Strange Horizons is one of the premiere Speculative Fiction sites on the web, so it was great to see novelist and film critic Jeffrey Overstreet being interviewed there. Overstreet reviews for Christianity Today and his fantasy series, Auralia’s Colors, is published by WaterBrook Press. Throughout The Revelatory Power of Story: An Interview With Jeffrey Overstreet, the interviewer veered toward the subject of Christianity before finally asking this question:
JOIII: Have you found there is a stigma attached to being published by a Christian publisher? What kind?
JO: Categories matter. Wouldn’t you look at the autobiographies of John McCain and Barack Obama differently if they were shelved in the “Christian/Inspirational” section? I suspect most people would. Why weren’t they shelved there? Obama and McCain are both professing Christians. Why were they categorized in more general categories?
It just goes to show how ridiculous it is to have a subsection of the bookstore marked “Christian.” Some bookstores are burying Auralia’s Colors in the “Christian Fiction” section, where the audience most likely to enjoy and appreciate them will never notice them. They’re shelved alongside a wide range of volumes from preachy allegories to classic literature. I want to know why, if we must have a “Christian Fiction” section, we don’t also have an “Atheist Fiction” section. Or “Vegetarian Fiction,” “Hindu Fiction,” or “Hispanic Fiction.”
Fiction is fiction, isn’t it? I wish we could assess each volume individually, by its artfulness.
If you’re immediately identified as a “Christian author,” people tend to read your stories suspiciously, using reader radar to search for allegory or some kind of suspicious agenda. That’s because so many Christian writers don’t know much about art—they’re intent on preaching a message using characters no more complicated than flannel-graph figures. That tradition of shoddy and manipulative storytelling has created an unfair prejudice against those of us who just want to tell a good story. (emphasis mine)
What is most refreshing about Jeffrey’s assessment, at least to me, is not the painful objectivity of his observations, but that he is a Christian author published by a Christian publisher. Now, when someone like me, an unpublished Christian novelist, suggests it’s “ridiculous… to have a subsection of the bookstore marked ‘Christian'”, I’m viewed as being seditious or, at best, gutsy. Thus the consensus among Christian writers is that opinions like these jeapordize one’s chances of publication in the religious market and are best left unspoken. But I’m a Christian first, and a writer second. So I personally find it encouraging that other Christian novelists — especially published ones — are willing to walk that plank and openly question the inherent flaws with the genre. Kudos to Jeffrey, not just for his great writing and thoughtful essays, but for expressing what many Christian novelists secretly ask.