June 2023

It's been a little more relaxed for us here at Mysterion after our big push to finish responding to all the January submissions before the end of March; Mysterion-wise, at least. As far as "real life" goes, Donald's day job currently involves more travel than usual, so things have still been fairly hectic. However, we're editing the July and August stories, and preparing to re-open to submissions again on July 1st.

At our last Discord meetup (which you can participate in each month by signing up for our Patreon), one of our authors mentioned that they had first heard about Mysterion from another author who thought that we only publish stories by Christians. This is not true! We don't ask about authors' religious beliefs when deciding whether to accept their stories, nor do we assume that everyone who submits a story to us is a Christian. While we do only publish work that (in our idiosyncratic opinions) is about Christianity in some way, and while it is also true that most of the authors interested in writing stories about Christianity are in fact Christians themselves, we have and will continue to publish stories by authors who tell us in their cover letters that they are not Christians, and by authors who don't tell us either way.

We considered trying to advertise this fact more widely, but it is clearly stated in our submission guidelines. Do we really want a spike in story submissions from authors who haven't read our guidelines? Though maybe some authors haven't bothered to read our guidelines because they assume we won't consider them qualified to write for us.

So, here's our reminder that we are interested in fiction about Christianity from authors of all backgrounds and beliefs. We are looking particularly for stories that don't fit anywhere else, though. While we aren't opposed to publishing stories critical of the Christian faith, our experience as readers suggests that "Christianity is bad" is already a perspective well-represented in speculative fiction, and we'd like to bring a little more nuance to the conversation.

Of course, "all backgrounds and beliefs" does include Christianity, and your story doesn't have to be critical of Christianity for us to publish it. But keep in mind that Donald and Kristin mostly don't read "Christian fiction", and may be less forgiving of certain tropes and conventions common to that genre.

We were also asked, during the Discord meetup, about our "wish list" for the next submission window. Science fiction is something we never feel that we see enough of, compared to fantasy (but more along the lines of The Expanse than Star Trek). We're always especially interested in stories about Christians and Christianity in cultural contexts outside our own--we've published a couple of stories in which the Nigerian church plays a significant role, and would love to publish more, from Nigeria and other African nations, as well as from Asia and Latin America.

Philosophically, we're less interested in straightforward hero/villain narratives, and more interested in stories where flawed people with incompatible values and agendas find themselves in conflict, especially stories that avoid caricaturing whichever side the author disagrees with. We like stories about the personal cost of staying true to one's convictions, and stories that wrestle with difficult questions about Christian belief and tradition (and by "wrestle", we mean "sometimes the right answer isn't clear by the end of the story", not "God, or an angel, or an omniscient alien tells everyone what to believe").

We get far, far too many stories about age-long conflicts between angels and demons where the supernatural beings are recognizably human in personality and motivation and work for organizations that resemble S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra more than anything in the Bible. We also get too many stories that, as far as we can tell, have nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity; or that have nothing to do with Christianity except that the characters attend church or pray at some point.

And, to round out our list of "what we don't want": stories where the main point seems to be either to tell the reader what they should believe about something, or to assure readers who already agree with the author on that point that they're right.

This last one is harder. We aren't opposed to authors having strong beliefs and wanting to write stories consistent with their values that attempt to express those beliefs. No doubt we've published stories that some readers think are too "preachy", perhaps ones where we strongly agree with the author's perspective and are less critical of the story's flaws than another editor might be. But there are certain features that many of the rejected stories of this sort share. Characters who disagree with the author tend to have few if any good qualities. Characters who do what the author considers to be bad things suffer a terrible fate by story's end. Characters are presented as doing either the right thing or the wrong thing, rather than having to choose between multiple not-great options.

We get mediocre, excessively didactic stories from across the political and theological spectrums. Much of the problem comes down to bad writing, especially weak characterization. We can forgive many other flaws in a story if the characters seem like real people to us. But, if your main inspiration to write a particular story is concern over some issue or wrong belief that other people have, we're unlikely to be the best market for it.

Finally, although it's not a huge percentage of what we receive, we always get a fair number of submissions from authors who seem to not understand what fiction is or what we publish. We are only looking for fiction. We do not publish news articles, we are not looking for essays or book reviews from authors we haven't already published, and we do not have staff writer positions for which you could potentially be hired. We are not going to publish your novel, your screenplay, or your political cartoons. It may be a waste of time to even mention this here, in the hope that people who obviously didn't read our submission guidelines will read this column instead, but just in case... please do not send us anything except fantasy fiction, science fiction, or supernatural fiction, and nothing longer than 9000 words.

We'll be open to submissions for the entire month of July, and look forward to seeing what you all have for us this time around!

In Other News

For a few weeks, a skunk was coming by every day or two to dig holes in our lawn--probably looking for insects and other invertebrates to eat--but we haven't seen it recently. The cats seem to like watching it through the windows, though they aren't alarmed by its presence the way they are by strange cats.

Speaking of strange cats: some of you may remember that Belle, the elderly cat we adopted in January was due for oral surgery in early May. Unfortunately, once the vet was finally able to do a thorough oral exam with X-rays, it became clear that Belle's mouth was in far worse shape than they had realized, with extensive lesions from her autoimmune condition as well as decayed teeth. We were told that they couldn't do anything to help her at this point, and, regretfully, we had to let her go.

Maxwell has also been having some health issues, with three trips to the veterinary ER or urgent care in less than two weeks. First he was constipated, after having possibly eaten some packing foam. A week after that was resolved, he started having bloody urine and vomiting. They did multiple tests to rule out various possibilities, and ultimately diagnosed him with feline idiopathic cystitis, an "exclusionary diagnosis". This means they don't really know what's wrong, but it's apparently not that uncommon for young and otherwise healthy cats to develop urinary tract issues in response to stress, usually brought on by changes to their environment. The vet thought Donald's recent work travel was probably the precipitating incident, and that Belle coming to live with us and then disappearing hadn't helped either.

Male cats in particular are at risk for a life-threatening urinary tract blockage with this condition, but we're trying to keep an eye on him and not panic. We did set up a second water fountain for him and Marie, at the vet's recommendation, on the second floor of our house, since cats with this condition are often dehydrated. He's been okay for a few weeks now, so we're hopeful that further interventions won't be required.

Maxwell trying Marie's patience by plunking himself down in the cat bed on top of her.

Our June story, Mob's "Stained Glass" goes up on June 26th. Be sure to come back then for this darkly atmospheric tale of a bereaved stained glass artist trying to recreate a dangerous window after its destruction in a storm.

Next month we should be able to tell you all about the July and August stories. Until then, thanks for reading, and we hope you enjoy the beginning of summer! (Or winter, for our friends in the southern hemisphere.)

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