Most of you know by now that I had a little personal revolution recently that took me away for a while. Tonight I want to share with you what I learned.
It began with a word. A friend was confronted by a number of writers who had begun to tune out my strong opinions about the current Christian fiction market, hurt by the accusation that their contribution was weak, insubstantial, or worse—compromised. Though I’d been careful not to point fingers at writers, especially individuals in the industry, some heard otherwise. And concerned that I might be causing harm with my little blog, I decided to step back and reevaluate if I was behaving poorly.
I found I had been, at least at times, unbalanced and unloving. Though I’ve been reading Christian fiction since Janette Oke and This Present Darkness, and I read a lot now, it’s grown increasingly more selective. That approach gives, at best, a limited view of the subject. I wasn’t giving a fair and balanced view of the whole of Christian fiction. If all you know is the unusual stuff, you don’t know what else there is.
So I went looking further. I found that there are still a lot of things that bother me about the system. But it’s no different in virtually any entertainment industry you can find. There are authors working within the existing market and doing interesting, challenging things. People like Shelley Bates, whose soon-to-be-published novel Pocketful of Pearls which was used by Publisher’s Weekly as an example of Christian fiction expanding into “gritty, unsanitized” territory. And there are many more coming. Some of them, we’ve met here.
So I can’t say Christian fiction is all superficial anymore. Even when I was saying it, I was really only speaking generally, and I didn’t think I was saying anything unrecognized since the same is true in the secular market and of made-for-TV-movies and radio music. They’re designed to be popular. And though we might have opinions about the intellectual level of some of it, pointing fingers at Jerry or Tim or Tyndale for their role in Left Behind or anything else like it is simply wrong-headed since there’s no moral law restriciting people from writing to that very big market. And thanks to that particular example, we now have the opportunity to drive a very big truck of innovative Christian stories through that very wide gate they opened up.
Christian fiction is much more diverse and interesting than first blush would suggest. There’s still some deplorable stuff out there just as there’s truly deplorable stuff in ABA, but that’s not really the point anymore. The point is change, growth. Depth. Revelation.
So what do we really want? I’ve got ideas. But what are some of yours?
I think (since you’re being so attentive) what we need to do now is rally around the concept of innovation in fiction. “Popular” tends to designate the reprocessing of familiar assumptions and old ideas. Why? Because being comfortable is nice. None of us choose to read things that make us angry, make us struggle and squirm. It’s uncomfortable. What we’re trying to do—to get people to read uncomfortable fiction for pleasure—if we’re honest about it, is completely counterintuitive. But innovation is important and even most popular writers are amazing innovators. They have to be. They’re usually also keen observers of social trends and cultural interests, but that’s another matter. In as much as you can make innovation popular, you’re doing well.
Focus Features, division of Universal Films, has an interesting take on it. If you’re familiar with their films, The Motorcycle Diaries, Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you’ll know why their tagline makes sense. “Committed to bringing moviegoers the most original stories from the world’s most innovative filmmakers.”
That’s not bad. It’s specific, but not. You think, they do movies that stand out. But if you don’t know their movies, you’d figure they’re just looking for the best. Every filmmaker believes that’s them, so what’s the issue? But there’s an inherent exclusionary, intolerant part that’s implied: “Formulaic blockbuster writers need not apply.” What? Is that really what they’re saying? I suppose you’d have to ask them directly, but even then, they’d probably know enough not to admit it.
My recent journey into deeper reflection took me to a place of realizing that I don’t want to be known as the guy who rails against popular writers simply because they’re not innovative enough, challenging enough, or whatever. I want to be someone who encourages innovative writing and strives to be both popular and challenging. That’s a good goal for a blog, I think, and a good goal for a writers group.
I think that’s enough for me for now.