When is Christian Fiction Not?

demonI’m a Christian. I write fiction. I’m pretty sure I don’t write Christian fiction.

My first novel/series, Dying for Dragons, could probably fit in, especially as Speculative fiction has started to get a foothold. The main character is a Christian, and there’s a pretty consistent thread, even though there’s no gospel message or overt preaching. A few years ago when I was first pitching it, I got no where, but as the CBA has relaxed, I think I’d stand a better chance now. If I wanted to.

I’ve decided, though, that I’m not really CBA material. I can’t really build a brand in CBA because my subsequent novels are too far out of CBA guidelines.

The novel I’m ready to start pitching is, in my opinion, a Christian novel. It is not a CBA novel. The main character is not a Christian, nor does she become one throughout the course of the story. She uses bad language and has an openly immoral personal life. The story is dark and violent, and contains no overt references to God. There are demons but no angels. Yet it is written from a distinctly Christian worldview. It has a  very clear good vs. evil theme, a biblical perspective, and much of my research was from reading Christian authors.

This story will never fly in CBA circles, but does that make it not a Christian story?

I think a lot of Christian Speculative authors are in this same category. Too Christian for mainstream, to not-Christian for CBA. So we flock to small, indie publishers or self-publishing, because we don’t fit anywhere else.

I love that there are these options available. I appreciate that fringe writers like myself can find a place where our stories are evaluated on their own merit, rather than on a narrow set of criteria. I appreciate that we can let our faith out a little without being preachy. But I can’t help being discouraged that the market is still so small. I don’t even know where to start pitching this current story, because it is so “un-Christian.” I’m not a CBA writer. I don’t write Christian fiction. I am a Christian writer. And that world is still really, really small.

About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

12 comments on “When is Christian Fiction Not?

  1. Great observations. It bothers me that back in the day, there was no “Christian” fiction. There was just fiction. Sometimes faith played a role, sometimes not. It was only when the general market started getting raunchy that Christians formed the CBA in the 1950s to provide “clean” books. In retrospect, I’m not sure that was a good move.

    But let’s be honest. A book with really strong Christian values, especially in the speculative genres, risks getting bashed for its worldview.

    This space between does feel like a no man’s land sometime. But I’m convinced the readers are out there. Getting rid of the labels would probably go a long way toward helping them find us.

    • I agree. Which is one of the nice things about some of the indie publishers cropping up. They’re not yet in a box. 🙂

    • It may have been the only practical move possible. The best available option is not necessarily a good option, however. (I speak as an outsider to that world, so far, so I am only speaking in theory, not from experience.)

      Heretofore, I’ve always written the sort of things I would want to read. I have been blessed that a very small but faithful cadre of readers have wanted to read it too. And thanks to one of them, incredibly, there is “fanfic” of my work out there (on Triond.com)! 😀 LOL But in the end, I can’t and won’t compromise either my morals (value judgment) or my ethics (logical judgment). I’m not in creative writing to win a popularity contest, and thankfully I don’t need to make a living doing it so I might be tempted to win such a contest.

      I think what Avily and you are saying – coming as you do from positions of integrity yourselves – makes for good arguments toward self-publishing. That way you can build your own audiences. The difficulty is the same as that faced by independent musical acts: you have to do all your own work in promotion, etc. But then I’m saying nothing you don’t already know.

  2. So, my question, if leaving out timeframes, where would Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings fall? My fantasy falls between these two and I am not going towards CBA, but towards the masses. Will my story have a place out there? Who knows? But I will try and will try to stay away from a narrow box of genre, if publishers and public allow. Both of these, written by Christian authors, became famous and/or stayed famous despite the times. Maybe I am ideological, but I am gonna hope and pray that my book gets to whomever it needs to get to. It may be self-pubbing if there is no publisher willing to risk, and maybe with some of the stats. I am reading on self-pubbing, that may not be a bad thing.

    • There is definitely a place for self-pubbing. Obviously there are both pros and cons no matter which way you go, but I think self is the ideal option for some people.

  3. HI- I am just visiting this site. I struggle between all the types of what the world deems as “christian” writing even in a fantasy, speculative/ and or science fiction world. I too am Christian, but follow all the precepts of God’s inspired word. Where the world does not in full at least.
    Although that makes me more critical of what is passed off as Christian, I must walk the path of certainty cause my spiritual life depends on it. I don’t see my self as better, just more determined to ” be holy as God is holy,” as He instructs us to do. I have always enjoyed movies/books such as Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek etc. But am questioning as to the truth about whether that is even right anymore.
    So as we are told, if there seems to be a conflict in such things it is better to abstain from them.
    I only knew of this post as I received a copy from John posting it on his blog. Seeing the image above made me want to turn and run right away. It is chilling and you perhaps don’t have any idea of just how real that image is and how much you perhaps ought not to be putting something like that up there. It doesn’t represent you in a good light unless that is the light you wish to be seen in. Especially having children.
    I am not here to criticize but to simply say that such things make me question the mind set of anyone who say they are “Christian” and would think to put up such a horrendous image.
    If you don’t write for the income aspect of it, then you perhaps ought not to worry so much about it. Even if you write for the income, compromising whatever “Christian” is to you is still a wrong call. In the end I think it would not be fruitful.
    But that is between you and God. Not me. Writing to appeal to audiences for the sake of fame, money or some notoriety while compromising personal and Godly values leaves a dark legacy.
    In the end perhaps seeking ministerial advice as well as prayer is best and not seek the opinions of others who’s beliefs you don’t know.
    Take care

    • Dear Yisraela,

      As you expressed privately to me, so with my own “gut reaction”, I find the juxtaposition of the popular image of the Devil and the issue of “Christian fiction” disconcerting by instinct. That fellow with the horns is pretty horrific, even if he strikes me as merely one of Satan’s smoke-and-mirror ploys (he is most dangerous and deceptive when he appears as an angel of light, remember). But perhaps that is the point. When considering the definition of “Christian fiction”, isn’t one of the issues involved whether said fiction deals with “the elemental spirits of the universe” (as the RSV puts it) in some form, whether directly or as it were by parable? There are truly terrifying entities out there – as you and I both know! – who want to destroy humanity and only God’s infinitely greater power has kept them from doing so. I believe “Christian fiction” however defined can hardly ignore such realities and be fiction worthy of the name. But I also believe anyone who has come out of an occultic background should avoid anything which opens doors to what was left behind, and that includes fiction under any label. Do what you need to do before God in this area.

      My own fiction sees and portrays Satan as through a glass darkly, and deliberately so. My chief protagonist’s chief enemies serve the Dragon of Chaos (an idea which comes right out of portrayals written and drawn in the paganism of the Ancient Near East, seven heads and all), and while that Dragon is imprisoned, he is allowed to have an influence on those who seek him out. This is the parable I use. Some are more direct still – some are much less so. But the struggle between good and evil is at the heart of human experience, and of fiction of any kind. I think that fact should be considered too.

    • I totally understand your point, and I see how such an image might be distracting, but the fact that it is disturbing is part of the point. The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to spiritual warfare. Demons are very real. Evil is very real. Satanic forces are at work. That is what my non-“Christian” Christian novel deals with.
      One of the main points of fiction, especially Christian fiction, is to point toward something else. While I personally don’t have a problem reading/watching something purely for entertainment value, most Christian fiction does have a purpose. It points to God in one way or another. It embraces good while decrying evil. It paints a picture of God in a way that helps us to see Him in a different way.
      Even Jesus used fiction to make a point. He did it often. What were the parables, if not fictional accounts to make a point and to show people God in a way they weren’t used to? He wasn’t literally calling people salt and light, He was using metaphors to explain something they didn’t get. He wasn’t literally comparing people to dirt when he talked about different kinds of soil being receptive to the seeds, or the Word, He was painting a picture to capture their attention so He could make a point.
      In my writing, I don’t feel I am compromising my integrity or my Christian values or my faith by writing things that aren’t acceptable in the CBA world. I don’t have qualms about the way my story world plays out and I don’t worry about the approval of others. If I were concerned about appearances, I would be conforming to the norm and squeegeeing my stories until they’re bright and shiny and “Christian.” My lack of conformation to CBA standards is because I don’t want to water down the story I have or the powerful spiritual warfare it represents simply to find buyers or entertain an audience.

      • The evil in the world is because of our sins and choices. So we must plaster the evil images out there for the world to see. ? If we want an honest account of why the evil exists we ought to get it ft the only true source that can speak truthfully about it . God’s inspired word . We are in out church told to not entertain such things as what you write or the more real than you know of the demonic image above. John knows we are told to not have such things in front of us. And John you can make light of such images as being lesser satanic demons that are of lesser harm, as you imply, but Dominic is still demonic and you tell me to avoid such things. There is a good reason. I unfortunately can’t. I will be in some battles fory life partly because of others . Guess all the practice will help me. Why can you not write from what you keep telling me the truth really is ?

  4. […] week, in my post When is Christian Fiction Not? I talked about  the lines between Christian fiction and secular fiction, and how more and more […]

  5. […] career. But I quickly realized that I was on the outskirts of that crowd. The books I write are not “Christian” enough for the Christian market, and yet not smutty enough for the secular market. I’m right smack in the middle of this […]

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