Monday, August 2, 2010

IS IT TIME FOR CHRISTIAN FICTION TO DIE? A Challenge to Readers, Writers, and Publishers By Eric Wilson

On July 22, best selling author Eric Wilson posted his heartfelt questions to the Christian fiction industry. Since then, it's been a bit of a gong-show with people posting snippets of the article, and others responding to those 'sound bytes' without reading the entire article. Most unfortunately, camps sprung up around the internet - those who opposed the article (whatever it said) and those who supported the article (whatever it said).
At Novel Matters, it is our hope that we, the community of readers, writers, and lovers of fiction, can openly discuss the heart of this article without resorting to an "us and them" mentality. We should never fear questions or ideas that may not fully align with our own way of thinking. Instead, we look to each other to open our minds, to teach us, to help us think about things in a new way, or from a different perspective, and also for an opportunity to share our wisdom and ideas with others. In doing so, we find the strength to make meaningful change when change is needed. Even if our discussions lead us to deciding it is best to remain the same, at least we will have examined the questions and made a choice based on reality and not on feelings. It is in that spirit that we re-post Eric's full blog post.
And a small bit of housekeeping - there are some things that have been assumed about Eric since this post went live. We'd like to clear the air about a few things. Eric has not said that he is done with the CBA (Christian Book Association). That was assumed and widely spread, but not true. Eric never said he was feeling defeated. Last we checked, he was feeling healthy and happy. Eric also is not focused on issues of money - rather he is focused on issues of ministry outside church walls. And he is not crying censorship. He is trying to open a dialogue for Christian artists in any field to reach beyond speaking to other Christians and still receive support from people inside the church.

Is it Time for Christian Fiction to Die? by Eric Wilson

As a child, I was taught not to complain about a problem unless I was willing to be part of the solution. I was also introduced to the literature of J. R. R. Tolkien, John Bunyan, C. S. Lewis, Daniel Defoe, Flannery O’Connor, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Not one of these world-class Christian writers worked within the parameters of a “religious fiction” market.
By the time I was 19, my own faith had faced more obstacles than I found in most “inspirational” novels. I hunted for stories that dealt with real issues from a Biblical perspective, but found offerings that were mostly trite and poorly written--with Bodie Thoene's books being an exception. Did it have to be this way? Even those who love Jesus struggle with doubts, depression, sexual and financial issues, addiction, and disease.
If the Bible truly offered the Answer, I wondered, then why did these stories seem so afraid to ask the questions?
Hoping to be part of the solution, I read, read, read, and wrote, wrote, wrote. I studied the craft of fiction. I earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors from an accredited Bible college, got married (faithful for 20 years now), and published my first novel in my mid-thirties. I have since written nine more novels, with over a million words in print. One of those books spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list.
Trying to be part of the solution, I have also reviewed and endorsed hundreds of novels—the majority of them by Christian brothers and sisters. I've done my best to open doors for up-and-coming authors. I've invested the past decade in broadening the reach and readership of this market, and in reclaiming genres that had been hijacked by immoral and/or humanistic worldviews. Despite my efforts, and many incredible yet relatively unknown writers who have bettered them (W. Dale Cramer, Lisa Samson, Randy Singer, Tosca Lee, Robin Parrish, Claudia Mair Burney, Mike Dellosso, Steven James, and Sibella Giorella, to name a few), this market’s recent influence and parameters seem to have narrowed.
The late 1960s and early ’70s saw the rise of young Christian musicians who helped spearhead the Jesus Movement. As the number of listeners grew, a few entrepreneurial sorts saw an opportunity to spread the Word even further; yet with success came the need—initially uncorrupted—to keep “churning out the hits” to keep this baby rollin’. The moneychangers stepped in, the Spirit moved out, and for a long time Christian music became a cloistered, “safe” alternative instead of a vibrant, world-changing entity. I believe the same has happened in today’s Christian fiction.
Why, as Christian novelists, have we removed ourselves from a place of influence in the “marketplace” of the everyday reader? Do atheistic authors put their books in the “Atheist Fiction” section? Does Stephanie Meyer label her books “Mormon Fiction”? Aren’t we actually “selling out” if we write what will sell to a certain church demographic instead of writing what God puts in our hearts?
In years past, the works of Tolkien, Lewis, and O’Connor glistened in the unrestricted air of “real life.” That is not to say Middle-earth is real or Puddleglum still survives in some swamp—though I would be the first to pay him a visit if he did. I am saying the weight of Frodo’s ring (a powerful symbol of sin) and the cynicism of a pessimistic swamp-dweller were presented poignantly, without polish or affectation. They felt real. They captured emotions and experiences with which we can all relate.
In the same way, an ultra-gritty (and beautifully poetic) book such as James Lee Burke’s Jolie Blon’s Bounce still lingers in my thoughts, due to its spiritual and redemptive arc. John Dalton’s Heaven Lake and David Maine’s The Preservationistwon awards in the mainstream market, while tackling Biblical themes with remarkable skill.
If our own writings fail to also wrestle honestly with life’s difficulties, it seems to me that we gloss over the bloody, earth-shaking war that Jesus fought on the cross—and we undermine the triumph of His resurrection.
True, the publishing number-crunchers feel the need to meet profit margins. Yes, we writers of the faith are called to honor God in our storytelling. Does this mean, though, that we should censor all the raw elements? Isn’t the Bible itself filled with depictions of violence, sexual misconduct, deceit, and bigotry? Some of its stories have happy endings. Some are dark cautionary tales. Few, if presented as modern fiction, would make it past the industry’s “gatekeepers.”
It seems to me that most “religious” storytelling has taken the place of relational, incarnational works of literature. I know there are authors who desire to write more than scrubbed-clean, rose-scented fiction. Must all Christian novels be “inspirational,” or can’t some be challenging, daring, even ironic and unresolved?
In my own novels, I don't want to regurgitate platitudes. I want to allow Christ to enter the muddy, messy settings of my own life and those depicted in my stories. He is a redeemer. He has a way of calling the dead from their graves, the sinners from their prisons, and the pharisaical busybodies into glorious freedom.
Yes, God is the Creator. We are created in His image. When we write fiction, when we create, we have the opportunity to reflect a sinful world in such a way that the glory of the risen Lord is that much more astounding. No, not all writers are called to this, and maybe this market will never make way for those who are. Nevertheless, Jesus gave us an example to follow, stepping into the muck of humanity instead of calling to the street dwellers from lofty mountaintops.
I believe fiction has the ability to change minds, shock us from complacency, and soften hearts. (Paradoxically, those Christians who question the validity of Christian fiction are often those who rant about the evil power of fictitious Harry Potter.) I believe at least some faith-based novels should serve as more than “moral” alternatives. But are there publishers still willing to offer that chance?
Consider these words from one of Russia’s greatest novelists. Over four decades later, they still rattle the bars on artistic cages.
    Outstanding manuscripts by young authors, as yet entirely unknown, are nowadays rejected by editors solely on the ground that they “will not pass.”Literature cannot develop between the categories “permitted”—“not permitted”—“this you can and this you can’t.” Literature that is not the air of its contemporary society, that dares not pass on to society its pains and fears, that does not warn in time against threatening moral and social dangers, such literature does not deserve the name literature; it is only a fa├žade . . .Our literature has lost the leading role it played . . . [and] now appears as something infinitely poorer, flatter and lower than it actually is . . . If the world had access to all the uninhibited fruits of our literature, if it were enriched by our own spiritual experience, the whole artistic evolution of the world would move along in a different way, acquiring a new stability and attaining a new artistic threshold . . .--Alexander Solzhenitsyn,Letter to the 4th National Congress of Soviet Writers, May 16, 1967
The Christian-fiction market, if it remains myopic, could very well die. I hope it does not. It has done many good things and produced some quality novelists, both commercial and literary in nature. Before we settle into mediocrity, I pray we'll see godly writers of all genres, all ages, all races, ready to raise the bar even higher and impact the world around them. Some are already published but struggling. Others are waiting for their opportunity. The question isn’t whether the market will die, so much as whether it will push aside fear and allow its authors to live.
If not, Christians who are writers should be publishing well-crafted, honest, and thought-provoking novels in the general fiction market. When Jerusalem’s Christians lingered too long in first-century AD, the Diaspora and hardship pushed them from their comfort zones. They spread far and wide, sharing the Good News.
Maybe today is the beginning of an artists’ Diaspora. Maybe literary life will yet rise from these ashes.

44 comments:

Alexa O said...

I love this article, but I am not surprised that it has had the reception you speak of. What Eric Wilson is saying here is fairly subtle and complex, and those attributes do not always translate well in today's world.

I understand that faith is different from reason and logic. And Christianity, more so I think than other mainstream religions, is all about faith. This is its strength and its Achille's heal.

Faith is a beautiful thing, and one that most of us could use more of in our lives. But sometimes, I think, there is a tendency for people to hide behind it.

Failing to ask questions or to deal with life as it really is--riddled with mistakes and doubts and, yes, sin--simply does not make for inspiring fiction.

Bravo to Mr. Wilson for tackling this topic in such a thoughtful, expressive way.

Anonymous said...

This blog is for people who want to write the kind of fiction Eric is talking about, right? High quality, tackles hard issues.

I know I'm speaking for many...

I think I'm writing the kind of book you're talking about.....

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I’m in the waiting for the opportunity camp.

What a profound post. Right up my alley.

I know when the day comes I’ll have to discuss with my agent the best place for my novel, ABA or CBA. I remain open to both. My novels remain open to both. I’ve felt the tension in this industry to pick one. The truth is my books breathe inclusivity. One of the pulsing forces behind each and every single thing I write is to stir unique thoughts in my readers—put another way, to challenge and inspire growth and new ways of thinking.

Love how this post did just that for me.
~ Wendy

Jan Cline said...

This is a wonderful article and I love that he digs into his own heart and works through all sides of the issue. I also love that he has dedicated his energies to contributing to the solutions of all these dilemmas. My heart has always been to reach a deeper part of the reader's soul. I don't always do a good job of it, but I'll keep trying. Times are hard in these days for Christians. Writers need an opportunity to compete with the secular for words that will change lives in a positive way - we must continue to pray God will open doors for us.
Great article and thank you for sharing it.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

To clarify my comment above…inclusivity does not mean I’m ignorant of my market. I think of my readers constantly. I’ve even gone so far as to wonder which grocery store they frequent.
~ Wendy

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

I will have to thank Eric for this article. As one who works in a Christian Bookstore and whose main job is selling fiction, this is my battle cry. Not the death of Christian fiction, but that Christian fiction doesn't have to be perfect. The inspriational books make money, lots of it. But readers who read lots and lots of books, we are looking for something more. I for one do not like all my books to end happily ever after. I don't need perfect characters and story lines and believe it or not when characters swear or use "bad" language that fits their character it doesn't make me stop reading.

It is actually ok to have one of the characters questions their faith. In fact I just read a book co-authored by Shelia Walsh & Kathryn Cushman. Part of what I really liked about it was a question a non - believer asked the Christian when the christian's life "fell apart." She asked 'why is your faith good enough for me when things are bad for me and not for you?' Wow great question.

Of the authors Eric mentions in his relatively unknow authors list I have read them all. I enjoy them all and try to tell others about them. It can be hard when you write outside the "norm" in fiction at all. There are authors who sit on the fringes all their writing career, and they are good authors. (ABA & CBA)

For writers, write what God puts on your heart. If you don't write that, it won't be good or blessed. Most readers can tell the difference between writing that is written for money and that what is written from someones heart. YOu do have to believe in what you are writting.

Ok why do all my post seem to go on and on. Sorry again, but this subject is near and dear to my heart.

Nicole said...

Chris: Bravo! Please comment on my blog either with this comment or another on Wednesday through ? as the professionals in the industry answer a question about the Christian publishing industry. Lots of responses. It'll take a few days to get them all in.

Sharon K. Souza said...

"I know there are authors who desire to write more than scrubbed-clean, rose-scented fiction. Must all Christian novels be “inspirational,” or can’t some be challenging, daring, even ironic and unresolved?" Out of this exceptional article, that is what jumps out at me. This is true of me as a writer, and most definitely what I'm writing now. But I'm not sure it will ever be published in CBA if I don't "clean it up." And yet how can I tell this story any other way? My heart is in CBA. That's where I want to be. But I hope and pray it begins to embrace the ideas that Eric wrote about.

Holy Events said...

Very interesting analysis. I agree. So many people want to pigeon-hole others into a specific category, and dictate what can and cannot be done, or what will or won't be accepted.

Christianity has some of the most violent acts known to man in it's historical portfolio. Now, we want everything to be squeaky clean? This is the same sentiment that led people to not want to see the unedited version of Passion of the Christ. How ironic that people do not want to see a depiction of the gore and malice aimed towards Jesus, but yet will flock to see any new "Saw" movie that comes out.

Eric was spot on in his posting, and I do hope that something positive -- as well as ground-breaking -- comes out of it. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

Nicole - I am looking forward to seeing your blog on Wednesday. :-)

Sharon - I wish I could tell you it would be fine, but I know that is not true, yet. I have noticed some changes, things are slow. I don't want to offend, but as the adverage reading age goes down... They (younger readers) are more interested in the grittier style books. So keep praying and keep writing.

Chris Jager - Baker Book House-fiction buyer said...

Sorry all I am going to have to check on that book I mentioned. I said it was by Shelia and Kathryn and I think I mixed it up with a manuscript I just read. I will try to figure that out tonight and get you a correct author/title. :-)

Patti Hill said...

Well, Eric, you're a bit of a prophet. I won't burn your words like King Jehoiakim. I'll print them out and read them often.

As for me, if my writing doesn't part the curtain on who Jesus is for a hurting world, then I've failed in my calling. And I should be doing something else that will.

Kathleen Popa said...

Wow - so far no dissenting voices in the comments today. If you're reading this and you disagree with Eric, I promise you can say so and we will all still be friends.

Alexa, I love what you said:

"Failing to ask questions or to deal with life as it really is--riddled with mistakes and doubts and, yes, sin--simply does not make for inspiring fiction."

So true. And I would suggest that a faith that fears the questions is not faith.

Thanks, all of you, for joining in.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Chris, thank you for the encouragement.

Bonnie Grove said...

I so appreciate everyone's comments.

I don't think it's time for Christian fiction to die, but it's probably time for it to come clean as to it's mission and function in the marketplace. I don't think we should be delusional about the fact that Christian publishing is niche. It has a smaller readership than the general market, so why keep comparing it to the general market?

I think readers are telling us they want tried and true stores - gentle stories that take them away from the rat race of dealing with life's issues. They want stories of a simpler time, romance, and stories that affirm the world is a good place. Nothing wrong with that. And if that is the function of Christian fiction, then lets own up to it.

If we want to tell stories about murder, incest, alcoholism, mental illness, divorce, and other social ills - then perhaps we need to temper our expectations and realize that these novels will appeal to only a small number of people inside an already small number of people.

One thing that occurred to me about Christian fiction and it's seemingly indefinable "lacking" is that while the stories do deal with "issues", they stories rarely attempt to define larger, cultural, systemic issues (I can think of a few that deal with racism, but really only in a To Kill a Mockingbird copy cat way). For me, I've noticed that Christian fiction isn't very spiritual fiction. It doesn't delve into the mystery of God, the mystery of our connection to him that the bible compares to the marriage bed. The language and situations deemed "acceptable" ways of talking about God, Jesus, and the spiritual experience seem to me to rather banal and contrived.

Like Eric, I don't think the issue is "bad writing". There are many, many excellent writers in CBA. I think the appeal of CBA is limited. I mean, how many people do you think walk into a bookstore, pursue the stacks and then think, "Gee, I wonder if the Christian section has any well written stories?" Ummm......

Would any of us decide to read Buddhist fiction because we heard it was well written? Would a straight guy start reading gay fiction because it's well written? No. People who are interested in those niches read these novels.

Okay, I've thrown some stuff out there. Not pretending to have answers - just more questions and ideas for discussion.

Rachel said...

While I do think Eric's post is very well done and obviously the product of much thought, I do think one crucial element is missing.

Is the quality of your writing good enough to justify the risk? For me, that's what it all boils down to.

We can complain all we want about Christian fiction being myopic and not willing to tackle hard subjects (which isn't actually true, btw, you just have to look harder). But if our writing craft isn't good enough, there's no way anyone is going to take a chance on grittier, edgier material.

Complaining doesn't accomplish anything. The only way we can change things is to make sure we are writing the best we can. A gritty story, told well and with lots of skill, can enthrall even the most die-hard "edgy" hater.

One thing I've noticed, in my albeit limited experience within the industry, is some of those who complain the loudest about publishers not being open to "edgy" stuff are those who haven't yet achieved the craft level required for publication. Many of those who have been rejected haven't been rejected because of their subject matter. It's because their writing isn't good enough to carry the subject matter.

I too enjoy tackling hard subjects, like human trafficking, the exploitation of children in the sex industry, abuse, homosexuality. But I'm under no illusions that my writing is strong enough to submit to agents and editors yet. My craft still has lots of growing to do before I can "write real" about these subjects and do it well. My goal is to improve my craft as much as I can so that I have the necessary skill to do justice to these topics.

N. J. Lindquist said...

This is a topic I've wrestled with for a long time. In 2002, I wrote an article that might still have some relevance today.

http://www.writewithexcellence.com/2007/01/the-dilemma-of-being-a-christian-who-writes-fiction/

Ultimately, I think figuring out our target audience needs to be about finding out where we fit most comfortably. Trying to make a market fit us probably is going to lead to frustration. At the same time many Christians are eager to write outside of the boundaries that have been in place, in spite of the fact that the boundaries have been moving. I think ultimately it needs to be about having options, and not only one or two paths we can follow.

Lynn Dean said...

A very thought provoking post.

The classics Eric Wilson mentions were written in a day when society seemed more accepting of Christianity. Even people who were not believers seemed influenced by the Christians around them. Is that only our perception? Or was it so because Christians lived less segregated lives?

Light, in places where it is unwanted, takes on a glaring quality that makes darkness wince. Perhaps that explains why many people like to keep Jesus restricted to the pages of Scripture--in the manger, on the cross, and safely distanced from life in this millennium. But are we content to hide the rest of the story under a bushel?

If we wish to shine, it demands an exceptional degree of excellence. Christians will have something to prove, just like any other minority. As a woman who works in the traditionally male field of building design, I'm sometimes asked if I'd rather be known as a "draftsperson." Not at all. I am creative, skilled, and fully able to compete in my profession without having to create a sub-category. I don't want to design "a good house...for a woman." I aspire to excellence. When I write, I don't want to write "a pleasant read...for a Christian." I want to tell stories that resonate with anyone and make them think.

Nicole said...

No disrespect intended here to anyone. However, to use the ideology that "the best writing" is what makes it into publishing is to drink the publishing industry's Kool-Aid catch-phrase for keeping the yet-to-be published authors in awe of those who've jumped through all the hoops and made it with their work into book form.

Anyone who's read abundantly in either ABA or CBA knows that "excellence" comes in small doses, that even "the best writing" is strictly a matter of opinion, that only rare novels appeal to a huge audience whether written well or poorly, and that the average reader doesn't generally designate "good" writing from "bad" writing.

We need to write the stories the Lord has given us to tell to the best of our abilities and continually strive to keep our will fully committed to His.

Jessica Nelson said...

I saw this whole thing on Facebook. I like what he's saying on one level, but on the other, what's wrong with Christian fiction as entertainment? I like "real" in my fiction...to a certain degree.
I've never read literary books and I don't care for books with sad or inconclusive endings. That's how life is. Reading is something beautiful and fun for me. I feel like I've learned so much from fiction without needing to bawl my eyes out from the unfairness of human nature/choices.

That said, I'd like to see Christian fiction have more Jesus in it. I've read a few "Christian" books lately that might as well have been ABA books with no cussing or sex.

Christian books should be more than a G-rated story. Maybe that's what he's saying?

Intriguing stuff. Thanks for sharing. :-)

Megan Sayer said...

Okay, here's another question: are there many - any - books in the secular marketplace at the moment that do reflect God? There seems to be a fair few people out there who have a heart to tell the gritty, darker stories (myself included).

The only example I can think of is "The Shack", which was reviewed in The Weekend Australian Book Review section...was thrilled to see it there.

Are there other books?

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, YES!! There are some great books out there that I consider to be some of the finest in Christian fiction. At the risk of igniting controversy after her announcement today, I consider Anne Rice's Christ the Lord, The Road to Cana to be a great example. (So was Out of Egypt, but I liked Cana even better.)

Of course Gilead tops the list. I am still in awe of Marilynne Robinson. Leif Enger's Peace Like a River does an amazing job of portraying Pentecostal Christianity in a way that is neither overly serious nor disrespectful. (The pancake scene is one of my favorite passages ever.)

Walter Wangerin's first two novels were published in the general market: The Book of the Dun Cow and The Book of Sorrows. Then there is Mariette in Ecstacy by Ron Hansen.

Also: this is a gritty book, and you have to be okay with quite a lot of language, but I thought Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin was an amazing novel about a deeply Christian man and the ripples his life left on those who knew him, and even those who didn't.

These are just off the top of my head. Anyone else want to add to the list?

Megan Sayer said...

AWESOME!!!!! Thanks for this list Kathleen, most of these I've never heard of. I'm gonna have a nice long "hold" list at the library now...

One further question, if I may. Where did you come across these books? Did they "just turn up on the journey", as so many of my favourite books have, or is there a "recommended list" to refer to?

Kathleen Popa said...

Megan, they just turned up. Gilead made quite a stir some years back because it won the Pulitzer.

Happy Reading!

wilsonwriter said...

Bonnie, thanks for keeping this discussion alive and honoring the heart of it: "He is trying to open a dialogue for Christian artists in any field to reach beyond speaking to other Christians and still receive support from people inside the church."

I truly hope that was as the Body of Christ will find ways of expressing the love of Jesus, artistically, intellectually, and practically, beyond the walls of our churches and Christian bookstores.

Kathleen Popa said...

Eric, we are honored that you allowed us to share your post with our readers. Your hope is ours too. Thank you.

wilsonwriter said...

Kathleen, I love your list of some ABA novels with Christ-like themes at their cores. Some other modern novels I found spiritually thought-provoking would include:

"The Preservationist" and "The Book of Samson" by David Maine; "The Messenger of Magnolia Street" and "The Gin Girl" by River Jordan; "Jolie Blon's Bounce" and "Crusader's Cross" by James Lee Burke (warning: definitely R-rated); "Silence" by Shusaku Endo; "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" by Stephen King; "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy (much deeper than the movie); "The Taking" and "The Face" by Dean Koontz; "Bad Ground" by W. Dale Cramer (published in CBA, but named by Publishers Weekly as one of the Top 5 Novels of its year); "The Messiah of Morris Avenue" by Tony Hendra; "The Testament" by John Grisham; "Life of Pi" by Yann Martel; "Gap Creek" by Robert Morgan; and one of my all-time favorites, "Heaven Lake" by John Dalton.

Rosslyn Elliott said...

Eric, I respect the desire behind your post, but I believe you are omitting a crucial aspect of the situation.

Christian writers did not "remove themselves" from the general market. We were removed from it by a secular publishing establishment that gradually became more and more hostile to including any mention of a Christian worldview in mainstream fiction.

Why? As a grad of an Ivy League university, I can answer that! Most editors at mainstream publishing companies come from Ivy League or other elite schools which are now heavily secular and often predominantly anti-Christian. The East and West coast elite universities foster climates in which Christianity is frequently portrayed as an evil, intolerant belief system. After four years in these environments, many young future editors emerge believing that mentioning overt Christian belief is embarrassing, stupid, and rude. This has been going on for many decades. The result is that any specific mention of Jesus or Christian belief *usually* disqualifies a book from the mainstream section of the bookstore, because mainstream publishers won't take it.

Why then should we not write like Tolkien, who would be acceptable to mainstream publishers? Because Tolkien is not enough. During my ten years of agnosticism, I still loved Tolkien, but he did nothing to restore my faith or improve my opinion of Christian theology, because his story could simply be read as an allegory of good and evil.

C.S. Lewis, by contrast, played a major role in my return to faith in his science fiction trilogy, particularly Perelandra. But Perelandra would not be filed in the mainstream section, like Tolkien. It would be filed in the Christian section, because it is a Christian parable based on the story of Adam, Eve, the first temptation, and the nature of evil.

We are not ghetto-izing ourselves. We are doing the best we can to survive and produce meaningful work in a publishing environment in which we have been ghetto-ized by others.

I hope that we can expand the types of Christian fiction that are popular. I sympathize with many of your points, and I try to work towards a serious purpose and write spiritual fiction. I hope my first novel will retain its purpose when it comes out from a major CBA publisher next April, after the editing process! All the best to you in your own work, which I admire.

wilsonwriter said...

I wholeheartedly agree. That was really the point of my comparison to the music industry, which was bought out and turned into a "safe" niche for Christian buyers--while still being lorded over by secular companies.

This is the reason behind my call to writers to be part of a creative Diaspora, taking our heart for the world and for the Lord beyond our church walls into the regular "marketplace." I am not calling for big evangelistic novels--though some may have an ability to pull that off--but for stories that shape our culture and thinking in a redemptive way. As believers, we often complain about the influence of culture on us, and I'm asking that we be a part of changing that around instead of going into "hunker in the bunkers" mode.

We have so many great Christian writers who are struggling spiritually, financially, and artistically. I want to see these authors given the freedom to pursue what God has put in their hearts through this industry, or given the prayerful and emotional support to do so in the general market.

It sounds like you have the same heart. I'm hoping this discussion stirs similar desire--and boldness!--in the hearts of the publishing industry.

Voni said...

I live in Natal, Brasil (no claim for fame) simply serving our Lord and those around me. I've been following the comments on Eric's wall on Facebook, then the last word war on the blog where many of them were posted.'

I became tired of words fired like bullets, while others attempted to heal the wounds caused. As I read, I was deeply saddened.

Today, I am encouraged, thanks to each one of you. You all have the privilege of living in a country where books are a way of life. You can discuss the CBA and ABA, the positives and negatives, etc. But you live where there IS a CBA and ABA! And the posts here have been instructive and thought-provoking, leaving me with more hope.

I've known Eric for years and, because of his integrity, I trust him. He may not say nor do it all RIGHT (thank God!) but he is REAL.
And, because of your words posted here, I'm trusting you and will look for you as authors.

Thanking the two of you for book lists! Since I live out of the country, and libraries are scarce or non-existent, we buy all of our books. (Shipping costs and bookshelf space are constant challenges. :)

I live a different life than you all: but my heart responds to the same things.
THANK YOU. Keep writing... for this IS a blog I want to follow.

Samantha Bennett said...

I love, love, love the questions raised by this article. Speaks to the heart of what it means to write and believe.

Sue Williams A.K.A. Suzy Parish said...

Incredible!Inspired.May we as writers live up to this vision.

Kathleen Popa said...

Rosslyn, a few years back I would have agreed with you, but not as much anymore, because of the books I listed above, and the ones that Eric listed. (Thank you, Eric! I've read many of those and have added the rest to my list.)

I would have said, like you, that you can write The Hobbit, but you can't write... well, you can't write Gilead. But then Marilynne Robinson did, and she won the Pulitzer.

Rachel makes a good point, that the quality of the writing matters. I would add that if you're going to write a book rich with lived and expressed theology, then the quality of the theology matters as much as the quality of the writing - or is there a difference?

Congratulations, Rosslyn, on your book! Sometimes I suspect our readers are going to change the world.

Voni, I'm so glad you're here, all the way from Natal, Brasil. I love people who simply serve our Lord and those around them. Please hang out here with us.

Meg Moseley said...

I'm glad that this topic keeps coming up. The notion that Christian fiction must be "safe" has bothered me for years. I'm an adult, and I enjoy my freedom to browse the shelves of any bookstore. God gave me a brain, and if I can't use it with some measure of discernment, I shouldn't be reading or writing anything.

Like Rosslyn, I have my debut novel coming out from a major CBA publisher next year. Mine might push the CBA envelope a bit, if it fares well in edits. I'm a little nervous about that, but I'm also thankful that my editor seems to understand what I'm trying to do.

Publishing is a funny combination of art and business. When you add different theological viewpoints to the mix, you just can't please everybody. That's life. Thanks for the great discussion, everybody.

Bonnie Grove said...

Voni: Thank you, thank you, thank you for reminding us of the over the top privilege we have in living in countries (I'm Canadian) where discussions like this can take place. We should never overlook the abundance we have, even as we wrestle with the issues before us.
Many blessings, and thank you for your contribution to this discussion!

Voni said...

You surprised me with your words - they mean much!

I pray that each one of you may walk with His courage, sense of humor, and ability to discern.. . then find the words to transmit your hearts to others.

You haven't picked an easy path. But oh! the JOY when it all comes together!

His blessings be yours.

Sharon K. Souza said...

What an excellent discussion. Thank you all so much for your contribution. Congratulations to Rosslyn and Meg on the upcoming release of your novels. I will look for them andsincerely look forward to reading them.

PrincessSedai said...

Personally, I believe that there is a place and a market for more than level of "sanitation" in Christian fiction. To use Holy Event's example of The Passion/Saw movies, I wanted no part of either. In no way would I personally be edified by exposing myself to graphic violence, Christian or not. For me, it is one thing to read that our fellow Christians in the world are being persecuted. I have that information and am very empathic to them. There in lies the rub for me - to read a first hand, graphic account of the persecution is just too much for me. I cannot handle it.

That said, it does not bother my husband at all. He loves Ted Dekker, Stephen Lawhead, all writers that I think are talented and need to be published, but not consumed by me.

I do believe there is a fine line Christian authors have to walk. We are called to be careful of what we expose ourselves too. We must not mingle too closely with the world. I cannot say where that line is anyone but myself. I know, the Holy Spirit tells me when I am getting close to that line.

I think there should be a push to open up the boundaries of "proper Christian Fiction" (I am really interested in writing Christian Steampunk or Christian Fantasy), as long as we do not become condescending or critical of those who are still on the sanitized side of the line.

Teresa said...

It seems to me Christian publishing is feeling growing pains similar to what the Christian music industry went through in the late 80s and early 90s.

wilsonwriter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wilsonwriter said...

Princess Sadai, I love the spirit of your post. I agree that we need to be careful about the lines we cross, and that those lines are different for various readers and writers.

The real heart of my push for what's "real" is that we deal with subjects and questions that are true to the human condition and spiritual struggle. An Amish story can do that, as I found out in W. Dale Cramer's "Levi's Will." And so can a darker, serial-killer book, like Steven James' "The Bishop."

My goal is not to criticize those who stay "sanitized," but to challenge all of us to move beyond our own walls of safety, our own comfort zones, and recognize the deep needs of the world beyond the church walls. Yes, we have lots of needs ourselves, but I think the Living Water does its most cleansing work when we become vessels through which it flows to others. I do believe there is room for all sorts of roles, functions, and parts of the Body of Christ.

I love this blog and the fact we've been able to discuss these various aspects in a loving way and in the spirit of One Body working together. If one part says "Ouch," we respond. If one says "I'm all alone," or "I'm sick," we reach out, instead of pointing fingers or criticizing. This is true Christianity, and I love to see it in action!

Katie Ganshert said...

Maybe I'm living in a bubble...propbably. I came back to read this because of today's (Fridday, August 6th) post and wanted to see what all the hubbub was about.

I am SO glad I did.

Eric's article is written with such passion. And it speaks to my heart. The Bible truly is filled with grit and rawness. It shows the sin and brokeness of this world and magnifies the glory of God and our utter need for a savior.

That is what I want my novels to do.

Nikole Hahn said...

Bonnie, I wish Eric had said his words like you just worded it. I got so angry over his letter. Let's discuss, but let's not generalize and trivilize an entire market.

Ellen Staley said...

Thank you Mr. Wilson for boldness in speaking of the directional turns coming/needed in CBA. Many of my questions concerning potential acceptance for my novel-in-progress were discussed and I am encouraged to continue.
My prayer for every author here is for your writing product to reach your desired audience, whether the lost, those drifted from Christ, or believers experiencing distress. May you each step out in boldness, surrendered to His leading, that His Truth would saturate your writing to touch those God has already ordained to read your work that they may be changed into a vessel for His glory.
As believing writers, we have a tremendous responsibility to fulfill our purpose while the freedom to write exists.