Mind the Gap

Some thoughts on the quandary of ‘crossover ‘ Christian Fiction.

The ‘too Christian for secular and too secular for Christian’ phrase has been popping up like the proverbial bad penny in recent online discussions. Seems the ‘professional’ consensus is an aspiring Christian writer must fall firmly on one side or the other is they want to go pro, be taken seriously, make a living at their craft.

Couple things:
I’m as willing as any aggravated non-believer to toss ham-fisted didactics in the critics’s den. Good riddance, I say. Dramatized sermonizing tends to be as painfully tedious as it is blatantly contrived. I think it was Dorothy Sayers who noted ‘pious trash is still trash’. Amen, sister. Throw it out.

Now I’m still learning how to both be a better Christian and better writer, so I’m not claiming mastery here, but as someone who does not see all art as a sermon platform and who strives for excellence in my work, I’m wondering at the wisdom of the ‘either/or ‘ stance as a professional mandate.

Learning curve aside for the moment, I’m unconvinced including explicit Christian content where it’s organic to the plot and characters makes one less professional, a wanna-be hobby or ‘weekend writer’. I’ve read enough thinly disguised ‘allegories’ from Christian authors that dripped with ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink. See what I did there? Biblical worldview! Aren’t I clever?” to not want to read any more. Those are just as much an insult to readers’ intelligence as any evangelical trope – even more so, as the Christian coyness seems inherently dishonest.

The key phrase here is ‘where organic to the plot and characters’. Discerning the where and when on that is not so much a question of ‘courage v compromise’, but the cultivation of mature technique, developing the skills of writing fiction. Echoing Dorothy Sayers again: ‘For work to be considered God’s work it must first be good work’. Nothing ruins a good idea faster than a poor execution, but a poor execution doesn’t automatically mean it’s not a good idea. The correct response to a good thing done wrong is to do it right, not to dump it altogether

Next is the idea of embracing what makes you different as a person and artist. You want to jump on the latest vampire/zombie/whatever trend, go ahead. Not my cuppa, thanks anyway. Seems to me, if there’s going to be any ring of authenticity to a person’s art, an artist/writer of any stripe has to embrace, wrestle, and reflect their deepest dreams, fears, and beliefs. If that is Marxism, Humanism, Nihilism, so be it. I may not agree, but I respect passion and conviction where I see it. For me, that triumvirate includes my faith in Jesus as the Risen Savior. There it is.

Because faith in Jesus is at the wellspring of my character and creations, it’s going to come out, overt or otherwise. Integrity demands it. And when it does, someone, somewhere, some when is going curl their lip, lift their nose, and start pontificating on my “blatant proselytizing “. (Pontificating…see what I did there? nudge, nudge, wink, wink) There is an element of reproach to the Gospel, an opposition and hostility. That old ‘world, flesh and the devil’ thing. So unless your Christians are lobotomized dupes or vile hypocrites, expect some flak. And it’s worth noting flak usually means you’re over the right target.

Closing this, you know I have to trot out the patron saint of Christian spec-fiction as well as apologetics, C.S. Lewis. His call for ‘Christians who write’ over ‘Christian writers’ still stands. Would to God I have the savvy to pen something like “The Screwtape Letters”, let alone multiple trips to Narnia. Point is for me, St. Clive managed both overt and covert expressions of faith in his fiction. He applied as needed. My prayer then is to imitate in principle, then develop the skills to write my stories and be both a solid Christian and solid storyteller to an audience in this generation.

Back to work now. Thanks and have an excellent day.

Guest Post – Dave Alderman

Work emergencies hindered me from getting this up sooner. Apologies.

The Distractions of Christian Fiction

Some days it feels like this world is going to hell in a handbasket. I turn on the news or I fire up my Facebook feed and I marvel at all of the ridiculous issues people are making a stink about. Everyone seems to be offended about something or someone somewhere. We’ve entered an age of entitlement issues and quick tempers. Passion has become misdirected. Instead of fighting against human trafficking, government corruption, or an increasing number of homeless filling our streets, we’re advertising, sharing, and making a huge deal about Bruce Jenner’s decision to become a woman.

Really, people?

Why is it this generation seems to have an easier time shying away from the issues that matter and instead cloister around nonsensical topics that allow them to turn away from the blood and violence and sexual slavery and instead fight amongst non-believers of their cause on social platforms?

This is one reason I have a hard time engaging in conversations with people on Facebook or Twitter. I can’t find a lot of worthy topics to latch on to. My passion is better spent writing.

If you read through the Bible – yes, I mean both Old and New Testament – you’ll see that God constantly uses believers to enact change in the world. We are His instruments, tasked with bringing Christ and His message of salvation to a broken world. Instead, we’re detracted by engaging in issues that don’t really matter.

We’re distracted, which I’ve realized is the Enemy’s number one weapon against Christians. In any great war, if you’ve succeeded in distracting the enemy, then you can pretty much take complete advantage of your opposition and secure victory.

I think the same goes for Christian writers as well. Instead of engaging issues from a Christian worldview, we’ve written clean-cut alternatives to the secular content monopolizing bookstore shelves. We’ve become distracted by a misinterpretation of the ‘who’ Christian fiction is written for.

I see a ton of Christian novels (fiction, science fiction, fantasy) that only seem to exist to see how many times the word ‘Christ’, ‘redemption’, and ‘forgiveness’, can appear in a novel. These stories cater to Christians and in many ways ostracizes non-Christians to the point where nobody but Christians want to read Christian fiction. Many of these stories are not realistic, nor are the outcomes. Not always.

Christians are shying away from writing about the real-world to instead offer up a wholesome, purified, easy depiction of the Christian life.

Too bad the Christian life isn’t easy. It’s full of heartache, it’s full of sacrifice, and it’s full of pain. A lot of it. It’s the kind of life that Christ shines the best through because He is our Healer, our Deliverer, our Savior. People who are not in trouble do not need a savior, nor do they need a deliverer, nor do they need a healer.

This is why I write what I write. I write Christian fiction but with real-world content. Drug dealers, megalomaniacs, sorcery, betrayal, sacrifice and ruin fill the pages of my fiction. And in the midst of it is Christ, coming to save a broken individual, a broken world.

Official Banner

It’s not enough to just write about this type of fiction. I want to publish it. That’s why I’ve created The Crossover Alliance, an online publishing company interested in pushing edgy Christian speculative fiction out into the world. Stories that the real-world can relate to. Stories of heartache and sacrifice and pain. Stories of healing, deliverance and rescue.

I have an Indiegogo campaign running right now to help raise funds for the first year’s expenses. Please head to the link – http://www.igg.me/at/TCA – to meet the team, read about the mission, and pledge to snag awesome digital subscriptions to our first year’s catalog.

My goal isn’t to prove that there is no need at all for tame Christian fiction, but that there is a serious need for Christian fiction that strives to resonate more with Christians and non-Christians alike.

IMG_0101David N. Alderman is an indie author of two speculative fiction series—Black Earth and Expired Reality. You can find all of David’s work at http://www.davidnalderman.com. He is also the founder of The Crossover Alliance (http://www.thecrossoveralliance.com), a publishing company specializing in edgy Christian speculative fiction. He participates in National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org) each year. When he’s not writing or spending time with family, you can find David gaming on any number of different consoles.

Some Thoughts about Ireland’s Same Sex Marriage Referendum

As a ‘conservative’ Christian, I found Ireland’s recent Same-Sex Marriage Referendum very interesting.

Off the top of my head, then.

1. Agree or disagree with Same Sex Marriage, people have the right in Free Societies to choose, to vote, to engage in the social and political process. Disagreeing doesn’t invalidate the right. Not even God violates people’s free will. This is happening. Deal with it – intelligently.

2. NPR reported that rather than take an adversarial, combative stance, many Homosexuals and Same Sex Marriage supporters personally went to friends, family, co-workers, neighbors and said “This is who I am. This is important to me. Can you help?” One human being to another. There’s a thought, eh?

3. No one is opening a Big Box of Darkness in the world like Pandora. Darkness is the absence of light. Ground is lost by default. Now I agree that sexual immorality – homosexuality included – is dangerous both spiritually and physically; that is is indicative of broken, lost and defiant nature in need of redemption. But it’s time to stop pointing fingers and handing out Citations like God’s Traffic Cop. Fact is, we’re all in trouble and in desperate need of a Savior. What are we supposed to be doing again?

4. Time to reacquire a sense of proportion. There are LOTS of ugly, terrible things going on in the world. Compared to war, poverty, corruption, slavery, child-porn, and sex-trafficking (and half a dozen other things), this is way down on the list. Really.

To echo that Irish bishop, ‘It’s time for a Reality Check”. Yes, there will always be hostile contradiction, a reproach to genuine faith. I get that. But the simple Gospel is compelling, compassionate, and profound. However imperfect, it’s on us believers to reflect that accurately. As Christians, we’re Responsible TO people, not FOR them. Their response to Jesus is between them and Him. Don’t like what’s going on? I understand. The call then is to repent and return to being Salt and Light. To be God’s ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation. Jesus’ hands an feet.

Or to swipe from Gandhi, “Be the change in the world you wish to see.”

One for my ‘concerned’ brethren

When I mention my fiction writing in a group of Christians, I often get suspicious glances/blank looks when I explain I don’t write ‘Christian’ books or target the Christian market. It probably doesn’t help that I use the word ‘explicit’ to describe my approach. What I mean by that is I try to write whatever I believe best conveys a credible portrayal of both Christian and non-Christian elements. Part of my devotion to God is faithfulness in my vocation. I have to be true to God and true to my work, which has to be true to itself. I won’t apologize for using mandatory conventions of fiction or genre. (‘show don’t tell’, war violence in Military Sci Fi, ghosts or magic in Horror/Supernatural…)

Now I make every effort to avoid the gratuitous and contrived, but the notion that including certain topics and realities somehow diminishes or cancels the Christian ‘witness’ is lazy logic. The strength of an idea is the test of real life – how it addresses and overcomes contradictory positions – not in cloistering it from any and every opposing viewpoint. To be “holy” is not sitting behind glass in a museum but employed for different work. Utensils in the Temple were honed for bloody use, washed after day in, day out use.

That said, this recent Two-Star Review had me smiling:

The Time I Accidentally Read a Christian Novel, May 5, 2015
 Verified Purchase
This review is from: Running Black (Eshu International Book 1) (Kindle Edition)
I was looking for some gritty cyberpunk novel and found this. The world that the novel creates is truly excellent, and the technology is uniquely cool. I wasn’t expecting the christian elements which seemed to start out as a minor irritant when I was already mostly invested, but unfortunately by the end the christian propaganda has become a central theme. It’s an easy read, but instead of the expected grittiness you get Jesus freaks. I’d recommend passing this one over unless you want your cyberpunk to have what according to Christians are christian values.
***
The Christian faith themes are very clear in the book description and a number of reviews, so the charge of ‘bait and switch’ doesn’t stick. He got it though. I’m sorry he responded negatively to the Christian elements, but there’s little doubt he understood them. (Same guy also gave ‘The Book of Eli’ movie one star. Big shock, that.)
So this definitely helped offset the pain from yesterday’s hernia repair surgery.
Have a good day.
***
When a book leaves your hands, it belongs to God. He may use it to save a few souls or to try a few others, but I think that for the writer to worry is to take over God’s business.

Flannery O’Connor

Father Gabriel goes to Indiana

After watching TWD finale last night, then skimming the headlines of the last several days, a couple thoughts bounced off each other this morning as the coffee kicked in.

1. Fr. Gabe as a weak character. I cringe every time he comes on screen. I don’t mean the obvious in-show cowardice. (Even Eugene has shown more backbone) The good Rev strikes me as a cardboard standee, a typical ‘last-refuge-of scoundrels’ sniveler trying to prop himself up with religious bravado. Yes I know such people exist, (I’ve met them) but as a Christian myself, that bothers me. In real life and on screen.

Now Hershel was devout. Genuine. Portrayed as misguided at first, he was nonetheless solid, smart and brave. I miss him. I’m just disappointed this latest Scripture-quoting, Bible-toting believer is plagiarizing a page from the ‘lame religious guy’ stereotype playbook. At least he has enough faith/depth of character to have a crisis-of-faith. Otherwise, just shoot him and move on.

Now contrast him with the show’s main homosexual character, Aaron – who is most definitely playing against type and trope – and I have to wonder if he were played as a ‘typical flamer’, would there be any social outcry and push-back? Any cries of ‘perpetuating negative stereotypes’, ‘painting with a broad brush’, and gross distortion? You betcha.

Double standard? Evil Liberal Bias? Probably not. But I did wonder what would happen if the roles were ‘reversed’, as it were.

2. What exactly is going on in Indiana? From the furor, you’d think after throwing Rick and crew under the bus, Father Gabe snuck off off and wrote Indiana’s Religious Freedom Bill.

If indeed the law is based on existing Federal laws signed by Pres Clinton and Obama, if it is indeed virtually identical to similar laws currently on the books in other states, then why have LGBT activists swarmed Indiana like a horde of hungry Walkers? Why THERE and why NOW? How is this one different or special? I mean, don’t rights work both ways?(BTW, you might want to lose the ‘Sodomize Intolerance’ sign there)

No, I’m not a lawyer but by my reading of news summaries and various sources, the law doesn’t target a specific group. At all. It does not give or create any ‘new’ right for owners and servers; it simply clarifies and codifies existing rights and responsibilities. This isn’t legal discrimination. That someone might use it intolerantly isn’t a valid reason to negate the law. Capability isn’t culpability.

3. This past half season of TWD, I’ve been more impressed by the writer/director choices than absorbed in the characters’ plight. Not that I wasn’t gripped, but from a story-teller’s point of view, there have been some remarkably well constructed episodes. Several times I was ‘wish-I-thought-of-that’ jealous. The Season finale held up that high standard; Glenn’s mercy and sobbing, Sasha’s restraint/Maggie’s intervention and prayer, (she is her own woman but she’s also Hershel’s daughter), and using the Rick and Morgan meeting to end the show.

In light of all that’s going on in America and our world right now, the scene that stuck with me was Daryl and Aaron in the car. Tricked, trapped, mobbed on all sides by danger and certain gruesome death, they decide to stick together. To go down fighting side by side if it comes to that. There’s no ‘hick/queer’ labels, no agendas, no blame-game. Just two human beings facing a much larger common threat.

You’d think with all the deep and lasting problems in our world – poverty, hunger, illiteracy, corruption, slavery/sex-trafficking, terrorism, ecological damage, etc, etc, we’d have a sense of proportion, be grateful and realize our nation, however imperfect, is a singularly remarkable achievement in human history. We have freedom and prosperity at previously unimaginable levels.

Both sides of this current issue need to take a step back, dial down the rhetoric, and remember respect and rights run both ways. Of course we’re not going to agree on everything. Who does? But it’s time to stop and look at the bigger picture. We’re all in the same boat here. Problems we’re facing, we need serious help.

And if I understand Jesus’ teachings and the New Testament  correctly, all of us, and I do mean all of us, need a Savior.

Assumptions about my Audience

Had one of those recurring writerly conversations about my “intended audience”, and realized I make several assumptions about them:

1. They aren’t necessarily Christian.
Or if they are, they probably aren’t your typical ‘Evangelical’. Said it before: I don’t write Christian stories as much as stories with Christianity in them. It’s on the table for sure, but the plot doesn’t take you by the nose. There are a lot of people who have given up on religion but not necessarily on God. In my fiction, I demand any faith/spirituality be organic to the characters or storyline. Otherwise, it’s little more that religious propaganda.

2. They can swim
Sci Fi, Fantasy, Horror/Supernatural, they are genre-savvy. I don’t need to start them in the kiddie pool and lead them slowly deeper into Spec-Fiction with constant reassurances and explanations. They been here before. They get it. I won’t waste their time or intelligence with remedials.

3. They are detectives
Or archeologists, if you disdain the crime-scene analogy. They can hold things in abeyance. They are willing to excavate, assemble clues and piece things together. They’re smart like that. My job is to make sure the clues and cues and authenticating details are present and internally consistent.

4. Sizzle ain’t steak
Which isn’t to say they don’t want to be entertained. They do – that’s mostly what fiction is about. However, they prefer a story have substance, to be rooted in real-world struggles, facts, or perspectives. Even if they are different or challenging. The movies Avatar and District 9 came out around the same time. Give me D9 any day, all day long.

So there they are. I know what they say about assuming, but I think I’m erring on the better side in this instance.

Have a great day.

High Crimes and Misdemeanors?

A fellow Christian and author was asked recently how he could like (and write) science fiction and still be a Christian. So assuming the questioner wasn’t adversarial to science, (a whole other discussion) that query strikes me on the same level as demanding how someone ‘could like Thai food (Chinese, Indian, sushi…) and still call themselves an American?’

Seems to me the unspoken assumption of this non sequitur morsel of Stalinist logic is treason; a person’s faith and salvation are precarious if they enjoy spec-fiction, suspect if they write it. As during the Inquisition, thou art guilty until proven innocent.

Hyperbole and harsh comparisons, you say? Maybe, but how about a little blunt-force trauma against sloppy religious-think?

C.S. Lewis said ‘Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.’ Not only does fiction exercise God-given creativity and imagination, it flavors what otherwise might be bland, banal, indigestible transmission of ideas and experiences. Don’t confuse content with medium, or knowledge with understanding. Has fiction (the arts in general) been misused and misunderstood? Sure. So has the Bible and Christianity – more so, with greater ramifications.

It’s beyond time for believers to employ their talents and convictions with passion, clarity, and courage in any and every facet of life, including the arts.

End of the Day, God will  be the one who makes the final call on our work. No one else.

Merry Christmas


I post this poem every year because I believe it captures the essence of the incarnation and redemption offered in Jesus Christ. Christmas is about God’s gift of Himself to us, not just for religious spit-and-polish or pious moralizing mixed with creeds and rituals, but God coming to us at the very place of our need. In Jesus Christ is forgiveness of sins, transformation of heart, redemption at the very core of who and what we are. It’s a relationship with God forever. It’s eternal life.

Genuinely accepting God’s love means change – sometimes confusing, uncomfortable, inconvenient change – but most what is most remarkable is that it’s real And free. Jesus is alive and He loves you. Really.

Here’s the poem.

Let the Stable Still Astonish

Let the stable still astonish:
Straw- dirt floor, dull eyes, dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen;
Crumbling, crooked walls; No bed to carry that pain.

And then the child –
Rag-wrapped, laid to cry in a trough.
Who would have chosen this?
Who would have said:
“Yes, Let the God of all
the heavens and earth
be born here, in this place”?

Who but the same God who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts and says,
“Yes, Let the God of Heaven and Earth be born here – in this place.

May you come to trust in Jesus Christ as Redeemer. I pray God bless you all and keeps in health and peace in the new year. May God be real to you and in you, and express His Courage, Compassion, and Grace through you.

Market, Medium, and Motives.

I’m weary of discussions on Christian writing and writers. Wary too. I approach them like the Enterprise meeting an Klingon Peace Delegation: shields at full power. Seeing as I fall outside the norm of evangelical opinion on this matter, I’m braced for the inevitable salvos against my work, motives, and faith, along with the general blunt force trauma of religious weird-think. It’s all rather tedious and discouraging.

However, the movie Fury rekindled my interest in the debate. Rather it reinforced my opinion. Paid to see it on the big screen. In my view, the excellent script, pace, special effects and solid performances make it a worthy addition to the old-school war movies of my youth. I’ll own it on DVD – no question. (Three words: real Tiger tank)

That said, I think the film is also a prime example of credibly integrating faith (Christianity) into a plot. In my opinion, Shia Lebeouf’s character “Bible” comes off not merely the brave soldier and comrade, but a genuinely devout and human one as well. Bible’s faith is organic without being ham-fisted and contrived. By the time we reach the final scene in the turret, the 1 John 2 exchange is as relevant and natural as it is moving.

Let’s be frank though: Fury is not a “Christian” movie. On screen kilo-deaths, hints of off-screen sex, blood, mud and dialogue that red-lines the profanity-meter like soldiers do… we’re off the Christian Broadcasting programming list. It is however a good war movie that also has a devout Christian character and explicit Christian content. All the ingredients combine to make a fine genre film, but not a sermon. Which is my point here.

Loop back to the Christian writing/writers debate – I suspect much of the friction stems from poor judgment of Market, Medium, and Motives. Gratuitous violence, sex, profanity is just that – gratuitous – and inappropriate for the Christian market. I think it also makes a poor substitute for good wordsmithing. Explicit content – Christian or otherwise – may be necessary in the writer’s chosen genre or plot. A writer’s job is to show not tell and create a credible, consistent, engaging world in which the story unfolds. Those are the demands of the medium. To hobble any literary element in the name of religion is not only dishonest but dishonoring the vocation in the sight of God. “Work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work,” Dorothy Sayers noted. A pious hack is still a hack.

The judgment against a writer’s motives is the most tangled issue. As a stained glass artisan, is my work any less inspired, any less valid if I don’t incorporate the shape of a cross into every piece? Is my faith, my salvation, or even my testimony somehow diminished if I don’t? Same for my writing. If I don’t write what amounts to a dramatized sermon, complete with salvation doctrine, (choose your denominational flavor) alter call moments and a repentance prayer, is my work less “Christian”? If my non-Christian antagonists act and speak in non-Christian ways, am I guilty by association? In the minds of some, apparently yes.

In a religion-saturated, Christ-haunted culture, do artists and writers really need to be propping up the same old insular evangelical status quo? Seems a shameful play to cheap seats if you ask me. I rather believe we are tasked with being genuine artisans striving for mastery in our respective fields of labor, implicitly and explicitly expressing the reality of Jesus’ transcendence and redemption in our work, thus engaging our calling and audience in a spirit of honesty and excellence.

Dear God I hope so.

Just my .02

Preachers often rail against the lure and message of Hollywood and there’s something to be said there in certain instances. But Life and the world being what they are, is it any wonder people seek escapism?

In my experience, ministers called to declare ‘the greatest story ever told’ often fail to make it captivating, fail to engage the audience. Can you really fault them when the wonder of an Almighty God, His everlasting kingdom, the mystery and promise of redemption, get replaced by insipid platitudes or petty indignations? If those are the proposed alternatives, is it any wonder people prefer to spend time with Tolkien’s Bilbo rather than their Jesus?

Don’t blame Hollywood – they are who they are, doing their job. Nature abhors a vacuum – sometimes the empty seats are on you, reverend.