Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tracey Bateman on "Christian Vampire Fiction"

An award-winning author with close to one million books in print, Tracey Bateman is no stranger to readers of Christian fiction. But her latest novel, Thirsty, traverses new, rather controversial, territory. As part of the CBA’s growing collection of vampire lore, Thirsty joins the ranks with Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem’s Undead Trilogy and John Olson’s Shade blending vampire mythology with Christian themes. An unholy marriage? Tracey graciously allowed me to explore the subject with her and ask a few nosy questions along the way. And I'm happy to inform you: She doesn't bite...

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Mike: “Thirsty” seems like quite a departure from your previous books. What compelled you to jump into a genre that is so controversial and so different from your previous books?

Tracey: I find the concept of the vampire to be intriguing and find it really difficult to pass up a good vampire book, movie (a GOOD one) or show like Buffy. If I had thought I could get by with writing a vampire book ten years ago when I started in the publishing industry I’d have written one back then. But the doors weren’t open yet. It’s not so much of a jump for me personally. Just for me in terms of genre. But I’m something of a genre jumper anyway. So it’s a natural leap.

Do you worry about alienating some of your longtime fans with this new work?

When I wrote chicklit, it was a brash departure from the third person, prairie romances I’d written. Chick was in your face reality, subtle spiritual themes rather than salvation prayers and bible reading. So I was a little concerned with that jump in readership. And I lost some readers and gained others. This one wasn’t as much of a problem for me in terms of my readers. I hope not to offend, but the cover and publicity are pretty clear about what type of book Thirsty is, so if my fans don’t want to read a vampire novel, they won’t pick it up. If I alienate them, I am not the writer for them to be following. Bottom line is that I have to write what I feel passionate to write.

Some have labeled “Thirsty” as “Christian vampire fiction.” Many Christians vehemently resist the inclusion of vampire mythology into Christian fiction. While some see it as antithetical to the aims and spirit of Christian lit, if not directly satanic, others see huge possibilities for redemptive storytelling. How do you answer those who say vampires should stay out of Christian fiction?

I am reminded of the late 70s and early 80s when my sister brought home a “Petra” album from Bible college and I wasn’t allowed to listen to that so-called “Christian” rock music. Bottom line, Christian vampire fiction IS here. Eric Wilson’s Field of Blood preceded mine by a year. Time will tell whether it should stay. If Christians don’t want it, we’ll stop providing it. The market determines what stays. We could talk about Amish literature all day.

Can you walk us through the conceptualization and selling of this project? Where did the idea originate? Was it initially met with skepticism or enthusiasm? And is it true that the publisher asked you to tone down your vampires and requested no scenes of blood-sucking?

I didn’t pitch a vampire story. Not that I wouldn’t have if I’d thought I could get away with it but honestly it never occurred to me that such a beautiful opportunity would present itself. I had books to write but was coming to the end of a contract, and got a call from an editor who wanted to do a vampire story. So she asked me to propose something. It took me a few tries to get the right story and then we had to sell it to the committee. The skepticism came more from my family and friends. But they know that above all I want to run the race I was called to run. And if that means breaking ground in the Christian vampire genre then so be it. And if that means it totally fails, well, I’ll bounce back from that too. ☺ Who knows what will be?

As far as the publisher asking me to tone down my vampires? What they asked me to tone down was the caricature of a vampire, dripping fangs and compulsion. And it was editing I appreciated and agreed with as I sort of found my footing in writing this genre without being overly offensive. For instance, we can write about hard subjects like rape and child abuse without detailing these events. The same is true of the vampires. I can allude to the vampire lore without detailing the actual events of murder, and disturbing my readers. I’m not out to offend.

What with the continued proliferation of vampire stories, some have accused Christians of jumping on the bandwagon. The AP report from the ICRS in Denver this summer noted, “...the marketing material [for Thirsty] mentions 'Twilight,' the hit vampire book series and movie whose abstinence message resonated with many evangelicals.” With your book, are you attempting to reach Christian readers who also happen to be intrigued by “Twilight”? And how would you answer those who say Christian writers and publishers are just jumping on the vampire bandwagon?

Normally, I wouldn’t answer them. I would let them think whatever they want. But since you asked so nicely I’ll give you my very best answer. I think writers have been trying to get Christian vampires to sell for a while and for whatever reason publishers have hesitated to buy it for the Christian market. Sue Dent, for instance, has one that is self-pubbed, I think. And Eric Wilson was shopping his series before Twilight became the phenomenon it became. But to be fair, Christian romance came about because we first had secular romance. Hymns were originally written to the tune of bawdy house songs. As our society evolves, Christians traditionally take from the world and suit our own purposes. The world has the Shining, we have Ted Dekker’s Adam. It’s not a matter of bandwagon, as much as it is that we each have a different approach to take with similar subject matter. (shrug). It is what it is. We didn’t set out to make a Christian Twilight and in no way is Thirsty like that series. Any more than Twilight is a Buffy rip-off or Underworld is a Blade rip-off. It’s just another vampire novel that just happens to be written in such a way that offers hope and healing. It’s fantasy. Vampires aren’t satanic because there ARE not vampires. They’re a literary creation and as such, I have no problem writing in this genre.

Why do you think the Twilight saga has become so popular? And do you think the story holds any notable value for Christians?

It’s just a really great story and kids ate it up. IF there is notable value, it might be the message of purity, which is refreshing even in YA novels. But parents can draw their own conclusions. I don’t know that Stephanie Meyers was trying to bring a message. I think she was just writing a story that she was passionate about and it paid off.

I will say that it’s unfair for Christians to jump on the fact that she got the story from a dream and call the books satanic for that one reason. I’ve gotten stories from dreams and I think a lot of writers do—Christian or secular.

"Thirsty" is being used as evidence that the boundaries of Christian fiction are being stretched. In your opinion, is this a good thing? How far should Christians go in pushing the envelope?

Frank Peretti stretched Christian fiction with his supernatural thrillers back in the 80s. Ted Dekker has stretched it more. Francine Rivers stretched sensuality with Redeeming Love and even the Mark of the Lion series. But these weren’t done for the sake of overt pushing. It’s not like “Lets see how much we can write our books like secular books and get away with it.” The books that stretch, stretch for a reason. They have to be written a certain way for believability. I don’t think we should “push the envelop” for the sake of edginess. I think we should strive for things that follow the Phil 4:8 model. Having said that, the world isn’t going to be reached by us preaching to the choir. And not all of us are called to do that. The argument could be made that the world probably isn’t going to be reading Christian fiction at all and the point is valid when it comes to light romances and prairie fiction—and we wouldn’t expect them to for the most part. However, they MIGHT pick up a vampire novel. Especially one that deals with alcoholism, like THIRSTY. The truth is that I write what I like to read and I write it from a Christian world view which means the vampire doesn’t get to drink blood, get the girl, and sit in church on Sunday. If he drinks blood, he’s a sinner and in the depths of desperation and obsession. All human and all monster. As we are without Christ.

Apart from selling a million copies, what is your ultimate hope for Thirsty?

Two million copies? ☺ Ultimately, I hope it will open the doors for a horror genre that is more than demon possession and exorcism. More fantasy, werewolves, etc. I don’t know if that’s a realistic goal, though. Mostly, I just want God to do something with it that is real. For every book that is published in the genre, no matter how many that may be, I hope that book’s purposes will be realized. Entertainment? Definitely. But there’s a purpose beyond simple entertainment for the Christian writer, whether we’re writing for the ABA or CBA. I want to make a difference. For one person that might be to immerse themselves in an entertaining story and forget about their fear as they fly from one state to another. For another person, the actual story message might touch them in such a way that they are able to face addiction or face their parents’ addiction or whatever. I don’t presume to know why God would allow me the honor of speaking into lives, let alone to know what this particular book will do, but my prayer is that God will use the words on the page for His glory and to further the cause of Christ. And if I offend, I hope my reader will forgive me as I truly am doing my best to obey God as I believe He’s leading me.


Glen Allison said...

Thanks so much for this interview. I'm not a fan of vamp fiction - Christian or not. I do, however, subscribe to Tracey's philosophy that Christians who are writers should write the stories they love.

I write a suspense series set in New Orleans featuring a recovering drug addict who rescues children. It could be described as edgy. It treats Christian characters with high respect, as opposed to the disrespect that Christians sometime receive in many so-called secular books.

It isn't a "Christian" book, however. Thus, many non-Christians have been exposed to the Gospel by reading an entertaining tale of suspense. I believe more Christians should write books that spin intriguing tales and worry less about toeing the line of the Christian publishing industry.

Douglas said...

I agree that Christians can and should write in almost any genre they choose.

But this appears (from some of the comments in the interview) to be a vampire book with a Christian theme. The author actually says, "Christian vampire fiction IS here."

A Christian vampire book? What's next? John the Baptist as a werewolf?

Enough with the vampire themed books! If people want to buy them, I guess that is their business. But I think the vampire motif has played itself out.

And certainly, let's not pervert the gospel by introducing demonic notes and overtones to it.

Sue Dent said...

Never Ceese, the first in my Thirsting for Blood Series, a story of a vampire and a werewolf of lore, was traditionally published by a Christian publisher. It was short-listed for a Bram Stoker Award in 2007 for Superior Achievement in a First Novel and was book club choice for the month of April at the ACFW even though it wasn't put out by a CBA Christian affiliated publisher. It drew many readers and is still drawing many readers from the CBA market but is woefully never promoted by that market because neither of my publishers pay to be affiliated with CBA which is quite frustrating to say the least.

No book to date coming from the CBA market comes close to writing stories of vampires of lore because these publishers claim their market doesn't want to read these type stories. That's fine of course. They know they're market I suppose.

But yes, Never Ceese and Forever Richard are both from traditional Christian publishers. You just won't see them advertised as much because neither publisher was or is CBA affiliated. Both have been approved for distribution to the Christian market though, by CBA's one time exclusive distributor Spring Arbor. Never Ceese was also out before Twilight and all the other CBA affiliated books listed above and has garnished many wonderful reviews from Twilight readers.

And I think self-published authors are grand since so many Christian authors have to go this route because CBA won't take their work. I actually had to go back and republish Never Ceese myself because my first Christian publisher went under.

Do check both books out if you get a chance. If you love vampire fiction of lore, you'll be glad you did. :)

Love my CBA readers. Not sure what I think about the CBA industry.

Mary DeMuth said...

My agent says I write edgy fiction because I tackle edgy subjects, but, oddly, I don't really see myself that way. I'm guessing Tracey feels the same way. We are storytellers, writing the stories that we feel will impact readers and make God smile.

Sue Dent said...

"We are storytellers, writing the stories that we feel will impact readers and make God smile."

Same here. :)The main difference for those of us writing for Christians in the general market (in case anyone was wondering :) is that we write to appeal to a much broader Christian audience. Our work isn't edgy. It's normal. It is viewed as edgy by some readers and publishers of that very conservative and restrictive CBA market, a market formed to appeal to readers who visit evangelical Christian Bookstores.

And Christian werewolves are already here too! :) But then both Christian vampires and werewolves and other fantasy type stories have been around forever. Just not any coming through the CBA market. I doubt this will ever happen either as I was told by all of their larger editors and publishers that they'd never allow for stories of vampires of lore to be published through their houses. Ever. I find that disheartening since I'm a Christian but again, they know their market. :)

Diane said...

I like to see the Christian market stretched. It will suck in new readers and then they will end up with the Gospel message eventually! :O)

Tracey Bateman said...

Wow, thoughtful comments!!
I love that God leads us in different ways. I'm not comfortable crossing over to the ABA just yet (if ever). I do hear you Sue, that your books aren't edgy, but normal with the readers you are reaching. That's a bit of a frustration for me. Like Mary said, I don't want to write edgy. Just the story of my heart.
I have stopped using the term "Christian vampire" because it is misleading for my purposes. I am not writing about a vampire who is a Christian. Anymore than John the Baptist could be a murdering werewolf during a full moon and a wild and crazy God-loving, viper hating evangelist the rest of the month.
I'm not sure Sue's approach (I have Never Ceese, but haven't gotten to it in the TBR pile), but there is room for those too. The vampire as a literary device is a powerful tool for God. I'm sorry for those who disagree. The won't and shouldn't buy vampire fiction for the christian market. :) Although I will say that many people have read THIRSTY who said they never would and have ended up loving it and recommending it as a powerful message of hope.

Jenny B. Jones said...

So excited to read this book. I am so stinkin' proud that you have written a vamp book for Christian fiction. It is waaaayyy past time for CF to enter this trend and show the world Christ through this particular (enormously popular) genre. Huge blessings to you, Tracey, on this new book and new risk. Awesome job standing in that gap.

Sheila Deeth said...

Thanks. What a great interview. I shall certainly look out for the book.

Renee (Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot) said...

I just finished Thirsty and I absolutely LOVED it! I love Christian fiction and I read it because they're great stories and they're "clean." I know some who read it for the same reasons and some aren't necessarily looking for a strong faith message. I love vampire stories and think that it is so great to be able to pick up a vampire book and not worry about graphic content that so many books be it vampire, romance, or whatever have today. I can't wait for the next book Tracey!

Awesome interview!

xoxo~ Renee

Donald James Parker said...

Will God smile over a vampire story? I suppose it is possible - if the vampire is rescued from his bloodthirsty ways. Or at least the vampire is the villain. If you bring any other combination into play here, I think you're playing with fire. Stop to think about it for minute. What does drinking blood represent?? If I have to answer this question for you, then you're not really a Christian. Do the research on people who have actually drunk human blood. Any glorification of people involved in this will be an abomination to God.
Perhaps Christians should tap into the market for books that glorify witches. That's a lucrative market. People are obsessed with the occult. What is up with that? Perhaps Christian writers can focus on writing on the Supernatural - but from God's perspective. There are people all over the world being delivered from demons, set free from addictions, and healed from illness and injuries. Where are the novels about that? The Apostle Paul said “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
I have a feeling that vampires, and werewolves, and witches, oh my, are not included in Paul's list. The concept that the market place should determine is absolutely ludicrous. Is that not a form of man passing judgment on God instead of the other way around?
And now I've written enough here to springboard this comment into a full column on Examiner. It is time that we examine so called "Christian" fiction and find out what the role of it is and should be in the Christian life. And to examine whether God is indeed smiling. Look for my anti-vampire book soon.

Great interview questions.

Donald James Parker
Author of Reforming the Potter's Clay

Angie said...

Whoa. I was going to post a nice comment but see I just stepped into a firestorm. Well, nonetheless, I have always enjoyed your writing, Tracey. I assume this will be no exception. I know you would never have gone into it without first seeking the Lord and spending plenty of time in prayer. I look forward to seeing how it all pans out. Will add it to my TBR pile. :)

Tracey Bateman said...

LOL Donald, I agree. Let's not glorify vampires and witches. that would definitely be something God would not smile upon. At least I can't imagine that He would. Thirsty doesn't do that. If you read the full interview you'll answer many of your own concerns and questions. Where are the books about freedom from addiction? Thirsty is first and foremost a book about a woman's struggle with alcohol. The vampire is a powerful metaphor for the seduction of sin

This is definitely not the book for you, and I completely respect that, but as I said, if you take time to read the entire interview you'll see that your comments only reiterate mine, they are not in conflict.

Again, I do thank you for your comments and agree with much of what you have to say. But I already said it in the interview. :)

wilsonwriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wilsonwriter said...

I have to chip in and say that Tracey has done nothing to glorify vampires. She has used them as a parallel element in a woman's self-destructive thirst for alcohol.

Vampires, zombies, and so on can be used to glorify darkness, or they can be used--with a little Godly imagination--to highlight evil and the Good News of the Gospel. I believe that's what Tracey has done with her book.

Kristi said...

I know Tracey on a personal level and feel secure saying that she is a solid Christian rooted in a firm foundation of the Word. I am not a vampire fan but read Thirsty because I love Trac and want to support her. I was amazed at way she delicately laced Christian principles with a vampire theme. We must keep in mind that not all witnessing can be done inside the church. Sometimes we have to step out into the world to save lost souls.
Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future..." Tracey's future is looking bright!

Donald James Parker said...

Sorry, Tracey if my rant sounded accusatory toward you. I was trying to make a broad statement that took in all authors. Satan infiltrates churches to bring destruction upon God's people. Is there any reason to think he wouldn't also infiltrate Christian literature with subtle deception. I don't want to come across as a narrow minded bigot, but I do want to defend the faith.
I'm glad that your book is hermeneutically kosher! :)
God bless!
Thanks Eric for your feedback!

MizB said...

Well said, Tracey... I agree wholeheartedly with your stance, and am glad you take it. :)

I'm a fan of (secular) vampire fiction (LOVED "Twilight"!), and highly look forward to reading your book! Haven't read ANY of these "Christian-style vampire books" yet, but you can be sure I'm gonna try 'em!

~MizB of Should Be Reading