book, click HERE.

 

Retrospection — The Sale of Light of Eidon

I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve been going through some of my old files, and coming across things I wrote almost ten years ago.  One such writing was the story of how The Light of Eidon sold. In light of the special e-book offer Bethany House has this month on that book, as well as the recent re-package, re-release of my first novel Arena, I thought now might be an appropriate time to revisit those golden days when I was a newly published novelist.

This was back in 2002 when Arena was published, 26 years or so after I started writing what would eventually become The Light of Eidon, a fantasy which I had been told would never sell. In fact I had just begun working on a “bridge book,”  something partway between Arena and Eidon, in hopes it might sell and win readers and maybe publishers would decide to take a chance with my fantasy series. Ironically, that book was The Other Side of the Sky, which I am currently working on for Bethany House now. God’s timing is so not our timing!

Anyway, here’s the story, excerpted and edited from our Christmas letter of that year…

So here we are again, looking back over the last year to see what we have to tell about.  It’s been a big one, as the seasons of our lives have changed again.

As most of you know, the big thing for me was the release of my first novel Arena in May. It has been an adventure, and not at all what I expected.

My first reaction upon receiving a fan letter was something closer to outrage than joy. “What? Why is this person I don’t even know talking about MY characters? They’re mine. Strangers can’t have them!

“And what is this book-like thing with the multiple arches on the front and the title Arena? That’s not MY book. My book is a stack of manuscript pages.”

Original Cover

New Cover

Autographing books also felt all wrong at first, like something other people were supposed to do, not me.

Yes, I have adjusted and the Lord has blessed Arena’s release in marvelous ways: a good review and profile in Publisher’s Weekly (rare for Christian novels, rarer still for Christian first novels and unheard of for Christian first, science fiction novels), a contract with both the Crossings and Literary Guild book clubs, a contract with one of the largest Christian publishers in the Netherlands and a continuous stream of encouraging fan letters. After all these years the writing is finally being validated in a very satisfying way.

However, none of that compares to the biggest blessing of all.

Last year at this time I knew Arena was coming out, but had no idea what I was going to do next. I’d been told over and over that fantasy doesn’t sell, no one wants fantasy, fantasy is a bad word in the Christian market. I’d even taken to calling my next book “speculative historical fiction,” to avoid using the word.

I went to a writer’s conference this past spring and learned lots of good stuff about marketing which I was not at all eager to do. Still, I figured if I worked really hard at it, and Arena did well enough, maybe Bethany House will consider taking on my fantasy.

Ha! The Lord certainly showed me how important my efforts are (not very) and that when He is going to do a thing, He does it.

Arena had not even been officially released when my editor called. The reviews and feedback coming in on it were so good, he said, the marketing people wanted something else from me as soon as possible.

“So,” he added, “what do you have?”

An editor actually called me up and asked what I had lying around the house! This, they tell you in all the writing books, NEVER happens!

So I told him I had The Light of Eidon.

He said, “Go on,”

I told him it was finished.  “Go on.”

I told him it was part of a four-part series, of which the second book was also finished in rough draft…

Bottom line: within two weeks Bethany House had signed me to a four-book contract for the fantasy series. We’re calling it Legends of the Guardian King, with The Light of Eidon, Book One, due to release next summer.

Talk about a miracle! Now I am not only a “published author” but I also get to have the experience of writing with a deadline as I work to complete the first submission draft of Book Two, The Shadow Within, by next summer.

Sex, Violence and Dark Events…

That is the title of my guest post over at Speculative Faith’s Blog which should be up sometime Friday morning July 6. I want to thank you all, my readers, who replied to my request last week for ideas for this post. You can see from the title which of them was most popular.

This post turned out to be a lot harder to write than I expected. I thought I’d just knock it out, but it took me the entire week.

The question I posed myself was : “Should we as Christian novelists include portrayals of sexual sins, violence or other “dark” events in our fiction, or would that be an automatic violation of Christian standards?”

Then I did a nonstop on the subject. That turned out to be more or less a rant, but it had a lot of energy, as rants often do, so every time I re-read it, it just carried me along and no alternative routes opened up before me. Finally, in desperation, I sent it to a friend for help, and afterward sat down and began to just list my thoughts on the matter as they came, without letting the emotion carry me off.

Turns out I have a lot to say on this subject. More than could be confined in a single blog post, so I had to work on paring it down and getting it focused. It was an experience kinda like trying to fill a plastic trash bag with styrofoam peanuts. Every handful you put in, stirs up the peanuts already in the bag. They go flying out, stick to your hand, the inside of the bag, the outside of the bag… Yeah. Very much like that if you substitute “thoughts” for peanuts.

A lot of prayers went up, and at times I had to vigorously trust  that in the end God would make it come clear. Between His help and that of my friend, I believe it did.

Anyway, as I said, it goes up Friday morning, July 6, and I invite you to head on over to Speculative Faith to see for yourself if I succeeded.  Feel free to comment there or here, if you are so moved. I’ll try to monitor both places.

Here’s how the post starts:

Ten years ago this summer Bethany House Publishers released my first novel Arena into a literary world of petticoats, bonnets and buggies. This explains its original pink and purple cover, an attempt perhaps to mitigate the fact that it was a significant departure from the usual run of Christian fiction. While Arena does include an element of romance, at heart it is an allegorical adventure with sometimes dark and violent scenes.

I’ve received a full spectrum of responses to it, from “Fabulous!”…. Read the rest here

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A Request for Ideas

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a guest post for the Christian SF/F blog Speculative Faith and given a range of openings throughout the summer from which to pick. Since Arena in its repackaged version is due to release the first of July, I thought a guest post on something relating to that might be a good idea and picked July 6 for my publish date.

I’ve been brainstorming and thinking about the Spec Faith post for a week or two, but so far haven’t come up with anything that keeps going past a paragraph or two. So I decided to see if you all, my readers, might have some suggestions of things you might be interested in seeing a post about. If so, please let me know, in the comments or by email.

So far I’ve thought of:

telling the story of how Arena/Light of Eidon were published;

talking about how things have changed in the publishing field since those times;

discussing the idea that sex, violence, and dark events are not appropriate subject matter for Christian reading and should not appear in books;

grappling with the still prevalent idea that fantasy is only for kids, and why that isn’t necessarily so;

examining some of the specific elements of the allegory in Arena;

pr relating some of the responses I’ve gotten to Arena, both good, bad and wacky…

If any of those ideas seem particularly appealing, or you’re curious about a particular aspect of them I didn’t mention, or one of them triggered an entirely different idea or…

Please! Feel free to fire away.

Slammed With Jesus

Last weekend, quite by non-intent, I spent several hours rereading a good portion of the end of The Light of Eidon.

It started with a reader’s email informing me he’d gotten LOE free on his new Kindle and started reading it. At first he wasn’t sure he would like it, but by the time he’d reached Section 3, he LOVED it and downloaded the next three books in the series right then and there.

Curious as to what was happening by Section 3, I got the book down and checked it out. Section 2 ends with Abramm’s first battle in the arena where he becomes the White Pretender and Section 3 jumps ahead 2 years to Carissa’s finally catching up to him in Xorofin. I read/skimmed from there and in so doing came upon what I’m pretty sure are the problem passages that moved some disgruntled readers to leave one-star reviews on Amazon complaining about being “slammed by Christian theology at the end”, or “tricked into reading about Jesus.”

Take this exchange between Abramm and Trap on p 383:

“Of course not,” Abramm said dryly. “Nothing is ever enough with you nor will it be until I wear your shield upon my chest.”

Trap regarded him soberly. “Eidon is the only answer in this world, Abramm, and life is not about settling scores or being respected by people. It’s about his power and his worth and what he did on that hill outside Xorofin. You must come to him as nothing. But you don’t like that. You want it to be about you. Your sacrifices, your efforts to make yourself worthy.” He paused, studying the horses without really seeing them. “It’s pride, Abramm. That’s why you won’t believe.”

As soon as I read this I thought, Oh wow! Yeah, that would hit some people right between the eyes. The flesh hates the notion that it has nothing to offer, that salvation really is all about Him and His work and His worthiness while we are nothing.

Here’s another a some twelve pages later, Abramm’s viewpoint as he recalls the above-quoted conversation:

You want it to be about you. Your sacrifice, your efforts to make yourself worthy.

It was true. And yet it seemed with every decision he’d made, every action he took, he’d only made himself more unworthy. Almost as if he couldn’t help himself, almost as if some part of him insisted upon showing him how weak and helpless he was. Now he was trapped like a fish in a bowl, every good thing he might have accomplished wrenched from his grasp. He couldn’t deliver the Dorsaddi, couldn’t deliver Carissa, couldn’t deliver Kiriath — couldn’t even deliver himself.

I don’t remember having written this, and was kind of surprised how it went so straight to the point.  I was pleased, though. Yeah, those people with the 1-star reviews, they were being convicted. Whether they responded or not’s another matter, but who cares about 1-star reviews if something you’ve written has rattled them enough to react as they have?

Because another thing I’ve noticed is that the book is 432 pages long. Yet the parts that had provoked such offense are measured in paragraphs, not chapters and, with one exception, not pages. Okay, so his spiritual conversion does make for the resolution of a major plot line, but still…

Reading Reviews Again

On Sept 18 2010, K. Daru  gives a generally favorable review of the first book in my Legends of the Guardian King series, The Light of Eidon, highlighting elements of the fantasy aspects she/he thought were good, then discussing elements of the “religious” aspects of the story that were good and concluding with the following:

“And therein lies the rub. The fantasy, by itself, would be four (maybe five) stars. The depiction of Christianity, by itself, would also be four stars. But I found the juxtaposition between the two jarring. Every time the story turned to Christianity, I found myself yanked out of the fantasy world and into the present day; my mind couldn’t decide whether I was reading an epic fantasy or a modern-day conversion story. This lack of immersion makes the whole of the book less than the sum of its parts, and is what finally led me to give it 3 stars.”

I reproduce it here because it triggered a sudden realization for me related to fantasy and Christianity. For as long as I can recall, there has been discussion of Christianity in Fantasy, and the importance (some feel) of not jerking the reader out of the fantasy world with the Christianity. It has to be hidden, pontificators pontificate, or it’s flawed.

Okay, they’re welcome to their opinion, but it was the way this reviewer articulated that opinion that struck me: For some readers the fantasy world is IT. That’s what they care about. That’s why they read fantasy. That’s why they can read almost any kind of fantasy regardless of what it says because they just love the escape to another world.

I love the escape too, but it’s not the be all and end all for me. Take Avatar, the movie. Great world, but I didn’t like the story at all. I have no interest in returning there because there was no Truth in that story.

And Truth is what I love. Of course I mean Truth as revealed in God’s word, and for me fantasy — all of it, my own and others, is merely a vehicle that can communicate Truth. (See my article Why I Write Fantasy in the page tabs above) It’s the Truth that I love, that gets me excited, that I want to think about and investigate and handle. Particularly the truths related to salvation, the Christian life, the Christian’s relationship with God, the angelic conflict… That’s what I’m interested. The world is secondary. (That admission is almost sacrilege in some circles, but so be it.) It’s a means to an end, a way to bring out concepts in a new way, unencumbered by baggage that often accompanies Christian vocabulary and concepts.

For readers who also love the truth, that is what they love about The Legends of the Guardian King. Those are the ones like Christine W who said of Return of the Guardian King

“The message of perseverance and placing your faith in Eidon comes across so strongly and resonates within the reader long after the book is closed. I wanted more, but not because she didn’t finish the story or that it was lacking in something, but because it inspired me and left me wanting a closer relationship with God.”

For readers who are more interested in fantasy as a genre, in going to some new and exotic world, well, they’ll be less impressed. If they notice the Christian foundations, that’s really all it seems they do: notice. They say “Aha! Eidon is God! Ha! This is representative of Protestantism versus Catholicism and Islam. I’ve guessed the secret.”

But they don’t see or care to see the analogies to the Christian life. A person has to want to see those things. Has to be ready to see them. But what’s cool is that some of us plant, others water and still others reap the harvest.  And I see more and more how God can use these books in the lives of people who may not seem ready. Who read them and are offended, or bored, and yet for some reason feel compelled to read to the end. Even those who didn’t read to the end, who gave up midstream in disgust, even those on some level must have been ready, because they had the opportunity to read the books. So even if they don’t like what they read, and give only a three, or two or one star rating, the fact is those concepts and images and truths have entered their souls.

And, whether they accept or reject them,  the Word of God does not go forth void.

Clive Staples Award Nomination

Last year a group of readers, writers and fans of Christian Speculative Fiction came together to institute an award for the best book in that genre selected by readers of Christian Speculative Fiction. 2009 saw  the inauguration of the award, with the first presentation going to Donita K. Paul for her novel Dragonlight.

This year there are nineteen nominees chosen by readers, and The Enclave is one of them. Because they do not want the award to be a popularity contest, reflective only of which author network is the largest, but rather the outcome of readers who read in the speculative genre making informed choices, the award administrators are requiring this year that voters  read at least TWO of the nominated works. To aid prospective voters in meeting this requirement, they’ve designated July “Read Christian Speculative Fiction Month.” A simple list of the nominees is here.  If you’d like more information, introductions including cover pics, plot summaries and what other readers have said, are here (arranged in reverse alphabetical order by title).  Anyone can participate in voting, but, as mentioned they must have read at least two of the nominated works.

Voting will begin in August and will be conducted as a “survey”—really, your ballot—so votes will be private as far as the public is concerned. You’ll need to check back at the site or here at Writing from the Edge to see when the voting begins so you can sign up. (Or you can sign up now at either place to receive posts by email)

They are hoping to make this award one of significance similar to the Hugo awards given out by the secular science fiction/fantasy community and decided by vote of the members (attending and supporting) of the annual WorldCon (major SF/F convention).

Attention Kindle Owners

In all the craziness of last week, I forgot to make this very important announcement. If you’ve got a Kindle or know someone who does, you can download a copy of The Light of Eidon, the first book in my Legends of the Guardian King series for free. Yes, for free. $00.00

It’s a new marketing strategy from BHP to see if they can stimulate interest, and get readers to buy the remaining three volumes, all of which are also available on Kindle now, for $9.99 each. Or you can purchase the hard copies (still) if you prefer for a dollar or so more. I spoke to my editor about the whole “out of print” thing and I guess the way it works is they just continue to sell the books they’ve already printed and when they finally run out, that’s the end. As it stands, they apparently haven’t run out yet since hard copies are still available at Amazon.

So far, The Light of Eidon has picked up three new reviews thanks to the Kindle promotion, though one of them I could do without. :-) 

Go here to order/download.


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