Maybe It’s Time We Hung Up the Ol’ Spock Ears

by Mike Duran · 74 comments

It’s bad enough that Christian publishers are unsure what to do with speculative fiction writers. But must we compound this by acting like outsiders?

The first ever Christian writers conference I attended back in 2006 had a workshop for speculative fiction writers. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed to be in it. Why? Not only did it seem a tad cliquish and groupie-ish, next to the cerebral, visionary sci-fi and fantasy writers I’d come to love, these folks seemed liked goofballs.

And it didn’t help that some of them were wearing costumes.

Yes, I know that conventions and conferences draw out the nerds. And there’s nothing wrong with wearing a toga or brandishing a foam sword to the banquet. If dressing up like C3PO and rolling out the British accent is your thing, go for it. Also, I realize that spec writers dwell in a sort of perpetual Neverland, seeing the world through a unique prism of imagination that Historical Romance authors would run, shrieking from, with petticoat girded appropriately. Yeah, I get all that.

But being that Christian speculative fiction writers already seem out of place in the industry, it doesn’t help our cause to act so… out of place.

So, for the record…

I’m not part of the Us and Them crowd. Dear Christian speculative fiction writers: No one’s against us. The ACFW is not against us. Christian publishers are not against us. Heck, most of the editors and agents I know actively read speculative fiction titles! So posturing ourselves as being the industry whipping boy, as though there’s some conspiracy against us, isn’t accurate and doesn’t help us. Is there an awkward, maybe even antagonistic, relationship between spec writers and the CBA “majority”? Maybe. But framing the lack of spec-fic representation as conspiratorial is… epic fantasy.

I am not a fanboy for Jeff Gerke. Listen, Jeff is a wonderful guy. I’ve met him in person, corresponded online, interviewed him, been interviewed by him, attended one of his workshops, applauded his efforts at Marcher Lord Press, and benefited from his influence in the Christian publishing industry. Jeff Gerke is doing a great job promoting speculative fiction in the Christian market. But what’s with the Gerke groupies? Listening to some Christian spec writers, you’d think the guy had been to Mount Sinai (or Mt. Doom) and descended with the 10 Commandments for Speculative Fiction Writers. Listen, I’m cool with giving up the love for Jeff Gerke. But what’s going on in Christian publishing has to be bigger than one guy and one guy’s publishing house.

I am not putting on Spock ears, carrying a light sabre, or dressing up like Gandalf. Call me a fuddy-duddy, a wet blanket. Go ahead. But when you can point out Christian spec authors in the crowd because they’re attired like the Hulk or the Mad Hatter, Houston, we have a problem. I’m excited about the genre we write in. But in an industry that’s already struggling to attach viability to the spec genre, does wearing a costume benefit us?

All that to say, I wonder if more intellectual rigor and less silliness and groupiness would help our cause. Of course, let’s have fun. Unfurl your colors. Represent! But creating antagonists where there are none makes us look bad. As does dressing up like wanna-be ComicCon attendees. So maybe it’s time we hung up the ‘ol Spock ears, huh?

Donald S. Crankshaw September 28, 2012 at 6:11 AM

Even those science fiction conventions aimed at writers rather than fans have very few people wearing costumes.

Greg Mitchell September 28, 2012 at 6:12 AM

I agree with you on all points, Mike. I guess I’m a fuddy duddy with you :p

It’s only been in the last couple years that I feel I’ve finally broken out of the “Us vs. Them” mentality. In high school, I was very much the “I’m going to act weird so everyone pays attention to how original and weird I am”, but all that got me was funny looks–never respect. Maybe respect from the other ardent weirdos so desperate to prove something, but never respect from the people I was showing off to. The “norms” as we called them :p

I used to be the guy who talked smack about jocks and how I was so much better than them, when it was my father who once helpfully pointed out that I was acting just as snobbish as I believed the jocks to be. That was a cold, hard truth that I didn’t accept very graciously when I was 17, but at 33, I understand and believe completely.

Diane Graham September 28, 2012 at 6:13 AM

Hmm…I wasn’t wearing Spock ears and neither were the other two at my table. And while I do understand your point, I must point out that that should go for historical fiction and steam punk writers as well. Or is it okay to pick them out in a crowd? That is my issue, that is the double standard and that is what has many spec-fic writers up in arms. Gerke aside, ACFW opened the door for cosplay at the gala by allowing ANY costumes by ANY genre through the years. Some have said they were allowed because those that dressed up had trust in the organization. Does that mean the others don’t have trust in the organization? That right there would be a whole other problem.

A simple solution to this would be to have none. Maybe have a costume event at the conference so ALL genres may unfurl their colors and no one feels set against. The gala can grow to be the formal event ACFW intends and everyone is a happy camper.

Greg Mitchell September 28, 2012 at 6:32 AM

I like your solution, Diane. I think that would promote a “Hey, let’s come together in costume and celebrate our genres!” rather than the strange profesionall/cosplay hybrid at the formal event.

Jessica Thomas September 28, 2012 at 6:44 AM

“A simple solution to this would be to have none. Maybe have a costume event at the conference so ALL genres may unfurl their colors and no one feels set against. The gala can grow to be the formal event ACFW intends and everyone is a happy camper.”


Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 6:56 AM

Yeah. I didn’t see any Spock ears at this year’s ACFW. I’m privy to the gala kerfuffle. But when folks started to throw around the “conspiracy” lingo, it seemed baseless to me. There may be more going on behind the scenes that I don’t know about, and will be happy to qualify my conclusions if someone can enlighten me. From my standpoint, the issue is not whether the gala event should or shouldn’t allow costumes. It’s whether or not wearing costumes and, in general, hob-nobbling primarily with other spec-ficers (especially when it’s to bemoan our “outsider” status), doesn’t lend us any more credibility. Thanks for your comments and it was fun meeting you at the conference. Love to talk to you more about this…

Kat Heckenbach September 28, 2012 at 1:11 PM

I can’t say I noticed any “conspiracy” lingo anywhere. Subtle discrimination references, yes.

To answer your question, the issue is this (my words, from an email I sent to an ACFW member who contacted me privately):

The ACFW keeps saying, “They (meaning multiple spec-fic outfits) were in violation of the NO COSTUMES rule.” Yet, they allow “historical” costumes. You can’t call a costume not a costume because it’s pretty, and then say someone else is not allowed to wear a costume because it’s not historical.

It’s a statement: We can break the rules *we set* because we think Victorian dresses are pretty and clockwork top hats are dapper. But nothing weird. No “monsters.”

I would not expect them to allow someone dressed as Superman or a zombie–neither of those can be construed as formal in any sense of the word. But suits and ties with accessories should be allowed no matter what the accessory is—whether it be a clockwork hat or a pair of werewolf gloves–all should be treated equally. And if “Sunday best” historical from head to toe is allowed, then “Sunday best” Elven princess/warrior and “Sunday best” Star Trek officer should be allowed.

I don’t mean to seem petty. I’m not even someone who dresses up at all for stuff. I go to sci-fi cons dressed as little ole me. But I know that a full Victorian outfit–even completely stripped of steampunk accessories–would be considered a “costume” there. Yet the ACFW seems to see that as “a fun twist on Sunday best that highlights an author’s work,” but can’t see how a cyborg arm on a guy in a suit and tie is the same thing.

(End quote)

You see, it’s NOT a costume issue, it’s a TYPE of costume issue. Bustles and parasols = good. Werewolf hands and Spock ears = bad. EVEN when the “offending” accessories accompany a fully compliant “Sunday best” outfit.

And my reference to the sci-fi cons above–tell me that’s not true! Tell me they’d look at someone in historical outfits like that and not consider them costumes. Or that if someone came to church in full-on Victorian garb it would be seen as “normal.”

Here’s the thing–we spec-ficcers thought the historical costumes were GREAT. How COOL. Look at the ACFW bonnet-and-buggy lovers letting loose and having FUN. The spec-ficcer were just playing along, but because their costumes are not understood, they are discriminated against.

There was ONE costume that got a lot of attention, and while innocently played (worn in support of a Christian spec-fic novel) it was, admittedly not appropriate for a gala. BUT, if had stopped THERE, this would likely not be at all an issue. Yes, security flagged the guy, but the no costume rule is ACFW’s, not the hotel’s. So, once the guy was PROVEN not a threat, the only thing stopping him from attending the gala is ACFW and their dress code. Regardless of whether ACFW stepped in and proved the guy innocent themselves, they keep saying it was all to placate security.

Fine–he’s dealt with. He’s proven not a threat, and told his outfit is not formal enough for entry. Put that issue aside, please. Now–all that’s left are costumes that are Sunday best and formal for future times and alternate realities–yet the ACFW leadership “received the 100+ emails from those who were in attendance and quite frankly, were offended and taken aback by certain people’s attire that truly was inappropriate.” (from an email I received directly) Notice “people”–not just the one guy.

I am not saying that ALL ACFW members think we’re freaks. I got emails, after my comments on the ACFW loop, from several members, including a very sweet *historical writer* who agreed this is a double-standard. I also got a really rude and hateful email from a member, which I won’t go into, but suffice it to say there was real prejudice seeping through.

Mike, you know I have stood up in defense of the ACFW many times. I have told my own fellow spec-fic writers and writers of gritty, realistic fiction to leave them be. Let them write what they want and if that’s bonnets and sanitized stories and altar calls, then whatever. They have every right. And much of it was because I understand the CBA doesn’t really know what to do with us, and we can only expect so much. But this is a blatant double-standard in my opinion. If THEY are going to open the door to cosplay then they need to open the door to everyone–even if it’s with the “formal” stipulation–but it should not be genre-prohibitive.

BK Jackson (@BKJacksonAZ) September 30, 2012 at 7:37 PM

I find this ‘fascinating’. (I love Spock, even if I don’t wear Spock ears.)

I’m vaguely aware of the flap at ACFW though I wasn’t there, but I am actually surprised that anyone wore historical costumes (or wore costumes for any genre). Granted, I have not been to tons of conferences, but I’ve never seen people “costume” at all for a writers conference. This is in such opposition to the idea that you are there to be a professional, just as if you were a doctor attending a conference on liver transplant procedures. The keyword being “professional.”

On the other hand, it seems wholly appropriate to dress in period or genre garb at a book signing or other event where an author is speaking.

I mean gee whiz. Does that mean I can wear shorts and a tanktop to the next writers conference I attend? But I am a confessed fuddy duddy.

Jill September 28, 2012 at 6:30 AM

So historical fiction authors are allowed to dress up because they aren’t weird, but spec fic folks can’t because they are? Help! I’ve been sucked into the perpetual high school vortex!

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 6:58 AM

Not saying spec fic folks can’t dress up because they’re weird, but should consider whether doing so (along with the other stuff I mentioned) really furthers our viability in an industry that already struggles with us.

Jessica Thomas September 28, 2012 at 6:41 AM

I agree, I see some of the “Us vs. Them” being perpetuated on the Speculative Fiction side. I’ve been guilty of it at times.

I can’t say I’ve ever witnessed any Jeff Gerke fandom, but whenever that kind of thing happens, I disagree with it. We’re all humans. Get over it.

Good points. Glad somebody said it. I think you’ve added some much needed balance back to the discussion.

Nikole Hahn September 28, 2012 at 7:45 AM

I got to sit with Jeff Gerke at dinner and a had a real nice conversation with him at Writing for The Soul Conference. Never saw any fandom, as you say, either, but then the people at Writing for The Soul expect professionalism. They even have a dress code.

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 6:59 AM

Henceforth, Jeff Gerke groupies shall be called “Gerpies.”

Kevin Lucia September 28, 2012 at 4:31 PM

There’s a joke here, somewhere. But, ten foot pole and all that…

Melissa Ortega September 28, 2012 at 7:11 AM

Nerd clothing is an icthus. It just is. I’m not sure that will change anytime soon. Nerds have longtime insecurity issues in social settings. In order to find safety in numbers, we live by the rule “you shall know them by their t-shirts.”

Of course, a t-shirt is really ALL it takes. When I’m not wearing one, I am constantly mistaken for an Historical Romance writer.

Melissa Ortega September 28, 2012 at 7:14 AM

*a* historical…

Johne Cook September 28, 2012 at 7:42 AM

Johne Cook September 28, 2012 at 7:43 AM

Ha! Apparently, HTML bracket humor is technically unavailable in the comments. I said, [coffee snort!]

Bobby September 28, 2012 at 7:22 AM

This post reminded me of a little story from Alec Guinness. To paraphrase, he mentions a boy running up to him and exclaiming that he’d seen Star Wars over a hundred times. Shocked, Guinness asked the boy never to see Star Wars again. The boy was crushed.

Now this is the golden part…what Guinness said afterwards:

“…I just hope the lad, now in his thirties, is not living in a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities.โ€

Not to refuse anyone their fun in whatever relaxation or downtime activities they enjoy, but I think you have whole generations of nerds who’ve discovered they can prolong their childhoods. And let’s just be brutally honest: lots of those folks go to Cons dressed up as characters.

Nikole Hahn September 28, 2012 at 7:42 AM

First, I treat the writers conferences like a job interview. While I know ACFW calls us spec fiction writers visionary (correct me if I am wrong), and I’ve been told it’s hard to sell spec fiction, dressing up in costume is out of place. People are watching us there and there are editors and agents scoping out potential clients. I don’t think my Orc costume is going to impress them (if I had one). It’s like writing a query letter on pink paper and sticking stickers on it hoping my letter will stick out among the rest in the slush pile.

Terri Thompson September 28, 2012 at 8:17 AM

Great thoughts, as always, Mike.

Katherine Coble September 28, 2012 at 8:24 AM

“The ACFW is not against us. Christian publishers are not against us. ”

Tell that to half of your own blog entries, which say the exact opposite. Including one earlier this week.

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 8:42 AM

I’ve said they don’t get us. Said they don’t know how to market us. Said the demographics work against us. Don’t ever recall saying there’s a conspiracy against us.

Bob Avey September 28, 2012 at 8:27 AM

Entertaining post, Mike. It made me laugh and cheered me up.

Lyndie Blevins September 28, 2012 at 10:41 AM

I understand, Mike, but I would love to look like Counselor Troy does in her Star Fleet uniform. Just saying…

D.M. Dutcher September 28, 2012 at 10:52 AM

I definitely agree with the points about professionalism, and having a persecution complex. But I don’t think spec fic authors cosplaying matters much about the acceptance of Christian spec fiction, except in a bad way: the unspoken idea that this weirdness freaks out people, and if we just acted sane we might get them to try our books.

A problem I see as a reader is that the above only matters because you need to convince gatekeepers who don’t get spec fiction at all, and the audience doesn’t really mind and might even like that you cosplay. You aren’t trying to convert the Amish housewife into liking Phillip Dick-style Christian fiction, but are trying to get the big houses to realize there’s already an existing audience out there for what you do write. So being not-weird and hanging up the Spock ears only works so much-too much anti-geekness would actually alienate the real audience while chasing a possibly imaginary one.

I’m happy that people can even have these arguments though. I had to hide my fan leanings because no one in my old church would ever get spec fiction enough to discuss it. Just mention magic or that you like anime or secular SF and you get eyebrows raised.

Kat Heckenbach September 28, 2012 at 2:29 PM

“So being not-weird and hanging up the Spock ears only works so much-too much anti-geekness would actually alienate the real audience while chasing a possibly imaginary one.”

Well said! ๐Ÿ™‚ And good point about not trying to convert the Amish housewife. It’s not about *changing* the established authors, or annihilating historical and romance. It’s about them not stopping us from growing. The fact is, THIS is spec-fic. Big Houses, want to know how to reach our fans? We’re trying to SHOW you.

D.M. Dutcher September 29, 2012 at 11:16 AM

Thanks. What I don’t get is that why they don’t want to expand. We’re in the age of the geek, and even on a limited scale some SF would sell if just because people like movies like the Avengers. Even if just a magazine or something.

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 11:02 AM

I’m curious about these Jeff Gerke groupies. How do you define them? Is there a secret handshake? Do they dress in a particular way? Are they fans of the books he publishes, or of the classes he teaches? Of his editing skills? Is there a sub-classification for people who are fans of his writing? (Jefferson Scotters?)

Seriously, what prompted that portion of your post? All I’m aware of is that Jeff was, for whatever reason, left off the instruction schedule for a conference. Some people missed him and wore buttons. (…which might have then been turned into a subtle MLP marketing ploy…) Was there something more than that?

Jenni Noordhoek September 28, 2012 at 11:30 AM

Online, the Jeff Gerke fans I’ve met don’t ever criticize MLP work… it’s all 5-star perfect forever and nothing could be done to improve the work – or if improvements could be made, we have to forget them because MLP is a trailblazer in Christian spec fic… oh yes and Jeff Gerke’s writing advice is to be valued forever.

That sort of thing is what happens online. Knew some people like that; quite annoyed me so I got away.

(Nothing against MLP myself – I have a few of their books. I just don’t like the attitude that goes around among its fans.)

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 11:57 AM

Interesting. I’ve been in the Christian spec-fic community for a good number of years now and I don’t think I’ve seen that. Sure there are fans of certain books and authors, but I don’t know that I’ve run into anyone that is as diehard as you describe. Even on the WhereTheMapEnds forum I’ve seen people discussing things they liked and didn’t like about MLP books. Of course the books aren’t perfect. What book is?

Still, if you consider that the MLP library is still fairly small, it has to say something that the books have gotten as much award recognition as they have. And one common thread there is, Jeff Gerke.

Jenni Noordhoek September 28, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Ah, well, these people were all young (between about 14 and 22) and wanna-be writers. Some of whom are still writing, some of whom are not. ๐Ÿ™‚ Mostly on FB and the now defunct Google Buzz, too.

Like you say, the main part of the MLP community is much more balanced. (And probably less juvenile)

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 12:29 PM

Gotcha. Makes more sense now. ๐Ÿ™‚

Diane Graham September 28, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Hmm…I’ll have to agree with Kerry. Jeff is a very down to earth sort of guy. Very approachable and knows a lot about the industry. Plus, I’ve never heard anyone say anything but good when it comes to his classes. Jeff has Class with a big letter C. He has friends, not groupies.
Want to know the kicker in this whole thing? Jeff wasn’t even there this year and he is getting all the attention and possibly some book sales. *snort* There is no such thing as bad PR.

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 12:25 PM

The real mystery is why he wasn’t there. Nobody outside of the ACFW board knows, really. Could be that they just didn’t want what he offered to teach, or didn’t have the schedule for it, or whatever. That’s fine. Seems strange to me, though.

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 1:14 PM

I knew this was going to happen. Let me reiterate: Jeff Gerke is a great guy, he’s done wonderful things for speculative fiction in the Christian market, MLP is a good press, his workshops are good, and I personally like him. This post is not meant to disparage Jeff Gerke in any way. This post is about a “possible” fandom that has risen around Jeff’s efforts that, I’m suggesting, could be missing bigger issues and becoming cliquish and myopic.

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 2:02 PM

So…you’re speculating, on the fandom surrounding a speculative publisher, correct? ๐Ÿ™‚ Possibly. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

Seriously, I think the best thing that could happen to this genre is for there to be a few more fans. If they’re young and not as writing-savy as some…so what?

We’ve tapped a nerve, we’ve met a need. We’ve excited people (kids!). Stirred their mind a little. Awesome. Excellent! Young people getting excited about books! Is there anyone here who is honestly going to say that’s a bad thing?

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 5:02 PM

Well, if we’re talking about this genre getting “a few more fans,” absolutely. But if we’re talking about those fans being an odd, insular, bunch of groupies, absolutely not.

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 5:46 PM

Again, I really don’t see that happening. In my experience there is alot of reader crossover among the spec houses and authors. Look at science fiction as a whole. Yes, there are people who only like Star Trek, and people who only like Star Wars, but more than likely those diehard folks REALLY like science fiction, and while they might not switch to the other “Star” group out of some strange sense of pride, members of either group might embrace a Stargate or a Battlestar.

And are any of the producers of those stories going to sob because there are diehard fans out there? Sure, all the way to the bank. ๐Ÿ™‚

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 1:25 PM

Fair question, Kerry. I saw the buttons and, yes, thought it was bizarre. Does any other niche publisher merit such attention? Can’t say there’s a demographic or secret handshake, however. Like Jenni, I’ve seen what I’d consider “overly-enthusiastic” support for all MLP novels. Also, I spoke to an organizer of another Christian conference I attended recently who said that Jeff Gerke is the only notable speculative publishing representative out there… and they can’t keep having him every year. It made me wonder at the dynamics of how this is happening and what might happen if more spec publishers aren’t acknowledged pretty soon. Appreciate the questions!

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 1:55 PM

The buttons weren’t because of his being a publisher, though, right? They were because of his instructing, and him not being present this year. Jeff has written a couple books for Writers Digest now, and neither are specific to the speculative genre. I think that gives him better-than-average credentials for instructing. Plus, the guy has edited or co-written scads of books outside of MLP. (Go to Amazon. Search for “Jeff Gerke”. See what you get.)

I also know a bit about the other potential spec representatives out there. Most of them don’t have the years of industry background Jeff has. Many of them don’t have the personality, or even the desire to teach. (In fact, back when I was arranging interviews for WTME, I had a hard time getting non-author representatives to even do interviews. They had neither the time or desire to “represent”.)

Let’s not forget, MLP wasn’t something that just appeared out of nowhere. Jeff has been swimming these waters for quite some time now. Others will get there, but it might take some time.

Plus, I think other spec publishers ARE being recognized. For instance, I think Splashdown has won a reward or two.

(BTW, realize I’m not angered at all as I’m writing this. I’m just stating what I’ve seen. And I think some of your assumptions might be flawed.)

Kat Heckenbach September 28, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Make that “award”, Kerry ;). And yes, Splashdown books have won several.

I admit, I’ve seen a little Gerke fandom, but he does have long-term ties and secure experience in the industry, which put him in the forefront of the Christian speculative movement. He’s laid a lot of groundwork, and that does demand attention and respect. But, as other small presses push their heads above water, that will spread out to the genre as a whole and he’ll be seen more as simply the forerunner of and not so much the icon of Christian Spec-fic.

And yes, I totally see that the buttons were more in response to him as a presenter and less as a publisher. At least that is what they were meant to be, from my understanding. If there are Gerpies, then maybe they warped the intent? ๐Ÿ™‚

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 5:20 PM

Ha! Awards and rewards too. Satisfied readers like me!

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Kerry, pardon me, but you almost sound… fan-boyish. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’m not sure I understand where you believe my assumptions are flawed. Is it that there may be a cult 0f personality thing going on? Is it that Christian spec authors may be too conspiratorial? Or is it that “more intellectual rigor and less silliness and groupiness would help our cause”?

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 5:38 PM

Well, you said that Jeff as a “niche publisher” didn’t merit the buttons, and I said that the buttons weren’t because of his publisher status, it was because of his instructor status. Flawed assumption #1. ๐Ÿ™‚

You also suggested that Jeff is the only notable spec representative, and I said that IF that were the case, it may be for very good reasons outside of the “lack of acknowledgement” of other spec publishers. Many of said publishers don’t do the sort of travel to book events, nor have the sort of overall background, nor the mileage as spec publishers, or even WANT to be in the same limelight as Jeff. Flawed assumption #2 ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

One assumption that isn’t flawed, though, is the fact that I’m a fan-boy of Marcher Lord. I’m honored, challenged and pleased to be associated with all the authors, and with Jeff. They’re family. Perfect? No. But absolutely talented and just good, good folk. If I had my wish, they’d all be blindingly successful.

I will agree with you that the costume thing is a bit overblown. Probably would’ve been better if all the spec folk involved let it roll off their (possibly costumed) back. It isn’t a hill to die on. We have enough of those already.

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 5:49 PM

Well, I definitely don’t want to turn this into something dumb. But #1.) I never said Jeff didn’t merit any buttons, but that I “thought it was bizarre.” (Plus, that’s not an assumption I even made in my initial post.) #2.) I never “suggested that Jeff is the only notable spec representative,” but that “I spoke to an organizer of another Christian conference I attended recently who said that Jeff Gerke is the only notable speculative publishing representative out there.” (Note again, this was in one of my comments, not the main post.)

Once again, Kerry, please let me reiterate: Jeff Gerke is doing a great thing for spec fic in Christian publishing. I like him, like his workshops, like MLP, enjoy him as a person… I just have ZERO animosity toward the guy. And as awkward, or potentially divisive as these types of conversations can get, I think we’re better off in the long run to have them. Blessings to you!!!

Kerry Nietz September 28, 2012 at 6:33 PM

And to you, Mike. Again, I wasn’t picking a fight. Hopefully you know I respect you, your message, and your gifts. Because I do.

And to be clear, I wasn’t responding from any blind allegiances. I’ve read, reviewed, lauded, and wrote recommendations for spec books from many, many houses, including Realms. I’ve been amazed and impressed by much of it. Remember, I was gathering interviewees for WTME from everywhere. Some of those came from Jeff, some of those came from me saying “Hey, I just was great! What do you think about inteviewing them?” I think MLP is great, but I think there’s alot of great other places too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I like Star Trek and Star Wars.

Anyway, nuff said. I enjoyed the discussion. ๐Ÿ™‚

Jenni Noordhoek September 28, 2012 at 11:27 AM

Clarifying – are you not in favour of cosplaying, ever? or just at this particular conference which to all appearances seemed like a very professional no-costumes conference to me when I heard about it? Because it makes sense to me that if you’re wanting to hang out with agents and other professional people, you should dress more professionally…

But at a lot of cons it is not only acceptable but encouraged to dress up. Even some of the creatives themselves cosplay as well. (Usually ComicCon San Diego or New York)

Also, I have no problem wearing my elf ears in walmart after a long day at work/school. I always get a lot of ‘oh wow that’s awesome’ comments and grumpy people smile. Mission accomplished.

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Jenni, I have nothing against cosplay at all. I’m just thinking of it in terms of the larger picture of spec-fic authors trying to build viability and relevance in the Christian industry.

Jenni Noordhoek September 28, 2012 at 5:48 PM

Okay, that’s what I thought, but I wanted to make sure. ๐Ÿ™‚

Personally – I haven’t done a ton of research on this particular conference – if it’s a conference meant for making business connections as I’m gathering, I wouldn’t think that it’d be appropriate to cosplay… mystified that even the historical fiction people were doing it.

But maybe it’s just because nobody there got to go to SDCC this year?

J. Mark Bertrand September 28, 2012 at 12:15 PM

These are not Spock ears. My ears are naturally pointy.

Melissa Ortega September 28, 2012 at 1:28 PM


Patrick Todoroff September 28, 2012 at 3:54 PM

All this makes me quite glad I’m not a part of Gerke-dom, Christian Spec- Fiction Writers, or any other club.

Besides, the last time I attended GenCon was in 2000, I swear. (Stopped going ’cause my Darth Vader outfit is too tight across the middle these days.)

Kevin Lucia September 28, 2012 at 4:34 PM

Costumes? You want costumes?

Attend Horrorfind with me, sometime, Mike. I beg you. I’ll show you costumes….but admittidly, not on the writers. We’re actually the “normal ones” there….

Mike Duran September 28, 2012 at 5:39 PM

Do these conferences ever come to the Left side of the nation?

Kevin Lucia September 29, 2012 at 3:00 AM

Well, there’s Killercon…and that’s in Vegas, sooo….

I’ve not actually been to that one, yet. But, like I said, at the secular cons, these writers are very often the normal, average folks. You don’t see Peter Straub dressing costumes, much….(he’s a fantastic guy, from what I understand).

Kat Heckenbach September 29, 2012 at 6:52 AM

I’ve been commenting and posting on this in multiple places (including here earlier), and have been really thinking about the points being made. I was even beginning to waver on my stance a bit, thinking maybe monster hands, even paired with a rule-abiding Sunday best suit, cross some kind of line.


To the idea that we’re purposely setting ourselves apart and acting in a way that makes us hard to take seriously:

First, could I not say the same thing about the women in petticoats and bustles?

Second, this was NOT an attempt to segregate ourselves or showcase our weirdness and inability to fit in. It was actually, as I see it, an attempt to join into an established tradition and find common ground with authors we donโ€™t share much in common with genre-wise.

Third, it wasnโ€™t done to disparage the historical costumers. The spec-fic crowd saw the historical romance crowd dressing up and thought, โ€œWow, how cool! Me too!โ€

Fourth, it was limited to, from what I’ve seen and heard, the gala itself. People weren’t going to editor meetings and pitching their books in monster garb, or walking around all day every day in costume the way they do at sf/f cons. It was a designated place and time and they were taking cues from the already established tradition of costuming–the tradition set by the “normal” ACFW attendees.

Don’t put the conspiracy on the other foot :P.

(For the record, I don’t think there is a conspiracy either way–just two groups of people who don’t quite get each other but share a common faith. And we need to be able to *talk* about these differences–members, not just leaders–but the ACFW loop shuts down the discussions every time they start.)

Mike Duran September 29, 2012 at 7:44 AM

Kat, I’ll be honest — I don’t think the costume brouhaha at this year’s ACFW has much to do with the points I’m trying to make here. My issue is where spec-fic exists in relation to the Christian market and how / if spec authors posture actually keeps us on the fringe. Here’s the thing: You asked whether “the women in petticoats and bustles” might be embarrassing or hurting their genre in the same way I suggest costumed spec-fic writers might be hurting theirs. I’d suggest they don’t for one BIG reason: Historical Fiction is already mainstream. Spec fic, on the other hand, is still clamoring for viability. Which is why I ended: “I wonder if more intellectual rigor and less silliness and groupiness would help our cause.” That’s really the gist of everything I’m saying. Which is one reason I wonder if belaboring this ACFW gala costume issue is rather pointless. Now, if someone could actually give evidence of a blatant industry bias against spec-fic, I’m all ears. I just don’t think this gala issue is it. Anyway, it’s a fascinating discussion and I really appreciate your contributions to it!

Kat Heckenbach September 29, 2012 at 9:57 AM

Mike, I do agree that the incident itself is being blown up, but that’s partly because the ACFW wants to pretend it means *nothing* when a slew of spec-fic authors find it *representative* of a generalized mindset.

What you call silliness, many take very seriously. There are sf/f con attendees who spend a FORTUNE on the genre. Buying books, movies, accessories, making costumes, paying to have costumes made, role-playing…it is a subculture that is already established and has been for ages. I attend a con in my area and don’t dress up at all–but I certainly am not going to berate and call “silly” those that do. *They are my potential audience.* And it’s fun to see! ๐Ÿ˜›

And intellectual rigor…what do you mean by that? Being able to discuss professionally the ins and outs of writing and publishing, specifically spec-fic writing? I see that all the time from these same people who dress up in costume–both at the ACFW and the secular con I attend.

And you want to know if there is a real bias? You commented just two blog posts ago about the narrow demographics of the ACFW. A friend of mine and established *historical fiction* author attended the ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) told me she noticed a real gap in the selections there–very little spec-fic and YA. You have experienced yourself a push to write more mainstream. I have been told to rewrite my YA fantasy as romance, and I have had others relate similar tales to me–because spec-fic/fantasy/vampires/etc are “not appropriate for the Christian market.”

You even said in the blog post I just referenced, “Christian publishers have absolutely no idea what to do with speculative fiction,” and, “Randy Ingermanson…admitted he was planning to edit the books and re-introduce them into the general market. Why? Because spec-fic doesnโ€™t sell well in the CBA.” One of the longest standing Christian spec fic authors is jumping ship with his speculative work–yes, I know he’s a big supporter of the ACFW in general and will continue to write mainstream for the CBA. But if there was no bias, and the CBA was truly trying to reach this market, why are the ones who started this whole revolution giving up on it?

I know–point to the readers. It doesn’t sell well because readers don’t buy it. But could that be because the CBA keeps trying to pump out CBA-influenced spec-fic instead of aiming for the *actual* audience? They don’t want “real” spec-fic–they want the CBA version of it, and *that* doesn’t sell well because it’s aimed at the wrong audience.

Small presses are trying to fill this gap. We accede to the fact that the CBA doesn’t get how to reach our audience, so we step in and say, “Hey, we’ll pick up that slack!” But do they want us as part of their group? Or do they want us to go establish our own? The ACFW calls itself “the voice of Christian fiction.” But what they voice doesn’t match what I voice, and I’m a Christian. They are claiming a monopoly, and that’s not right. They need to change that to “the voice of *mainstream* Christian fiction.”

And just so you know, I’d defend their right to do so! At least it would be calling a horse a horse–and we could go get our own unicorn instead of trying to stick a horn on their horse. BTW, that’s not the same as Us vs. Them, either, because I have no problem with our unicorn sharing a pasture with their horse.

Mike Duran September 29, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Kat — I agree with much of what you say except the conclusion that the lack of spec-fic representation in the Christian market indicates a bias. I know too many Christian editors and agents who like the genre. For instance, my agent has something like 20-30 clients (I don’t know exactly). I’m one of two spec writers she represents. Why? It’s not because she has any bias against us. It’s simply because she knows it’s a hard sell in Christian fictionland. If there is a bias, it’s not against speculative fiction as a genre. It’s that in relation to the existing demographic, they just know it doesn’t sell as well. Sure, this may result in business decisions that seem biased against us. I mean, if they’re looking at a choked economy and a choice between publishing a spec-fic novel and a historical romance, it’s a no brainer who they should publish. You and I’d do the same if it were about good business. I don’t slight them for that.

I had a conversation with an acquisitions editor at the conference who loves spec-fic. Her house is currently planning to publish two fairly edgy novels in the Christian market next year. One involves ghosts and the other a vampire or something. I forget. They very much want to rep speculative fiction. She was interested in hearing what I was working on, but emphasized that a good response to these novels is important. Anyway, it reminded me that some publishers are trying. They are not against us. Are they complicit in “pushing” Romance and Historicals? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m beginning to think the real issue is at a more grassroots level. Cultural and theological. Not so much the publishing level. Yes, publishers could do a better job marketing speculative fiction. But that doesn’t change the zeitgeist of Christian readers. Heck, we sit and niggle over whether or not a Christian novel can have ghosts and minor cusswords! Whether or not horror is an appropriate Christian genre. Whether or not Christians can be shown gambling. Just how much a Christian novel can actually speculate. Good grief! I think Christian speculative fiction faces hurdles that Historical Romance doesn’t. Partly because serious spec-fic readers left the camp a long, long time ago. This is what I mean about needing intellectual rigor.

Wow, this is a long comment. Anyway, there’s some additional fodder.

Kat Heckenbach September 29, 2012 at 2:03 PM

Hm. I think we do see this the same way, at least as far as the big houses and spec-fic. The editors may like it, but they don’t know how to sell it, although a *few* of them are taking on spec-fic, but let’s admit it’s only certain types of spec-fic. And yes, the change needs to be grassroots. I guess then “bias” isn’t the right word, but spec-fic definitely faces more challenges.

Maybe all the serious spec-fic writers have left the camp, but the ones that are coming in now are completely aware that they are likely not going to find a market in the CBA, so they are turning to small presses.

D.M. Dutcher September 29, 2012 at 11:06 AM

I don’t think there’s much that writers can do. While they didn’t publish a tremendous amount of works, in the 80s and 90s the larger Christian publishing houses often published fantasy and some science fiction. Crossway Books published Stephen Lawhead’s Dragon King trilogy, and his SF books Empyrion/Fienna and Dream Thief. Intervaristy Press published John White’s Geburah Books, and you could find authors like Sigmund Brouwer and Roger Elwood in your church bookstore. You even found oddities: Jeanne Norweb wrote Catholic children’s fantasy, and Calvin Miller wrote fantasy poetry with his Singer trilogy as well as the Guardians of the Singreale. Moody released John Bibee’s The Magical Bicycle series and even Pentecostal fantasy with Path of the Promise Keeper.

The problem is that publishing houses have just dropped the genre, as well as thrillers. Ted Dekker seems to have been the cutoff point-after him, mainstream Christian publishers embraced romance to the exclusion of almost all else. This isn’t because of cosplaying writers or clannishness, but for some reason they shut the doors. In this I’m just a reader, so I’m not sure why although I have my guesses. But it’s not on the writer’s end imo, and publishing needs to be fixed, period.

Kerry Nietz September 29, 2012 at 11:28 AM

The reason the big publishing houses don’t do spec, is because it doesn’t serve their typical audience. Those houses make most of their money from Christian bookstores, and those cater to certain demographic. That demographic doesn’t read spec books. Amish romance, yes. Dragons and robots, no.

Tim George September 30, 2012 at 6:19 AM

Yea, but I’m still holding out for Stuart and Amber Stockton to c0-write the first Amish Space Opera featuring talking dinosaurs laying down their arms for the simple life.

D.M. Dutcher September 30, 2012 at 7:08 AM

Hey it worked for the secular market. You just described the Dragonriders of Pern.

Kidding aside, I’m wondering about the Christian bookstore thing. Big chains like Wal-Mart and Books-a-million carry Christian books too, and I’m not sure how big the Christian bookstores actually are outside the south. Up North here we just have a couple, and they are small, non-chain ones that carry gifts more than books. Combined with the increasing prominence of Amazon and ebooks, I wonder if this isn’t held more out of habit than due to the realities of the market.

Mike Duran September 30, 2012 at 8:08 AM

D.M., I think part of the demographic problem — if you could call it a problem — of Christian fiction relates directly to the Christian bookstore. When the CBA was in its infancy, Christian fiction books were primarily sold there. Thus, the early market was intrinsically connected to the demographics of Christian bookstore shoppers. Frankly, that’s why White Evangelical Moms are the predominant Christian fiction reader. But that also explains the shake-up. As the market has broadened outside Christian bookstores, the culture of potential readers has changed. Christian bookstores are no longer the main outlet for Christian fiction, which means demographic realities should change as well. To this point, though, it hasn’t.

D.M. Dutcher September 30, 2012 at 8:26 AM

Yeah, if anything it’s become even more conservative, hasn’t it? The purchasing power of those white evangelical moms is what drew wal-mart and others now that I think on this. I see what you mean.

Steve Rzasa September 29, 2012 at 12:28 PM

I’ve been following this debate with interest on several blogs and must say the thing that amuses me most is if the folks who dressed up in strange costume had shown up at ComicCon, nobody would have blinked.

It seems that somehow the line between what was acceptable and what was not acceptable as far as costuming or attire got blurred. I’m a very black & white guy–I like rules. So if ACFW wants a classy, semi- to fully formal event, they need to drop the hammer and say so. No exceptions. The few acceptions to any rule are always what cause problems. Either allow any costume or none at all.

Melissa Ortega October 1, 2012 at 9:09 AM

This has been an elightening argument to read. The idea that Christian publishers are simply making decisions according to the market just sits wrong with me on many many levels.

The only “market” these decisions make sense in is the very singular area of selling to the middle-aged housewife romance reader. As a person who is certainly a Christian but wouldn’t touch said genre with a ten-foot pole, I find irritating this enormously irritating. While I am not a Christian romance reader, I represent the portion of the population who reads the most books period. The rabid reader. I don’t just buy books for me, I buy them for all my friends, the accompanying trinkets, etc., that goes with them. What’s more, I know a lot of Christian readers and barely ANY of them will buy a novel labeled “Christian.” To me, this only means one thing. That the current publishing houses have no idea how to market books at all. If they did, they would be selling them to biggest market of readers out there – the ones who take books like Twilight and The Hunger Games and turn them into BILLION dollar industries. And guess what? Many of these readers ARE Christian readers. Nearly every young person in my church (which is incredibly conservative) has purchased and read Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Twilight, etc – all the same books as their secular counterparts. Recently, I was offended by the suggestion that this is because Christians are just secular. The real answer is that readers really HAVE to read and when we only have 100 of the same kind of book to pick from, we WILL take our money down a different aisle. When you walk into the Christian fiction aisle of my local Barnes & Noble, you see one hundred white-capped, giant heads staring back at you. I’m sorry, but that’s just WEIRD. And a little creepy. And certainly out of touch. Way weirder than spock ears at a “people-who-make-stuff-up-for-a-living” conference.

For a few years, I moderated internet fan forums during the making and distributing of the recent Narnia films, and all I can say is that when it comes to the market, Christian publishers have completely missed the boat. Christians ARE buying books. They just aren’t buying their books. The forums were constantly filled with Christians from around the world who were talking about the latest book they’d read. Christian titles did make appearances from time to time (not one of them was historical romance), but the industry just honestly could not keep up with the appetites of the readers there – some who devoured a couple of books a week. Many of them are also trying to write them – and most plan to bypass Christian publishers all together (not just because they assume they will be rejected, but because they recognize that Christian publishers have failed to reach “the people who read”). They do, however, squeee a bit about MLP – it gives them hope.

I know that my first response to hearing about cosplay at a writer’s conference…is that it’s the first thing I’ve heard in a long time that would actually make me want to go to one. And I’m almost….gasp….forty!….and female!

The Christian “market” just seems like an illusion to me. It represents one tiny corner in a sea of readers. It may be making money – and it may be “safe” – but it is totally avoiding the command to be “in the world.”

If the Christian publishing industry wants to appear in any restore its relevance to this generation, by all means, bring on the hobbit feet! This younger generation’s worldview is bigger than a drawing room, and I kinda think that’s a good thing. And really, if the Christian industry’s motivation is making a safe dollar, then its not actually “Christian”, is it? To me the definition of a Christian publisher is an industry that works the farthest away from “safe” imaginable, trusting God to do the marketing for them. That might be unprofessional, but so is calling the high priest a whitewashed wall, and that didn’t stop pagan-quoting Paul.

Kat Heckenbach October 1, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Melissa, can I HUG you??? ๐Ÿ˜€

I love your comment here. Love it: “When you walk into the Christian fiction aisle of my local Barnes & Noble, you see one hundred white-capped, giant heads staring back at you. Iโ€™m sorry, but thatโ€™s just WEIRD. And a little creepy. And certainly out of touch. Way weirder than spock ears at a โ€œpeople-who-make-stuff-up-for-a-livingโ€ conference.”

Yes. Thank you. We are WRITERS. And professionalism is one thing, but our professions is that of IMAGINATION. And if the bonnets and buggies lovers are allowed to PLAY (and YES, that is what it is when they dress up in their bustles), then we should be allowed to play too.

And this: “This younger generationโ€™s worldview is bigger than a drawing room, and I kinda think thatโ€™s a good thing. ”

That’s a point I have brought up many times with fellow writers. I write for teens. I have connected with a lot of teen writers online. I am teaching Creative Writing to a class of homeschool teens right now. Guess what 75% of CHRISTIAN teens are writing? FANTASY and SCI FI. That is our next generation of Christian publishers, too, folks.

Melissa Ortega October 1, 2012 at 11:24 AM

Thank you for forgiving my unforgivable multi-tasked, erratic grammar, and I will take the hug. : )

Merrie Destefano October 1, 2012 at 11:09 PM

Delurking to say I like costumes. Slipping my mask back on and sliding into the shadows…

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