The America I grew up in was a Christian America–but its movies, TV, and books were already heavily non-Christian. Looking back on it, I wonder why that was. It surely has a lot to do with the way America is now.
I don’t remember any such thing, back then, as “Christian fiction.”
Maybe if we hadn’t cut the Christian religious dimension out of our fictional worlds back then, we wouldn’t need a special category for “Christian fiction” now. I am sure no one noticed it back then–although if anyone did, and had the courage to speak up about it, it doesn’t seem like anyone was listening.
As exemplified by Our Lord Jesus Christ’s parables, fiction is “a vehicle for conveying ideas” and showing how Christian principles play out in real life, often accompanied by spiritual and personal conflict: “If there is no friction, there is no fiction,” Martin says, and he’s right. And that, of course, is the difference between a story and a sermon.
“We waited 45 years before we turned to fiction,” so as to lay a strong theological foundation for everything published by Chalcedon. We didn’t want mediocre fiction built on weak theology.
It was time to move into fiction, Martin says, because with fiction, “You can suddenly get people thinking.”
Martin has written a Christian novel, Hidden in Plain Sight, which explores the nature of reality; and we also have my Bell Mountain fantasy novels, with ten of them in print so far and No. 11, The Temptation, just about ready for publication.
Well, if you’ve ever wondered why a Christian educational foundation decided to publish fiction, this will explain it for you.
This might be the most satisfying book I’ve read all year (not counting old favorites that I read again and again). It’s Christian and Biblical through and through, and would make a great Christmas present for someone you love–or even a present to yourself.
But what am I sitting here gassing about? Click the review!
I’ve decided “Christian fiction” is probably a good label to get rid of. I mean, would “Christian peanut butter” be all that different from ordinary peanut butter?
It seems that when we use that label–the fiction, not the peanut butter–we’re talking about two different things: fiction pitched to a predominantly Christian audience, and fiction written for a Christian purpose.
We don’t want to spread our art so thin that it has no depth, any more than we want to focus so narrowly on a Christian audience–if such a thing actually exists–that we freeze out everybody else. “You really can’t enjoy this book unless you’re a Christian” is not a principle that holds much appeal for me.
If a book is sappy, it’s sappy whether it’s “Christian fiction” or not: it’s sappy.
What about fiction written for a Christian purpose? Well, what would be a Christian purpose? Several spring to mind. Reclaiming cultural ground for Christ’s Kingdom by competing successfully with secular products: and maybe even pushing some of the truly nasty stuff right off the shelves. Introducing readers, who might not have any Christian background, to Christian themes and habits of thought: sort of breaking ground for the Gospel. Exposing dangers and faults in some aspects of the culture that most readers just take for granted, never thinking about it anymore, when really they should be. Thinking about it hard.
“Unknowable” once made a telling remark about a certain kind of “Christian music”–the kind that takes out “baby” and plugs in “Jesus” but otherwise doesn’t change anything: it remains the same old secular stuff, with slightly different words. He put his finger on exactly what I mean.
Let’s compete and let’s win–not by out-heroding Herod, but by offering something better. Much better!
And yes, I do know great secular fiction when I see it, and I try to learn from it, so that such art as I have can more effectively serve Christ’s Kingdom. Besides, who do you think gave those great secular writers their talent?
I can never quite let go of this issue. Today it makes me ask myself whether “Christian fiction” is different from “fiction written for a Christian audience”–and whether both of those are different from “fiction written for a Christian purpose.”
There isn’t all that much “Christian fantasy” out there, so each badly-written book hurts the market that much more.
BTW, this wasn’t the first time I suggested turning Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son into a novel. Come to think of it, you could do that with any number of His parables. Only Jesus Our Lord, though, could pack so much meaning into so little space.
I guarantee you won’t be able to sell many fantasy/adventure novels if they’re packaged as books on “Labor & Industrial Relations.” Such has been the fate of the paperback edition of my fantasy novel, The Thunder King, on amazon.com.
How this could have happened is beyond anyone’s power to explain.
But thanks to the two amazon.com reps who helped me this morning, I am overjoyed to report that this problem will soon be taken care of. Sometime next week, The Thunder King, No. 3 in the series, will be categorized as “fiction, science fiction and fantasy, Christian fiction” along with the other seven in my Bell Mountain series.
“I don’t see how you could have sold many copies of this book as ‘Labor & Industrial Relations,'” said the rep at amazon’s Author Central. I think that must be the understatement of the year.
I could tell this error was hurting my sales. With all the other books, the numbers go up and down. But for The Thunder King the numbers never, never changed. It never bettered the rank of 3 million-and-change. Ugh!
Anyway, now it’s going to be fixed, and I pray I finally sell some copies.
Every now and then I get to read and review a book that makes my work a pleasure. S.D. Smith’s The Black Star of Kingston is such a book. It’s been a long time since I read a book that so deeply moved me.
Smith’s first book in what I hope will be a long series, The Green Ember, was very good–but this, a prequel, is even better. It’s a little book. You could read it in a sitting, but I stretched it out to two sittings because I didn’t want it to end.
It’s a simple story of rabbits–very human rabbits, with a government, industries, arts and crafts, etc.–trying to establish themselves in a new home, after being driven out of their old home by merciless enemies. Why rabbits instead of people? Well, why not? It’s a fantasy for children, and children like animal characters.
Smith is a good enough writer to make it look easy, a very good writer indeed. His suspense is masterful, and the action of the climax is intense. Maybe a little too intense for some young readers–but to write it off as a children’s book is to rob adult readers. This is, quite simply, the best book I’ve read in quite a while.
What’s it about? It’s about love, courage, and loyalty. Friendship and self-sacrifice. Hope and faith. Although it’s not overtly “Christian,” it certainly conforms to Christian values. Not that we have a monopoly on these: we don’t. But taken as a whole, I call it a thoroughly Christian book. And a visit to Mr. Smith’s website, http://www.sdsmith.net , will leave you in no doubt as to his religious sensibilities.
And, as Edgar Rice Burroughs observed, to be out on a limb and behind the 8-ball at the same time is very bad business.
I’m facing a dilemma, and in order to tell you about it–who says readers can’t give you good advice?–I feel the need to disguise some of the particulars.
I am to read and review a series of novels by a certain author whom I have long respected and whose non-fiction writing I’ve enjoyed for years. As far as I know, these books are his first fiction. Let us call him, oh, Abner Doubleday.
I don’t know how to review this guy’s books. If I say what I really think, he ain’t gonna like it. But if I don’t, then why review them at all?
In his novels, Doubleday has re-imagined some of the most tantalizing bits of the Book of Genesis and, backed up by lots of solid research, tried to elucidate their meaning for us. His non-fiction essays on these subjects–exactly who or what, for instance, were those “giants in the earth”?–are compelling, very well argued, and endlessly thought-provoking. I have learned much by reading them.
But the novels are written in a prose style reminiscent of… well, a comic book. Or, even worse, one of those awful movies based on a comic book. I find it painful to read them. He stops just short of having angels call each other “dude” and writing “ya” for “you.”
Elsewhere, Mr. Doubleday has written most persuasively on the need for Christian art–be it novels or movies or music–not only to measure up to the world’s art in quality, but to be of even better quality. Why? Because we’re competing with the world, and we want to win ground for Christ’s Kingdom.
But this… Abner, Abner, what have you done? You have turned the Bible into a comic book! I keep expecting to turn the page and find ads for X-ray glasses and Sea Monkeys.
So how will I review these novels? The way I see it, I have three options: A) Chicken out, invent some excuse, and just not do it. B) Write a totally honest review and make a lot of people mad at me. They might even think I’m an idiot: these books have lots of 5-star reviews on amazon.com. C) Go with the flow, just join in with all these other reviewers in praising the gorgeous clothes of this naked emperor, and establish myself as a reviewer whose word can’t be trusted.
Maybe somehow I can do (B) gracefully. But it’ll be a mighty fine trick if I can pull it off.
I know, I know–our world is being torn down around our ears, so who cares about so trivial a thing as “Christian fiction”?
But if I don’t take a break from current events of the kind that gather around us like spooks encroaching on a child’s bed when he’s having a nightmare, I’ll go bonkers. Besides which, the wicked won’t triumph, as they’re triumphing today, for one second longer than God allows. At the breath of His nostrils they will cease to exist.
So… what about this literary slop that gets packaged as “Christian fiction”?
I do understand that there is a great demand for Christian fiction, a demand that far outstrips the current supply. Publishers publish books to meet the demand, including books that would not otherwise have been published (as in, “You dare to bring that to my desk???” and the editor jumps up and shoots the office boy).
But in trying to meet the demand by publishing books that really don’t make the grade, the publishers only hurt themselves. I saw it happen in the horror market of the 1980s and 90s. The reading public clamored for horror, and there is never all that much good horror written, so they published a lot of dreck and people gave up on horror. The market imploded.
We serve God but poorly if we make “Christian fiction” synonymous with “poorly-written, sappy, crummy fiction that’s a cheap knock-off of the real thing.”
If a Christian builds boats and calls them “Christian boats,” and they’re built so poorly that they always sink, how has God been served?
The Christian fiction market is growing. So far, the quality of Christian fiction has not kept up with it.
I hope Christian publishers take their work seriously.
After all, we have to answer to a Higher Authority.