I actually “met” Mike online a few years ago, through a social network for Christian fiction writers. This was long before Facebook, and it was hard for authors of similar genres to find each other outside of standard forums. I knew back then that Mike was different–strong-willed and opinionated, in a good way. His writing was nothing like standard Christian fare, even that of the little bit of Christian spec-fic I’d read at that point. His writing is dark, biting, thought-provoking. It didn’t surprise me one bit when I heard the news that he’d landed a publishing deal.
It also doesn’t surprise me that his blog provides the same thought-provoking bite of his fiction. He’s agreed to share some of that over here at NAF. Are you ready?
Outside the Echo Chamber
By Mike Duran
I believe many Christian writers live in an echo chamber. We surround ourselves with everything “Christian” – Christian music, Christian films, Christian fiction, Christian friends, Christian radio stations, Christian critique groups, etc., etc. Jesus called us to be “the salt of the earth.” But many of us find the shaker far too comfy.
I’m relatively new to publishing. I started writing seriously about six years ago. Granted, I had a bit of a head start. Having been in the ministry for over a decade, I was required to work with words. Getting people’s attention is essential for a preacher. I hope that that skill has translated into my writing. Knowing little about the publishing industry, my first inclination was to consult Christians who were in it. This led me to a Christian critique group. Then a Christian writers conference. Christian authors, publishers, and agents followed. And most of all, there was a lot of Christian fiction to read. As wonderful as that season of my life was, it shaped me in ways I didn’t realize.
One of the members of my current writing group is a multi-published ABA author. The other day, we were talking about book reviews. She said this, “General market reviewers are so much tougher than Christian reviewers.” I have to agree. One thing I learned early was that believing authors aren’t very tough on each other. Most Christian reviewers seem to feel obligated to give good reviews to their brethren. As an aspiring Christian author, I was, frankly, surprised at the number of 4-5 star reviews Christian fiction routinely received. To be fair, every author has their fan club. And the bigger the author, the more outspoken, protective, and biased their fans can be. But this dynamic is nowhere more true than in the Christian writing community. I was forced to conclude that most Christian writers were either great, or many Christian reviewers were not objective. I’ve come to believe the latter. It’s part of our echo chamber.
I have some theories about why this is. I’ll give you one: Because believers see “the world” as hostile toward our message, we are prone to insulate ourselves against it. As a result, the “Christian art” industry becomes a cloister, an alternative to everything “not Christian,” a safe haven from foul language, occultism, sex, and one-star reviews. I’ll be honest, I am shocked at how many Christians read ONLY Christian fiction. I believe this is indicative of a mindset that potentially (1) Prevents us from significantly influencing the world and (2) Perpetuates mediocrity. Thus, we live in a place where bad reviews are looked upon as un-Christian and harsh critiques are seen as un-loving. This is our echo chamber.
Echo chambers are tempting for Christian authors. I suppose this is to be expected. We writers are fragile creatures. Getting your work out there is a very personal thing. And this is nowhere more true than of Christian writers. Our worldview is at odds with many. Our “message” is on the periphery of everything we pen. Yet any hint of preachiness gets us run out of town. No wonder we have found safe haven amongst “the brethren.” Nevertheless, we are called to reach outside the echo chamber. To be “the salt of the earth.” Trouble is: do we really want to?
Question: Do you think the Christian writing community has become an “echo chamber”? Do you think the “Christian art” industry potentially insulates believers from the world? And what are some ways you think we Christians can get outside our echo chambers?
MIKE DURAN is a novelist, blogger, and freelance writer whose short stories, essays, and commentary have appeared in Relief Journal,Relevant Online, Breakpoint, Rue Morgue magazine, and other print and digital outlets. His debut novel, a supernatural thriller entitled “The Resurrection,” is about an unlikely woman who raises a boy from the dead and rouses something beyond her control. Mike contributes monthly commentary at Novel Journey, one of Writer’s Digest 101 Most Helpful Websites for Writers and is represented by Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Mike is an ordained minister and lives with his wife and four grown children in Southern California. You can learn more about him, his writing projects, creative interests, and confessions at his website (www.mikeduran.com).