Christian Fiction Discussions Around The Web

OK, I’m only one day late ;).

Sometimes the discussion going on other places is too good to pass up.

Mike Duran, as usual, has some great, thought-provoking posts this week. He posted at Novel Rocket about Christian fiction marketing toward men. That started some chatter, so he continued his thoughts on his own blog Decompose. He wonders if the CBA is doing a good enough job reaching men with Christian fiction, both male authors and the readers. Is it a responsibility of religious publishers to reach out to men more effectively? Those are the questions asked at the two posts, and as a male reader and writer, they are very interesting to me. Check them out if you can.

Another post was by Jeffrey Overstreet, author of the Auralia’s Colors series. He brings up the idea of artistry versus message in fiction. I’ve agreed and disagreed with Overstreet on various aspects of this debate in the past. He is eloquent in his post and the comments below are worth the time to read. My friend Becky Miller makes some good counter-points there.

Both are good fodder for some deep thinking.

The Definition Of Christian Fiction

Now this is interesting…

There was a very interesting confluence of circumstances in the world of Christian or CBA fiction this week. First of all, I am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and I subscribe to the main email loop for discussion of issues in Christian fiction. I haven’t been following it for a while, but this week I happened to open up my digest and there was an interesting (if not new) discussion.

How “Christian” should our stories be?

Larry Timm started the discussion with this question on his blog and he threw it out to the ACFW loop as well. Both the comments on Larry’s post and the answers on the email loop were enlightening.

The answers varied, for sure. Some thought that Christian novels should explicitly glorify Jesus in some way. Being a sweet romance without profanity or sex wasn’t enough. Some answers thought there should be some lesson or purpose in the story. Others wondered if their stories could be considered Christian if there wasn’t a path to redemption/salvation shown clearly in the text. There was concern that the message may be watered down in the current climate to appeal to wider audiences.

Is it enough if the worldview Christian, if the characters are Christians and live, make mistakes, and learn from their sin, without preaching it to the reader? Is there a place for good, clean fun, or do they all have to change our lives somehow? I liked what Randy Ingermanson said, something to the effect that we’re called to be salt, but people like different levels of saltiness in their soup.

The consensus seemed to move toward different stories for different folks. Authors may be called to tell stories with the themes veiled or more subtle, while others may want to specifically deal with a theological/moral topic. People were respectful. It is an old debate in the CBA world, and it will continue to recycle as long as we continue to write.

What made the timing interesting to me was the introduction  this week of…The Hinterlands.
Marcher Lord Press has developed a significant niche in the CBA world as the go-to place for Christian speculative fiction. Other publishers will produce some science fiction or fantasy, but no one sells out for it like MLP.

Now they are ready to push the boundaries – figuratively and literally, it seems.

Hinterlands is the new MLP imprint for mature fantasy and sci-fi. It is designed to reach out to people who love secular fantasy/sci-fi but wouldn’t pick up a typical Christian novel. The first book is called A Throne Of Bones by Vox Day, and it is specifically targeted to be for fans of epic fantasy such as George R. R. Martin and his Game Of Thrones series.

According to an article in Christian Retailing, Hinterlands will feature books with content that does not always mesh with traditional CBA fare.

“Just as some Christians have the ability to watch R-rated movies without stumbling and others do not, so it will be with A Throne of Bones and other titles to come in the Hinterlands line,” [Jeff Gerke] said.

MLP’s owner and publisher Jeff Gerke went on to say,

“It’s not going to be erotica, and the characters aren’t going to be dropping f-bombs left and right,” he said. “But these books will still have more mature content than other Christian novels. Having these books in their own imprint will allow our fans to find the Marcher Lord Press books they’re interested in and avoid the ones they would rather avoid.”

“Hinterlands books may contain vulgarity, profanity, nudity and/or sexual content, but never for gratuitous purposes. Hinterlands allows us to pursue crossover publishing that will put the word of the gospel before people who would never otherwise pick up a Christian novel. It also allows us to examine mature themes in a realistic manner that some Christians will appreciate. We know that not everyone will want to read these books, so we have set them apart into the Hinterlands imprint.”

So we have two separate streams in the CBA realm that may be flowing in parallel, or depending on your viewpoint, moving far away from each other.

One side sees Christian fiction as standing apart from the world. Generally this group sees Christian fiction through the lens of Philippians 4:8, wants to see a clear story of redemption or salvation, and hews to an evangelical Christian framework.

Hinterlands is new ground that is trying to engage the world in realistic ways. This imprint could be the publishing home for stories from the Bible like Judges, Genesis 34 or 38, or be a realistic portrayal of life of King David. It sounds like they will take great care to avoid gratiutous use of profanity, violence, or sexual situations, but they won’t avoid it wholesale if the story seems to require it.

I am very interested in seeing how this plays out. Can MLP succeed in this bold initiative with Hinterlands? Is there room for Christians producing this type of literature? At least, is there room in the CBA world? With the new world of the internet and social media, perhaps the old forms of marketing and distribution aren’t needed anymore, and a niche like Hinterlands can succeed and reach people.

Can we reach people with gritty stories? This question has been debated in the CBA for a while now. I guess we’ll be finding out with Hinterlands.

What do you think? I’ve got my opinions for a later post, but I want to hear from authors and readers of Christian fiction and speculative fiction. What is Christian fiction, and is there room for Hinterlands-type books in it?

Thoughts on Christian Horror

Last week I was part of a blog tour that featured Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso, a good read that falls in the category of “supernatural suspense” in the Christian fiction (CBA) industry. I made the argument on Wednesday that it really is a horror book.

Sorry for giving that little detail away Mike. 😉
Anyhoo.
I asked why books like this are marketed with what basically amounts to a euphemism. From the comments last week, both Mike and Nicole hit it on the head.
Sales.

The label of “horror” is as loaded as the label of “Christian fiction.” As Nicole said, it conjures images of Stephen King and the horror movie trinity of Freddy/Michael/Jason (I take umbrage at the last one). I’ve only read one King novel, and didn’t enjoy the things it did to my imagination. I understand he has books like The Stand that read differently from Pet Sematary. But his reputation is so strong, it is hard for him to write something else that will break through to readers other than his fan base.

Conversely, it is hard for many readers to get away from the stereotype of slasher flicks/books to open up a thoughtful book like Darkness Follows that explores the love of a father and a daughter. DF has a body count, but it is not gory or gratuitous. People die to further the plot, not to shock. Mike in his comment laments the reality of the situation, because I think (as he does) some readers who would enjoy a book like DF won’t find it because it isn’t labeled as horror, although he would lose more if it was marketed as horror.

It is a catch-22 inherent in the CBA industry. It is more conservative than the ABA market it parallels. For those of us who read widely or want to write for the CBA, we just have to keep this in mind. The CBA market is changing, but slowly and not without growing pains and waxing/waning.

I don’t know if we’ll end up with a genre of Christian horror in the CBA. Perhaps the euphemism of “supernatural suspense” is here to stay. BTW, I like a category of supernatural suspense, but I think it is too broad to do horror justice, especially since it fits books like This Present Darkness and the Left Behind series.

Thoughts? Should the CBA aspire to having a horror category someday?

Thoughts on Christian Horror

Last week I was part of a blog tour that featured Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso, a good read that falls in the category of “supernatural suspense” in the Christian fiction (CBA) industry. I made the argument on Wednesday that it really is a horror book.

Sorry for giving that little detail away Mike. 😉
Anyhoo.
I asked why books like this are marketed with what basically amounts to a euphemism. From the comments last week, both Mike and Nicole hit it on the head.
Sales.

The label of “horror” is as loaded as the label of “Christian fiction.” As Nicole said, it conjures images of Stephen King and the horror movie trinity of Freddy/Michael/Jason (I take umbrage at the last one). I’ve only read one King novel, and didn’t enjoy the things it did to my imagination. I understand he has books like The Stand that read differently from Pet Sematary. But his reputation is so strong, it is hard for him to write something else that will break through to readers other than his fan base.

Conversely, it is hard for many readers to get away from the stereotype of slasher flicks/books to open up a thoughtful book like Darkness Follows that explores the love of a father and a daughter. DF has a body count, but it is not gory or gratuitous. People die to further the plot, not to shock. Mike in his comment laments the reality of the situation, because I think (as he does) some readers who would enjoy a book like DF won’t find it because it isn’t labeled as horror, although he would lose more if it was marketed as horror.

It is a catch-22 inherent in the CBA industry. It is more conservative than the ABA market it parallels. For those of us who read widely or want to write for the CBA, we just have to keep this in mind. The CBA market is changing, but slowly and not without growing pains and waxing/waning.

I don’t know if we’ll end up with a genre of Christian horror in the CBA. Perhaps the euphemism of “supernatural suspense” is here to stay. BTW, I like a category of supernatural suspense, but I think it is too broad to do horror justice, especially since it fits books like This Present Darkness and the Left Behind series.

Thoughts? Should the CBA aspire to having a horror category someday?

CSFF Tour – Darkness Follows Day 3

Hey! You, web surfer! Yeah you.

C’mere for a sec.

See, I’m part of the Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy Tour, and we just talked about a cool and creepy book called Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso. I talked about it Monday with an overview, and Tuesday with a review.

I don’t really want to talk about it today.

Not directly, at least.

Like I said, I’m in a book tour for Christian speculative fiction. There’s cool people here that like interesting books. There’s an interesting aspect of this month’s tour I wanted to investigate.

The book was brought to us for a speculative angle – the protaganist in modern times finds pages from a Civil War officer’s journal, in his own handwriting. The book is considered in the CBA realm as “supernatural suspense.”

The thing is, the book is really a horror book.

It’s not horrible. Hor-ror. It is scary and spooky [insert Addam’s Family theme song here]. It has a purpose in its scare factor, but it definitely has the chills factor.

It seems the CBA industry is scared of labeling books as “horror.” I don’t mind that a speculative fiction tour is featuring this book, it is pretty good, and I’m glad I got to read it. I think it serves a certain type of reader, and does it without some of the hopelessness found in regular horror fiction.

I don’t have all the insights in this quirk of the CBA. For a better authority, I’ll refer you to Mike Duran on his posts concerning “Can Horror Fiction Be ‘Redemptive'” (part 1, 2, 3) and a quick discussion on covers speaking about horror here, as well as Mike Dellosso’s own words in this post.

Seemed like a good time to take on this idea of the label of “horror” vs. “supernatural suspense” to a group that enjoys speculative fiction. I’ve read CBA books ranging from a ghost story (Robin Parrish’s Nightmare, labeled as “paranormal suspense”) to vampires (Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead series) that would fit into a horror genre in a normal bookstore, but don’t get promoted that way in the CBA.

Why is that?

I have my thoughts, but what say you, the well-read and clever folks of the CSFF Tour? Let me know what you think, and I’ll answer back in a few days.

Uh, to get back on track, here’s where you can find all of the other fine posts on Darkness Follows from my tourmates.

Thanks for stopping by.

CSFF Tour – Darkness Follows Day 3

Hey! You, web surfer! Yeah you.

C’mere for a sec.

See, I’m part of the Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy Tour, and we just talked about a cool and creepy book called Darkness Follows by Mike Dellosso. I talked about it Monday with an overview, and Tuesday with a review.

I don’t really want to talk about it today.

Not directly, at least.

Like I said, I’m in a book tour for Christian speculative fiction. There’s cool people here that like interesting books. There’s an interesting aspect of this month’s tour I wanted to investigate.

The book was brought to us for a speculative angle – the protaganist in modern times finds pages from a Civil War officer’s journal, in his own handwriting. The book is considered in the CBA realm as “supernatural suspense.”

The thing is, the book is really a horror book.

It’s not horrible. Hor-ror. It is scary and spooky [insert Addam’s Family theme song here]. It has a purpose in its scare factor, but it definitely has the chills factor.

It seems the CBA industry is scared of labeling books as “horror.” I don’t mind that a speculative fiction tour is featuring this book, it is pretty good, and I’m glad I got to read it. I think it serves a certain type of reader, and does it without some of the hopelessness found in regular horror fiction.

I don’t have all the insights in this quirk of the CBA. For a better authority, I’ll refer you to Mike Duran on his posts concerning “Can Horror Fiction Be ‘Redemptive'” (part 1, 2, 3) and a quick discussion on covers speaking about horror here, as well as Mike Dellosso’s own words in this post.

Seemed like a good time to take on this idea of the label of “horror” vs. “supernatural suspense” to a group that enjoys speculative fiction. I’ve read CBA books ranging from a ghost story (Robin Parrish’s Nightmare, labeled as “paranormal suspense”) to vampires (Eric Wilson’s Jerusalem Undead series) that would fit into a horror genre in a normal bookstore, but don’t get promoted that way in the CBA.

Why is that?

I have my thoughts, but what say you, the well-read and clever folks of the CSFF Tour? Let me know what you think, and I’ll answer back in a few days.

Uh, to get back on track, here’s where you can find all of the other fine posts on Darkness Follows from my tourmates.

Thanks for stopping by.

Decent and Edgy?

Hello again. I’ve been trying to work more on my novel in progress, and have been dealing with a little blogger’s block. I’ve had a few thoughts, but haven’t known how to get them out. Time to get back on the horse!

So is it possible to have edgy AND decent fiction?

This has been a run-around topic for CBA fiction for a while. Christian fiction has been evolving over the last several years, perhaps not as fast as some would like, as there continues to be a debate about “edgy” Christian fiction. In fact, the term has become so loaded it is hard to define. For this post consider “edgy” as portraying real life without any filter on it (CBA is known for no cussing and no intimate scenes, not even between spouses).

By the way, I was partially inspired by Mike Duran’s blog deCOMPOSE because he offers a lot of thought-provoking content, usually about the state of Christian fiction. A recent post asks, “Am I responsible for what my characters say?” with the question being, “If my character says something mean, racist, sinful, etc., am I responsible or is the character responsible.” He also had a well-noticed post about “Christian fiction and the new edgy”. That post noted that some people’s edgy are other people’s obscene.

How can obscene be decent?

Perhaps “decent” is a loaded word too, considered a Puritan standard that isn’t realistic in our day and age. Maybe I’m looking at the word wrong, or using the wrong term. I’m thinking of decent as in the motivation one is using when writing something that may be edgy.

Much of our current pop culture fare comes with a shock value intended to gain notice. The edginess is just to catch people’s attention. Britney Spears continued a trend from Madonna, then Katy Perry picked up the baton with songs like “I Kissed a Girl,” and this was quickly followed by Lady Gaga and her wild antics. The motivation on doing something is, quite frankly, only to gain some kind of attention in our oversaturated world.

All media forms are subject to this, from movies, comics, books, TV…the list goes on. The motivation is caught between catching attention and/or flaunting old standards.

Is it possible to write something challenging, edgy, without leaving behind decency? I’d better use an example. I picture a story involving a rough-edged detective and a prostitute trapped in her circumstances that doesn’t pull punches showing the rawness of their lives. The point of the story is not to wallow in dirt, but to show the contrast of redemption against such bleak context. The motivation is good. The details are not used in a gratuitous manner, but to paint an accurate picture. The author keeps a standard of decency in their heart, writing things to serve the story rather than to shock, even if it means some cursing, a closer look into the prostitute’s life, or the violence on the streets.

Maybe I’m reaching with this. I don’t expect stardard CBA fare to embrace this of course. But is it possible to be honest with where the story needs to go, show just the details that are needed to establish credibility without wallowing in it, and keep a pure heart? I think so. I really believe a lot of what is done in pop culture is for the purpose of vulgarity alone, without adding value to the final product other than saying, “Look at me! I am worse than the last guy!”

I’m not even the guy that would want to read all of this. But as Mike has said before, showing someone violating God’s standards can be a powerful tool, even if it is uncomfortable reading about it.

Am I making sense? Am I out there on this one? Hey, your thoughts on this would be most appreciated!

Decent and Edgy?

Hello again. I’ve been trying to work more on my novel in progress, and have been dealing with a little blogger’s block. I’ve had a few thoughts, but haven’t known how to get them out. Time to get back on the horse!

So is it possible to have edgy AND decent fiction?

This has been a run-around topic for CBA fiction for a while. Christian fiction has been evolving over the last several years, perhaps not as fast as some would like, as there continues to be a debate about “edgy” Christian fiction. In fact, the term has become so loaded it is hard to define. For this post consider “edgy” as portraying real life without any filter on it (CBA is known for no cussing and no intimate scenes, not even between spouses).

By the way, I was partially inspired by Mike Duran’s blog deCOMPOSE because he offers a lot of thought-provoking content, usually about the state of Christian fiction. A recent post asks, “Am I responsible for what my characters say?” with the question being, “If my character says something mean, racist, sinful, etc., am I responsible or is the character responsible.” He also had a well-noticed post about “Christian fiction and the new edgy”. That post noted that some people’s edgy are other people’s obscene.

How can obscene be decent?

Perhaps “decent” is a loaded word too, considered a Puritan standard that isn’t realistic in our day and age. Maybe I’m looking at the word wrong, or using the wrong term. I’m thinking of decent as in the motivation one is using when writing something that may be edgy.

Much of our current pop culture fare comes with a shock value intended to gain notice. The edginess is just to catch people’s attention. Britney Spears continued a trend from Madonna, then Katy Perry picked up the baton with songs like “I Kissed a Girl,” and this was quickly followed by Lady Gaga and her wild antics. The motivation on doing something is, quite frankly, only to gain some kind of attention in our oversaturated world.

All media forms are subject to this, from movies, comics, books, TV…the list goes on. The motivation is caught between catching attention and/or flaunting old standards.

Is it possible to write something challenging, edgy, without leaving behind decency? I’d better use an example. I picture a story involving a rough-edged detective and a prostitute trapped in her circumstances that doesn’t pull punches showing the rawness of their lives. The point of the story is not to wallow in dirt, but to show the contrast of redemption against such bleak context. The motivation is good. The details are not used in a gratuitous manner, but to paint an accurate picture. The author keeps a standard of decency in their heart, writing things to serve the story rather than to shock, even if it means some cursing, a closer look into the prostitute’s life, or the violence on the streets.

Maybe I’m reaching with this. I don’t expect stardard CBA fare to embrace this of course. But is it possible to be honest with where the story needs to go, show just the details that are needed to establish credibility without wallowing in it, and keep a pure heart? I think so. I really believe a lot of what is done in pop culture is for the purpose of vulgarity alone, without adding value to the final product other than saying, “Look at me! I am worse than the last guy!”

I’m not even the guy that would want to read all of this. But as Mike has said before, showing someone violating God’s standards can be a powerful tool, even if it is uncomfortable reading about it.

Am I making sense? Am I out there on this one? Hey, your thoughts on this would be most appreciated!

Too Clean?

As the debate rages in Christian fiction about “edgy” fiction, a Mormon author making the following pledge:

Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.

This is from Jason F. Wright, an author I am unfamiliar with, but I saw this article linked on Facebook and was curious. There is a subculture of LDS fiction just as there is for the evangelical world in the CBA. I’ve not read any of these books, but seeing them at the library, I can tell there are similarities (such as making knock-offs of popular general fiction such as DaVinci Code).

He asks the question if anyone has put down a book because it is too clean. Since the source of this article is “Mormon Times,” I would expect the answer to be “no”. I admire how he knows his place as an author and his determination to stick to his beliefs.

Still, I think people have put down books for being “too clean” if the book was also too unrealistic, uninteresting, or a combination. Can a good book be clean without the issues he labels above? Certainly. His point about older literature succeeding without gory details of sex, violence, or language is a poignant one considering our culture that demands “realism” above all.

Since I’ve participated in the discussion of edgy Christian fiction, the statement caught my eye. I still believe there is an argument for fiction that glorifies God and speaks to the culture while being grittier than your standard CBA fare, it is good to remember that each author has their own calling, and needs to stay true to that. It would not ring true to have a gritty Amish novel by certain authors, just as Ted Dekker writing a pure, sugary sweet prairie romance would be WAY out of character 😉

Too Clean?

As the debate rages in Christian fiction about “edgy” fiction, a Mormon author making the following pledge:

Mark the date and save this text. I will never use foul, crude, disgusting language or create explicit images of sex or graphic violence.

This is from Jason F. Wright, an author I am unfamiliar with, but I saw this article linked on Facebook and was curious. There is a subculture of LDS fiction just as there is for the evangelical world in the CBA. I’ve not read any of these books, but seeing them at the library, I can tell there are similarities (such as making knock-offs of popular general fiction such as DaVinci Code).

He asks the question if anyone has put down a book because it is too clean. Since the source of this article is “Mormon Times,” I would expect the answer to be “no”. I admire how he knows his place as an author and his determination to stick to his beliefs.

Still, I think people have put down books for being “too clean” if the book was also too unrealistic, uninteresting, or a combination. Can a good book be clean without the issues he labels above? Certainly. His point about older literature succeeding without gory details of sex, violence, or language is a poignant one considering our culture that demands “realism” above all.

Since I’ve participated in the discussion of edgy Christian fiction, the statement caught my eye. I still believe there is an argument for fiction that glorifies God and speaks to the culture while being grittier than your standard CBA fare, it is good to remember that each author has their own calling, and needs to stay true to that. It would not ring true to have a gritty Amish novel by certain authors, just as Ted Dekker writing a pure, sugary sweet prairie romance would be WAY out of character 😉