Does Non-Acquisition of “Hinterlands” Signal End to Christian Fiction’s “Mature-Content Experiment”?

by Mike Duran

Depending upon who you are and what you want, “status quo” can be a
good thing. If the recent sale of Marcher Lord Press signals anything,
it is that the status quo will be served.
Hinterlands-Logo-150x150 
The response to the sale of Marcher Lord Press to Steve Laube was overwhelmingly positive. In many ways, I share the sentiment. I
have no doubt that  Steve Laube will continue the MLP tradition of
publishing good quality Christian speculative fiction. Steve is a spec
fan and a well-known industry professional. He has re-branded the press as Enclave Publishing. I wish him nothing but the
absolute best. That said, as I mentioned on my social media feeds when
the sale was announced, the most telling aspect of this transaction is
not the passing of the baton from one industry professional to the next.
The most telling aspect of the sale of MLP, from my perspective, was the non-acquisition of Hinterlands Press in the deal.

Here’s the Q & A section of Steve Laube’s announcement that touched upon this detail:

What about books published under the Hinterlands imprint of Marcher Lord Press and the recently released Amish Vampires in Space?

These
are actually two different issues and should be treated separately. I
chose not to purchase those assets and agreed to have those publication
rights sold elsewhere or revert to their respective authors.

Hinterlands
was created in 2012 as an imprint of MLP to publish science-fiction and
fantasy stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or R-rated
language, sexuality, and violence). That imprint and all those titles
have been sold by Jeff Gerke to a third party and will likely reappear
under a new publishing name in the near future.

Amish Vampires in Space
was not part of Hinterlands and is a well written book (no surprise
considering Kerry Neitz is the author). Jeff Gerke, Kerry Neitz, and I
discussed this prior to my purchasing MLP. While we have differing
opinions on its publication, ultimately it would not have been a book I
would have published had I been the publisher. The title has reverted to
Kerry and the book is still available for sale in most major online
outlets.

Okay. So not much there… other than the
obvious — “stories with mature content and themes (i.e. PG-13 or
R-rated language, sexuality, and violence)” were NOT part of the deal.
Is that a surprise? I don’t think so.

At the time of its launch, I hailed Gerke’s Hinterlands imprint as a step in the right direction
for Christian publishing. I am a
huge advocate for less sanitized Christian fiction. Especially when it comes to spec-fic,
pushing boundaries is par for the course. But “boundaries” are exactly
what mainstream Christian fiction readers don’t like stretched.

Early last year, Jeff Gerke discussed the inception of Hinterlands. Unsurprisingly, the
idea for a separate label, distinct from MLP, was the result of a
“threat” from “a prominent Christian fiction writers group.”
Jeff writes:

I
got a note from the folks at a prominent Christian fiction writers
group in America saying that if we released this book [Vox Day’s A Throne of Bones], they would take MLP off their list of approved publishers. That meant that all MLP books would not be eligible for their annual award.

As
much as I believed in this book and its author and our goals, I was not
prepared to let one book sabotage the chances of all my other authors
receiving an award I think has value.

Does anyone
else find this weird? “[P]rominent Christian fiction writers group”
threatens to bounce press for publishing mature content. It makes one
wonder what other types of power such Christian fiction writers groups
wield over publishers.

As I concluded in my post on Jeff Gerke’s “experiment”:

I plan on purchasing “A Throne of Bones
[the signature Hinterlands title] and supporting Hinterlands. But the
project faces some important hurdles. The main one being the
conservative Christian culture that keeps such “experiments” forever in
check. Huge props to Jeff Gerke for taking this step. Godspeed to his
endeavors.

Now, if only he can find “mature” Christians to go along with him…

So
does the non-acquisition of Hinterlands signal the end of Christian
publishing’s “mature-content experiment”? Is Steve Laube’s purchase of
MLP indication that Hinterland-style imprints will never find traction
in the mainstream Christian fiction market? Is this deal a nod to the
status quo?

Before you answer, consider that the Hinterlands label, as it existed, may have been a skewed sample.

In his comments at my Facebook page,
Jeff Gerke admitted that there were “astonishingly few” submissions to
Hinterlands. What makes this perplexing is that, from what I understand,
Vox Day’s Throne of Bones was/is the biggest selling title
Gerke had ever acquired. (I could not find links / statements to
corroborate sales figures on this, so unless someone can provide
contradictory info, you’ll have to take my word on it.) So the question
is, Why did the imprint that had so much success with its inaugural
release receive so few submissions? If there really is a market for
Christian-spec with mature content, and Hinterlands proved that with their first release, why weren’t more writers clambering to take hold of those coattails?

On my Facebook page,  Katherine Coble asked this:

Has anyone considered that the one-two controversial punches of Vox Day and AVIS [Amish Vampires in Space] limited the appeal of Hinterlands to other authors?

After
what went down between Day and the SFWA I had several conversations
with “edgy” Spec Fic authors who swore they’d never consent to be
published by the same house.

I find this observation quite keen.

As Steve Laube noted in his Q&A, Amish Vampires in Space
was not part of Hinterlands. Apparently, however, the title “would not
have been a book [Laube] would have published had [he] been the
publisher.” Why? He doesn’t say. My conclusion is that AViS was just too
far outside the boundaries of what mainstream Christian fiction readers
want, reinforcing my suspicion that this purchase has lots to do with
industry status quo.

Katherine’s mention of Vox Day, the polarizing author of Throne of Bones,
infers another issue. I had no knowledge of Day before the Hinterlands
imprint and have only marginally followed his skirmish with SFWA. I’m
not the person to speak for him, his opinions, his fanbase, or his
writing. For others, however, he is a HUGE deal. In light of this, it’s
possible that  the non-acquisition of Hinterlands is more of a renunciation of Vox Day than a rejection of mature content. This is not something Steve Laube inferred. At all. I’m just reading my own conclusions into this.

If
this is true, then there is still hope for someone like me who believes
that Christian fiction can still use a good dose of “mature content.”
The problem is, will Christian readers ever find a purveyor of mature content whom they DON’T find controversial? 

Either way, it makes me wonder whether Hinterlands actually provides a good test sample.

Perhaps
the jury’s still out on Christian fiction’s mature-content experiment. I
hope so. Until then, I continue to feel that MLP, for all the good
they’ve done in proving there IS an audience for Christian spec-fic, has
simply moved spec fans back into the CBA / ECPA fold. The only real “trail-blazing” that has gone on here is the one that has returned us to the original trail.

So while the acquisition of MLP proves that CBA spec-fic is alive and well, those of us who pine for the hinterlands will, apparently, remain outsiders.

* * *

Mike Duran is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, and is represented by the
rockin’ Rachelle
Gardner
of Books & Such
Literary
. Mike’s novels include The TellingThe
Resurrection
, an ebook novella, Winterland, and his newly
released short story anthology Subterranea. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com, or follow
him on Facebook and Twitter.