So, what are the answers? Why Christian fiction?
I'm just a stay-at-home mom with my lit major collecting dust so I won't pretend to have great wisdom, but I do have my simple opinions based on my own anecdotal evidence.
- Why the label? Shouldn't Christian authors write material that will appeal to everyone instead of just preaching to the choir? Look at C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. More recently, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson have both won wide acclaim from all markets.
As for preaching to the choir? Don't Christians need to hear stories of other Christians' struggles, and witness the power of God's redemption? Yes, I'm a member of the choir, but my choir is filled with broken lives, and we all need those lessons Christian fiction teaches.
I would love to have the gift to write something that appeals to the general market as well as Christian, but so far the stories I'm compelled to tell will likely be rejected by non-Christians. I applaud those who are able to reach the wider audience.
- True or False: Christian Fiction is substandard to general market fiction.
A few years back, after continually hearing Christians and fellow church goers berate Christian fiction, I knew I had to find a way to show how much the genre has grown. I began writing a book review for our church newsletter highlighting a book a month, showing not only the diversity in Christian fiction, but also the quality. People were genuinely surprised by what's out there. That monthly book review is what birthed Spire Reviews.
But why read more Christian fiction than general market? For me, while I love to read stories about messy lives, I don't need that mess photographed out to me.
I prefer to read books that avoid crude language. I recently read a Michael Connelly novel (love his Harry Bosch series) and he likes to use the "F" word periodically. At first when I see the word, I tend to flinch, but by the end of the novel it's amazing how it's stopped bothering me. I've become desensitized to it.
People often say that the Bible would be R-rated. Really? Yes, the Bible is replete with stories of genocide, seduction, and adultery. Talk about edgy. BUT, when you read about David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11:2-5, the NIV version says,
"One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”Messy, yes, but hardly R-rated. I believe passion can be shown in a book without giving me pages of explicit description. I love stories that show people getting down in the muck to help others, as God meets us where we are, but when the author flings his own muck, the story loses its power.
As an author, I realize the potency of words and how important it is that we choose precise words when we write. If you choose to use crude language, it needs to have a purpose in the story. If you choose to open that bedroom door, that scene needs to have relevance.
Just my humble opinion. You're very welcome to disagree.
- True or False: Christian Bookstores offer a lack of choice for readers.
If you want to laugh, read Michael Snyder. Love a good mystery? We've got Steven James (who's reached a crossover audience) and Tim Downs. How about legal fiction? James Scott Bell's always enjoyable and Randy Singer has become a very competent writer. Love poetic prose? Then read Charles Martin (another crossover), Athol Dickson, and Laura Frantz. Need to be challenged? No one does that better than Lisa Samson. Mary DeMuth is close behind. Enjoy sports' novels? Rusty Whitener, Richard Doster, and Graham Garrison tell beautiful stories. And of course, I can't forget Ted Dekker, Tosca Lee, River Jordan, Jennifer Erin Valent, Chris Fabry, Dale Cramer ... Well, you get the idea.
So yes, the bookstore shelves are burdened with historical and romance, but that's what the current market demands and that high-selling market is what allows the less popular stories to be printed. I think the real question is:
How do authors reach that wide Christian audience who won't pick up a Christian novel because of the stereotype.
What about you? What do you read? Do you enjoy Christian fiction or do you avoid it? And why?