Monday, July 12, 2004

variouses and sundries

What I'm reading right now? Moms with ADD. I'm not sure if I'm one of them yet, but I've got a sneaking suspicion I'm just not normal, if you know what I mean. Charlie Peacock's book is profound alright, but I just can't seem to focus on it. You know, I'm a fiction reader, through and through. Still, I'm sure for people deeper and smarter than I am, New Way to be Human is an important read.

Here's the latest broadbrush rant against Christian fiction. Unfortunately, the author sounds like he didn't bother to read a wide selection before foaming at the mouth. His first sentence? "Christian fiction has become a genre unto itself, filled with clich├ęs, conventions, and pop-culture imitations." Don't get me wrong, a lot of his points are valid and should be digested and it's definitely worth the read. And the article provides an interesting history of fiction penned from a Christian perspective.

But here's a response to the article I think worth reading and considering from atop the high horse. From Carolyn Aarsen:

I've been pondering this whole 'quality of fiction' concept and wrestling with it myself. I write christian romance and at times catch myself apologizing for that, as if writing stories of hope and faithfulness is something I should be ashamed of. But lately I've been re-reading some of my reader's letters and my view of what I do has shifted. My readers are ordinary people living ordinary lives and some of them are dealing with huge issues. I hear again and again how they like being brought to a place of comfort and hope even if only for awhile. One of my readers was a very articulate, intelligent woman who had a university education and worked as a librarian for our local Christian university college. She contracted cancer and during her chemo treatments, would read my books. I was shocked and frankly, so were some of her friends. She wrote a me a card before she died, thanking me for giving her a few moments of peace in her very difficult world. I felt very thankful and humbled to be able to give her that. If my writing can be a gift to someone, if I can give people a moment of peace, then I am doing my job. I have lots of stories I want to tell and yes, I would love to write sweeping fiction that transcends time and genres and crosses over to ABA and is respected and receives critical acclaim and is turned into a movie starring Kiefer Sutherland (great voice) or Sean Penn (great attitude) or, be still my heart, Will Ferrel (Well, why not?). But, as I come back to earth I have realized that I am comfortable where I am right now. I am only a small part of the writing world. My mistake is in wanting to be all of it and right now. The mistake of many of the writers of the articles that have been passed around is expecting us to be all of it as well. They need to recognize the need for a variety of writers and respect that. As writers we are also part of the body of Christ. We can't all be the brain, the heart, the eye. Yes we should try to be the best we can be and yes it's good to be challenged. So for now I'm going to try to be the best Christian romance writer I can be until my own crafts and skill and life experiences makes me discover other stories in my life.

grace, whatever and wherever and whoever you are,



Blogger Becca said...

Kudos to Carolyn! :D

Sometimes I want to say things like that, too, 'cause the plots I think of belong in romance novels. And what's wrong with that? Just as I find Will Ferrell hilarious (thanks, Carolyn, for mentioning him) most times, I love to read and dream up stories of love. It shouldn't be a shameful thing. Jesus is the Bridegroom, and the church is the Bride, and yet I'm not supposed to admit that I like romance?

The fact that God uses us to reach people is more important than genre or publishing house, isn't it?

July 13, 2004 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Jules Quincy Stephens said...

Well, Dr. Gene E. Veith isn't someone to dismiss so lightly. He's a noted author and critic of culture.

It's not so much about writing romances -- my favorite book of all time is "The Thorn Birds," which is an epic romance which spans three generations.

It's about the writing. And let's be honest with ourselves -- romance writing in both the ABA and CBA doesn't have the best reputation for its artistic integrity for good reasons.

I have never read Carolyn Aarsen, so I can't comment on her specifically.

It's very nice that people have reached God through their work. That is a blessing.

But just as Carolyn is tired of apologizing about writing romances, I'm tired of apologizing for thinking writers who are Christian can do a lot better.

I can't quote this person directly -- he asked me not to. I can say that he's well-known, well-liked and well-respected in the CBA. He's written scores of books for both Christian and general markets. He teaches workshops and has mentored many people. And his view is simply that most CBA books couldn't make it past the editorial assistant's desk at an ABA publishing house. Not because of the Christian message, but because of the crappy writing.

So write in whatever genre you want. Just don't suck.

July 14, 2004 at 4:51 PM  
Blogger lisa said...

The problem with your last line, Jules, is that so many of the mucky-mucks despise the very nature of genre writing such as romance, earmarking it as sentimental and dishonest, or formulaic. Funny thing, it is the most popular genre out there, ABA or CBA, so it *does* strike a chord within the reader herself, and that is just something that cannot be ignored. I think we need to come to the various genres, recognize what it is that makes it genre in the first place, and heck, if it's not a genre we like, then at least let the writers and readers do their own blasted thing for one another without having to apologize to people who aren't reading the books anyway. Hey, Dickens was despised for writing to the masses, wasn't he? (I'm just shooting off the top of my head here, so if I'm wrong, please correct me.)

I'm not saying we shouldn't be excellent. I'm just saying that we need approach genre for what it is and for gosh sakes, let people have their fun. If it was all Annie Dillard, most readers would just flip on the boob tube.

July 15, 2004 at 7:46 AM  
Blogger Katy said...

Percentage wise, it makes no sense to me that the number of crappy books (and I'm just talking about bad writing here, not content) published by the CBA is higher than the number of crappy books published by the ABA. Does a writer become a Christian and his previous high standards and work ethic suddenly drop to zero? Hard to imagine. God has raised the bar in my life, not lowered it.

I've been doing a lot more reading of ABA stuff recently, just to get a feel for what's out there, and the low quality writing of many best-selling authors is shocking. We're not really going to say these writers don't have a right to do their thing, are we? That seems awfully elitist to me.

All I can do is write as well as I'm able today, and trust that my skill will grow. I also have to trust God that there are readers who somehow need to read what I'm able to write today, even though I know I'm still growing in my abilities and may not be able to offer a book as good as an Annie's (Dillard or Lamott) or a Flannery's.

And if I never become as good a writer as these great role model's, does that mean that my words don't have a place in the scheme of things?

July 15, 2004 at 8:41 AM  

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