The Stereotype That Keeps On Slamming Doors

Over and over I hear or see statements like, I don’t read Christian fiction because it is so ___. Fill in the blank — preachy, poorly written, predictable, unrealistic, sanitized.

I’m not going to pretend that all Christian fiction is well-crafted, with deep spiritual themes that demand real thinking while telling a captivating story.

But I think it’s fair to ask those who make negative declarations, especially categorical ones, about Christian fiction, What have you read lately?

Author friend Mike Duran began a discussion today on his site Decompose that has generated a number of slam-the-door-on-Christian-fiction comments. So I decided to provide short excerpts of a few of my favorite novels — YA or adult, mostly speculative, but not all — which fall under the Christian fiction umbrella, as evidence that readers would do well to prop the door open.

We must counter ignorance with facts, I think, or the same negative lines get repeated over and over. That’s a sure way of chasing off potential readers! After all, why should a reader pick up a Christian novel if a bunch of insiders agree Christian fiction is bad?

Here is a smattering of evidence that such a conclusion is faulty (links are to longer excerpts so you can read more if you wish):

The Charlatan’s Boy by Jonathan Rogers — a YA fantasy stand-alone

I don’t remember one thing about the day I was born. It hasn’t been for lack of trying either. I’ve set for hours trying to go back as far as I could, but the earliest thing I remember is riding in the back of Floyd’s wagon and looking at myself in a looking glass.

I’ve run across folks claim they know everything about their birthday—where it happened, who they was with, what day it was. But if you really press them on it, turns out they don’t remember no more about it than I do. They only know what somebody told them.

I don’t care who you are—when it comes to knowing where you come from, you got to take somebody else’s word for it. That’s where things has always got ticklish for me. I only know one man who might be able to tell me where I come from, and that man is a liar and a fraud.

Vanish by Tom Pawlick — first in a series of adult supernatural suspense

It all began with a feeling. Just an eerie feeling.

Conner Hayden peered out his office window at the hazy downtown Chicago vista. Heat plumes radiated from tar-covered rooftops baking in the midafternoon sun. A late-summer heat wave had every AC unit in the city running at full capacity.

He narrowed his eyes. Every unit except the one on the building across the street. On that roof, a lone maintenance worker in blue coveralls crouched beside the bulky air conditioner with his toolbox open beside him.

Conner watched the man toil in the oppressive August heat. Something hadn’t felt right all day. Despite the relative seclusion of his thirty-ninth-floor office, Conner couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.

It had begun early that morning when he stopped for gas. He could have sworn the guy at the next pump was staring at him. Conner saw his face for only an instant. But it looked strange somehow — dark, as if shrouded by a passing shadow. And his eyes . . .

For a moment, his eyes looked completely white.

Then the shadow passed and the guy turned away.

On The Edge Of The Dark Sea Of Darkness, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson — Middle Grade/YA fantasy

Just outside the town of Glipwood, perched near the edge of the cliffs above the Dark Sea sat a little cottage where lived the Igiby family. The cottage was rather plain, except for how comfortable it was, and how nicely it had been built, and how neatly it was kept in spite of the three children who lived there, and except for the love that glowed from it like firelight from its windows at night.

As for the Igiby family? Well, except for the way they always sat late into the night beside the hearth telling stories, and when they sang in the garden while they gathered the harvest, and when the grandfather, Podo Helmer, sat on the porch blowing smoke rings, and except for all the good, warm things that filled their days there like cider in a mug on a winter night, they were quite miserable. Quite miserable indeed, in that land where walked the Fangs of Dang.

Back On Murder by J. Mark Bertrand — first in the Roland March Mystery series, adult mystery

I’m on the way out. They can all tell, which is why the crime scene technicians hardly acknowledge my presence, and my own colleagues do a double take whenever I speak. Like they’re surprised to find me still here.

But I am here, staring down into the waxy face of a man who, with a change of wardrobe, could pass for a martyred saint.

It’s all in the eyes. Rolling heavenward in agony, brows arched in acute pain. A pencil mustache clinging to the vaulted upper lip, blood seeping through the cracks between the teeth. The ink on his biceps. Blessed Virgins and barb-wired hearts and a haloed man with a cleft beard.

But instead of a volley of arrows or a vat of boiling oil, this one took a shotgun blast point-blank just under the rib cage, flaying his wife-beater and the chest cavity beneath. He fell backward onto the bed, arms out, bleeding out onto the dingy sheets.

Lorenz stands next to me, holding the victim’s wallet. He slips the license out and whistles. “Our boy here is Octavio Morales.”

He’s speaking to the room, not me personally, but I answer anyway. “The money guy?”

The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet — adult fantasy (this excerpt is from the Auralia Thread series summary leading up to this book)

THEY CALL THE BOY “RESCUE” FOR A REASON…

The ale boy was once an errand runner, almost invisible as he served House Abascar. As he grew up—an orphan raised by House Abascar’s beer brewer and winemaker—his real name remained a secret, even from him.

But what he did know proved useful indeed. As he gathered the harvest fruits beyond Abascar’s walls, worked with brewers below ground, delivered drinks across the city, and served the king his favorite liquor, the ale boy learned the shortcuts and secrets of that oppressed kingdom.

When the ale boy met Auralia, a mysterious and artistic young woman from the wilderness, they formed a friendship that would change the world. Auralia’s artistry shone with colors no one had ever seen, and when she revealed her masterpiece within House Abascar, the kingdom erupted in turmoil that ended in a calamitous collapse. Auralia vanished, as did her enchanting colors. And hundreds of people died.

Brokenhearted but brave, the ale boy sought out survivors in Abascar’s ruins and helped them find their way to a refuge in the Cliffs of Barnashum.There, led by their new king, Cal-raven, the people endured a harsh winter and an attack from the Cent Regus beastmen.

The Book of Names by D. Barkley Briggs — YA fantasy

The day was gray and cold, mildly damp. Perfect for magic.

Strange clouds overhead teased the senses with a fragrance of storm, wind, and lightning, and the faint, clean smell of ozone. Invisible energy sparkled like morning dew on blades of grass.

Standing alone in an empty field on the back end of their new acreage, Hadyn Barlow only saw the clouds. By definition, you can’t see what’s invisible, and as for smelling magic? Well, let’s just say, unlikely. Hadyn saw what was obvious for late November, rural Missouri: leafless trees, dead grass, winter coming on strong. Most of all he saw (and despised) the humongous briar patch in front of him, feeling anew each and every blister and callus earned hacking through its branches.

Blaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka (maybe the best of them all) — adult fantasy

“On a post. In a pond.”

Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.

It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.

The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.

The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.

Lost Mission by Athol Dickson — adult magic realism (sadly I can’t copy any of the excerpt of this one, so you’ll have to click on the link to get a flavor of the book.

Mind you, this sampling doesn’t include a single author of women’s fiction. In that genre I’d recommend Julie Carobini, Kathryn Cushman, Kathleen Popa, Sharon Souza, Debbie Thomas, and that’s right off the top of my head.

I’m just saying, good Christian fiction is available.

When readers listen to those who don’t (or who no longer) read the genre, they are insuring that publishers will not aim for a larger audience — because when they do, insiders will say, Those genres don’t sell. And they’ll be right because those not informed about the latest books and newest authors are telling potential readers how horrible Christian fiction is. Who wants to buy books when the buzz about them is so negative?

How about, let’s at least keep an open mind, so when someone like me or Tim George who reviews for Fiction Addict or any of the CSFF Tour bloggers gives a contrasting opinion to the “Christian fiction is bad” mantra, we might consider that it’s possible there are some worthwhile books published by Christian houses.

12 Comments

  1. Thanks for the link, Becky, and for this great sampling. I want to make sure your readers understand that the point of my post was not to rail against Christian fiction but that there is a sizeale demographic of readers who want to read faith-based stories but find CBA fare to their disliking. I personally wrestle with CBA stuff not because it’s disporportionately bad, but because I feel it’s sanitized (and there’s not enough speculative to my liking). You might think my concerns are perpetuating stereotypes. Nevertheless, a lot of others seem to share them. Thanks again!

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  2. I’m glad you re-inforced that the “slamming door” attitude was not what you were suggesting or trying to perpetuate, Mike. I didn’t intend to give the impression it was.

    To a degree I think Christian fiction is also sanitized, but not in the same way I think you mean (language, right?) Just Monday I wrote a post at Spec Faith about Christian fiction romanticizing our relationship with Christ.

    Some people might think I’m playing both sides of the fence. I think I’m being realistic — Christian fiction has grown, and changed and improved, but it needs to grow and change and improve.

    Becky

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  3. Just curious…Mike or Rebecca: what qualifies as “Christian fiction,” or is that a played-out question? Have either of you done a post on it? I might be able to pull off the Christian music thing, but not fiction.

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  4. Thanks for these excerpts. I think they are a fair sampling of what there is out there in Christian fiction for both YA and adults. I think they all underscore your point that there is good Christian fiction to be read. Especially Polivka – brilliant writer. There are certain ones not cited which I am happy to see that you didn’t; they would have weakened you’re point (not sure if you overlooked them for that reason, but all the same, I’m glad they’re not in the list). All in all, there is good stuff out there; as you know, I think the area of Speculative fiction for YA is weak, but Jill Williamson is a step in the right direction.

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  5. thanks for taking the time to put up all these excerpts.

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  6. You said it well, Becky. So many truly gifted writers in CBA. And some not so much as with ABA.

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  7. This is pretty clear evidence that there are plenty of quality writers in the Christian fiction community, if we take the time to look for them. The real mystery is why they haven’t all figuratively shaken the dust off their sandals and taken their stories to the secular publishers.

    Christian authors face a maze of preconceptions and expectations from both publishers and audience that are almost impossible to satisfy. As Jay remarked (and yes, this question is beaten up on the Christian writing blogs every couple of months without resolution), simply defining Christian fiction is nearly impossible, and no matter what position you take, a lot of people are going to question either your Christianity or your competency as a writer. It’s fatiguing. The faith content is too explicit and preachy, or not explicit enough and worldly. Even the bonnet romance writers don’t escape scrutiny–Mike linked to an article in which the author wondered if it might be a form of idolatry. I’ve even seen articles deriding the genre as “emotional pornography.”

    While secular writers might be criticized on the quality of their prose or the strength of their ideas, they need not worry about targeting a vanishingly-narrow niche market, having their theology parsed, or their spirituality rated on a scale from “cold” to “lukewarm” to “on fire.”

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  8. Loved reading your post! I too am tired of reading about how poorly written and sanitized Christian fiction is. Sometimes I wonder if with some blogger’s that the subject is brought up for more of a sensationalist approach to getting comments.
    Of course Christian fiction is not always well crafted, I don’t think contemporary fiction is always well crafted. It is all a matter of taste is it not?
    But, remember the word Christian in front of fiction makes all the world of difference. But, don’t think that because I made that last statement that I meant good stories should not be written just because it is Christian fiction. What I do mean is that the word Christian should hold authors and readers to a higher level of accountability in what is written and what is read. After all we are “a believer and a follower of the teachings of Christ Jesus.”
    Thank you.

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  9. Love this post, Becky! And The Charlatan’s Boy is an example of a book that caught the eye of the general marketing dept at Random House, so there. 🙂

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  10. I think it’s sad that I can’t find many of these books at my library or at my nearest B&N, and that’s my biggest beef. I have to hope I can download them on my Nook. I’ve already got some of Overstreet’s books on there. Thanks for posting this. 🙂

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  11. I just added the Peterson to my wishlist, and I really appreciate you giving us good reviews on great books. Thanks so much.

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  12. […] week Becky Miller answered some critics by showing actual excerpts from several recent Christian novels. I also loved her clarification in a later comment: “Some […]

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