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From Bonnets to Bloodsuckers

I was encouraged to read this AP report from the ICRS in Denver this last week.

The Christian book business, optimistic that a little literary escapism might be an antidote for readers in hard times, is turning to bonnets, buggies and bloodsuckers.

Even as Christian publishing suffers during the recession — one study found net sales for Christian retailers were down almost 11 percent in 2008 — several publishing houses are adding or expanding their fiction lines with both the tame (Amish heroines) and boundary-pushing (Christian vampire lit).

Boundaries indeed! I’m not sure this could be more indicative of both the boundaries, and the pushing of them that’s going on in the Christian publishing industry. Amish fiction and vampire lit represent polar opposites — literally conservative and liberal bookends — of the Christian fiction spectrum. Is it a coincidence that both are expanding?

Even more interesting is this dance concerning how to meld vampire mythology with the Christian worldview.

On Sept. 15, WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group will release its take on vampires in “Thirsty,” by Christian chick-lit author Tracey Bateman. Not surprisingly, the marketing material mentions “Twilight,” the hit vampire book series and movie whose abstinence message resonated with many evangelicals.

Bateman’s vampire, Markus, is a character but also a metaphor for demons anyone must overcome, said Shannon Marchese, an editor at WaterBrook Multnomah who sought out Bateman for the project. The object of his obsession, Nina, is a divorced alcoholic dealing with addiction.

“These are themes that work in the Christian life,” Marchese said. “You have to fight to say, ‘Am I going to choose unconditional love and redemption or a life of following obsessions, a life with holes in it?”

Still, challenges exist beyond what to do with dripping fangs (they were edited out). On the theological front, questions lurk about whether a creature both alive and dead has a soul that can be saved.

“I think we can redeem a vampire,” said Bateman, adding that she won’t be a spoiler and disclose her character’s fate. “I don’t think this is a despair too dark to pull out of.”

I’m not sure how one can edit out “dripping fangs” from vampire lit. But what the heck, it’s a start. Perhaps this is the necessary give-and-take that happens whenever Christians start venturing out of the box.  I mean, one needn’t worry about Amish fiction ruffling many feathers, right?

But is theology, genre integrity, or conservative sensibilities at the heart of this tension? Really, where do the “questions lurk about whether a creature both alive and dead has a soul that can be saved”? Unless we have agreed that (1) Vampires are real or (2) The evil archetype is untouchable, the questions lurk in the community of Christian readers and publishers, and nowhere else. But if vampires are simply fictional constructs, then why shouldn’t Christian fiction embrace the monster?

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Nicole July 18, 2009, 3:58 PM

    You've inspired another post, Mike. I'll be thinkin' on this one and going a bit different direction. However, let me give you this thought: I think Amish lit is escapism. It's a small community and it's a look back to the simpler life. Still the sin exists in all its forms in every heart . . .

    • Mike Duran July 18, 2009, 5:42 PM

      I think you're right, Nicole, that escapism is a big part of the Amish trend. The article notes that Amish lit appeals to "women attracted by a simpler time, curiosity about cloistered communities and admiration for the strong, traditional faith." Which makes me wonder if it's popularity isn't also a reaction to the expansion of Christian Fiction in the opposite, more liberal, direction.

  • Sue Dent July 18, 2009, 4:06 PM

    LOL They already have sunk their teeth in or weren't you paying attention. You must be talking about those Christian authors writing for the narrowly targeted market CBA and ECPA serve who will never write about vampires and werewolves of lore because, as they've told me, our audience of conservative evangelicals doesn't want to read that sort of thing. It's why I write for the larger market of Christians who read work put out by general market publishers. 🙂

    • Mike Duran July 18, 2009, 5:53 PM

      But Sue, doesn't this AP article suggest otherwise? I've read Eric Wilson's Field of Blood and as much as it's not straight vampire lore, I think it is a step in that direction. And with Tracey Bateman's upcoming book, and the degree to which discussion is brewing about theological parameters and possibilities, I can't help but feel a bit of a thaw. I'm not sure an evangelical readership will ever sit comfortably with vampire lit, but you can't deny that something's afoot. Thanks for your comments!

  • R. L. Miller July 18, 2009, 8:59 PM

    Mike, Stephen Burnett has an interesting article on this same subject over at Spec Faith. The comments are equally interesting, I think. (And I'm not saying that just because I commented. 😉

  • Nicole July 19, 2009, 2:22 AM

    "Which makes me wonder if it's popularity isn't also a reaction to the expansion of Christian Fiction in the opposite, more liberal, direction."
    It might be for some but I'm convinced it isn't the case for the majority of those readers. I think there's a fairly distinct type of reader for these stories, and many of them are either very young or older with a few of mixed ages in between. The older ladies prefer structured faith, can't stand to hear of the violence in the news, etc. These types of novels have been around and popular for a long time, Mike, and many of those readers have not ventured very far away from these types of stories or the authors who produce them, not even paying much attention to the new kinds of novels stretching the genre pool.

  • Michelle Pendergrass July 21, 2009, 12:23 PM

    It feels to me as if Christian publishers might just be chasing the market. Though I have no real insight, well, maybe just a little…but nothing earth shattering.

    Vampires have been around a long time. (Anne Rice, anyone?) I've loved those stories for years. Ironic that now she won't touch vampires and Christian publishers are trying to make a buck–now? Now, after the Twilight explosion? We loved vampires in the 80's. They took a break in the 90's. They're back. Does that really surprise people? It's like short shirts and peddle-pushers (oh, they're called Capri's now, right? LOL) hippy hair, and tie-dye. It all comes back around.

    People were into vampire stories before Twilight. People are into zombies and monsters and all things frightful. I've had conversations with agents representing Christian authors who've told me in no uncertain terms that what I like, other Christians don't like. Oh. Really?

    What Christian publishers need to do is get ahead of the game and publish good stories before anyone else does. But I'm afraid that as long as they're afraid to take a risk, things will remain as they are. And yeah, things have changed a little in the past 3 or so years…maybe that's because the economy is down and publishers are forced to look at reality? And maybe this is all a good thing?

    • Tracey Bateman August 9, 2009, 10:22 PM

      Good Points, Michelle! Whatever the reason for the new Vampire trend in CBA, I'm very happy for it! How do you propose we get ahead of the game? I think it takes a tame vampire series like Twilight to show CBA publishers that there MIGHT be a market for it within the conservative community.

      • Michelle Pendergrass August 10, 2009, 1:28 AM

        I'm only one opinion, but I think it would mean risk-taking on the publisher's part. I understand the need for steady sales, that's a given. But let's read some stuff that's not currently trending. There are a ton of us "Raised in the 80's Kids" longing for our needs to be met. I imagine there's a ton of money for publishers–if they would just listen and pay attention to the things we like.

        I bet there's a phenomenal author that's being overlooked because he writes dark fiction. I remember a couple of years ago I went to an ACFW conference and I couldn't have "horror" on my nametag. They wrote "Thriller." Thanks but no thanks. There's an author (or quite a few of them) that agents and editors are passing over because they think it won't sell. I think we need to be more open-minded when it comes to stories.

        Plug: The Midnight Diner is doing it's job trying to give a voice to these authors and their stories. No holds barred, Christian-bent, genre stories. Hopefully someone pays attention to us! LOL

  • Michelle Pendergrass July 21, 2009, 12:25 PM

    P.S. I love the new blog header! 🙂

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