A. L. Buehrer What I Write and Why

Friday, February 28, 2020

The #1 Mistake Christian Authors Make

Set aside your author identity and think about your reading life for a minute. I have a question for you. How many times have you been frustrated, unsatisfied, or downright bored by Christian fiction?

Let me say something right now: Christians do not have an inherent disability when it comes to creative pursuits. There isn’t something wrong with us spiritually that should hinder our ability to create, neither is there something wrong with our worldview that makes it destroy art whenever it is at its foundation. In fact, God gave Christian artists the opportunity to create things of eternal beauty and value. So, why is it that so much Christian fiction is glaringly sub-par?

I see one mistake at the root of the problem. One. That should be good news. The solution is a simple shift in mindset and a re-evaluation of your mission. So, here’s what I think it is. It might sound a little off at first, but hear me out.

You’re over-spiritualizing your work.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I definitely view my art as a mission and a ministry. I try to involve God in everything I do, and I want what I do to make an eternal difference. But what am I doing exactly? I’m writing stories. Making things up. Playing with imaginary friends and dreaming up imaginary worlds for them to interact with. When it’s time to write, it’s time to throw my agenda out the window, forget who’s going to read it and how it might change their lives, and focus on some serious goofing off.

As a Christian fiction writer, you can be a lot of things. You may be a healer, a teacher, a prophet, or a warrior poet. But first and foremost, there’s one thing you’ve got to be to write great fiction. Are you ready? This is going to be hard to swallow.

You need to be an entertainer.

That sounds really profane. To Christian ears “entertainment” can have negative connotations. This culture worships entertainment. Entertainment is an idol, a drug, a distraction. It leads us away from what’s important in the pursuit of mindless or even godless pleasure. Here’s one of the lies that builds the foundation of Christian fiction’s problem.

Entertainment is not always evil. It can actually be good. It would be, more often, if Christian authors could realize this. Entertainment is a powerful and beautiful medium for truth. Through entertainment, truth can penetrate and blossom in ways it never could in a cold dry textbook. Entertainment captures the reader’s imagination and immerses them in a new world. If you’re a Christian, and a writer, that world will naturally and organically be permeated and undergirded by the ultimate truth and love of God. 

I have a practical step for you, if you think you could improve your writing with this kind of mindset-shift. Think about how you decide to write a story. What’s your process? Do you sit down to plot and say to yourself, “I’m going to write a story about (insert moral, value, or message)?” Please don’t do that! Do everyone a favor. Don’t start with your moral or theme. Start with your character, your setting, your situation, maybe even just your atmosphere. Don’t even think about what you want to teach your audience until you’re halfway into the story. I’m serious.

Christian authors, by and large, need to lighten up and allow God to work through them in his own good time, in his own way. There’s a very good chance, if you put your story first, the message is going to change a few times. That’s not a bad thing. That’s proof that your story is alive, not just a machine that does one thing stiffly and mechanically. A person picking up a novel, no matter how spiritual their interest in it is, really hopes it’s going to entertain them. They want to enjoy watching your characters, explore a fascinating setting, freak out over your plot-twists—they might even want to laugh now and then.

If this doesn’t really sound like what you want to do with your writing, I have some advice for you: don’t write fiction. You could write sermons, devotionals, bible-studies, Christian lifestyle blog-posts…but if you don’t think entertainment is a worthy occupation, you shouldn’t be writing fiction. Fiction can be instructive, thought-provoking, and awareness-raising, but it won’t get a snowball’s chance if it isn’t entertaining.

So, Christian fiction-writers, and Christians who want to be fiction-writers, dive in and write a fun story, or a thrilling story, or a humorous story, or a story that stirs emotions and makes you fall in love with your own characters. Trust God to write a deep meaningful story that springs from your love for him. He will. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Great Audience Question

Over the weekend I read a book by another Christian dystopian author named Angela R.Watts. The book is called The Divided Nation and is the first of a series called The Infidel Books. I’d been watching this book for a while as it made its way around Goodreads, reading review, visiting the author’s blog and website and learning about her mission. All authors should have a mission. There needs to be something bigger under the stories you tell that you want to reach the world with. Watts has a well-defined mission, and that’s what attracted me to her book. 

Having a mission can help you overcome what might be the biggest hurdle of being a writer. That’s the question of who you’re speaking to—The Great Audience Question.

A lot of times, authors go in thinking finding an audience is simple. I did this, for sure. There’s a market for dystopia, right? Christian dystopia is a growing thing, isn’t it? What young Christian reader isn’t tired of the same-old same-old in Christian fiction. People will flock to my work.

Yeah. No. Finding your audience is complicated, and it’s complicated for everyone. There are way too many kinds of people in the world who are interested in way too many kinds of books for way too many different reasons. I discovered, pretty quickly that—though Christian dystopia is a growing thing, it’s still pretty fringe among readers. You get out on the street and start talking to Christian readers, and half of them (mostly the older half) don’t even know what dystopia is. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been standing in a Church lobby with a table of books and the conversation goes: “So, you write science-fiction, huh?”

“Yeah, kinda.”

*chuckles, walks away*

Slightly discouraging.

Then there’s the younger set. Dystopia is kind of a YA genre anyway. But is Dronefall really YA? Guys, I actually still don’t know for certain. In a lot of ways, it breaks too many norms. It certainly doesn’t involve much in the way of coming-of-age, romance, or any of the more recognizable “teen issues” most YA is expected to include. How off the beaten track is too far?

I started this post out by mentioning Angela R. Watts’ Divided Nation on purpose, because I believe it is another case of a slight conflict between what audiences might expect and what they get. If you’ve heard anything about The Infidel Books, you probably know the series is described as “gritty.” It includes some mild swearing and a lot of content a good percentage of the Christian readership prefers not to deal with in fiction. Because of this, the author seems to be trying to market the books as secular fiction, not intended for a Christian audience.

There’s a problem with this, though. Divided Nation is definitely Christian. I can’t imagine a non-Christian reading through it comfortably. So, we have another case where a book seems to be sitting in an uncomfortable place between potential audiences. So, who is the book for?

This will likely be a problem for any artist who steps outside of what’s expected and does something unique. The moment you step outside of expectations, you take a risk. You have to ask yourself “is this risk really worth taking? Do I really love this elements enough to possibly throw my readers for a loop by including them?” For me, the answer is yes. I love my genre and the way I’ve decided to subvert expectations with my plot and characters. I think, if people will give my work a chance, they might find they enjoy it too.

I think that’s how you have to approach audience expectations. Figure out what they are. Evaluate them. Decide what you can get away with and then go forward in faith. In the end, if you have a mission, it’s your call to follow it. Even if no one comes with you.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Dronefall Halftime Tour Wrap-Up

This post is a bit late but there you have it: my first-ever attempt at running a blog-tour for my books. Once again, many thanks to the wonderful bloggers who volunteered to collaborate with me for this event. If you missed it, here's the roundup:

I also want to take the opportunity to thank my readers and friends and followers who have supported me up until this point in the adventure of writing and publishing the Dronefall Series. I hope you had some fun learning a bit more about me, and about Dronefall and the story behind it. 

I’m really excited to move on to the second half of the series. I promise, if you’ve gotten this far, it only gets better. All those crazy clues I’ve been scattering all over the first three books are about to start exploding, and all those odd little hints at subplots are going to start expanding and weaving into the main narrative. Your patience will be rewarded.

I thought now would be a good time to give you some updates on my progress on book four, Nightstare. 

My current word-count for Nightstare is 93,118. (My anticipated final word-count is ~120,000, making it the longest Dronefall book yet, and bypassing End of the Saros as the second-longest novel I’ve ever written.

I’m a couple of pages into chapter nineteen, which is tentatively titled “Clearing the Sky.” Nightstare will ultimately be twenty-two chapters long, if I don’t cut or add anything too drastic.

After finishing the first draft, I’ve got a few edits I know I have to make before going on to my alpha and beta readers. I’ll be seeking a small army of beta readers when the time comes, so stay tuned. I might call on you. 

Oh, and two more quick announcements: I have an Instagram now. @albuehrerauthor. And the Dronefall series is now on Kindle Unlimited! You’re welcome. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Introducing...The Dronefall Halftime Tour!

This is going to be my first-ever blog tour for anything I’ve written. I have to say, organization, particularly when it involves other people, is definitely not my strong point. (Note that this opening post is a couple of days late.) Neither is self-promotion. I think a lot of authors can relate.

I decided that 2020 was going to be different, and I was going to go ahead and attempt some promotional activity, weather it actually went that well or not. So, here’s my first try. I’m putting on a blog tour celebrating the release of book three of six in the Dronefall series.

Many thanks to the amazing bloggers that volunteered and put up with my panic-inducingly last-minute scrambling to get this thing scheduled. Your time and energy are greatly appreciated. A round of applause, please.

Dronefall has been a major endeavor so far. I think about it every day, and there have been loads of unforeseen roadblocks and hurdles. But check it out, I’m three books in—halfway through. And I’ve overall had a lot more fun than frustration, I think. 

So, my awesome readers, or would-be readers, may I introduce The Dronefall Halftime Tour. Seven days of spotlights, interviews and reviews from bloggers you may or may not know, but soon will. Here’s the all-star lineup: 

Feb 3rd: Nicki Chapelway at Myths, Magic, and Madness (spotlight)
Feb 4th: SHINE at hauntingghosttown (interview)
Feb 5th: Bree Dawn at The Long Voyage (interview)
Feb 7th: Oceane McAllister at Oceane's Writing Rambles (interview)
Feb 8th: Elizabeth at Elizabeth's Corner (interview)
Feb 9th: Nicole Dust at Legend of a Writer (interview)

Be sure to stop by all these blogs and give them a read. They do good work.

And, should the urge strike you, skip over to Amazon and pick up any of the three Dronefall books. They’re currently just 99c each. You’re welcome. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Birth of Dronefall: The Story

I’ve had a lot of dreams like this: Who are they? We don’t know. What do they want? Can’t say. But they’re peeping at the windows, and we’ve got to hide.

I was researching for a project in college when my interest in drones and mass-surveillance solidified. I started to conjure up a future where drones ran the world. They dominated the airspace, delivered the packages, cleaned the chimneys, kept the peace, and few questioned it. This was a world that believed constant surveillance was the only way to protect the public. But in the end, humans still had to call the shots. Someone had to decide who was a threat.

For my main character, I picked out a cynical young woman who believes she’s irrelevant and invisible to society—until someone behind a monitor (or is it just an algorithm?) seems to target her as a threat. So, she takes off and joins her only friend in a neighborhood full of Christians that have their own reasons they wish they were invisible.

I don’t know. A story about a gang of people who hunt surveillance drones just sounded kind of fun to me. There was just enough escapism in the sci-fi concepts to pull me in. I wanted to write a dystopia, but I didn’t really want it to be a non-stop bummer story. The fact that so much of my thematic material was going to hit a lot of readers close to home made me want to make an effort to try to add some contrasting material—explosions, fascinating technology, unusual settings, vibrant characters, and even a decent bit of humor, if I could really pull all that off.

Most importantly, I wanted to give something great to Christian readers. I never meant Dronefall to be an evangelism tool. Life goes on after you get saved. It isn’t easy, either. I wanted to write as a ministry to other Christians, like me, who wanted to step back from the chaos and confusion of life and see life’s spiritual battle from a new vantage-point. I wanted to show them people they could identify with in a world rougher and scarier than their own still standing up for the things we believe in.  

I don’t think the goal of Christian dystopia is to be alarmist or get everyone dreading the future. Instead I want to make Christians aware of the direction the world is headed around us. Because no matter how it looks, it’s a good direction. It’s God’s plotline. You’re a hero in his story and a part of the most thrilling and magnificent epic imaginable. 

If you read the Dronefall series, you’re going to start recognizing elements of it in the world around you. But I hope, beyond the pain the state of history gives you, you’ll discover a sense of exhilaration. Now is the time to stand up, speak out, and shine brightly with the truth of Jesus Christ. This is what you’re on earth for.      

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Birth of Dronefall: The Seeds

Through the heart of my Alma Mater’s main campus runs a railroad. A slow freight drags through a few times a day, typically, covered in weathered graffiti. Whistle wailing and detuned bell chiming, it shakes the library where I lived most of my college days.

As a student, I wore a lot of dark eye-make-up and went around with my backpack slung over one shoulder, which was bad for my back. I was there for academics only and typically sat in the back of the class avoiding participation. I made good grades and no friends, but I didn’t really care. I had an idea for a new book.

The idea was born under vaguely hostile conditions. The vagueness, in fact, was part of the inspiration. As it turns out, mainstream society, even in my small town has some kind of a problem with Christianity. There were a few occasions when this was very obvious, but most of the time it was just subtle enough to make me wonder if I was imagining it. Maybe I just have that “Christian Persecution Complex” they talk about. That weird paranoia that evangelicals have where they suffer from delusions that the world is out to get them. No idea where such absurd thoughts would come from.

And yet, why did so many professors feel the need to use their classes as platforms to spread their anti-Christian beliefs? In Ethics, Christianity was an outmoded faulty guide to right and wrong, in Logic God was impossible and ridiculous, in History we watched a video on the Scopes trial that took up a disproportionate amount of class time and portrayed Christians as truth-hating loonies. I learned that Christianity was an enemy of art, science, progress, personal responsibility and free thought. It promoted racism, sexism, slavery and fear and hatred of other cultures.

And it wasn’t just on campus. I remember one incident in particular on a chat-group on Goodreads. It was one of those groups where sophisticated adults have sophisticated discussions about world events. There was a thread about Islamic terrorism. Almost immediately, the topic was hijacked and changed to a slightly different subject—the increasingly relevant problem of “Christian terrorism.” Someone mentioned the Crusades and how it was probably “in their DNA” by now.

Everywhere I looked, I could see the true face of Christianity being hidden from the world and a grotesque caricature replacing it. Christians are told to keep their religion to themselves or else they’ll be discriminating against those with other beliefs. But Christianity isn’t going to be forgotten. If God’s people keep their heads down the rest of the world will have no problem building a hideous strawman in the void.

How long will society emphatically deny that they have a problem with Jesus Christ, his truth, and his followers? How long will the post-Christian world insist Christians are delusional for noticing the world is hostile to them and their God?

That's what I wondered in that train-rattled library during my college days.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Birth of Dronefall: The Gap

I think I was thirteen years old when I dropped Return to Harmony on the floor and didn’t bother to pick it back up. I told my mom I didn’t like books that were about quote, “people’s lives and how they feel about them.” I really wasn’t that into the fluffy inner struggles of young ladies and how their bland love interest’s hair smelled.

When I was thirteen, I liked stealth military aircraft and meteor showers and those little kits where you can hatch things. Honestly, I still prefer those things over reading stories about people’s lives and how they feel about them. I actually have a kit for triops on my desk as I write this. I can’t wait to get it started. Hope it works.

So, I noticed fairly early that the Christian fiction market was a little lacking. There are quite a few sweet romances out there starring heroines with rather obvious problems who learn rather obvious lessons and get the guy who was rather obviously designed for them. Apparently, this appeals to Christian women. I have no idea what male readers are supposed to pick up. Maybe Christian men don’t read fiction.

I started writing fiction of my own when I was about that [author name]-dropping age. There was a frolicking joy in the process of invention that I found addictive. Naturally, I leaned toward science-fiction. At last, my inner worlds took shape as real places—planets, alien landscapes full of fantastic geography, bizarre life-forms and near-magic technology.  My teenage adventures in The Stardrift Trilogy saw the first manifestations of my writer’s voice, and on that journey, I learned the dark art of finishing novels.

I didn’t stop writing after The Stardrift Trilogy. I had a mission—a gap to fill. I wanted to write thrilling imaginative stories that took Christian fiction far outside its stale narrow box. The truth of Jesus Christ isn’t restricted to the tidy easy messages and quick prayers of light inspirational women’s fiction. It’s vast and wild—reaching through all time and space, deeper and wider than any of us could ever imagine. So much unexplored potential was tantalizing to me.

As I grew up, new facts of life came into my broadening horizon of awareness. The world around me was changing—faster and faster. The future was coming. It was right at the door. It was a strange exotic future, full of horror and hope. I began to realize something about the future. Much of it can be seen in the present. In fact, the closer you look, the harder it is to see the line between the two. 

I graduated from high school not really knowing what my personal future was going to look like. All I knew for sure was that I was going to keep writing, and keep following God. Eventually, I chose what seemed to be the path of least resistance to me. I was going to study music at the university in my hometown.