Black Earth and the Genre That Almost Wasn’t

3ed7d-9780615322766I’ve been writing since 1992. I’ve been self-publishing since at least 2004. And I started working on my Black Earth series back in 2007, when it began as a short story in an anthology I wrote for National Novel Writing Month that November.

My aim with the Black Earth series was to tell a story about the world falling into darkness, with the main focus being on a few major characters who were attempting to navigate through this darkness by relying on their relationship with God. That lonely little short story – which was originally created under the umbrella of my other series, Expired Reality – quickly became the baseline for an entire series of its own: Black Earth.

Black Earth: End of the Innocence – the first novel in the series – was the most challenging manuscript I have ever penned. Why? Because it contained content in it that I knew had the chance of being frowned on by friends and family, fellow Christians, and even my church. But I felt led to write the story found within the pages of End of the Innocence – a story filled with rape, cursing, sexual promiscuity, aliens, superpowers, violence, demons, witches, time travel, and other realities.

Needless to say, the novel was completely out of my comfort zone. In fact, it broke the very walls of the box I had been writing in my whole life.

At first I made the mistake of trying to hide Black Earth under the science fiction/fantasy genre. I failed because reviewers started pointing out that Black Earth had Christian themes and that it should be placed under the Christian Fiction umbrella.  The book also got lost in the massive genre of science fiction/fantasy, buried underneath the likes of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Game of Thrones series.

So where did it belong? Where could Black Earth call home?

DAlderman 047bwIn all honesty, I dreaded carrying Black Earth under the Christian Fiction banner. Quite a bit of Christian Fiction – and I stress quite a bit, not all – contains stories that actually do nothing more than encompass ‘clever’ sermons about Jesus and how to live a ‘proper’ life. Most Christian Fiction ends on a high note, and not much of it explores ‘real’ life. Much Christian Fiction avoids the dark and gritty side of life. Prostitutes, drug addiction, the inner struggles of sex addicts, the moral dilemmas one faces in high school. Even science fiction/fantasy elements are frowned upon most of the time, including extraterrestrial life, time travel, magic and witches.

This dilemma I faced forced me to really think about what umbrella my work, especially Black Earth, fell under. I didn’t want to enter the Christian Fiction scene with my science fiction/fantasy/horror novel that was filled with rape, violence and cursing. I would be ostracized. And I didn’t want to continue skating through the swamp of science fiction/fantasy, hoping reviewers wouldn’t have issue with the fact that my stories contained Christian themes.

I eventually came to the conclusion that my Black Earth series was actually within a hybrid genre of sorts: Edgy Christian Speculative Fiction. I came up with that genre title because I have no other way to describe what I write. Black Earth is a mixture of science fiction, fantasy, a dash of horror, a spritz of real-world content, all encompassing themes of redemption, forgiveness, revenge, and betrayal.

There are non-Christians who love the books for their stories, characters and themes. Some have even commented that even though they recognize Christian themes within the novels, they don’t feel like they are being preached to when they read them. Some readers from the Christian camp praise my stories for crossing the line that was mysteriously drawn in the sand eons ago and creating ‘real’ characters who are forced to face a dark and (nearly) hopeless reality.

384814496_66df770b6e_oYears later, I’m still touting the edgy Christian speculative fiction label. I gathered together an online group of like-minded authors/readers and created The Crossover Alliance. And to that end, I am in the process of turning that community into an actual publishing company. It’s been a lot like rolling together a giant snowball, but it’s been totally worth it.

And some days I wonder where my writing would be had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and written Black Earth…

Photo courtesy of Kamyar Adl via Flickr

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