What’s Wrong with Medieval?

Something from my Pinboard: http://menwholooklikevikings.tumblr.com/post/35315102848/viikinkisoturi-ii-jarkko1

I recently read an interesting post by Tamara Leigh, a multi-published author: infinitecharacters.com/2012/11/23/a-traditionally-published-author-wades-into-the-waters-of-self-publishing-by-tamara-leigh/. She discusses how she got some push-back from Christian book publishers on her medieval books, because “inspirational publishers were wary of novels set during the medieval time period due to the stigma of corruption within the Church, the Crusades, and the Inquisition.” (Much more info on her Medieval Christianity research here: http://www.tamaraleigh.com/#!__medieval-christianity)

I wanted to address this issue in relation to my Medieval novel. God’s Daughter is set around 1000 AD, in what would be considered “High Middle Ages.” I truly hope inspirational publishers won’t continue to “throw the baby out with the bath-water,” so to speak, with this important period in history.

Yes, the long arm of Christianity at that time was the Roman Catholic Church. Does that mean it was wicked and corrupt from the get-go? I’d argue that it wasn’t. In fact, I’d argue that Christianity was the best thing that happened to the Vikings.

In fact, that’s a major point of my book. I didn’t just jump to this conclusion based on my Christian beliefs. I researched pagan Viking practices and compared them with what happened when Vikings began converting.

Vikings like my heroine, Gudrid. The sagas are very clear that Gudrid became a Christian (as well as Leif Eiriksson and his mother). Missionary monks came to Iceland at that time and brought some miraculous confirmations that they served the one true God, thwarting the pagan priestesses (volva).

I’ll be very disappointed if Christian publishers let the ABA continue to redefine this period in history with their “paganism was awesome” hype. Books like The Mists of Avalon only reinforce this idea, thus strengthening people’s interest in Wicca and paganism, the very antithesis of Christianity.

I can’t tell you how many people are interested in medieval times, but I’ll wager it’s as many as are interested in the Regency period. You don’t have to look around long on Pinterest to find people with boards devoted to medieval times and Vikings. It was a time when people had to grind their own grain, make their own clothing, didn’t have electricity…

Hey, that sounds a lot like the…Amish!

Christian book readers deserve a balanced view of all history, not just Regency or ancient or whatever time period is “hot.” The interest is there–I know, because you all tell me all the time how much you want to read about Vikings!

I truly hope you can read God’s Daughter someday. I won’t go in-depth on my book, since it’s still out on submission. But here are a few links with peeks into my characters’ heads:

Finn–Gudrid’s husband–http://simplerevelationsbyamanda.blogspot.com/2012/07/better-than-fiction-guest-post-heather.html

Gudrid–http://heatherdaygilbert.blogspot.com/2012/04/tag-imnot-going-to-be-it-but-ill-let.html

Berserker research for the book–http://jordynredwood.blogspot.com/2012/04/research-driving-you-berserk.html?spref=bl

****Okay, now’s the time to let loose, all you Medieval fans out there! What do you love about this time period? If you’re a writer, have you experienced difficulty getting your medieval book published with Christian Book Association publishers? If so, what did you do?****

33 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with Medieval?

  1. Yeah, I LOVE Medievals. Slap a castle on a CBA cover and I buy it! But alas there are so few. I heard it's a hard sell because anything outside of America is a hard sell (beside the Regency, probably made possible by Jane Austen love) that they automatically deduct 1/3 of potential sales when considering a book simply because of where it is set, because 1/3 less readers will buy non-American settings.But how can you not love princes, princesses, castles, knights and all that!!

  2. Michelle, you know we'd love it if you published a Viking trilogy someday (I see those Viking pics of yours in Pinterest–and I steal them! Ha). And Melissa, so right. It's weird how certain time periods/locales pick up speed for a while. I was thinking that most little girls imagine being a princess at some point, and most little boys imagine being a knight. Such a rich time period in history. My novel is set (for the first half) in North America, so maybe it's not AMERICA America, but we're getting closer…hee.Thanks for the comments, gals!

  3. And come to think of it, it's really easy to name off the top of your head Medieval series that are flourishing in the ABA (not stuff I read, but Game of Thrones,Diana Gabaldon stuff, etc). I love learning about new time periods through fiction. For instance, Gone with the Wind and Girl with the Pearl Earring. Truly, it can shape your view of those times–for better or worse!Sorry for rambling on here!

  4. I never understood why one time period is more important or valuable than another? Holy cow, the Vikings were the scourge of Europe for years! People lived in mortal fear of them, so a story about them turning to Christ? HELLO!!!???Yes, why can't the CBA see the huge market that is Diana Gabaldon (who I simply cannot read) and Game of Thrones? All that epic-y stuff, with a Biblical view? Bring it on!

  5. Heather, I've been down this road, as have some of the other ladies here. The CBA, honestly, isn't concerned about "informing" anybody about anything. They're interested in selling books. Period. While I agree with you, it's also true that the main CBA audience is leery of medieval set books. I learned this early from Steve Laube. He liked my medieval book. Even read the whole thing, but in the end turned it down. He told me that Judith Pella's medieval sold only a fraction of her normal sales. And now that I have a medieval novel published with WhiteFire, I have to agree that it's true. Many people mention in the reviews that they don't normally read or like medieval. And I've noticed that now that I've written an American set book, a number of people admitted that they didn't read my medieval because they don't like that timeI don't think you'll be shooting yourself in the foot by blogging about this. It's not a big philosophical or theological issue with the CBA publishers. Many of the editors would love to branch out and try different things. But it's a bottom line issue, and bottom line is, medieval doesn't sell well to the CBA audience. You have to keep in mind that the majority of the CBA audience is made up of individuals who want to avoid "the world." These are not open-minded sort of people looking to be educated and have new experiences. That's not always the case, but those are their most faithful readers. People who are open minded usually read a mixture of ABA and CBA. Also remember that most CBA houses are owned by bigger secular publishers. So it's all about being a niche market to a specific audenience. There's nothing sinister about it, other than maybe putting the desire to make money first, but it is a business afterall. It's hard to find the right audience for the type of medieval you and I want to write. There's no cozy medieval secular market, and most evangelicals don't want to read about this time. I read Dreamspell by Tamera Leigh and enjoyed it, but I don't know that general Christian readers will. For now, a small publisher probably works best, although, of course, I hope this market will grow.

  6. Thank you for sharing, Heather. It's tiring waiting for medieval romances to come back into their own in hopes CBA publishers will jump on board. Fortunately, authors now have a viable (albeit uphill) alternative: self publishing. At this stage, my sales are nothing to trumpet about, but the regular arrival of checks from Amazon do make the journey easier. As for reader interest in medieval fiction, the FREE offer of my medieval time travel romance, DREAMSPELL, over Thanksgiving ended in 18,000 downloads. I'd say there are still plenty of readers who long for castles and knights and ladies who aren't too much in distress 🙂 Blessings!

  7. Thanks for chiming in, Dina! I know you've walked down this road yourself, having written a book set in Medieval times. You're so right–many people wind up reading ABA and CBA books to fill in those gaps in the CBA. To be honest, I used to read solely ABA books and classics. Now that I'm writing for CBA, I've had a steep learning curve on the way things are done and the boxes that need to be checked before being considered for publication.The good news is that a good story will sell, no matter what time period (The Help comes to mind here–not your standard fare). I think that if some publishers are willing to take a risk on a good story, people will be quick to buy. Especially if you're pulling people who are typically ABA readers, as many historical readers are. As I said, there are entire groups dedicated to this time period and they are avid fans of literature that brings their favorite period to life, especially when the characters are straight out of history.And yet I know not to put all my eggs in one basket. I'm going to finish writing my contemporary novel while I'm waiting to hear back on my Viking novel. I still think it only takes ONE book to start a rampage. ONE supernatural book (This Present Darkness) revolutionized subject matter in the CBA. ONE vampire book kicked off a seemingly unending trend. ONE dystopian….and on and on it goes. It just takes one! So I can't give up all hope.

  8. And thanks so much for stopping by, Tamara! I've been very inspired, reading about your journey in publishing. I'm thrilled your book got so many downloads. I hear it from all over–people are hungry for medieval stories.

  9. Heather, I’m glad you brought this up because since I first read Tamara’s article, I’ve been plagued. I just finished a book dealing with slavery in America’s history. Not the characteristic we should boast about. However, it must be looked at and understood so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. As you point out, not all those calling themselves Christians were engaged in the ruthless behavior associated with the Crusades. I’m sure there were those who used the religion for their own gain as do some in our day and time. But there were those who lived the faith as Jesus meant for it to be lived. Just as in books set in times where slavery was the practice, where characters have beliefs on either side, we shouldn’t shy away from looking at the whole of that time period either. I have never actively sought out reading medieval fiction. In fact, I was drawn to Tamara Leigh’s because of her contemporary works. However, Heather, you and Tamara have me wanting to read more. Let me know when yours is published. It will go on my “to read” list immediately. Tamara's books are awesome. And as I told her, didn't even have typos … which is more than I can say about even traditionally published novels these days!!!

  10. Angel Blood is all about pre-King Arthur Britain and how angels are behind the magic of the wizards. I can't get a Christian agents to even look at it. So, I stalled the last book in the trilogy to write a murder mystery.I love knights, dragons and talking lions, but all I see from Christian book sources is Little House on the Prairie. Moo.

  11. PJ, wow, that's a concept I've never heard of before! It's interesting–could your books also be categorized as speculative fiction, since they deal in the supernatural? I'm with you on the writing something else–exactly what I'm working on now. There is something to be said for bonnets in Christian fiction–Amish bonnets, Regency bonnets, and Old West bonnets…grin. Perhaps our medieval characters need to sport different headwear…And Connie, interesting thoughts! I've read a novel similar to what you're mentioning–entirely one-sided as relating the story of slave-owners and slaves. I don't approve of slavery, of course, but I didn't enjoy the read and the worldview. I like characters who struggle with their choices and have some depth. Evil villains with no heart work better in fairy tales. All humans WERE human once, no matter how sociopathic they grew up to be. And none are beyond the reach of God's grace. But that's what Christian writers need to strive to capture. It's easy to look at history and shake your head, saying, "I can't believe people ever did that." Was it Martin Luther who said, "But for the grace of God, there go I."? Ah, well, I could chat and chat about this topic. I LOVE all your comments–Jill, you are so sweet! I promise to get a book into your hands first thing! I'm working on a list of influencers, so let me know if you want to go on the list. IF the book gets published, that is!

  12. And I just scrolled to the end of your comment, Connie (didn't show up on my publishing page). You're welcome to be an influencer too! Just means you tweet about the book, promote it, etc. when it comes out. I'm so thrilled you want to read it! I HAVE to get my hands on Tamara's book! I'm a time-traveling fan from waaaay back. Loved Michelle Griep's UNDERCURRENT, too–time travel AND Vikings!

  13. Great thoughts, Heather. I love medieval tales and will happily protest in front of CBA publishing houses with a large sign that says, "How will they know the truth about Christianity in medieval times unless we publish stories about them?" Can't wait to read Gudrid's story. 🙂

  14. Heather,There are a lot of voices on this page, on Pinterest, on Goodreads, on Amazon, who ARE reading Medieval fiction. There are also a TON of VIEWERS watching Medieval fiction – there are several TV series, movies, etc. Even the combination of modern and medieval (like Tamara's delightful Dreamspell) are exceedingly popular – Once Upon a Time, Grimm, etc. And of course, the delicious Thor himself.This genre is a sleeping dragon, I'm certain. All it will take is for one little hobbit to find the secret back door and the beast will raise it magnificent head. Ahem. Yes, yet another fantastic "medieval" plug….I'm in. I'll wait. I love a champion. I love a good gory battle of blades and wits, princesses who pack a little prowess, and champions who fight for honor. As the president states in the end of the epic Independence Day, "We will not go quietly into the night!We will not vanish without a fight!We're going to live on! We're going to survive!"Boo-yah!

  15. Love it, Becky–that's more than a pep talk–I feel like you're giving us encouragement on the battle lines! So glad you're a fellow Medieval-lover. And I loved Independence Day, too…glad not everyone has forgotten that movie! And Once Upon a Time! How could I forget that one!

  16. Well, since you're drawing all these medieval lovers, Heather, I hope you don't mind if I mention that my medieval novel, Dance of the Dandelion (yes there is a small castle on the front) is available on amazon and barnes and noble in print and ebook. Ebook is a great deal at $3.99 or less. It's also available through other ebook sources. Check out the awesome reviews and free sample: http://www.amazon.com/Dance-Dandelion-Dina-L-Sleiman/dp/0983455600/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1353938762&sr=8-1&keywords=dance+of+the+dandelion

  17. You just re-ignited my soap box I try to stay away from. I'm not sure why Christian publishers limit themselves. Yes, we must be Christian, BUT we can't ignore certain topics or in this case historical periods. The Church isn't perfect. We do have some history that's not so grand, but we are saved by Grace…why not let the world see that instead of covering up or hiding our flaws? Glad you posted this. Great job.

  18. DinaI'm going to be a little impertinent here. After reading your first comment, I'm surprised to see you self-promoting your book and your blog in a second comment on this post. Self-promotion in this industry is VITAL, but it must also be appropriate and well-timed/placed. There are many medieval history readers out here and if a book is written well, we'll find it, because we tend to go looking for them and for authors who are willing to stay the course and make a name for themselves in the genre. Maybe the CBA isn't so sure about them because the CBA is not sure about itself. You made an interesting point about CBA readers who are "not open-minded sort of people looking to be educated and have new experiences," however, I'm not sure that's accurate, either. I really believe the close-mindedness is in the publishing part of the industry, not in the readership. I'm a CBA reader and I ALWAYS look for a new take on things in the traditional values of my faith. I believe it's a catch-22: we read what they pump out because that's what's being made available to us. Now with e-readers, self-publishing, and small publishing houses having more room to "come out," I think we're going to see a much broader readership. Perhaps the close-mindedness (translate: the tendency to play it safe) in the big publishing houses is WHY they're having trouble staying fully operative. Just a thought.Don't get me wrong – I totally respect what you've done in this industry. I know you have an active voice and play an active part, but I'm not so sure I'm on board with your thoughts here.Heather – thanks for opening up this "debate." I think it's something that needs to be stirred up; reawakened. Perhaps women today have just forgotten what it's like to be championed. I think maybe if more QUALITY Medieval and Renaissance fiction was available, we'd be buying it, reading it. Blessings,Becky

  19. I enjoyed wandering into your blog, Heather. Regarding medieval settings, I love fairy tales and have been known to conceive a plot in an Arthurian setting before fleshing it out into another world. There's something about such a setting that boils down my story thoughts into their essence so that it becomes more mobile. Does that make any sense at all?

  20. Amanda, that's so cool about how you "get down to brass tacks" with re-setting your stories in an Arthurian way first. And Becky, I do agree that the CBA readership is ready for something MORE. I know there are plenty of Christfic writers chomping at the bit to work more edgy topics/stuff into their novels. I'm not on board with being edgy just to be edgy, but being DIFFERENT in what you write about is admirable, especially if you're writing something you're passionate about.Then again, it's easy to get disillusioned with Christian publishing and feel it's all about the money. It seems so now more than ever, with all the big pub. houses merging, etc. There are a limited number of slots for books. I just hope pubs start listening to the readers and branching into different locales/time periods!

  21. Well, Becky, I guess I'm a little worn out from fighting this battle. I've switched to writing American set books for now. Someone less worn out, maybe Heather, will have to pick up this battle. And forgive me if my timing on promoting is bad, but it's so rare to here anyone talking about medievals that I couldn't pass it up. My book is five star and has won an award, and I've still only sold about 300 copies, so I certainly hope people will eventually find it.

  22. Dina, I was going to refer to your most recent Novel Rocket post, then I found this one, which was even more apt about the medieval time period: http://www.novelrocket.com/2011/10/how-to-write-unmarketable-novel.html. I know when you've been in the CBA industry for awhile, you start to figure out what will fly and what won't. But then again, sometimes there is that one person who comes along and breaks all the "rules" and gets published to rave reviews (like Francine Rivers or Frank Peretti). I think as an author you have to know when to cry "Uncle" and move on–either to a new genre or to a different market (ABA or self-pubbing). Tamara, though pubbed in the ABA and CBA, has moved to self-pubbing. I know you've switched time periods and are pubbed w/Zondervan, right?I'm not as wide-eyed as I was at the beginning of this journey, that's for sure! And if you get back to me in a year and this book is still not published, I'll probably be like, "Medieval? Aw, don't even GO THERE!"For now, I'll keep trying. But like I said, I'm covering my bases and writing a contemp novel in the meantime!Thanks for your comments–awesome that Dance of the Dandelion is five-star! That's saying something for Medievals right there! Grin.

  23. Ha ha, yeah, that's exactly where I am. I did get published, though. I guess all I really wanted to say in my comment was, don't blame the editors. It's not a grand conspiracy theory. I had several editors at big CBA houses interested in my medieval. It was always marketing who shot them down. And others have had the same experience.Someday a Christian medieval will sell a million copies and then everyone will be clamouring for them. But it won't be a debut author. Who knows, maybe someday I'll loop back around to there. But in the meantime…Also, there are a lot unique challenges to writing medieval. First of all, it's hard to substantiate your history. My only bad review is from a medieval history major who didn't like the theories I chose, although I can back up my research.Another issue is language. If you go too heavy on the medieval you turn off a lot of readers. If you go to light, people complain that it sounds modern. I only had one complaint about my language, from the same girl.And, I didn't mention that I'm an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire, which will do medievals. But we've also turned them down because the language was too heavily medieval. And two others because although the authors were talented, the books just weren't "quite there" yet. Medievals have to be way better than normal to break through. Now Dreamspell, I would have bought in a heartbeat. I also recommend DeAnna Dodson's medieval trilogy.

  24. TC, just got around to your comment. I totally agree–why let everyone (Christians and non-Christians) be informed on their history solely by ABA books? Why not throw some Christian-worldview novels into the mix for those time periods that aren't well-represented in the CBA?Ah. Methinks I like thinking outside the box a little too much! Always enjoy hearing from you, TC.

  25. Love me anything Arthurian!! It's those classic stories of chivalry, danger and triumph against unbeatable odds that thrill my reader's heart.And the market is out there. Think of all the Ren Fairs around North America, of all the buzz around Game of Thrones and the medieval feel of LOtR and the Hobbit. The trick is to make stories different enough to stand beyond the ABA offerings and conformed enough to stand within the CBA. Does that make sense? Also, publisher follow trends that sell. If authors can FIND and CONNECT WITH readers that have a passion for their stuff (medieval in this case), it should theoretically be easier to sell to a publisher. It's a risk for the pub and the passionate peeps need to show them that medieval times are a risk worth taking.It seems I've dragged out my soap box, too. And if we're gonna start talking about Gabaldon and G.R.R. Martin, I'll get out the lazy-boy. THAT could be a long conversation 🙂

  26. Thanks so much, Diane! I'm convinced the CBA market is ready for some Medieval books–this was such an overwhelming response to the topic, just on my blog! And you're so right–it's huge in the ABA market. I think Vikings are pretty huge, too, from Thor to How to Train your Dragon, etc. Thanks for commenting!

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