CLEAN FANTASY

Let’s face it: the ability to describe a book or movie as “clean” and/or “decent” is becoming rarer and rarer. In an age where those two words are almost said with distaste or as though they are synonymous with “boring” or “corny,” a writer who desires to enchant her audience without sex, cuss words, or excessive violence must work two to three times harder than the competition, especially if they want to venture into the world of fantasy. However, as evidenced by such writers as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and more currently Stephen R. Lawhead and even Terry Brooks have proven that it can be done. Perhaps this post will be seen as “unfair” or “narrow-minded” on my part, but I have always thought that authors who resort to using expletives and sex in their works are falling into laziness in their writing. Sure, you’ll get a reaction from people, sure, you’ll get some shock value, but after that wears off, you have left your reader dissatisfied because your story was not good enough to carry itself without such tactics.

On the flip side of this arguments is the fact that there is an appalling amount of “bad” writing in the Christian fiction section of the book-store. When a friend of mine was asked why I do not write “Christian fiction” or have an overwhelming desire to go with a “Christian Publisher” my friend told me she was tempted to respond by saying, “Because Jenelle is a good writer.” While at the time, this made me laugh, thinking back on it makes me sad. It should not be thus. Shouldn’t Christian authors be held to a higher standard than the rest of the world? I admit, just because something is “clean” doesn’t necessarily mean that it is well-written. I do not believe that Christians should write just for other Christians (and here is the heart of why I will not necessarily go with a Christian publisher), because your sphere of influence is very limited and while it may be “kingdom focused” it is not “kingdom expanding.” If you limit your target audience to 14-18 year old Christians, that is the audience you will get. Your books will be sanctioned by Christian parents and their children will read them because you are a Christian author, and they may love them, but their non-Christian friends may never give you, as an author, a chance. I do not think this is the answer any more than resorting to writing “edgy” fiction.

Colossians 3:17, 23 – And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.

Mark 16:15 – He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.”

2Corinthians 6:3, 4a, 5b – We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance…in hard work… in purity…”

As a Christian, I am more moved when I see/read/hear God’s truth coming from an unexpected source. When I hear a country song on a secular radio station that talks about Jesus, when I read a fantasy fiction book (that I picked up somewhere other than Lifeway) that is well-written and portrays some aspect of the Good News (whether on purpose or accidentally), and when I watch a movie that inadvertently points to Christ, I always come away feeling amazed at how God works through the most unlikely of sources to point to Himself and Truth. I always think, “Wow. Think of how many unsaved people are probably listening to, reading, or watching this! And they are hearing God’s Truth.” I’m not saying that Christian radio stations, movies made by churches, or Christian authors going through Christian publishers are bad things. I think they’re great! I just have to wonder sometimes, if that’s really “Going into all the world…” or if it’s merely “settling.” Settling for a smaller audience, a friendly audience, a receptive audience, an audience who will more often than not overlook poor quality if your book/CD/movie mentions Jesus in any way on the back cover.

So, what do I think is the answer? I think we need to throw out both approaches. I think Christian artists should be held to a higher standard, not a lower one. I think Christians should LEAD the way when it comes to well-written books, quality music, and blockbuster movies. I have always had a problem with Christian artists following the trend. I once went to a … I’m not sure what it was, actually, we walked into the auditorium and discovered that some kind of, apparently free, event was being held there… but there was a huge audience and the whole point of the presentation seemed to be playing clips of Christian music that were “alternatives” to whatever was “hip” at the moment. I walked away from that with a really bad taste in my mouth. If the music out there isn’t worth listening to, then why should Christians be trying to make “clean” or “alternative” versions of it?

As a Christian and a lover of the fantasy genre, I am committed to writing stories that are both filled with adventure and excitement without also being filled with worldly “smut,” for lack of a better term. I want to write books that inspire, that excite, that send the imagination soaring. I also want to write fantasy that parents can approve of for their teens to read, and fantasy that the parents may want to read as well! I hope that my readers will hold me not just to the standard of Christian-principles, but also to the standard of excellent writing.

~ jenelle

A response

I have so far sent queries to two agencies. I have heard back from both of them. The first one just sent me an email that said they had stopped responding to queries they are uninterested in, and so if I haven’t heard from them again in 30 days to assume they don’t like me. Ok, it actually said to assume that they weren’t currently interested in my manuscript. However, this morning I heard back from the second agent I queried and she asked for the first 5 pages of my book. Now, either she was intrigued by my query, or she asks EVERYONE for their first 5 pages. I don’t know which it is. Either way, it’s exciting to be asked for pages.

I have been editing and polishing The Dragon’s Eye out of existence er, until it shines. Based on the reviews I got from the ABNA contest (you can read what they had to say here), I have rearranged the first three chapters, cut entire paragraphs, and added a few bits of dialogue here and there. I am amazed at how much my writing style has changed in just a few short years! I am excited to get The Dragon’s Eye up to snuff. As I have been chopping my manuscript into sawdust sanding the rough edges off my first book (well, technically my third book… but the first in this series), it has been fun to be able to be brutally honest with myself about where it is obvious I simply had no idea what I was doing when I wrote this book.

I have never enjoyed editing this much before. It’s fantastic! This is probably because instead of focusing on the tiny errors such as commas and semi-colons and spelling mishaps… (although, I’m not ignoring those mistakes either, don’t worry), I am re-writing a lot of plot and dialogue and straight-up story. It’s like going through my book with a machete.

Stay tuned! I’ll let you know if I hear anything more from the agent.

~ jenelle

Things this contest has taught me

1. Blessings really do sometimes come in disguise.
I was very bummed and disappointed about not making it to round three. However, I was determined to accept it without complaining, whining, or feeling sorry for myself. I think that this has really helped me move into a new level of maturity when it comes to my writing and accepting criticism.

2. Hard work pays off.
Since entering this contest, I have done more to promote my books than ever before and I’ve made 4 sales in the past month (which is more than I sold all last year combined!)

3. I’m not as bad at describing my books as I think.
Making it to round two was such a confidence booster for me. One of my hesitations to writing query letters and synopses has always been a lack of confidence when it comes to “explaining what my books are about.” When people ask me this question, I tend to go blank. I stammer out something about a princess and dragons and then change the subject. However, since the first round of judging was based solely on a 300 word description of what my book is about, and I made it through, I have suddenly become far more confident and have sent out my very first 2 queries in the week since getting the “bad” news.

4. Writing is fun.
Most importantly, entering this contest, “talking” on the discussion boards with other authors/writers, and getting feedback from strangers on my story has really reinvigorated my love of writing. It has lit a “fire” under me and given me the desire to edit and polish my manuscript until it shines (and is up to the standards of my most recent work: The Minstrel). I am excited about the prospect of finding an agent and subsequently a publisher. I am excited about editing. And most importantly, I am excited to continue writing new stories as they unfold from my mind onto the page. I have even started two whole new stories, as different from my Dragon’s Eye series as Star Wars is from the Wheel of Time.

So, thank you, ABNA, for all you’ve taught me. And thank you, Lord, for not letting me slide through this contest with ease. It’s way more fun this way.

~ jenelle