Friday, June 27, 2014

Realistic Christian Fiction: Is Our PG-rated Fare Enough?

I read an interesting article recently that talked about the sale of Marcher Lord Press, a successful publisher of Christian speculative fiction, to Steve Laube back in January. The publishing house has recently been renamed “Enclave Publishing”, but its purpose remains the same. The author of this article was talking less about the acquisition itself, though, than the non-transfer of MLP’s imprint, Hinterlands. Created in 2012, Hinterlands was also designed to publish Christian spec-fic, but it deviates from MLP (now Enclave) in that its purpose is specifically to publish fiction with more mature (PG-13 or R-rated) content.

My hackles were already raised at that definition, but that’s perhaps unfair. The rest of the article confirmed my uneasy feeling, though. The author was disappointed that Laube chose not to buy Hinterlands along with MLP, and he’s afraid that the decision signals an end to Christian fiction’s tentative first steps into grittier territory. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn’t. I really have no idea. I can see where he’s coming from, to some degree, so today I’d like to look at the reasons for more “mature content” in Christian fiction. Next week I’ll lay out some of my concerns with this thinking.

 

Photo courtesy of khunaspix [backslash]FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of khunaspix/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Much of Christian fiction is, unfortunately, unrealistic and unappealing. Like most people, I’m not impressed by perfect characters, sermons on every other page, and unbelievably squeaky-clean situations. Books that contain those things don’t feel real or compelling, and they tend to brand Christians as overly-na├»ve, with no conception of real-world situations. How can we possibly reach humanity if our stories don’t accurately portray the world humanity inhabits? 

  • Villains: It is generally understood that villains aren’t good people. Or, at least, their moral lines are more blurred than most people’s. Yet many Christian books won’t show their villain doing anything offensive. He’s there to oppose the hero and/or to stand between love interests, but he does it all in a suspiciously clean manner. It’s difficult to believe in the stakes of a story if the villain doesn’t feel scary. To demonstrate your villain’s scariness, you need to demonstrate some aspect of his or her nastiness.
  • Heroes: Another fault in Christian fiction is making our heroes and heroines too perfect. I struggle with this, because I always want my characters to make the right decisions. But humans don’t always choose the right path. Even with Divine Guidance, we still go our own way sometimes, leading to trouble. No hero except Christ is perfect, so we must show their imperfections along with their good traits. Is your hero a sailor? Then he probably swears (I might be pointing a finger at myself right now…) A prizefighter? Then he knows how to hurt someone and may be inclined to do it easily. Was she once a prostitute? Maybe she still is. She understands men and their appetites. Take into account your protagonist’s background and profession when showing their weaknesses. But remember that, even if they have a pretty clean life, they’ll still make mistakes. And mistakes can sometimes be graphic.
  • Setting: Like with your protagonist’s background, your story’s setting will affect the content. If it’s a war story, you must necessarily show violence. Stories about the Old West or police officers would also include violence. Sailing stories may include violence, profanity, and debauchery. One reason for including “mature content” is to establish realism in your setting.

Life is messy. We live in a fallen world where people make mistakes. We speak without thinking; we get ourselves into situations we shouldn’t be in. All of this is true, and it shouldn’t be ignored in our stories. Authors shouldn’t avoid the story of a girl who’s pregnant before she gets married just because it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it’s wrong, but it happens, and there are people out there who need to hear that story. What about the young man who murders someone and is haunted by that for the rest of his life? These things happen in real life, and to ignore them is to lose a large amount of our ability to relate. God works in amazing ways through the stories of broken people; how better to glorify Him than to show Him at work?

Next week I’ll discuss some of the concerns I have with pushing the limits of Christian fiction, but for now, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the industry. Have you found Christian books to be unrealistic because of a lack of graphic, or at least gritty, details? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Music

Music is what feelings sound like

Art is the language of the soul, in some ways. Art speaks on a deeper level than other forms of communication. But art can be expressed in many ways – among them are story, painting, poetry, and especially music. Many studies have been done over the years on the connections between music, emotion, and memories. Music is used in many types of therapy.

In life, logic and knowledge are the structure of the picture. They create the lines, so to speak. And then emotion provides the color. Together, they make a beautiful picture. For many people, music showcases the deepest and brightest colors. Exactly why that is, I can’t explain. All I can say is that it’s true. I believe that God delights in music and that He can speak to us through it.

With the importance of music in mind, then, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite songs right now. I apologize for the fact that they’re not in video form, but I’ve been having trouble with that particular function lately. The links will take you to Youtube.

  • “Oxygen” – Building 429
    • This one has started to intrigue me very recently, but I’m quickly growing to love it. It speaks of needing God because He’s your oxygen, and the lyrics are incredibly powerful.
  • "Say Something" – A Great Big World, ft. Christina Aguilera
    • This song carries a great deal of emotion, and every now and then, I enjoy sad songs. I didn’t pay too much attention to it beyond the immediate emotional impact, though, until I heard the story behind it. The band talked about their realization that, before you can love someone else, you have to love yourself. You have to know yourself, be comfortable with who you are, or you can never truly love another person. And that’s the part that spoke to me the most, I think. Until I discover who God wants me to be, how can I know what He wants for any version of us?
  • "Fix My Eyes" – For King and Country
    • I love the band For King and Country, so I’m slightly biased in liking this song. But it has such a strong, “stand up” message. Extremely inspiring… And the beat will make you move.
  • "We Lift You Up" – Kutless
    • I just got Kutless’ new album, Glory, so I’m quite in love with all the songs on it right now. But this one is a rock-out worship song that packs a punch. I encourage you to check out the entire album!

So, what are ya’ll listening to? And what kind of music touches your emotions the most? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, June 13, 2014

On Switching Genres

Some people read only a certain genre or two, while others read anything and everything. Writers are the same way. Some of us have our genre – the one that excites us, that we’re comfortable in, that we never want to leave. But some of us have a story idea for every genre in existence (and maybe some that technically don’t) and have no idea what kind of group we fit into.

I tend to be the latter. If you were to see my list of story ideas, you’d see what I mean. I have concepts for historical fiction, contemporaries, sci-fi, fantasy, character-driven standalone novels, young adult series, romances, and numerous others. My passion doesn’t focus on just one or two genres. Not that writers who do write only a few genres are bad; they actually have it easier in some ways. That’s just not me.

Image courtesty of jscreationzs backslash FreeDigitalPhotos.net
“Image courtesy of jscreationzs/FreeDigitalPhotos.net”

This expansive vision has its problems, though. Articles I’ve read on being a successful author say you need to focus on writing similar genres. Otherwise it’s very difficult to build up a solid readership. I understand what they’re saying and it scares me. Can I maintain readers’ expectations when I’m turning out a historical romance one moment and young adult spy series the next? I don’t know. So, for example, I recently finished the first draft of Raiders’ Rise, which is a fantasy, of sorts, though, according to one of my readers, it’s more of a “Tech/Sci-Fi Fantasy.” (Told you my story ideas didn’t fit into neat little boxes.) But I’m not really a fantasy person; I don’t read a lot of it, and I’m not brimming with fantasy story ideas. But I love this story, and it’s meant to be a fantasy (or whatever it is). Yet, while I’m taking a break from it before I edit, I’m writing a coming-of-age novella set in the Antebellum South. A complete genre shift, hmm? Would someone interested in Raiders’ Rise like Mason’s story? I have no way of knowing right now. All I do know is that I love both stories.

Putting the problems aside for a moment, it has been an interesting shift going from fantasy to historical fiction. Of course, I’m also going from the end of a story, where I’ve got a good handle on everything, to the beginning of one, where I don’t know a huge amount about it yet. In addition, I’m going from a female protagonist to a male protagonist. Yeah, these stories are quite disparate. And transferring myself from one to another has been interesting. Instead of worrying about creating a whole new story world, I now need to focus on conforming to historical facts. Thus, I’ve enlisted the disliked “R” word – “research.” So, I have times when I must stop and look something up. But I’m starting to get into this story; I’m excited to see where it goes!

I’m hoping to finish the draft before I start editing Raiders’ Rise, and then I’ll be working on a Beauty and the Beast retelling for this amazing contest. Then I’m off with the sequel to Raiders’ Rise and more editing! I’m getting excited just telling you about it! So, as you can see, I have a busy year full of many different genres. I still don’t know how I’ll tackle the problem of writing such different stories from a publishing perspective, but I’m willing to go where God leads with these stories. What about you? Do you write a specific genre, or does your brain go off in all directions like mine?  If so, how do you handle the switch between genres? Let me know in the comments; I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Frozen: A Discussion

I’ve decided to start a monthly cultural discussion about a book, movie, or TV show. My readers and I had a lot of fun when we did a discussion about The Hunger Games, so I’m excited about the possibilities of this. If you have suggestions on what you’d like to discuss, let me know in the comments!

So, without further ado, today’s topic of discussion is Disney’s Frozen. As I’m sure you know, since the film came out in November, Frozen mania has swept the nation with an unexpected fervor. If you haven’t seen it yet, I really do suggest that you do. It was worth seeing in theaters.

I don’t think it was perfect, though. I adored the way they wove the threads of true love in an unconventional but impactful way, redefining, in some ways, the theme that Disney has pounded out for years. I felt it had its problems, though. Feel free to comment with any of your thoughts about Frozen, but here are some questions to get you started:

  1. What was your favorite part/aspect of the film? Mine is hard to pin down, but I think it was the story between Anna and Elsa and the theme that love is laying down your life for someone. I loved the animation and the music and just about everything else about it, though.
  2. What, if anything, disappointed you the most? I felt like the backstory didn’t come full circle. I wanted a moment where Kristoff realized that Anna and Elsa were the two little girls he saw before he met the trolls. But that never seemed to come into play; it felt unfulfilled to me.
  3. Favorite song? I loved the soundtrack to this movie! And, unlike the songs from Tangled, which I love in the course of the film but which bore me on their own, these songs mesmerize me. As for which one was my favorite, I’m going to say Do You Want to Build a Snowman? Though one of the saddest songs in the movie, it tells such a poignant story. And it makes me cry just about every time I listen to it…

Jump into the conversation in the comments; I look forward to hearing your thoughts!