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Thank You, Bethany House Publishers!

It would be very easy to turn this into a rant against those uptight, priggish, puritanical, and very vocal Christian fiction readers who keep the industry in check with their incessant whining about “clean fiction”… but I won’t.

Last month, Bethany House published My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade, she even had the books distributed all over the country with the help of Shiply. Touted as a Contemporary Christian Romance (emphasis on the contemporary), Wade’s book is causing a few waves. Why? Because it dares to dabble in language and subject matter typically deemed taboo in Christian fiction circles.

I was first alerted to this when I read blogger-friend Nicole Petrino-Salter’s review, in which she noted:

For those readers of Christian fiction who’ve wanted a little more reality in the language department, Becky dares to use the following words (which will no doubt raise the hackles of those readers who pass judgment on these kinds of things): boobs, balls (as in male body parts), crap, pissed. Only once for some of them and at, dare I say, the opportune moments? Really. And this from Bethany House! Ay, ay, ay. Not for shock value but for poignant moments and character-fitting verbiage. Authenticity. The way it should be done in this kind of story.

Give me a second to catch my breath…

…okay, I’m back.

“Pissed”? “Boobs”? “Crap”? Why, I haven’t heard language like this since I… since I… well, since I turned on the TV, AM radio, or listened to the local elementary school kids on their way to school. If this is “cutting edge” for Christians, we are seriously sheltered.

As predicted, the hornets stirred. Just take a look at these 3-star reviews of Ms. Wade’s novel.

Reviewer Sally wrote:

There are two places where I strongly disagree with word choice; both times I actually stopped reading and reread to make certain the words were really there. I don’t know why better word choices were not used; it would have improved the book.

Lynn said:

I’ve read other “edgy” Christian fiction where language is used for effect but in this case the language is not necessary for the storyline and actually detracts from the overall enjoyment of the book.

Which leaves Noelle to ask:

Are we really so shallow? Self centered? Is our language so loose and manners so free? Again, this is clearly a novel I would hesitate to pass along.

I guess the word “boobs” has that effect on people. However, I’m not sure the word “breasts” would fare much better with these readers. Anyway, this is just the beginning of offenses. LCCR starts the checklist:

I’m thrilled Bethany House has put out a contemporary romance, but very surprised with some of the things in this book; it’s to the point where it might turn off some of its regular readers (like me) in order to reach a more mass appeal. Poker playing for money (no matter how little or much), yoga, a Halloween observation, designer name-dropping and crass thoughts and expressions didn’t endear me to the characters, realistic or not.

Did you get that? “Poker playing… for money” no less! (So is poker playing without money less evil? Just asking.) Yoga, Halloween observation, and “designer name-dropping” are also mentioned, And, yes, apparently “designer name-dropping” is a big issue as one reviewer noted, “Too much name-dropping of designer names also perturbed me; most readers of Christian novels are not going to care.” Who cares if the characters are “realistic or not,” as long as they refrain from mentioning Ed Hardy or Juicy Couture, I can buy in.

All this leads Spot-On Reviews to summarize

Without these unsavory aspects, I could have ranked this book much higher but they took over the book for me, unfortunately. My prayer is that it doesn’t turn off readers to the contemporary Christian romance genre. I’m sure Bethany House’s objective was to do the opposite, but if they continue with romances like this one, full of what could be “hot button” issues offensive to mainstream Christian romance readers, I can see why so many will prefer the historicals.

I’ve often heard stories about these vocal conservative readers and the industry weight they carry, the nasty complaint letters that publishers receive, the Christian bookstores that get chewed out by customers for allowing such crap, er, junk on their shelves. And that these “squeaky wheels” have shaped the quotient of contemporary Christian fiction more than anything else.

Well, let this be a counterpoint.

I totally get that some people hold very conservative values. In fact, I probably share many of those same values. But worrying over fictional characters who play poker and use “soft cussing” is, frankly, straining at gnats and swallowing camels. No, I’m not suggesting we allow F-bombs in Christian fiction, folks. Neither am I advocating R-rated sex scenes or smut “in order to reach a more mass appeal.” But we’re nowhere near that! We’re talking about poker playing and the word “piss,” folks (which the last time I checked is employed freely in the King James version of the Bible).

Listen, we cannot allow our industry to be shackled to such a narrow, superstitious view of faith and culture.

Becky Wade should be congratulated for going against the grain of conventionality, risking bad reviews, censure, and even rejection. Likewise, Bethany House should be applauded. In a market known for its vocal defense of clean fiction — dare I say bullying — Bethany House Publishers also took a risk with Becky Wade’s My Stubborn Heart. Not only do I really hope it pays off for them and her, I hope other Christian publishers will eventually follow suit.

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{ 117 comments… add one }
  • Julie Presley June 7, 2012, 5:20 PM

    #1. I want to read this book. #2. I’m so glad that I’m self-publishing. #3. I’m going to need to grow some thicker skin if THIS is what riles people up. Yikes.

  • Tony June 7, 2012, 6:51 PM

    Let the market be the judge. If the novel is successful, good, if not, good. The beauty of the free market is supply and demand. Supply what people demand, you get paid. If not, you’ve learned what not to do.

    A few thoughts. I don’t think a book with a few dirty words and some gambling means Christian authors are moving in a more realistic direction. It just means they’re unafraid of offending deeply conservative Christians. . .and let’s be honest, who isn’t? I had a rough draft sent to me once by a friend — a fellow Christian and an aspiring writer — that dropped the f-bomb at least six times in the first few paragraphs. It was supposed to be a serious scene, but I found it hilarious. It was so stilted. So desperately “edgy.” It was laughable. So, sorry, but I’m just not all that excited about this particular novel or what it could mean for the future of CBA. So Bethany House gets no thanks from me unless the book is actually ENTERTAINING like so many of the “cleaner” CBA novels before it.

    More importantly. . .seriously, this is a bit frustrating. Let me say, for the most part, I am not easily offended by language or violence or sex in a novel. I don’t read too much CBA, but I read plenty Koontz, King, Saul, Laymon, Barket, etc. But some Christians are easily offended. I -thought- that was why the CBA existed in the first place: As an entertainment industry FOR Christians. (Since, no matter how crude your novel is, most non-religious people won’t browse the Christian Fiction section any more than I would browse an Atheist Fiction section) Maybe I’m wrong. . .but I think those who are easily offended deserve to be entertained by SOMETHING. Lord knows they can’t turn on a TV for it. And I just think, if I were so easily offended, I’d see the current CBA market as a Godsend. A place where I can easily find books that don’t upset me.

    I’ve voiced my confusion here before. I don’t get it. Christians who want what you seem to want should go into ABA markets. Like Dean Koontz and William Blatty. There is plenty of Christian Fiction in ABA markets. As I said before, there is no new road to forge here, no new market, only an old market to destroy.

  • Brandi F June 7, 2012, 7:21 PM

    You have a quote on your sidebar that I thought quite appropriate for this discussion: Morality may damn as well as vice. A vessel may be sunk with gold as well as with dung. — Thomas Watson

    I should first state that I’ve read the book, liked it and reviewed it as such. After reading all the above commentary I come away from it just being thankful that we live in a place that we can freely have this discussion.

    What puzzles me is the uproar. A review is someone’s opinion on a particular work. That review should include that particular person’s standards because it is their review. My choice is how much weight to give their opinion.

    I say if you hated the book because of the content, don’t buy it and don’t pass it along. But…if you liked it and want to see more like it, go buy ten copies and pass them out. I’m sure Becky Wade and Bethany House would be thrilled either way.

    The bonus for me is I have now found a great blog to follow. Thanks Mike for the thought provoking conversation starter. Looking forward to reading more by you!

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

    Quick observation: Any alleged Christian who believes that the Christian holiday of Halloween isn’t a Christian holiday can quietly exit out the back. We promise we won’t say anything about your imbecilic stupidity.

  • Marion June 11, 2012, 7:45 PM

    Wow, I must write that I’m surprised at such a reaction to a couple of words (that are not curse words) in a work of fiction.

    However, this brings me to a bigger concern. There seems to be a disconnect from the book we study and read for spiritual guidance and wisdom than what is reflected in contemporary Christian Fiction.

    This same book showed me David as murderer and adulterer (and he was a man after God’s own heart), Moses was a murderer (God buried him), Job lost everything (his story is a country and western or blues song waiting to happen) and he was blameless in God’s eyes & Solomon (my favorite character in the Bible) was the original Hugh Huefner and wrote the best books on wisdom in the history of the world with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

    What I’m getting at…..it seems God is okay with the messiness of human life and humanity. But, our modern evangelical Christianity wants to strip all the messiness away so we can live in a hermetically sealed bubble. I do not understand why there is such a disconnection from that reality.

    Let me clear, I’m not saying we should not have any standards or act like we can do anything we want and God’s grace will covered it up. But, we are not graduating to super-spiritual Christian either and becoming Jesus ourselves. The best we can ever be…..is a follower of Him and his continuing shaping of us in his image. Somehow, that has gotten lost in our current form of Christianity.

    Our art should reflect that messiness of human life unabashedly. And the art will either show redemption for our messiness or the perils of our sinful nature and where that could lead us.


  • Mark June 15, 2012, 7:54 AM

    Mike, I have to disagree, and be nice to me… I’m up to review your latest book 😉

    I am disgusted by the language that is creeping into Christian books. No one should curse, and there is no excuse to use some kind of words anywhere. We have become so calloused and used to cursing and sin on TV and secular books, that too many Christians excuse it in Christian books.

    How does this line up with the Bible? We are called to be holy, to be separate from the world, to not offend – which can be taken too far, I admit, but I don’t curse. I am offended by it and the words you mentioned that are in the book. Does that make me a prude? No! Christian fiction should be held to a higher standard. Whats next, cursing in praise and worship choruses or slipped into the pastor’s sermons? Not the same? Extreme analogy? No. Ten years ago, people would have been shocked by this kind of language in a Christian book, what changed?

    And furthermore, if we shouldn’t talk that way, then what makes it ok to do it on paper? I am very amazed and shocked at the amount of Christians who defend this and have no problem with it. Maybe its because I rarely read secular fiction and never watched much TV. People, Christians are supposed to be different. Thats not me saying so – Jesus said it. If you can honestly line up this stuff with the Bible and how Jesus said to live, act, and even think – more power to you. I for one, cannot see it and am disappointed in the Christian publishers and authors who do it.

  • Lisa Arkwright June 15, 2012, 10:19 AM

    I haven’t read the book, so I will refrain from going into things too much, but I can’t just not say SOMETHING. I have read a couple thousand books in my lifetime (at least). More secular than not, unfortunately. I have come back to Christ in my old age (41) and have been reading “Christian Fiction”. If it is no better, hasn’t any higher standards, what’s the point? REALLY? You say it’s “realistic”, so why not go all out? The world is SO AWFUL that we can be just a little awful and it be okay by comparison??? I had gotten to where I was reading some teen fiction to get away from the nastiness, but a lot of it is as bad, if not worse than adult fiction. I am NOT a prude, nor easily offended, but I don’t want to read foul things, and I am putting my trust in these publishers, I hope it’s not misplaced. Like I said I haven’t read this particular book, so this has just been a general statement of fact, I’m not commenting on this book or it’s author.

  • Ronie June 15, 2012, 2:13 PM

    I’m not advocating for the use of bad language. I think there’s rarely call for it. However, in nearly all of my books, you’ll find some very close terms. Crap. Ticked. Pissed. Heck. And I’ve even used hell in situations where I felt it wasn’t a curse word, but some readers viewed it as a curse word. I even had SOB in the prologue of my second Discarded Heroes book, but while reading the galley, I stopped cold. I wondered if a reader would do the same–STOP reading at that point. Because of one word? No matter how authentic the word was to the character, I pulled it. One word, again–no matter how authentic–is not worth losing readers over. I changed it to “the Brass.”

    In my everyday language, I do my best not to use curse words. I was brought up that what comes out of our mouths echoes our hearts. If we’re spewing filth…what does that say of our hearts? Argue how you like, but I am so with CS Lewis that every word should be weighed carefully so that other words have appropriate weight/meaning.

    • Gina Holmes June 16, 2012, 8:05 AM

      Ronie, these are the category of words in question . Nobody has said we should have characters say F*** or similar terms, the problem seems to be with the very words you’ve used and not, for some reason, gotten heat for.

  • Mark June 16, 2012, 6:58 AM

    one more thing, Mike it really bothers me that you’re cheering Bethany House on “Yeah for being vulgar! Yeah for offending people! Yeah for trying to be more like the world!” Is that not what you’re saying?

    • Mike Duran June 16, 2012, 7:15 AM

      No, Mark. I’m cheering Bethany House on for daring to challenge what I consider are hyper-conservative, fundamentalist strictures that have turned the Christian fiction industry into a ghetto of propagandist art that has ZERO impact on the marketplace of ideas and elevates “forms of godliness” into legalism (can’t say this, can’t write that, can’t look at this, can’t hear that, etc., etc., etc.). I’m also applauding Bethany House for standing up to vocal dissenters who often try to bully publishers into publishing only the types of books those readers approve of.

  • Christa Allan June 16, 2012, 2:55 PM

    Chiming in late here, but I applaud Bethany House and Becky Wade for publishing a book that actually might find itself in the hands of non-Christians.

    I wrote two novels with Abingdon Press, one about a woman’s journey with alcoholism, and the other about a sister who struggles when she finds out her brother is gay. I mention this only to say that I’ve had positive reviews from people who don’t ordinarily cruise the Christian Fiction section of the bookstore (assuming they even know it’s there). In fact, many were surprised to discover the books were published by a Christian publishing house. Were they surprised because the novel seemed un-Christian? No, they were surprised that a CF novel tackled timely and important real life struggles.

    Too many Christian families suffer in silence. Alcoholism, drug, sex, or food addiction, lifestyles are all the big elephants in the room we don’t talk about. But we all know they exist because they’re stepping on our toes and squeezing the life out of many of us.

    And, sadly, because of these two novels, I have received scathing emails from a number of self-proclaimed Christians. Mean-spirited attacks. And, sadly, they don’t realize those emails reflect more about them than they do about my novels.

    Perhaps substituting the word “write” in this quote from E.B. Hall (and, no, it was wrongly attributed to Voltaire) below best characterizes the tug-of-war for me : “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  • Bluerose July 16, 2012, 10:50 AM

    I respect your rights to your opinions. I don’t agree with it in the least way, but I respect it. Was it really necessary, though, to call me and others conservative readers…”uptight, priggish, puritanical, and very vocal Christian fiction readers who keep the industry in check with their incessant whining about “clean fiction”?

    I know my puny little opinion doesn’t matter, but I’m very disappointed that you felt the need to call names.

    • Mike Duran July 16, 2012, 12:02 PM

      Bluerose, I don’t consider all conservative Christian fiction readers “uptight, priggish, [and] puritanical.” There is a significant contingent, however, to whom the labels seem to apply. How else would you explain readers having a conniption over whether a Christian character can wear a bikini, drink a beer, or say the word “boob”?

  • Karla July 21, 2012, 8:18 PM

    Many times change creates alarm. I imagine if one is used to certain language in a certain publisher’s books, seeing new words such as mentioned above might be a jolt. While they certainly are not the F-bomb, one might be concerned that restraints might be loosened over time, in a subtle way, where we find our publishers lingering on that precipice of wondering how far is too far, what words or subject matter are allowable, and which are not, and not realizing how we got to that edge. Our enemy is subtle and I don’t want him to gain control of our more uplifting literature and turn it into garbage.

  • Darrell Case December 29, 2014, 9:05 AM

    I don’t believe I have to use the language of the street to enhance my writing. Hopefully my books stand on their integrity alone

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