|Fiction Focus: Appealing to the ‘Christian geek’|
|Written by Christine D. Johnson|
|Tuesday, 09 October 2012 02:32 PM America/New_York|
‘Umbrella’ speculative fiction category covers the gamut from sci-fi to steampunk
Frank Peretti has been credited with starting today’s trend in Christian speculative fiction with This Present Darkness (Crossway, 1986), with names like Tosca Lee, Stephen Lawhead, Mike Duran and Jill Williamson following his lead, building the category that includes supernatural fiction as one of its offshoots.
Jeff Gerke, who founded a company that specializes in what’s come to be known as “spec-fic,” said that it is “an umbrella term that encompasses science fiction, fantasy, supernatural fiction, paranormal, time travel, superhero, urban fantasy, horror, alternate history, steampunk and pretty much anything else weird.”
The head of Marcher Lord Press said that “at least two subgenres” are added in the Christian market: End Times fiction and spiritual warfare fiction.
“Both speculative and supernatural fiction ask the reader to suspend disbelief and engage with story elements that are outside the range of standard experience,” said Amanda Bostic, acquisitions editor at Thomas Nelson. “In spec, that may include the more fantastical elements of travel to alternate worlds, interaction with unknown species or the currently popular dystopian stories that imagine a future where society is vastly different than the one we know. Supernatural fiction involves a very specific suspension of disbelief in that the unseen in the spiritual realms becomes seen.”
Along with angels, evil beings, science fiction, fantasy, spiritual warfare and allegory, Julie Gwinn, marketing manager for fiction at B&H Publishing Group, observes that spec-fic may include “even the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the form of ‘powers.’ ”
Author Steve Rzasa (Crosswind, Marcher Lord Press) further explains the distinction between speculative and supernatural fiction.
“Supernatural fiction brings to mind works that take place in the here and now, but pull back the veil to reveal the workings behind the face of our world—angels and demons, yes, and all manner of spiritual warfare,” he said. “Supernatural answers the question, what could be happening that we don't see? Speculative answers the question, what if?”
Speculative fiction has “massive” readership in the general market, said best-selling author James L. Rubart (Soul’s Gate, Thomas Nelson), who is hopeful it will grow more in the Christian market.
Author Kat Heckenbach (Seeking Unseen, Splashdown Books) notes that the genre appeals to readers from all walks of life: “You may think it’s the guy that dresses up as a Star Trek character at a science fiction convention—and you’d likely be right. But it’s also businessmen, homeschool moms, teens. The readers of spec-fic span so many demographics.”
John W. Otte (Failstate, Marcher Lord Press) agreed that there is a wide range of readers.
“While it may seem like this is a genre that would appeal mostly to men, I was involved with a blog tour and the participants were mostly women,” he said. “But the one demographic that this seems to appeal to most is young adults. If you go the Teen Fiction section in a bookstore, most of them would fall under the category of speculative fiction.”
With a middle-American mom as her protagonist, novels by Sharon Hinck (The Restorer, Marcher Lord Press, first published by NavPress) were “targeted at the core CBA readership of adult women,” she said. “I’ve had great response from this demographic, as they enjoyed an imaginative story and identifying with the main character. However, I soon learned that a strong secondary readership of teens enjoyed the books. After several book tours, lots of emails from readers and various speaking events, I’ve found many homeschool families seem to embrace speculative fiction—all ages in the family.”
Although early pioneers of spec-fic may include G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Madeline L’Engle, Bostic sees This Present Darkness as the starting point of the genre in the Christian market, but said its growth is hard to quantify.
“It’s difficult to put an exact figure on the growth since most reports don’t break out either speculative or supernatural as their own categories, but the number of titles that include these elements is a clear indicator of the interest in the genre,” she said. “The fact that supernatural fiction delves into the mysteries of our faith and can so easily be infused into other genres is a large part of the reason these novels have been of interest to readers for the past 35 years.”
However, Gerke has observed that some Christians—and not just readers—wish to avoid this category.
“In Christian publishing, there has been a resistance to speculative fiction by Christian authors,” he said. “I think this is due to the suspicion, in certain corners of Christendom, of magic. Publishers and bookstore managers—and the people who shop at those stores—may have had negative reactions to such things, especially as they had been presented in the ’60s and ’70s, so Christian novels that ‘seem New Age’ to those folks are looked down upon and effectively boycotted.”
While certain authors seem to “get a pass for some reason,” he said, “their popularity has not resulted in a warmer welcome for other books like those from different authors.”
Rather than the “bonnet and buggy” crowd, the reader who prefers Christian speculative fiction may be described “the Christian geek,” Gerke said. “I like to define the target readership for Marcher Lord Press as Christians who would go to Comic-CON if given half a chance. Christians who shop at ThinkGeek.com. Christians who watch Big Bang Theory. It’s essentially the Christians who love the same things their secular counterparts do—Star Wars, The Hunger Games, etc.—but who prefer to see it coming from the Christian worldview and perhaps without the objectionable content.”
In business now for four years, Marcher Lord is releasing its first hardcover Dec. 1, Vox Day’s Throne of Bones. Book one of a series, Throne of Bones is “the Christian answer to the epic fantasy of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones,” Gerke said, referring to the novel on which an original HBO series was based.
“There is a market for this type of storytelling, and to make it work in CBA, we need to add biblical truth to these stories as the underlying thread that holds it together,” B&H’s Gwinn said.
Works in this genre have often come from independent publishers or small presses, and fans often find each other online through blogs such as Where the Map Ends, The Anomaly or the Lost Genre Guild.
A former software developer, author Kerry Nietz (Freeheads, Marcher Lord Press) believes the genre has grown significantly in the last few years “because the delivery mechanisms—both POD [print on demand] and e-books—have become so much more accessible.”
The category seems to have a strong future, particularly considering the draw it has for today’s youth. Heckenbach, who teaches a creative writing class for homeschoolers teens, can attest to its popularity.
“All eight students are Christians, and six of those eight prefer to read and write spec-fic. I've found that pretty representative of the Christian teen writers I know in general.
“What is going to happen to the Christian market when all these teens grow up and flood the market with their manuscripts? I'll tell you what—those same once-teens-now-adults will also be taking active roles in publishing and marketing, and our footing will solidify because the demand will be taken more seriously by some real out-of-the-box thinkers.”