Friday, September 14, 2012

Guest Post: Robynn Tolbert

What Spec Fic Isn’t

Have you heard of “spec fic,” aka “speculative fiction?” I hadn’t, until I started hanging out with writers and learned I wrote it. A few famous authors are Ted Dekker, Stephen Lawhead and Frank Perretti, but more and more not-yet-famous authors are entering the market thanks to smaller, independent publishers willing to take a chance. The greater ease and lower cost of publishing has helped, too.

Since it’s always easier to define a thing by what it isn’t, let’s start there.

1) Spec-fic isn’t easy to categorize.
When someone asks you what the book is about and you hem and haw looking for a way to explain it, you’re probably reading spec-fic. It doesn’t fit into a box. The main character isn’t a back-slidden Christian looking for redemption, or a bride struggling to make her arranged marriage work, or a guy trying to survive in a post-Rapture world, although those could be descriptions of spec-fic. You know those books that tell the story of a Biblical figure like it was a novel (Tosca Lee’s Havah) or present a picture of the end times as we might imagine it based on the Biblical account (the Left Behind series or Joel Rosenberg’s The Last Jihad)? Those are spec-fic. You may be reading spec-fic and not even knowing it, like I was.

2) Spec-fic isn’t absolute truth according to the author.
I’m used to believing what I read. Hold over from trusting the Bible as the inspired word of God, I guess. The first few spec-fic books I read had me squirming. Is this the world as the author sees it? Am I supposed to accept this as doctrine? What about (insert Biblical teaching here)? It took me a while to realize you can’t judge a spec-fic author on the first 100 words. Maybe not even the first 1000. You have to give them a little leeway to get to their point. Once you’ve read the book, you get to decide if what they presented is truth.
This is because the spec-fic author would rather explore truth than spoon feed it to you. They ask the “what if?” question. Which leads to point 3.

3) Spec-fic has no easy solutions.
This may be the hardest part for the newbie reader who is used to getting obvious answers in her Christian fiction. A spec-fic author isn’t satisfied with “everybody gets saved and lives happily ever after according to the word of God,” mostly because that so seldom happens in real life. Frankly, it didn’t happen all that often in the Bible. A spec-fic author wants you to think about the truth behind church doctrine—that ultimate Truth of God Himself. Again, not saying a spec-fic author has a better grasp of truth than anybody else. I am saying you will get to decide whether or not you agree with the story at its conclusion.

Because spec-fic isn’t after the easy solution, you may encounter things in the story that make you uncomfortable. The main character may not be a saint, or even close to one. Situations presented may be as real as a trip to Walmart in language, dress and culture shock. Have you been to Walmart lately? I see things there I wouldn’t watch on cable TV. Some spec-fic books are not suitable for children. They were never meant to be.

The irony is “spec-fic” as a label only applies to the Christian audience. In any other market, it would just be called “fiction.” But Christians hate surprises in their books. They hate encountering a foul word, or a truly cruel act, or a character that makes horrible choices and has to live with them, so we call it “spec-fic” as a warning. It’s odd, because, again, the Bible is full of those situations. On the other hand, God wrote the Bible and He’s perfect. For the rest of us, we must do our best to live holy lives, and that includes our entertainment choices.

I guess I wanted to warn you. My book is so close to the near end of normal in the spec-fic spectrum, I’m almost ashamed to be included in that market. I am ridiculously conventional. I even like writing happy endings. However, Star of Justice is for adults. It contains adult situations and characters that are not glowing examples of sainthood (well, except for one). I’m not trying to present anything other than a good story of normal people trying to do the right thing for the right reasons and occasionally failing miserably for your entertainment.

My hope—should you read Star of Justice—is that it will make you think. Would you walk that same road? Would you make the hard choices if they were the right choices? Would you be a friend to someone who desperately needs one, even if you don’t understand her at all? Would you look to yourself or to God for the help you needed? Those were a few of the questions I was asking while I wrote it.

The most important question of all to me was “wouldn’t you love to have a dog like Jasper?”

I sure did. 

2 responses:

Galadriel said...

The first place I came across the term was at the site, a collaborative blog by Christian authors. Check it out--they have some great discussions.
However, the term is also used in secular circles to group fantasy and sci-fi.

Grace Bridges said...

That's a very unique definition of spec-fic, and will require more thinking over here... Great post, and well thought out! :)


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