The content of Dark Faith is centered around various faiths and beliefs. I think it is only fitting we start off with a brief discussion of the editors’ respective faiths. Would you mind briefly describing what your own individual faiths and/or beliefs are?
JG: I don’t know that I appreciated this enough as a child, but my mother allowed me to figure things out for myself. I wasn’t indoctrinated into a specific religious dogma. We went to church several times a year, and I was given an illustrated Christian Bible. The rest was left up to me. Consequently, I have a very open view of religion and its coexistence with science and humanism. I see a great deal of worth in the combined truths of all three. For Dark Faith that translated into one very specific prejudice. I passed on stories that mocked the beliefs of others. There’s a wide range of religious (and non-religious) beliefs in this book. I thought it best to focus on expressions of faith and not cynicism.
MB: I come from a Christian background. I grew up in a fundamentalist church, but got “stuck” because the brand of Christianity they practiced left me cold. so much so that I left the faith for a while and explored other beliefs (Islam, Eckankar, transcendental meditation, Buddhism, and a lot of stuff in between) then came back to Christianity. I try to learn from all of my experiences (including all of the various forms of Christianity) and incorporate stuff as practice, like meditation. Because of all of this (and people’s need to label), I’ve been called everything from a Christian Buddhist (because my practice seems so eastern) to a Christian humanist (because of my belief that my faith should, practically speaking, be about loving/serving others). Mostly I try to focus on what it means to be and love like Christ.
While choosing stories for this anthology, did your own faith affect your reception to the stories received for consideration in any way? How did you decide which stories were “expressions of faith and not cynicism?”
MB: My own faith affected my reception in subtle ways. My faith begins with accepting people where they are and that we’re all a part of the same story, just in different parts of it. Which also means I didn’t automatically reject stories of cynicism because that’s part of people’s spiritual journey also. Just like I want my faith to play out, I wanted stories that would engage as well as provoke, basically a starting place for conversation.
JG: Maurice and I approached the anthology from a very inclusive point of view. We gave the writers room to explore faith and belief in religious and secular terms. We actively sought points of view and traditions very different from our own. There were a handful of stories, out of the six hundred we considered, that seemed solely intent on mocking the beliefs of others. Those stories fell by the wayside.
So, I gather that collecting stories which reflected diverse beliefs and backgrounds was important to the two of you when putting together this anthology. What steps, if any, did you take to ensure diversity in your slush pile?
MB: The slush pile is a broad and scary place. Believe me, diversity was not the issue there (sometimes sifting through ‘teh crazy!!!’ was). There were a couple of stories, when a couple writers asked what i was looking for, where I asked for specific religous/cultural perspectives. Chesya Burke’s story, from an African perspective, comes to mind.
JG: The sheer volume of submissions guaranteed a certain level of diversity. But more than anything else, Mo*Con gave us a leg up in this area. The writers conference, in its fourth year when we opened Dark Faith for submissions, was built around a series of continuing conversations between writers of diverse (and sometimes diametrically opposed) beliefs, opinions, and backgrounds. It gave us a large pool of writers that already understood what we were looking to achieve.
As readers, what did you find worked as the best approach when it came to mixing fiction and faith? What tips would you give to aspiring writers who would like to incorporate their own beliefs into their fiction.
MB: What didn’t work was when stories had an obvious agenda, either pro or anti religion. Those kind of (proselytizing) stories don’t interest me and take me right out of a story. Remember it’s about your characters and your story first. When you force a message into a story, it’s a propaganda piece, not a work of art. But if you have characters exploring an issue, or if faith is integral to the story (after all, faith, or a lack thereof, is an important part of who we are as people), then go for it.
In fact, I think of faith in the same ways I write about race: as a black man who’s also a Christian, I don’t cram it into every story or character I write, even though everyone has a worldview and race that forms who they are. Only as it services the story.
JG: The stories that worked best for me were the ones that offered a unique perspective without proselytizing. I would caution writers to focus on servicing the story and characters before their own social, political, or religious agenda. There’s a wide gulf between investing a character with a belief in something and using them as a cardboard placeholder for your own personal agenda. The latter is painfully obvious and likely to result in mediocre fiction.
So, what’s next for Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon?
MB: I am hard at work on the final novel in my Knights of Breton Court trilogy, King’s War. The first novel, King Maker, makes its debut this October. After that, I will be working on a steampunk novel and then a postapocalyptic novel with Wrath James White.
JG: This month I have a story in the May issue of Apex Magazine. “City of Refuge” takes on cults and the messiah complex. It’s available for free download in audio and text formats. Beyond that, I’m getting ready to submit Severed Dreams, my first young adult novel. And then I’ll be headed to Chernobyl, Russia for a thriller/horror novel about the price of obsession.