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.

A card-carrying member…

in the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.

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Not that I want to be defined by ‘what I’m against’ or slap on a trendy label, but after being called a ‘good post-evangelical’ recently, I prayed to St. Google and realized it was time to send away for my membership card and decoder ring.

If you require further explanation, browse these links: Wiki Page, This Blog Post, or This One, and This Excellent Article.

No, I’m not draping myself in the mantle of Indignant Victim/Misunderstood Prophet, nor am I jettisoning foundational orthodox doctrines. I’m weary of the bullshit is all. Celebrity ministries, flatulent egotism, unrepentant rationalizations for long-term character flaws, imperious immaturity, moral failures, financial shenanigans, organization politics, dysfunctional and disproportionate sermons… Sad to say if you’ve been in church longer than five years, you probably know what I’m talking about.

Looking over 28 years of following Jesus, plus what I can discern and analyze of the current state of the American church, I wonder if in this Providential place and season, my service to God must be developed and engaged outside the traditional venue of the church. That recognizing the present options are not only less than ideal, but out of my purview, if I am being forced to grow into new areas of faithfulness and fruitfulness. I also wonder if this large shift – which I find myself a part of – isn’t a falling away as critics claim, but rather a divine pruning that requires Christians exercise missional impulse (i.e. obey the Great Commission) outside the traditional pyramid scheme church. Perhaps like the Acts 8 persecution in Jerusalem after the martyrdom of Stephen, this scattering is God’s intention. Maybe He’s saying it’s time to stop congealing around brand-name ministries in mega-churches, and go into the highways and byways and deal one-on-one with people.

If so, I need to move forward rather than drag old modes of thought and practice behind me.

It’s not a little scary – this pushing out into the deep and leaving sight of the shore. But the boat is solid, tempest-worthy if you will. The instruments work. So long as I keep my destination in mind and don’t lose sight of the North Star, I’ll get through it. The shore behind me was the starting point, not the goal. And it wasn’t what was keeping me dry either.

It’s just a thought.

The Tortoise and the Hare

When it comes to the Internet, Marketing, and Social Media, I confess I just can’t keep up. Facebook, Forums, fan-clubs, other authors’ sites, cross-linking, reblogging all take time and energy… and there’s only so much of them in a day.

Even more, I’m not sure I want to keep up. I’d hate to end up one of those people who thinks they have to fill every empty space with their opinion. Or view everyone I meet through the lens of my agenda.

I know I need to market and advertise. There are internet friends I actually like and want to be connected to, but day-to-day is always in my face and there is stuff to do, constantly. So I have to prioritize. Discriminate. More to the point here, writing is work, and learning to do it well is a lifetime endeavor. My question to myself is – which is it going to be?

Some dead white guy ( I think it was an American President, in fact) once said “Take your work seriously, not yourself” and it has always resonated with me. I’ve always wanted my glass work and my stories to stand on their own. You don’t need to know me to appreciate them; they’re a product, sure, but they’re separate entities. (arguable point, but that’s the way I see it)

That Tortoise and Hare fable is another reference for me. (a disabled guy) I realized long ago I’ll never letter on the Varsity team or throw down suave smooth and sexy out on the dance floor. Hell, stairs are a challenge. Instead, I’ve got to focus on what I can do – not what I can’t. At the end of the day, if I have to choose between the frenzied pace of Internet Marketing or the long-haul, labor-intensive task of writing, I’ll choose writing.

After all, my work will be here after I’m gone.

Steven Pressfield re-blog: Art and Polarity

Swiped from the blog of one of my Top Ten favorite authors. Worth a read and a good think, IMO.

As a Christian, I’m aware my worldview makes statements and value judgments that are culturally unpopular, as well as run cross-grain to the defiant streak in all of us. Even trying to be clear, credible and consistent, some degree of hostility is inevitable.

As an Engager, (see previous re-blog from Mike Duran) there are times I feel beset on both flanks: by caustic secularists who hold my faith in contempt, and Separatists ever ready with charges of heresy and compromise.

None of that excuses me from my work, however. I’m convinced despite contradiction, controversy or rejection, anyone pursuing a vocation must press on, however clumsily, and break through. Not simply to fulfill ‘the work set before them’, but to keep a right heart and clear conscience in the sight of the God who called them in the first place.

oh, and you need to read The War of Art and Gates of Fire. Better yet, ingest them so they change you on a cellular level.

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Art and Polarity

Posted: 23 Aug 2013 12:52 AM PDT

The other day I overhead this conversation:

Man #1: “I ran into Frank Smith (not his real name) at the beach yesterday…”

Man #2: “Isn’t that the guy who cheated on his wife, got a DWI, and said all of those nasty things about Jill’s daughter in law?”

Man #1: “…Well…yes…but I try not to judge.”

I run into this “I don’t judge” stuff a lot and it infuriates me on many levels. But as this is a blog about what it takes to create art, I’ll just address why this “moral position” is at best hypocritical and at worst a force as undermining and dark as Resistance.

If you want to create art, you need to make judgments about human behavior and take a side. How well you convey and support your point of view is a measure of your skill. On-the-nose judgments in art, like that hilarious statue of the founder of Faber College in Animal House with the epitaph “Knowledge is Good” are funny because they are so generic.

The epitaph tells the viewer that the setting of the story is a College founded by an idiot. What is really wonderful about that scene is that it appears in the opening credits, giving the viewer no doubts about the tenor of the art to come.

The scene in Woody Allen’s Manhattan where the Woody character is having cocktail conversation at the Museum of Modern Art is another one of my favorites…

Guest #1: “Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey, you know?”

Woody character: “We should go there, get some guys together. Get some bricks and baseball bats and explain things to ‘em.”

Guest #2: “There was this devastating satirical piece on that in the Times.”

Woody character: “Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks get right to the point.”

Guest #2: “But biting satire is better that physical force.”

Woody character: “No, physical force is better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.”

Today’s “let’s all get along, not judge or challenge anyone” groupthink also reminds me of a major scene sequence in Milos Forman’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Polar Opposites: Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched and Jack Nicholson as R.P. McMurphy.

Jack Nicholson portrays R.P. McMurphy, a good time Charlie with authority figure issues. He’s playing crazy at a maximum-security insane asylum to get out of a work detail jail sentence. Years ago, they sentenced petty criminals to hard labor. I remember as a kid being in the backseat driving South and watching chain gangs cutting overgrown brush on the median of I95—Donn Pearce must have seen them too. He wrote Cool Hand Luke.

McMurphy’s Moriarty is Nurse Ratched, the head nurse in the asylum. Louise Fletcher played this role so brilliantly—all ice and pursed lips—she had difficulty finding work after winning the Oscar for it.

One afternoon, during an interminable group therapy session, McMurphy requests that the guys be allowed to watch the World Series that evening. Knowing that the last thing the other men would want to do is stand up and challenge the way she rules her kingdom, Ratched sees an opportunity to put McMurphy in his place.

She’ll put the request up to a vote.

McMurphy sticks his hand up to vote “yea” assuming that his fellow patients will come to the same conclusion that he has. By simply raising their arms, together the men can let this lady know that denying a simple pleasure like watching a ball game to a bunch of lunatics is absurd.

Which one of you nuts has any guts?

The needy fuser Cheswick is the only other one who has the courage to challenge Nurse Ratched’s command. Meeting adjourned. The men are then shuttled into the shower room for their evening cleaning. McMurphy is out of his mind with anger.

If you’re a writer, this scene is a perfect example of a set-up that dramatically portrays a character’s inner change. How does Ken Kesey pay it off?

From the first moment McMurphy lays eyes on Ratched, the reader/viewer knows he judges her as rotten to the core. McMurphy is not afraid to judge. His problem is that he acts on his judgments too quickly. That’s what got him in the clink in the first place.

In the nuthouse, though, he is forced to keep the judgment to himself. He’s supposed to be crazy! And to McMurphy, only crazy people don’t judge, so he shouldn’t either.

But when the evidence of Ratched’s evil is incontrovertible to him, he can’t help himself but act. He’s the novel’s protagonist. He’s the hero. If he doesn’t act on his judgments, there’s no story.

Kesey could have made any number of choices with this scene. He could have had McMurphy act selfishly, like a child, and physically attack a guard or an inmate or himself. Something the character has a reputation for doing earlier in his life.

Instead, for the first time (and the perfect time) Kesey has his character act beyond himself. He changes his behavior. McMurphy sees that these men have it within themselves to judge Ratched as a tyrant. If he can make them understand how important it is to make a judgment and to act on that judgment—even if it puts them in harm’s way—he will help them. And helping them will help him bring down tyranny. He’ll win.

McMurphy, already known as a consummate hustler, challenges all of the men to take a bet. He puts all of his money on his succeeding. He will pick up a thousand pound marble bathroom vanity, throw it through the barred window, walk to a nearby bar with his buddy Cheswick, wet his whistle and watch Mickey Mantle play in the World Series…Who wants some of this action?

He’s so convincing that only the most cynical among them take his bet.

Playing McMurphy as only he could play him, Jack Nicholson grabs the edges of the vanity, squats and surges into the plumbing. He turns blue from effort. He commits to the action, gives it his best shot. When he’s drenched with sweat, spent and defeated, he walks out of the room. But not before turning to the stunned assemblage and saying:

“At least I tried.”

As a child in the 60s and 70s, I was raised on stories like this. (I wish we had more of them today) And they’ve had a profound influence. This is why art is so important.

These stories taught me that to passively disengage for fear of reprisal is cowardly. Making a judgment, taking a stand and then acting against an injustice or acting to support excellence is the stuff of the everyman hero.

And yes, not saying anything, not “judging” the horrible or honorable behavior of other people is acting too. As deliberate an act as getting overly excited about an idea and shouting in a business meeting.

If you don’t call people on their shit, you’re placing yourself above them, as if their actions are so inconsequential to you that they need not be considered. You’re above it all, some kind of Ayn Randian ubermensch behaving only out of self-interest. The same goes for not giving a standing ovation for great work because others remain seated. If you admire a work, let the artist know. They can use all the attaboys they can get. It’s Hell in that studio.

Despite the initially convincing argument that to “not judge” is an expression of empathy—who knows, if I faced those same circumstances maybe I’d do something like that too? —It’s not. It’s an excuse for not standing up for what’s right.

Not saying something is uncaring. Not saying something means that you do not want to put your ass on the line and take the risk that you’ll be shunned for your opinion. It has everything to do with you. Nothing to do with the other person.

I’m aware that the world is not black and white. There are shades of gray between the two poles of every value. On the spectrum of “Truth and Deceit,” telling a white lie when your cousin asks if she looks good in her bathing suit is not the same as running a billion dollar Ponzi scheme. I get it.

And yes, most of the time, keeping our big mouths shut is the right thing to do. We’re all guilty of misdemeanors and don’t need Earnest Ernies pointing out our shortcomings. And when we do confront someone about their actions, we need to do it with tact and care. That’s empathy.

But this “non-judgment, I toe the middle line” attitude is dangerous. There is no middle line. Not judging is a judgment. And it pushes people away from each other—I best not make a mistake and judge anyone or no one will like me…best to keep quiet and be agreeable—instead of bringing them together—I thought I was the only one who thought Animal House was genius…

The man I overheard who doesn’t “judge” the adulterous, alcoholic driving, rumormonger sends a message to the world that destructive actions are excusable. It is what it is… There is no right and wrong. Nonsense.

But it is his passive aggressive dressing down of the other guy for “judging” someone guilty of antisocial behavior that is even worse. It masks his cowardice as virtue. And to not judge whether something is right or wrong is the furthest thing from a virtue.

You must choose a position in this world on innumerable moral questions and stand by your judgments. Woody Allen made this point in six lines of dialogue. Ken Kesey riffed on it for an entire novel. It’s important.

If you are an aspiring artist and you wish to avoid “judgments,” you’ll find that you have nothing to say.

Fear itself.

Apologies for thin content recently. Am straight out with glass work and Shift Tense. However I wanted to pass on this TED talk and consider its relation to new publishing models and Christian Spec-Fiction.