Earlier today, I wrote and published the short story A Black Matter for the King just for myself, but later, I adapted it slightly so it could be a response to the First Line Friday writing challenge hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie.
Although it’s gotten several “likes,” no one has ventured to comment. That happens sometimes, and I suppose it doesn’t have to mean anything, but this story does have an overtly Christian character. He has volunteered to fight in the Vietnam War, both because he’s already had friends drafted into the service who have been sent over and died, and because he believes that as a Marine, he has to fight in our wars to keep the people back home, especially his family, safe, and so our nation can remain free.
Now those are all ideas that have fallen out of favor lately (or not so lately). I did have another character in the tale comment on how the Vietnam War did nothing to protect our nation’s people or their freedom. However, it wasn’t so much the purpose of the war that’s at issue, but rather my male protagonist having a certain set of values and a code of honor to uphold.
That brought to mind the wee essay I crafted just last week called Am I Wasting My Time Trying to Become a Published Science Fiction/Fantasy Author?. If there indeed is a severe bias against Christianity and people of faith, not only among the authors/publishers of mainstream SF/F, but among the general readership, that might explain a few things. Granted, no one has been “ranting” against the content of “Black Matter” and similar stories, but perhaps they are polite enough to ignore me, saying nothing at all.
In the absence of information, I can only guess.
I consider “Black Matter” to be a pretty good tale, largely because it exposes the open wound children have when, at a young and tender age, they lose a parent on the field of battle. Every time a man or woman is deployed, and their family says their good-byes, it could well be the last time they see him or her alive. What a terrible and bitter thing.
But angst and poignancy aside, I made Jerry Sanders a Christian with some pretty basic and conservative beliefs. Not the most popular of guys in the 21st century, in spite of his obvious love and dedication to his wife and small daughter.
If I wanted to publish such a story, where would I go?
Since this is a (more or less) science fiction tale with a high moral standard, one place might be Superversive SF. Of course, they have their quality standards too, and this might not meet any of them. Besides, some of their contributors have a decidedly “political” bent, so “Black Matter’s” content might not fit the bill.
I went looking for other publications, and so far I found only one other possible venue: Mysterion. According to their About page:
The Christian faith is filled with mystery, from the Trinity and the Incarnation to the smaller mysteries found in some of the strange and unexplained passages of the Bible: Behemoth and Leviathan, nephilim and seraphim, heroes and giants and more. There is no reason for fiction engaging with Christianity to be more tidy and theologically precise than the faith itself.
Mysterion is an ezine of Christian-themed speculative fiction edited and published by the husband and wife team of Donald S. Crankshaw and Kristin Janz. We seek quality speculative fiction with Christian characters, themes, or cosmology. Join us as we rediscover the mysteries of the faith!
Their submissions guidelines seem very reasonable, and they pay competitive rates, but they aren’t asking for stories again until July (bummer).
Actually, reading their guidelines, “Black Matter” might not be a good fit for them either, since it doesn’t explore the “hidden…mysteries of Christian theology–cherubim, leviathan, nephilim, visions, prophecy, and more.” It just tells the story of a thirty-four year old women, a wife and mother of three, who is offered the chance to travel back in time thirty years to say good-bye to her Daddy one more time before he goes to war and dies.
But it’s a place to start.
For the longest time, I resisted even considering submitting a story to Superversive SF because I didn’t want to limit myself to what I perceived as a limited audience, and I suppose the same would be true relative to Mysterion, but then again, what if it isn’t all that small or limited?
Consider that there are probably a lot of science fiction and fantasy readers who are Christian (or otherwise religious/spiritual) and partake of mainstream SF/F mainly for lack of quality alternatives. Also, who wants to read about “super-saints” and perfect people all the time? Where’s the action? Where’s the “grit?” Where’s the angst and agony, the struggle, the tragic failures, and the elusive victory?
What if there is a large, I mean really, really big population of SF/F fans dying to read something they can relate to as believers and flawed human beings of faith? What if they’d appreciate and even love to read about people they can identify with, people devoted to God (one some level) who are grappling with faith, themselves, and the Almighty within the context of speculative fiction and/or fantasy?
Personally, I think stories like those have just as much of a place in “mainstream” SF/F publishing as anything else, but there are folks out there who say that if you are openly Christian or openly conservative, you are risking a major league shaming and shunning from “the powers that be.”
I hope that isn’t true, but I’ve been accused of being overly optimistic and trusting before.
So far, for the month of April, I’ve submitted six short stories to various venues in response to their open calls, and will be sending in one more before the end of the month. Except for one, they are all to what I suppose you’d call “mainstream” SF/F/Horror publications (yes, I’ve written a few ghost stories).
I would be proud to include online magazines like Mysterion among them, but I would also love to disseminate my stories to the widest possible audience, gambling that a lot of readers out there may be more tolerant of what you could consider “Superversive” SF/F/Horror (that last part might be difficult to pull off) than “mainstream” SF/F/Horror authors, publishers, and the various conventions (Con) which represent them may be.
Again, from my personal experience, this is all speculation, and for all I know, conservative, religious SF/F people may have just as difficult a time with me because I don’t always write moral, uplifting tales (my vampire stories contain a number of “adult” themes, for instance).
So far, I haven’t had any feedback regarding my submissions, and I don’t expect any for a while. I’ve met all of my submission deadlines (even though one editor got on his blog to say that he covertly accepted submissions two weeks after the deadline, based on the principle of a school group project, where one kids does all the work and the rest just ride his/her coattails relative to punctuality), so I’ve got that going for me. If I can’t make a deadline, I don’t submit (which is what happened with a story I really, really wanted to write).
One of my stories (the one I’m holding back) has “military action,” so I’ve asked one of my sons to have a look since he served in the U.S. Marines, and he promised to give me feedback by today/tomorrow at the latest. If he doesn’t, I’ll submit as is and hope for the best (I’m not holding my breath on this one since it’s not wall-to-wall action and “badassery” and required a lot of words to set up).
If anyone accepts any of my tales, I’ll be dancing on clouds. Rejections will smart like a wasp’s sting, but I’ll try to develop a stiff upper lip and a strategy to submit to other outlets rather than just throw in the towel.
If I send out enough stories, sooner or later, something’s bound to “stick,” unless I’m such a poor writer that my quality perpetually falls below an acceptable threshold.
Don’t let anyone fool you. As an author, your ego and self-worth is infused in everything you write, and if someone subtly (or not so subtly) says it sucks, it’s hard not to hear “you suck” in the statement. Further, if someone says your writing sucks because your characters are “superversive,” have a faith, and strive to become more tomorrow than they are today, it pretty much is a condemnation of your entire existence as a person of faith as well as a writer.
Yes, it hurts.
It hasn’t happened to me (yet), but no one has responded to my submissions yet. The year is young.
It gets more complicated relative to religious/conservative publications if you aren’t their denomination or profess a theology/doctrine that isn’t mainstream (mine isn’t…just read “Powered by Robots” sister blog to see how far afield I stray from Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Charismatics). I’ve gotten into a lot more “hot water” writing in the religious blogosphere than I ever have here at “Robots.”
All I want to do at the end of the day is tell a good story. If I have no talent for it, that’s one thing. If religious or identity politics is the real issue to me and my stories being unacceptable, that’s something else entirely.
7 thoughts on “The Difference Between a Goal and a Dream is a Deadline”
IMO I think you do have a talent for writing. You certainly have variety, though for me I find some of it hard going (not a criticism, more of a lacking on my part!)
I enjoyed Black Matter, finding it sad and moving that she got to say goodbye to her Dad. I’d like to have that final hour with my Dad again, just to be able to hug and hold him and tell him I loved him as when I left the hospital that final day I didn’t. At least I was there with him at the end, holding his hand.
I think the hardest part for Natalie was not hugging her Dad, but then, he’d have found it pretty weird if she did under the circumstances. Oh, thanks for complementing my writing.
I could identify with that, but at least they touched.
True, but imagine how Natalie must have felt.
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I can, that’s what made it a good story James.
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You complained of lacking response to your story of a Vietnam veteran expressing his sense of responsibility as an apologia for having left wife and child behind. You wondered if it didn’t resonate because of his expression of religious identity and faith. I might wonder if there could be other causes. For example, recently you have written several pieces reflecting the theme of adjusting to the loss of a parent, of which this was but another example. Your readership here may feel they have already responded to that theme and there is nothing to add.
But also, I don’t know whether in the USA there still exists such an antipathy to the memory of the Vietnam conflict that readers would reject identifying favorably with a character who not only supported it but felt patriotically and religiously responsible to do so — placing those values above the values of responsibility to family and of education. Such views and motivations certainly were demonized by the anti-war protests of the period, and they afflicted veterans returning after the conflict by making of them social pariahs rather than heroes. The ignominious ending of the conflict only exacerbated this social stigmatism. Some of that attitude was reversed later in the efforts against terrorism in the Gulf wars, but it may linger still even if limited to Vietnam veterans. A character like yours challenges that moral stance at the same time it is itself challenged vis-à-vis the family and education values I cited above. Readers may not wish to touch that wound and its scars, or they may be too ambivalent and uncertain to try (even possibly feeling residual subliminal guilt for their own responses in that era).
I myself barely dodged that bullet, reaching the age of eligibility only at the very end of the conflict, with a relatively high lottery number relative to the draft, and being already enrolled in a university engineering curriculum which the government valued for its potential more highly than its desire for additional canon fodder. I never had to test my religious views, such as they were at that time, practically vis-à-vis US military demands. Thus I don’t carry from that period conflict any psychological scars of my own, though I knew others who did. (My own military experience came only a decade later, in a very different theater of battle, in Lebanon with the IDF, in a much more limited period of time and a very different civilian-soldier military culture.)
I graduated High School in 1972 and went into college, so I got a deferment. I didn’t find out until decades later that even if I had been drafted, I wouldn’t have gone to ‘Nam, since the U.S. was pulling back its involvement. In retrospect, I wonder if Israel doesn’t have the right idea in requiring all its citizens to serve in the military in some capacity for a certain period of time. I’m no warmonger, but I think there’s an investment people make when they are serving their country, and when that investment is absent, we don’t know what our freedom is really worth and what it costs.