Soup’s On: Christian Fiction for Everyone!

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Though I try to resist, I just can’t seem to help myself. I’m addicted to Christian fiction. Even bad Christian fiction, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of bad. Ever since that demon-obsessed Frank Peretti, I haven’t been able to get enough. Now I’m not as addicted as some people I know–and we all know someone like her–but there are a number of reasons I’m worried about this particular addiction.

First, there’s the bad writing I imbibe. As an editor, I find it horrifying, but as a reader, I couldn’t care less. And I’m worried that as soon as the reader in me overtakes the editor, I’ll be out of a job. I have to keep my critical sensibilites to keep the baby fed.

Second, there’s the little matter of my own writing. Reading these books is a vicarious thrill because I get to not only imagine myself as the characters, I get to imagine myself the writer. And the better books actually encourage this. They let you be an active participant in the story’s creation. Anyone’s who’s read a good deal of Christian fantasy knows this is a major reason to read that stuff. You get to see your imagination come to life. The problem is, there comes a point when reading (like talking, chatting, gaming, iPoding, or blogging), is inimical and opposed to novel-writing. Period.

But my third reason, and maybe most concerning, relates to a thread going over at the great Faith in Fiction chat board that the ubiquitous Professor Bertrand posted, which reintroduces this most vexing of questions: are we Christian writers, writers who happen to be Christian, or Christians who happen to be writers? And just so you know, there IS a right answer, and this WILL be on the test.

I don’t like this question. It’s too squishy and you can’t really dance to it. Someone pointed out that Christian fiction is largely reactionary to the larger market, offering a simpler, cleaner, wholesomerer substitute for the secular fare. This is essentially what Christian means in our culture: take something ordinary and worldly and make it pleasing and sacred. But like so many seemingly meaningful activities condoned by modern American Evangelical consumer Christians, there’s actually very little redeeming going on. And if you look at how CBA began in the ’50s as a reaction to snobbery in the New York publishing world that was keeping Christian books out, you start to realize why it’s such an uphill battle to get masterful books produced. First, there aren’t a great hoarde of them, but mostly, “masterful” just isn’t the main objective. Or even one of the main objectives. And we settle for less.

And I don’t really want to realize this. I want to read my books and keep popping placebos. Because once you start thinking about it, it’s like waking up and realizing the pretty wife you’ve been dreaming you were kissing is actually a stinky St. Bernard with Alpo breath.

The mantra has been “Christian fiction can be as good as secular fiction” for about 55 years now. And don’t start doubting that there are plenty of writers in CBA as good as anyone secular. It’s just that the Christian publishers can’t publish them “as is” in the good ol’ CBA.

BUT! there is a revolution coming. And it’s not going to be taking existing secular ideas and making them pleasant and sanctified. It won’t be stealing from CBA’s profit margins, and it won’t be reactionary to the ABA. Editors, publishers, booksellers, and even some renegade CBA bookstore shoppers (God love ’em) are gearing up for something new in Christian fiction: Christian fiction that doesn’t pull any punches. Relevant, authentic, realistic, unique fiction that’s gritty and honest and doesn’t play by the rules. Enough writers are already writing it. It’s only a matter of time before the publishing industry has to do something with all the manuscripts. And they’re already starting to pour in. Some are trying to cut out just enough to get them in under the wire–much like Hollywood does to get the PG rating. But this tack isn’t going to work forever. There’s just too much reality, too many emerging voices, too many effects of sin and consequences and deep, earth-shattering redemptive Truth confronting us from it all.

Ultimately, there might be another withdrawl from CBA to form the Emergent CBA–I don’t know. But it’s coming. Christian fiction is coming into its own. Soon, there will be Christian fiction for everyone.

And on that day, I’ll have to close up this shop and indulge my addiction till I pop.

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12 thoughts on “Soup’s On: Christian Fiction for Everyone!”

  1. Mick, I know you have a lot on your plate. But I want you to promise me that if you ever hear that I have died, you will drop everything, rush to my graveside, and insist that the words “the ubiquitous Professor Bertrand” be chiseled on the tombstone. Don’t take no for an answer. :)

  2. Well at your rate of speed, I’d predict that demise might be sooner than you think. Of course, I’m just jealous.
    I’ve got it. You had yourself cloned, didn’t you? That’s probably grounds for dismissal at the Academy.

  3. “I don’t like this question. It’s too squishy and you can’t really dance to it.”
    I figured a squishy question that can’t be answered with a definite resolution would be right up your pomo alley. What’s with wanting black/white all of a sudden?

  4. Oh, you got me.
    I was being too sympathetic to my modernist readers, trying to identify and be relevant to their difficulties with “squishiness” (though, I obviously couldn’t help a little facetiousness too).
    I actually love the question. It’s reminiscent of those great blue book essay questions you used to get for your midterms. “What is quality?” “Is God the standard of absolute beauty?” “Why is there air?”
    And then, of course, there’s: “How can Mark blog four places at once and still hold down a steady job?”

  5. And about the hardback books for over-50, rich chicks: I’ve got to imagine that any of us here would be proud to produce a story as amazing as The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I was introduced to by precisely the kind of woman you describe. I can see that it would probably be painful to think about old chicks during the writing itself (especially if you’re a young, edy male), but why should it be painful thinking about them purchasing and enjoying your books–and telling everyone they know? Over-50 Rich Chicks Rule! ;)

  6. I dance, too, Mary, and it isn’t pretty! But we over-50 chicks have to do something to keep the arthritis from setting in… When you get to be my age, you really just say things like “Over-50 Chicks Rule!” to try to bring yourself some small measure of comfort… :)

  7. (Shhhh, relevantgirl. You’re going to ruin my reputation.) What she meant to say was, Jeanne is sedate and serious. Maybe not as ubiquitous as Professor Bertrand, but she gets around in a scholarly, serene sort of way. No, heh heh, that must have been someone else you saw busting mean moves at the Peacock Club. And no, she still hasn’t gotten that merlot stain out of her leather pants . . . I mean, her, um, cardigan sweater, and it was, um, grape juice . . . anyone read any good books lately?

  8. Great entry, Mick. I hadn’t thought so far ahead that I was envisioning an emergent CBA. Let’s hope there won’t become as many bookseller’s associations as there are denominations! (What a scary thought…)

  9. I don’t know how this happened, but this is the first time I’ve been to your blog, Mick. Great stuff. I’m ready to start EmergentFiction whenever you are. I get away with more than a lot of writers do, but man oh man, would I really like to spread my wings.

  10. The key to blogging in four places at once is to strike a Faustian bargain with Mephist- er, never mind. Don’t want to give away all my secrets…
    Actually, the key is not to do it at once. You alternate. And you let your wife catch your typos after they’ve entered the public domain.
    Just to clarify, I’m neither young nor edgy, though I am post-postmodern. (So over that.) Can’t dance, though I did read a book about it once, and my subsequent lame attempt was immortalized in a huge art installation by a friend of mine — a triptych, no less. One day it will be priceless (when I have to buy it back to preserve the legacy).

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