Monday, May 24, 2004

i said i wouldn't talk about this here

But I'm going to talk about fiction. Ack!

I read a lot of ranting posts about the poor quality of Christian fiction out there, the mediocrity of CBA, and Christian art in general.

For the most part, I agree. But I place the blame at a different, more philosophical level than writers. Although, I will admit that if we don't hone our craft, or even care to, we are guilty. If any artist thinks they've arrived, not only are they wrong, but they've cut themselves off at the knees. At the end of the day, I hate every book I've just written. A few years after publication I can go back and think, "Well, maybe it isn't completely awful."

The reason for CBA's lack of quality is simply this: they get away with it. Not only that, they make big bucks. Why is that? Consider these points:

1) The Alternative-Entertainment-Form Christian Reader. Some Christians are scared to venture out of the safe fortress walls of American Commercial/Cultural Christendom. They believe that if they read a cussword, they are sullied. They cannot see beyond the face-value of a story. They couldn't read a book like Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and find the redemption if it bit them in the hiney! Therefore, incapable of digesting fiction as an artform, they approach it as a learning experience, seeking to utilize it as a form of devotion (which certainly it can be), but most probably deeming fiction in general less spiritual and uplifting than something by Max Lucado, less practical in their faith walk than a book by Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. IOW--if it's going to be an indulgence, it had darn sight better be pristine and not "a waste of time", which leads into the next point of why art is seen as a waste of time.

2) The Last Century. More like beginning with the Reformation, Christian art holds little respect. Unless it's some weird picture of Jesus placing a healing hand on the Liberty Bell. Oh, my gosh, go to CBA and try to fully digest the weirdness in the prints that are popular these days. I doubt if you can! Something else kind of interesting to chew on, and a thought for another day: Remember "The Seeker Movement", and worshipping in something that, God forbid, doesn't look like a church? Hopefully, all that is going away. Consider what Sacred Space means? In your heart and in the church and in the church building? What place does creativity hold in the very physical elements where we worship?

3) The Gatekeepers on the bookstore level. Not all bookstore owners, but those who see themselves as the mavens. Some readers who complain so loudly--the bookstores step to. They're many, they're mean, they're ready to kick my butt or the butt of anybody they think is stepping over their line. Unless it's making money, like Benny Hinn, or somebody. God help us if the words "damn" and "hell" appear in a book. But freaky doctrine? Hey, no prob. And they take this gatekeeper stuff very seriously. Unfortunately, I doubt they've engaged the culture in years, or perhaps they believe the Testamints blurb on the CBA floor, "Changing the world, one piece at a time" can apply to them, except not just candy, but necklaces, plaques, quilts and snow globes. Now, there are some bookstore owners that really want to challenge and provoke the complacent church, whose true desire is to bring people to a deeper understanding of God. Bravo to them. Spread the virus to the others now! I think a lot of the problem is that, not having enough time and staff, they take the blowbags' word on matters because they can't read the stuff for themselves. Hey! If you have time, why not offer to read stuff for your local bookstore so they actually know what's going on in-between the pages? Become a maven yourself!

4) The Undemanding Reader. A friend of mine in publishing once told me it's all out of their control, what makes it and what doesn't. That's true. His metaphor, "It's like throwing gobs of wet toilet paper up against the wall and seeing what sticks, then putting your money behind that one." Oh, sheesh! So "what sticks" isn't always "what's good." Bummer, but there it is!

5) 80% of Christians never set foot in a Christian bookstore. Here's the biggest reason, I believe. They're busy reading good ABA fiction. How in heaven's name do we get to them with the good stuff?

6) I don't know one Christian fiction writer who thinks he/she is part of the mediocre problem or isn't writing realistic fiction.

There are novelists who are doing a great job in CBA. And things are changing and improving. Bottom line, it's easy to armchair quarterback those struggling in a relatively new genre of literature. Please remember that Christian fiction hasn't existed all that long. We're all still finding our way, unfortunately, for a lot of us, one book at a time, and in print! When I read my first seven or eight novels, I just want to hurl!

Discombobulated post, I guess. Apologies. Would love your thoughts.




Blogger ragamuffin diva said...

I hear you Lisa. It get's a little complex, but I stay hopeful. I keep reading, and I keep writing, and hope I find my place in this world. Thanks for your thoughtful post today.

And you are entitled to write about any "damn" thing you want in your blog. (wink)

May 24, 2004 at 9:13 AM  
Blogger David said...

On "sacred" spaces-

My wife and I attended a church that, in their new building plans, specifically tried to build a church that drew inspiration from places where people feel comfortable--namely malls and airports. We left shortly thereafter.

May 24, 2004 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Jules Quincy Stephens said...

I guess let's clarify:

CBA fiction hasn't existed that long.

Christian fiction has been around for centuries, and can be found in the fiction and literature section of your local chain super bookstore.

It's my understanding that the social revolutions of the late 60s and early 70s prompted the need for Christians to go underground and write their own stuff, thereby separating themselves from the world. This yucky world.

Yes, the CBA gets away with it. And as long as the money keeps rolling in, they will get away with it.

May 24, 2004 at 10:37 AM  
Blogger Deborah said...

As Andrew Sullivan (a gay Catholic with whom I disagree, but I read his blog every day) says "The Revolution will be blogged."

Let's hope that the revolution in the CBA will come from the blogosphere.

The revolution agenda:

1)to up the quality of Christian fiction
2)to get the word out that there's a market for Christian fiction that displays greater depth and attention to craft
3)to build up, support and encourage those Christian writers and artists who are serious about the craft
4) to get the word out about those who are
5) to educate ourselves and others so our tastes are more discriminating and appreciative of the good
6) to mine the great resources of our Christian heritage so that we our work has depth and resonance
7) to mentor and disciple, so that we're not all "getting saved" every Sunday, but learning what it means to be sanctified, and we're finding the people who can teach about more difficult and subtle aspects of the writing craft to pass along their skills.

I'm going back to our blog now to post on why it's easy to be a critic, but hard to actually do the writing.

Thanks for your great post, Lisa.


May 24, 2004 at 11:35 AM  
Blogger Maranatha said...

Thank you, Lisa, for your comments. I really appreciate and echo what you have to say. I'm a novelist, too, trying to color outside the lines in a way that glorifies God. I want to always be learning and honing the craft, regardless of what the bookstore mavens do. Bravo! Keep preaching, sister!

May 24, 2004 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Angi said...

In the area of the country I live, there are more Christian bookstores than Starbucks. (we only have one Starbucks, and 5-6 CB stores in one county)

One of the stores is a "maven" you referred to. I hardly ever see ANY fiction there. Just BIbles and reference books. BUT this same store has a used book section with tons and tons of Harelquin romance novels. Hmmmmm.

I pride myself in knowing what I want. I know my taste in fiction. I also know that reading a cuss word won't sully my spiritual life. I can handle cuss words, I can handle reading about a marriage that is in trouble due to an affair, I can handle reading about soemone who has problems with drugs, alcohol, and any other "sin" Christians seem to judge so much. Why? Because it is part of life. We live in a sinful world. We see this stuff everyday,and just because we are Christians, and have a relationship with God doesn't me we are exempt from these things. Our marriages do have troubles. We are tempted with these things, and yes, sometimes we do yield to temptation.

I don't want to read a book about how great life is, and how perfect it is because we have God. I want to read a book about that believer that stumbles and falls, but yet has a Savior that never leaves,and reaches down to help them up. And I definitly don't need some book store owner censoring what books I read. I can do that myself.

May 24, 2004 at 1:20 PM  
Blogger Angi said...

Sorry to get on my soapbox there. I think that is part of why I enjoy your books so much. Your characters are not perfect, they are just living life, and learnign lessons.

May 24, 2004 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger Jaime H. said...

Great comments! I find myself in total agreement.

>>>Some Christians are scared to venture out of the safe fortress walls of American Commercial/Cultural Christendom.

Indeed. And I think that it is just this cultural Christianity that makes for the breeding ground of our mediocre fiction. Why are we so afraid to engage, either in reading or writing, the realities of the Christian walk? I should think it would be refreshing to find a character who experiences what we do, with all our failings and His subsequent outpouring of grace.

May 24, 2004 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger siouxsiepoet said...

wow, this is a lisa love fest here. i hate--HATE--to be a joiner, but you are right. i will say this and hopefully it will mean something, cba and writers are encouraged to write what sells, not what is meaningful, significant. the bucks are the basis for everything. holding my tongue before i go off on a tangent.

May 24, 2004 at 3:39 PM  
Blogger Jules Quincy Stephens said...

I just finished scanning the latest catalogue from an online bookseller.

They had the books divided by category: Romance, Contemporary, "Hot off the Press," "Favorite Authors," Mystery & Suspense, Historical, etc.

Well, first, you'd think there were only 10 people who wrote for the CBA.

Second, if I just read one book description from each category, I could probably apply it to the other 10 books featured:

*Famous ex-model/aspiring writer/whatever loses her mother and returns to the small town she hoped to never see again. Ex flame is there, and so is a deep, dark secret.
*A hard-nosed detective (male or female) comes to Christ. Now what? God will personally help them solve all their cases.
*A baby given up years ago returns to wreak havoc on a marriage.
*It's the Tribulation!
*It's an ABA chicklit rip-off!

It seems if your book somehow doesn't fit into any of these categories, you'll have a hard time finding a home for them.

Third, Lisa Samsom was not listed in the author index, nor were any of her books in the catalogue.

Pooh on them.

May 25, 2004 at 1:38 PM  

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