23 July 2007

Fringe Benefits

I’ve been told that the “unpublished” genres are international fiction and fantasy. Huh? Granted, with CBA, the books I read come from word-of-mouth recommendations (aka the Oprah way), then I order them on Amazon. I don’t wander around LifeWay or Mardel’s like I do Barnes and Noble, Borders, or Half-Price Bookstore, mesmerized, entering in wonderment as if transported to a magical land and leaving hours later.
But browsing the ABA world, I find bestseller shelves flooded with memoirs of other countries and novels set in Africa and India and Latin America. And consider other literature sources, magazines like Vanity Fair and Time dedicating an issue to Africa and international films getting more visibility and becoming more mainstream, having their own Oscar categories as well as infiltrating mainstream categories (i.e. Volver).
More and more care about what goes on in other countries as the globe shrinks. As Christians who know that each of us have been created by God and that every tongue, every language, every nation, will confess Christ as Lord, shouldn’t we care even more about the world, our neighbors?
Then there’s fantasy. So why, if it is true that fantasy does not sell, does Tom Shippey say (as quoted in From Homer to Harry Potter, an excellent book worthy to be read by writers, especially those of the fantasy bent, readers, and Christians, and eventually I’ll get a review of it up here), “The dominant literary mode of the twentieth century has been the fantastic”? (I believe he includes scifi and horror in the “fantastic” category.) Some Christians have a hard time with the magic and sorcery, and I want to respect that. On the other hand, as Homer to HP says, myth is the “embodiment of truth.” They want to get back to the true meaning of myth, not as something false, but as stories that express the identity of a people and their worldview (cf. C.S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image, another must-read, by the way). The gospels, then, are myth. But I digress. I’ve talked about all this before. And Mike Duran also had a lovely post about it as well. Back to a semi-point (does anyone have a pencil sharpener, preferably a metal one attached to a wall that gives your hand blisters when you turn the crank or crank the turn and only occasionally works and makes a horribly annoying sound so that the entire class stares you down as you sharpen your pencil in the middle of a math examine?), with the groundwork laid by Tolkien, Lewis, and Sayers, with the advantage that fantasy has to address real issues in a way that get lost in contemporary, “real” literature, with the resemblance of the gospels to fantasy with the presence of the supernatural invading the natural, why is fantasy in the CBA world off the beaten path?
Truth is, if I could, I would write fantasy. But I can’t. And that’s okay because I love what I write, contemporary women’s fiction with a twist of ginger (a.k.a. sarcasm—don’t ask me why the one represents the other, but it does to me). Sometimes these stories are set in other countries. After all, my master’s emphasized cross-cultural studies and my heart is more often elsewhere other than the States. Sometimes they occur right here in my neighborhood or my grandmother’s kitchen.
All that being said, seriously, can someone explain to me why these two categories are the Genres-That-Must-Not-Be-Named? (That sounded rough, but I am honestly asking the question.)


Jennifer, Snapshot said...

When international fiction is mentioned, is it perhaps non-English (translated) fiction? I know that there is lots of good stuff written by non-English speakers, but I think that an English novel set in a far-off country is acceptable and very mainstream--think the Poisonwood Bible and the Kite Runner, which are two that just leapt to mind.

Heather said...

I think of both translated works and things like Poisonwood and Kite Runner and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Let's Don't Go to the Dogs Tonight and...

Jason said...

I came by this post via Mirathon. I wish that the international novels weren't in the "unpublished" genre for CBA. My WIP is mainly set in Thailand with a woman following her missionary brother's death. I am trying to make it suspenseful with good action, not only for interesting storytelling and my likes, but to give it another "angle" over the international setting.

Hopefully as we all keep banging away about fantasy and other interesting books, CBA will listen. That's why I love being part of the CSFF tour even though I can't write fantasy either. I still enjoy it and agree with your post wholeheartedly!


Heather said...

Hey, Jason. My second novel is set mostly in Guatemala, so I have personal interest in the international fiction field. My emphasis in my masters was cross-cultural study. You can see that I'm interested in these things!