Stephen Mark Spence cannot remember a time when he did not tell stories to himself. His interest in writing led him to study journalism at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida, and at that time he started work on a political novel that never got past the first draft.
Time spent as a radio and newspaper reporter and two years as editor of a small-town weekly taught him that journalism was not for him (even though the newspaper won state-wide awards for a paper its size).
During those years he contributed movie reviews to a daily newspaper. When finding a job as a film critic proved difficult, he decided to improve his qualifications by studying film. In 1980 he moved to Los Angeles with just enough money to get through one semester at the University of Southern California.
In 1984 he earned his Master's Degree in film theory and criticism with a thesis on director George Roy Hill (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, A Little Romance). By then he was no longer interested in newspaper work. Like so many in Los Angeles, he had been bitten by the Hollywood bug and thought he could make his fortune writing screenplays.
Eight screenplays later, he had not earned a dime, but he had begun work on a large fantasy novel. More importantly, he knew he had found his true vocation.
But years of disappointment with Hollywood, betrayal by friends and a legal battle that disrupted his writing for long periods left him feeling broken and defeated. He found comfort in the works of C.S. Lewis and in the Christian faith of his youth.
In 1991, he returned to his hometown of Buffalo, New York, and for three years lived in a sort of stunned depression. He continued to work on that huge novel, but never got it anywhere near to completion.
Then one drab April day he walked into a small Pentecostal church in a former banquet hall on a run-down street across from a second-rate convenience mart. There God walked in and nothing would ever be the same.
It was what is known as a Holy Ghost revival service. The evangelist was a former Tae Kwon Do competitor from Florida. During the sermon he read from 2 Timothy 3:1-4.
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God."
It sounded like a list of everything he had experienced in Los Angeles. The pain of those years rushed back. Later that night, when the evangelist prayed for people, some of them fell to the floor "under the power of the Holy Spirit." Stephen, too, went down. And when he got up, he was forever changed.
This was not just intellectual assent or emotional manipulation, it was an encounter with eternity, with true divinity. God had become real, as real as a father tickling his infant son. And if God is real, what else matters?
In order to break with the past and give himself completely to God, he threw away the screenplays and the unfinished novel. He threw away 10 years of work. A few weeks later, God gave him something better.
While resting after yet another revival meeting, into his imagination stepped a white stag. He added the stag to an unfinished story called The Questing Beast and a year later finally completed his first novel.
But those precious hours on the mountaintop are often followed by years in the wilderness.
Submissions of The White Stag to agents and publishing houses led nowhere. After a year of frustration, he printed 100 copies of the book by pasting, photocopying and cutting the pages, then assembling each book by hand with plastic comb binding. He designed a cover himself and sometimes even trimmed individual pages with a pair of scissors.
With the profits from the sale of those first books, he attended a Christian Booksellers Association convention in Nashville, Tennessee. His efforts there brought no results, but the painful experience taught him the harsh realities of the publishing business and so-called "Christian" publishing in particular.
Another year passed with no movement. Then the opportunity opened up to print several hundred copies of the book in a more professional manner. He spent all he had on the venture. With the support of Kingdom Bound, a large Christian music festival, he sold enough books to justify publishing Book II, Galahad. Book III, Merlin's Curse followed in 2000.
He will publish African Knights in 2004 and more projects after that. Although the road has been hard and the progress sporadic, he says the struggles have taught him a truth understood by old Sans Espoir in The White Stag -- some things are worth chasing even if you never catch them.
"For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come."
-- Habakkuk 2:3
White Stag Publishing is dedicated to producing quality fiction that meets the high standards demanded by Philippians 4:8. We set ourselves in direct opposition to the crassness, ugliness and decadence of most art and entertainment in the world today. We believe man must aspire to something greater than himself, and so we want our work to embody and promote ideals such as Truth, Nobility, Goodness, Purity, Beauty, Excellence and Virtue.
Jesus was a storyteller and at White Stag Publishing we believe in the power of story to change the world. The pen is still mightier than the sword and truth will always triumph over lies. We acknowledge the gospel of Jesus Christ as the ultimate Truth and only hope for mankind in a world spinning out of control.
Communicating that truth in ways that break through preconceptions is no easy matter. Much of what calls itself Christian art today is of low quality, predictable and preachy. Yet many of the greatest artists in western culture have been inspired by their faith in Jesus Christ. Johann Sebastian Bach, Michelangelo Buonarroti, John Milton and Feodor Dostoevsky, to name but a few, were all strong, committed Christians.
At White Stag Publishing we understand that art has the power to touch the heart. We believe one purpose of Christian art is to prepare the soil for the seed that is the Word of God. The artist is not a preacher, he does not "close the deal" with an altar call. Rather, like John the Baptist, he prepares the way. Art can change the way people think by "casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God."
Although the "Christian" publishing and music industries earn millions, even billions of dollars, every year, these businesses have grown more and more worldly as they have grown more and more successful. Most of these companies are now owned by giant media corporations that care little for the message of the cross. Instead, they are interested solely in maximizing corporate profits. They are not "Christian" companies either in the manner they do business or the type of material they produce. It would be more correct to call them secular companies that market to a Christian audience.
Their attitudes are already weakening the church because they promote consumerism rather than Biblical Christianity. These companies frequently operate in a very non-Christian manner. For example, some of today's Christian bestsellers were not even written by the evangelists whose names appear on the covers. At White Stag Publishing we keep in mind the Biblical admonition that we must not conform ourselves to the image of this world.
White Stag Publishing also seeks to forge a new path for the individual artist in a rapidly changing world. Once publishing was a cottage industry of family-owned businesses that survived on small sales and thin profit margins. It was an industry of personal relationships. The editor knew the writer. The salesman knew the bookstore owner. The bookseller knew his customers. Companies would spend years supporting writers who needed time to develop their craft and build an audience. Writers did not expect to become millionaires, they only wanted the freedom to tell the stories in their hearts.
Today publishing is a matter of mass marketing, giant bookstores and a handful of superstar writers who sell millions of copies. Companies spend little if any money finding and developing new talent. They no longer look for the unique, original voice. Instead, they develop products for a pre-existing market just as giant food companies develop new snacks to push on an already overweight population. Today marketing (the cover art, the ad campaign) matters more than the product (the actual contents of the book).
White Stag Publishing believes that for the writer with a dream and a pen, the only hope lies in new technology. The Internet and electronic publishing will eventually make it possible for a writer to bypass the editor, the publisher, the distributor and the bookseller. The writer and the reader will communicate directly, which will mean financial savings for the reader and financial gain for the writer. (With the exception of the bestselling authors, most writers and musicians do not profit from their work. The companies essentially use the artists as slave labor.)
This day of electronic freedom has not yet dawned, but we believe it will come soon. White Stag Publishing hopes that for once the church of Jesus Christ can be ahead of the curve and benefit from the new technology before the world does. Sadly, the church remains mired in old ways of thinking. Very few Christians understand the struggles of the artist. While most Christians complain loudly about the power of popular art such as Harry Potter, few are willing to support a developing artist or company.
White Stag Publishing sees the need for a truly Christian counter-culture at odds with the materialism of this world. The current Christian establishment of churches and businesses often locks out innovation and new voices. To change that situation will require artists remaining true to an ideal, an audience willing to take chances, foundations providing support and a network of committed people exchanging information around the globe.
This will take time. It has been a difficult journey thus far. But with God's help, we will continue pressing "toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
"The only Christian work is good work, well done."
-- Dorothy L. Sayers