The State of Christian Fiction?

I have always been a reluctant reader of Christian fiction. At least, the kind of fiction that touted itself as Christian. I read for entertainment, for learning; I want to be immersed and I want to experience. I don’t need gratuitous violence or sex but I do look for unadulterated, uncensored real life grit. And, I wasn’t finding it in Christian fiction.

I figured I wasn’t the only one, so I Googled the subject. I carefully sorted because I wasn’t looking for Christian-bashing, and came up with a few themes and comments from anonymous bloggers:

•A preponderance of shallow and obvious tales of morality
•Preach vs. entertain and allow the reader to learn
Too much of what passes for Christian writing is badly-written morality plays under another guise, and most of us don’t read them because we don’t like being preached at.
•Too much emphasis put on reading Christian authors because they are Christian authors
Too many people think because what they write has a “Christian theme” that Christians should buy it, even when the writing is really horrible, the plots contrived, and Deux [sic] Ex Machina reigns supreme.
•Acceptance of less than skilled writing, as long as it is “Christian,” by the Christian book industry
I’d rather read a good book (my definition) by anyone than a bad one by a “Christian” author.

The ranting of wild folks? Since I have experienced all the above (and don’t believe I am a wild folk!), I’d say they merely represent the feeling of an audience who demands good literature. Novel concept, eh?

After much reflection (not to mention guilt) about Christian literature, one day I experienced an epiphany . . . my reluctance stems from disappointing experiences—the story has a good premise, the introduction is riveting, I am seduced by the protagonist and then WHAM, predictability! Where is all the gritty description and action, the controversy? Contrived situations and problems with nice neat answers don’t engage readers.

I blame the lack of description, action, imagery on the book industry and on the authors who feel they have no option but to conform. With policies such as those adhered to by the CBA, there is no wonder that much of the ‘literature’ is watered down and shallow—reasonable attempts to show realism in life are taboo.

A current title of The Writers’ CafĂ© Press will be the antithesis of all that is lacking in too much Christian fiction. Light at the Edge of Darkness is one book that will help turn the tide of mediocrity—it will demonstrate that Biblical speculative fiction can entertain at the same time as being solidly grounded in Scripture. It will fit the criteria of “good Biblical Speculative fiction” first and foremost.

Light at the Edge of Darkness: release date February 2007


Frank Creed said...

Many people have said this, but it bears repeating: the best way to silence critics of Biblical spec-fic, is by writing qualitative fiction. The same holds true for Christian fiction in general.
Any fiction author's first job is to entertain--that's why people read fiction.
The best way to entertain is by "mastering the craft".
That doesn't refer to a point where one can't learn anything more about the literary arts. We all learn more about writing with every new piece.
"Mastering the craft" is a minimum standard of confidence. Once an author is capable of writing marketable work, they've "mastered the craft". It's ought not be a matter of vanity, but one of self-honesty.

“Trifles go to make perfection, and perfection is no trifle.”–Michelangelo Buonarroti

To God be the glory,
Scott “Frank Creed” Morris
e-mail: frankcreed@insightbb.com
Home: http://www.frankcreed.com
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Anonymous said...

Great piece Cyn! My first experience with Christian spec-fic was with Light at the Edge of Darkness. I never knew it existed. Now I'm checking out all the Christian authors.



Andrea Graham said...

You know, this piece really sums up why my past attempts to market Heaven's Mark went nowhere and why I've had a criter or two get seriously offended and quit on me. My work is all about Truth--and the truth isn't always pretty. Sometimes it's dirty, and well, gritty as you put it. I'll admit I've been surrounded so far with CBA clones who have gotten quite a few of the edges rubbed off. The subject(s) dealt with are kinda delicate, though. I have a hunch you guys will like it :)

Daniel I Weaver said...

Great post, Cynthia. And this is definately the stumbling block that all serious authors who want to write for Christ have to deal with. I look forward to a world where "Christian" fiction can stack up against the best writing out there.

Dan Edelen said...

As someone writing spec fic (and it's good to hear Christians using that term correctly and with understanding), I'm beginning to see that writing for a majority Christian audience may never work.

The problem? Someone's always going to be offended. Publishers don't like hearing from readers that a book or author offended them. Spec fic, by its very nature, crosses just about every line in Christian dogma if taken to its most intriguing edges.

Worse yet, no champions exist for Christians writing spec fic, and I suspect few of them will stand in line to take the abuse that will naturally come their way.

I honestly don't believe that I can explore humanity in its fullest sense and still appeal to a wide-ranging Christian audience. The numbers simply aren't there to make a living writing outstanding fiction for a market always looking to take the author to task for this perceived theological misdeed or that. If I write an anti-pornography piece, any attempts I make to explore the darkness inherent in that topic will cause someone to yell foul. You simply won't get that in the secular mainstream.

The dilemma for writers talented enough to make the play into the secular market, yet maintain a solid biblical message, is one that would plague even C.S. Lewis. No secular publishing house would touch his Space Trilogy today; they'd shunt it to whatever Christian imprint they own. There it would languish on the shelves with zero marketing behind it. The secular audience would never get to read it, while the Christian audience would probably not know what to do with it.

I'm still sorting this out in my mind, but every time I pick up my WIP, I think I should've geared it to the ABA and not the CBA.