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I have been an avid reader from as early as I can remember. Since becoming a Christian in my early 20s, my passion for reading led to specifically Christian fiction and this has developed into reviewing them on this blog. I love reading debut author's novels or those author's who have not had many reviews thus providing them much needed encouragement 
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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Guest Post: The Catastrophic Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction by Anthony R. Howard

Today, I welcome Anthony R. Howard, an author who is a Christian (he explains this distinction below!). Anthony approached me to either review his new novel, Devil's Diary: The Coming, interview him or allow him to provide a guest post. After reading the book description, I chose to review this novel and allow Anthony to provide a guest post concerning a topic relating to his novel or Christian fiction.

Well, he has not disappointed at all in this guest post. I have had similar discussions myself and read much more concerning the status of Christian fiction today. This topic has even led in part to the creation of The Crossover Alliance publishing company that I belong to. 

So sit back and be challenged by what Anthony has to say about his own experience as an author, his novels and what he currently sees afflicting Christian fiction and provides one solution to this issue.

But first just some shameless promotion of Anthony's new novel that I am very much looking forward to reading: 



What Would Happen If The Creator Returned Tomorrow?

In the current world plagued by war and civil unrest, the divine arrival of the Son of Man restores hope to mankind. Like most others, Oniva Mering is not prepared to face judgment or the violent threat of an ancient secret society. Left in the company of her smooth and streetwise high school friend, Oniva must bear witness to the most catastrophic turn of events humanity has ever experienced. The stage has been set. Sides are being chosen. Angels and their worst enemies prepare for The Coming.

Are You Ready?

Each reader will face their own internal journey as they are enticed to look inside themselves, and realize where they stand in the battle of Good versus Evil. We are all a part of the book of life. But what if there was another book...The Devil’s Dairy.

Now onto Anthony's post: 

The Catastrophic Thunderstorm of Christian Fiction

Beyond the Bible, do spiritual and Biblical Christian stories sell? As we are now being pummeled by several powerful hurricanes and tropical thunderstorms (Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Jose), I couldn’t help but see a metaphor as I write this, as I see cities being devastated, and lives being tragically lost. According to weather experts, there are three key ingredients in the creation of a catastrophic hurricane. Similar elements are alive in the Christian fiction arena and have a similar effect. 

In an online Christian magazine Relevant an author titled his article: Where is all the great Christian fiction? Basically, the author of the article is disappointed in the state of Christian fiction, indicated that innovation is needed and specifically “Christian fiction authors need reprisal”. It was interesting no one had written a response to this article, not even one comment on the popular website. I don’t have the golden solution, I do have some ideas. More importantly, I wanted to open a conversation that’s currently not being had. It’s uncomfortable for many to even talk about this. There are rules. There is a wall of silence and conformity. 

This is the first step in the tropical thunderstorm: Convergence. In this stage, a low-pressure area must have formed in the low levels of the atmosphere to start winds converging. This is a metaphor for the reason of the current state of Christian fiction. To many folks, the fiction that Christian authors are putting on shelves and marketing as Christian fiction isn’t great art; it’s popular, genre fiction. What causes this state is the Christian Fiction paradigm, or thunderstorm, that many authors get caught in. 

The book that got me my first book deal was Devil’s Dairy: The Coming. With the civil unrest going on now, the novel is about what would actually happen if the Lord returned tomorrow. How would we receive Him, and what would His enemies do? The publishing house decided to come out with the spy series (The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox) first as a business decision, because of my background with technology, the Dept of Defense, plus the degrees and awards behind my name. I speak at technology conferences on a regular basis but I wasn’t a famous ordained minister, nor did I attend seminary. In their minds, I didn’t have a guaranteed platform to generate book sales. The spy books hit two bestseller lists, so in hindsight, they weren’t necessarily wrong. 



However, because of the spy series success, I ended up having to start my own publishing company to put Devil’s Dairy: The Coming out, and have it edited by the Harvard Divinity School. The point is, even though they knew it was a great work (we know this because that’s the book that got me signed), it was considered too much of a risk in the end. There are simply not too many folks with the ready-made platforms (guaranteed book sales) publishers want to see to get the great Christian work out there. This is the convergence of the storm. Convergence onto profits, and onto mass media behavior - serving up readily available fast food dogma, easy consumed, economical, profitable, but not much nutrition. One of the key purposes of literacy is to bring people to something new. Something great. One of my goals in writing is to broaden the experiences of my reader community and add to the literary art form. It’s key to not only present a fascinating story to the reader but to bring value to the reader aside from entertainment. I thought I was a Christian author. But that has very specific man-made rules (such as no aggression, no kissing below the neck, etc). Many of the rules prevent an author from being different, or fascinating. Then I became an author who is a Christian (which is different from a “Christian Author”) so I could keep writing fascinating stories and bring the Word to everyone. 

I believe this is one of the key differences of my style of Christian writing. This is component #2 of the hurricane: Impermanence. In other words, low stability or volatility. In a hurricane, this will allow deep convection or cumulonimbus clouds to build to great heights in the atmosphere. Because of this decision to keep writing fascinating stories, I was banned from Christian bookstores and Church bookstores. This poses the question: If you are ONLY writing for the Saved (as the Christian Author rules dictate) – who are you ministering to? One of the primary purposes of ministry is to spread the Good News. The rules make many books in Christian fiction very similar, and less popular to wider audiences. I’d rather not be the same. This causes a disequilibrium, taking the storm to new heights. I write to take the reader deeper. Topics where you finish the book and want to know more. If a writer isn’t different, why should anyone invest the time to read the book? Christian writers cannot continue to recycle what is already out there as Hollywood does. 

This brings us to the final conundrum. Divergence. Air Divergence in the upper atmosphere intensifies the storm. When publishers and many audiences are focused on books like the Da Vinci Code, divergence comes to life. The Da Vince Code touched on religious history (okay, some say pseudo-history), and was an interesting story (I read the book, never saw the movie). Though Christianity was discussed, there was no ministry or spirituality in the novel, nor discussion of salvation. It was popular because it was controversial. It even challenged the Vatican in some ways and disputed traditional Christian history, which also highlights the volatility storm element (#2). If you want to sell, be different. With the divergence factor, the success of these kinds of books push publishers to look for more novels like this (no ministry, no salvation, etc) and inspires writers to create a book like this to try and be popular and gain a following. This creates the perfect storm. Convergence, Impermanence, and Divergence. 

So what’s the solution? My particular solution was to start my own publishing company to release Devil’s Dairy: The Coming, put my own capital behind it and produce my own cinema trailer (below). 



I encourage others to do that. If I didn’t, the book may never have seen the light of day, even though it was great enough to land a publishing deal, which is no small feat. We have to be different if we want the Christian fiction genre to thrive. Just as hurricanes take lives, think of those who will not pick up Christian fiction, even by chance, because the rules in place don’t make them relatable to readers outside the church, which limits ministry. As a teacher of the Bible, this storm is serious and takes lives in the way of those who don’t reach salvation, because they never picked up the book. Let’s have a discussion.

About Anthony R. Howard:

Bestselling, Award-Winning author Anthony R Howard has studied Christianity for over 15 years, as well as secret societies, basic theology and angelology (the study of angels).  Howard has won several awards, appeared on many national media outlets and is also the bestselling author of The Invisible Enemy: Black Fox and The Invisible Enemy II: Vendetta. Howard also has a passion for Christianity, prophecy and spirituality.  Howard has served on ministry teams and religious leadership groups, each which give astounding insight into many of the characters developed in Devils Diary. Presently in Atlanta, he is a leading Technology Specialist for one of the world’s largest Information Technology firms where he was rated #1 IT Super Hero by InfoWorld and ComputerWorld, was the winner of the National Federal Office Systems Award (FOSE - Nation’s Largest Information Technology Exposition Serving the Government Marketplace), and the winner of Government Computer News Best New Technology Award. Several case studies have been published on Howard’s solutions across the Information Technology industry. Currently, he provides enterprise technology solutions and advisement for America’s most distinguished clients including a sizeable amount of work for the U.S. Defense Sector, Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security. 



17 comments:

  1. Watching the growth of this young man has been an adventure and a privilege. Grounded in his faith in Jesus Christ, he is challenging me to consider how I am spreading the Good News. I have enjoyed reading his works!

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read the post and respond! It makes writing all worth while when I see responses like this, because I'm my opinion, introducing new idea's and challenging folks to think is a key purpose of writing. It seems you have been challenged, so I might be doing okay at this writing thing.

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  2. My heart is filled with joy and gratitude. I thank the Lord God for this brother in Christ. I have the honor and privilege to watch him grow and forge indelible paths in life, work and passion, for any serious minded person to traverse. The conversation he's started continues to encourage AND challenge the seeker....whether in truth or christian fiction. "Go ye therefore and teach..."

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    1. Nate, when someone known in your community like you who has been behind the pulpit firsthand takes the time to respond I just get all warm and fuzzy inside. I’m interested to know if you had your own church, would you allow only the traditional Christian fiction that follows the man-made rules, or would you allow novels like Devil’s Diary: The Coming into the church bookstore… Why or why not?

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  3. With all due respect to the guest author, there are no comments on the Relevant article (dated May 10, 2012 by Google: https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/books/blog/29167-where-did-good-christian-fiction-go) because it says nothing of substance. It says that Christian authors either write inspirational fiction or popular genre fiction, but not good fiction; however they failed to define good fiction. In fact, they cited examples of speculative fiction (CS Lewis, Randy Alcorn, Frank Petetti and Madeline L'engle) which are inarguably still popular genre fiction, so I'm not sure what Conkling was trying to say.

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    1. Tony, thank you for taking the time to read the post and respond. You absolutely have the right article. I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for me to link to it because I didn’t necessarily say anything great about the article or the author, and it was kind of dated. But since you linked to it – I’m in the clear When I read the Relevant article last week, I hadn’t even realized it was from 2012, as the issue he speaks on is still very relevant (no pun intended from the title of the magazine). I stumbled across the article when I reflected on the storm I mention in my post, and actively sought out conversations that may be already taking place. I wanted to join those conversations, and hopefully get answers and different perspectives. There were no active online conversations I found on this topic. Google happened to bring up the article during my search, and I read it, not even looking at the date. After my search didn’t yield much, and I had already decided to write the post, I noticed the date. Didn’t matter much to me at that point. I agree the author did not define good fiction. What he did do at least, was acknowledge a problem. That’s a good first step. What I attempted to address in my post (aside from acknowledging the issue) was WHY the problem existed (The Storm), introduce possible solutions, and of course, opening a much needed dialogue. The solution I went about does have some obstacles. Devil’s Diary: The Coming was edited by the Harvard Divinity School (Zoey Walls) for content and accuracy as well as line-editing and grammar. Many authors won’t have the capital to do that, not to mention cover designing, typesetting, and all the costs that Peter Younghusband’s The Crossover Alliance could tell you about. It’s simply not an easy path to take. So I ask you, Tony – what are your thoughts on potential solutions?

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  4. As an author and reader who is a Christian, I completely understand the point Howard is making, especially about censoring violence and aggression in Christian fiction. A notable exception is Ted Dekker, who insists that his evil characters do depraved, sadistic acts because otherwise the constrast between right and wrong gets watered down. As Jon Acuff has pointed out, Christian movie goers will tolerate all sorts of violence, but a hint of sex will unnerve us completely. Let the harsh realities and consequences of evil be shown for what they are. I don't think an answer in this case is to write PG13 sex scenes instead of R; the problem with Christian fiction is already that it is glib and resembles Disney movies with Photoshopped plots and inevitable happy endings rather than the gritty realities of life--the dark valleys that we all travel through regardless of our beliefs. If Lord of the Rings was written by a modern Christian author eager for shelf space at the Christian book store, orcs would be harmlessly tranquilized and Boromir would repent of his lust for the ring before it killed him and drove his father into madness. The fading Christian bookstore market already appeals to fringe members of its culture through non-fiction straddling the line between Christian affirmation and Eastern mysticism, and to do the same for fiction it should follow the music example of Tooth and Nail records and bands such as Mute Math who are inspired by their Christian beliefs but don't limit themselves to that format.

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    1. Nick, I believe you are on point with how folks will find Christian themes in secular movies and celebrate it, but anything secular in "Christina Fiction" is pretty much blashphemy for some. In your journey, what solutions did you brainstorm on to help solve this storm. How do we put real life in Christian books, when we get banned form Christian bookstores for doing so?

      As a courtesy, I wanted post a link to your book on amazon of Christian skits amazon.com/Christian-Skits-Such-Nick-Angelis-ebook/dp/B0074YUWDK

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  5. I was a Christian for three decades, from my earliest childhood memories until my late 30s. I always enjoyed fiction and grew up reading Frank Peretti's seminal books This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness.

    Christian fiction was not wholly accepted then and it's no surprise it isn't today either. It's the same inherent moral structure of the church that divides it on many issues that prevents Christian fiction from gaining universal acceptance. Some denominations think the Bible is literal, others take it more figuratively. Some think dancing is a sin, some call drums a sin, some call working on Saturday a sin. Some take communion quite literally believing the bread not only symbolizes the body of Christ, but becomes it. We have those that think the rapture will happen before, during, and after the tribulation. And then those that claim it already did. Or that it was supposed to happen just a few days ago. There are so many different viewpoints each of which is considered fiction to those that don't hold those views..

    These differences didn't bother the Apostle Paul and in most cases should not bother Christians today. Paul addresses quibbles within morals dogmas with the words "Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind." Romans 14:5. To him Christianity was a liberal and freeing faith. His faith was so strong he would have no problem eating food that had been consecrated to pagan gods. His admonitions not to eat such food were so as not to cause others with weaker, less mature faith, to fall away- 1 Corinthians 8. The Bible does advocate being wary of false doctrines, but Christian fiction is just as likely to be supportive of the basic Biblical tenants as any supplemental Christian text.

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    1. Thank You for taking time to read the article and provide commentary. First, I understand your point about the doctrine differences. This actually discussed in Devil's Diary: The Coming, and I believe much of the nuances are pointless compared to the holistic picture. Some of the squabbling and rifts are the enemy's plan. You mentioned you were (past tense) a Christian for three decades. Was it the differences in viewpoints vs universal acceptance that caused you to shift away from Christianity?

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  6. As a Christian author, I understand the point that the Relevant article writer and Anthony Howard are making on the state of Christian Fiction. But their arguments aren’t necessarily new.

    I published my first short story in a Christian women’s magazine in 1978. (Yes, I wrote it on a typewriter!) I have been writing ever since and have ten books to my credit. I know that I still am not as good at my craft as I someday hope to be. But even back when I first began writing, the debate existed about the state of Christian publishing. And as challenged as it is today, it has improved from those bygone days.

    When I began writing, there was very little Christian fiction being published and most of it was awful. But I read it because I was hungry for stories that I could relate to. The amount of Christian fiction available today is exponentially more and in many cases exponentially better than what I was reading as a young person. But the “formula” for Christian fiction hasn’t changed as much as it could have or should have. This means that many Christian writers will have to self-publish if they want to venture beyond the formula.

    I have both self-published and been published by an established small press. I find self-publishing to require little more effort or expense than being a part of someone else’s imprint. And the rewards in self-publishing can be far greater.

    I think the advent of print-on-demand publishing will change Christian fiction and I hope it changes it for the better. That still remains to be seen, however. Since nearly anyone now can publish a book, much that is mediocre will still find its way into print. But on the flip side, those authors who want to reach beyond the established publishers’ formula may bring to readers something truly inspired and truly able to reach the world with a message of hope.

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    1. Jonita, thanks for taking the time to read the post and provide feedback. Interesting to hear some of the history. Before writing this article, I went looking for some of the discussions you mention, but didn't didn't find anything on the internet. This prompted me to write the article and hopefully hear from others like you. When you mention the arguments aren't new -- is there another specific forum you could share where the discussion is being debated? Or were you simply saying that you've heard the viewpoint along your journey as a Christian writer? We also agree on three things. 1. The formula hasn't changed much 2. Self publishing is a very viable option. It's the path I chose, even after being signed by a traditional publisher. It's the path that formed Peter Younghusband's The Crossover Alliance. 3. Self publishing is more rewarding. Not just financial (profits vs royalties), but you get creative control of your work, even including cover design. And yes, hopefully POD brings a new era of great Christian literature that breaks the traditional mold. POD also brings out many rough among the diamonds...If you want, share the link to your authors website so our audience can see your diamonds sparkle.

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  7. Great Article I just stumbled upon your blog and love your content. Thank you for writing these inspiring thought provoking articles. I am a aspiring writer and was inspired by reading Mr Howard's Interview

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    1. Freda, thank you for taking time to read the article and provide feedback. What do you write?

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  8. I am a writer (who is Christian), and also an avid Christian Historical Fiction reader. I've been reading the genre since junior high school and continue to find it entertaining, but I agree with Anthony R. Howard that it is not elevating the form of fiction. The books being released today are comfort food -- they don't challenge any beliefs, they don't mess with the status quo, they don't even really entertain outside of the formulaic models for the genre.

    I went to a Christian university, Biola, and went into the English program with wonderful dreams of someday becoming one of those writers of Christian comfort literature. I wanted to write historical fiction and embrace the warmest/fuzziest side of life. However, at Biola I began to grow concerned by the number of people that I met who never stretched beyond that Christian bubble. I had always read Christian fiction as a way of relaxing, not as a way of escaping the news, current events, or human beings outside of the Christian religion. It was during this time of life that I also became increasingly dissatisfied with the conversions happening within these books. If there are any non-Christian main characters in a Christian novel, then they are always converted in a nice and neat little package by the end of the book. I realized that didn't always apply to real life. Some people struggle with the ideas of God and Christianity for their whole lives.

    I decided to be a writer who is Christian rather than a Christian writer because I wanted to present an alternative to the nice and neat faith story. Life is messy. It progresses in a haphazard way and sometimes very un-Christian things happen to people.. Our literature needs to reflect this. I hope that the generation of writers to follow our current Christian writers will be allowed to express the currently unseen sides of life in Christian fiction. We need to start telling it like it is -- complicated!

    Thank you,
    Sarah Donawerth
    Writer, Blogger, Artist
    www.sarahdonawerth.com

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  9. I read Christian Fiction for many reasons. I have children who are avid readers. I would die knowing that I am teaching them one way to behave and then reading trashy books of people who are behaving another way. When I used to homeschool them, the entire family would often read the same books Christian or not. Some examples are The Book Theif, Persepolis, True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, The House of the Scorpion, The Giver, all 13 of the Joseph Delany Last Apprentice Series, The Kite Runner, Ann Frank, etc... I tell you these titles to show that we expose our children to all genres, but have certain standards or values that we like to live by.

    I read Christian fiction because the reading is every bit as good as secular reading. Christian authors should be encouraged in a world wherein most of mainstream life, premarital sex, addiction and lack of a true north is the norm.

    I, myself wrote a book about the affair my husband had, and I wanted it to appeal to a both Christan and non-Christian audience. I made sure to include bad language (that I really used) and some mild sexual content, but also made sure that the reader knew my faith in God, my favorite Bible verses, and my ability to forgive as Jesus forgave us. Although the names were changed and it was written in fiction format, the story was true.

    Stacey Greene
    Author of Stronger Than Broken - One couple's decision to move through an affair.
    www.strongerthanbroken.com

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    1. Stacey, thank you for reading the article and giving your viewpoint. Though our viewpoints are not exactly the same, something you wrote jumped out at me. Your last paragraph. You included bad language and mild sexual content in the book you wrote. This is exactly the reason for me writing the article. You included those things because you wanted to appeal to a wider audience. What you did was against the traditional formula, and would have got you tossed out of not only church bookstores, but Christian bookstores. Even though you wrote a book based on the values you live by, based on what you've personally experienced, reflective of your personal Christian journey, yet it breaks two of the Christian Author rules off the top (profanity and kissing below the neck). Would you have minded if your children or your neighbors children had read your book (since you changed the names and wrote it as fiction). Probably not if they were of proper age. Your story is one of faith and forgiveness, two strong tenets of Christianity. So in telling your story, you are spreading your testimony for other to hear. From reading your 1st two paragraphs, it appeared you were disagreeing with me, which would have been ok. Reading your last paragraph, you were caught in the exact storm I wrote about. You did change from the custom formula and routine. You did stray away from the Christian literary regulation to tell your story in a way relatable to others. In this story, you reveal a bit of yourself, and Sarah wrote above, "Very un-Christian things happen to Christian people." "Life is messy."
      Christians react, and are not perfect.
      In technical terms, because of the decision you made to tell a real story - you work is no longer "Christian Author" work, even though you are a Christian who is an author. This is the storm I'm writing about. You took the same way north. Am I making sense?

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