Sunday

Resurgence of Myths

The past few years have seen a resurgence of ancient mythologies, especially Greek mythology, in children's books. Most of this can almost certainly be credited to the popularity of the Percy Jackson series. In many ways Percy has done for mythology the same thing Harry Potter did for magic -- create a huge interest in books in this area. Granted, there were books with Greek and Roman mythological characters before Percy, but there are a whole lot more of them now.

And now, the desire for mythological books is spreading into other pantheons as well. Last year the Norse were represented in the book Runemarks and Pinkwater has a couple of books (The Neddiad and the Yggyssey) based on North American indigenous religions. But it looks like the next big round of mythological books will be Egyptian based.

Just like zombie is the new vampire over in the teen section, Ra is the new Zeus over in the midgrades. According to gossip I've been hearing all sorts of publishers are looking for Eyptian-themed books for all sorts of age ranges. There is definitely an opportunity out there for those of you who happen to have an Egyptian mythology manuscript lying around.

I am (coincidentally -- I do not pretend that I forecasted this trend several years back -- I'm good but not that good) participating in this trend by putting out my own Egyptian-based book in October. Although the book is more of a historical fantasy rather than a mythological fantasy, the god Amon-Ra does make an appearance.

And all this talk about mythologies leads me to my writing prompt for this week: Google an unfamiliar mythology. Using some aspect of the mythology that interests you (character, place, idea, etc.), write something. Go to http://buriedintheslushpile.ning.com/forum/topics/mythological-fiction to post what the prompt inspires.

Friday

Weekend Discussion

Today should be question of the week, but I haven't had any questions, and frankly I'm not feeling creative enough to think up one of my own. So, I thought we could have a weekend discussion instead. Here is the topic:

In recent years, adult religious fiction, specifically Christian fiction, has been a growing trend in main-stream bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble with more sales floor square footage being devoted to this genre. On the other hand Children's religious fiction has not been participating in this trend. At the most religion generally gets a single bookshelf, with almost all of those books being non-fiction or biblical retellings. Why do you think this is?

Discuss this on the Buried in the Slushpile forum at http://buriedintheslushpile.ning.com/forum/topics/lack-of-childrens-religious.

Thursday

Review of the Week 9/24/09 -- Religious Fiction Topic

Patron Saint of Butterflies
By Cecilia Galante
Bloomsbury USA

Fourteen-year-old Agnes and Honey have spent their entire lives on the grounds of a religious cult. Although the girls are best friends, they are polar opposites. Agnes yearns for sainthood and mortifies her body in a variety of ways to achieve it. Honey rebels at the limitations imposed on them and wishes to run away. She gets her chance when Agnes’ younger brother is injured, and the cult’s leader refuses to allow medical aid or anything other than faith healing and some poorly performed stitches. Agnes’ grandmother effectively kidnaps Honey, Agnes, and Agnes’ brother in an effort to get him to the hospital. Once outside the compound, the girls discover that the world is not what either had imagined. Each experiences a crisis of faith and must learn to trust themselves, each other, and their faith in order to cope with the outside world.

The author does a lot of things right in this well-written book. She manages to tell an extremely complex story with a dual point of view in a clear and compelling manner. The two protagonists, Honey and Agnes, alternate their stories in two first person points of view. It can be hard enough to create a distinctive voice for one interesting character, but with two you often run the risk of having the characters not be differentiated enough in tone. That was not a problem in this book. Any writer interested in multiple points of view, especially first person ones, must read this book to see how well she handled this particular writing issue.

Another thing that works for the story is the religion. The charismatic leader preaches and enforces his own particular brand of spirituality that seems to be based on Judeo-Christian thought. Although never explicitly stated, I assumed the saints in Agnes' saint book were traditional Christian saints. Agnes' religious convictions, even when undergoing a crisis of faith, are realistic to the character and thoughtfully portrayed. Religious fiction writers can be inspired by reading the seamless way the spirituality of Agnes fits into the plot. True, the book wouldn't work without it, but she still manages to keep Agnes' character consistent.

Finally, I applaud Galante for not making easy and obvious choices when writing this book. Specifically, I'm referring to the fact that no one in the book is sexually abused. When we think of cults, we tend to think of abuse, incest, and child brides. None of that is present in this book, and for that I was thankful. I admit I kept waiting for the sex-scandal revelation, but it never came. Mercifully. I feel that as obvious as sexual abuse would have been as a problem for the novel to deal with, I feel that sex would have overpowered the book and detracted from the issues already being handled.

Overall, this is a good well-written book that I would encourage writers to read.

Wednesday

Tip of the Week 9/23/09

Tip of the Week: When considering where to submit your religious fiction, don't limit yourself exclusively to that religion's market.

Although you always want to start focussed when submitting, remember that many religious fiction books can work for the mass market as well. Like submitting any kind of fiction, the key is to do research into the publishers and agents you want to submit to. Obviously you are not going to submit Christian fiction to Llewellyn, publisher of such Wiccan works like Blue is for Nightmares or A Withch's Spell-A-Day Almanac. That would just be a waste of everyone's time and stamps. But depending on your story, you might be able to send it to a general editor at house like Simon & Schuster. Just research, research, research. Try to make sure you get your manuscript into the hands of someone who is predisposed to liking it.

Monday

Redefining good Christian historical midgrade novels


A while back, oh years and years ago, I worked on a midgrade historical novel for the Christian market. I like to describe the book, One-eyed Jack, as a boy’s Little House on the Prairie with a Christian spiritual base. I mention this book now because it’s an excellent example of what I was talking about yesterday.

When I got the first draft of the book it was a so-so historical fiction with these random moments where the Christianity broke through. The Christianity was so jarring that I couldn’t understand why the author seemed to be just throwing the moments in. So, I got some historical fiction midgrades from a Christian bookstore. To my horror, I discovered that so-so historical fiction with random moments of Christianity (I call them God-quotes) was the norm for the genre. And at that moment I experienced my own epiphany on why Christian historical fiction isn’t more popular with culturally Christian kids. I found that I couldn’t fault the author because if this was all she’d been reading, of course she would produce a similar product.

So, I went back to the author and gave her some recommendations on how to make the book a good, not so-so, historical fiction, and then I wrote her a long bit of my editorial letter on the integration of Christianity into her work. I explained that each of the religious characters needed to be consistently Christian that they couldn’t just have God-quotes thrown in haphazardly.

The author took my advice to heart and produced one of the best midgrade historical Christian fiction novels I’ve ever read. She’s gone through 2 print runs now and has had phenomenal success in the home-school market. I have to say that of all the books I’ve ever edited, this is the one I’m most proud of. The author came the farthest and showed the most growth in her own writing over the course of the rewrites of this novel. Brava Paula on a great book.

Sunday

Holy Writing, Batman!

Yesterday the Blooming Tree folks and I spoke at the monthly meeting of the CenTex chapter of the ACFW, a Christian writing group. This got me thinking about the subject of religion in writing, not something I think I've discussed on this site before. So, this week is going to be devoted to the more spiritual types of fiction writing.

Most of the time when people think of religous writing, they think of Christian Fiction or Inspirational Fiction or Jewish Fiction or some other niche market. But you can find religion in regular main stream, traditional market books. Off the top of my head, there's Patron Saint of Butterflies and Blue is for Nightmares. In both of these books, religion is an integrated part of the story.

And that I think is the key, regardless of whether you are writing for the main stream or one of the niche markets. The religion must be an integrated, fundamental part of your story. A secular story with random Bible quotes dropped in doth not a Christian Fiction story make. If you have an extremely devout character, then their religion should permeate every aspect of their life. On the other hand, a character that only attends temple on the high holy days every other year probably is not going to be quoting the Torah or Talmud on a regular basis. You want the religious aspect of your story to seamlessly integrate with the rest of the work, not pop out at random places.

So, this leads us to the writing prompt for this week:
Write a one page scene in which the religion is an integrated part of the story, not just a random reference every now and then.

If you would like to post your response to this prompt and receive feedback, go to the Forum section of http://buriedintheslushpile.ning.com and join the discussion for this prompt. Be sure to read the rules and how to discussions before posting. See you there!

Saturday

Question of the Week

Question of the Week:
Dear Buried Editor,
Do you plan to come back this decade or did the baby drain away all chances of you ever blogging again?

Ah, excellent question. I realize that my blogging has been sporadic (at best) over my interminable pregnancy and non-existent since the baby was born. However, all that is about to change. I know I've promised this before, but this time I'm serious. I've already planned out in detail my next 4 weeks of blogging. Every week has a theme, so to speak, and all of the writing and books that I'll discuss that week will be related. I'm also going to follow an editorial calendar so you'll know what to expect. For example, every Weds. will have the Tip of the Week and Fridays will be devoted to questions.

But, what I'm most excited about is the new forum Get Me Out of the Slushpile! that I've started. Every Monday I'll post a writing prompt here and on the forum. Then, the rest of the week you and I can post the work the prompt inspires and critique one another. I have been so impressed with the quality (and kindness) that people have shown when critiquing on this site, that I wanted to have more opportunities for all of us to help each other with our writing. The prompts I've developed so far are integrated with each week's theme, and they are not all story starters. Some deal with marketing and publicity, others with thinking out an entire book or series. I wanted us to be able to practice all areas of the author's world on that site.

Finally, since this is a site devoted to writing and editing, I will refrain from posting a half dozen sickeningly cute pictures of my baby. It's hard, but I shall persevere.

Oh, well, maybe just one.