This post, by Jeff Gerke, originally appeared on the Speculative Faith blog on 1/11/13. In it, the publisher for Marcher Lord Press explains his decision to start a new imprint for a controversial book rather than risk being blackballed by a prominent Christian Fiction writers’ group and awards process.
Could I publish a book with vulgarity, nudity, and sex? That was the real question. What would my mom think, you know? What would all the awesome homeschooling moms who love MLP think? What would my other authors think?
Since our launch in 2008, my small publishing house, Marcher Lord Press , has billed itself as “the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction.” We were premier in the sense of “first,” and also, I hoped, in the sense that we would remain at the forefront even when other small presses eventually joined our ranks.
Our niche is that segment of Christians who love fantasy, science fiction, time travel, superhero, and all the rest of the wonderfully weird genres. We target Christians who love Big Bang Theory, Christians who shop at ThinkGeek.com, and Christians who would go to Comic-CON if given half a chance.
Since 2008, we’ve racked up three Christy Award finalist nominations and two wins, something like ten ACFW Carol Award finalist nominations and three straight wins, a number of EPIC and Indie and Inspie nominations and wins, and several positive reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and USA Today Online, including a coveted “starred review” in Publishers Weekly.
One of the advantages of running your own publishing company, especially one that doesn’t try to get its wares into brick and mortar bookstores, is that you can publish anything you jolly well please. It used to be that Christian bookstores (and, sometimes, the very conservative patrons of those bookstores) controlled what could and couldn’t be published by Christian publishers. One complaint from these folks, and a book could die. Multiple complaints, and there was big trouble. But with a small press selling online, this is not an issue.
That’s both good and bad. The good is that you can publish any book you want to publish. The bad is that…you can publish any book you want to publish. It used to be that those folks at bookstores were drawing the line in the sand about what could and couldn’t be published. Now, there is no line. Now it’s up to the individual publisher as to what will be published. The mantle of censorship, so to speak, has now been placed on my shoulders and on the shoulders of any indie publisher.
In late 2011, one of my MLP authors came to me with an idea. He was disappointed with the latest volume in George R. R. Martin’s hugely popular secular epic fantasy series that began with Game of Thrones. My author wanted to produce “the Christian answer to Martin.” He wanted to write an epic not only in scope but in actual size—he wanted a book as big as Martin’s. A typical novel runs around 100,000 words. A typical MLP novel runs around 125,000 words. This one was set to be more than 200,000 words (and ended up being even larger, as you’ll see).
But the story idea was going to push the boundaries of Christian fiction. It was to be a warfare book, so there would be lots of violent content—but that wasn’t a problem for me. I often laugh that traditional Christian fiction is allowed to have so much violence. You can have a body count as high as the sky…but you can’t say dang or have a couple French kiss. Anyway, I wasn’t bothered by the prospect of violence in the book.
What threw me was that the author felt very strongly that the book needed to have vulgarity (which, he informed me, is different from profanity), nudity, and even sex. He had one scene in mind especially, the reunion between a husband and wife when the man comes home from war. He wanted his book to be a corrective to secular fantasy fiction, which almost never shows sexual conduct between married people but seems rather to glorify adultery.
Indeed, much of his novel was imagined as a corrective to secular fantasy. He wanted to show the Christian faith as a positive influence, for instance. He wanted to show Christian clergy as real people—some good, some bad—instead of as the uniformly sinister and corrupt hypocrites that secular fantasy shows them.
In many ways, this epic fantasy was designed to be the fiction equivalent of a Christian standing up in the middle of, say, Comic-CON and saying, “I love all the things you guys love and are doing, but you’re missing the most crucial aspect, the aspect that matters for eternity. Come over to my booth, and I’ll explain what I mean.” It was, in a sense, a work of apologetics (which has nothing to do with apologizing, btw).
So then the decision fell to me. Of course I wanted to create the Christian answer to Martin, not just for the large audience we’d be sure to attract-slash-irritate, but also because of the author’s noble intent.
But could I publish a book with vulgarity, nudity, and sex? That was the real question. What would my mom think, you know? What would all the awesome homeschooling moms who love MLP think? What would my other authors think? I tell you, this decision drove me to my knees. I spoke to my wife, my advisors, and my stable of authors.
I ultimately felt that God was allowing me to go forward with it, so we did.
In terms of the mature content, about the only thing I changed in editing was to scale back that husband/wife reunion sex scene. The author wrote it out explicitly, leaving it to me to decide where to draw the line. Ack. I scaled it back a couple of times until I could read it without freaking out.
Meanwhile, during the editing of the book, word was getting out that we were heading toward the launch of this book. One woman wrote me to say that we were no longer a Christian company and when I came back to God I could drop her a note and she’d think about supporting us again. I expected that sort of thing.
What I hadn’t expected was the support I received. I had a number of authors—some were my own authors and some were folks who had despaired of ever finding a publishing outlet for their mature Christian novels—privately tell me how much an answer to prayer this new development was to them.
Things were going along pretty well until two days before the book was to release. I got a note from the folks at a prominent Christian fiction writers group in America saying that if we released this book, they would take MLP off their list of approved publishers. That meant that all MLP books would not be eligible for their annual award.