28 Comments

Outside the Echo Chamber, by guest Mike Duran

Please welcome our guest today: Mike Duran, author of  supernatural thriller The Resurrection.

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?

Don’t forget to check out Mike’s book, and visit him on the web:

The Resurrection — Mike’s debut novel
website / blog
Facebook
Twitter

MIKE DURAN is a novelist, blogger, and freelance writer whose short stories, essays, and commentary have appeared in Relief Journal,Relevant OnlineBreakpoint, 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).

About Kat Heckenbach

Kat grew up in the small town of Riverview, Florida, where she spent most of her time either drawing or sitting in her "reading tree" with her nose buried in a fantasy novel...except for the hours pretending her back yard was an enchanted forest that could only be reached through the secret passage in her closet... She never could give up on the idea that maybe she really was magic, mistakenly placed in a world not her own...but as the years passed, and no elves or fairies carted her away...she realized she was just going to have to create the life of her fantasies. She shares that life with her husband and two homeschooling kids. Kat is a graduate of the University of Tampa, Magna Cum Laude, B.S. in Biology. She spent several years teaching, but never in a traditional classroom--everything from Art to Algebra II. Her writing spans the gamut from inspirational personal essays to dark and disturbing fantasy and horror, with over forty short fiction and nonfiction credits to her name.

28 comments on “Outside the Echo Chamber, by guest Mike Duran

  1. […] I am posting at The New Authors’ Fellowship (NAF) in a piece entitled Outside the Echo Chamber where I proffer a theory about why the Christian writing community is more like a cloister than a […]

  2. Thanks for sharing this awesome post, and to answer the question it poses, yes, I do think we Christian artists get stuck in the reverberations of our own noise far too much! There is a difference between being objective and being mean. You *can* constructively say something is trite. (And frankly, I believe we do authors, filmmakers and whoever else a huge disservice by saying “Well done!” when something is mediocre.)

    The hard critiques are the feedback that make my work better. Sure, I like to smile and pat myself on the back as much as the next writer, and a glowing review or critique helps me to do that, but too many will also make me lazy.

    I sincerely believe the Christian artistic community needs to step up and say the hard stuff, so we can all get better and so that more of us can really compare with our secular counterparts.

    Great post!

  3. Thanks for joining us today, Mike.

    This is a tough one for me. I only do positive reviews, but that is because I buy two books to give away in a drawing. If I’m not willing to spend my money on it, it’s not worth my time to review it. I see what you are saying Mike, and I agree. I don’t have time to read tacky books though.

    Now critiques of fellow writers…I have no problem telling them that their guy sounds fruity or they cheated by dumping three paragraphs of telling in my lap. But then, that is out of love. 😀

    • Diane, most of the Christian reviewers I speak to also don’t post negative reviews. I understand it’s a sticky subject. Compounding this is the fact that many Christian reviewers are trying to break into the business. So bad reviews risk alienating us from authors, publishers, readers, and other reviewers. The problem is, this still begs the question. Where can Christians go for objective reviews if reviewers only post books they endorse? I know — it’s a tough one. Thanks for commenting, Diane.

  4. This is a hard question. As I’ve trudged into the writing world, I’ve read books I wouldn’t gush over, but I tend to say nothing rather than write a bad review.
    I can critique with the best of them pre-publication, but a review is something that hangs around forever, and can taint or influence a mind not previously decided. Why point out all the mistakes when the author can’t change them? To prove I saw them? To show he or she made them? It seems petty.
    Now, if it were a question of doctrine or worldview that bothered me, I suspect I could be brutal. But just to say a story left me flat or cold or “eh” when someone else might really like it? Not worth the time.
    Thanks for joining us, by the way. I enjoy your blog.

    • Thanks for commenting, Robynn. I think we can honestly review a book or movie without being “petty.” In fact, Scripture tells us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). People like all kinds of stuff I don’t like, and vice-versa. That’s a given in art. However, that shouldn’t stop us from “speaking the truth,” articulating what we feel are the strengths and weaknesses of a piece. Otherwise, reviews are pretty meaningless. Glad you enjoy my blog, Robynn. And thanks again for commenting.

  5. Good points.

    Mike Duran wrote: “Do you think the Christian writing community has become an “echo chamber”?”

    Yes and no. It really depends on the individual writer. From a learning standpoint, I think a distinction needs to be made between craft and message.

    For example, there are some amazingly talented musicians out there in the world of secular music, yet the lyrical message can sometimes be destructive. As a student of music, how does one go about separating the two while learning technique? It’s difficult at best.

    With reading, it’s the same way. An author might craft some memorable characters and could be studied for that technique. Yet if the message is a relentless assault on one’s faith…at what point do you give up and move on?

    Mike Duran wrote: “And what are some ways you think we Christians can get outside our echo chambers?”

    It’s not hard. Again, however, it goes back to the craft and message point I made before. With criticism you have to sort out what comments are constructive in terms of craft, which ones are related to your content, and which ones aren’t helpful at all. This is difficult because as a writer, you don’t always know where the other person is in terms of God (assuming a writer is creating Christian fiction). It’s also very easy for critiques to slip into the subjective territory, and things tend to devolve quickly if the person is offended, feels convicted, etc.

    Yes, we need to understand how the world operates on some level in order to engage it. I guess the big question a novelist (for example) needs to ask themselves is “where am I leading the reader?”

  6. Mike, thank you for joining us today. Great post.

    I’d like to say this. Christian music. Christian friends. Christian Christians. That last one was my attempt at humor. All good. Well, actually they are all a blessing. At 15 I found out about Christian music. It had it’s place. It struck my heart. The friends? Same. I mean you go to a movie with people who like giant robots, not ones who don’t.

    Point is we as Christians need those things. That’s where the fellowship comes in.

    When i was told I couldn’t listen to secular music, I still did. I didn’t argue with the ones who said I couldn’t because I knew what I felt after I accepted Christ. Everything changed. I jam to Christian and secular music all day-as I write, to wind down. It brings me closer to God. Always. Without fail.

    What part of “go into the world” are we missing? I write for me. And within that writing–Christ can be seen. But he will never be shoved down anyone’s throat. That’s not what He wants.

    As I mentioned above at 15, I’m almost 32 now, I too went through a season. I season of deep teaching. A season of seeing Christ for all that He is. Hopefully that comes through in what I put to paper, or type to screen. Salt influences. WE are to influence the world. We are to kill off mediocrity. We must really want it. As bad as Christ wants us to.

    I am a Christian. I am a writer. But I am not a Christian writer.

    Be blessed.

    • Tymothy, please don’t misunderstand me to say that we shouldn’t have those things (Christian music, Christian fiction, etc.) but that that “Christian culture” can unintentionally cocoon us, stilt us from our main mission, which is to penetrate the world. Frankly, I enjoy much Christian fiction and music. But in order to be “fishers of men” we must move into more open waters. That’s all I’m asking — does the Christian sub-culture enable this?

      • Mike-no I didn’t misunderstand at all. I understood you 100% and nothing you wrote made me think otherwise. I was simply commenting on the fact that many Christians never leave the shaker as you put it. I was trying to say that those things are good, they are right-however, that’s only part of it. The “Christian things” are only a part of this whole faith thing.

        As far as you’re question–yes, the “genre” and Christians, more often than not, tend to stay within the safety of “Christian safeness.” That is as you put it-in a cocoon.

  7. Thanks for addressing this topic, Mike. I’ve wondered for some time why we are so separated from the rest of the world. Jesus certainly did not shy away from “sinners” but asked to eat at their house for supper. Let the salt out of the shaker! If we don’t choose it and stretch and risk being misunderstood or rejected, God may do a little “shaking” of our comfy shakers.

  8. I know there have been times I’ve declined to endorse a book because I felt it wasn’t up to scratch; I tried to break it gently, but invariably this leads to a coldness between me and that author. I have also had people get mad at me for posting three-star reviews of their published work. So I deleted the reviews to preserve the peace, and moved on. It’s really not worth the trouble. Yes, this does harm objectivity. And I’m the first to stick up for anyone’s rights to say what they want about my books (and they do). I suppose this whole not-posting-negative-reviews thing has led to the actual measure of a book being the *number* of good reviews it has. Strange, and not necessarily a good thing, but true.

    • Grace, I’ll be honest with you — this is the reason I ignore most Christian reviews. Yes, there’s some reviewers I know that I can personally trust. But if we have constructed a “code of silence” amongst ourselves, how in the world do we expect credibility in the broader market? BTW, thanks for the awesome interview at my website! http://mikeduran.com/?p=13717

      • I am beginning to think that we should leave the reviewing to the actual readers. For those of us who are involved in publishing in any way, even as authors, it is just too tricky. We don’t want our potential allies to turn away from us because we didn’t love their book. And so for me, it isn’t the *Christian* reviews I tend to ignore, but the ones *by authors* (at least, authors I don’t know well personally) because they will be the people with something to gain from writing a positive review. A real reader review is worth a lot; a review from an author may need a grain or three of salt.

    • “it isn’t the *Christian* reviews I tend to ignore, but the ones *by authors* (at least, authors I don’t know well personally) because they will be the people with something to gain from writing a positive review. A real reader review is worth a lot; a review from an author may need a grain or three of salt.”

      Amen.

  9. Thought I write Christian fiction, my mentors and most of the people I rely on for advice are ABA authors. Many have had multiple books on the NY Times Bestseller list. Why? For the very reasons Mike outlines here. I don’t want to limit myself as a writer, and as much as it galls some Christians, the world has some good things to offer. We are, after all, admonished to be in the world, not of it. There are some beautiful things and experiences in the world. Our job is to take those experiences and use them to glorify God. After all…Christ didn’t hide from the world. Why should we?
    Thomas Smith
    author of Something Stirs

  10. Wow, Mike, these are some tough questions. As Tymothy alluded to, we need Christian music and books and siblings to keep us strong and focused on the One who matters. But we also need to be in the world, not only to demonstrate Biblical truths for those who’ve never read the Bible, but to listen to what the unchurched have to tell us. We may long to reflect Christ to them; but they are the only ones who can really tell us whether we’re succeeding.

  11. I do think we get too isolated–although, that can happen in the secular market, too. The one experience I had a certain secular critique group was the blind leading the blind. I think the key is learning from different avenues, getting critique from Christians and non-Christians alike, but not the same limited circle all the time.

    Anyway, thanks for being our guest today, Mike! (I know–I set this up, so I should have been commenting earlier…but it’s been a long, busy day for me!) Oh, and some of the comments here have inspired, I think, my next blog post ;).

    PS–Diane and Robynn are not kidding about being truth-telling critters! And I am so glad for it!

  12. My Dearest Mike,

    I am not a writer, I am a reader and my thoughts are, Christ set the example by walking among the sinners. Even God sent His only Son down to walk among the unholy so that He might have a better understanding of our day to day strife. Now how much more loving can one be? If we want to know our children then we have to get on the floor with them and see what they see, If a boss wants to know how to supervise, then he must get out among the workers. Sometimes you have to see how your hands get dirty in order to know how to clean them. Get the picture?

  13. My Dearest Mike,

    I jumped right in after reading the blog and didn’t read all of the comments. Please forgive my redundancy of what everyone else so aptly put. I should have known that they would be on top of it. Quite a great group we have hear LOL

  14. Great post, Mike. I agree that most Christians tend to stick together and live in an insulated world. I can understand why this happens, and in part it can be a good thing, surrounding oneself with like-minded people. However, I believe Jesus would tell us to get outside the echo chamber.

  15. Great post, as usual, Mike.

    Lord God above, you do enjoy throwing gasline on the fire, doncha? *G*

    And Tym, I liked this: “I am a Christian. I am a writer. But I am not a Christian writer.”

    Dittos, c’est moi.

  16. Yeah, you’re exactly right, Mike. Awesome post. We’re too quick to call a negative review ‘mean-spirited’ and ‘un-loving’ when it ought to be a case of, “Oh…yeah…”

  17. […] Duran graced us with a guest blog post on Saturday, where he sparked a discussion about Christians giving only positive reviews of Christian books. […]

  18. I’ve been amazed at how vindictive some Christians can be if they don’t receive a perfect rating. Since so many of us are in the same organizations, it sometimes feels like professional suicide to provide an honest review. I stepped in the muck recently and still can’t get the stench off my shoes. The words “Never again!” echo in my ears.

  19. Great post, Mike, and a thought-provoking one at that.

    I can definitely see why some Christians never want to leave the shaker, or the cocoon — it’s a comfort zone. But the longer we sequester ourselves, the harder it becomes for us to fully understand others who live outside our world. We were not placed on this planet to become sheep, empty vessels to be filled by dogma. C.S. Lewis wanted us to think. I’m sure he also wanted us to travel to new places to understand the entire world, not just our tiny corner of it.

    When I was writing my novella, “Signs and Wonders,” I realized it would be considered inspirational fiction or religious fiction. So I asked an evangelical friend for her thoughts about Christian fiction. I was surprised by her response. She told me she never read it because she was disappointed by the overall quality of the genre — too much preaching, too much dogma, and too many lusting Amish women (that’s a joke) for her taste.

    If you consider yourself a writer of religious fiction, I feel strongly that you should write for all people — including those of different faiths and even those who are non-believers. I included an atheist and a friend who was Jewish in my beta readers because I want everyone to read my book. Otherwise, what’s the point in preaching to the choir?

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