At the spring Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference in California, freelance editor Jeff Gerke taught a class called "Getting Your Own Speculative Fiction Published."
He began by saying, "You can't. Let's go have chocolate."
In this world, at this time, a thriving genre of Christian speculative fiction is largely a fantasy. How can this be, when mainstream fantasy and science fiction fill shelves in bookstores?
Gerke, who writes novels as Jefferson Stout, says Christian publishing remains fixated on white evangelical American women of childbearing-to-empty-nest ages. "That's a demographic that doesn't tend to love anything weird," he notes. And so far, he says, the success of authors like Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti and Jerry Jenkins—the three names selling best today in Christian speculative fiction—has not created an industry-wide welcome for similar books.
Bryan Davis, author of the Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire youth series (AMG Publishers), says much of the Christian community doesn't trust speculative fiction because of a perception that the books are too dark or encourage readers toward the occult. In his promotional appearances, he tries to defend Christian efforts in the category by drawing comparisons to The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. "The best thing about the fantasy genre is it allows people to be heroic," he says.
Some writers maintain a subtle Christian worldview in their speculative fiction; others inject religion more overtly. In his Trophy Chase trilogy for Harvest House, George Bryan Polivka has created in Packer Throme a Christian hero who was kicked out of seminary, pursued swordsmanship instead and is struggling with his faith. Polivka says his themes include living the teachings of the Beatitudes, how God works and whether God protects the helpless. The first book, The Legend of the Firefish, came out in March and sold 6,374 copies by early April; a sequel, The Hand That Bears the Sword, will be published in July.
In July, WaterBrook will publish DragonFire, the fourth in Donita K. Paul's DragonKeeper Chronicles youth series. Since 2004 the series has sold more than 150,000 copies, a number Ginia Hairston, v-p of marketing and publicity, describes as "quite nice." Hairston says the books pit good versus evil, but have clean content and do not portray characters that some Christian parents might question.
NavPress will introduce Sharon Hinck's Sword of Lyric series for women this month (May). In The Restorer, a soccer mom is pulled through a portal into another world. NavPress senior fiction editor Rod Morris says he senses growing but cautious interest in Christian speculative fiction. He attended the Mount Hermon conference, and noticed that of the dozen or so teenage writers participating, the six or seven who were writing fiction were all working on fantasy.
"That was an eye-opener, to me and to others," Morris says. He suspects Christian publishers' quest for younger readers will provide the impetus for more fantasy fiction.
Gerke, the freelance editor, agrees, and thinks the younger generation may be the ones to figure out a way to provide the type of reading they love, whether by forming new publishing houses or inventing something revolutionary. "Can we wait long enough for these readers to grow up?" he asks. "I would like to say that within the next five years, something is going to break. Either somebody is going to do well enough to bring in a CBA audience, or they will bypass CBA altogether."