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Is It Worth Trying to Change the Christian Fiction Industry?

A regular commenter on my blog once cautioned me: “For your sake, you really need to let this go.” He was referring to my ongoing criticism of the Christian fiction industry. I privately emailed the author and asked if the CBA mafia had a hit on me or something. Luckily, it was a groundless threat, based on the author’s own irritation with me. Eventually, he went into exile, taking his fatwa with him. Sadly, this isn’t the first person who reached loggerheads with me about Christian fiction.

My recent post Is Christian Fiction Inferior to Mainstream Fiction? generated some great discussion. And not a few dissenters. In one of the posts spawned from that piece, this by Becky Miller, one of the commenters, Fred Warren, said something that I’ve heard a lot since I’ve began being vocal about the industry.

Christian fiction is a niche market. If you write for a niche market, you get niche market readers with very particular preferences, and the general market is going to perceive you as a niche writer. Thank God you have a market at all and _own_ it. If you feel restricted from writing the gritty, realistic fiction you feel is necessary to gain respect from the larger literary world and preserve your integrity as a writer, you need to go to the general market with those gritty, realistic, literary stories. (emphasis mine)

For the record, Fred and I are friends. You’ll see that if you follow that comment thread. We probably share many, many similar opinions. Nevertheless, that seems to be a fairly typical response to regular criticism of the Christian fiction industry — If you don’t like the CBA, go to the ABA. I’ve heard this dozens and dozens and dozens of times.

Recently, author, editor, and friend, Kat Heckenback made a similar plea in her post, Shaking the Dust. After quoting from Matthew 10:14, “If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave,” Kat applied that to the schisms within the Christian fiction community:

If you disagree with a group, go find another group. No inciting derision, pouting over backlash (that you refuse to address), and posting follow-up blogs about how petty that group is. Shake the dust from your feet and move in the direction you want to go. If the “other” group is wrong, they’ll fall of their own accord. If not…well, there’s room enough for both groups.

Kat makes some terrific, spirited points. You should read that post immediately followed by another one she wrote entitled Put Down Your Sword… and Write. Obviously, there’s a time for that — there’s a time to put up your sword, shut up about what’s wrong with the industry, “Shake the dust from your feet and move in the direction you want to go.”

However, couldn’t it also be said that there’s a time to stand and fight?

About a year ago, I received a very encouraging email from a reader whom I greatly respect. This is part of what they said:

“You are doing something brave that will benefit your career in the long run.  By midwiving Christian fiction to a different place (and that includes commentary and critique) you are serving the industry as well as your own work.  You will feel bruised.  You will be bullied.  I know it sucks.  But I think it’s a good thing you’re doing nonetheless.”

It was very humbling. Very encouraging. At times, I DO feel a little bruised, a little bullied. (The CBA mafia can do that to a guy.) But even more important is this notion about “midwiving Christian fiction to a different place.” Is this possible?

If so, it is the exact opposite of the “shake the dust off your feet” approach.

Yes, there’s definitely a time to “shake the dust off” and do your own thing. But isn’t there also a time to stay put and remain a change agent? I mean, could we be doing the Christian fiction industry a disservice by NOT staying put?

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{ 71 comments… add one }
  • Steve Rzasa May 6, 2012, 5:15 PM

    That all depends on whether or not those of us who like to write and read Christian fiction that has a rather blunt Christian will still have a market. If the crusade to change CBA means I’m suddenly on the wrong side of the fence, count me out.

    Just sayin’.

    • Mike Duran May 6, 2012, 5:29 PM

      Steve, I’m not sure I understand. Are you viewing “change” in terms of a less “blunt” Christian message in stories?

      • Steve Rzasa May 6, 2012, 5:49 PM

        Perhaps I’m misinterpreting this and other blog posts, but the sentiment as of late seems to be that Christian fiction is too preachy and not realistic enough. At least, that’s what I get between the lines. Let me ask: What is the goal? What is the different place in “midwiving Christian fiction to a different place?” Is it a reformed CBA that allows writers to put profanity and sex in alongside the already present violence? Is it a CBA that puts out books in which the religious message is so subtle that the book could easily do well among ABA offerings?

        • Mike Duran May 6, 2012, 6:58 PM

          Steve, I suppose it divides at whether someone believes “midwiving Christian fiction to a different place” is valid. Some are happy with where the genre’s at. Others aren’t. This discussion at Tim George’s FB page was informative. Sibella Giorella wrote this:

          “…as a Christian fiction writer, I despise most [Christian fiction], too. My own philosophy about fiction and faith can be summed up by Flannery O’Connor’s philosophy. In this instance, we can safely substitute “Christian” for “Catholic.” In part, she said: “When the Catholic novelist closes his own eyes and tries to see with the eyes of the Church, the result is another addition to that large body of pious trash for which we have so long been famous….We reflect the Church in everything we do, and those who can see clearly that our judgment is false in matters of art cannot be blamed for suspecting our judgment in matters of religion.”

          Here’s an established Christian author who struggles with the genre. There are others like her. Is Sibella just bellyaching? Or does she have a point? Are we producing “pious trash”? Or genuine art? All that to say, it’s too simplistic to say that it’s about language or grit. Or to demonize detractors. It’s a vision, I think, for the Church in the world. This is the larger theological discussion that we seem to miss.

          • Steve Rzasa May 6, 2012, 7:29 PM

            I looked up the discussion on Tim’s FB and found it interesting. What I’d really like to do is sit down with some of the commenters and have them show me the books they find to be too cheesy or preachy or whatever.

            Sibella makes a good point, and you make several, as well. However, the term “pious trash” shows up — I’d like to be shown an example of pious trash someone read lately. And what about “genuine art”? What is the difference between the two?

            The big problem I have with this whole debate is that no one seems to be willing to offer concrete examples of what is “bad” Christian fiction (pious trash) and what is “good”. Perhaps this is because no budding author wants to come out and say in a blog comment, “I thought Such-and-Such by So-and-So was pious trash.” All I understand thus far is that Flannery O’Connor was an awesome Catholic author (whom I’ve never read but her name sure does pop up in these type of discussions a lot, so I may have to remedy that.)

          • Jessica Thomas May 7, 2012, 8:18 AM

            “We reflect the Church in everything we do, and those who can see clearly that our judgment is false in matters of art cannot be blamed for suspecting our judgment in matters of religion.”

            Great quote! That says perfectly what I was trying to say in my comment.

            • Mike Duran May 7, 2012, 9:29 AM

              The big problem I have with this whole debate is that no one seems to be willing to offer concrete examples of what is “bad” Christian fiction (pious trash) and what is “good”.

              Oh, I could list lots of novels with faith elements that I think are good. The problem of citing “bad novels” and naming names is obvious. For one, it’d just be my opinion. For another, it’s not professionally savvy. I’ve recently read several novels in my genre that I didn’t care for, some because of craft, others because of religious and dramatic predictability. We can talk off the record about those and why I felt that way, if you like. But publicly naming books and authors as examples of “bad Christian fiction” would not be smart.

              • Julie Presley May 21, 2012, 10:55 AM

                Glad I read this last comment on this thread before I starting making my list :). I won a Christian novel in a contest a few years ago and it was so horrible I couldn’t even finish it. It was beyond cheesy and so completely forced, as though the faith parts were thrown in as an after thought. “Let’s see, I need a dose of Jesus here, there and . . . there. Done.” The reason why I am endeavoring to make a change in the Christian romance genre is because as it stands, it isn’t realistic. Leaving 6 inches for the Holy Spirit (tongue in cheek) is a really wonderful, pretty idea, but come on, people STRUGGLE, and it’s okay to talk about it. I struggled because of the fact that NO ONE talked about it. Had there been something to relate to in fiction as a young adult, I would have had a much more fulfilling life after the fact, rather than walking away from situations and novels that made me feel like the worst Christian ever (a lot of that mentality also came from the local fellowship, but I was an avid reader, and the kind of things I dealt with were simply never addressed.). I think that in writing realistically and pushing those Christian fiction boundaries, we open the door wider for people who would otherwise feel judged and less than while reading certain books. Also, I want my readers to start to see the Father in a more accurate way, which is difficult because I still struggle to see Him accurately, and not the way I was taught growing up. That’s a whole different topic though.

                • Jennifer Dyer July 2, 2012, 10:02 AM

                  I appreciate what you said about relatable fiction showing struggles and the characters seeming real. Not just in fiction should we be “real” with our struggles and take off the mask of perfection that so many of us wear, whether it be from fear or other emotions. From the authors I know, along with myself, I think this is a common thread of feeling and many are striving to address that in their books. I hope you do too! 🙂

  • Josh Lyon May 6, 2012, 5:50 PM

    Excellent post, Mike, and some really thought-provoking questions. I know this has been said before, but the “if you don’t like it, write in the ABA” approach won’t work either, as then we tend to be more restricted on our Christian message. A gen market publisher might not force us to remove it, but I’d say they will advise toning it down so as not to alienate their usual clan of readers. It really depends on what readership you are targeting, and I think this is what many who make this argument aren’t taking into account. It’s not just a push for speculative fiction in the CBA, for example. It’s a push for speculative fiction FOR CHRISTIANS in the CBA. If Christians are our target audience, why go to the general market? Seems like backward thinking to me.

    This is an area where I think “Yes, stand your ground,” because the readers are out there. The problem is engaging them. Part of this comes from publishers still being so tied to the “books-on-the-shelf” mindset. The fact that speculative fiction readers don’t shop in CBA bookstores shouldn’t matter as much to an acquisitions editor as it used to. Christians are shopping more online just like everyone else, and as I see the fiction sections shrinking while the gift sections expand, I can’t help but wonder if publishers haven’t thought ahead to the day when CBA “bookstores” might not be their center of profit.

    Just a thought.

  • Kat Heckenbach May 6, 2012, 6:32 PM

    Mike, I DO think there is a time to fight. Absolutely. I think it has to do with *how* it’s done, though. And why it’s being done.

    In the case of the one press I mentioned, Desert Breeze, it made much more sense to “find another group.” They are a romance press, and have other organizations to turn to, ones that are more open to their kind of Christian fiction and their particular publishing set-up. Rather than fighting the ACFW’s regulations, they moved on.

    And I agree with Fred’s comment about the mainstream. If your work makes more sense as mainstream then why not write for the mainstream?

    I guess I kind of see it like this. Someone writes fantasy and tries to get it published by a strictly sci-fi publisher who is having much success with sci-fi. That publisher says to change the dragons to aliens, change the elves to robots, etc…and the author is like, “But then it won’t be fantasy anymore! *You* need to publish fantasy!” All the while, other publishers are out there willing to publish fantasy as-is.

    That said, if you want to push the edges without completely leaving the umbrella term “Christian fiction” then it has to be done with respect to those already in there. Marcher Lord Press is considered a full-on Christian publishing house, but Jeff Gerke publishes stuff the mainstream CBA market doesn’t generally read. He’s found a way to tap into the edges of the market without leaving the umbrella of “Christian fiction.” As has Splashdown Books. Both presses challenge some of the conceptions of Christian fiction without trying to blow the whole thing out of the water. They say, “Hey, those of you who like this and that, stick with what you’re reading and writing, but those of you who like what we’re doing, come along for the ride!”

    I hope you read the comment I left on my own blog as a response to your comment, Mike. I actually say that you are doing it the right way. You hit on specifics, and offer solutions, or at least discussion of options. You know your market, and you are respectful of Christians in general, opening your ears to opposing ideas instead of writing everyone off as mindless ninnies.

    I’ve never said I don’t think the CBA needs some change. It does–but it’s not an annihilation of all writing that doesn’t match a single person’s, or even a group of people’s, idea of “good fiction”. And it’s not going to happen overnight.

    • Cherry Odelberg May 6, 2012, 6:51 PM

      Nice to read your comments and your, “Put down your sword,” blog post. I am so glad I happened by Mike’s blog today to hear such relevant discussion and encouragement.

    • Mike Duran May 6, 2012, 7:26 PM

      Kat, I think we’re probably in agreement about where the CBA is. I don’t have any animosity toward those who write genres I don’t read or who cater to a more conservative readership. I do, however, believe those readers / writers have animosity toward me (or, more accurately, folks like me). In other words, Christian fiction has come to be defined by its parameters. And I am SO fascinated by the Desert Breeze / ACFW thing, and believe this perfectly illustrates a number of problems with how people approach this thing. No, I appreciate this discussion, Kat. I think you bring something important to it. My question is: When am I becoming a “clanging cymbal” or a change agent?

      • Kat Heckenbach May 6, 2012, 7:56 PM

        Thanks, Mike, and yes, I do think we see things similarly. And I’m glad my post has opened up such cool discussion :).

        It’s hard question. I think we will learn from experience when we’re just clanging or when we’re actually helping forge change.

    • Steve Rzasa May 6, 2012, 7:35 PM

      Liked the comment and the blog, Kat. What kind of ACFW regs did Desert Breeze run in to (if you can say)?

      • Kat Heckenbach May 6, 2012, 8:27 PM

        Thanks, Steve. The ACFW requires a separate Christian “imprint” for general publishers. (Such as Waterbrook being the Christian imprint of Random House.) But Desert Breeze doesn’t have a separate imprint for their Christian books–it’s just a category, and all the books are published by “Desert Breeze.” ACFW has their reasons for doing it this way. Mainly, their goal is to direct readers to specifically Christian books. They *can* say all of Waterbrook’s books are Christian, without having to endorse Random House as a whole, but they can’t say all of Desert Breeze’s books are Christian. I don’t entirely agree–as DB has their category clearly defined. But it’s a rule that has been in place a long time.

        Also, DB isn’t as stringent on the “rules” as other CBA publishers. They do have books that would totally meet those guidelines, but others that don’t. Instead of forcing their authors to follow rules they don’t believe in, they decided it was just not meant for them to be part of the ACFW. At the latest RT Convention, though, they discovered that the general romance market is quite accepting of Christian romance–of all types, especially the more edgy stuff that DB publishes. My friend Shawna Williams even participated in a convention panel dedicated to Christian fiction.

        I think it’s harder for speculative fiction writers, though. Romance readers can often still accept with open arms the idea of “sweet” stories with no sex scenes and such, and romance stories that revolve around people of faith. But the speculative market can be less accepting, since so much of it is atheistic. Which makes Christian speculative fiction kind of an odd duck. We can’t necessarily turn to the nearest sf/f/h convention for support. We may have to start growing within the CBA, and then eventually pinch off into our own subgroup. I see that happening. Christian spec-fic writers turn to the CBA for acceptance of their faith, and then find they’re not entirely accepted for their weirdness. But we are finding EACH OTHER. And as we grow, at some point we will have to be dealt with. I see it in some way like an amoeba–where we sort of pinch off as our own division of the CBA at some point. But we can’t do that from the outside. We can’t do it by killing the parent amoeba though, either.

        It’s late….my analogies are getting weirder….

    • Jennifer Dyer July 2, 2012, 10:05 AM

      I appreciate what you said, and I am a big fan of Marcher Lord Press. Jeff is working to expand the market while holding true to the principles he has. Thanks!

  • Cherry Odelberg May 6, 2012, 6:40 PM

    Is not “shake off the dust,” verses “stay and midwife,” another version of fight or flight?
    To everything there is a time and a season.
    Too often I have found it easier to go away quietly and dig myself a different well, rather than to stay and grapple. Rejected by the secular because of philosophical overtones of faith, and turned away from the Christian market for not being overtly evangelical – in the end you may wind up with self-publishing as the only open route.

    There is something appealing, something rallying in the thought of, “midwiving Christian fiction to a different place.” However, I would not condemn any writer who did “not stay put.”
    Paul and Barnabas disagreed about John Mark accompanying them; yet later Paul asked specifically for John Mark. There is a time and season for everything. Sometimes an author may need to go outside for awhile to see more clearly.
    I see the tide turning in Christian women’s fiction and have been heartened by issues raised and dealt with in Susan Meissner’s “Sound Among the Trees, and “Lady In Waiting,” as well as Bonnie Grove’s , “Talking With the Dead.” These were relational and psychological issues Christian women (women who have already come to Jesus) might face or know someone who is facing. Unfortunately, I question whether the tide is turning fast enough, or whether we are merely 20 years behind the rest of the world as usual.

  • Caprice Hokstad May 6, 2012, 8:30 PM

    Staying with an organization that doesn’t like you or appreciate what you do is very gutsy. You have to actually CARE about that organization to want to fix it from within. Maybe the question of “to stay or not to stay” is more a matter of “who” than “when”. Some have a gift for inspiring others toward positive change while others are less skilled and only stir up strife and division or they get trampled themselves, neither of which is productive in affecting change. Is it worth trying to change the industry to YOU? If you CAN do it and you WANT to do it, then more power to ya.

    • Tony May 6, 2012, 8:45 PM

      But what’s to fix? The CBA market wouldn’t exist if people didn’t enjoy what they’re providing. And that’s who it’s all about — the people, the readers. When prairie romances stop making a huge profit, and CBA publishers continue to publish them, THEN there would be something worth fixing. . .as far as I can tell, all changing the CBA market would do is isolate thousands of readers.

      I don’t enjoy much CBA stuff. . .I don’t like much fantasy/scifi either, but I’m not aiming to change Tor books.

      • Josh Lyon May 6, 2012, 10:13 PM

        I get what you’re saying, but just because there is a large audience for prairie romance doesn’t mean there isn’t profit to be made in other areas as well. All creative pursuits go through innovation, and saying that we shouldn’t change because we like where we are ( or are scared of where we might end up) just doesn’t fly in literature. I wonder, if the general market had this mindset, would they have published The Lord of the Rings? Or, going back further, would they have published Jules Verne? Same old same old doesn’t always equal long-term success. In fact, the game changers are almost always the ones we remember.

        Also, I don’t think Mike is talking about change to the complete exclusion of the old way. He can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he is talking about change in gaining greater acceptance for authors who innovate, something that has been difficult to do in the CBA.

      • Gina Burgess May 7, 2012, 8:18 AM

        Tony, I understand what you are saying and the problem I see isn’t “what the readers want” in the form of genre, but it is the acceptance of mediocre writing by editors, publishers and readers.

        There are some readers who love reading for the sake of reading no matter how bad the writing is. Those are few however. The editing is sometimes poor, and often mediocre. The publishing houses are accepting genre because it sells rather than publishing the best writing regardless of genre. Since it costs so much to publish most houses don’t want to take the risk of publishing something that is out of the ordinary (read that outside the box). So we’re caught in a vicious cycle with a few excellent authors popping out like Jack… surprising publisher and audience alike.

        You can’t “train” readers who like prairie fiction to like fantasy or rough-and-tumble fans to like Amish fiction. That would be like trying to make the Mississippi River flow in a straight line which is beyond natural. However, if cashiers can be trained to know counterfeit money by touch because they handle so much real stuff, then readers can become accustomed to quality writing and thus acquire a distaste for the poorer stuff being published now.

        If you want to change anything today, you have to follow the money. As long as readers are satisfied with rice and beans, and steak remains far beyond their reach because of price or lack of supply, they’ll keep buying rice and beans. Therefore more rice and beans will flood the market.
        Engraved in His palm,

      • Rebecca LuElla Miller May 7, 2012, 10:15 AM

        Prairie romances get a bad rep. It isn’t the prairie that is at issue, or the romance. It is the shallow story that Mike talked about in his earlier post when he said Christian fiction is now well crafted but still shallow. The point I questioned then in my post which he linked to above is the one you’re implying here Tony — that readers like stories that have no depth. I think that’s presumptuous. Yes, they buy these stories, but I suggest it is because the alternative — to buy general market genre stories — is not acceptable because of the junk they’d be wading in. So given choice A – junk, or choice B – moral shallow stories, they opt for choice B. If we give readers choice C – moral stories with depth, do we really think they’re going to think that’s bad? I think that’s a serious underestimation of the Christian reader.


  • Tony May 6, 2012, 8:39 PM

    I have to quote Kat because I totally agree: “I guess I kind of see it like this. Someone writes fantasy and tries to get it published by a strictly sci-fi publisher who is having much success with sci-fi. That publisher says to change the dragons to aliens, change the elves to robots, etc…and the author is like, “But then it won’t be fantasy anymore! *You* need to publish fantasy!” All the while, other publishers are out there willing to publish fantasy as-is.”

    My feelings exactly. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything to change here, only something to destroy. Dean Koontz writes fantastic Christian Fiction, and he does so without changing CBA market trends.

    I guess what I’m wondering is, what’s your endgame? What is it you’re hoping to achieve by criticizing CBA? CBA is not the only market for fiction by Christians. It’s a market that seems tailored for conservative Christians. . .which is fine. They need a market the same as any of us. What is it you’re hoping to change CBA into?

    • Mike Duran May 7, 2012, 6:03 AM

      Tony, I feel I have a stake in anything labelled “Christian.” When the Church is indicted for being shallow, bigoted, or uncompassionate, all Christians are indicted. We have a responsibility to incrementally disprove people’s biases about Christians and the Church. Likewise, I have a stake in Christian art and the industries which produce and define it. Why? Because I’m a Christian artist. Even if I left the CBA, I’d still be about faith and fiction, and would feel compelled to discuss / debate those who define Christian art in “narrow” terms. As long as it’s called “Christian” fiction, I have stake in the debate. Whether I’m an ACFW member or not.

      You said, “It doesn’t seem like there’s anything to change here, only something to destroy.” I disagree on both counts. Not long ago, Athol Dickson, highly-acclaimed, well-respected Christian author, wrote a post at Novel Rocket entitled, Why My Novel Will Not Sell. He was fairly critical of Christian readers. He wrote: “…typical readers in the Christian fiction market in particular not only want all the questions answered in the end, they also seem to want the answers to include a message, a moral, or even (shudder) a clear doctrinal statement.” So here’s a terrific writer, multi-published, critiquing the genre or industry where he writes. Are his concerns baseless? Or is he simply belly-aching? I believe he would agree that… something needs changed.

      All that to say, the current industry is just not reflective of all Christian fiction writers and readers. To just say, “Go elsewhere,” I think, puts us on a path toward institutional calcification and cultural isolation. Appreciate your comments, Tony!

      • Jennifer Dyer July 2, 2012, 10:10 AM

        Thanks for your clear thoughts. I found your blog today and am fascinated by all the arguments and points of discussion. My husband has often had the same things to say about some Christian fiction. I know many authors striving to make wonderful books, but I think there is always room for improvement. Without voices like yours, then people might stick with the status quo, yes?

  • Jonathan May 7, 2012, 4:51 AM

    I LOVE what you’re doing! You are dead on right. The Christian markets do appear to be concentrating themselves into a tighter and tighter niche. Your desire to get people to think about it (and do something about it) will open up more doors than are slammed on your fingers for trying.

    You’re fighting for people like me who haven’t gotten published but want to write with all the latent Christianity that CS Lewis told us to use in Christian Apologetics. Keep it up, I’ll support you.

  • Richard Mabry May 7, 2012, 6:45 AM

    Mike, as we say in Texas, “we go to different churches on this one.” I applaud your desire to write and publish a different type of fiction that I do. Vive la difference. There are two ways to improve the quality of all books, not just CBA or ABA or whatever acronym you choose: write better books and encourage readers to buy only better books. Not sure I’ll live long enough to see either come to fruition, but I’ll keep rolling my particular rock up the hill by trying to make my books better, and I suspect that’s what you’ll be doing as well.

  • Diane M Graham May 7, 2012, 7:01 AM

    I think the question every Cristian that writes must ask before any of this can be addressed is if their writing a) glorifies God b) has the power to bring a non-believer to to a point of seeking. The next thing Christian writers need to do is know who their audiences are. This one isn’t nearly as easy because every writer wants to think his work is meant for the masses. That is a pride trap and I’d warn everyone away from it. If you are new at writing and don’t know, I’d suggest you hang out with writers online and “listen” to what that have to say about audience and industry.

    The issue that has ripped through the ACFW this last week has caused many great discussions and that is never a bad thing. But we must remember that not everyone is a fighter with a cause and not everyone knows how to debate.

    It’s fine for someone like Mike that knows you must allow everyone to have their say…agree or disagree. But Mike knows the rules of debate, or I believe he does from reading many of his posts over the last two years. I’ll even goes as far as to say I believe he understands that debate is not being “right”, but about seeing many different perspectives, thinking on them, and making your own mind up from the information gained.

    What has had everyone up in arms has not been the topic. It has been the way the debate over crossover/CBA/ABA was handled. It wasn’t so much a debate as a line drawn in the sand that pitted brother against brother. For me, that has been the greatest disservice.

    • Mike Duran May 7, 2012, 7:58 AM

      Diane, the debate you mention here that “ripped through the ACFW this last week” is something I just became aware of this morning. I don’t follow the ACFW loop, though I am a subscriber and member. I was contacted via email by someone who informed me that Kat’s posts were partly in response to this debate. I immediately contacted Kat, hoping that I wasn’t completely missing or muddling her point. Dang. If I’d known sooner I could have addressed it in the post.

      From what I understand, a big part of the problem in that debate was, as you say, how it was handled. I hope it’s clear to everyone here that I’m not in the camp of those panning all Christian fiction. While I have problems with some things in our industry, I don’t believe Christians shouldn’t write for Christians, that Christian fiction is qualitatively inferior to mainstream fiction, or that conservative guidelines shouldn’t play some part. I’m fighting FOR Christian fiction, not AGAINST it. Thanks for clarifying that, Diane!

      • Kat Heckenbach May 7, 2012, 8:39 AM

        Yes, Mike, and I hope you don’t feel like I dragged you into the fray. My intent was to bring light to the issue, without dwelling on the inciting event too terribly much, but it is impossible to completely ignore it. Context can be everything at times! I feel you are taking a pretty balanced approach at trying to change things–or, rather, expand them. Nudge the edges, push some boundaries, without trying to topple the foundation in the process.

        Don’t feel bad about not “addressing the point”–in some ways I think you coming in “blind” (not the right word, but you know what I mean!) is good because you weren’t biased one way or another and you spoke your mind, and you’ve gotten some really good discussion going!

  • Kristi Ann Hunter May 7, 2012, 7:28 AM

    Because as writers we spend our days nitpicking and obsessing over words, I would suggest that instead of trying to “change” the Christian book market, you strive to “expand” it. Expanding doesn’t detract from what is already in existence, where as change implies that what is in existence needs to be altered. My husband reads fantasy/sci-fi and the like. For his sake I would love to see the Christian market expand more in those areas.

    When I joined ACFW I suddenly discovered that my little subgenre, which I thought was nearly nonexistent, was actually starting to grow. I write romance set in Regency England – a subgenre that is explosively popular in ABA, but not in CBA. I discovered several fabulous authors that wrote this subgenre and were getting published and growing the area.

    I was surprised that I had not found them before because I had scoured my local bookshelves looking for this type of book. Once I knew names, I went back to the stores and looked again. Nope. The reason I hadn’t found them is that they weren’t getting stocked. Sometimes the difficulty in expanding the genre or subgenre is in finding ways for those potential readers to hook up with the authors published in an emerging area so that it can gain some traction.

    I also understand the dilemma that groups such as ACFW have when it comes to trying to establish guidelines to protect their credibility. As the Christian market grows and expands – which it IS doing, just slowly and possibly not so much in the spec fic direction yet – the problem of how to create an umbrella that will cover ultra-conservative message-based fiction and weird, possibly analogous spec fiction and let everyone comfortably run shoulders. That is a REALLY tall order. General Market doesn’t even try. That’s how you end up with RWA, MWA, etc. The fact that all the different Christian writers are trying to huddle under the same umbrella is tricky business indeed.

  • Jessica Thomas May 7, 2012, 8:14 AM

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so hopefully I won’t repeat to much of what’s been said.

    I admit to hopping over to your blog once or twice and feeling a little irritated, thinking “Why all this *talk* about “Christian” fiction. Just write.” But, when I considered my negative reactions more critically I saw it boiling down to a few things. 1) I was in a bad mood to begin with (for whatever reason), 2) I was in a grumpy mood because I’m not published yet, or 3) I was in a grumpy mood because my blog posts don’t generate the discussions that yours do.

    To simplify, I was irritated because of: 1) my baggage, 2) my issues, 3) my misplaced frustration and jealousy.

    As “irritated” as I may have felt, I kept coming back, and so do lots of other folks. Why? Because you say interesting things and you generate interesting discussions. You have a talent for it.

    This is your blog, your little slice of the internet, your home on the interwebs. You’re allowed to talk about what you want to talk about. If someone doesn’t like it, they are free to get up off the couch and go home.

    In answer to your question, “Is it worth trying to change Christian fiction?”

    Oh. Actually, I don’t have an answer for that. I’m starting to think that dinosaur will never move.

    However, it is important to cultivate critical thinking skills within the church, and a great way to do that is via art…creating it, studying it, criticizing it. That’s really what you’re doing here, I think, and it’s a worthwhile endeavor. Although it may seem “froo froo” compared to many of man’s woe’s, art is an important tool for discovering and understanding the nature of God, as well as enriching our relationship with Him.

  • Scathe meic Beorh May 7, 2012, 8:21 AM

    The separation between “Christian” fiction and Other is divisive and unnecessary. Flannery O’Connor, Bram Stoker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George McDonald, Hans Christian Anderson, Herman Melville, George Mackay Brown, Charles Dickens… these and many more Christian authors never separated their work into “Christian” or “secular.” As an author and a Christian, I follow their lead. It seems to me that the division has been made not by non-Believers, who I find will read and enjoy good writing despite who wrote it, but by alleged Christians who refuse to follow Jesus’ mandate to be in the world but not of it (and, in many cases, will only read works written by professing Christians). The “enclave approach” to writing is ultimately self-serving, and the last time I checked, self-service was a hallmark of the Old Nature.

    • Chila Woychik May 12, 2012, 12:06 PM

      Excellent observation, Scathe, and the crux of /my/ blog post which started the entire ACFW ruckus.

      It’s terribly easy to stay isolated yet claim we’re “writing for God.” Well, who knows, maybe we are. People can write what they want, read what they want, but as always my plea was to those who /wanted/ to expand their boundaries yet didn’t know how, or didn’t know it could be done. Worse, as the many emails I received attested, many are / were afraid to say so publicly, afraid to rock the boat, afraid of getting ostracized by other Christians. Okay. Well. That says something.

      And I still say much Christian writing is inferior and I aim to try and find out why. I believe in writers who want to learn and grow, and I’ll do my darndest to try and help them.

  • Bobby May 7, 2012, 8:35 AM

    You can see points on both sides. The “progressives” want change and push it. The “traditionalists” get irritated by the progressives and ask, what’s the problem, we’re just doing our own thing here.

    Ted Dekker said something interesting, basically that he had to write what the CBA wanted him to write so he could get the publishing momentum to write what he wanted(consider his earlier novels versus everything post-Circle trilogy). Now, I’d suggest he’s expanded Christian fiction further than anyone since Peretti. Is that the answer, to write horse and buggy stories and then have aliens abduct the people in the buggies? It’s hard to say, and that’s why there’ll never be a clear answer in this discussion. People’s tastes and popular trends are so fickle it makes you want to default to William Goldman: Nobody knows anything.

    Really, I think someone will just have to write the change he/she wants to see in the industry. Cliched, yes, but I think true. That One Book will come along and Change Everything.

    • Scathe meic Beorh May 7, 2012, 8:41 AM

      …and that’s exactly what I’m doing, again, following the lead of the industry changers like Hawthorne, Stoker, etc. I mean, a Christian writer’s name has been given to the most coveted Horror award in the writing world. The Bram Stoker Award. That should scream something to all of us.

    • Mike Duran May 8, 2012, 5:14 AM

      Bobby, I think you’re right about Dekker having “expanded Christian fiction further than anyone since Peretti.” Interestingly enough, someone emailed me yesterday quoting Randy Ingermanson who said this about Christian “crossover” novels:

      There is actually no such thing as writing for the “crossover
      market.” You write for your target audience, and if you do
      exceptionally well and the fates smile on you, then you might cross
      over. Happened to JK Rowling, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Nora
      Roberts, Jerry Jenkins, and many others, but they’re a tiny fraction
      of the great horde of all writers.

      The general rule of thumb is that you don’t cross over until you
      absolutely dominate your niche category first. If your whole goal is
      to cross over, then you probably won’t appeal strongly to your target
      audience and you therefore have NO chance to cross over.

      I believe that’s what happened with Dekker. He dominated his niche and is now free, in a sense, from CBA constraints. So I think you’re right about writing to the market BEFORE you can hope to really change anything.

  • xdpaul May 7, 2012, 8:49 AM


    Mike Duran sleeps with the ixthus. That’s way better fate than Luca Brasi’s!

    • Mike Duran May 7, 2012, 11:29 AM

      It all started when I pulled back the sheets one morning to find… and ixthus head!

      • C.L. Dyck May 7, 2012, 2:29 PM

        You really need to put “like” buttons on the comments, dude. 🙂

  • Fred Warren May 7, 2012, 8:50 AM


    I’m both pleased and honored to count you as a friend. I find your commentary thought-provoking, challenging, and sometimes even infuriating. It’s all good.

    Every enterprise needs a loyal opposition willing and able to point out flaws in the conventional wisdom, though sometimes I wonder if shouting at the deaf CBA farmer to turn on his hearing aid, listen to you, and divert some of his cash cow’s feed to support a venture into alpaca herding is the best use of your considerable talent and creative energy. Somebody’s got to do it, I suppose, and don’t let me stop you.

    Certainly, change is best induced from within, but it’s a long, hard road trying to fix a system the operators have little objective reason to believe is broken. Life is short, and spitting into the wind is both unpleasant and messy. I’m not advocating abandonment of the CBA so much as encouraging you to investigate other markets if the stories you really-most-sincerely want to write aren’t welcome there.

    I also think there’s a false dilemma at the heart of this conversation. “You can go CBA, or you can go ABA,” as if it’s a zero-sum game without any other options. There’s no reason we can’t submit in *both* markets, or go independent if neither is receptive to a particular story (as Kat observed, there’s a growing population of Christian spec-fic indies willing to take all sorts of chances on innovation with excellence, and I’d add Chila Woychik’s Port Yonder Press to her list).

    While there might be a tendency for the CBA market to resist dark, gritty, edgy, etc, or for the ABA market to resist stories that showcase Christian faith, that’s not the same as being totally impervious to such stories. Quality and persistence can and often do win out.

    Sarah A. Hoyt, a multi-published author of both historical and speculative fiction, is wrestling with a lot of similar issues on the secular side. Here’s a sample, and I think you could easily lose an hour or three perusing her blog:


    Best Wishes,


    • Mike Duran May 7, 2012, 11:37 AM

      Thanks, Fred! When I self-published my ebook novella, Winterland, I was thinking along those lines. It’s not really aimed at the Christian market, so I saw it as a way to begin dipping my toe in different streams. Frankly, I don’t mind doing both. I feel I can write for the CBA or ABA. So you’re right, there may be “a false dilemma at the heart of this conversation.” Thanks for the link. also!

  • Katherine Coble May 7, 2012, 9:53 AM

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

    I think your best bet is to start a press. Because a press is going to have more of an impact than one or two titles here and there. I really think some of your frustration is that you (and any other Christian spec fic authors) get picked up by a press only to have them make you sit at some version of the Kids table. “Yes, we’ll publish you, but you aren’t going to get much love out of our frontlist. We’re putting the marketing dough into the book about the woman and man who are forced into a faux marriage and end up falling in love.”

    So you guys who write these kids-table books have just enough love from the CBA to feel like you belong there, but aren’t actually getting the full-on love that an author expects to get from her publisher.

    But if you START a press (and that’s easier to do now than ever before, especially if you stick to POD and ebook runs) then you are throwing a boulder into the pool versus a couple of raindrops.

    • Scathe meic Beorh May 7, 2012, 11:26 AM

      This is a good idea, but the requirements, as I am sure most people know, are daunting. Distribution deals, the Ingram/Baker & Taylor enigma, escrow to push the books into the bestseller lists, sharp editors on staff, sharp PR people on staff, sharp designers (because people do, after all, judge books by their covers), the ability to interest in-house agents, the ability to produce returnable books so they can be shelved in the major bookstore chains (those that are left), the ability to understand contract-speak, the ability to understand that most authors want to be left alone to write, an understanding of how amazon.com works in all of its intricacies… the list goes on for a bit, but hopefully it is clear that launching a publishing company is not without its challenges.

    • Mike Duran May 7, 2012, 11:42 AM

      Katherine, thus far, I’ve dismissed your suggestion as unrealistic. But today, for some odd reason, it really resonates. I dunno, I could see myself doing something like this. Thanks for the encouragement!

      • Jonathan Byrd May 7, 2012, 11:50 AM

        There was something about that comment when I saw it in a comment followup email that stuck out to me, too. While I’m sure there are a lot of issues to overcome in starting a press (and I’m pretty sure I know next to none of them) it almost made me want to say that if you decide to go that way I’d be willing to help. Granted part of it would be the possibility of having a place to be published, even though the work involved would probably eat up all the time I have to write, regardless, it could be a tempting idea if you had the right people.

      • Scathe meic Beorh May 7, 2012, 11:50 AM

        You would have my support, Mike. And thanks for letting me spout off so much. It’s good catharsis, and I am grateful for your blog.

      • Katherine Coble May 8, 2012, 5:23 PM

        I started to respond and then read further. I’m glad Tim George stepped in and brought up Athol Dickson because he was one of my mental examples. Starting a press seems daunting, but it can be done. I imagine you’ve assembled enough talent here to at least pull together the basics.

        I know you talked at one point with the Belle Books team; they’re a good example. You’ve also got relationships with agents and editors who I’m betting would be happy to give you guidance/help.

      • Grace Bridges May 9, 2012, 12:32 AM

        It IS a lot of work, no doubt about that, and the learning curve is steep. But it can be done. I’d love to see you join us in the indie press fray, Mike!

  • Sue Harrison May 7, 2012, 10:48 AM

    I’ve just recently begun writing romantic suspense for the inspirational market after a long career in the ABA writing novels of survival set in ancient Alaska. I also write fiction for university (secular) presses.

    My greatest frustration in the Christian market has been twofold. Questions from CBA editors – You have a successful career, why switch? And, the same frustration I had with my mainstream ABA books, you’d better write 3rd person pov, past tense or half your audience won’t even get past the first page. ARGHHHH….

    My prayer for readers? Please Lord, impart a little courage. And the same prayer for myself.

    • Josh Lyon May 7, 2012, 10:59 AM

      About the POV/tense comment, I’ve always wondered if this rule is based on actual research or just established convention. I was among a group of friends not long ago discussing The Hunger Games and made the comment that Suzanne Collins’s use of present tense really added to the tension and sense of urgency in the story. They ALL gave me blank looks. Not a single one had noticed!

      • C.L. Dyck May 7, 2012, 2:28 PM

        Jodi Picoult is another I picked up lately. Bestseller, first person–sometimes present, sometimes past tense.

        It might have more to do with whether writers unwittingly pull back from tension and urgency at a gut level. I often hear guru writing teachers telling aspirants to stop shying away from conflict and emotional exposure, and I suspect such shyness would stand out more in first-person narrative. 3rd allows for a greater range in narrative distance, and it doesn’t have the same kind of voicing demands as 1st.

  • Tim George May 7, 2012, 5:42 PM

    Mike, since you mentioned Athol Dickson and Katherine has mentioned starting your own press or imprint; that is just what Athol has done. It is a huge undertaking and requires a willingness to get in it for the long haul.

    The real problem here is not CBA or General Market but rather something writers have faced in one form or another for decades on end. Louisa May Alcott never had her dream novel published but spent her life feeling pigeonholed by publisher’s expectations for more Little Women (didn’t keep her from making a good deal of money though). William Faulkner with Noble Prize in hand continued to write Hollywood B-Movie westerns because it was the only source for a real living. And Sci-Fi classics like Asimov’s Foundation, Empire, and Second Foundation found their first life as monthly serials it what was considered non-literary pulp fiction. Most writers have always had to search for their niche. Some created their own. I think more are turning to taking matters into their own hands these days.

    • Mike Duran May 8, 2012, 5:36 AM

      Tim, perhaps this question should be directed at Athol, but he seems to have had a change of heart regarding the Christian market. Years ago, in a post entitled simply Thoughts on the 2008 Christy Awards, Athol commented:

      …my mission is to write about Christian themes for Christian readers in the hope that I can help them become better children of the Lord. That’s the best reason to write “Christian fiction” in my opinion.

      That seems to cut cross-grain to his thoughts on the “Why My Novel Will Not Sell” post at Novel Rocket. So I’m wondering if his moving to an indie imprint coincides with some shift in his view of the Christian market.

      • Tim George May 8, 2012, 6:14 AM

        Considering how closely we work together these days I think I could answer this one for Athol but have passed it on to him. Thanks for asking.

      • Athol Dickson May 8, 2012, 9:37 PM

        Mike, to answer your question, my move to independent publishing is motivated mainly by the belief that I can do a better job of selling my books than most traditional publishers can. So it’s not about a shift in my position on the Christian fiction market.

        On the topic of whether it’s worth it to try to change the Christian fiction industry, a few random thoughts:

        I think (actually, it’s a fact, not my opinion) “Christian fiction” is defined by industry professionals (publishers, most Christian fiction authors, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) as fiction written primarily for Christian readers. I also think (I know, actually) a lot of people who critique the current state of Christian fiction lose sight of that simple fact. Some think Christian fiction should be more like this genre or that other genre. Others think Christian fiction should appeal to a larger audience. Others think it should be better written. (I actually agree with that, but then I think the same is true of most general fiction, too.) These critics can’t seem to understand that there are MILLIONS of Christians who love Christian fiction just the way it is, thank you very much. All those happy readers are the reason why Christian fiction is written the way it is. There’s no stubborn resistance to a greater vision, and no conspiracy among successful Christian fiction authors to resist change. There’s only authors who are writing for their market and selling tons of books to highly satisfied readers. It’s the readers who decide what they will read, after all, not us.

        A lot of the buzz I see about how Christian fiction should be more “edgy” or “thoughtful” or whatever seems a little like going into a steakhouse and complaining because the ribeye doesn’t taste like fish. It’s a little crazy, to tell you the truth, and maybe a bit overbearing, for a person to sit around complaining because Christian fiction doesn’t read like something that it’s not. What kind of a person would try to get a manager to change the menu when all he has to do is go down the street to a seafood restaurant? If one doesn’t want to write what Christian fiction readers want to read, it makes no sense to expect all those millions of other readers to change. The only sane thing to do is to write for different readers.

        Another thing I think a lot of Christian fiction critics forget is, their personal tastes are not objective facts. One can insist that this type of novel or that type can’t be taken seriously, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it turned out the defining novel of our generation is a prairie romance, or a work of Amish fiction. Moby Dick was ignored in Melville’s generation, after all, and Dickens was considered a pulp fiction author. We just can’t know what will stand the test of time. Nobody ever has.

        You mentioned that column I wrote for Novel Rocket about why my last novel, THE OPPOSITE OF ART, wouldn’t sell. The point of that article was that novels like that don’t find much of a readership in the Christian fiction market. I didn’t mean to imply that was a bad thing, although I did kid around a little with the implication that everyone who likes my high-falutin’ style of writing is a genius. 🙂 THE OPPOSITE OF ART is actually an example writing something that doesn’t fit the market. It’s much more of a general fiction type novel, because it doesn’t have a moral which is explained at some point near the end. Many of the more successful Christian fiction novels do have a clear moral. With apologies to Flannery O’Connor, that’s nothing new in the world of fiction, and I’m not sure it’s fair to say there’s anything wrong with it. It’s a form that existed for a couple of hundred years before there was such a thing as “Christian fiction,” and again, millions of readers seem to love it. I don’t like to read novels with clear morals, so I don’t write them either, and as I wrote in that Novel Rocket column, that means I don’t expect to be an A-list author in the Christian fiction market. But that’s my problem, not anybody else’s. I don’t plan to ask anyone to change their tastes to more perfectly align with mine. Personally, I think every reader has a right to the unmolested enjoyment of the kind of book that she enjoys, and I think anyone who writes books readers enjoy has done a good thing.

        • Rebecca LuElla Miller May 9, 2012, 9:18 AM

          Athol, I agree with so much of what you say, and yet in some of the areas that Mike has identified as needing change — in other posts — such as predictable endings and plastic characters, I think Christian readers are tolerating, not supporting those elements. I even think they are tolerating traditional conversion scenes (think about if — if those books are written for a Christian audience, do they need to hear once again how new birth begins?) I think we are underestimating the vast majority of Christian readers and ignoring another whole segment of the population. And worse, we do it for the sake of sales.

          I understand that you have chosen to write stories that don’t have those weaknesses, and perhaps your own experience has made you believe Christian readers just don’t want what you write, but I think we first have to give them a chance to read your books before they can decide. That’s where “changing the industry” comes in, I think. Why should Christians look for your kind of writing among fiction known for its predictability and plastic characters? And why would those who like predictability and plastic characters want to read your books? But where do readers go who want quality stories told from a Christian worldview? Why can’t “Christian fiction” include those stories? Actually, I think it does, more and more. That is, in fact, the great change that is taking place in Christian fiction. It’s a change I think we need to applaud and support and point to. So while Mike goads, I cheer from the sidelines. 😆


        • Mike Duran May 9, 2012, 11:22 AM

          Athol, thanks for the lengthy response. Your response stimulated a few questions, which I’ll have to address in short order. First, are you still writing for Christian audiences? If your indie venture (which I’m thrilled about) is just a shift in marketing, aren’t you conceding that there IS a market for your stuff but that the industry, as it exists, didn’t know how to promote it? If so, couldn’t that mean that the Christian market has been radically shaped, and perhaps inordinately tilted, by such things?

          Another question is a much more philosophical one: Your previous novels were considered Christian fiction. So is your new one? If so, then wouldn’t that mean that the genre IS much bigger than what we’ve come to call “Christian fiction”? If not, what has changed to make it NOT Christian fiction? You are a believer. You write from a Christian world. You traffic in spiritual themes. So what’s no longer “Christian” about your fiction?

          Once again, thanks so much for visiting and Godspeed to you new endeavors!

          • Athol Dickson May 9, 2012, 4:28 PM


            I’m working on a stylistically pure murder mystery series for that niche of the general market. I think many fans of Christian Fiction will enjoy these novels because they’ll be fairly “safe” in terms of not containing gratuitous sex scenes, violence or language. Because this genre requires characters who typically pepper their conversation with expletives, I may be a bit more realistic than usual on the language so that might put off some of my usual Christian Fiction readers, but hopefully those who have enjoyed my past novels won’t be put off by a LITTLE swearing as long as it’s truly called for in order to avoid two dimensional characterization.

            The question you just asked is one I’ve thought about for years, and I’ve come to the conclusion that sanity is better preserved by establishing the clear definition that I mentioned before (“Christian Fiction” is fiction written for Christian readers) rather than muddying the waters by inserting the idea that all fiction written by Christians is defacto “Christian fiction.”

            On a psychological level I think it’s true that everything done by a person who loves God will have a certain aroma that is pleasing to the Lord. (I wrote a piece about this topic years ago called “How to Brew a Christian Cup of Coffee” on a now defunct blog called Charis Connection. Maybe that one is still out there in the ether.) But on a practical level, I also think there is a difference between Christian Fiction as the publishing industry defines it, and Christian fiction with a lower case “f”. And I think that difference is best respected in our conversations about this, because otherwise we are often misunderstood.

            For example, this mystery series I’m about to launch may include a little swearing by the characters, and it’s not going to include an kind of spiritual moral, so it won’t meet the expectations of most Christian Fiction readers. That means I’m not writing Christian Fiction with an upper case “F”, or if I am writing it, I’m not doing it properly. Because the readers get to decide what’s proper in any given genre. That is just as true for the Gay and Lesbian or Erotica genres as it is for Christian Fiction, and as I mentioned earlier, I think it’s as it should be. Readers deserve to get what they want.

            But being a Christian, everything I write is Christian fiction with a lower case “f,” because I couldn’t keep my world view out of these murder mysteries even if I wanted to (which I don’t). Again, I think that’s true for authors with other world views too. So an activist homosexual might write a story that doesn’t fit within the Gay and Lesbian readership’s expectations for that genre (whatever they are), yet his way of seeing life will still lend a subtly “gay” feel to his general market novel. He can’t help himself, and neither can I.

            And Becky,

            God bless you! I appreciate the unspoken praise for my past work in your comments, and in case nobody has said this to you in a while: I deeply appreciate all you do to support good fiction.

            That said, I think you’re looking at this from the standpoint of a writer with a much more sophisticated tastes than most, and forgetting that you are most definitely not a typical reader. I also think you’re maybe including a healthy dose of what you WISH was true.

            When we look at what sells most consistently, industry statistics pretty clearly show most Christian Fiction readers aren’t merely tolerating those “predictable endings” and “plastic character.” They demand them as part of the formula.

            But it’s not just Christian Fiction readers. Every fiction genre has a predictable formula. It’s that exact predictability which makes genres what they are, after all. For example, since my first exposure to the Hardy Boys decades ago, I’ve always loved pulp fiction murder mysteries. But talk about your predictable endings and plastic characters! The protagonist usually gets about 99% of the character development. Otherwise, there’s the Sultry Temptress, the Police Detective With The Chip On His Shoulder, the Useful Sidekick, the Girl Who Loves Our Hero From Afar, and so on. As for predicable endings: Our Hero always remains True To His Code, and yet Comes Out On Top. . . always. I’ve easily read a thousand just like that. Maybe even five thousand. Yet I’m still a sucker for these stories. All I ask is that they be technically well written, and I’m happy.

            There are always exceptions to prove the rule, so I do think there’s room in the Christian Fiction genre for what I’ve written there, even though it doesn’t fit the formula. I’ve been around in that market for nearly 20 years, after all. But I think mine is an accidental readership. They’re mostly the ones who enjoy the usual Christian Fiction formula (which is why they’re swimming in that pool when they find me in the first place) but they also enjoy a more “literary” read from time to time, so they seem pleasantly surprised when they run across my work. I had a similar experience when I accidentally discovered the remarkable work of Caleb Carr and Umberto Ecco while thinking I was about to read a basic murder mystery. But for every one of my accidental readers I think there are a hundred others who don’t want to be bothered with symbolism or thematic underpinnings, and I don’t blame them. I feel the same way when I’m in the mood for a good pulp fiction mystery.

            (Mike, sorry for the long comments. As Poe once wrote to a friend at the end of a long letter: “Had I more time, I would have been brief.”)

            • Tim George May 9, 2012, 4:37 PM

              And now isn’t everyone glad I didn’t try to answer this one for Athol 🙂

            • Mike Duran May 9, 2012, 5:12 PM

              Athol, very cool comments! Thank you so much for taking time with this conversation. I do like your your distinction between Christian Fiction and Christian fiction, although it still begs the question as to whether it’s worth fighting for the “F” to become an “f” any time soon. And you may have, inadvertently, diagnosed my malady when you said, “I’ve come to the conclusion that sanity is better preserved by establishing the clear definition that I mentioned before (“Christian Fiction” is fiction written for Christian readers).” This confirms several readers beliefs that I am nuts. Thank you once again!

    • Katherine Coble May 8, 2012, 5:20 PM

      Athol Dickson is one example I had in mind; there are several others around the universe as I do more research into Independent publishing.

      Yes, starting a press can seem daunting, but I gather when one takes it in stages (as Dickson seems to be doing) it’s seeming more and more like the easier route. Grappling with large publishing houses over the right amount of attention and respect for each work seems to yield less and less actual response and more and more “shut up; we don’t have to print any more of your books, you know!”

      Having worked for a large press I don’t see anything changing their mind from the inside. They only notice competition.

  • Heather Day Gilbert May 7, 2012, 5:46 PM

    I’ve been reading more Christian fiction of late, and I have to say that sometimes I’m thrilled with it, sometimes not. I love that more realistic situations are being portrayed. However, I’m not a fan of preaching thrown in willy-nilly. BUT I’ve finally realized that some people want that preachy aspect, feeling that it sets the book apart as Christian fiction.

    What’s more alarming is the disconnect w/what some Christian readers READ and what they WATCH. Not going to elaborate on specific shows, etc, but I think we need to be honest about what we’re putting into our minds.

    I would personally LOVE to see Christian books of the caliber of the classics sweep the CBA. I don’t mean those wordy, overly-descriptive aspects. I mean the grappling with themes that are IMPORTANT to Christians today. Doesn’t have to be rough and raw to touch the heart. But it has to be REAL.

    Pet peeve numero uno for me: Men who talk like best girl-friends. When a book veers this way (often the case in Christian fiction), I lose interest fast.

    Ah, well, enough rambling. Mike, always enjoy your views, though I’m mystified as to how you landed such an uber-agent as Rachelle, with views like these! No disrespect intended, but I’m just glad to see there are uber-agents in the CBA who support spec-fic and views “outside the box.”

  • Nikole Hahn May 8, 2012, 8:40 AM

    I agree.

  • Bob Avey May 8, 2012, 6:12 PM

    Another thought-provoking post, Mike. You stirred up the dust a little with your: Five Star Review post as well. Keep up the good work.

  • Jen V. May 8, 2012, 10:02 PM

    Wow! So many deep and thoughtful comments on this!

    I’ll be brief–
    I agree. Christian fiction needs to change. It’s a little…boring…right now.

    No offense to the myriad of wonderful Christian writers out there, of course. = 0 I’m fully willing to admit that my ignorance of the ‘Christian’ niche may be to blame for my thoughts.
    There–that was brief!

  • Darar September 30, 2012, 5:12 PM

    I’m not going to c0mpromise the book God gave me to fit into somebody’s idea of a genre. At the moment it is what I would call Realistic Christian fiction, because the characters are all human, not walking Biblical encyclopedias. Every one of them is flawed, yet they are striving to be better people. One is coping with a life-threatening illness and is angry because he recently drew closer to God, got baptized, and now feels that God is trying to take it away from him. As a result he does some ungodly things, on his journey to discover how to find peace in the midst of his storm. And my married couples actually have sex! That’s something you never read in a so-called “Christian novel.” The genre needs shaking up, and in a serious way. That, or there needs to be a new genre created, for those of us who want to reach the lost and bring them into relationship with Jesus Christ. Typical secular publishing companies will not accept this type of novel, to my knowledge. Before we became Christians we all had to start somewhere, and the seeds had to be planted for us to change. I want to write stories that show characters who go through that change. Along the way there may be cursing, and the typical sins one sees of those who follow worldly principles and not Godly ones. I don’t really know what the answer is, but I think the first step is to get out there and fight for a different type of writing.

  • Jessi Gage October 31, 2012, 3:23 PM

    Hi Mike,
    Some other romance authors and I have been having a similar debate about Inspirational Romance and its insistence on morally upright characters and separationist ideology (i.e. good Christians don’t hang out with sinner or participate in secular activities). But that’s not the kind of Christian I am, nor was it how Christ was. He partied with sinners BECAUSE he loved them. I would love to see some Christian authors pen stories about Christians in the real world, dealing with issues that challenge their faith, this includes romances where characters might not always live above reproach, but their HEA (happily ever after) reflects growth in faith.
    Thanks for the post. Good luck with your writing! I think it is needed.

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