It’s not as existential as it may sound. It’s one of those fundamental questions we, as writers, have to answer (or have answered for us by a publisher or readership) whenever we craft a story. The reason this comes up so often for me is that everyone loves a simple label and I get referred to quite often as a Christian writer or Christian horror writer when it comes to being interviewed. This has always struck me as not only odd, but often leaves me a little uneasy.
Don’t get me wrong, the “what am I?” label is just a matter of marketing. If I’m a horror writer I’m consigned to one area of the (virtual) bookstore; if I’m a fantasy writer, another. It’s when you pile one label on top of another that things get complicated. Being a Christian on top of being a speculative fiction author means both an artistic and professional choice to make: do we go into “secular” or “Christian” publishing?
On a personal artistic level, I’ve never been comfortable with the Christian subculture. I’ve never been big on the “Christian” as an adjective for something nor with the entertainment ghetto Christians often create for themselves. That subculture produces its own “art” and it’s own “artists” which is a long way from the way things used to be, before the church walked away from the arts. I think it is one reason artists struggle to find their place in church today.
It might not be so bad except what is typically defined as “Christian,” for the market “Christian whatever” serves, usually means “safe.” It’s short hand for no sex, no profanity, violence optional. Combine that with “nice”, “edifying”, or any word that amounts to “message first, story second” and you have the recipe for stifled stories, at least, for me. Those are the kind of stories that start from a sermon point and exactly what people who aren’t in the Christian camp expect to read whenever they see the word “Christian” in front of whatever story they read.
Here’s were some people get stuck. They wrestle with whether the stories they create are not Christian enough or too Christian (after all, they have a family and church community to answer to). But others worry about where their books might end up, or rather, where they won’t.
Again, to play in the Christian markets, you have to take into consideration the CBA, the Christian Booksellers Association. Not so much them, but whether they are “CBA writers” or their books are “CBA books” because that’s the kind of product that makes it into Christian book stores.
I’m not going to sit here and talk about how I’m “too edgy for the CBA.” I’m not, not even close. But that’s because I don’t aim to be a “CBA writer” nor write “CBA books”, regardless of genre. Me saying I’m too edgy for the CBA is like saying I’m too edgy for the romance genre. I’m not because I don’t write it (and, frankly, the romance genre is WAY too edgy for me).
A lot of it boils down to simple marketing choices. I’m a Christian who writes speculative fiction. I’m not a Christian speculative fiction writer. I write what I write, with my voice, telling the stories I wish to tell. Those stories are influenced by my faith because my faith is part of who I am. My faith does not determine the stories I wish to tell.
Nor do I have anything against CBA bookstores or authors. They have a market they serve and deliver to it exactly what it expects and demands. There’s no begrudging that. There’s room for your Veggie Tales (which I’ve actually come to enjoy on occasion), Thomas Kinkade paintings (which I never have appreciated), or TestaMints (if you are honestly buying those as your candy alternative of choice, you have a whole host of issues with your level of “not of the world” insulation). I do believe that both the art and the subculture are so sanitized for safety that they are largely irrelevant to anyone outside of that culture.
I’m a speculative fiction author. I publish in “secular” markets because writing is a conversation and that market is the one I have more of a natural affinity “talking” to. That’s “what” I am. The way I see it, people aren’t safe, neither are our stories, nor are we called to live lives of safety.
*This is a different conversation from answering the question “as a Christian, how can you writer horror?”
Rachel Evans – “Christian bookstores and their chokehold on the industry” (a cool blog post on the hurdles of Christian publishing and the undercurrent of fear that runs rampant in it among its writers and editors)
Phil Cooke – “Why so much Christian media sucks” (on the problem of being safe and why stories aren’t meant to be safe)