On the State of Christian Fiction
Aug 2, 2013
Those of you who have followed me from the beginning may have noticed that the number of CBA fiction titles I review has proportionately diminished over the last couple of years. Christian publishers—which are usually more blogger-friendly than general market pubs—helped me navigate the waters of the book blogging world when I was still a newbie. Once I was more established I started to distance myself from the CBA community and focus more on nonfiction and classic literature. I still enjoy some CBA nonfiction (and I will forever be addicted to spiritual memoirs), but I rarely pick up a Christian novel unless I’m being paid to write about it. The reason I backed off from Christian fiction is this: It simply didn’t satisfy my desire for original, intellectually stimulating, high quality literature.
Mike Duran recently wrote about the unfortunate habit the Christian publishing industry has of ignoring gifted writers because they don’t cater to their target audience (namely, white women over the age of forty-five). He specifically sited the case of J. Mark Bertrand, author of the Roland March crime series, who is looking for a new publisher following a three-book run with Bethany House. When I read Back on Murder, the first book in the series, last summer, I was completely blown away.
That kind of talent is an anomaly in any genre, but none more so in Christian fiction. To date, Bertrand is the only Christian fiction author to whom I can give a five star review, not because his work is good compared to other CBA authors, but because his work is good period. And I find it sad and disappointing that the only way I can give most CBA titles four or five star reviews is by measuring them against the yardstick of CBA standards, which are considerably lower than I would like them to be. The standard for Christian fiction needs to be raised.
That’s just the writing part of CBA fiction. There’s also the issue of diversity and originality, both of which are lacking in the industry. Eliminate all the books on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore that are romance, historical fiction, or feature a white main character, and you won’t have much left. And heaven forbid a gay character should ever mar the pages of our holy, swear-word-and-sex-free literature. We’re so stuck on trying to follow some imaginary rulebook on how to do Christian art that we end up with a weak, diluted product.
Let me make it clear that I’m not saying all Christian fiction is an epic failure, nor am I griping against authors here. There are authors under contract with CBA publishers who are commendably going against the status quo. Authors like Claudia Mair Burney, Neta Jackson, and Camy Tang are writing stories with a diverse cast of characters. Brandilyn Collins is consistently producing high quality suspense. Those are just a few examples, and authors who are writing in the traditional genres of Christian romance, historical fiction, and bonnet fiction are simply writing what they know will sell.
I believe there is a huge untapped market for quality faith-driven literature that explores the world beyond fluffed-up romantic nonsense and unrealistic portrayals of the Amish. It’s up to Christian publishers to figure out how to reach it. Some small, indie Christian publishers are making strides to reach a new demographic. The question is, will the industry giants follow suit or stay behind in the dark ages?
What do you think about the state of Christian fiction today?