Long Lost Post: Casual Observance Becomes Insight

So as I was perusing my posts, I realized a post I never got out the door was sitting there for TWO YEARS now!  I feel bad about that, but as I read it over, it was a time capsule of sorts of how I felt in August 2018, you know… before the world went mad?But I realized that was a thought I wanted to express, but apparently just didn’t hit post.  So here’s a blast from the past that I think is potentially even more relevant in the age of the Wokestasi’s cancel jihad.  So, enjoy.

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Gosh… it’s been already 2 weeks since I went to Realm Makers Conference.  (If you want pictures… I need likes.  Come on, you know you want to see some cosplayers being super cool, yah?  Like my last post.)

Since then, a detail started nibbling at my mind in regards to writing in general.  Now, this is in no way a criticism to any writer, editor, publisher, agent… but it’s had a bit of an influence on me and my future with writing.

The shelves of the consignment store and merchant tables were full of excellent books.  That said, I realized as I flipped through the pages and read the blurbs on the covers something was missing for me as a reader: there were so few books written for me as an audience.  The protagonists were almost exclusively female, or minorities of some type, be they actual aliens or a sub-culture dealing with issues I could not even begin to relate to.  I felt lost in books that should be speaking to my love of literature.  I was at a conference devoted to Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy writers after all, and I did purchase a few that spoke to me.  Perhaps this is part of why I have returned to the classics like “The Comte De Monte Christo”, “Huckleberry Finn” and “Oliver Twist”.

As I tried to make sense of it all, I kept hearing a statement ringing in my head that several people had told me: “Boys don’t read”.  They are too busy or just not interested in sitting still to read.  Any number of reasons/excuses have been foisted about.  From video games to their active nature just keep them from sitting down and having a good read.

Then it hit me that there may be a second part to this equation as I considered all the books I perused and did not buy:

There are blessedly few books written FOR boys anymore!

Almost all the focus is on serving anyone but boys, and there is good reason for it too in regards to an economic sense.  Girls do read more so there is more money in it. They read earlier and spend more on books. Of course, stories traditionally written for boys have been gender swapped because some girls like a bit of adventure and daring-do too.

So now we get stories of Katniss Everdeen instead of Ender Wiggins.  Nancy Drew instead of the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift and his Electric Brain is replaced with Bella Swan and her Sparkly Relationship.  Yes, I partially mock and those books have every right to exist side by side on the shelf. May the best story win.  On the other hand, what if it isn’t an even playing field?  What if books for boys are being edged out of the market place for plausibly good reasons… but not really?

What if it’s more the case that boys aren’t reading because nobody’s writing anything they want to read?  Or worse, talk down to them in books they want to enjoy. Where is the next Johnny Quest?  Today we’d only get that if you made Johnny, Hadji’s sidekick and either made Dr. Quest be in a gay relationship with Race Bannon and Hadji would have to be his adopted daughter.  Sure there’s an audience, and any boy who grows/grew up in a traditional or typical American or western household… these are hard to relate.  At least that’s what seems to be en vogue for traditional publishers. I didn’t come from a culture of diversity and inclusion with more variety than a Christmas fruitcake. I came from a monoculture that saw other cultures as something to respect as having their place too. I’m a firm believer in the Great American Melting Pot of people united by a chosen common culture.

Even Christian publishers are pushing for “diversity and inclusion” over good story.  How diverse were the good old adventure pulps and sci fi?  They always pushed at the boundaries of society.  Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad.  They were products of their era after all.

But how many men remember nights as boys, hiding under the covers reading an exciting book well past their bedtime.  Just one more chapter! Waking up with a dead flashlight or their face stuck to a page they don’t remember reading?  I sure do and I wasn’t that big a reader till I was a teen. The thrill of amazing stories and exotic places

But I had stories I wanted to read!  Passionately!  I loved anthologies of short ghost stories and adventure and sci fi and all the other things that made me dream of bigger horizons than could be found in my life.  Stories that spoke to the problems of young boys like Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade from “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.  Books about girls coming to terms with their issues are now a dime a dozen, but how boys become men is now almost a taboo topic.

I feel there’s a need to speak to boys and men in literature again.  Tell the stories they crave of bravery and great feats of daring-do. They are under-served it seems, and I for one plan to start serving that audience.  For men who remember the boys they were and for boys who want more than just idle spectacle… and if girls or anyone else wants to join in the ride, come on board, and enjoy the adventure!

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Sanitized For Your Protection?

With the book in final review stage, waiting on the cover to go, I’ve been picking at it, finding little stray hairs of errors and cleaning up the glossary of things I should have caught long before.   Then, I had something come to light that forced me to look hard at my creation.

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The Prodigal Son by James Tissiot

One of my reviewers, whom I thank for taking up the task, let me know that the book was inappropriate because of something that happened in it.  Now I bring this up not to bash, nor to seek to shame or take to task, but to help myself and others understand my work.  I keep the book relatively clean.  There are only a couple points where the language gets ‘blue’, but there apparently is one thing in here that someone found unforgivable.  It was put to me the challenge of whether or not I should remove the phrase from the book to make it ‘safe for a Christian audience’.  That caused me to think about it over the course of a day on what was the purpose of the use of the offensive/blasphemous oath.

I asked myself about the phrase.  Was it gratuitous or unnecessary?  No to both.  What the phrase did was set the tone for the kind of environment the characters were about to enter.  It was not a completely safe place and not everyone there were good citizens or Christians.  They were complex fallible people who sinned, but also gives a hint to several things deeper in the future and serves as a warning sign to the reader that not everything is as it seems.  Yes the phrase is blasphemous if you want to strictly adhere to the law violating taking God’s name in vain.  Something that we in modern times are often guilty of dozens if not hundreds of times a day.  But for a sailor in the 16th century… this is right in line with the speech and attitude many had despite being a faithful person.

What I then realized is that the reviewer’s statement was not going to be uncommon.  There will be thousands if not tens of thousands of Christian readers who will see this one statement get very offended and ban the book from their own libraries and possibly others.  I was heartbroken about this realization.  I did not foresee it.  But I also saw the solution.  Remove or soften the phrase.  Now, I’ve done this once before already, and I’m still troubled by it being the right choice.  Is leaving this phrase in the book a hill I want to die on?

I finally realized yes.  It is going to stay and here is why.

Although I want this book to be edifying and uplifting to Christians, they are not my target audience.  It is not primarily for legalists and purists of the faith.  I will be ecstatic if they read the book, get something out of it and love it none the less.  I really hope they do.  If my beta readers and some of my reviewers are good indicators, this will be the case.

The main audience I hope to gain with this book is not just nerdy Christians who have been in the faith all their lives and have never been outside God’s grace like I had been.  This is a book aimed at nerds who have never been exposed to Christianity in this way.  Who don’t want to be preached to.  Those who do not want to hear a sermon and talked down to like they are the sinner and must be saved.  I think I accomplished that even though the characters in it live their faith out loud.  You are talking a monk dealing with ecclesiastical problems who is being punished by his superiors for failing to toe the line and is caught in a crux of the plans of others.

I want those people to find a book that is entertaining… scratch that… I want them to be THRILLED by the book!  I want those Christians who are slipping or doubting their faith or wondering if they are good enough for God to be encouraged by what they find.  I want them to see characters who are not perfect Christians and fail and sin and are hot messes but God loves them and is with them inspite of themselves, while others who seem pious and in God’s good graces to have to take a step back and realize that is not all sunshine they’re standing in.

I want them to the little heresies of life to be evident, because it might inspire someone to look at their lives in a new way.  Under all the entertainment, that is what I want them to find if they look for it.  I want those who have never seen Christianity in the same ‘cool’ lighting and stagecraft before like we so often see paganism, pantheism, atheism and other occult philosophies.  How often have we read fantasy novels or even Sci Fi novels that are chock full of “ancient weapons and hokey religions” and nobody blinks an eye at it being preached and praised?  That’s what I am doing with Christianity.  “Azeroth Metrion Xinthos…” see nobody bats an eye at something that although made up, it stands in for praise of something occult when you boil everything away.  Change that to “In the name of Jesus, demon come out!” and you get the point.

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This also speaks to the other reason I am leaving the blasphemous oath in.  I have a hard time reading most Christian fiction because everything seems to be… sanitized.  Even the villains seem to be only Disney Channel level of menace.  Even demons seem that way at times, but people are sanitized the most.  Nothing that could besmirch the squeaky clean image of the Mouse is there.  A lacquered Jesus that doesn’t even get dusty.  Never do we see the real challenging aspects of faith in a mud and blood spattered mess that is mankind.  I mean even JRR Tolkien is grittier than them and he never cusses or deals deeply about crisis of faith in any of his books, but the people there feel more real than the glossy clean brand image you’d expect with people’s Easter Sunday behavior.  This is what I hope to avoid as a writer, because I want these characters you root for to be relatable because they walked in situations like you have and do on a daily basis sometimes because being a faithful Christian can be hard and we fail over and over again, which necessitates God’s forgiveness more and more.

On the other hand, you can completely gloss over the Christianity and just treat it from a historical POV slapped into a fantasy setting like you would if you watched the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Name of the Rose” (Nobody but crazy literary people and scholars actually read Umberto Eco do they?  I love the movie though!)  The rest you can treat as typical low/historical fantasy with heavy steampunk elements thrown in on top.  Nobody will fault you for it and honestly, if you don’t care about the spiritual stuff, just enjoy the story.  So I pray what I put together actually stands up that way and does not rely on faith and sermonizing to work.  It’s part of the setting and historical context, but I don’t want anyone to feel like I’m evangelizing them deliberately.

That means I now realize even more than ever this book is in God’s hands.  Hell, this whole SERIES will be in His hands!  He’s gonna do with it as He sees fit.  But then again, when doesn’t He?  ;c)

Lastly, I also realized two things that form a viscous worrisome stew in my head.

1. I realized that if this book somehow only ends up on the shelves or pages of Christian Bookstores or online retailers, I will have failed in my mission to deliver something good for nerds and fantasy geeks.  I will have missed my intended audience and gotten my secondary one.  That’s not bad, mind you, but it will go against my hopes.  And I refer back to “God’s gonna God”.

2. I’m probably going to get hate mail from multiple sides over religious purists who will not like my handling of the faith, spiritual warfare or history, despite this is a fantasy and fantasy twist that comes from a historical basis.  It is biased to my understanding and is not perfect as theologians may say.  In fact, I deliberately have mistakes in it because it’s part of the setting and/or based on historical precedents of the medieval Catholic Church and monastic system.  This will piss off legalists who will come up with a laundry list of reasons to hate this.  Ultimately I will unashamedly refer to “It’s fantasy and welcome to the liberal use of Handwavium.” if I must.

But you know what?  I am going to have to learn to deal with it.  I wrote all this because I really felt it appropriate in the book itself.  This novel is what I felt God wanted me to write, and so I’m going to do it the way my understanding guides me and let see what happens.

Just like I cannot pick my fans (thanks artists who demanded Ivanka Trump remove their art from her walls for teaching me that… but did not offer to buy it back.)  I just need to say, “Thank you.  I am grateful that you love my work.” and respect the fact that I touched someone I didn’t intend.  But God knows what He’s doing, and that is what I’m going to have to rely on.

Thank you for reading.