Wednesday, April 22, 2009

From Comic Books to Savvy Reader - How Readers Changed Christian Fiction

Two things to keep in mind this month: Latayne is giving away five copies of her debut novel Latter-Day Cipher! You'll want to get in on that! And, I hope you are all working hard on those manuscripts for the Audience with an Agent contest. Wendy Lawton commented just the other day about how she is looking forward to reading your work. That has got to be a motivating factor! Don't forget to check out the submission details in the promotions section of Novel Matters. Formatting your submission correctly counts. Remember, you want your work to reach the desk of a literary agent. Professional standards for submission applies. Also, keep in mind you are submitting your work to us at Novel Matters first - so be sure to address your correspondence accordingly. We are all very excited to read your submissions. We're pulling for you, and praying for you too!

Debbie asked a wonderful question on Monday - What do you love about Christian fiction? My answer started me down memory lane, and I'd like to share my thoughts with you today.

My introduction to Christian books came early in life in the form of comic books. At first, this was largely a non-fiction foray. Comics like The Cross and the Switchblade, The Hiding Place, and God's Smuggler captivated me. I read In His Steps as a mini-graphic novel long before I heard of the classic version (the one without pictures). I read a comic book about missionaries who were killed by the tribe they were trying to reach for Jesus. Even the life of Jesus first came alive to me in the form of Christian comics.

Then came Christian fiction! Via Archie comics (yep, there really were Christian Archie comics). I read and re-read these stories so often that even now I can recall vast portions of them. To my eight to ten year old mind this was Christian books.

When I was eleven or twelve, I read my first Christian novel, one I borrowed from my older sister. called The Substitute (I can't recall the author's name, and I can't find the book online, any help would be appreciated!). It was biblical fiction - the story took place during the time Jesus walked around teaching and healing. I loved the book - and to this day I can recall several scenes. To my young mind, biblical fiction was Christian fiction.

In my twenties, I read a gentle, old-fashioned sort of novel - about a girl moving west to the untamed Alberta foothills - and I was confused. It wasn't biblical fiction, but it wasn't modern either. Ah, historical fiction. So, somehow I got the idea that Christian fiction should either be biblical fiction, or historical fiction. This notion wedged itself in my mind and became stuck. I decided I didn't like Christian fiction.

A few years later I walked into a Christian store (Christians were half price that day), and discovered shelves of fiction categorized by genre. Weren't there only two genres? I cracked a few spines (book spines that is) and began to build on my limited experience with Christian fiction. What I've learned since then is that hope-filled fiction lingers far longer than I imagined.

Some might argue that the reason I've found a haven in Christian fiction is because it has "grown up" over the years from a fledgling industry to a true literary force. And that would be correct. Others say that the introduction of 'edgy' story lines and 'gritty, real-life' characters has helped readers to connect with Christian content fiction. True enough.

But in reflecting on my experience with Christian fiction, I've learned more about myself than I have about books. I've come to understand that not every book on the Christian shelf was written with me in mind. That there are audiences of readers who like different things than I do, and that over the years, I've been part of a different audience at different times. My fiction wants changed, and so did the books. And, they will change again. Me, and the books.

One thing I believe Christian fiction has going for it more than general market fiction is that it asks itself the question: What is is the people care about? That is a far cry from only asking "what will sell?"

How has your taste in fiction changed? What do you see your fiction needs becoming in the future?


Laura J. Davis said...

How has my taste in fiction changed? Before I became a Christian I must have read a different Harlequin Romance twice a week. Sometimes though, those Harlequin Romances became too racy for me. After I became a Christian I knew I couldn't read them anymore. What to do? Who knew that Christians wrote books too? What a novelty! I was pleased as punch to find "tame" romance novels with a message.

In time, my tastes began to change once again. I wanted substance - something that addressed the issues of the day. Plus, I became more and more alarmed that the books I was trying to stay away from (filled with sex, violence, bad language, etc.) were now infiltrating the Christian market. They were becoming like the books I didn't want to read anymore.

I have encountered so many "Christian" books that offend me, that I am leery of reading fiction at all. Now, I prefer non-fiction books the most (even though I write fiction) - go figure.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks for reminding us about our own changing tastes in fiction. I started out by reading every Nancy Drew I could get for Christmas, and moved on to Victoria Holt, and read every book I could find, until the endings became too predictable. Then I fell in love with Daphne DuMaurier and inhaled her books. Now, I basically read contemporary fiction. Growing up, I think I tried on the lives of those characters I read about, but now I'm feeling comfortable in my own skin. As a teen, I read for escape. As an adult, I read because I identify with the characters and there are pressing issues to be sliced and diced that I didn't have as a teen. The idea of a good historical and a hammock on a sultry afternoon is sure appealing right now.

PatriciaW said...

Christian fiction used to be all literary and conversion oriented. What I love now is the breadth of Christian fiction, especially the romances, the suspense, and the depictions of everyday Christians wrestling with their faith in everyday ways, like telling the truth, judging others, being kind even when one doesn't feel like it, anger, etc.

Rick Souza said...

I've just had a chance to catch up on your blog and wanted to comment on last week's topic: ethics in Christian fiction. I think there were some great comments & great participation.

Though he wasn't a Christian as far as I know, Jack London could be described as edgy without being graphic. He described violence, passion, romance & human nature w/o ever being offensive. Shows how much the world has changed. If you've never read it, Sea Wolf is one of the finest books written.

Seems to me that CBA writers can accomplish what they desire w/o compromising values. It was done for generations in the past, even by authors who didn't profess to be Christians.

I really enjoy your blog.

Latayne C Scott said...

I was thinking about how we as writers are told to "show, not tell." Which makes for lively reading. But then with sensitive subjects we as Christian writers must sometimes not show. Just tell. And do it tastefully.

In spite of what I've said previously, I don't rankle against such restrictions. But it does make the writing process a bit of a greased tightwire: For me, at least, there are some acrobatics I just can't perform.

Latayne C Scott

Bonnie Way aka the Koala Mom said...

I managed to embarrass Lisa Samson at the ICWF WorDshop in Calgary by admitting I'd read her very first book... it was the only Lisa Samson book our library had. She freely admits that her writing has vastly improved since that book, but I had to also admit that, at one time, I would have liked that sort of book. My reading tastes have since changed and matured, thankfully! :)

Bonnie Grove said...

Koala: Will I see you at the ICWF WorDshop in Edmonton in September? I'm teaching and speeching on the Saturday.

Laura: I remember reading Harlequin Romances too. My mom used to read them by the bushel when I was a kid and I picked them up. I stopped reading them by the time I was about thirteen, but they had already warped my sense of relationship and love. Man, seriously, it's taken me years to sort all that stuff out!

Patricia: I always love reading your comments. I too enjoy the stories that show people working out their faith day by day. There is so much ground to explore that way.

Rick: Hurray! Great to see you here! Great comments too. We should let the 'easy way' become the way of Christian fiction.

Steve G said...

I too started out in comics, but they were on the back of the Sunday School paper we took home every week. They were the Bible stories in visual format. You can get a Bible like that today! They have also done the Bible in Manga format, using the popular Graphic novel format as the visual "accent" in telling the story. We give out the Manga Messiah (the Gospels) and Metamorphosis (Acts) to kids who visit the church. Our 8 year old raised a question about demon possession as a result...

I like both action stuff (ie, This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness from Peretti) as well as the Biblical ones (Sons of Encouragement from Francine Rivers). I have also read ones based on the life of Mary and Paul and David, though those were written awhile ago.

I don't know so much my taste has changed as I am a bit more intentional about it. One thing I have noticed, is that I am a bit more critical towards a book than I used to be. That is partly because I know now how much it takes to write a good book. I have dabbled in it now and then, but haven't got the discipline of "I have to write" down yet. Ministry stuff keeps calling.

I am reading now more too, because I am taking the time for myself because I enjoy it. I love a good romance because I'm in one and wish everyone could be happy like me. I still like the hero ones, and the ones where people find Jesus.

Word verification - undef: what my wife wants me to be when there's housework to do.