Why a Mormon Writer is Smarter Than Most Christian Writers (Guest Post by Michael A. Blaylock)

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Why a Mormon Writer is Smarter Than Most Christian Writers (Guest Post by Michael A. Blaylock)

No, not Stephanie Meyer. You can relax.

I’m talking about Brandon Sanderson. Author of the Mistborn novels, The Stormlight Archive, the guy who finished Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time after his death, and lots more.

Dozens of factors play into success, but there’s one fact that should not be overlooked: Sanderson is good. Freaking good.

Now, let’s look at Christian writing in general. Most of it is unpopular, and while there are, again, many factors, the common denominator is that most Christian fiction is bad. Freaking bad.

So what does Sanderson know that Christians don’t?

Sanderson Isn’t Preachy (And doesn’t have to be)

I admit I have only read seven Sanderson books (Mistborn trilogy, Reckoners trilogy, and Warbreaker), but when you read seven works by one author, you have a pretty good sense of their style.

And I never once guessed he was a Mormon. I found out by accident! Not once have I felt the author looking at me and saying, “See? This is a metaphor for my beliefs! Won’t you join me in what I think?”

On the other hand, mainstream Christian fiction is almost strong-armed into preaching. If you don’t have an overtly Jesus-centric message, are you really a Christian writer? Some say yes, but others want little to do with your books.

The result…

Sanderson Isn’t Annoying

There’s a big reason I don’t enjoy much Christian fiction: I am a Christian. I know the story. If your novel is nothing more than a come-to-Jesus tract, then I have no use for it.

And most people aren’t Christians. They don’t want a come-to-Jesus tract either. So Christian novels easily become bothersome to Christians and non-Christians alike. These types of Christian stories only cater to those who want to pat themselves on the back.

Sanderson, on the other hand, makes cool characters, interesting worlds, and exciting plots.

Hmm…a good book, or a message I don’t really want to hear? Hmm…

Sanderson Doesn’t Limit His Audience

Like I said, I hardly knew Sanderson was Mormon because he never screams it. Thus, he appeals to non-Mormon audiences.

Revolutionary Idea: When more people can read your book, more people can buy your book. *Gasp!*

Much of the Christian market, the part that isn’t evangelical, is self-contained. They write stories by Christians for Christians. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But yet again, some circles have this air of judgment, that your work should be approved by Christian norms, thus creating a Christian-only audience by default.

Christians who shirk this trend can draw more non-Christians in. Such as Brent Weeks, another phenomenal fantasy author who’s seen incredible success because he doesn’t limit his audience. He just writes good stories.

Sanderson Doesn’t Limit His Content

Perhaps the funniest thing I’ve read in a while is where Siri in Warbreaker bounced on the bed, moaning, pretending to have sex to fool some high priests. This is after she’s been naked several times, expecting to be forced into bed against her will.

You just don’t see that in Christian fiction. Not that you need to, but the problem is you can’t. Sex is still a radically taboo subject in Christian fiction, and only the most daring touch it.

You know, like Brent Weeks, that other NYT Bestselling Author. Though Christian in faith, he’s not afraid to have sexually-active characters because, hey, that’s what some people are. Many, in fact.

In Christian circles, there’s still this stigma about sex, swearing, and un-Christian ideas like homosexuality. We’re told to write G-rated, conservative fiction or we’re shunned by writers, readers, and publishers en masse.

Sanderson’s example is PG-13 at best, but most Christian novels can’t even go there. Because Christianity is expected to be family-friendly at all times. If you aren’t, you’re pushed outside and discredited.

Which is strange because Jesus said, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25 NIV) And what do we see? Christian writing is struggling to survive.

Sanderson, on the other hand, remains popular not just because of inertia, but because he keeps writing good stuff. Because…

Sanderson is Committed to Art

I’ve been hard on Christian fiction, so let me offer the olive branch. There is nothing wrong with G-rated Christian books, nothing wrong with writing for Christians, and nothing wrong with trying to evangelize your non-Christian audience.

The problem is when these things become idols. When there’s only one type of Christian writer allowed and all the others are heretics and pretenders.

When that happens, we limit not only ourselves, not only our audience, but art itself. We are fiction writers, creators of art. How can we cut off one corner of a blanket and expect to cover ourselves with it?

Sanderson has no such squabbles. Some of his books are middle-grade, some adult. Some of his books have one god, others many, others none. Sanderson seems to have only one rule: write books that are good.

Maintstream Christian fiction cuts what is good if it is not also in line with mainstream, orthodox, conservative Christian idealism. Quality remains secondary to agenda, money, and fear, three things Christians are told not to emphasize.

What We Can Learn

If Christian fiction is to grow and thrive, it needs to be flexible. It needs to be comfortable with Christians writing books that have no salvation story in them. It needs to let some books be R-rated to deal with a topic properly. It needs to reexamine what it calls bad and why.

Most importantly, it needs to understand what art is.

Thankfully, I’m already seeing these changes. I’ve mentioned Brent Weeks, but smaller-time authors like Ben Wolf and Mike Duran are throwing the rules out the window and seeing success with them. And even old-school overtly-Christian writer Frank Peretti changed tactics by writing non-Christian books Monster and Illusion, and both were awesome because Peretti’s strength came not from his messages, but from his writing.

The world doesn’t want sermons in the fiction section. If you’re going to preach, by all means preach. But if you’re going to write fiction, take lessons from Sanderson: write well.

Michael Blaylock is a writer, reader, gamer, anime lover, cinephile, armchair theologian, and author of Ferryman. He lives in southern Idaho with his wife and son.

Website: fencingwithink.com
Facebook: facebook.com/michaelblaylockauthor
Twitter: twitter.com/fencingwithink

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Superheroes: The Crossover Alliance Anthology V3 - Release Day!

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Superheroes: The Crossover Alliance Anthology V3 - Release Day!

We are proud to announce that today is release day for the 10th book in our catalog, Superheroes: The Crossover Alliance Anthology V3! This book is a collection of various stories centering around the idea of superheroes, blending both Christian fiction and real world content to bring you a style of fiction you've never experienced before.

We have a stellar lineup of authors who have contributed to this book:

The Bald Man by Timothy G. Huguenin

The Last Call by Kristin L. Norman

sinEater by D.A. Williams

Hierro by Jen Finelli

Living Proof by Michelle Levigne

Airfoil: Hotspots by Steve Rzasa

Someone Is Aiming For You by JD Cowan

Without Blemish: A Philosophy of Preaching by Nathan James Norman

The Trojan Initiative by Clayton Webb

Fly Like A Bird by Rosemary E. Johnson

Chronostream’s Father by Adam David Collings

Grab your copy here:
Superheroes: The Crossover Alliance Anthology V3

Giveaway

We also have a grand giveaway going on, in which you get the chance to score a free digital copy of the anthology, or one of the other books in our catalog. Plus, you'll be checking out these awesome authors and helping to support their work.

GIVEAWAY LINK

Want even more good stuff? Check out one of our stories, The Trojan Initiative by Clayton Webb, in audio drama format courtesy of The Untold Podcast!

THE TROJAN INITIATIVE AUDIO DRAMA LINK

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Christians, Fiction, and Domestic Violence

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Christians, Fiction, and Domestic Violence

Late last week, I posted a fictional story titled Jen Fled. It was a short piece for my ‘The Friday Muse’ segment on my blog where I write a short piece of fiction each Friday to discipline myself in writing on a regular basis and to give my followers/readers something new each week.

Jen Fled is a piece about domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is not covered in Christian fiction circles very often – if at all. I can’t remember EVER reading a piece regarding domestic abuse, aside from a brief mention here and there of the victim. Definitely never any pieces that showed actual domestic abuse happening. Christian circles tend to shy away from any form of violence, even mentioning it most times. It’s just too much.

But I got to thinking: Why?

I started The Crossover Alliance publishing company because I believe Christian fiction needs to be redefined. For too long, publishers have boxed in Christian writers, and Christian writers have boxed in Christ-themed stories into something so sanitized, Mr. Clean would be proud. Because of this, many people can’t relate to Christian fiction – well, most parts of Christian fiction, aside from the ‘being saved’ part. Then again, even some of those are a stretch in Christian fiction stories.

Needless to say, there is so much material, so many human and social issues, so many struggles that Christian fiction has completely ignored all these years. We’ve left it up to the ‘secular’ crowd to broach these subjects, and as such, Christian fiction stays by the wayside, completely and utterly irrelevant to today’s society. The world puts their own spin on these issues, never once acknowledging what these situations would look like with God’s intervention or help, or the inclusion of the element of faith.

And yet, our mission as Christians is to go out and spread the Gospel (Good News). The Good News of what? If we don’t show what’s wrong, how do we prove what’s right?

In relation to this, I believe domestic abuse is one of the most undermined issues in Christian fiction. We’ve (been) scared to talk about a husband beating his wife – it’s too violent. Or of a wife beating her husband – that never really happens…right? Or of parents beating their children – that’s just too much for my fragile psyche to comprehend. But the abuse is real. Physical. Verbal. Mental. This is a serious issue that rings true in so many households, and yet everyone is afraid to touch on the subject matter.

Why?

Are we afraid we’ll offend those who have faced domestic abuse? Are we afraid we’ll fill everyone’s head with violent imagery and push someone into domestic abuse? Are we scared we’ll tarnish the good name of ‘Christian Fiction’ with bloody and verbal scenarios? I mean, Amish romance doesn’t really have room for an abusive husband, does it? So why should the rest of Christian fiction?

Let’s face it, we’re afraid to talk about a lot of subjects relevant to today’s world. ‘We’ being Christians. ‘We’ being Christian authors.

A couple years ago, I was attending a weekly home-based bible study. One particular night, someone was discussing the verse “turn the other cheek”.

"But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Matthew 5:39 (NASB)

Someone mentioned that if an individual was being abused, according to the verse, then they should turn the other cheek. I don’t remember all the exact details of this discussion, but that was the gist: allow the abuse to continue because Christ said to, ‘turn the other cheek’.

The leader of this particular bible study group did nothing to counter the ridiculous point. He allowed the heretical theory to go unchecked. My heart beat rapid in my chest, because I knew it was wrong. The verse was being taken out of context, and I knew I had to say something about it. I opened my mouth, but before I could speak, another woman in the group stood up and announced that the theory was wrong, that the verse was not speaking about allowing people to be habitually abused, and that the whole concept of allowing it to happen was making her ill. I chimed in with my agreement regarding her assessment, and then the leader of the group corrected himself and said that he felt the same way.

Yeah, right.

I’m gonna say it, even if nobody else will. As Christians, many of us have been conditioned to be passive. We have. With such verses as ‘turn the other cheek’ taken out of context, we’ve taught Christ’s followers to take abuse, to take wrongdoing, to take manipulation and just let it go. To let it happen.

I’m not advocating violence. I just believe we need to start taking things in the right context. And this verse, at this bible study, was taken in the wrong context. Yes, there are times where ‘giving your brother your cloak’ is definitely what we are called to do. But that doesn’t mean all situations at all times. And I don’t believe it regards habitual abuse.

Discernment, people. For the love of all that is holy, please start using discernment.

Back to my original point: Why do Christians (both authors and regular folk) shy away from discussing matters like domestic violence? Or rape? Or even murder? Is it because we, deep down inside, believe we should allow things like this to go on in the world? Do we believe that if a woman is raped that she shouldn’t pursue (legal) justice for herself? Do we believe that if a child is abused that we shouldn’t pursue (legal) justice for that innocent victim? Yes, vengeance is the Lord’s, but we also have legal structures set in place to get these evils off the street.

There’s a line. Like there is with all things. The problem is, Christians have taken the line and moved it back so they can have a more manageable ‘safe space’. The more area we try to cover in regards to the ‘real world’, the more danger there is that that ‘real world’ will seep into our world. Problem is, we don’t realize that we are in this world. In it. We are in the real world. We are not of it, but we are in it. And we need to acknowledge this world’s sin, this world’s idiosyncrasies, this world’s processes, and we need to address them all through the lens of the Gospel. Not the lens of passive avoidance.

Writers, stop being afraid. There’s someone out there that needs to hear your story, but through the lens of the Gospel. No, the Gospel isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, but it is hope. Hope in a future that’s already been fashioned, free of sin and this violence we so often ignore.

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The Christian Fiction Mess

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The Christian Fiction Mess

Creatives.

We abound in the fantastic. We thrive in the extraordinary. We skirt convention, we thwart the mundane, we flesh out the status quo.

As creatives, we create. And much of what we create can be…messy. Or rather, it should be.

How can painters paint without getting paint all over the place? How can writers write without eventually surrounding themselves in a mountain of scrapped and balled-up paper? What about those who do clay? Woodworking? Metal?

Of course, I’m not really here to talk about a physical mess. You won’t be able to avoid making a mess at some point if you work in the creative arts. I mean a mess, internal, displayed as external.

Isn’t the point of art to pour ourselves out, as a sacrifice to our work? Painters bleed upon the canvas, revealing the hurt, the pain, the virulent emotions they feel on a daily basis. Writers slit their wrists and bleed words on the page, exposing – for all to see/read – their turbulent lives and their unique and sometimes jaded viewpoint of the world. Those who work in crafts put pieces of themselves into their artwork, assembling fragments of their childhood trauma, slivers of their complex personalities, shards of their hopes and ambitions – failed and otherwise.

Every element of the creative arts requires a sacrifice from us, it requires truth – however hard and painful that truth may be. Our truths are what make our art. Who we are is our art.

So then, why does so much Christian fiction fall flat in the area of ‘creative’? Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of Christ-centered creatives out there in the world. They are building, they are drawing, they are designing. They are even writing.

But what are they writing?

A lot of the Christian fiction I have read over the years seems to lack a certain something. I mean, sure, the stories are filled with creative characters, creative plots, creative worlds. But what I don’t see a lot of is honesty. Truth. Mess.

Ironic, isn’t it? You would think, seeing as Christians tout about truth so much, that Christian fiction wouldn’t be exempt from honesty and messiness and truth.

But much of it is.

It’s because there’s been a line that was drawn in the sand a very long time ago. And that line was drawn to keep us at bay with our true feelings, our true thoughts, our true experiences. We can display these things in our Christian fiction, if – and only if – they do not offend others, they do not destroy the utopian dream of what Christianity should look like, they do not shake the very shaky structure of Christian publishing.

In other words, we must limit ourselves. Many argue that we limit ourselves in Christian fiction because we are called to limit ourselves in our personal lives. We mustn’t sin. And the same is true for our fiction. But is writing about sin the same as sinning? Not hardly.

Christian fiction has fallen flat in many areas because, to put it bluntly, some of it is just boring. And it’s boring because it lacks truth. It lacks the mess that makes us who we are. My wife doesn’t love me because I’m perfect. She doesn’t love me in spite of my imperfections, but because of them. They are a piece of me, a part of who I am, and so to deny my imperfections is to deny a piece of me. And I wouldn’t want my wife to only love a part of me, I want her to love all of me.

Christian fiction has seriously lacked the mess that could make it potentially awesome. Characters are too perfect, too ‘Christian’. They don’t swear, they don’t fight, they don’t question, they don’t drink, they don’t kill, they don’t fear. They are cut out of an Orwellian future and glued into our stories, and for what? To appease the masses? What masses?

As creatives, we are denying ourselves the most important part of the creative process – the mess – by adhering to cookie-cutter plots, hamfisted redemptive themes, and cardboard characters.

Fiction is a story, it is a tale. Most times, it is a tale about us, about those around us. We lie to ourselves and all of our readers if we hide the truth from our manuscripts.

I promise you: Write the mess, and nothing horrible will happen to you. Yes, you might stir the waters a bit, but that’s what all good art, what all good creative means, should do. Stir. Shake. Shatter.

Write the truth. Write it out, bleed it upon the page. Your fiction – and your creative process – will be better because of it. More importantly, so will your readers.

This article was originally posted on David N. Alderman's blog: https://davidnalderman.com/2017/01/17/the-christian-fiction-mess

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Planting The Seeds Of Tradition (Guest Post By Mark Carver)

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Planting The Seeds Of Tradition (Guest Post By Mark Carver)

As with most people, my Christmas experiences have gone through several phrases over the course of my life. Being raised in a Christian home, I was taught the true meaning of Christmas from an early age, and while the importance of this day was always in the periphery of my thoughts, my primary goal was scoring the best loot possible. Bicycles, Legos, action figures...my childhood Christmases were as merry as could be. My family wasn't wealthy but there were always presents under the tree. When my family and I moved from New York City to Atlanta, Georgia, Christmas became an even bigger event, since I now lived within fifteen minutes of nearly all of my relatives. Christmas Eve with one side of the family, Christmas with the other. Presents and food galore.


After graduating from college, I took a teaching job in China, where I would end up spending the next nine Christmases. Being so far from home in a country that doesn't celebrate Christmas—other than making supermarket clerks wear Santa hats—the merriment, and the true meaning, of the holiday began to dim. It became a day to go out drinking with other expats. We were all desperate to cover up the loneliness we felt, being separated from our family and friends by entire oceans and continents. There were Christmas parties and gift exchanges, and my students would give me cards and small presents, but without the lights and Christmas trees and holiday music that permeates everyday life in the West during the Christmas season, it was hard to get into the spirit of the holiday. I would call my family and let them know I was okay, and it was always a little painful to imagine them all together in a big room, presents littering the floor, a honey baked ham in the oven.


During my latter years in China, I got married to a Chinese girl and our first two children were born. Now that I was a family man, I became determined to impart a sense of the Christmas spirit to my family. We would set up a little three-foot artificial tree in our living room, decorate it with ornaments and tinsel, and surround it with presents. On Christmas day, I would read from the Bible, since there were no churches in the area for us to attend. My oldest was the only one who could really enjoy the day, since our second child was only a baby for her first and only Chinese Christmas. Still, it was fun for our family, and it made me happy to introduce a special day that most Chinese families didn't celebrate.

In 2014, we moved back to the US just three weeks after Christmas. It would have been nice to arrive in time for the holiday but my wife's immigration visa came through too late for that. So we had nearly a full year in the US before our first American Christmas as a family. Our second child was old enough to enjoy it now as well. It was so wonderful to be back home, to bring my wife and kids into my family. My father had died while I was in China, and I was especially grateful to be back with my mother again, since my kids were her only grandchildren at the time. I could tell that it brought a lot of joy to her and helped with the emptiness of that day.

Now we are preparing to celebrate our third Christmas in the USA. We now have three children, so this will be our first Christmas as a family of five. Having my own family has made me appreciate this day on numerous levels that I couldn't comprehend before. Nothing compares to the joy of watching your children's faces light up when they see the decorated Christmas tree or get excited as the stockings with their names on them get hung by the fireplace. Christmas truly is a holiday for children and even though it is stressful and expensive, I love it. The entire month fills me with happiness, and this is what I want my kids to observe and absorb. Most importantly, I remind them of the real reason for this holiday, and how Jesus was the greatest gift of all. As their father, I am responsible for their spiritual upbringing and we diligently go to church and read our Bibles, because I know that one day, they will be on their own, and I don't want the seeds that I have planted to dry up."

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