I've really enjoyed last week's conversations and plan to have more to say on the subjects we were discussing, but for the moment, I hope you'll indulge me as I reflect on something a bit more personal.
As regular readers of this blog know, I've written a couple of young adult science-fiction manuscripts and have just started looking into the possibility of publishing the shorter, stand-alone manuscript. A kind reader gave me a link to a small new Catholic children's book publisher, and I sent my manuscript along to them.
Today I got my first-ever rejection letter, though the letter was so amazingly kind and generous that I almost feel that calling it a rejection letter is a bit of a misnomer. The person who wrote it explained that at the present time this company is publishing fiction for the younger grades exclusively, and it will probably be a considerable time before they tackle young-adult fiction.
It was fun to 'get my feet wet,' so to speak. Anyone who writes knows how difficult it can be to talk yourself into letting anyone else read your work, let alone total strangers who have dozens of manuscripts to sort through, so I'm glad I tried this company, even though I'm going to have to keep looking for a publisher.
But that's where I feel as though the time has come to make a decision.
I've always wanted to find and work with a small publisher. I don't mind being even a rather tiny fish in a smallish pond, but I've never wanted to be an amoeba in an ocean, which is how the role of the writer who works with some enormously large publishing company strikes me. I don't want to have to go around begging some fourth or fifth rate literary agent to read my manuscript in the hopes that he or she will agree to represent my work to some huge media conglomerate during the approximately fifteen minutes a year he or she manages to speak to actual people there. (Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but not by all that much from what I understand.)
My wish would be to work with a small Catholic fiction publisher. Unfortunately, such companies are virtually non-existent, and the few that do exist primarily handle adult fiction, not children's or young adult fiction.
So now I have to decide whether to look for a small secular publisher, or a small Christian one.
Which is another way of asking the question: do I write Catholic/Christian fiction, or don't I?
As I wrote in the letter which accompanied my manuscript, I don't write overtly Catholic/Christian fiction. But I believe that writing for young people places a particular duty on the Catholic author, who must take into consideration the age of the child for whom he/she is writing, and who should not intentionally violate the child's conscience by presenting him with material he simply isn't ready to read. Raising adult issues or approaching the world from an adult standpoint often crosses the line, in my opinion; the fact that young preteens/early teens may know about drugs, violence, sex, abusive behavior etc. doesn't mean that we can fill young adult books with these topics with impunity. In my case, it simply isn't possible for me to write without approaching things from a Catholic standpoint, from a view of the world that involves hope, salvation, and the ultimate possibility of the redemptability of every character.
When it comes to science fiction, there's a bit of a gap between books about astronauts, space, and little aliens written for the earliest readers, and the darker, atheistic/agnostic/materialistic view of the world found in the novels of such writers as Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and the like. As a teenager I wasn't ready for Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, though I came to appreciate it later; I found the loose morals and deconstruction of the family too difficult to overlook in the Asimov novels I encountered (though I enjoyed the short stories); and the less said about the ugliness of Clarke's Childhood's End, the better. Things aren't much better for young science-fiction enthusiasts these days; though a plethora of "Star Wars" novels and a few series books based on TV characters are out there, there's still a tendency to see the future of humanity as naturally progressing beyond any notion of religious faith or morality and toward an "enlightened" state of post-theistic utilitarian utopianism. This is, of course, terribly problematic for the young Christian reader of science fiction.
And so the closest thing to a mission statement I've ever written is the following: my wish is to write fiction in a genre which is unfortunately known more for an agnostic/relativistic world view than a Christian one, and to provide young readers with stories of space and adventure which reinforce, rather than threaten, their religious values and beliefs.
So, my question is this: does this make me, in effect, a writer of Catholic/Christian fiction, even if my stories don't contain obvious elements of religion in them? Does my desire to present a positive view of future worlds in which man is still motivated by such things as family, friendship, love and sacrifice make me different from a writer of secular fiction?
If you were I, would you be looking for a Christian publisher?