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Christian Spec-Fic: At a Crossroads or a Cul-de-Sac?

I’ve been following recaps of Realm Makers, which has been dubbed as “the first-ever Christian speculative conference.” For the record, I was invited by the founder Becky Minor to participate in the horror panel. My schedule realmmakers_finallogodidn’t permit me to attend, though I would have loved to been involved.

Despite the enthusiastic reports, I must say up front that I remain skeptical about the future of Christian speculative fiction.

Writer friend Kat Heckenbach was one of those who expressed great hope for the fledgling conference, going so far as to call it “the birth of a genre.”

From Kat’s piece, My A-ha Moment:

Christian Spec-fic is just being born right now. It’s been developing in a hidden place where so many people aren’t even aware. But it’s coming out! And everything — EVERYTHING — that happened at Realm Makers felt like it had God’s hand on it. God’s blessing.

We ARE honoring Him. We are birthing a genre that God wants out there. I could feel it, all weekend, with every word said, every friendship strengthened, every round of applause.

It’s hard to slight such enthusiasm. Christian spec writers have been voicing their frustration with mainstream religious fiction for the longest. When you consider the popularity of speculative fiction in culture, by comparison, speculative fiction is terribly under-represented among religious publishers. So gathering with other believers who have a vision for writing speculative fiction for the glory of God should be a cause for excitement.

But what is Kat excited about? I mean, what exactly does Realm Makers hope to accomplish that hasn’t yet been attempted? As many Christian publishers admit, if speculative fiction sold all that well, they’d be selling it. But frankly, we’ve been getting mixed messages from industry professionals for a while. So will this attempt change anything? Will Christian speculative fiction suddenly find its audience? Or, has there ever really been much of an audience?

I have suggested before that fundamental problems underlie the Christian speculative fiction genre. Namely that speculation does not jibe with theology. When you have Christians campaigning against books because some character casts a spell or wields a wand, you’re already behind the eight ball. Combine that with the normal CBA strictures of G / PG-rated fare and overt redemptive themes, it seems to me we’re back at square one. Add all the wizards and vortexes you want. In the end, we’re still preaching to the choir. Most of whom like Amish and Romance.

Fantasy writer Morgan Busse, in Realm Makers: What Could Be Next?, seemed a bit more pensive and probing.

I believe Realm Makers now stands at a crossroad. Where will it go next? Will it become another writing conference, or to morph into a true speculative conference?

In my own opinion, there are many venues that teach writing. But there are hardly (if any) venues where those who simply love speculative can attend. Yes, there are cons (Comic Con, Gen Con, Dragon con), but not one specifically geared toward the Christian view. Until now.

That is my personal hope for the future of Realm Makers: a place where Christian speculative fans can gather and enjoy both sci-fi/fantasy and God.

Morgan’s suggestion that Realm Makers morphs into “a true speculative conference” is rather fascinating. What is “a true speculative conference” anyway? And how would  “a true [Christian] speculative conference” be any different? To what extent would Christian theology, traditional Christian fiction mores, and hard-core spec fans find common ground?

Really, I don’t think they could.

I totally applaud what Becky Minor and her Realm Makers team is doing. May God bless them, give them vision, and expand the boundaries of their vision. I am absolutely supportive of more Christian writers celebrating sanctified imagination. Amen.

However, if Realm Makers is about simply reproducing CBA-style fiction for speculative readers, I believe we’ve failed. We’re still in the ghetto.  The only real “crossroads” Christian speculative fiction is at is whether or not it will remain simply an appendage to the existing Christian fiction industry or will blaze a trail, capture a new audience, and do more than just provide the “Christian alternative” to Neil Gaiman.

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{ 128 comments… add one }
  • E. Stephen Burnett August 14, 2013, 7:54 AM

    All the great jingles in the world for dog-food won’t matter if the dogs don’t like it.

    Similarly, if the readers of Christian publishers’ books don’t like the product, it doesn’t matter how big the conference is, or how much or pressure we put on Christian publishers. There’s nothing we can do in those fields if readers want only “clean” ripoffs of secular products or forced-Gritty products designed only to evangelize more effectively than the clean stuff (without ever questioning whether the chief end of storytelling is religious “evangelism” proper anyway — one of the very assumptions that led to the keep-it-clean-boys-and-girls rules).

    I’m with Mike:

    I just happen to think we’re going to need more intellectual rigor and less costumes to get somewhere.

    … And I can encourage you, brother, joining with Kat, Kristen and others: the intellectual vigor was there. (Spoiler: Watch for more of that to be told, both at Speculative Faith and at Christ and Pop Culture.) But I’m not surprised if many attenders are still in a “wow! you too! there actually more people like me! squee!” sort of mode. As I’ve been to a few writers’ conferences in which even a few Christian-spec fans are present, I suppose I’m more accustomed to that realization (“others like Christian spec-fic too? Duh”). But I recognize others are still, well, beginners. It may take a while for us all to develop as we pursue more actualized advocacy of this genre beyond the abstract blogs.

    And no matter one’s “ranking,” let’s face it, for a beginning conference, it’s the costume dinner that is more photogenic than the guys teaching in-depth about hero’s journeys (as Bryan Davis did) and worldviews (as L.B. Graham did). Naturally people will more likely share those photos. But I need not re-advertise Speculative Faith or its Facebook page, with all its coverage and photos of the full conference’s substance, to demonstrate that for you. Others, however, might find that more encouraging.

  • Chana Keefer August 16, 2013, 11:26 AM

    I read A LOT of the comments then had to give up since, being writers, we tend to be a long-winded lot. 😉 (love intended)

    That said, can we not just connect deeply with God and let our writing be an outgrowth of what He burns in our hearts? I confess when I started writing like an explosion of Mt. Vesuvius, genre was not even a glimmer in the back of my mind. I understand now that it is necessary (evil necessity sometimes) and helps interested readers find what they seek. However, I do NOT want genre to become my aim. Give me the center of God’s heart and then define it by genre later.

    So far my books ended up being Christian Spec. Fic and then Contemporary Romance (hate to call it Historical when it’s only the 1980’s). Genre will not be my God & neither will reading trends. (declarative fist in air).

    However, I do love the idea of supporting my misfit author bros and sisters.

    Please, lets not resort to taking pot-shots at authors of other genres. Friendly fire is an ugly thing.

    Be encouraged. Seek God with all your heart and WRITE ON!

  • Adam Weisenburger August 26, 2013, 9:26 AM

    First, I want to thank Mike for his post and inspiring such provoking debate regarding RealmMakers. It’s more than a fair question to wonder about why RM should be regarded as anything other than a central gathering place for CBA Speculative writers.

    Second, let me explain where my perspective as a Spec-fic writer. As a follower of Christ, I believe the call on my life is first and foremost to praise and honor God in my stories, as it should be with all those writers who identify themselves as sons and daughters in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. A more personal call on my life, which is not necessarily for everyone, is to write stories that can go where the Bible cannot. There are people in this world who will not be caught dead in a church or even associating with Christians. My stories are for them. Because of this I have no intention of “dumping” Jesus in the laps of those who aren’t ready for him or who don’t want him altogether. God never forces himself on us and if we want to reach people, and I believe that is the goal of many who write my kind of stories, we must do the same. Present the story of Christ in a way that allows them to be informed while also representing the reality of life. My stories don’t have “Christians” in them and their moral code is not limited to that of the will of Christ because this is where the secular world lives and it’s also where they will remain unless we take Christ to them.

    Unfortunately it is this kind of content that disqualifies stories like mine from reaching daylight within the CBA.

    I have attended ACFW three times and also RealmMakers. While ACFW does expend effort to include the Spec-fic writers in the mix of the rest of their genres, it’s still very contained within the boundaries of CBA.

    At RealmMakers there was a workshop the first morning on Worldviews in fiction taught by L. B. Graham. Highlighted in that discussion was the distinction that our characters do not have to be moral in order for a Christ-centered worldview to be present. We have a higher obligation to show the spiritual reality that Christ came for the sick, not the healthy, than we do to the need to “tickle the ears” of the Christian community with morally unoffensive characters.

    Though I cannot speak for Becky Minor, judging by the faculty she chose for the conference and the time I’ve had to speak with her personally, I believe she wants to lead this conference as a movement that will produce my kind of stories.

    • Teddi Deppner August 26, 2013, 9:49 AM

      I’m right there with ya, Adam! Looking forward to seeing what kind of stories you write.

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