Category: “Christian fiction”

Blog Tour

By , 19 February 2008 4:19 pm

Yes, I know it isn’t Friday, but The Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour, as I’ve already mentioned in a few blogs, is on now until Wednesday.

CSSF Blog Tour

Check the links to find reviews and see what people are saying. Thanks to all who are participating!

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Grace Bridges
Jackie Castle
Carol Bruce Collett
Valerie Comer
CSFF Blog Tour
Gene Curtis
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Marcus Goodyear
Rebecca Grabill
Jill Hart
Katie Hart
Michael Heald
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Heather R. Hunt
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Margaret
Rachel Marks
Shannon McNear
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Mirtika or Mir’s Here
Pamela Morrisson
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Deena Peterson
Rachelle
Steve Rice
Ashley Rutherford
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachelle Sperling
Donna Swanson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Laura Williams
Timothy Wise

On youth fiction

By , 23 November 2007 7:29 pm

In a blog response last week, someone mentioned that my books were still being marketed as children’s books and asked for comment. Let me give an explanation here, and then pass along to briefly discuss the whole issue of children’s fiction.

My books were originally written for adults, and still are written for adults. I don’t get a lot of criticism, but certainly no one has said that they are too simplistic or shallow to be considered as adult fiction. On the contrary, many comments have been on the lines that, by the standards of Christian fiction, these are actually deep and thoughtful books. (I fear that this reflects much more on the parlous state of Christian writing than on my writing skills.) Quite simply, the issues I grapple with in the books are those that interest me. I am an adult (albeit with a stubborn streak of adolescence), therefore, the books are adult.

The problem arose when what is now the first volume ended up on Tyndale’s desk: they wanted it but didn’t do fantasy fiction. (You may feel this to be a slightly curious statement given that their biggest seller has been the Left Behind series but I couldn’t possibly comment.) They did however have a youth imprint that they were about to launch and threw me in it. I didn’t object: I was glad to get published in the States. (Of course, in those days the dollar was actually worth something :-)). Since then I have been relocated to the adult category as Tyndale’s first fantasy author. However, there is a bit of a lag time and some people evidently still think of me as a youth author. So if you get the chance please do promote me as adult author.

All this has made me think about what actually makes up youth/children’s fiction. I have no easy answer and I found it easier to define children’s fiction, not by what it is, but by what it isn’t. I decided, in the traditional manner of a Welsh preacher, that there are three things that mark writing for children: a constraint on style, substance and sophistication. By a constrained style, I mean that the writer shuns a heavy and complex prose style full of long words and sentences. By a constrained substance I mean that certain topics are not touched on, or only alluded to in passing. I think these would not simply be the obvious ones of sex and extreme violence, but also include the cynicism, bitterness and despair that characterise much adult fiction. By a constrained sophistication, I mean that we shun the cleverness of allusions, quotes, word games and the like that would go over the head of a young person. Let me give you a non-literary example. The other day, one of our papers had a wordless and well done cartoon of Sarkozy, dressed as Napoleon, riding a donkey alone along a wintery vastness of railway lines. The cartoon required both a knowledge of the present French industrial strife and awareness of Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia. The verbal equivalents of this are best avoided in youth writing.

But is there anything else? Is there any particular positive feature that marks out youth fiction? A youthful hero perhaps? Maybe, but that is not essential. An optimistic view of the future? I think that is naiveté. A sense of innocence? No way! But I am open to comments. For what it is worth, I have no intention of trying to write youth fiction as such. What I do intend writing is accessible adult fiction, and it seems to me that that will do.

On memorable reporting

By , 13 April 2007 7:59 pm

I’ve had a busy second week of the holidays, making some good progress on the final book and doing a lot of preparation for teaching next week. I had a couple of nice e-mails, and someone pointed out that there is a small but perfectly formed group discussing my books on a Facebook group. I have also written a longer article for the Speculative Faith website on writing and theology. I should post that on Saturday 14th. Go and seek it out.

In between all this I have started reading Robert Fisk’s fat tome, on his thirty years in the Middle East, entitled The Great War for Civilisation: the Conquest of the Middle East. For those who don’t know, Fisk is a British journalist and commentator on the Middle East; the area being the way it is, he is pretty much what we used to call a ‘war correspondent’. For a year we lived about 100 yards away from him in Beirut, and I’d often see him on his balcony. I also once asked him a question about postmodernism at a seminar; as I expected, that topic got very short shrift and my colleagues in the social sciences looked very uneasy.

Anyway Fisk is pretty controversial in some circles because of his appalling pessimism (which in the Middle East tends to be a safe bet) and the fact that he has been very negative about Western intervention and has had some very hard things to say about Israel. Although I mention him here for reasons other than his ‘politics’ it is worth saying that although his handling of the historical facts can be sometimes lax, his descriptions of the events he has witnessed seem to me to be accurate. I lived in Beirut from 1980 to 84 and 94 to 98. Where he recorded events I was close to, I feel he has been truthful. I derive a wry amusement that our paths must have crossed quite a lot: him trying to get close to terrible events and me trying to get away from them.

Anyway, it’s a variable book and gloomy enough to drain the smile off the most upbeat personality so I why do I mention it? The reason is that I think this book, and good reporting generally are excellent things for fiction writers to read. You may think that is surprising. After all, surely shouldn’t fiction writers read fiction? Perhaps, but don’t overlook good reportage. Let me explain why.

In a way, what we are trying to do is tell stories in a manner that involves the reader with an economy of words. Now in the case of what is called ‘speculative fiction’, and I suppose also historical fiction, we are struggling to tell stories of people and events who are distanced from our readers by time, space or alien cultures. Despite this we want people to identify with our heroes and villains. We want to make them, and their plight, seem real. And furthermore, most of us are trying to do it with an economy of words; we cannot afford to spend a page describing a space ship or a castle, we need to move on and tell the story.

It strikes me that reporters, particularly foreign correspondents, face similar dilemmas. In very limited words, they have to tell us about a situation which may be very remote. Most of us do not know what it is like to be an observer of an utterly chaotic firefight or a shabby bureaucratic fix-up in some sweaty, dusty part of the Middle East. Reporters have to make it real. They have to make us care about the Iranian or the Iraqi suddenly face-to-face with death. They have to tell it in such a way that even if we are reading it while eating our cornflakes or waiting for our train, it sticks in our mind. They have to stay fresh and shun clichés. And this is what Fisk is supreme at. Whatever his merits as historian, he is a very gifted observer. With a rare economy of words he can set the scene, portray a character and involve us. Sometimes against our will, he drags us into the shabby, shameful mess of it all.

And here there is another point. Where Fisk gets his morality from I have not yet found. He is no Christian. But the book exudes morality: there a righteous indignation that runs throughout it. You may argue that in places it is unbalanced, or even misdirected, but it is there. And not to be angry about what has transpired in the Middle East in the last 30 years would be a terrible thing. And that’s something else that we need more of in our Christian fiction; a burning anger with evil and injustice.

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