Home » Taking on Low Quality in CBA, aka Professional Suicide

Taking on Low Quality in CBA, aka Professional Suicide

Writing low-quality books—fiction with stock characters and clichéd nonfiction—is fine. For some. If you have no higher purpose, why not write what’s going to make money?

But for Christians, is there an excuse?

Think about this.

Left Behind. Famous Christian novel series selling upwards of 63 million copies. People from all walks of life, children and parents, grandkids and great grandmas have read and enjoyed the stories built around recognizable characters and a familiar plot line. The theology behind the story is a challenge—there’s not much art to the telling, but the concept is not a simple, pleasant one to swallow. They do make—and have made—people think about what’s to come in the days ahead. Will the world really end like this? Am I ready for the possibility?

However, the fact that these novels are so obviously “built” as a sensational vehicle and end up peddling subliminal ideas about the state of Christian belief is inexcusable. When it comes to representing the artistic values of Christians, and the God we serve, the Left Behind novels present precious little that’s positive about the state of modern Christianity. And don’t even get me started on the virtual nonexistence of postmodern Christian art.

Do we represent a God who doesn’t care about the quality of our creations? What does God—the God we were created in the likeness of to represent—what does he think when we offer up “spotty lambs,” lambs of lesser quality than others’, others who are not even bound by the same code we are?
Some might take issue with the idea that we have spotty lambs in CBA. Certainly not everyone is going to be willing to accept that Jenkins has compromised his artistic sensibilities to write these books. Even though by his own admission, this writer of over 150 books has written the Left Behind books to “put the cookies on the bottom shelf,” and despite the fact that he runs a very profitable service for beginning writers to learn the craft of good, high-quality work, Jerry Jenkins is a man of deep convictions. I’ve known him since my early days at Focus, and I’ve been to his conference more than once as a publishing representative (though probably for my last time now). It’s a very nice spread down there at the Broadmoor hotel and I’m impressed by the program they offer. I just don’t happen to agree with the philosophy. Putting the cookies on the bottom shelf makes for chubby children and mental midgets. And the fact that these books have proven just how many there are out there who resemble that description doesn’t excuse it.

Everyone gobbles up what sells. But we need to be about more than what sells.

Obviously, it isn’t just a problem of selling. Gilead has sold plenty of copies (nowhere near 63 million) and was considerably harder to write, probably more than all the Left Behind novels put together. But of course, that’s apples to oranges. We don’t compare them. Jerry’s writing for a different audience, and he admits it: essentially he’s saying he’s written Left Behind for dumb, lazy people, or maybe just short people depending how you read his cookies comment, but either way, they’re for people who can’t or won’t be bothered to think a little harder about things. And why can’t we encourage people to stretch a little? Seems we have a pretty good biblical example of some Jewish guy who did this with his stories. But then, he wasn’t much of a “butt-in-chair” kind of guy either, so maybe that’s not the best analogy.

Maybe we should get Jerry on here to debate this. I’d sincerely like to understand this problem of Christians creating low art. He probably wouldn’t answer anything directly—success has a way of making people evasive. And he’d have Jesus’ attitude to excuse him there. But it’s downright vexing to me and fairly troublesome to more than a few people, and it isn’t just books either. There’s also Thomas Kinkade Every artistic industry is suffering from a lack of godly inspiration. But my question, and the question of millions who consider CBA’s well-meaning artistic endeavors in creating Christian books, is WHY?

Why aren’t CBA books better?

Certainly, there are many reasons. Too many to count. There are even too many categories to consider. From personal to cultural, political, economical, historical, even biblical. I’d like to consider a few of them over the next few posts as part of my on-going reality check series, within the all-encompassing theme of seeking out a greater purpose to do what we do, that being to love, and learning to express the transformation that transcendent reality provides.

Sure, we could talk about some publishing realities, and originally that’s what these reality checks were going to be. It’s a hard knocks business and it’s good to keep your head about the realities of working as a writer in this industry. But ultimately, I realized I couldn’t be bothered with those nuts and bolts things. Ultimately, I want to find out if we who supposedly bear the marks of an encounter with that kind of love will not somehow be held to a higher standard in our books. If we’ve been transformed, can we not write transformed?

Obviously, we’re going to have to define this thing called quality too–it isn’t just stringing words together and using correct grammar. It should be a fun discussion if we can keep our open minds. Come on back.

38 Responses to “Taking on Low Quality in CBA, aka Professional Suicide”

  1. I’ve heard comments that books like the Left Behind series are what pay the bills at the publishing houses in order to allow for them to publish more quality literature. Looking forward to your future posts on this subject.

  2. Nicole says:

    These are brave comments,assessments, and questions, but I have to ask who is ultimately responsible for getting the books in print?
    I absolutely agree Christian writers should produce the “best” literature, etc., but who is making the decision to publish what is being produced?
    There are some genuine craftsmen and women in Christian writing today, but there are also a lot of formula books out there which seem designed, structured, and clipped to meet a technical standard of a textbook based on “the story”. Stick to the story–don’t allow ANYthing in there that doesn’t contribute directly to the story. How does that mirror life? Don’t allow ANYthing in your life which doesn’t fit into your goal, your direction, your inspiration? Not gonna happen.
    Recently a Christian novel won an award in a category it didn’t really fit into, and, yes, it had more of a crafted, literary flavor to it. Definitely well-written. However, there were some glaring errors in it regarding a certain incident with the main character as well as something critically important was ignored. One of the judges didn’t even see what was ignored because the writing was so impressive to this person. So, what’s up with that?
    I cannot write without the inspiration of the Spirit. The Lord takes my characters to places I’d never think to go. More than anything else, Christian writers should be writing in obedience to God. If this is where the Lord has gifted an individual, then writing done in obedience to Him should be the best. Some He gives as storytellers, and others He gives as “portrayers” of lovely language woven into stories. Some He blesses with both. When the focus changes from doing what He wants to doing what we want, we all lose. I think that applies to writers, editors, agents, and publishers.
    Sorry for being long-winded.

  3. Wow, Mick. That red, swirling mass you’ve set before us really is that can o’ worms we’ve all heard tell of. But danged if you didn’t raise some cogent questions. And danged if this struggling mid-lister has any answers. Although I’m open to hearing some…

  4. Steve Parolini says:

    Maybe one of the answers to this multi-layered question is that we have lots and lots of vertically-challenged readers out there. People who just don’t want to reach any higher than the bottom shelf.
    It’s easy to point to the publishing houses as partly culpable because they determine the parameters of what is acceptable (perhaps actually limiting the space in which God might be able to move). Many discussions have passed through this blog on that very topic, so there’s no need to revisit that at the moment.
    It’s also fairly easy to point to the writer as partly responsible–particularly if he or she is admitting to writing a sort of book that sits on the low shelves.
    But it’s a bit harder to admit, I think, that the world at large simply doesn’t want to reach any higher. Is there value in offering these people cookies with at least some nutritional value? Maybe that’s what Jerry has done. Maybe that’s what some of us do when we don’t hit that high shelf mark we wish we could in our own writing. Maybe it’s “starter church” for some readers—a place many will remain, but some…hopefully some…will use as the first step toward more.
    This is just one group for whom the bottom shelf won’t be enough. There are others, too, who long for something more. Something that surprises them with a glimpse of God’s excellence. Something that presents more mystery than answers.
    This is the very thing that prompts you and I to wrestle with the question. We want to point to God’s best work on the higher shelves and say “Yes! There IS more. It’s right there.” We want to tell others that it’s worth the climb.
    And so we do. Or we try. Perhaps our efforts as writers or editors or evangelists of “good literature” turn a few eyes upward as they approach the shelf. That seems a worthy endeavor.
    But Nicole is right—we need to follow God’s calling for our work, whatever that is. If it’s to write or even merely point to the top shelves…then do so boldly. If it’s speaking to the masses who won’t budge from the lower shelf…do that just as boldly.
    As for me…I’ll continue to scan those higher shelves. I’m looking for your book, Mick.

  5. Nicole says:

    You know, I’ve just read this post and the comments over for the umpteenth time, and there is a bit of a quandary. The Left Behind series (I’m probably the only living Christian who’s never read any of them), let’s say reached the “bottom shelf-ers” and made the big bucks for the publishers, etc. And, perhaps, as you said, Mick, got all kinds of them to consider eternity. And, perhaps, other CBA novels are leaning toward that audience, possibly not intending to but doing so, nevertheless, and selling well. Steve seems to have nailed it with the premise that many of those readers are only going to be met at that level. And maybe for some them it isn’t intentional–it’s the best they can do. (Don’t get me started on public education!)
    So, having said that (which is virtually nothing), look now at the ABA, and in essence you have the same issue. There is a lot of worthless garbage out there under that label. It’s certainly not a given that all ABA books smack of gifted writing.
    I would expect an acquistions editor to long for quality. Now the elusive definition of that remains subjective but surely there are some identifying characteristics that speak of the higher level of writing, not the “spotty lambs”. If the motive is to make the big bucks by catering to the bottom shelf-ers, that’s just wrong, but what if the motive is to “help” them read, hear, or ponder the gospel?

  6. Matt says:

    Several years ago when I was a brand new Christian I read the first couple books in the Left Behind series. That was enough for me. The larger problem I had with the books (other than the quality of the writing), is that I didn’t (and still don’t) agree with the eschatology. I think dispensational eschatology is unbiblical and borderline ridiculous. It is a little baffling to me how some pretty good theological minds still cling to that whole theological system. That said, I think Jenkins is a good and sincere man from everything I’ve ever read or heard about him.
    Regarding your larger point about the lack of quality in the CBA-I can’t say that I’ve read enough CBA titles to conclude that they’re way below the average ABA offering. I have read some pretty decent ABA books lately, and I’ve also started and failed to finish some supposedly good ABA books that had such a depressing worldview or were so pretentious that I didn’t want to waste my time with them. I’m all for technical/artistic excellence, but I think the Christian writer must not only seek excellence in craft, but also goodness, truth and beauty. (In fact, I think writing is a moral exercise and something that’s false, no matter how cleverly worded or brilliantly conceived is not excellent.) I’m not afraid to admit that I like uplifting, redemptive stories. Life with God, despite all of its difficulties, is, in fact, uplifting and redemptive. Far from being pollyannish, this perspective is (I think) in accord with reality.
    The other thing I would say is that there are a lot of godly Christians who love the Lord and who will never be particularly discerning readers. As I sit in small group bible studies it has occurred to me on more than one occasion that God has given teachers to the church and not everyone is one. Until Jesus comes back church leaders will complain about the lack of discernment in God’s people and literary types will be discouraged by the quality of the books people read-both secular and Christian. That’s just how it is IMO. That doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t strive for excellence or that publishers should put the cookies only on the bottom shelf.
    I’m looking forward to your discussion of what constitutes “quality”. Also, Gilead is a great example of a wonderful book with strong Christian elements that sold very well, but it is, and will always be, a book of rare quality. Besides, didn’t Marilyn Robinson go something like 20 years between novels? Most writers can’t afford to do that. I suspect that she’s actually read more by general market readers than inspirational types.

  7. Conrad says:

    Standing here, looking at a pulverized carcass that I assume used to be a horse . . .
    Sometimes crap sells. Everyone has examples. However, nobody succeeds by sitting down and intentionally writing what he believes to be crap in order to cash in. Every writer thinks their writing is the good stuff and it’s somebody else who’s writing crap.
    You can’t sell insincere crap that you wrote just to cash in. If your crap isn’t sincere, it’s not going to sell. The only crap that sells is the crap written by people who believe in their work.
    So the answer isn’t to challenge people to quit selling out. They aren’t selling out. They’re doing the best they can, writing crap that happens to resonate and therefore sells.
    You can’t fix that without going to them individually and somehow convincing them that they are writing crap. And what’s the point in that?
    The real problem is that it sells, not that people are writing it. But there is a reason that the National Enquirer is the largest selling paper. And you’re not going to change that without a large nuclear arsenal.

  8. acornstwo says:

    I agree with the past several comments.
    When I read a book like Gillead, my own best writing looks like crap to me. And yet, I’m drawn to the Gilleads every time. Why do I torture myself?
    Because I used to write crap compared to Left Behind. Stretching has made me grow, and that gives me hope.
    The other day I had a conversation with a beautiful, loving, mature Christian woman in my church. She told me what she likes to read, and it made my head hurt, just listening to her. She’d never heard of Gillead or Peace Like a River, and doubted she’d be interested. Her maturity comes from Bible study and prayer, thank you. When she reads, she likes drivel.
    But who am I to complain? I read books from the high shelves, but for now, at best I write for the middle shelves. I’m growing as fast as I can.
    And it takes every bit of energy I’ve got to do that. I don’t have time to complain about the people who read the books on the bottom shelf, or the writers who write them. “What is that to you?” asks Jesus. “You follow me.”

  9. I’m not so sure I believe this “bottom shelf” analogy. If people really didn’t want to reach higher why does Beth Moore sell?
    It took me a long time to convince myself to work through one of her studies and when I was finished, I realized why she was so popular. She doesn’t treat her audience as if they were morons, as if they could never hope to move to any other level other than that which they were on.
    Is that what we do when we assume people don’t want to go anywhere except the bottom shelf?
    I believe people are aching for something real and tangible. Something they can sink their teeth into. They’re tired of milk and their jaws are ready for meat.

  10. Katy McKenna says:

    I have no answers, only an observation. We have a huge Mardel store here in the KC area, in Johnson County, KS, a very wealthy county.
    It has quite an extensive fiction section, including some of my faves like Mary DeMuth and Lisa Samson. So I shop there with a bit of regularity.
    The past three times in a row, as I’ve been perusing the fiction aisle, customers in pairs have trailed along, talking amongst themselves just loud enough for me to hear.
    “Where IS he? Oh, look! Here he is. Tim LaHaye!”
    The third time it happened, I did have the nearly overwhelming urge to say, “Hey, look at these shelves. If you want, I could recommend other great books.”
    But you know what? I have a sister, now 49, who’s ONLY read the Mitford books. EVER. By the time she started reading them, she’d been out of high school 25 years without reading a SINGLE book.
    She’s not a Christian, and I was thrilled that she loved Mitford. If I suggested an additional author, though, she’d turn me down flat.
    All I can say it, I hope Ms. Karon keeps writing so that my sister (and many thousands of others who wouldn’t otherwise) keeps reading.

  11. Suzan says:

    There are bottom shelf novels in ABA as well as CBA.
    People who write novels from a Christian worldview should be better than ABA standards. Always better. Not the same. Not worse. We represent a perfect, excellent God. We must reflect that.
    We are surrounded by mediocre, cheap imitations of everything from love to food, to art. Our current culture, both Christian and secular, glories in the mediocre and cheap imitations. For every “Gilead” theres a thousand *insert name of bad novel here* in ABA and CBA.
    Of course Christians should produce more books like “Gilead” and “Peace Like a River.” But we don’t because no one is demanding it. Not the readers, not the publishers.
    Readers want to be entertained with crap that makes them forget their mediocre lives. Publishers need to stay in business.
    How many books like “Gilead” would have been published in CBA last year if a CBA publisher had that manuscript? How many? How many would have been willing to take that chance that a novel as literary as that would sell to CBA readers? How many in ABA?
    Who has the courage to break the cycle? Who?
    Somebody? Anybody?
    Always questions, never answers, because no one is willing to risk it all for change. Why not? Isn’t God bigger than risk? Maybe that’s the problem. Their god is too small.

  12. Matt said: “I think the Christian writer must not only seek excellence in craft, but also goodness, truth and beauty.”
    Hmm…just how does that fit — the pursuit of truth (the pursuit of God Himself)?
    When Marilynne Robinson pursued truth, she ended up with Gilead. Maybe when Jerry and Tim pursued truth, they ended up with Left Behind. I’ll be one of the first in line to join the “you call that theology?” parade, but who’s to say they weren’t doing what you or I are attempting?
    Yeah, the “putting cookies on the bottom shelf” comment is troubling. Maybe that was Jerry’s apology to himself for not reaching the mark he wanted? Maybe it was his way to rationalize a continued feeding of what had become a money-making monster? That’s really between Jerry (and Tim) and God, I suppose. Just as my work and the motivation behind it is between God and me.
    But here’s what I desire: I desire to pursue truth and I want to do so with excellence. I believe God calls us to pursue excellence in everything we do. But what if my “best” still relegates my work to the bottom shelf? (Stock characters, perhaps?)
    I can hear it now: “Aha! See how you’re contributing to the lack of quality in the CBA, Steve? Step away from the computer and no one will get hurt.”
    Maybe I would. Maybe I’d close the laptop and turn my efforts toward cheering on those writers to whom God has given the rare gift of writerly excellence.
    Or maybe I’d keep writing. Still chasing excellence. Still coming up short. But always in the pursuit of truth.
    Would that be enough?
    [By the way, if I contradict myself here or elsewhere, I’m blaming Illinois’ oxygen-rich air for the apparent schizophrenia. My brain is still recipe-adjusted for Colorado’s high-altitude thinking.]

  13. Suzan says:

    I think that it depends on whether you are creating art for God’s glory or man’s rewards. Not everyone is Tolstoy or Picasso. But if the gift is used with excellence, and the goal is to glorify Him, then there is a place for the novel. That place might be on the top, middle,or bottom shelf. In my opinion, there are too many on the bottom right now.
    The rush to be published,in CBA perhaps is for the “message,” believing that is the means to a reader’s salvation. (As well as the money/fame for some.) In ABA, it’s mostly for money and fame.
    In CBA, it seems that it’s the “message” that counts more than excellent creative expression. Is the book’s purpose to make one think, to entertain, to convert, or to simply create a thing of beauty to the glory of God?
    Maybe the purpose needs to change, who knows?

  14. In the past few months, I’ve read a stack of beautifully written novels straight from CBA. The stories resonated with me for days (some will stay with me for the rest of my life), and I know God is using these novels to change lives.
    I haven’t read Left Behind so I can’t comment on that series, but I believe God delights in quality work from His childen. Yet, as you said, what exactly is quality? And is God more concerned with reaching people where they are than expecting them to reach up to a higher shelf to find Him? After all, He sent His only Son all the way down to the “bottom shelf” to reach us.
    I’m looking forward to your discussion, Mick.

  15. As a writer who spent 2 years working at a seminary bookstore that sold its fair share of Crap, I learned that my relationship with said Crap had to be:
    Don’t read it. (Skim it in the store so you can make sure your Crap Detector is working.)
    Don’t buy it.
    Don’t write it. Exclamation point!
    And avoid hand-wringing about All The Crap That’s Out There because it’ll lead you right into the arrogance zone. That’ll kill your own writing faster than a bookshelf full of Crap.

  16. DLE says:

    Seven thoughts:
    1. Evangelical Christians are a minority in our culture. Therefore, the number of writers within that community will be smaller than the secular community. Numbers alone will tell you why there are more excellent secular authors than Christian authors.
    2. Evangelicalism is suffering from progressive intellectual rot. We simply do not honor our intellectuals. Intellectuals outside the Church see that and want no part of us. They never come into the fold. This keeps a lot of good writers out.
    3. Just as intellectuals are shooed away, artists are routinely disparaged within the Evalgelical community, particularly if they are not “understood.” This also keeps good writers out.
    4. To keep from alienating the many sectarian views in Evangelicalism, Christian publishing houses may overlook controversial or difficult works by the most gifted writers. This leads to a bland, lowest-common-denominator perspective.
    5. Combining points #2 & #3, Evangelicals do not encourage their children to pursue educations fitted toward writing. Walk into your average church and ask how many people know what kind of degree an MFA is. My guess would be that fewer than 1% would know. Also, I went to a noted Christian college and, as I look through my yearbook, very few people majored in English.
    6. I’m guessing on this one, but if Christian writers are similar to their non-writing counterparts, they wind up in a Christian “ghetto” with few non-Christian friends and acquaintances. This winds up hurting their fiction because the world they depict as normal becomes oddly sterile. Characters, both Christian and non-Christian, seem to ring false too many times (at least to me).
    7. Many readers of Christian fiction are locked into one author or another. They don’t read outside their favorite genres, either. While this is true in secular markets, I’ve found it to be worse in Christian ones. Sectarian differences only heighten this narrowness.

  17. Nicole says:

    Good presentation, but I have to disagree with the point about “excellent secular authors” outnumbering excellent Christian authors. Proportionately, at worst, it’s a draw.
    Secondly, intellectuals not “coming into the fold” because “The Church” refuses to “honor them”? You’re kidding, right? The only honor is reserved for Jesus Christ, not some pithy writer who thinks he can make words dance on water.
    In point 4, the operative word is “may”. Some do, some don’t.
    Point 5 is a sweeping generalization and begs the question how many churches have you attended and surveyed to arrive at this conclusion? Evangelical parents as a whole are most likely to encourage their children to pursue what the Lord has for them and to assist them in that endeavor.
    I wonder how you find a sterile environment in the “ghetto”.

  18. Eric Wilson says:

    Supply and demand. An all-American concept. I agree with your take on the Left Behind books, Mick. I’m even more concerned, though, with the buying public’s rush toward such low-quality writing. Indeed, there are some incredible novels in the Christian market–Cramer’s “Bad Ground” and Dickson’s “River Rising,” to name two of my favorites–but such books don’t seem to generate much in the way of sales. With little demand, the supply runs dry and the artistic pond stagnates. It’s not only a Christian issue; it’s an issue of our pop culture. Sadly, this small Christian pond only magnifies the size of the junk that keeps floating to the top. One of the best “Christian” novels I’ve ever read was published in the secular market. That book, “Heaven Lake,” would never be allowed in a Christian bookstore. But, I’m willing to venture, it would do quite nicely in a “bookstore for God.” Go, Mick! Let’s shake this thing up.

  19. Passion in an editor is wonderful. Clearly the bean-counters are going to favor the Left Behind types, but the editors have got to be the push for excellence.
    Second, I agree with an earlier comment. (I think it was Matt.) The biggest complaint I have about the Left Behind is that they are wrong in their eschatology. Weird stuff.
    That’s my beef.

  20. Jules Quincy Stephens says:

    Didn’t I read somewhere that the idea for “Left Behind” was rejected until the publisher who ended up publishing “Left Behind” said they could easily sell 20 million copies? He saw dollar signs, not saved souls floating toward the Heavenly Hosts.

  21. DLE says:

    1. I’ve made a point of reading popular Christian authors and popular secular authors side-by-side this year. So far, the number of good books that are engaging and well-written, with strong characters and good storylines, have mostly been from secular authors.
    2. I’ve been a Christian for almost thirty years and a churchwatcher nearly as long. My degree is in a field that demands close observation of church practices. And I can say with no hesitation at all that Evangelicalism is rife with anti-intellectualism right now. People with advanced educations and who read challenging and thought-provoking works are routinely held up for scorn in all kinds of Evangelical churches. The problem is becoming worse, too. If you don’t believe me, check your own church and find how many scientists of any kind or people with doctorates are part of your congregation. My guess would be far fewer than should be expected demographically.
    3. Saying my point #5 is a sweeping generalization puts the ball in your court: how many parents in your church encourage their children to be professional writers? To pursue English degrees or MFAs? Few to none, I suspect, if your church is like most churches.

  22. Nicole says:

    Good comeback. But why should a parent encourage a child to be a writer if God isn’t calling him there? I’ve written since I was a small child–it was obvious to me and my parents that writing was defintiely going to be a part of my life. There was also another call on my life which I pursued for 30 years. Now writing is up full-time. Are you a parent? Would you push your child to be a writer if God had not gifted them in that field? And finally, English degrees and MFAs, even doctorates, along with scientists, attorneys, mathematicians, and Indian Chiefs are all equal to the “ghetto” Christians in the Lord’s eyes. Thank you, Jesus, for that. Otherwise, my less than brainiac status would put me far down on the rung of the intellectual ladder.
    You don’t have to be an intellectual to write well or to hear from God. If you’re writing what He wants you to write according to His plan of excellence for you, it really doesn’t matter what you or I think about the work. And fortunately, He covers all levels of humanity.
    (BTW, our current pastor has a doctorate, among other degrees, and he’s a “regular” guy who is devoted to Jesus.)

  23. As novelists and continuous students of the craft, we want to create art. We think in terms of POV, and symbolism, and icons, and characterization, etc. To us, regardless of genre, the best writing offers the reader underlying meaning, leading to take-away value. My most recent novel begins with a frightening discovery of a body in a hot tub. Nothing very artful about that. Yet underneath the unfolding suspense plot is meaning about how broken people manage their scars and choose–or choose not–to show them to the world.
    That said, we have to remember–many, many readers do not come to our product for its art or any underlying meaning whatsoever. They come to our product for sheer entertainment. Many readers don’t want to think too hard when they read–their lives are stress-filled enough. My husband, a successful and highly intelligent businessman, will only watch movies that are comedies or adventure. No drama. No “art.” He wants the fluff. He wants to laugh. His days are drama-filled enough. I’m glad there are movies that offer what he needs for entertainment.
    We can say the same for books.
    So, yes, write on and write the best for your art. We all want to better our craft. Readers who are your target audience will find your books. But even loyal readers may not completely understand our art value as well as they understand our entertainment value. Many times, as I find with my suspense readers, they’ll enjoy the plot and surface story, and say, “Great book” without ever really getting the underlying meaning. That meaning is there for the more introspective readers. But both can enjoy the story on their own level.
    Still, our industry needs the novels that are written for the masses who want pure entertainment and little else. These people deserve their books just as much as the more “art”-seeking folks deserve theirs. An industry is built through offering a wide spectrum of product. To the people seeking easy entertainment, their level of product IS quality–because it meets their needs.
    Bottom line, there is room for all types of books, targeted toward very different audiences. Judgment of writing quality remains in the eyes of each beholder.

  24. Matt says:

    Good discussion. Don’t have time to chime in again at the moment, but below is a link to an interesting interview with a non-Christian (hate that term but “unbeliever” isn’t much better) about the “Christian” music industry. I think there are some parallels to the book industry but also some differences.

  25. DLE says:

    But aren’t Christians just as guilty of “amusing ourselves to death” (as Neil Postman so accurately observed)as unbelievers? I don’t think Jesus died on a cross so we could spend hours and hours reading throwaway entertainment or watching it on TV or the big screen. Yet that is what we seem to do be doing.
    If Christian fiction has no greater message than pure escapism, then it’s a distraction and interference rather than something that edifies. Salt makes things salty. If it has no saltiness, then it’s lost its whole raison d’etre.
    What’s the difference between the pagan woman at home who’s buried herself in some trashy romance novel and the Christian woman at home who’s buried herself in a Christian romance? Not much of one that I can see. Yet we’ll argue for the Christian romance simply because it exists–and that’s wrong.

  26. Nicole says:

    So you’re equating a “Christian romance” novel with a trashy romance novel, equalizing the motivations behind either choice?
    Alright. What was the last “Christian romance” novel you read?
    God planned for entertainment. If He hadn’t, there wouldn’t be any creativity or fun. Are you “amusing yourself to death”?
    Brandilyn never suggested that escapism and entertainment were the sole purposes/motivations/reasons for reading or writing. She indicated that sometimes a person needs a release and chooses the type of release they might need.
    Are you spending “hours and hours reading throwaway entertainment or watching it on TV or the big screen”? If yes, then stop it. No one’s coercing you to do so. If not, then what’s it to you? Each one of us will answer up for our choices. Do you really think it’ll make any difference if someone spends hours and hours reading sterling intellectual material, stimulating their brains or immersing themselves in “The National Enquirer”? If you’re wasting your time here on earth searching for more and more ways to waste time and be entertained, intellectually stimulated, or anything else in disobedience to the Lord, does it really matter what that choice is?

  27. DLE says:

    Our entire American culture is geared toward entertainment. American spend more time entertaining themselves than almost anything outside of work. The question here is whether or not we need more of it, particularly in the form of “Christian” fiction designed to do nothing more than entertain.
    I don’t know what Bible you read, but I don’t see too many passages on seeking “release,” as you define it. And what recreation is depicted in Scripture is done together with friends and family. It has a community structure, not an individualized one. What is more individualistic than curling up with an escapist piece of writing?
    As for me reading romance, the better question would be, “What romance have you written?” And I have written romance. It’s simple to write. The greater question is whether it’s necessary. Or what is the ultimate function of romance novels, particularly those that claim to be Christian? Could they be creating an unhealthy yearning in people who read them? A desire for something they don’t have that only makes them ungrateful for what they do have?
    Few are asking those kinds of questions of today’s Christian fiction, no matter the genre.

  28. Nicole says:

    Just so you know, I read the NIV for the most part. You’re an amazing guy. You’ve got all the answers for everyone.
    Romance is inherent in a woman’s soul. Right romance is not to be feared by any male or female, and written well can clarify God’s perspective on it. If it’s “simple to write”, then it probably isn’t very deep in scope.
    Community structure? Jesus had to get away from the community to pray. Everyone has to get away, if only for a few moments. Fathers, mothers, kids, people need some down time, release time, call it what you will. How about “rest”? You see that word in the Bible, do you not?
    Why can’t you extend the Lord’s grace to those who aren’t at the same place as you are in your theology, practices, preferences?
    And we certainly need Christian fiction more than we need secular fiction, which is what this blog was supposed to be about–the ways to improve it without emasculating it into another form of secular fiction.

  29. Oh, my. I’m sorry, DLE, that I did not make myself understood. You and I are talking two different subjects. Christian novels intended for readers who prefer an easy read over a deep literary one can still have spiritual relevancy and a Christian message. Mick’s post was on the level of literary “quality” in our writing. So when I used the term “meaning” I was speaking not of Christian message, but in literary terms of underlying layers of Story, of employing symbolism, subtexting, icons, and the like.

  30. Are romance novels necessary? I’d be hesitant to toss a genre out the window so hastily just because a truth about who God created us to be—a people who long for romance—is presented in a manner that doesn’t reek with literary style. A cheap romance—that is, one which cheapens the idea of romance—probably is best avoided. A cheap any-genre-of-writing probably ought to be avoided. But does the Christian romance genre cheapen romance, or does it attempt to paint a picture (simplistic or not) of what God intended for love between a man and a woman?
    I don’t mean to suggest that God intended for all us men to ride up on white horses and save the ranch and capture the girl’s heart and carry her off into the sunset. (Though what would be so wrong about that?) And I certainly don’t mean to suggest that the manner in which men and women are portrayed in these books is necessarily representative of the complex people we truly are. But there is something in this genre that speaks to a whole host of readers—something that speaks to a God-created truth in them and this is what it seems to say: “romance is a good thing.” The longing for romance is hard-wired in us. Romance novels don’t create that longing. Now it may be fair to say they could feed that longing—but whether or not it becomes an unhealthy thing would depend on what the reader does with it.
    If we step away for a bigger perspective, isn’t all great literature essentially romance literature? (I’m using a broad definition of the word here.) Perhaps Christian romance novels aren’t the richest expression of this larger truth…but aren’t they still a part of it?
    Is it an escapist genre? Probably. But if I toss out the escape, I’ll have to put away my copy of Peace Like a River, too. And Watching the Tree Limbs. And Gilead. And my poetry collections. And a whole lot more. Every time I read, I escape…usually with the hope that when I return, I am better for the journey. But I don’t read because I want to be smarter, I read because I want to see beauty, understand truth, know God, and find myself. Those sort of discoveries aren’t genre-specific.

  31. Nicole says:

    Well said and Amen, brother.

  32. I hope to be a polished, refined, *published* writer one day with the highest of standards for God.
    Meanwhile, I rejoice that Jesus used scruffy, coarse, grumpy fisherman Peter to preach and win five thousand souls at Pentecost. And three thousand more later. *And* be published in the biggest best-seller of all time. : ) Because unrefined Peter was available and by then, more than able.
    I’m sure Jenkins and LaHaye with their writing, good or bad, have nets overflowing. Many, many stars in their crowns.
    I’d be happy if God used me to net just a few small minnows, maybe receive a faint twinkle. : )

  33. acornstwo says:

    I think some of this talk implies more wisdom than we actually have. Let’s not forget that God works in his own, whimsical, unpredictable way.
    My sister-in-law got on her knees and asked Jesus into her heart the night she watched The Exorcist. I’m not going to be the one to tell her to go back and do it right, not after her forty years of pure, hard-working, faithful service to the God who claimed her as his own.
    Neither am I going to write another Exorcist. I’m going to listen to the Holy Spirit as best I can. I’m going to ponder the thoughts and images he suggests, read the books he nudges my way, and write down the story that seems to want telling. If I see a writer doing something I wish he wouldn’t, I’m going to try to do better, myself.
    And fail sometimes, just to stay humble.

  34. Mick says:

    Good grief. What are you people doing? Go write something, would ya?

  35. Questions and comments of a personal nature should be directed to my assistant, Mick Silva. Thank you.
    Just kidding. Thanks for the nudge.

  36. Todd Greene says:

    I have to admit it. I fell into the trap and read Left Behind. I think the fourth or fifth book was new when I began the series. I got to about the eighth or ninth and simply gave up. Each book has gotten worse in quality as far as I can tell. I’m an unpublished wannbe though, so what do I know? All I do know is that somewhere along the line, it seems to have become all about the money. Maybe not for Jerry and Tim, I don’t know. I do know that when I read awhile back how little time Jerry spends actually writing those books I understood why they were so poorly written. We in the Christian community have a tendency to follow fades. Remember WWJD and now there’s Purpose Driven–which I still don’t understand the facination with. Unfortunately Tim LaHayes latest series, Babylon Rising isn’t any better. There is a huge error in the 3rd on in the series. One so big I don’t understand how it could’ve been missed. And the protagonist is the most unrealistic character in any fiction form since Adam West’s Batman. I wanted to like Left Behind and Babyon Rising. They’re great ideas. It’s the exectution of those ideas that has been bad.
    Of course, all the above is my own opinion and does not necessarily reflect anything resembling reality.

  37. siouxsiepoet says:

    you are really asking for it, aren’t you? you just keep putting your little chicken neck (not that i mean that in a bad way) on the block and daring people to swing.
    but that is what i dig about you mick. intrepid. do you safety pin a little red cape on your shirt when you write? have a big crest with an M in the middle emblazoned on your undershirt? tights?
    i don’t know why anyone would want to defend their low art. why they would feel the need since they are famous and you are not (i’m not either. don’t take that personal). they have money and contracts and their name emblazoned on books, why fix what ain’t broke?
    i just keep asking, who are these people who buy these books? i can’t bring myself to read any of them. but that may just be my narrowmindedness.
    so much to say, i’ve said it all before.
    but in your previous post you said, marketing Jesus is okay. or something maddening like that. not sure that i agree with that, either. i’ll have to think on it.

  38. Deb says:

    1 Corinthians 1: 18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written:
    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]
    20Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
    21For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
    25For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
    26Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29so that no one may boast before him. 30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

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