This article is by Lynea Youmans.
Faith-based fantasy. A sub-genre of its greater counterpart. There are many books that align with this genre, but do we ever hear of them or clear out the figurative shelves when they go on sale? Perhaps this is the first you’ve ever heard of it, how a fantasy tale can be based on a Christian gospel, or perhaps you are already quite familiar with it. Perhaps you have seen Aslan come back from the dead and realized that it is a tribute to a story found in the gospel of Luke. Perhaps you have seen Gandalf re-emerge from the brink of oblivion to fulfill his purpose within Middle Earth and thought “that sounds like something I know.” Or perhaps the premise is more subtle than that, such as a prophesied hero who has to save the world from a great evil. However much or little, I find that fantasy authors often draw from biblical lore to enhance the setting of their world and to deliver a heroic tale. It is not always intentional, in fact, I believe there are several authors who have no idea just how much they are drawing from the bible or from Christian belief to write their stories.
Recently, I grew curious over the market for faith-based fantasy and began digging up a little research. Although my research was enlightening, I felt that it would be better to present the experiences and opinions of other authors and put together an informative article on the topic.
The first goal of this article is to present two fairly extreme opposites concerning faith-based fantasy. For instance, there are those who weave it with a religious purpose, in hopes to educate their audience about Christianity. The other extreme would be those who draw from biblical lore as a setting for their world without so much of a religious appeal. There is no right or wrong, though it does make for an interesting discussion.
The second goal of this article is to get a representative feel for marketing this sub-genre. Perhaps there are hills and pitfalls like in any other genre, or perhaps there is a more niche approach to it. Nonetheless, I felt the answers lied with two rather approachable authors who will graciously shed their light on the matter.
Let us examine the mind of Christian author Courtney N. Myers, a friend and colleague of mine with a deep passion for spreading the word of God.
How long have you been writing Christian fantasy?
Myers: “Not very long. I only started about two years ago, around the time I came to really know Jesus.”
What are your top tastes in genres?
Myers: “Fantasy and sci-fi, natch. Also, supernatural and paranormal (to an extent; I’m not into New Age stuff or anything like that). I’ve always enjoyed magic, mystical lands, and mythological/supernatural powers and creatures, but technology, distant planets, stars, and galaxies, alien lifeforms, and the nature of the universe and humanity are also incredibly fascinating.”
What makes a ‘good’ Christian book?
Myers: “For me, one that tells a creative and engaging story first and foremost, especially without banging me over the head with Christian dogma. I want to identify with the characters, enjoy the plot, and be fascinated with the world rather than be preached at for hundreds of pages. However, Christian themes also have to be there (obviously) and be woven naturally but subtly into the book. For good reason, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are widely considered great examples of how ‘good’ Christian books, and Christian fantasy overall, are done. They have great storytelling elements and (gently and organically) show me rather than tell me how I should be more Christ-like without being so consumed with preaching that it overrides the narrative! Oh, and the book must have good SP&G. Can’t have any ‘good’ book without a handle on basic writing skills, after all.”
What challenges have come with writing Christian fantasy?
Myers: “As mentioned above, weaving in Christian themes without boring, irritating, and/or alienating your audience and upsetting other story elements can be difficult, at least for me. I sometimes get so excited with sharing the Gospel that my writing basically reads as dropping a Bible-shaped anvil on the heads of my readers. Trying not to preach my own interpretation(s) of the Message can be difficult, too; I’m pretty into myself and my own morals, standards, etc. sometimes (**cue self-deprecating sweatdrop**). Also, since I enjoy magical and supernatural elements, writing these things in line with biblical teachings without accidentally triggering cries of, ‘HERETIC!’ can be an obstacle. Of course, there are some people, not without understandable reason, who think Christians shouldn’t write in fantasy, sci-fi, or any kind of fictional genre at all, and that kind of response from them can be more or less inevitable, but I try not to let that keep me from writing what I’m passionate about. If the Son of God couldn’t please everyone, then I definitely stand no chance!”
What are your thoughts on angels and demons that show up in fiction?
Myers: “It literally depends on their portrayal in whatever it is I’m watching or reading. If angels and demons are portrayed in line with biblical teachings, are written well, and make creative and sensible contributions to the story, then I enjoy their inclusion. On the flip side, angels and demons that are obviously inaccurate or are included either to solely push an agenda or to add a ‘for the coolz’ element tend to lose my interest rather quickly.”
I understand you have a recent faith-based fantasy series of your own. What has The Peacemakers Saga taught you about being a Christian author?
Myers: “That Christian authorship, especially in fantasy and when dealing with the world we live in now, can be a lot harder than you’d think. However, if you get it right, just like with any book of any other genre, it can be extremely rewarding.
Now let us look to author Carl F. Brothers, who avidly uses biblical lore to bring his stories to life.
How long have you been writing?
Brothers: “Going on almost two decades now. I started about a year or two before I became a teenager. At the time, school wasn’t going all that great, so I figured I’d write my own endings. I wrote short stories and drew comics for my audience of one: my younger brother.”
What are your top three favorite genres?
Brothers: “Paranormal romance, Occult thrillers, Urban fantasy.”
What makes a ‘good’ fantasy novel?
Brothers: “I think the ability to push the boundaries of imagination. To be original yet grounded in enough realism to keep the reader connected to the story.”
Tell us about your stories. What genres and sub-genres do they contain? How were they inspired?
Brothers: “I released my debut novel, Keepers & Destinies, in September of 2020. It is a Paranormal Dark Fantasy about a Guardian Angel’s earthly quest to find the keys to Heaven’s victory in the looming Armageddon. This is my first and only publication to date. The origins of this book series, oddly enough, came to me in a dream, and grew from there into something special. Perhaps that’s why I have such a strong emotional connection to it. It feels like I lived it.”
Do you believe that your writing speaks to a religious audience?
Brothers: “No. On the contrary it speaks to those who aren’t hung up on religion. However, I do build on existing religious themes and beings, so my writing might in fact alienate a closed-minded religious audience.”
What are some of the challenges you have faced either in publishing or marketing?
Brothers: “Marketing has been my biggest challenge so far. Finding readers has been harder than expected. My family and all but a handful of my friends are against anything relating to the paranormal genre for deeply complicated religious reasons, and the handful I did tell about the book have not read it yet. That leaves me having to drum up interest and readers single handedly, without the benefit of social media or word of mouth from friends or family. I had to create whole new social media accounts and networks from scratch as I couldn’t use my existing social media presence for the reasons stated earlier.”
Do you ever feel like an ‘outsider’ in the book market?
Brothers: “In a way. I am a new indie author who has had to build every relationship related to my writing from scratch. However, after being embraced by a few members of the writing community on twitter, I don’t feel as isolated as I did at the time of my book release.”
Do you have experience with marketing your works? If so, do you feel like you are treated differently than other authors?
Myers: “Eh, heh… Well, I have very minor experience with marketing, and it’s proven that I’m not very good at it, at least at the moment. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a lot of energy (I’m dealing with some uncommon illnesses that cause a lot of fatigue) and don’t do well with people in general (for all it’s perks, Asperger’s is a double-edged sword at times), but my BFF (who’s basically my co-authorーand beta-reader, idea bouncer, cheerleader…) and I think we have a way around that. However, on social media, if I’m not discussing my work with other Christian authors, I do tend to be treated differently. Still, that’s par for the course, and like I’ve mentioned, I can get unpleasant reactions from other Christians based on what I write about.”
Do you feel there is a significant difference between mainstream and faith-based fantasy?
Myers: “Well, most mainstream fantasy doesn’t have a lot of faith-based elements in it, and those that do don’t tend to be particularly kind toward religion in general. Of course, to me, faith-based fantasy tends to be rather…well…bland (and, like I might’ve already implied, preachy) to put it frankly. I can count on one hand the amount of Christian fantasy books I’ve read and enjoyed as opposed to mainstream stuff. Of course, not a lot of Christians write fantasy or science-fiction, so the low number can be attributed to that factor as well.”
Do you plan to publish more stories? What would you like to do differently next time, if anything?
Brothers: “Book #2 and Book #3 of the Keepers & Destinies series are still in the works, set to be released in 2021. And I have other WIPs in mind after that. This time around, I’d drum up more interest in my upcoming release much earlier than I did previously. Book #1 promotions should help in this regard.”
In light of the responses that Myers and Brothers gave to me, I see that writing and marketing faith-based fantasy is perhaps as much a double-edged sword as any other sub-genre. Both authors have expressed how they are fairly alienated by their fantasy counterparts, though it does not deter them entirely from writing and selling. In my own experience, being a Christian in the public eye often feels like sticking my neck out; I have no doubt it feels the same for many authors. Even so, these interviews were enlightening to me. I’ve drawn the conclusion that a particularly niche sub-genre such as this is difficult to sell, not because of its nature or its authors, but because it is simply uncommon. Does that mean I believe it should not be marketed? Of course not.
What do you think? Is there a better market for niche sub-genres with today’s technology? Does the success of an author solely depend on their audience? And lastly, to what extent does biblical lore produce the setting to your magical world, if at all?
About the Author
Lynea Youmans is a music teacher by day and a novelist by night. In her free time she enjoys writing the occasional blog post and contributing to other writers’ material. She happened upon Mythic Scribes in search of a fun, wholesome community and has found joy in being a part of it. You can find her blog at coffeewithlkyoumans.wordpress.com.