We're winding up the Restorer blog tour and the interview with Sharon Hinck by talking about Christian speculative fiction.
John: How would you characterize the current Christian speculative fiction market from where you’re sitting?
Sharon: I still think really unusual stories aren’t readily embraced. I totally understand why. I don’t feel bitter or angry about that. I understand where the publishers are coming from, trying to meet the requests and needs of their readership and the kind of stories they tend to buy. It still baffles me, because I see that whole area of speculative fiction exploding in ABA and I see some hope in the younger readership in CBA, but I don’t understand what’s keeping it from being more widely embraced. I’m hopeful but still a little bewildered.
It also depends on what you count as "speculative fiction." If you factor in Frank Peretti, Ted Dekker, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, then the top selling fiction in CBA is speculative fiction. When you go more specifically to fantasy or science fiction then it’s still a very narrow market and I’m not quite sure why that is.
John: What themes do you think can be best explored by speculative fiction? What can speculative fiction do that other genres can’t?
Sharon: I think it’s one of the best genres ever at conveying the whole metaphor for the Christian life as a battle, as spiritual warfare, as a heroic epic journey, not only God’s epic journey but ours as well. There’s no other genre that does it as powerfully.
Speculative fiction can give us a fresh look at things we already know too well. When I taught dance I used to teach a movement prayer to the Lord’s Prayer. People would say afterward, "I pray that prayer so many times it stopped meaning anything to me. And now seeing it in this new way, certain portions of it mean more because I’ve acted it out." Fantasy can do that. It can take the story of God stepping into the human condition and redeeming us and look at it from a completely fresh angle.
John: Do you think there are any "taboo" elements of secular speculative fiction that can’t be sanctified by Christian fiction?
Sharon: I think Christians have the art first. Satan corrupts it. We don’t even have to think about taking back things and sanctifying them for our use again. I think everything is up for our use as we’re writing stories about God.
I think each writer as they’re serving God will find what elements to use.
It is a hard decision to make about what to include and not include. I don’t want my stories to make sinful look choices come across as looking okay or desirable. I want God to be more interesting than evil. That’s one of the tricky things because evil is more fun to write and more interesting in stories. To make God more interesting in His purity than evil is can be a very tricky thing.
John: What can those of us who enjoy speculative Christian fiction do to help the genre?
Buy books. Seriously. It makes such a difference if people buy them. It sounds simplistic, but that’s a huge thing. If people don’t buy the books, the publishers won’t contract for more of that genre no matter what it is.
Also be viral. Spread the word if you read a book you love. That can really make a difference. Like Lord of the Rings’ popularity. It was a viral thing. I read it in college and had been a fan from way back. For a modern audiences to embrace it the way they did when the movies came out, that was viral. That was people telling their friends, "You’ll like this movie."
It just happens naturally. If you love something, you tend to talk about it. But sometimes, I don’t think people realize what an impact that can have. Especially when it’s something that people are hesitant about like speculative fiction.
For example, all the gals in my Beth Moore Bible study had read the manuscript for The Restorer because I was looking for feedback when I first wrote it. My friend Vikki said, "Well, I don’t read fantasy." And my other friends said, "You have to read this one. It’s different. You’ll like it." Finally they talked her into it. She loved it so much she started passing this manuscript around to all these other people she said had to read it. She became this avid fan of the series. Her husband read it, her daughter read it, and she just kept giving it to people. But it was because friends said, "No really, read this book."
That personal word of mouth and voting with your pocket book are two great ways to support the genre. And prayer. At Mount Hermon, a session leader wisely said she believes that there are powerful stories God can tell in this genre through His people, both in the general market as well as the Christian market. For those doors to open, we need to pray. It’s a walls of Jericho kind of thing. It’s not something we can do with our own power and just make it happen. We have to be prayerful and patient and do the part of the work God gives us.
John: What advice can you give to hopeful Christian speculative fiction authors?
Sharon: Continue to seek God in every stage in the process: what kind of stories to tell, how to tell them, how to grow in the craft, who to listen to. You’re going to get all kinds of advice, you’re going to read things, and some of it will conflict and really make your brain hurt. It sounds simplistic to say, "Seek God," but it’s so difficult to quiet all the other voices and say, "Okay, Lord, I’m here."
When I teach about writing, I talk about my "A-As of writing," which are to be available and authentic. Available means showing up and saying, "I’m here, Lord, if You want to use me to write today. What do You want me to write? Articles, short stories, novels? What kinds of stories?" That sounds so easy but it’s not. There’re a million things to pull me away from it. Our own self doubt makes it difficult to show up and be available.
To be authentic, means to not write from a place of strength where you say, "I have all the answers," but from that place of brokenness, you know, "I’ve gone through these times of questioning and here’s how God responded in my life," and weaving those things into my writing.
The cool thing is, if you’re doing this in fellowship with God, it’s not wasted, even if nothing reaches publication. I like to be a good steward of my time so I really wrestled with this. It’s a very lavish art form in terms of how long it takes. Writing novels eats many, many hours and then growing in your craft, many, many hours of study trying and failing and rough drafts. You don’t want to spend that if you think it’s going to be for nothing. But I remember one time praying and seeking God about all that. I figured there were other things I could be doing like volunteering at my church rather than writing. And I asked Him if my doing this brought Him pleasure. You know, like in Chariots of Fire – "When I run, I feel His pleasure." If it does, then it has value. Maybe not on Earth, but if it brings God joy, it’s worth it. If it’s where God calls you, it’s where you need to be.
John: What’s coming up for Sharon Hinck?
Sharon: A nap. The three Restorer books release May, September, and January. The revision process, all the different stages, it has been a really intense year. Then I have two more coming out with Bethany House in 2008. I’m working on the rewrites for my fourth book from Bethany House, my seventh novel. After I’m done with that, I need a nap.
And thus concluded the interview. Sharon insisted that we take a picture to commemorate the occasion (also so I could prove to Isaiah that he met Sharon if he didn't believe me):
So that's it. I hope you enjoyed the interview as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.
Don't forget, the give-away ends at midnight. If you haven't signed up by then, it'll be too late!
And be sure to visit the other blog tour participants!
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Heather R. Hunt
Lost Genre Guild
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Daniel I. Weaver