The Blood-Soaked Mess of Making Christian Fiction and Horror Work Together

(Note: Portions of this entry were previously included in another post from a few years ago…)

I knew pretty much right away that Bound was going to end up being my first real attempt at Christian horror. Making this decision was difficult because if we’re being honest, the vast majority of Christian horror is terrible. If I’m being overly honest, I’ll take it one step further and say that in my unwarranted opinion, most Christian entertainment in general is pretty awful.

This is due to Christian creatives taking the “worldly edge” off of things. The edges can’t be rough and abrasive…they need to be finely polished as not to scratch anyone. When this is done for an audience that is already often at odds over the interpretations of scripture and other image-scarring stereotypes, it harms the finished product. This seems to be the Christian creative way of thinking, unfortunately.

That’s also one of the reasons why I, as a Christ follower, still read traditional horror. Stephen King’s It remains my favorite novel (and yes, I will be first in line when the movie is released). I am currently reading Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock and finding it some of the best horror I’ve read in quite a long time. I’m a fiction junkie…and very little Christian fiction has been able to hold my interest.

Now, while I will firmly stand my ground on my opinion that the vast majority of Christian horror is flimsy, I’m not making the sweeping statement that all Christian entertainment is wretched. But in my experience, about 90% of all of the Christian horror I have read has been painful to get through. Of course, this is all work that is categorized as Christian fiction in genre. Whether the public really understands it, there are tons of Christian-themed horror works out there that are not Christian fiction but still pack a heavy dose of Christian themes and, in some cases, even promotes Christ.

Hear me out…

King’s The Stand is absolutely not a Christian novel. Some would say it is one of the ultimate stories of good vs. evil, though. But we can’t look beyond the very thick lines drawn around the fact that Flagg is the representation of Satan and that, in the end, he is destroyed by the literal Hand of God. This, plus the countless religious metaphors within the book make it something of a faith-centered story, much thanks to Frannie’s doubts and Stu’s restrained efforts to trust in Mother Abigail with nothing more than blind faith.

Another example…The Exorcist is not a Christian horror story but a great deal of the Catholic faith is discussed within it. In some respects, it is seen to even cause the demons pain and suffering and we see its response to the name of Christ and the faith (or lack thereof) of the priests performing the rites. Furthermore, William Freidkin, the director, recognizes that its more of a religious tale than anything else. He once told the Hollywood Reporter:   “I did a movie about the mystery of faith. We never thought we were doing a horror film.” (interview snippet taken from Mike Duran’s wonderful book, Christian Horror). William Peter Blatty, the author of the book, has also gone on record stating as much.

But that’s a whole different discussion.

BoundMy forthcoming novel, Bound, is something of an exorcism story, too…but with a twist and from a Christian slant that has the edges still all there, waiting to scratch and maim. As a fairly unapologetic Christian, I have seen Christian entertainment that broaches the darker side of life fail miserably and only offer the simple solution of “I’m no good and I need Jesus.” (Sadly, this quote is taken almost verbatim from the climax of one of the most popular Christian horror novels out there).

So I wanted to write something dark and pretty brutal that not only explored the darker side of life with a Christian lens, but also a story that laid out the whole good vs. evil perspective with an honest Christian view…while still scaring the pants off of the reader. How? Well, through the internal thoughts that go through the minds of believers when confronted with evil. It’s not all praying and praising and trusting that Christ will overcome. If true Christians are honest, when faced with darkness, there are doubts and there is real terror. These are the harsh edges that Christian entertainment looks beyond and ignores completely out of fear of offending fellow Christians. It’s all swept under a very large rug and we are expected to just blindly step over the lumps that are starting to accumulate.

Way back when, as I tested the self-publishing waters with Bound, I almost instantly received grief from one fellow Christian on Facebook…a Christian that had not even read the book. he claimed Bound was a disgrace, claiming that far too much entertainment “promotes the Enemy.” And while his comment was misguided and overarching, there is some truth to it.

Full disclosure (and at the risk of losing some readers, I’m sure): Yes, I believe there is a thing called spiritual warfare and, believer or not, it affects most everyone. I have experienced it firsthand, both emotionally and physically. Bound is, in part, all about that, only I did NOT write it with a solely Christian audience in mind. I wanted to write a Christian horror novel that was horror first and foremost. The Christian themes and some of the faith-based dialogue came next, and only when I was sure that they enriched the story. Even as a Christ follower, I will never write a faith-based story just to write something centered on my faith. That would be cheap. It has to be true to the plot, the gospel, the characters, and the inspirations behind it first.

Regardless of the genre, from Christian fiction to steampunk romance and all things in between…the story is what matters when it comes to story-telling. The platform is only the thing upon which the story stands. I respect my readers and know that the majority of them likely don’t share my faith, they respect story-tellers that tell good stories. As such, I will never write a book that beats anyone over the head with the Bible or claims that one particular system of beliefs is more grounded than another, since this is one of the huge downfalls of most Christian entertainment.

I read fiction because I want to be entertained…not preached to or lectured. And I think even in Christian fiction, that’s something authors should be aware of.

When all is said and done, Bound will be available in June. I believe it is one of the scariest things I’ve written and am quite proud of it. Would most people classify it as Christian horror? Probably. But the most important question is whether or not it is honest and shows the value I find in telling a story…and if it makes you hesitant to turn out the lights at night.

And the answer to those, I think, is an unequivocal yes.


2 Replies to “The Blood-Soaked Mess of Making Christian Fiction and Horror Work Together”

  1. Can’t wait to read it! Should it be the first piece I read of your writing or is there a piece you recommend first?

  2. Depends on what you like. I always refer new readers to my Cooper M. Reid books. But if you lean more towards traditional Christian fiction, start with Break Every Chain.

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