Why we write

By , 26 January 2007 6:44 pm

Just a quickie this week. Why bother writing? The great and good Dr Samuel Johnson once said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.” I am reluctant to disagree with the man but Christian writing pays little in this life. There are, however, other rewards. I had this email a few days ago.

Dear Chris

I have just finished the third book (and re-read the first two, prior to that) and am astounded by the breadth of vision in the books. Andrew and I have had a few late nights, unable to stop reading them! Very good, very exciting, very thought-provoking – especially with the current debate over mixing human & animal cells. But, more than that, thought-provoking on a spiritual leveI re. pride, obedience and motives.

Also, I wanted to share that a close friend ‘lost’ her faith in Jesus last year, following a time abroad where different churches preached very different things. She couldn’t say she didn’t believe in God, but she found the things preached in the name of Christianity and Jesus deeply distasteful (and they were). Someone gave her yours and J. John’s book on Jesus, and she has come back to faith in the ‘real’ Jesus – praise God!

Please finish the 4th book soon!

A.

Further comment would be superfluous.

Chris

Some honest words on Christian Fiction

By , 18 January 2007 8:33 pm


That got your attention didn’t it? But let me be honest: if you think I’m going to accuse anybody of dishonesty, think again. Naivete perhaps, dishonesty no.

Let me explain my background as a writer of Christian fiction. My first real success, at least in the United States, was under the pen name of John Haworth when I wrote a couple of thrillers (now rather dated) called Heart of Stone and Rock of Refuge. These were published by Crossway just after Frank Peretti had had an enormous hit with This Present Darkness. I can well remember that at the time everybody was getting very excited about Christian fiction. ‘Look at Frank’s sales!’ they said, ‘we have hit the big-time! Christian fiction has broken out of the ghetto! A new dawn beckons.’ Then things quietened down and book sales became much more modest again.

My second involvement with large-scale publishing has been with Tyndale, and this started just after they had had an enormous success with the whole Left Behind phenomena. And as the books were accepted and I read the press, I heard a familiar refrain. ‘Look at LaHaye and Jenkins’, they said, ‘we have hit the big-time! Christian fiction has broken out of the ghetto! A new dawn beckons!’ Here I have to say that I do not recall anybody in Tyndale saying this to me: I think they are far shrewder. But I had a sense of déjà vu. And sure enough things have quietened down and book sales are much more modest again.

So does Christian publishing go through the spasms of excitement every ten years, or is there only the most tenuous of linkages between these two cases? Here let me introduce you to what I call ‘Walley’s Theory of the Christian Blockbuster’. This simply states that ‘Enormous mega-sales of a Christian fiction title never occur because of its literary value but the only when the book is held to have some major spiritual value as well.’ So in the case of Frank Peretti it was felt by many people that his books provided an enormous insight into how demonic forces battle with God’s people. And in the case of Left Behind it was the detailed description of the imminent end of the world that had been thundered from so many pulpits. Now this is not to say these books have no literary merits (I have not read a single Left Behind book). It is just to say that the buzz around them was not so much literary, as theological. And that is what propelled them into the mega-sales league.

In a sense, I don’t think we should be surprised at this. Let me ask you a question, what pre 20th-century works of Christian fiction can you name? My guess is only Pilgrim’s Progress. And there again, Walley’s rule applies. The book has some fine prose; but its chief selling point has not been its literary merits but its effective, and challenging, portrayal of the Christian life.

So my honest words basically amount to this. When people talk about mega-sales in the Christian market it would be perhaps more honest to exclude books such as This Present Darkness, and the Left Behind books, as these are not strictly bought as fiction. With those removed, the picture for what we might call works of fiction is somewhat leaner. But then at least on these criteria we do not feel utter failures when our book sales are numbered in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands.

An open letter to Apple Inc etc

By , 12 January 2007 8:00 pm

‘Dear Mr Jobs

Readers of my books (The Shadow and Night and Dark Foundations) will know that I posit the widespread use of a Diary in the 14th Millennium; a small slablike device that does almost everything from telecommunications to imaging. I am prepared to overlook your pale imitation -shown in public this week as the so-called Iphone – as minor plagiarism. Mine, after all, has a ten year battery life and a few other tricks. Indeed as a token of goodwill, let me make you an offer. In view of the much publicized claim by Cisco that it owns the trademark Iphone I am prepared to allow you to use my term ‘Diary’, perhaps in the form of the ‘I-Diary’ , for the modest sum of say £100,000 sterling.

Yours


Chris Walley.’

I am not writing a major comment here this week because I contributed a long answer to the Speculative Faith website (http://specfaith.ritersbloc.com/2007/01/11/chris-walley-answers-questions.aspx) on the differences between British and American fantasy fiction. That is really quite an active site, and so my article was soon replaced by other comments but I feel it was on some interesting issues and you may find it worth looking at.


One other observation. An odd thing happened to meet this week: an Amazon review of Dark Foundations disappeared. One day there were two reviews; the next just one. For the benefit of posterity, here is the missing review (I got it from the cache).

(five stars******) Finally!, November 1, 2006

Reviewer:

Barlow “Future Author” (Planet Earth) – See all my reviews

Finally! This book is here! I have been waiting so long! :)

The Dark Foundations by Chris Walley is an excellent continuation of an excellent series! With the exception of a very annoyingly nerve-wracking cliffhanger ending, I am completely happy with this book! This book is really quite shocking – you never even suspect anything like it from the first two books. It continues the story of Merral and the fight for Farholme and the Assembly, but introduces some additional sideplots and stunning backhistory from a non-Assembly world. None of the characters are flat, even Lezaroth the captain of the ship that is leading the war against Farholme, you grieve for, because of what he once was, and what he then became through following Nezhuala (who kind of seems like the Antichrist). Excellent, excellent, excellent!

At the time I was very miffed because it’s a nice review and I didn’t want to lose it. However since then, two new reviews of Dark Foundations and one of The Shadow and Night have appeared: all three are five stars. So that makes up to the missing one. But this raises lots of questions. Who removed it? Why? Is it an Amazon mistake? Did friend Barlow regret his statement? Has he been unmasked by Amazon as a serial reviewer, or worse? Or did his pastor corner him and say, ‘Brother Barlow, I hear you have been favourably commenting on a heresy?’ Who knows?


Can I say as a British author, whose main sales are in the States, that one of the few handles I have on whether or not my books are liked is Amazon. I like reviews. They are also a reasonably quick rebuttal to those who say ‘well, are they any good?’ (Do they really expect me to actually say ‘no?’) So if you’re thinking about writing an Amazon review and you want to write something nice and positive, please do. It will be appreciated.

In praise of ignorance

By , 4 January 2007 9:02 pm

First, a happy New Year to all my readers. I hope both of you have a prosperous 2007. Sorry, that was a joke. Second, I got a nice mention by Shannon McNear in the Speculative Faith website. Yes, it would be nice to think that there was a bit of a buzz about my books. I can hear it now ‘There’s this British guy…’ ‘You really ought to read him…. .’ or (best of all) ‘this guy is weird, I think we ought to burn his books. Publicly.’ Oh please!

Now on to my main subject this week. I don’t know if anybody else does this, but when I browse the web I often come across fascinating sites, skim through them and then later on, end up thinking to myself. ‘Where did I come across that?’ Anyway on a site, a well-known SF author (I am pretty certain it was Orson Scott Card, who has written some jolly fine stuff in his time) suggested that it was an absolute essential that anyone writing within the genre of science fiction ought to read extensively within that genre and he gave a long list of titles that must be read.

Initially this produced in me the sort of embarrassed reaction normally associated with turning up in T-shirt and jeans to some function where everyone else is in suits and ties. Have I read this year’s Hugo Awards? Hugo who? And as I thought about it I began to imagine that there could indeed be a buzz about the name of Chris Walley; that quieter insistent whispering that goes ‘Apparently – or so they say – he hasn’t even read ….. Can you believe it?’ (But I have read Ulysses; yes, really, all the way to the end).


Then after I had stopped feeling incredibly ill-equipped I actually began to wonder whether it was true that to write successfully in a genre you had to have read all the great classics within it. A couple of points have come to mind.


The first is that I think you can over-prepare too much for almost everything in life apart from the Day of Judgment. We all know people who say they’re going to go camping or climb mountains, but spend so much time getting all the kit ready, buying all the maps and doing all the preparations, only to find that night has fallen, the rainy season has started or they have become bedridden with old age. We only have so much time, particularly those of us who are amateur writers. (By the way I’m happy to be relieved of that status: e-mail me for details of my bank account.) Isn’t one of the best ways to learn to write, just to write? Carpe diem!


The second thing is to wonder whether extensive reading within a genre might (and I only say might ) produce a tendency for a writer to produce just ‘more of the same’. Mightn’t it just reinforce some of the stereotypes and clichés? If you only ever read within a genre, are you ever likely to produce works that push the boundaries of the genre?

Actually, I never set out to be a science fiction author. This is not simply because there are more people who have flown in space than there are authors who have made a respectable living from science fiction. It is that I don’t care for much of what I have read – or glanced at in the genre. Confession time: I don’t like books that spend 300 pages working out the possible implications of one bit of science: I can get very unenthusiastic about tales of romance amongst the Yhyg’stail of Flaterwump 5 and I don’t actually like Star Trek!

The thing is I want to write about what might happen to real people in weird and extraordinary situations. In other words, I’m only interested in ‘science fiction’ as a genre in as much as it provides me with framework for dealing with things that I cannot deal with in any other setting.

In fact I not even sure that I liked the idea of ‘genre’ at all. Maybe the whole idea of genre is simply the effort of booksellers and librarians to try to keep things in some sort of order. Perhaps, really I’m a secret anarchist. There’s a thought!

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