Monday, June 06, 2011
Please Don't Trip Over The Elephant In The Room.
I had the opportunity to attend a book club meeting a couple of weeks ago. It was a lovely evening, very entertaining and the ladies all asked wonderful questions about Yesterday's Tomorrow. Then came the unexpected question.
"Where was the sex scene?"
No, this was not a church book club. They picked my book on the recommendation of a friend, who did tell them that the book was written from a Christian worldview. They read it anyway. But, as I soon came to realize, they had absolutely no clue what "Christian" fiction was, so they didn't know what to expect.
And I suppose, given the fact that we are a tiny island in the Atlantic, given the fact that we are for the most part, years behind in what Christians are reading and listening to, understandable. But these women were not, to the best of my knowledge, church going Christians. So here's me left to explain to them something I have yet to comprehend.
Something I have yet to define in a way that makes sense for me.
Something I am still, after years of being submerged in the industry, struggling with.
What exactly IS Christian Fiction and WHO is it written for?
Well, Christians obviously. But can a Christian novel be read, enjoyed and understood by somebody who does not have a personal relationship with God?
My opinion? No.
Apparently it's the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about.
People may argue with me, may disagree wholeheartedly in fact, and that's fine, but I am of the belief that you cannot understand the ways of God if you do not know Him. You're not supposed to. So why should we Christian novelists expect our books to be tools used to convert the masses? Should we?
Asking that question is a surefire way to clear out a room fast.
I addressed the matter on a writing loop just this morning. I have yet to receive an answer. Perhaps nobody has an answer to give. Or perhaps they all think I'm so irreverent and misinformed that I don't deserve one. The original question had to do with whether we (authors writing under the umbrella of the CBA-Christian Bookseller's Association) could write books that could 'crossover' into the secular market or appeal to those disillusioned Christians, giving them new hope in the faith. I chose to address the first part of the question. I share my answer here in the hopes that we can engage in a discussion on this topic, because I would truly like to hear your opinions.
I'll admit to being in a place right now where I'm struggling with the whole concept of "Christian fiction". What exactly is it? Who is it for? Why am I writing it, if that's what I choose to continue to write. These are tough questions for me. I don't have any answers, except for the obvious, 'writing to glorify God' one.
Being newly published, I've been curious to see what kind of response I would get from readers. Although there is a faith element running through the pages, I wanted it to be a story that people of faith, any faith or none at all, could read and enjoy. I didn't set out with the idea that my book must change hearts or lives or bring people to Christ. Rather, I wrote the story as I felt it needed to be told, and I trust God for the rest.
I suppose I did hope, still do, that my book would end up being one of those 'crossovers'.
I know a lot of people who don't claim to hold any religious beliefs whatsoever have read my book. Most of them I know personally, so perhaps that is the reason. Admittedly, nowhere on the book jacket does it specifically say "Christian fiction." Will I end up with some disgruntled readers saying they were deceived into reading a "Christian" book? Probably.
I met with a book club the other night, (secular) - so that was pretty interesting. They chose to read my book on the recommendation of a friend, who did tell them it was published in the Christian market. They were actually surprised to learn about Christian fiction as a genre, which came up after one of the readers expressed her disappointment that my book did not go into explicit detail in certain scenes...as I said, it was interesting conversation. If she now knows she's not going to get that kind of writing from me, will she pick up another of my books? I don't know. I certainly didn't feel that any of them had been convicted to seek God or go to church after reading my book. Does this mean I failed as a "Christian" author? Let's take a review I received on Goodreads the other day -
"I know this story must have been written for a Christian audience because of the references to faith; yet, the behavior exhibited didn't seem to coincide with Christian values. I'm not saying that every character in a Christian book needs to be perfect, but it rings hollow when their words aren't accompanied by actions."
How can we reach the person who already has their mind made up about what Christianity is and what it is not?
My characters are far from perfect but the concept of the story is that they are saved by grace. They find forgiveness and healing through faith (in God). There are no miraculous 'all is well' scenes, but I think you get that by the end of the story, the characters are on a better path in large part due to their spiritual growth. She obviously didn't get that. My fault? I don't know. Is this kind of message only obvious to people who know and have experienced the grace of God and healing through Christ?
On the flip side you may have Christians who will not like my book because of certain scenes, words, subject matter. You can't please everybody. I suppose the question must be then, who do you want to please?
I'm more inclined to believe that right now, Christian fiction is for the most part, written for other Christians and read by Christians. Nothing wrong with that. Maybe that's the way it should be. I'm not sure we can set out with the rather lofty goal of saving the masses through books that they probably don't want to read anyway.
As I try to process all this, I am reminded that whether I am writing for CBA or for the general market, ultimately, my books and what they contain, whether an overt Christian message or not, are accountable to an audience of One. And I need to find some peace in that or it's going to be a long and bumpy road.
So what do you think?
Posted by Catherine West at 9:08 AM