Flashback Friday – The Printer’s Devil

I’ve decided to start re-posting some of my favorite articles that have spent years moldering in the dank, lightless abyss that is the Frederation archives. I think I owe them better treatment, and another look. Thus, we inaugurate Flashback Friday with a little meditation on the dark corners of my writing soul from 2008:

The Printer’s Devil

As I look back over the stories I’ve written since I began my little foray into submitting for publication, it bothers me a little that a sizable fraction of them have a fairly dark edge.  Granted, a good story needs some conflict, and conflict frequently involves a struggle between good and evil, but I consider myself a fairly lighthearted, optimistic person, and some of this stuff is definitely not rainbows and lemonade.

In some ways, this is good.  One doesn’t want to be a one-trick pony or a one-note guitar, just like an actor doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into recurring roles as Guy With Idiotic Facial Expression (though he’s making a lot of money at the movies these days).  Editors also aren’t too fond of rainbows and lemonade.  They want some edge, even in a story with an upbeat message.

So, why worry?  I’m a human being.  Everybody’s got that little dark corner of their imagination where all the ghoulies hang out, quaffing tall glasses of Type O-Positive and swapping stories about the good old days in Romania.

I’m thinking it makes me uneasy because I’m beginning to invite family, friends, and total strangers into my personal ghoulie bar to have a look round.  Strangers probably won’t care, but I don’t want them to get the wrong idea about who I am and what I’m about.  Family and friends probably didn’t know the place existed and may begin to wonder how well they really knew me.

It gets dicier when one of my stories gets published, and the establishments on my left and right are scarier than mine.  Aunt Maybelle may think my story’s a little weird, but then she gets an eyeful of the guy behind the next link who writes a splatter tale and/or unleashes a broadside of f-bombs.  I’m not responsible for his stuff, but a man (or a story) is known by the company he (or it) keeps.  So, I end up issuing a series of disclaimers…”My story’s here, but you may want to avoid the story below it, if you’re easily nauseated, and if I knew in advance the magazine was going to run a story like that, I probably wouldn’t have subbed there, etc, etc.”

I guess it goes back to my identity.  What sort of writer am I?  Am I a Christian writer, or a writer who happens to be a Christian?  Do I write Christian fiction, or do I write fiction with a Christian influence?  Can I be a legitimately Christian writer or writer-Christian and produce work that may be dark, edgy, and/or without an explicit moral/ethical/spiritual message?  My answers to those questions may differ from the answers given by my family, my friends, and the total strangers in my wider audience.

In the meantime, the ghoulies are still at the bar, hollering for another round.

You can find the original post here.

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2 thoughts on “Flashback Friday – The Printer’s Devil

  1. I can really sympathize with some of this. Like you, I consider myself a generally optimistic person (though the natures of that for the two of us probably have many points of variance) and I do try to include what, to me, are positive messages in my fiction. The bulk of work I produce is high fantasy, but I also write other types of fantasy and horror (some of which I consider to be horror, some of which I don’t but I realize everyone else will view as horror.) About half of my published works are horror. Out of 7, four are horror, two are modern-setting fantasy and one is high fantasy. This ratio is a little…hmm…maybe troubling, a little, to me on several levels. It’s certainly ironic that the story type that makes up the largest part of my production makes up the smallest part of my publication.
    Of course, even my darker works contain things, ideas, that I consider true and valid, and that are part of me.
    Now, I can’t really relate to the Christian part, as such. I consider all beliefs to contain truth and consider myself part of all of them, in a way, but since Christianity contains the problematic central tenet that it is the only real truth, that tends to gum up the works a bit in that area. Most of what I write reflects my worldview and spirituality, though some of my works explore areas I am uncertain about, rather than containing things I am more or less sure about.
    As far as people’s impressions…well honestly the first thing that springs to my mind is, perhaps some of your family/friends/etc don’t know you as well as they think (maybe not even as well as you think?) I’m not a particularly private person so with few exceptions having my innards hung out for people to see in my work doesn’t bother me much. However, in my case for example…my mother has read relatively little of my published work, because she wouldn’t enjoy it or take anything away from it, which is one reason I’d like to see more of my high fantasy published, as a higher percentage of it would fall into my mom’s extremely narrow range of acceptability and enjoyability.
    As as to people’s impressions of the work your work appears alongside…that, quite frankly, is part of the business. If you want your writing published, there frankly are not very many fantasy/sci fi markets that are only going to contain entirely Christian-acceptable material. None of the professional markets fall in that category. There are some things I don’t do because of my beliefs…I was recently contemplating submitting to WOTF but decided against it because I don’t want my work in a book with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on the cover…but, I’m sure you’ve probably read and enjoyed many works whose nature and world view probably didn’t entirely mesh with your own. I don’t see it as being any different.
    And wow, I have rambled on quite a bit, but this is a pretty interesting subject…

    1. “Most of what I write reflects my worldview and spirituality, though some of my works explore areas I am uncertain about, rather than containing things I am more or less sure about.”

      And that’s pretty much my approach as well. While Christianity is rarely the *focus* of my fiction, its themes and worldview are usually reflected somehow in everything I write, intentionally or not. In that respect, horror can actually be easier, because horror, at least in the classic sense, is very moral. Good and evil are clearly delineated, stories are resolved by vanquishing the evil or warding it off, and characters with an absent or confused perception of good/evil usually have a tougher time dealing with the situation.

      “I’m not a particularly private person so with few exceptions having my innards hung out for people to see in my work doesn’t bother me much.”

      This has been part of my adjustment to writing for publication–I am by nature a very private person, and it often feels awkward to reveal the things that flit about in my imagination, positive *or* negative. I don’t like being misunderstood, and there can be a tendency for people to read too much into fictional characters and situations. I am not Character X, and I did not have a horrific childhood, and I am not advocating the behavior or choices of Character Y, etc, etc.

      “As as to people’s impressions of the work your work appears alongside…that, quite frankly, is part of the business.”

      Very true, and another bit of awkwardness I’ve simply had to accept. I don’t think anybody’s ever said anything to me about that, but it’s something I used to worry about.

      “I was recently contemplating submitting to WOTF but decided against it because I don’t want my work in a book with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on the cover…”

      Me either. There are some lines I just won’t cross. 🙂

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