Monday, April 20, 2009

What do you like about Christian fiction?

I would like to send a big 'Novel Matters' welcome to our newest friends and hope that you will feel free to comment on anything which catches your interest in our posts.

Remember our "Audience With an Agent" contest which will result in six lucky writers having their manuscripts read by agent extraordinaire, Wendy Lawton of Books and Such Literary Agency. See our "Promotions" section for guidelines. The contest closes July 31, 2009, but we encourage you to submit your entries as early as you possibly can without compromising the integrity of your submission.

I recently received an email from a wonderful reader who apologetically confessed to viewing Christian fiction with a critical eye. She wanted to value Christian fiction, but was afraid that it might alienate non-Christians, or that the writing would not be as strong. She dreaded reading about 'supernatural conversions' that seemed unrealistic. But most of all, she was concerned about "preaching at people who need to see stories of hope and grace played out in a way that is more tangible and understandable to them than direct Scripture." I wondered how many other readers felt the same way.

I greatly appreciated her comments, especially in light of last week's topic about edgy fiction, or 'addressing the tough issues with honesty while upholding the Christian standard.' Christian fiction has certainly evolved and expanded since its conception. Today, there are many different genres and sub-genres, and they are often in a state of flux. For an industry that began modestly, the Christy Awards now recognizes anywhere from six to nine different categories of fiction each year. As the demand for genre variety continues to be met, the challenge is to reciprocally raise the bar in demand for quality.

My question to readers is, what do you like about Christian fiction and what suggestions do you have for authors? For authors, what impact, if any, might this reader's comments have on your writing?


PatriciaW said...

I love Christian fiction. I like edgy Christian fiction, I like sweet-as-pie Christian fiction, and everything in between.

I too squirm at in-your-face conversion scenes. I think it's because they come across as the author's chance to preach rather than the character's opportunity to know Christ. So I prefer the books, edgy or light, that challenge me in my faith through the character's actions and lessons learned. Not so much through the author's blatant desire to preach a sermon or send a message.

I read a lot of books, over 100 per year. Better than half are not Christian fiction. But, if I had to say, I'd say overall that the Christian fiction is much better written. I think Christian fiction authors try harder because they are sensitive to weaving the spiritual theme into their works and to operating in a spirit of excellence.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Thanks, Patricia, for your observations. I should have added in my post(my bad) that the reader who emailed me had found some Christian fiction that restored her interest.

Anonymous said...

I will confess to reading very little Christian fiction for years, mainly because most of it embarrassed me. The PQ (piety quotient) seemed to be all that mattered, and good writing did not seem to be valued. So I just ignored it. Just like playing an off-key piano can ruin a musician's ear, reading that stuff threatened to destroy my voice, as well as just turning me off.

Please don't misunderstand me. I have nothing at all against piety. I have nothing against piety in novels. But piety coupled with schlock... Yuck. I seriously believe those people could find a better use for their piety. Do they have any idea how many people they turn away from the gospel like that? When highly acclaimed novels read like cheap pulp the world gets the message that Christians are sub-intelligent rubes with absolutely no discernment. So they refuse to take the message seriously as a result.

Then somebody recommended Tracy Groot to me. I read Madman and was thrilled. It was beautiful, luminous even. Lovely prose, sense of humour, gripping story, signs of genuine intelligence. It has not been a commercial success, which brings me close to despair. I really fear that the Christian reading public has ruined their ear to the point that they can't recognize quality work when they see it.

But Tracy's book gave me hope that there might actually be readable Christian novels out there, so I've been exploring again. I'm still encountering a lot of schlock, but am finding that the quality levels are rising.

Of course, I am a difficult reader. I hate cheap gimmicks and love lean, elegant prose and superb storytelling. The secular market is vast enough that I can restrict myself to the cream of the crop and still never run out of things to read. The Christian market being so much smaller, the jewels pop up much less often.

But things are improving. Even just a couple of years ago, when I would read the first chapters in the Wild Card tours (I think it had a different name back then) I usually felt humiliated at the amateurish quality of the prose. That still happens but now I'm seeing more and more of it that is workman-like, and occasionally there is something genuinely wonderful.

It's like it used to be that all you got in the CBA was fast food: it relied on a lot of fat and salt to attract the customers. Now we're getting more family-restaurant quality and occasionally - oh bliss - something we could call gourmet.

I am waiting for the day when the Christian publishing industry will be winning secular fans because the quality is that good. It has happened in the music industry because Christian musicians got serious about quality and it can happen in publishing.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: Not to sound like a broken record, but you may find the gourmet read you're looking for in Joy Jordan-Lake's Blue Hole Back Home. It's a Christy nominee and is one of the finest books I've ever read. Our own Debbie Thomas's Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon is also a nominee and I guarantee it's not schlock. Thank you so much for your honesty. I hope you'll give all the authors of Novel Matters a chance to win you over. We're doing our best to help raise the bar.

Wendy Lawton said...

One thing that sets Christian fiction apart is that it address all four dimensions of humanity-- the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual.

Many writers are leaving the ABA market to write Christian fiction because they are tired of having the spiritual dimension constantly called into question. (Example: Karen Young

For me, it's the redemptive aspect of Christian fiction that I love.

Speaking of loving fiction-- I'm excited about the Novel Matters contest. I look forward to reading some wonderful stories.

Lori Benton said...


Blue Hole Back Home arrived in my mailbox today. Ten minutes ago I tore into the envelope and I read the opening. Looks good... looks good. :)

Like Wendy said, when I take the time to read a novel, I want to experience a character's spiritual journey, as well as the emotional and physical. And I want that journey to resonate with my world view. I do relish being stretched and challenged in my understanding or acceptance--as long as what I'm being asked to embrace doesn't contradict God's word.

Also, I grow weary of having to wade through elements in novels that make me cringe, in order to experience a gripping story or beautiful prose (explicit profanity and graphic sex being tops on my cringe-worthy list). With Christian fiction, I'm not going to be subjected to that, and as others have stated in the comments thread, the quality of both the storytelling and the writing in CBA just keeps getting better.

I think it's a very good time to be reading, and writing, Christian fiction.

Anonymous said...

Sharon, I'm willing to bet you ladies are helping to raise the bar. That's why I'm here. There are real signs of hope.

To be fair, I can't read Danielle Steele or Dan Brown either. There's plenty of secular schlock out there too.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous: thank you. Appreciate your honesty. Stay in touch.

Steve, even I don't need you for the word verification this time: Sinin. Guess we all know what that is.