Preface: I wrote this with full intent of posting it on my new regular Tuesday spot, but I read it to Diane to get a second opinion and she has been pushing me ever since to post it early. Yes, that Diane. 😛 For the record, I’m not posting now because I gave into her peer pressure. Nope, it’s because her momma said, “Pleeeeeeeeease.” hah!
Oh, and make sure you read Tymothy’s post from this morning–it’s his input on this topic and he’s got some wonderful things to say.
All right, here goes….
I’m not one for dragging things out, but I was a bit blown away by the reaction to my last post, “Put Down Your Sword…and Write.” Apparently a few people even brought it to author Mike Duran’s attention because of his blog post, “Why Christians Can’t Agree About Christian Fiction.” Mike discussed the idea that there are two basic “camps” of Christian writers: the holiness camp and the honesty camp. He got quite a lot of responses (151 comments as I write this). Go check it out and see what he has to say. He’s got some really good points and things to ponder in there.
In a second post, Mike discusses the reactions to his other post and includes a link to, and a few quotes from, mine. He ends this post by saying, “All that to say, this ‘conversation’ may seem tired, divisive, pointless, and unresolvable. But if the amount of heat it generates is any indication, the topic appears to remain relevant.” I have to say I agree with him on that.
My original intent was not to say we should completely abandon discussing this division. I think both sides have relevant points. I do think, however, some writers spend entirely too much time griping about not being accepted by the CBA and complaining that the Christian bookstores don’t contain enough “realistic” Christian fiction. Some point out that the happy-happy-joy-joy-everyone-is-so-perfect-and-Jesus-is-a-tame-little-lamb books are a giant turn-off to the world at large and are giving the rest of us Christians a bad name. (I address that farther down in this post, btw.) While some of the more conservative Christian writers—the ones Mike would put in the holiness camp—are pointing fingers and calling the more gritty writers heathens.
I want to address this because I think too many of us have gotten trapped in a Christian fishbowl. I think I see this differently than some because I’m a math person. Bear with me…
Find a Christian bookstore and take note of how it’s divided into nonfiction and fiction. But the fiction is all just mixed in together. It’s mostly sweet romance and mainstream novels. You want gritty, realistic Christian fiction, though. You find a bit—some thrillers, a few sci-fi/fantasies. But the selection of what you want feels pathetically small.
Go forth, my friends, and enter the secular bookstore. Let’s say that sci-fi/fantasy is your favorite genre. You see the high percentage of good books in your section and think, “Why can’t the Christian bookstore be like this?” You temporarily forget that the section you are standing in is bigger than the entire Christian bookstore you were just in.
Now go to the romance section. Look at how many books are there. What percentage of those do you think you’d like? Probably a pretty puny number, huh? Yet, there are far more of those books than in “your” section—all books you, as a spec-fic lover, would most likely consider fluff writing.
Now look around at all the other sections, all the other genres that you walked right past without noticing on your way to the sci-fi/fantasy section. Look at the square footage and think about the thousands of books you probably wouldn’t like.
Imagine if you had to scale down Barnes & Noble to fit into the square footage of a Christian bookstore. (The actual book section of one, that is.) Hm….you’d probably end up with shelves of romance, some mainstream, and only a handful of thrillers and sci-fi/fantasy. Just like there is now in a Christian bookstore.
Ah, but the ones in the Christian bookstore are so poorly written! They are so corny! The blatant disregard for craft!
The problem is this: You are not thinking in percentages. The Christian book world is small. If 10% of the Christian books are really good, you have enough to fill a tabletop. You are going to read through them in no time, and be forced to turn to the crappy ones rather quickly.
But the secular book world is gi-freaking-normous. If 10% of secular books are good, then you are going to spend the rest of your life reading awesome books and never even come close to reading them all, and you may never have to read a badly written book.
Do you see now? We’re like this fishbowl floating around in a vast ocean, screaming, “They have more pretty fish than we do! Not fair!” But all we see is what jumps out at us. There are miles and miles of murky water we ignore. We’re not looking at the percentages, and the scale of our space vs. theirs.
And speaking of fishbowls…One thing I notice over and over again is writers claiming that we have to write edgy, secular-world-oriented Christian fiction to “reach” the people who “need” it. And then they want that fiction accepted into the CBA. Well, if it does get accepted there, guess what? It’s going into the Christian fishbowl and the people who are supposed to be “reached” by it are going to swim right on by.
In my personal experience, non-Christians don’t even know the Christian section exists. And if they do, regardless of good writing or poor, they’re walking right past thinking, “I ain’t reading that. I don’t wanna get preached at.”
I’m not unreasonable. I know there are two major markets—the ABA and CBA—and we’re being forced to choose between the two. If we’re “too Christian for the secular market, but too secular for the Christian market” (the battle cry I hear so often, and have used myself) we turn to our brothers for support…only to have a chastising finger wagged at us. It is frustrating. I am right there with you, folks. Seriously. The system is far from perfect. But I don’t think the answer is fighting for space in a fishbowl.
So, let me set the record straight. I don’t like most Christian fiction. But my guess is, I’d dislike most secular fiction if I had 10,000 lifetimes in which to read it all. Also, I think what sells is what sells and that is what publishers publish. I think “Christian publishing” was spawned for the “holiness camp”—people who wanted “safe, clean” Christian fiction—and if that’s what they want then let them have it. I will not beg to be part of the CBA. I am a Christian, and I write from that worldview, but I see no reason to demand the CBA’s seal on my work. I think a new generation of publishing is arising….a place that bridges the gap between secular and Christian, and that is where I want to be.