Of language versus substance

Let me be first perfectly clear about one thing.  I could not care less about the so-called “Christian” market.  I have never been a CBA author, I will never be a CBA author, and while I am an evangelical Christian, I am not of the evangelical Christian culture.  I am almost entirely unfamiliar with the works of the modern authors who are popular within that world, and as a writer, I consider my peers to be George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, and Steven Erikson, not Jerry Jenkins, Ted Dekker, or whoever happens to be writing the books du jour in that market.

To me, a Christian novel is one that is written from a worldview perspective that contains the idea that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Savior of Man in some form.  It doesn’t matter if the idea is overt or an analogy.  That’s it. The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are clearly Christian works, as is Ray Bradbury’s excellent short story, “The Man”.  And yet, none of these three works ever so much as mention the words “Jesus Christ” or even portray various Christian activities such as baptism or communion.

My view is clearly not the most common opinion.  And while I certainly respect the right of my fellow Christians to place a more stringent series of requirements on what they believe is, or is not, Christian fiction, I really don’t care in the slightest what their opinion happens to be.  To a certain extent, I suspect that the divide centers on the idea that a Chinese novel must be either a) written by a Chinese man and set, at least in part, in China, or b) written in the Chinese language.

Now, I am a Christian, and the various books and stories in the Arts of Dark and Light series overtly utilize something that is clearly recognizable as Christianity in a manner that is historically consistent with the medieval milieu.  Some characters are observably “Christian”, others are pagan, others are simply… something else.  But I don’t write in what could be described as the contemporary Christian language.  And therein lies the difference.

I hadn’t intended to say anything about what happened right before A THRONE OF BONES was published, but as it happens, my publisher at Hinterlands has broached the subject in a surprisingly candid article about his decision to publish the book on the Speculative Faith Blog.  He writes:

Things were going along pretty well until two days before the book was to release. I got a note from the folks at a prominent Christian fiction writers group in America saying that if we released this book, they would take MLP off their list of approved publishers. That meant that all MLP books would not be eligible for their annual award.

As much as I believed in this book and its author and our goals, I was not prepared to let one book sabotage the chances of all my other authors receiving an award I think has value.

Oh, the drama. Was I going to cancel the book? Was I going to go through and remove everything this organization found objectionable? Was I going to hurt all my other authors? Was I going to succumb to what some folks said amounted to blackmail? (I didn’t think it was blackmail, by the way. I saw it as them adhering to their guidelines.) Remember, this was all happening 36 hours before the book was set to release.

I finally asked the organization if it would change anything if I created a new imprint and released the book under that imprint. They said, “Oh, yeah. If you did that, the problem would go away.”

“Really?” sez I. “All my other books would still be eligible for the award?”


And thus, Marcher Lord Hinterlands was born, a brand new imprint for one book (so far).

A Throne of Bones by Vox Day released on December 1, 2012. It weighed in at just under 300,000 words and over 850 pages in hardcover. It is currently our overwhelming bestseller both in hardcover and in e-book.

I am one of those who saw the situation as something uncomfortably akin to blackmail.

Now, I should also mention that I am entirely happy with the solution; what author wouldn’t like having their own personal imprint?  Nor did I have a problem with the organization telling Jeff that my book would not be eligible for any of the awards they give out.  I also think that the way in which the situation was speedily resolved to everyone’s satisfaction was a testimony to the way that Christians with strongly differing opinions can come and reason together to find a way past their differences.

However, having been blackballed on at least two occasions at different publishing houses, (I’m not being paranoid, I was told as much by the individuals within the publishers who originally approached me and asked to publish my work; on more than one occasion I’ve been paid to NOT write a book), I think it is unwise for Christian organizations to be seen appearing to practice the same sort of blackballing, and worse, guilt by association, that I’ve seen in certain secular publishers.  On the one hand, I think it is wrong for secular publishers to act as gatekeepers relentlessly pushing their specific left-wing ideology on the market, on the other, I think it is wrong for Christian publishers and other professional organizations to act as gatekeepers relentlessly pushing a highly antiseptic view of what is, and is not, Christian, particularly when that view appears to be based more on cultural values than upon genuine spiritual or doctrinal issues.

The most problematic aspect of the situation, in my opinion, was that the organization asked to see the manuscript before it was published, thereby causing it to look as if they were behaving in an inappropriately censorious manner.  While they certainly have the right to act in whatever manner they see fit ex post facto, the attempt to intervene prior to publication was, in my opinion, totally unacceptable and amounted to the same sort of ideological policing that I have criticized in the SF/F market.  I tend to suspect that they were merely trying to anticipate a potential problem and head it off at the pass, which is what ultimately happened, but nevertheless, I don’t think that anyone except the author and the publisher should be addressing these sorts of issues prior to publication.

I leave it to the readers to decide whether my books are Christian fiction or not.  I don’t care.  I consider them to be epic fantasy, written in the tradition begun by George MacDonald and exemplified by J.R.R. Tolkien.  And to those who will roll their eyes at the idea of “a Christian answer to George Martin” and imagine it is meant in the Stryper sense, let me hasten to disabuse you of that notion.  A THRONE OF BONES is neither an homage nor an imitation, it is a challenge.  It is intended as a literary rebuke.

I believe Martin and some of the other authors of epic fantasy have not extended the sub-genre so much as they have betrayed it.  And in doing so, even as they have attempted to make their works more “realistic” than those of their epic predecessors, they have actually made them much smaller in terms of the human experience.  In their colorblind rejection of what they suppose to be “black and white” morality in favor of their beloved “balance” and “shades of gray”, they have inadvertently turned their backs on the full rainbow spectrum of colors.  They paint ugliness, but no beauty.  They sketch images of hate, but none of love.  Their sex isn’t erotic, it merely the slaking of appetites.  Their work, for the most part, is quite literally and intentionally soulless.

I’m not at all interested in attempting to become their polar opposite, as some erroneously see it.  Still less am I trying to write some saccharine, watered-down version of their works.  Instead, I’m attempting to embrace the whole.  Good and evil.  Love and hate.  Joy and sorrow.  Beauty and ugliness.  Art and philosophy.  I am not saying that I have been, or will be, successful in this, I am merely pointing out that to claim that A THRONE OF BONES is an imitation of Martin, or any other author, is not only to miss the point, it is missing the entire conversation.