Archive for January, 2013

At the turn of this century publishing was in trouble. Nobody was buying books…except the ones written as “inspirational” stories. That created a burgeoning demand for works of fiction that would appeal to Christians. It also resulted in a burgeoning supply of people who wrote works designed to appeal to Christians. Some major authors like Anne Rice even underwent timely conversion experiences that enabled them to capitalise on the trend. Other major authors well-known in secular circles wrote under pen names to market books in the profitable Christian Fiction genre.

That’s when I started to get really cautious about “Christian Fiction” and the theology therein. I’ve been a Christ-follower since the age of four. I grew up in the church environment and–like everyone else in that society–I am no stranger to the people who use a presumed shared faith to sell things.

“Brother, I’d like to talk to you about your family’s insurance needs.”

“I’ve gotten into this wonderful new hobby called scrapbooking/needlework/candle making/jewelry making. I’m hosting a party at my house so all you girls in the Sunday School can come and hear more about it. It’ll be a Christ-honouring time of fellowship and fun!”

“Sister, I understand you might be in the market for a vehicle. Come by the lot and I’ll show you what I’ve got in mind for you. It’s a special car I’ve had set aside just for a member of the church family who had a special need.”

Sometimes the salespeople are motivated by a genuine servant’s heart and desire to help. Other times they’re wolves fleecing the sheep. You never know for sure but after a few years you learn to be on your guard. (When you in turn go into business for yourself, you also get used to the people who expect you to give them things for free or for discount. The True Believers will get you coming and going.)

So now that there are a metric ton of books aimed at the Christians with disposable income, leisure time and desire to not read cuss words or sex scenes, I am what is known (derisively) as The Theology Police. I know that among writers the general feeling seems to be “hey, you can accept dragons and vampires and ghosts. Accept that the theology in my book isn’t going to be entirely orthodox to Christianity in general!”

Here’s my take on it. You are taking advantage of a niche market. That niche market has concrete expectations that are the very definition of what makes it. Why is it bad for people to expect you to play by that market’s rules?

Let’s say you wanted to take advantage of the burgeoning gay fiction market. Like the Christians of the 90s the homosexual marketplace is growing because it has disposable income, leisure time and an easily definable set of expectations. I’d think that if you decided to sell books marketed as Gay Fiction that had a homosexual male main character who ended up falling in love with a woman you’d be not only foolish but also taking advantage of your readers presumptions. They gave you ten bucks expecting something. In return you gave them pretty much the exact opposite of what they were looking for.

So why is it any different to give Christians a book where the main character is a Christian but everything else that happens to her is decidedly not Christian in scope?

You can call me the Theology Police all day long. I just prefer to think of myself and others like me as Christians who’ve been taken advantage of once too often.

The irony of all this is that I generally don’t enjoy “Christian Fiction” precisely because so much of it is theologically unorthodox and so much of it is also of very poor quality. I’ve read a few lately that are okay quality-wise but I’d just as soon read from the General Market where I’m being sold stories without an accompanying niche marketing tactic.

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I have some announcements for the world. They’re my Julia Sugarbaker speeches I want to give to the strawman character who is all set up for my icy middle aged woman takedown. Here we go, gang!

First, a non-Disney speech: Demeaning behaviour is demeaning. It doesn’t matter if you are a “cute fireman” or a “gross fat construction worker”. Looks don’t make it okay for you to catcall at a woman. When you catcall a woman it’s not flirtation. It’s a form of aural assault that says “I don’t care about you as a person, but as an object relatively pleasing to me.” When women greenlight catcalling from “cute guys” that’s like saying it doesn’t matter if the preppy jocks rape someone. After all, wealth and good looks are desirable, so any negative attention from wealthy or goodlooking people should be desirable as well. Nonsense.

Now The Disney Rants:
Companies are about making money. I know that you associate “Disney” with family-related fare. That doesn’t mean that Disney is Grandma. (Yes, I said this on Facebook, too, but I’m expanding it here.) You aren’t owed something special for having kids. The world doesn’t owe you a sort of break for that. Stop going into forums and saying “Disney is about family! They should make X family product more affordable to people with kids.” Here’s the thing. They have a wide range of products. Families with kids have a wide range of incomes. Just because you want to give your child X toy and it costs 30% more than you can afford does not mean that “Disney is ripping [you] off.” It just means that you are now able to teach your child the invaluable meaning of the word “no”. I guarantee she will hear it many times in her life. I’m sorry you can’t always get what you want. There should be a song about that.

On a related note: do not go to Disney World if you cannot afford to go to Disney World. Not everyone can. I’ve had more of my life than not where I couldn’t afford to go to Disney World. So I didn’t go. When I want to go now, I have to give up something else. For example, we only have (how pampered is that mindset?!? “only”) one car. That money we don’t spend on a second vehicle is what pays for a Disney World trip every 2-4 years. Yeah–we go once every few years. And we don’t go on other vacations. So don’t go into forums and start talking about how you make your family go into Pecos Bill’s and eat “salads” comprised of the condiments. The lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, onions and mushrooms are hamburger toppings. For people who buy hamburgers. The ketchup and mayonnaise are too. They are not “an easy dressing to make at the table!” Y’all sound ridiculous with these “money saving tips.”

And yes, I suppose it’s clear I spent some time on a few Disney forums today. I think I may have to stop doing that, because it’s increasingly less about reminiscing about the par and more about entitlement and thieving.

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I had always intended to write on the blog regularly once Christmas Break was over and the world was back in its routine. I hadn’t intended that this be such an odd, weird, sad, difficult January. We’ve had several tearful conversations about sending one dog to grad school. (His brother, Casey, was smart but Quinn is much, much smarter. So he gets to skip college and go directly to grad school like the prodigy he is.) We’ve had several less tearful but just as serious conversations about the new dog and managing him.

I’ve been realising that I am having a harder time bonding with Gus simply because I feel like it’s mentally trading in old, busted Quinn for Gus’ fluffy puppy new hotness.

I’ve been realising that “we need to put him down because he’s in constant pain” is probably true but doesn’t work as well for me. What’s next? Do I put myself down? Obviously not.

We’ve gotten some stronger-than-aspirin pain meds and an adjustment in insulin that seem to be helping Quinn, so that’s good. Still and all, it’s hard feeling like every day is a Death Test for him.

There’s other stuff going on health-wise and house-wise. It’s just an uphill-both-ways slog these past five or six days and I’m doing good to dress, brush my teeth and keep from passing out. Yesterday I filled the house with noxious black smoke and today we’re living in the malodourous aftermath of that little adventure.

So I haven’t written, which actually does make things worse, Writing even a little bit here is like opening a pressure valve and letting some of the steam vent out instead of boiling my brain inside its case. So now I’m stealing a few minutes while Gus and Gob wrestle on the floor in a growling black blur. I was going to try to put something insightful out into the world, but sometimes the only insight you’ve got is “take everything one bite at a time. One step at a time. One moment at a time. Breathe between bites, steps, moments, because breathing brings clean air to your blood.

Breathe and type. That’s my only advice.

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In yesterday’s unusual Sunday Evening Post I talked a lot about God’s Will and what that means for writers. Even if you aren’t a Christian, the chances are that you’ve been infected–just as many Christians have–by Americitis. And Americitis is a huge problem for most of us.

I’ve only been around since 1970, so any knowledge I have of times before then comes from books and anecdotes. I admit I’m not an expert on life before 1980. But the 1980s and their peculiar zeitgeist seem to have given our Western Hemisphere society this idea that success in life is only measured by two factors: money and fame. If you have one or the other, you’ve been a successful human being. If you have both, you walk the earth like a giant. Without either, you are perceived by many as having been worthless in your time here. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Oprah and others provided a sort of third path and gave people the idea that having children was also a marker for your personal success. So there are a lot of people who find ego refuge and self-respect in the idea that although they are not wealthy and have no measure of fame they have succeeded because they have had children.

I suppose the “have children” thing comes as close to an antidote for Americitis as anything else. Or it did until it was twisted by Americitis and the ego refuge became something different. Having children isn’t enough anymore. You have to have Gifted Children who become wealthy or famous. It’s like you get a little do-over there. And until they grow into gifted genius dot-com millionaires they must have the nicest clothes and cribs and toys. If your five year old does not have an iPad, you are sailing perilously close to the winds of failure.

That’s Americitis. This inability to value humans for their humanity is a problem. When it comes to writers there is only value if you’ve been published. Well, that used to be the threshold. Now the bar has been raised. You have to be published by A Big Publishing House, your book must be a best-seller and you must have more than one best-selling book. Until then you aren’t successful–some would even say you aren’t a writer.

I’ve been a call center agent who verified credit cards in a fraud prevention unit. I’ve worked the Membership Desk at a Sam’s Club. I was a travel agent, a computer programmer for a travel agency, and a freelance researcher for business startups. I was a Marketing Assistant, a Catalog Coordinator, a Licensing Coordinator. I was a freelance desktop publisher and graphic designer for print marketing. These were all jobs that were fun at times, a drag at other times. Some paid well, others did not. I’m still actually owed money from the freelance gigs, but I figure I’ll never see it and chalk it up to lessons learned.

There are a lot of lessons learned from having those less-than-glamourous but necessary types of work. I’ve met many people, most of whom are wonderful, others of who are annoying but all of whom have made me a better person. I’ve learned to not think of myself first all the time. I’ve learned to value people of different faiths, different politics, different sexualities. I’ve learned so much about how to see the world with Holy Spirit eyes instead of eyes blinded by Americitis. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’ve come a long way and it’s thanks to being willing to do the work where God placed me.

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So this happened. Like a week ago. I haven’t commented in the comments on the original post because I was initially caught up in other things. Yet the blog entry has lain there in my frontal lobe like a dry and jagged splinter, poking the gray matter into a bloody mess. So I’m writing about it now.

The original blog post by Mike Duran is one of those “funny” things that people write occassionally in an attempt to satirize the environment. Unfortunately I think that a lot of times the humour ends up being at the expense of already-vulnerable people.

The original post is “the top 5 clichés used by Christian writers” and makes a lot of hay out of the fact that Christian writers don’t get published because their stuff isn’t that good but they use God’s Will as an excuse.

Whenever a published writer makes fun of unpublished writers it really makes me angry. Getting published is like winning the lottery; yes, some people have better stuff, but that’s really only the equivalent of having enough cash on hand to buy more tickets. Ultimately the difference between what gets picked up by a traditional press (small or large) and what doesn’t comes down to who you know or what you know or how much time and money you had to put into chasing down agents and going to conferences.

There are a lot of writers out there who are at the stage of their life where they have other priorities. Yes, they’re writers and they are writing as God called them (or fate directed them or whatever your belief system is that drives you to strive). But they are also raising babies who won’t be babies forever. Duran is published, but I’ll happily point out that he didn’t start writing or get published until his children were grown and out of the house. It’s easy to mock someone twenty years younger who is in a different place in her life.

Everyone is different, and everyone has a different path. Author Eric Wilson got an agent and a publishing deal out of his reviews on Amazon. Author Jennifer Weiner got a publishing deal because she went to an Ivy League school and knew someone who knew someone at Seventeen Magazine. Are we going to make fun of everyone who doesn’t go to an Ivy League School or who doesn’t spend hours a week reviewing Christian fiction on Amazon?

My path is different from a lot of people’s. I have books that were published as work-for-hire in the early 2000s. I could mock anyone whose book didn’t sell 20,000 copies like each of mine did but then I’d not be truthful about the fact that my book was packaged in a kit which people likely bought as much for the decorative coasters. My fiction will get published someday, but I’m not yet sure how. I just go about my life and do as God directs. In the meantime I’d like to think that I won’t derive self-satisfaction at the expense of people on a different road.

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Have I got a treat for you! Start the new year off right with a five-worm read. My review of Michael J. Sullivan’s Theft Of Swords is up at Book In The Bag, and if you want to see the rare ocurrance of me gushing over a “men’s adventure” fantasy then check it out.

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After yesterday’s blog entry it appears that the Farce has undergone a mystical transformation for 2013.

If I write about a problem, the problem is immediately solved! Yesterday saw Gus turning a corner. Or maybe it was me who turned the corner. Either way, corners were turned and bonding is happening and I no longer look at him and feel the same emotional connection I feel to the stop sign at the corner of Hallcrest Ct. and Hampton Hall Way.

So if this is true and my blog has become a sort of prayer wheel/prayer wall/magic thing, I should start just demanding magical things.

Kind of the way some people do with the Christian God. “I have faith that you’ll heal me!” becomes not really a statement of faith but a sort of bullying black magic dare. Either God heals you and validates your faith but becomes something you consider subject to your will and incantations or God doesn’t heal you and you either lose your faith or lower your opinion of God.

It’s a no-win situation.

This came up again on Facebook when a friend said she had the flu and one of her friends said “I call you Healed in Jesus’ Name! Go and Be well!”* Well, gee, thanks, friend! I had not thought of that in all these years. I wish that I was as down with the Holy Spirit as you are!

Here’s the thing. God hasn’t cured me and I won’t be surprised if God won’t “cure” me until the perfect cure of death. It’s not a problem. God has given me things that make my illnesses bearable; God walks with me through the Valley of the Shadow and I fear no death or illness. Some people are relieved of physical ailments. But that’s not because they are stronger in their faith or better human beings or super-gifted. It just means that’s their path. Just as not everyone has blond hair and blue eyes, in that same way the variety of the world sends people down different journeys.

Besides all that I’ve already said, I’m also not best pleased by what this sort of “Christ will heal us because we know Christ” says to people who are not currently in a relationship with Christianity. Are we telling them they deserve to suffer? Are we telling them that God’s gift of free will is a joke? “You can choose to not follow me, person. Hope you enjoy a life of misery!” Are we telling them that God is so petty as to inflict misery upon anyone not in a relationship with God? Because that’s how it looks to me.

And yes, I do know and believe that God sends trials to teach people lessons. But I also firmly believe that God only sends those trials to those people who have already entered into a relationship with God as adopted children. Those trials are between God and the tested party. It is not for any outsider to determine whether or not the trial is corrective or instructive. So all this tommyrot about “God gave you cancer for committing adultery” or “God let some crazy child shoot your child to death because there is no prayer in school” is just that. A ridiculous lie designed to make God look like a monster.

*( I went into detail over there about how that pomposity bothers me, but I still want it said here too. I know it’s a common refrain for this blog but if there is one thing I want my illness to speak to it’s that God has other paths besides what we automatically assume to be the ideal and those paths are fantastic journeys. )

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I’m back from the unintended blog break. (The auto-post of that year in review thing doesn’t count as anything more than a lazy woman’s placeholder.)

Since this blog is where I’m honest with the world in spite of how it makes me look, I figure that it’s only fair that I be honest with the world about my current failing–or what feels like my current failing. (more…)

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