Today I’ve been asked to write about faith in fiction—namely my faith and how I incorporate it in my fiction. For those who don’t know me, I’m Greg Mitchell. A few years back I penned my “Christian Horror” trilogy The Coming Evil. That one, as you might be able to guess from the genre branding, was very obvious in its faith elements. I’ve also been involved in the Christian film industry, co-writing the screenplay for Amazing Love: The Story of Hosea. Also “in your face” where faith elements are concerned. But I’ve also written other novels since then like HITMEN: Four Tales of Magick, Monsters, and Murder, and my Rift Jump duology of multidimensional cosmic horror/adventure/romance (whew), that straddles the fence between traditional Christian publishing and secular fiction. Most recently I’ve been turning out Syfy Original Movies like Snakehead Swamp and this month’s Zombie Shark—which, to some, has been a far cry from my days writing mainly “Christian Fiction”.
My point is, I’ve written all along the spectrum of “religious fiction”. Therein lies a big struggle in my writing career.
I’m a multi-faceted guy. I love the Word of God and have been a Bible study teacher my entire adult life. I also love monsters and Halloween, as they take me back to a more innocent time when all I had to fear were werewolves by the light of the full moon rather than all these politics and a corrupt world as an adult. I like writing about mutated killer man-eating fish one day, and then the next day writing something more introspective about the difficulties of living out one’s faith in a world that would rather people keep it to themselves. However, I’ve come to find that my readership sometimes has a hard time with these dual aspects of my life. The readers I’ve picked up from my Christian book series are sometimes offended by the “worldliness” in my more secular-served offerings, whereas my Syfy viewers are turned off by the “preachiness” in my faith-driven endeavors. You can’t please everyone, it seems, and to be honest, I’ve yet to find my groove. My fanbase, as it were.
So the question is “Who am I?” Am I the Christian Fiction guy, or the Syfy movie guy?
To me, all these projects, from The Strange Man (the first installment in The Coming Evil Trilogy) to Zombie Shark stem from the exact same wellspring. I don’t see the great divide between sacred and secular in my work, as it’s all coming from the same desire to explore truth. I want to discover the truth about my characters and how they react to the situations they find themselves in—no matter how ridiculous those situations might seem. It is in their reactions, how they turn on each other, or how they overcome obstacles to work together, that I learn about myself. And, of course, my faith is an integral part of that process. As with any writer, my beliefs wholly shape how I see the world as I write it. In some of my works, my characters are Christians, but in others they’re not. And though I may not agree with everything my non-believing characters do or say, they are still obviously filtered through my view of the world. I just couldn’t write from a belief that there was no God, that there was no ultimate justice in the universe. Now, I often write characters who don’t believe that, but that’s never been the reality of their situation from my narrator’s perspective.
But does that make my writing “Christian Fiction”? What does that title even mean?
I grew up wanting to write about things that entertained and excited me, often infusing my faith and ponderings of God. Sometimes those ideas of God were underdeveloped and painfully immature, and I look back on them now and laugh at myself for some of my interpretations of Scripture—but I did learn something in the process of writing those early stories of my childhood. And as I grew older, I continued to “work out my salvation” through my storytelling, putting thoughts on paper—and throwing a monster in there, just to keep things fun. It all made perfect sense to me, this mishmash of faith and fear. I thought, why is it I never see books on the shelves of my local Christian bookstore that are essentially monster books with a Christian underpinning? “There must be a void here! I shall fill it!” When I started my writing career nearly twenty years ago in Christian film (and, later, Christian fiction), though, I found out why there aren’t many such books and certainly no films.
I was immediately bombarded by rules and regulations that I had no idea were in place. It seems that then—and now (for I still hear the same arguments on a daily basis)—the genre is uniquely locked in a perpetual state of self-definition. Maybe I’m wrong: Maybe the science fiction community locks themselves in hidden rooms and discuss for hours what exactly is and is not “science fiction”. Maybe “romance” circles have annual meetings to discuss the parameters that a work should meet before it can truly be labeled “romance fiction”. I don’t know—but it is that way in Christian fiction, at least from what I’ve seen. “What is Christian fiction?” Is it merely a work of fiction written by a believer, stemming from their beliefs? Is it a work of fiction trying to communicate a deeper truth about God’s character or maybe a more Old Testament approach that just shows people living their lives and suffering the consequences for their choices? I used to think so, but now I think many just mean “clean fiction”. “Well, we’re Christian fiction, so we don’t have bad language, graphic violence, sex, and we also have an uplifting positive message…and if you don’t meet that, then you’re out.” It’s the same thing I’ve heard for years, but what it always seemed to boil down to for me is “You’re not Christian enough.” But that seems to be in a lot of our churches, as well. We start judging whether people are Christians or not, using parameters beyond a saving faith in Christ and the fruits of the Spirit. “You don’t look like me, you don’t listen to Christian radio, you don’t eat at Chick-Fil-A enough or read all of LifeWay’s recommended books—you must not really be a Christian.” Being a lover of monsters and rock and roll, myself, that became a very personal battle of mine. “You like horror? Christians don’t like horror. Ergo, you must not be a Christian.” We’re defined by what we’re not. We watch the latest trends and then react to them. We know what we don’t do in Christian fiction, but what DO we do? What should we do? Is the highest goal of Christian art to have “clean art”? Is that really the height that we’re striving to attain?
Look, I’m not saying let’s all have potty mouths or be sexual deviants in our work. Of course we have to be careful not to glorify sin, and we’ve got to have decorum, and properly represent the Lord. Also, I’m certainly not saying let’s never present Jesus. As Christians, we should be presenting Jesus in everything we do, art included, in one form or another. But I think our actual challenge—above all the standards and regulations we put on each other—is to make actual art. Great art that we’re proud of and passionate about. Something that comes from within us, out of our joy for God and His creation, out of our thankfulness for His mercy and inspiration. Shouldn’t that be the goal of “Christian fiction”? Not to be a “safe” version of what the world is offering, but to offer something that the world can’t replicate. Christians have fellowship with the Holy Spirit. We have a direct line to the Creator of space and time. We have heaven as an inheritance, and really the best we can come up with is that we’re the “cleaner alternative to the world”? We have unlimited creative power surging through us. We should be striving to, first and foremost, reach beyond the stars, to discover truths and depths and insight that will inspire others and show them the awesome majesty of God. Isn’t that our calling?
Now, I realize—as the writer of Zombie Shark—that not everything we do is going to be quite so lofty, ha ha. But even in the more frivolous things we may write, we should still delight in our creative expression. We should craft them with a humble spirit and offer them up as thanksgiving to God the Creator. I love when my kids bring me their little crayon drawings or show me stories they wrote, because it came from them. That’s special. I want to believe God looks on us the same way. In everything we write, we should strive for authenticity—namely our own authenticity. I’m not always a good guy, though I want to be. I’m not always the best example of Christ, though I wish I were. I mess up. I get angry and I flail and, yes, sometimes I use a bad word. But Christ loves me. He sees me through. He sees my innermost thoughts that no one ever sees, and yet He still serves as an intercessor for me in the presence of God. There’s a level of honesty and intimacy and transparency and security there that I want to express in my fiction.
I want to write about truth. Not the truth in the world, but the truth in myself. My own ugliness and my own fears. But my hopes, too, and my reliance on God. Again, we come back to the question: Who am I? Do I write Christian Fiction or secular fiction? These days, from my various projects all across the spectrum, I no longer classify myself as either. I’m not concerned with if I’m “Christian enough” to be considered for that genre, and I also don’t want to have to keep up with the world and impress them with my “raw grittiness” to compete with their cynical sensibilities.
Simply put, I write “Greg Fiction”, just like I always have, ever since I was a boy who just wanted to write something that entertained me and gave me an outlet to express myself. That’s my genre, and it’s the one I know best. It might take me longer to find that fanbase who’s looking for Greg Fiction, but I’m content to write where my imagination leads and work out my faith on the page or the screen, if for no other reason than to give back to God my praise, my respect, and my gratitude.
Thanks, Greg! Be sure to check out “Zombie Shark” on SyFy later this month. And be sure to visit Greg’s blog to stay up to date on his projects.