New opportunities in Christian fiction

Christian fiction— perhaps it will go down in history as the genre most harshly judged by critics who don’t read the genre. But Christian fiction has a place, and that place is widening.

My earliest memories of Christian fiction were of fiction sold only in specialty Evangelical Christian shops. My impression was that it was mainly designed for members of strict Evangelical groups who taught that Christians don’t read worldly novels— or drink, dance or own a deck of playing cards.

Our family wasn’t that kind of Christian. We were Presbyterians, and went to PCUSA churches— though the church had not fallen away from Christian teaching so badly at that time.  We read ‘normal’ fiction. Though my mom had a novel called ‘The Silver Chalice’ which was VERY Christian in tone and told the story of the Early Church. But that novel was brought out by a mainstream publisher, and later was adapted into a Hollywood movie.

My, how the times have changed! Modern publishers don’t care to retain their Christian readerships. Mainstream novels are full of references to Christians of all sorts as ‘haters’— because the authors think it’s ‘hateful’ to oppose aborting children or oppose calling gay relationships marriage. Publishers not only don’t object to it, they seem to almost require it. And although Christian readers have adapted to this bigoted atmosphere enough to be able to read anti-Christian-biased fiction, it’s often hard to enjoy it. Particularly when authors accuse Christians of all being ignorant, while displaying their own ignorance of the commonest details of the faith they are hating.

Evangelical Christian fiction got noticed when the ‘Left Behind’ series started to hit the best-seller lists. It was helped along by the fact that secular folks got really interested Christian beliefs about the End Times about then, since they believed that the Evangelical End of the World would happen in the year 2000. This was a false belief— the REAL Evangelical End of the World happened in 1988 (40 years— one Biblical generation— after the founding of the State of Israel.) But it sold a lot of exciting books filled with Christian characters to people who might have been in spiritual need of them.

But now in the Internet age, the picture has changed. For one thing, Christian authors are connecting across church/denominational lines. In my Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy FB group we’ve had Evangelicals of many sorts, Protestants, an Episcopalian monk, Catholics, and a Mormon or two. And so we are more aware that sound Christian fiction can come in many ‘flavors’— though we disagree on the authenticity and usefulness of some of the ‘flavors.’

The indie fiction revolution means that Christian fiction writers are no longer out of luck if their denominational background is not accepted by the bigger Evangelical fiction publishers and their own church’s publishing house doesn’t accept fiction. Along with Evangelical fiction, Catholic fiction and LDS (Mormon) fiction, all of which have traditional publishers, the most obscure denominations, like WELS Lutherans, can have fiction tailored to their church background.

Because of indie fiction, individual Christian authors no longer need be restrained by old-fashioned and silly-seeming Christian fiction rules. For example, some of the old Evangelicals wouldn’t allow Christian characters to be shown drinking alcohol, dancing, or playing innocent card games, because some readers would have objected.

The indie freedom has its downside, though. Many Christian writers have read far more secular fiction than Christian. They also often have had very little if any religious education. I know of a number of young Christian girls who see nothing wrong with sex outside of marriage and cohabiting relationships, so long as the partners claim to be engaged. It’s perfectly possible that there are some young indie authoresses out there writing ‘sexy’ romances in which the characters are Christians, and who market their work as Christian romance. It won’t sell to the Christian market, and secular romance fans probably won’t touch it because of the Christian label.

Indie Christian fiction, then, is less ‘safe’ than traditionally published Christian fiction which has been vetted to death for offensive things, even trivial ones. But, as in secular indie fiction, that adds to the excitement of reading and discovering new indie authors. It helps to follow Christian fiction blogs and web sites which review indie and small press books as well as those from the big Christian publishers. They can help you find books which you might enjoy and warn you about any content concerns such as excesses of ‘magick’ in a fantasy novel.

If you are a writer and a Christian, it might be well to consider whether the wider world of today’s Christian fiction might be the right place for your writing. Pitching your book to fellow Christians might be a wiser move than aiming at secularists who might reject your work if they learn about your faith.


Will I review your great new Christian indie novel? Probably not. I am a very slow book reviewer and I have a backlog of books written by friends I must review. Also, I don’t enjoy every possible subgenre within Christian fiction. If you have a great contemporary romance, it probably won’t catch my interest enough to finish it even if you are the best romance writer ever! But, don’t despair. I am hoping to recruit a couple of Christian authors who will do a little guest posting of reviews for this blog. (How do you get your Christian book reviewed in the meantime? Join appropriate Christian author groups, make a few friends there, review THEIR books, and perhaps you will be able to arrange to trade reviews.)


One blog for (Evangelical) Christian fiction writers is Mike Duran’s deCompose. Here is a sample post: The Importance of Implicit (vs. Explicit) Christian Content in Fiction


My FB group for Christian writers of science fiction and/or fantasy:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/366357776755069/

Now, this group, being on FB, does not actually BAR non-Christians from joining. However, since the topic is the problems of CHRISTIAN writers in these genres, non-Christians rarely have much interest in the group.  But all are welcome to join.

Zombie Prepper or Zombie Survivalist?

1227160757The word used to be ‘survivalist.’ But the people who run our media developed a really nasty stereotype about ‘survivalists’— mainly, that they weren’t liberals.

How could they be? They obviously didn’t trust Big Government to step in and provide for them in a crisis. So when survivalists were noticed at all it was to be condemned as crazy gun nuts and hateful non-liberals.

Now the preferred term is ‘prepper’, which sounds a little like ‘survivalist lite.’ And the most media acceptable thing to be prepping against is the zombie apocalypse. Because zombie preppers can’t POSSIBLY be non-liberals. After all, everyone on The Walking Dead’s a liberal. Even the ‘priest’, Father Gabriel (who’s Episcopalian, BTW.)

But I’m old-fashioned and cynical, and don’t trust Big Government to take care of me in a crisis. Hell, they can’t take care of the people they are claiming to right now! The social welfare programs are notorious for cutting off the real needy people at random, while ignoring the cheaters who have illegal incomes in the drug and prostitution industries.

And look at how well Big Government, in the person of the VA, helps military veterans who need medical help. That’s why I conclude that in a big national crisis— whether it’s zombies or an economic collapse when our fiat currency becomes valueless— the only help I can expect will come from me.

Some people think that being a prepper/survivalist means buying a fortune’s worth of expensive dehydrated food with a 25 year shelf life and doing nothing else until the crisis hits. But the wise survivalist makes survival skills a part of his way of life, rather than counting on pre-packaged supplies to save the day.

The survivalist will make survival-friendly choices— living in places that are rural or very-small-town rather than urban/suburban death zones, for example. He will learn traditional skills such as hunting and meat processing. He will keep chickens and/or goats, raise a garden, grow sprouts in the house….

Because if the zombie apocalypse actually hits, that is NOT the time to start learning the skills or eating ‘weird’ survival-friendly meals that didn’t come from Burger King.

The Writer and the Survival Mindset

Thinking about survival and learning some skills is an aid to the writer. The writer’s job is to place characters in loads of trouble, the more intense, the better. One way to do that is to put a character in a survival situation without the supplies and skills a survivalist would want to have. Or how about taking a skilled survivalist and having his whole survival hoard, along with his survival-friendly home, taken away from him by powerful people?

 

The problem with cheesy Christian fiction

shock-of-nightThis morning as I sat down to write my supposed-to-be-daily blog post I discovered a new comment on this blog by a new blog visitor called Rachel Nichols. I jumped over to her blog to write a return comment (a practice I should do much more often) and found that she had written a fine piece about cheesy Christian fiction. Go HERE to read it. (Please come back to read the rest of this!)

OK. Rachel’s not the first of us to notice cheesy Christian fiction. Why does this happen? Well, partly because a good percentage of ALL fiction is second-rate, lackluster and has problems. But there is another factor.

Many years ago a number of Evangelical Christian publishing houses had strict rules for Christian fiction: no character could drink, dance, play cards, wear makeup or use strong language or even minced oaths (gee, gosh, darn.) A story about someone ‘getting saved’ was a required part of the plot.

Why were they so strict? Because at that time there were a lot of Evangelical Christian churches where the pastor preached these things. And they also classed ‘reading novels’ as a sinful behavior— unless they were utterly pureminded Evangelical books by Evangelical authors that kept to those restrictive rules.

No Evangelical author that I know of has anything good to say about those old rules and the cheesy fiction they could produce. But now Evangelical fiction has a different problem. Some of the bigger Evangelical Christian publishing houses have been purchased by major secular publishing conglomerates owned by people with Progressive values who prefer to publish only authors that are properly Progressive. But they do like to make money. So they actually prefer to continue the tradition of bland, ‘cheesy’ Evangelical fiction, and in addition I believe they are making demands that certain Biblical teaching— such as that about human life matters (prolife) and homosexual behaviors— go unmentioned because Progressives find them ‘hateful.’

But today there are many Christian authors— Evangelical and Catholic— who write for newer small presses. Or they self-publish their books via CreateSpace, Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu and Smashwords. I know a number of authors in this category, and interact with many of them online.

These authors don’t write the traditionally cheesy Christian fiction too many people have been bored by. Some pull back the Christian elements of the story so much that it’s more like worldly fiction without the sex and swearing. Others find interesting and different ways to put Christian elements into the story without being stereotyped.

Here is a list of Evangelical Christian authors I read and recommend: Mike Duran, Lelia Rose Foreman, Beverly Lewis, Kerry Neitz, Marissa Shrock, Wayne Thomas Batson, Matt Mikolatos, Karyn Henley and Donita K. Paul. And here are a few Catholic Christian authors: Dean Koontz, Karina Fabian, Declan Finn and Daniella Bova. You might also look on this blog’s page called ‘Reviews I Wrote’ because I give a few hints as to whether the author is Christian and what the genre is. It’s a new page that will be added to.

One final word: at a time of my life when I was NOT a Christian, but a Norse Neopagan, I read a Christian book from time to time and found a few I liked. And now that I’m a Catholic, I find books by non-Catholics and non-Christians that are entertaining and don’t violate my values (much.) So if you are a grownup reader and not easily swayed, it’s perhaps possible to be rather open in your choice of authors.

How to Braaains! Storm your Zombie Novel

GIRL-Z-My-Life-as-a-Teenage-Zombie-zombie-bookWant to write a cool zombie novel? Great— but first you will have to plan a number of things so your novel will be unique and interesting both to zombie fans and to others.

There is a preliminary step before you begin your brainstorming. READ ZOMBIE NOVELS. It doesn’t help if you have watched every zombie novel that has ever been released, or if you watch every ‘The Walking Dead’ episode over and over again. Novels are different. Read those.

If you don’t know of any zombie novels, try some of these:

Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie by C. S. Verstraete
Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator by Karina Fabian
World War Z by Max Brooks (son of Mel Brooks)
INFECtIOUS by Elizabeth Forkey

OK, with your reading done, it is time to get started with the brainstorming. Get out your writing implements, set a timer for an appropriate amount of minutes, and start brainstorming on one or more of the following:

  • The rules of your zombies— how do they function, how do they behave, what are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Your zombie infectious agent— where did it come from, how does it work, is it a virus, bacterium, prion or other, is it natural, alien, or the result of germ warfare, and what is it called?
  • Your world before the zombie epidemic— like our own or different? In what ways?
  • Your survivors— what are they like? Typically in horror fiction the characters are somewhat traditional people leading somewhat normal lives— think of Rick Grimes and family from The Walking Dead. This makes their struggles more compelling to us than would be the struggles of gay male prostitutes or Colombian drug lords. Though the gay male prostitute and Colombian drug lord might make interesting sidekicks for a Rick Grimes character.
  • Your villains or opposing forces— government, political extremists, or just the zombies?
  • Your survivors’ weapons and survival strategies— think of Daryl Dixon’s crossbow and his hunting skills. (Another ‘The Walking Dead’ reference.)
  • Your survival location (if your characters are not nomadic throughout the novel.)
  • Difference: in what way is your zombie fictional vision different than others you have read or watched? In what ways is it similar?
  • Genre: Zombie fiction is not all horror. ‘Neeta Lyffe: Zombie Exterminator’ is a comedy, ‘Girl Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie’ is juvenile fiction (YA), and “INFECtIOUS” combines the zombie apocalypse with the Evangelical End-Times Apocalypse in an original way. What genre or genres is your novel going to be?
  • Why do you what to write a zombie novel? What is it about a zombie novel that really appeals to you? And don’t say that zombies are popular and your novel will sell if it has zombies in it. You have to be inspired by the topic to make a go of it. (For example, I’m quite obsessed with ‘The Walking Dead’, it is one of my ‘Special Interests’, and when the season is running you don’t want to hear all the minute details of each episode that I analyze to death.)

Please give us feedback in a comment— do you have any other ideas for brainstorming a zombie novel? Is brainstorming a technique that works for you? And, who do you think that Negan killed on The Walking Dead?

Steve McQueen: Wanted Dead or Alive

WantedDeadorAliveOn the Encore Westerns channel one of the best series they are currently running is Wanted Dead or Alive starring Steve McQueen. McQueen is a particular favorite of mine, I have watched him in The Great Escape over and over again. I particularly love to watch the motorcycle chase scenes, having heard that McQueen put on a Nazi costume and did at least some of the shots of the Nazi chasing him.

No motorcycles on Wanted Dead or Alive, though. Just a horse named Ringo and a Winchester model 1892 cut-down carbine that’s a bit peculiar in a series set in the 1870s.

McQueen plays bounty hunter Josh Randall in the series. Most bounty hunters are unsavory characters, but Josh isn’t like that, frequently giving all or part of his bounty money to someone in need, or finding missing husbands, sons or fathers, once a missing pet sheep.

McQueen had to stage a car accident to get time off from the series to film The Magnificent Seven. They weren’t so accommodating to actors back then.

If you enjoy Westerns, or you just want some high quality, non-obscene television to share with the kids or grandkids, this is a good show to try. It’s also available on DVD.

Z is for Zombie-Proof Fence #zombies #AtoZChallenge

ZRemember all the trouble Rick Grimes and friends had with keeping up the fence around the prison on The Walking Dead? The ability to erect zombie-proof barriers is a key to surviving the zombie apocalypse. But city folks don’t know thing one about fences.

You know who does know about fences? Premier One Supply. They are the nation’s leading supplier of unique livestock fencing options, such as electrified netting fences to contain sheep, goats, poultry and other critters. They also have an electronet designed to keep raccoons out of your garden. And their annual fencing catalog is a virtual textbook on the fine art of fencing to keep livestock in their place, and not in the neighbor’s rose garden (goats love roses, but not in a good way.)

The Premier One catalog features their unique solution to a common rural problem— fencing gardens and orchards to keep deer out. In my area the usual solution is an eight foot fence. These fences are expensive, hard to install since the posts have to be deeper, and more vulnerable to wind and other stresses (like zombies) because of their height.

The Premier One solution is what they call a three-dimensional fence— one electric fence of normal height, and a second outside it of one (or two?) electrified strands. It works for deer. And I believe a similar solution would work to fence out zombies.

Not with electric fence, of course. Zombies are insensitive. An electrical fence jolt, which is like an extra-strong static electricity shock, might not be noticed by a zombie. (How do I know what an electric fence shock is like? Well, when I first put up my electronet, I did the stupid thing and touched it to see if it was really on. It was. I’ve also touched a cat which swished its tail into the fence, and proved that cats conduct electricity.)

Electric fences, according to Premier One, are a fear barrier and not a physical barrier. And zombies don’t feel fear. So even if you HAVE electricity, don’t bother with electric fences for zombie control. You need a physical barrier. The interior fence should be a good solid fence— chain link, woven wire (NOT welded wire), or stock panels, four or five feet high (since zombies don’t climb fences.) The external fence should be barb wire— one strand would work, two or three are better. While zombies may not fear getting cut to shreds with barb wire, the more damaged a zombie gets, the better. Until we get around to double-tapping them, we want them to become as nonfunctional as possible.

As for Rick Grimes’ fence problem at the prison, the solution was super-simple. The chain-link fence was topped with razor wire. They should have taken the razor wire OFF— no zombies are capable of climbing a fence that high— put up some fence posts, and attached the razor wire at about waist height to an adult zombie. That would shred the zombies pretty good, and keep them from getting to the more vulnerable chain-link fence (which they eventually pushed down on the TV show.)

And so that is the end of my A to Z challenge zombie epic. I hope somebody out there enjoyed it. I will start May by alternating between three themes. There will also be a mystery element at the end of each post. Stay tuned. Especially for my upcoming post ‘John Wayne, Radioactive American.’

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Y is for (time of) Year

YThis is a post in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge: http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/

How many people could survive a zombie apocalypse depends a lot on the time of year, and how the seasons affect different places on Earth. Why? Because humans will very quickly have to get over relying on grocery stores for their food supply, as they will be looted clean in the first two weeks. They will have to learn gardening and crop farming, livestock care, hunting and gathering, and these may take a while— I’ve lived in the country for about 26 years and I only learned how to garden recently, after I read the Square Foot Gardening book. http://www.amazon.com/Square-Foot-Gardening-Second-Revolutionary/dp/1591865484  [Zombie prepper hint: stockpile a bunch of copies of Square Foot Gardening, as well as Belanger’s small livestock book and books on edible wild plants by Euell Gibbons. These will become valuable trade goods once the apocalypse hits.]

Where I currently live, in the southern part of Upper Michigan, is a better place as regards water supply. In my own rural home, I have a well If that fails, I have a cedar swamp. I can dig down there and get water from seep holes.

Survival here would be tough if the apocalypse hit in fall. There would be some hunting opportunities— official deer hunting season is in November. But folks around here store their venison in chest or upright freezers. If we lost our electricity, those freezers would be useless. Hardcore preppers who have the cash might get solar or wind gennies that could handle a freezer and a few other items, but the rest of us would have to master alternative ways of preserving our deer harvest. Fall is also a good time to gather mushrooms and some other wild edible plants, and I suppose one might grow a few garden crops like radishes that have really short growing seasons.

A Winter apocalypse would be hell on survivors. Snow would limit movement and there would be little to forage. But the snow would inhibit zombie movement even more. If your home had a wood stove or furnace, you could survive. You could also sprout alfalfa and bean sprouts if you had sprouters and a supply of mung bean and alfalfa sprouting seeds. The snow and ice would help you preserve your meat supply.

Spring is probably the best time for a zombie apocalypse to hit around here. The stores would be full of gardening supplies and seeds. There would be time to establish a garden. You might be able to score some chickens from panicking neighbors— in these days, even well-to-do folks in cities are keeping small flocks of chickens. And out in the country, chicken keepers may hatch out eggs for their less fortunate neighbors. [Prepper hint: a woman can hatch out two or three fertile chicken eggs in her bra, using body heat. A guy could probably do the same if he had a bra in his size available. It would be annoying, wearing a bra full of eggs 24-7 for the 21 days until hatch, but it can be done.]

Summer is also a decent time for survival. You can still have a garden, you can possibly get a goat or a dairy cow from an abandoned farm, and you’d have time to hand-harvest enough grass for hay in order to keep the critter alive.