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Whether using dragons, firefish or sword-wielding soccer
moms, writers in the emerging category of Christian fantasy fiction are
clamoring for a spot in the marketplace.
Fantasy fiction in general commands a large following and copious
real estate in bookstores. But while Web sites and Christian writing
conferences brim with writers working on Christian fantasy, publishers
mostly are just starting to open to these new books.
The books may carry overt references to Jesus and Scripture — or
simply an understated Christian perspective with clean content, positive
role models, and unambiguous depictions of good and evil in the style of
C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien. Writers and fans use the term “Christian
speculative fiction” to include fantasy, science fiction or anything
other-worldly.
To raise awareness of Christian fantasy and promote his books, Bryan
Davis has spoken to 30,000 kids at public and private schools in the
last year — including 112 talks in two months, and 12 in one day.
Davis, a father of seven, writes the “Oracles of Fire,” “Dragons in
Our Midst” and forthcoming “Echoes from the Edge” series, all for youth
audiences; his newest book, “Enoch’s Ghost,” in the Oracles series, was
released June 15.
This month, he and three other authors will try to jump-start
interest in Christian fantasy with a nine-day road trip: the Fantastic 4
Fantasy Fiction Tour, stopping at bookstores, churches and home school
groups in the East and Southeast.
“There’s probably a lot of the Christian community that doesn’t even
trust us,” said Davis, who works to counter associations with Satanic or
shadowy influences. He also offers Christian readers guidelines for
choosing fantasy books.
“One of the main things to look for is whether or not the author has
a clear delineation of good and evil,” he said.
Another obstacle for Christian fantasy writers, according to Jeff
Gerke, a fantasy-loving freelance editor who writes novels under the
pseudonym Jefferson Scott, is that the Christian publishing industry has
yet to get behind the genre in a major way. Gerke says there are plenty
of readers and writers of Christian speculative fiction out there, but
the Christian presses mostly target evangelical, white women readers —
who don’t tend to be fantasy enthusiasts.
Popular Christian fiction stars Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
(co-authors of the “Left Behind” series), Frank Peretti (“This Present
Darkness”) and Ted Dekker (“Thr3e”) command front-table display in
bookstores, but their success has created little demand from Christian
publishers for writers working on similar themes, Gerke said.
For Christian writers who think mainstream presses might be an
option, “It’s a very crowded area, and there’s debate about whether if
you write for a secular publisher are you able to be as Christian as you
want to be.”
Still, a few new releases include notable Christian fantasy
offerings.
From Harvest House, George Bryan Polivka’s “The Legend of the
Firefish” and “The Hand That Bears the Sword” contain overt Christian
themes; its hero is a failed seminarian struggling with his faith.
Polivka said his work is not typical fantasy. “In fact, there’s no magic
in it. There are lots of movements of God — miracles that happen at
just the right moment.”
Sharon Hinck’s “The Restorer,” first in a “Sword of Lyric” series
aimed at women, is told through the voice of Susan Mitchell, a mother of
four who is disenchanted with her ordinary life and wants to be like the
biblical Deborah. Then Mitchell is dropped into an alternate world where
people think she might be a Restorer, someone “with gifts to defeat our
enemies and turn the people’s hearts back to the Verses,” the books
says.
The same publisher, NavPress, also released Tosca Lee’s “Demon: A
Memoir.” And July brings “DragonFire,” the latest in Donita K. Paul’s
“DragonKeeper Chronicles” youth series.
Ginia Hairston, a vice president for Random House’s WaterBrook
division, said “there is a God type figure (in Paul’s books) but he is
not referred to as God. There are evil characters that certainly are not
referred to as demons.”
In September, WaterBrook plans to release “Auralia’s Colors,” first
in Jeffrey Overstreet’s “The Auralia Thread” series, and next March will
publish Christian singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson’s “Lost Jewels of
the Island King.”
Davis, the “Oracles of Fire” author, believes the proliferation of
writers working on Christian fantasy serves as a barometer of the supply
of readers hungry for it. The power of the fantasy genre, he said, is
its ability to create situations for heroism.
“Fantasy opens up the kind of vision,” he said, “to be able to see
beyond where we are.”

Washington – In a rare reversal of roles, 14 Catholic members of Congress are lobbying U.S. Catholic bishops to step up efforts to end the war in Iraq.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, wrote to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops asking for a meeting to discuss how Congress “and the clergy can work together to mobilize public action to end the war,” according to a statement released Tuesday (July 3).
“As Catholic members of Congress we stand in unison with the Catholic Church in opposition to the war in Iraq,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said in a statement. “Yet to attain the ideal of peace, we must not only speak the words, we must take action.”
Other Catholic politicians lobbying the bishops include Reps. Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan, Charlie Wilson and Marcy Kaptur, all of Ohio.
“Throughout our nation’s history Catholics have been at the forefront of the fight for social justice,” the lawmakers’ statement said. “Now, at another critical moment, we respectfully urge the (bishops) to join with us in mobilizing support for Congress’ efforts to end the Iraq war.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the USCCB, said the bishops were considering the letter and that they have already made repeated statements about the war. “Certainly the bishops have made no secret about their concerns over the war in Iraq,” Walsh said.
Last fall, Bishop William Skylstad, president of the bishops’ conference, said: “In statements, letters and meetings, we have expressed grave moral concern regarding `preventive war’ and noted the moral responsibilities that our nation has in Iraq.”
In May, 18 Catholic U.S. representatives, including some who are now lobbying the bishops, criticized Pope Benedict XVI for suggesting that pro-abortion rights politicians can be considered excommunicated from the church.
” … Religious sanction in the political arena directly conflicts with our fundamental beliefs about the role and responsibility of democratic representatives in a pluralistic America,” the Catholic lawmakers said then.

A 10-year-old Nepalese girl lost her title as a Hindu living goddess because she left the country to promote a film.
Sajani Shakya was the first living goddess — or “kumari” — ever to leave the country. Her June visit to Washington served as a publicity tour for a British documentary that explores the centuries-old kumari tradition.
Officials from Sajani’s temple in the town of Bhaktapur announced Tuesday (July 3) that they would revoke her title and replace her upon her return to Nepal, according to the state-run National News Agency.
The tradition of kumaris dates back more than 300 years. Around the age of 2 or 3, a young girl is selected to the position of goddess based upon a list of 32 “perfect characteristics,” which include perfect skin, hair, eyes and teeth. A young toddler also must prove herself fearless by withstanding time in a dark room without crying.
Hindus believe these girls are possessed by the goddess Taleju, and they revere kumaris by bowing to them and bringing requests to their feet. Once the girl-goddess reaches puberty, Hindus believe Taleju leaves her body and temple officials search again for another girl to worship.
A handful of goddesses live in Nepal, and some live sequestered lives in luxurious palaces. While Hindus — including her own family — worship her, Sajani lives a relatively normal life and attends school.
Her regular schedule also budgets time for blessing villagers and attending ceremonial events.
In an interview in June, Sajani’s caretaker said the young girl feared the day she would lose her status as a goddess, often asking if people would still love her if she lost her “deity.”
Though Sajani’s caretaker assured the girl that her family would still worship her when she was no longer a kumari, the goddess’
less-than-divine future is uncertain. According to Nepalese folklore, men who wed a former kumari will face an early death, so many of the girls never marry and face a life of hardship as a result.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo., July 6–Missouri abortion providers will face new regulations for their clinics and new restrictions on teaching sex education classes under a bill Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law Friday.
The measure places more abortion clinics under government oversight by classifying them as ambulatory surgical centers. Planned Parenthood has said the law could force it to spend more than $1 million on remodeling, plus some extra staffing costs.
The law also bars people affiliated with abortion providers from teaching or supplying materials for public school sex education courses, and it allows schools to offer abstinence-only programs.
Missouri Right to Life, which backed the measure, argued that groups like Planned Parenthood have a conflict of interest in supplying sex education materials because they could make money if female students go to their clinics.
An official with Planned Parenthood, which has several staffers who visit public schools, called that assertion “political propaganda.”
“Essentially, what Governor Blunt and the Legislature is doing is saying that teens need to be protected from information, not from sexually transmitted infections or unintended pregnancies,” said Peter Brownlie, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri.
The state already licenses facilities that get at least half of their revenue or patients from abortions. Only one, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, falls under that licensing requirement.
The Department of Health and Senior Services said the new law would require three other clinics to be licensed. The department didn’t identify them, but Planned Parenthood said its offices in Columbia and Kansas City would be affected.
The organization is considering a legal challenge.