Writing e-books is a good fit for me because I see it as a post-modern frontier, and I’m an explore-the-frontier kind of guy. When I was a kid, Davey Crocket was my hero, and I loved to wear the coonskin caps that were popular with kids then (Whoa! Did I date myself on that one!) Kit Carson was a distant relative of our family, as was Stephen F. Austin. Even today an activity I enjoy most is backpacking in a wilderness area, preferably in the old growth areas of the Pacific Northwest.
Writing inspirational e-book fiction is writing on a frontier. It’s unsettled. No one knows if you can survive “out there” as a writer. It’s uncivilized. I would like to argue for that being a GOOD thing.
Publishers, editors, distribution houses, and book marketing experts have all combined to make traditional publishing a sedated and civilized affair. In traditional Christian publishing, that means there are plenty of gatekeepers to keep writers from risking into any territory someone has decided is unsafe – portraying Christians as sexual creatures, including any characters who use street language, letting Christian characters make mistakes morally, mentioning sexual body parts, including sympathetic portraits of characters of non-Christian faiths, and (as the King would say in “The King and I”–speaking of one who should never have been civilized)ET-CETERA, ET-CETERA, ET-CETERA!
These traditional publishing professionals feel they have to keep us from risking because in traditional publishing the risks are so high. It takes a lot of money to produce and market a traditionally published book, and most of them lose money. So most publishers of traditionally produced Christian books try to herd us back into the safe areas – books about well-covered Amish people, romances where everyone is chaste and wouldn’t even think of being otherwise, and stories where everyone is happy in Pleasantville.
E-books cost much less to produce, and so e-book editors are more willing to take a risk on unknown writers who explore the frontiers of life and the kingdom of God.
That’s what inspirational fiction writing should be about, really, exploring the frontiers of the kingdom of God. How big is the family of our God? How vast is God’s grace which God pours out freely to every struggling human being? We never know how big it all is until we muster up the courage to explore it.
Besides being a writer, I am also an ordained minister, and I remember in the early years of my ministry a comparison being made between people of faith and the exploration of the American West. According to this, people of faith can be divided into two groups: explorers and settlers. The explorers take the risks involved in discovery. They prepare the way for the settlers. Explorers have a responsibility to steer people to the best paths and most productive areas. They are the ones who find the narrow paths which lead to life. Only when these are explored do the settlers come in and find their place. But the settlers don’t take charge of the exploration. When the settlers take charge, everyone stays put.
Traditional publishers, editors, distribution houses, and book marketing experts are settlers. They are comfortable only on the established paths and the land already known to be productive. The settlers won’t lead us into any frontiers. As an old saying goes (okay, it doesn’t exactly go this way, but it could), “Those who can write, do; those who can’t, become traditional publishers.” Wait… maybe I’m burning bridges there…forget I said that.
Back to my previous area of thought – being an explorer. In more primitive times people thought that God could be found on the mountaintops, and not in the valleys. God was on Mount Olympus or Mount Sinai or Mount Zion or Mount Tahoma (which Native Americans sometimes referred to as “The Mountain that was God.”) The valleys were seen as the residence of demons, a place where God could not be found. But one enterprising faith explorer challenged that and found “even though I walk through the VALLEY of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for YOU are with me.” God present in the demon-infested valleys – who would have thought? Only one who was willing to explore beyond the Edges of where God was thought to be to a new frontier.
E-book publishing won’t be on the frontier forever. Perhaps not long at all. As a result of this, writers of e-books have struggled to break past double digits in sales. Things are sparse sometimes on the frontier! But this situation is already changing. In a recent issue of SOJOURNERS magazine (a good Christian explorers magazine), Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon.com was quoted as saying, “Amazon.com customers now purchase more Kindle books than hardcover books – astonishing when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover books for 15 years, and Kindle books for 33 months.” Perhaps there are more people who are like Kelly Davis, one of the reviewers of my own book SEARCHING FOR EDEN, who wrote, “I consider myself pretty traditional when it comes to reading books the old-fashioned way, but just having finished SEARCHING FOR EDEN by Keith Madsen in e-book format I may just have to leap into the new millennium.”
Both of my e-book novels explore some frontier territory. SEARCHING FOR EDEN, explores both a literal frontier – the isolated mountain areas of Iran, searching for the literal Garden of Eden; and a figurative frontier, searching for a way to be Christ’s peacemakers while traveling through an Islamic world. In this book, Evan Jordan and friends travel through Iran and Iraq, and even to the Island of Bahrain, looking for clues to the Garden's reality, and whether it might still be found. They dig in ancient cemeteries, climb ziggurats, race through war zones and examine bizarre art carved into human skulls; all the time seeking the secret to humanity's foundational story. In the process of searching they run afoul of the Iranian government for getting too close to nuclear sites, they battle militants, and they have to decide who to trust in a very dangerous part of the world. Will what they find make it worth the risk?
My other e-book novel, THE SHARD FENCE, also explores what for North American Christians is a frontier. For a long time, Christians in North America and the West have been the dominant cultural forces in the church. That time is no more. The fire in the church has been shifted by the wind of the Spirit to the Southern Hemisphere, to Africa and South America. THE SHARD FENCE is the story of a North American young man and a Brazilian young woman who teach a church in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to tap faith in God and, through that faith, to fight violence and drugs in their Brazilian favela. Together they learn the truth of Christ's words, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul."
So, one by one, this frontier of Inspirational e-book fiction is being settled. Prepare the way! Those wagon trains are a-comin’! I just hope they don’t expect us to get civilized all at once.