Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Can Christian SF&F be Good?

Well, can it?

Can Christian SF&F be Good? | Guy L. PaceI struggled with this for a long time. I tried to read some Christian science fiction and fantasy, and fiction, and some of it was … well … not so good. So, if you have an opinion that it isn’t good, you may have found some of the same work I did.

That is the reason I wrote Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers. I wrote something I wanted to read. Something different, fresh, exciting. As a result I also met a few other authors who are writing Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy (SF&F). And, what they write is good! Here are some of my favorites:

Tabitha Caplinger

Joshua McHenry Miller

Nadine Brandes

What sets these (and–I hope–my own work) apart from the rest? Story, mostly, and character. Christian fiction, including SF&F, shouldn’t vary that much from mainstream fiction at all. The only thing that should differentiate Christian fiction from mainstream is the characters. The characters, or the main character, is Christian and the story should center on that character’s struggle with faith. But, that isn’t all the story should address. The real world throws all kinds of situations, problems, and hassles at people. It doesn’t matter if they are Christian or otherwise. The whole point of the Christian part of science fiction and fantasy is how the characters deal with the same situations, problems, and hassles as their mainstream counterparts.

Challenges

In Sudden Mission, the main character (Paul) gets a mission to correct reality. This is a straight up “hero’s journey” with Paul as the reluctant hero–right out of Joseph Campbell’s concept. The mission challenges his faith and his willingness to obey God. As a friend recently said about the book: “You throw everything but the kitchen sink at him. And then you add the kitchen sink.” But, that’s what good stories do. Characters  must work toward a goal in spite of their flaws or limitations, and meet challenges for which they are not prepared. None of this is the sole domain of mainstream fiction or SF&F, and I know of no rule that says Christian fiction can’t go there.

Tabitha Caplinger’s The Chronicle of the Three series (the first two are out and available) throws her main characters–Christians who have varying levels of faith–to the wolves, er, demons. Each character has their faith, or lack thereof, challenged as they face the situations Tabitha so creatively pushes them into.

Nadine Brandes’ Out of Time series follows Parvin through both the life and death struggle to survive in a malevolent future dystopia, and her journey to understanding of Christian principles to help guide her life. Parvin faces characters who at first seem to be friends, but turn out otherwise, and makes mistakes that cost her much (I’m not going to spoil anything here).

Neither of these, or my books, hammer Holy Bible passages at the reader. That’s not what makes them Christian young adult or teen SF&F.

Joshua Miller’s book Tyrants and Traitors is a little different. The setting is ancient Israel. It is a retelling of the story of Saul and David (using different names) based on the Old Testament scripture in Samuel I and II. While this isn’t directly Christian, it is about faith, learning about God, and learning to serve God. The bonus in this one is Joshua gets you into the ancient culture, politics, and history, and it feels like you’re right in there. I understand more is coming. Soon, I hope.

Too Much

Some young adult or teen fiction you see in Christian book stores is a bit too sweet, not pushing the boundaries, no action, no adventure, and ends up with too much preaching. Some seem to have a Holy Bible verse on every page, or read like a long devotional. Teens and young adults want adventure, action, a little romance, and sometimes some scary, dangerous events.

Like the teens and young adults we write the stories and books for, the characters should have to deal with real issues from problems at school, problems with parents, bullies, growing up issues, sex and romance. If you don’t address these issues in Christian young adult and teen fiction and SF&F, those teens and young adults are going to read stories about those issues in other genres.

Granted, we, as Christian young adult/teen authors, use Bible references where appropriate. Of course we have to put a disclaimer in the front matter to provide attribution for the version and edition.

So, to answer the question: Yes. Christian SF&F can be good. Not just good, but great.

Keep writing.

 

Short Fiction

Short Fiction

Writing short fiction helps you develop your craft. You learn the structure of a story, how to develop a character, and how to keep a story focused. A short story is usually between 3,000 and 7,500 words. Of course, this depends on your market. Some print and online magazines have their own ideas on short story length and the lengths can vary widely.

On this blog, I’ve posted a short-short story and a short story (See Amy’s Lesson and The Gift). These are not sellable, stand-alone stories that would be picked up by a print or online magazine. I wrote them to help bridge the gap between Nasty Leftovers and the third installment of the Spirit Missions series (in progress) and provide some seasonal stories.

Sometimes, you have to write something short to help develop something longer. Those two short pieces helped me set the stage for the third novel, and helped mature the characters a little. From Sudden Mission to this third novel, the main characters Paul and Amy go from age 14 to almost 18. What happens in the third book needs older characters to make the action and events more believable.

I have other, unrelated short fiction, including one published (New Kid in Neo-Opsis Science Fiction Magazine). Another story I think is promising, but it’s out to a market that doesn’t seem viable any more. I may withdraw and move on.

Strengths

That’s another strength of short fiction. There is a huge market for it, but it is competitive. Write your short fiction, get some beta-readers for it if that helps, and submit to appropriate markets. And, keep submitting. When you get a rejection, don’t take it personally. Look the story over, make any edits or corrections that seem right, and send it back out. One rejection is not a judgement on your story or the quality of your writing. It just means that whoever screened the submissions didn’t think your story fit their needs. Move on.

You get two things from this: 1) thick skin from dealing with rejection and criticism; 2) practice. Keep writing those short pieces. Keep submitting them. The more you write, the better you get. One day, you’ll get a response that has constructive criticism. That’s a good thing. Eventually, you’ll get an offer to publish one of those short pieces. New Kid cleared the bar, and at an award-winning small magazine. But it had been around the market for about a year and collected several rejections before acceptance.

Short fiction is hard work, though. Harder than longer work, like novels. Keep your language precise. Keep your descriptions spare. And, you have to hit the reader with a strong story line. Granted, that helps a novel, too. But, you hone the craft in the short pieces.

I know I spend more time on the three-to-five thousand words of a short story as opposed to the 60+ thousand words of a novel. I play with point of view and voice. First person seems to fit short fiction better. I rewrite the drafts more, edit between submissions, spend more time re-reading it and analyzing it. It’s all part of the process.

Go on, write that short story. Write several. It’s good practice.

Keep writing.

 

 

What You Know

What You Know

Most have heard this advice about writing: Write what you know.

For new writers, especially younger ones, this is a confusing bit of advice. You want to write a mystery novel involving a murder set in Rome. Your mind is full of the plugs you’ll have: “International intrigue!” “Globe-trotting Sleuth!” But, then you heard someone say you should write what you know. CRASH! BURN! You’ve never been to Rome. You’ve never committed a murder. You have no experience in crime detection and investigation. Huh?

Here’s the truth. “Write what you know,” is a blow-off line. Incomplete. Inaccurate. It’s the advice you get from someone who just wants to cut you off at the knees. Why? Because you know a lot more than you think. Or–well–you will know a lot more. Follow me on this.

Research.

SettingOkay, you haven’t been to Rome. Big deal. Maps, Google, your browser, the library, bookstores, and other resources can get you all the information you need to create a setting sketch and write believable scenes set in Rome. Some writers use those travel guides they find in bookstores that provide details on restaurants, sights, events, and customs of a place like Rome or other cities.

The US State Department has information online for potential travelers for almost every destination on the planet. Here’s the link to information on the Holy See (Vatican City) in Rome. It also provides access to the CIA World Factbook for further information on the Holy See. If you want in-depth information, the State Department and the CIA are great resources. They are free. I don’t know if you can get access outside the US.

I used Google Maps and Street View as I worked through settings in Sudden Mission. I’d track where my characters would be on Google Maps, then drop down to Street View to see what they would see as they went down a specific street or highway. Near St. Louis, MO,  is a town named Edwardsville, IL. I know nothing about this town. I studied the maps carefully, looking for a route around St. Louis and across the Mississippi River. Edwardsville was a good find. I had my characters going up a residential street there just as I dumped a plague of frogs on them.

This image on the right is that street in Edwardsville, IL. This kind of tool makes it possible to describe a place accurately and realistically. I just added frogs. I used the scene to describe what happened in the novel and it added realism and authenticity. You’d never know I’ve never been to Edwardsville. Ever.

I wrote Sudden Mission in 2012, so I had to use Google Maps with Adobe Flash (Bad JuJu) installed on my system. When I didn’t need it any more, I took Flash off. Fortunately, Flash is no longer required. Most browsers support the protocols to render Street View correctly.

Setting Sketch and Research Section

The setting sketch provided in Scrivener’s templates can contain a lot of details you gather from the above resources.

In the research section of your project binder, you can add folders and documents, then cut and paste entire web pages or just links and references. This is handy. You can refer back to the items in your research section to verify details or facts. Keep links related to your work in progress from the US State Department and CIA World Factbook in folders here. Don’t be afraid to use the Factbook. It’s paid for by the US taxpayer and published for your benefit. As for Google Maps, take screen shots of your key places and save them in your research section.

Now, as for the murder. Do some research on crime scene investigation (not by watching TV). You want to avoid the CSI Effect. Research the law, police procedures, crime scene and evidence collection, evidentiary processes, custody of evidence, and anything else relevant. Since you set your crime in Rome, you’ll also want to check out law enforcement cooperation and investigation across international boundaries. Much of this information is found online with some searching. Here’s a Wikipedia link to get you started.

When you find something, dump the link, page, information into a document in your research section.

The key to remember is that nothing is ever as simple or straightforward as it might at first seem.

Oh fun, you say.

Keep writing.

 

 

Holidays

Holidays

NaNoWriMo 2016 is over, the end of the year holidays are here. I’m working through the last of the chapters of my “work in progress” and revising the story. This has been an interesting project and North Carolina will never be the same.

This work, with the working title of Alien Alliance, will be the last in the Spirit Missions series, so I have to make certain that I wrap up all the little nuanced loose ends I left in Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers.

All the action in this new book takes place in North Carolina and a little in Virginia. Zombies in Asheville, aliens in Raleigh, and the end of humanity as we know it just hours away. Jealousy, anger, love, joy, pain, and desperation, all play out in the story. So, I’ll soon have to write the cover blurb and include all that in just a few sentences.

Merry Christmas

I will probably not post again until after Christmas. I’m working on the book, getting some other projects done, and spending time with the family.

I also selected a new site theme. As I tweak this and get it working, let me know what you think of it. Getting a theme, with colors, font, layout, and widgets, all organized takes a little time. The basic theme is in place and most of my standard widgets are there. I just need to make sure it is all working and set up correctly.

So, if something isn’t behaving correctly, post a note and I’ll get right on it.

Thanks for your support this year and following along on this blog. It has been an interesting year.

I hope you and yours have a blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Keep writing.

 

Festival

Montana Book Festival

I’m off to the Montana Book Festival. This year, I’m not just attending but participating. I’ll be talking to two classes of high school students at Missoula area Christian high schools as part of the Youth Festival.

This is pretty exciting. I enjoyed the festival last year, sold a few books, and met a few other authors. One thing that impressed me was how much the Missoula community embraced and participated in the festival.

I may still be added to a panel or two as the schedule finalizes. I plan to attend a number of them, as well. So, if you are in the Missoula area this week, please stop by the festival. Look me up! I will have the new BugBear Books editions of Sudden Mission and Nasty Leftovers with me. A Missoula vendor should have a few copies of each, as well.

After this, I’m going to try to settle down for the season and get busy working on the third book in the Spirit Missions series, as well as some other writing projects.

Keep writing!