In the past few years, millions have flocked to movie theaters and book stores, hoping to get their fix of storylines filled with vampires, time travel, dragons, and other fantasy-laden and science fiction-charged scenarios.
For Christians, however, who are interested and on the hunt for enjoyable speculative fiction, this can be a daunting task. Christian speculative fiction, an umbrella term that covers anything related to science fiction, end times, post-apocalyptic, super-hero, vampires and time travel, written from a Christian perspective, has not been well-received over the years by many Christian publishers. Most publishers have chosen to play it safe, sticking to genres such as Christian romances, biblical fiction, and Christian “Chick Lit,” only recently considering even allowing speculative fiction proposals into their manuscript piles. But for Jeff Gerke, founder of Marcher Lord Press, speculative fiction is the future, and he is on a mission to deliver it directly into the hands of millions who are longing for more.
Growing up “Sci-Fi”
It all began when Jeff Gerke, 12 years old at the time, stepped into his local movie theater to watch the original Star Wars. Not having previously experienced a movie of that genre and magnitude, Jeff remembers being “blown away” within the first few minutes. “It was like the top of my head had been unscrewed and the movie was plugged straight into my cerebellum,” laughs Gerke. “It was a complete experience for me, not just another movie, and it moved me in a way that I just couldn’t articulate at that time. I had no idea what the future held for me, but that day, that movie did something to me.”
As he grew older, Jeff ran across other story lines that immediately grabbed his interest and impacted him, such as The Lord of The Rings. He initially contemplated going into the film industry, in the hopes of making movies similar to Star Wars, but tweaking it in order to translate it to the audience with a Christian perspective. By the time he graduated college, Jeff “dreamed in science-fiction.” “It never occurred to me to write a Western, or any other type of genre. There were certain elements in speculative fiction stories that just grabbed me, and I knew right then that I wanted to devote my life to Christian speculative fiction,” tells Jeff.
In the beginning
Gerke originally began in the publishing industry as an author. Soon after sealing and completing a three-book contract with Multnomah publishing that fell under the techno-thriller category, he got a job as an editor with the company. After a while, he began to freelance, and was signed to another contract with Barbour Publishers. This time, Gerke penned a military thriller trilogy.
Gerke is forthcoming about his personal story, gently reminding those trying to get published that his first few books, as in many authors’ experience, did not make him “rich and famous.” Having a “job” was necessary.
Gerke eventually became an editor at Strang Publications. He oversaw their health line, with the possibility that the publishers were looking into launching a visionary fiction line filled with supernatural thrillers and spiritual warfare titles. Thrilled to work with a publishing line that was interested in some type of speculative fiction, Jeff helped them launch the “Realms” line in October of 2005.
After years of running other publisher’s fiction lines, writing several non-Christian books and co-writing numerous medical books, Gerke, feeling stifled, knew is as time to get back to his true love. “For so many years, I had brought publisher after publisher some really great “weird” fiction proposals, only to watch the book crash and burn later on down the road. So, I really started to investigate. I knew that there were people out there who loved these types of books, and I wanted to know why the books were failing,” recalls Gerke. “So, I started thinking, “Who buys the majority of Christian fiction?” And when I came up with the answer, I realized that particular demographic did not want the books that I dreamed of publishing. I had been asking these people to buy something that they had no desire for.”
The birth of Christian speculative fiction publishing
After a long period of research, Jeff found his speculative fiction audience, and started to imagine an entirely untouched and different type of publishing model. With that, Marcher Lord Press was born.
“This is a publishing company that was born out of frustration. I knew that there were really talented authors out there, writing incredible speculative fiction stories that were glorifying God, but there was no outlet for them, no publisher for them to go to,” explains Gerke. “I have been to so many conferences, heard the passion of these writers, and I knew that people out there could be blessed by these stories. I wanted to give these people an outlet, encourage them. At this point, I had a pretty good education on how the publishing industry worked, but I started my own financial model, different than most publishers use. With that in hand, and a lot of prayer from me and my wife, I decided to launch Marcher Lord.”
Launched in October 2007, Marcher Lord has quickly become known as the premier publisher of Christian speculative fiction. Gerke was thrilled to find out recently that two of his authors won prizes in EPIC Award’s annual book contest. This was a homerun for Marcher Lord, who was competing against a large number of works since the EPIC Awards accept books from both the secular and Christian markets.
One of the EPIC winners was a novel written by Marcher Lord author Jill Williamson, entitled By Darkness Hid. Edging out all other in EPIC’s fantasy category, By Darkness Hid is a wondrous medieval fantasy novel, where a servant dreams of becoming a Knight, and a young woman runs away and disguises herself as a young boy to escape an arranged marriage. Through a supernatural power known as “bloodvoicing,” the two eventually cross paths and find themselves able to communicate without speaking. The book comes highly recommended to fans of fantasy story lines, followers of authors such as Tolkien, and is followed up with To Darkness Fled, the second book in the series that just received a rave review in Publishers Weekly.
Starfire, written by Stuart Vaughn Stockton, won the award in EPIC’s science fiction category. A book featuring a non-earth setting and non-human cast is precisely the type of book that Gerke dreamed of publishing when he created Marcher Lord. A masterpiece written for Christian sci-fi fans, Starfire is, “an extremely well-written book, that simply had no chance of being published through traditional Christian publishing houses,” states Gerke.
With the future of Christian speculative fiction looking brighter than ever before, thanks to Marcher Lord, fans wait patiently for the next work of art to be published. “Through so much praying, thinking and strategizing, we came up with the Marcher Lord ‘model,’ knowing it was way ‘out there,’ but thinking it could work for us,” tells Gerke. “As time goes on, we continue to succeed, while other Christian publishers are shrinking, some even closing their doors. I am not smart enough to have figured this out on my own. It had to be from God.”
God’s perfect timing
“Right now, we are in a publishing revolution. I don’t know if everyone realizes it yet, but the convergence of technology, mood of the nation, and financial difficulties that many are experiencing, it is all giving rise to smaller presses, and giving opportunity to give a small press like me a niche audience,” Gerke explains.
“More authors are finding that they are niche authors and books that reach these audiences are excelling.”
Currently waiting to hear if his authors have won the upcoming Christy and/or ACFW Awards, Gerke finally feels right at home with Marcher Lord Press. “This is the time to be Marcher Lord Press. It is a YouTube, online audience, MP3 kind of day. We aren’t trying to reach the typical readership out there,” adds Gerke.
When asked about his perspective on God and all that has taken place, Gerke shares, “After all this time, and searching, I finally understand my place in the ‘cosmos.’ With God, I have access to an assurance of care and love that a godless man does not have. I know I am never alone, never forsaken. God has allowed all of this to happen. I wait and watch everyday for His miracles.”
To learn more about Marcher Lord Press, their authors, or to find information about submitting a manuscript, visit www.Marcher Lordpress.com.