Fortunately, my fellow Master's Artist J. Mark Bertrand offers some detailed observations about the conference here.
Inside the bubble of evangelical publishing, it's easy to ignore the frustration of fiction readers who expect the blending of faith and art to produce "serious" work. At a conference like Calvin, though, a lot of the recent hype rings hollow. Readers don't want to hear that things are changing; they want to see the books. And they don't have the built-in respect for the standard excuses that people in the bubble tend to have.
It may have happened, but I didn't hear any editors at the festival say, "We're just interested in commercial, genre-driven fiction." Most everyone suggested a desire to see both literary fiction and the kind of 'high genre' stuff you see in the general market, where art and genre meld. And everyone -- editors, writers, readers -- wanted to be able to point to more examples of serious fiction with faith elements. But frankly, it doesn't seem to be happening, or rather, everyone is hoping it will without anyone having to do something about it. This seems to be a conversation you can only take so far before everyone sighs and says that the economics prevent any meaningful fruition. All the editors seem to want the right things, but for a variety of reasons only a few are in a position to act.
Bethany House editor Dave Long offers his take hereand here over at Faith in Fiction.
One of the highlights for me would have been meeting Mark and Dave and other people I've become acquainted with online.
Dave set up the Faith in Fiction blog as a way of encouraging Christian writers to aspire to art rather than product in their work.
Meanwhile, Mark offers this rationale for the gap that so often exists between what we aspire to and what we actually produce.
All of this theorizing points to my reasons for not producing the serious writing I daydream about. First, it's hard. I find it much easier to channel the themes, characters, tones and settings of the type of books I like than to build everything from scratch and make it uniquely my own. I can write much more and much quicker this way, and given all that's out there on the shelves, the result is (in my mind) "good enough." Also, it's more convenient to work with what's already out there than to mine my own thoughts and experiences for fresh material. I've acquired the teacher's trick of projecting expertise on every subject, whether I have it or not, and that carries over into writing, where I can do a reasonably good facsimile of genuine angst over any topic, even if I don't care much about it at all outside the page.
If an unserious approach to fiction allows me to be more prolific, it also persuades me (wrongly, I think) that I am more likely to be rewarded for my work. The public, I tell myself, doesn't want serious fiction. They want pure entertainment. They want the familiar formulae, jazzed up with the occasional variation to keep them on their toes. In other words, like the suburban contractor, I justify my convenience by insisting people don't want me to work harder. And the fact is, they don't -- until they've experienced the kind of story such hard work can produce. I could have been perfectly content in my cookie-cutter house, for example, with its brick and limestone facade and its open floor plan, if only I had never seen a truly creative architectural home. Readers are the same. Only once they've awakened to great books do they begin to insist on them.
Now for me, the object of naming these excuses is not to embrace them. I file them under the heading of temptation, and putting them into words will make it easier (I hope) to identify and reject them. I don't want to take seriously my excuses for not writing seriously.
Other Master's Artists this week grapple with the tensions in the writer's and poet's worlds.
For Mike Synder it is deadlines and whether they improve the art. And for Suz, it is how marketing and the business of writing seems to kill the poet in her.