Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Identifying Christian Fiction, part 2

Yesterday, I introduced you to some Christian publishers, in the hope of helping you identify Christian fiction for your own purposes. I got some interesting comments, so I thought I'd address them here.

Gay asked,

Perhaps a stupid question, but what makes a book Christian lit? Or maybe conversely, what won't you find in a Christian lit book?

Not a stupid question at all!!! While I think each house has their own guidelines, I have been able to find the submission guidelines for Steeple Hill which should give you an idea of what is generally accepted in bookstores that are a part of the CBA. (Christian booksellers association)

From the website:
Because Steeple Hill sells to both CBA and ABA bookstores, we must adhere to CBA conventions. The stories may not include alcohol consumption by Christian characters, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations or magic, or the mention of intimate body parts. Lying is also problematical in the CBA market and characters who are Christian should not lie or deceive others. Possibly there could be exceptional circumstances (matters of life and death), but this has to be okayed by an editor.

Those guidelines seem to include a lot of ideas about Christianity that come from Western Christianity.

I should mention that there are definitely Christian fiction books where social drinking is becoming more acceptable. I think there are always exceptions as long as there is story support for it. I've also read books published by the Christian publishing houses where Jesus isn't even mentioned. The main thing, I think, is that the book is written from a Christian worldview.

Deborah said,
a quick comment about people feeling tricked into reading Christian fiction. i can understand if it is a preachy novel that literally has tons of sermons in the book. but what i don't get is when someone finishes a book, has enjoyed it and THEN afterwards finds out it's a Christian fiction novel and they stop liking it. what does it matter?? if you liked the book, you like it, it shouldn't matter if it was Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, romance, mystery, historical, erotica, etc.
it just feels like Christian fiction is the only genre that has to have this "so called disclaimer" so as not to offend people. i don't see other genres having this. it just seems like it's like a "Beware" tag to stay away or "read with caution" more than a "heads up" to me.

I totally agree that if you like a book, you like it. But I do think that there's something about faith and religion that people are especially sensitive to. I really love Christian fiction. Enough to get annoyed with it sometimes, because I think it can be better. And the last thing I want is for someone who doesn't want to read a book with overt faith themes feel like they were deceived into reading a book I love. I hope that people will give Christian fiction a chance, but I think it's only fair for them to know that a book contains issues of faith in a more direct way than maybe some other books do. And I would definitely want to know if a book was of another religion. I wish sometimes I could get a heads up about a heavy handed political book. And I do think within the romance genre, there are different lines where you can sometimes tell how much explicit content there will be. Which leads into Becky's comment...
I choose to look at this post--or the premise behind this post--positively. There are plenty of readers out there who want to read Christian books and/or clean (no smut) fiction...and they may be at the bookstore OR at the library and wanting an easy way to spot books to read.

While it is true that you could look at it negatively--a way for some out there to say, ways to avoid Christian fiction so I'm not accidentally tainted by reading it. Theoretically I'm not sure how I feel about labels at all. You're right, Deborah, other types of books aren't labeled 'in case of offending' others. I can see the convenience of it, but I can also see why there could be some problems with it. In some ways, a book is a book is a book. Labeling books can be tricky in and of itself because it naturally works to limit the audience even if that is not the intention.

Well, I did provide the list for both. As I said before, I see a lot of bloggers feel like they have been deceived into reading Christian fiction and I realized they might not know it's as simple as knowing the publishers. What good is it for someone to read Christian fiction if they feel like they were tricked into it and feel more annoyed by the genre than ever? I sincerely hope that some people will give Christian fiction a chance. But I want them to give it a chance knowing that's what they're getting into. It is a tricky business to label books...and it does limit the audience, I suppose. But I think there are a lot of open-minded readers out there who just want an idea of what they are getting into. And that's kind of what imprints and knowing publishers in general can do for us.

And finally in response to Rita who said,
I love Christian fiction and don't see why this is a problem. If someone is thinking of reviewing a book and they're concerned that it might conflict with their beliefs, it is their responsibility to do a simple check with the publisher to find out if this would be the case.

I think part of the issue was that people were unaware that there are Christian they didn't even know to do a check. I also love Christian fiction, but I'm a Christian! I was simply trying to provide a resource.

When I review books, I keep in mind that I have both Christian readers and readers with other worldviews. So I do point out whether or not books are Christian fiction and also point out things in general market books that might be problematic for my Christian readers.



Chrisbookarama said...

I don't see anything wrong with providing a list. If someone wants to buy those books, they know what to look for now. (I had to look up scatological, btw). Since you don't just review Christian books and since it seems there are 2 different groups coming to your blog, it makes sense to point it out.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, as I was reading the requirements for the Christian publishing criteria I was rather...affronted. Just because people are Christians doesn't mean they don't struggle with those issues that, according to the Publishers, christian characters cannot be involved with: lying, sexual sins, gambling, addictions to drugs and alcohol.

This is precisely one of the reasons I, as a Christian, am not a huge fan of Christian fiction. Life is messy and complicated even for a Christian. I don't want to read about a bunch of "holier than thou" characters that don't struggle with real issues. If Christian authors can't write about about the nitty gritty stuff that many Christians face, what the heck are they writing about?

Again, I've read very little Christian fiction and while I'm open to suggestions, I feel that the restrictions Christian publishers put on Christian Fiction....can turn not only non-Christians but Christians off.

Kara said...

I think it is interesting the guidelines that you posted - I can understand the not mentioning body parts and things like that. But what I don't understand is the lying/deceit thing. I mean Christians are human too - people do lie and deceive, gossip, etc. However, the difference is we have a God who forgives us when we do these things. It seems like they are trying to create a "perfect" person and that just isn't reality.

You have written two great posts on this genre and I have enjoyed reading about it - I am not one who has read Christian Fiction - but my eyes are open and I will probably try some in the near future!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow thanks Amy! I never looked into the submission requirements. I had always felt that Christian fiction was cookie cutter- now I know why. Those requirements sap any creativity out if a story.

Deborah said...

ok to be fair, those are just one publisher's standards of Christian fiction. there is a LOT of Christian fiction that has really edgy stuff. Melody Carlson writes on topics like teen drinking, sex, homosexuality, cutters, shopping addictions, Wicca and that's just in her teen series! She's also written about cults, mental illnesses, meth addictions, etc. Steven James writes about serial killers and goes into gory detail about the murders they have committed. I could give you a huge list of Christian fiction authors who's books, if you did not know they were CF, you would be surprised they were Christian fiction.

I think the problem is people think all Christian fiction is "safe", that everyone gets saved and then wants to go around preaching at everyone. It's not. Yes there are books/authors/publishing houses that will only print out happy ending stories where life is not real. But that's not the case. There ARE Christian fiction books that tell how gritty and ugly life is. Unfortunately, people just assume because it's labeled as Christian fiction, it's on par with the Left Behind series and should be avoided.

Anonymous said...


THAT's the kind of christian fiction I could jump on board with. I will have to check out Melody Carlson. Can you suggest any other Christian writer/publishers that don't have such rigid guidelines?!

Meg89 said...

I had the same sort of reaction to Christian lit as you have Mollie. In high school, I had access to a rather large Christian library at my church, and while I discovered a few gems, most books were so forgettable I couldn't remember what had happened from one day to the next. I like the nitty gritty. One Christian book I did enjoy, that didn't feel so forced was Though None Go With Me (I wish I remember who it was by). Even though the character pretty much lived as a Christian without much slip-up, the real world happened around her.

I don't think Christian lit is all bad, but I rarely pick one up anymore because I feel the odds are against me.

Stephanie Newton said...

In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I write inspirational romantic suspense for Steeple Hill...but I haven't always been a reader of Christian fiction and I still read widely across genres. I'd just like to add here that there are a couple of things to remember about inspirational fiction. Just like any genre, the books vary widely in subject matter, in content, and in writing styles and voice. Some are definitely more preachy than others. (And the ones where the characters pray every two sentences make me want to throw the book at the wall) Steeple Hill has tighter written guidelines because, as a subsidiary of Harlequin, they publish category romance. A happy ending is a guarantee. Even so, some recent books from Steeple Hill Love Inspired have had characters dealing with unplanned pregnancy, alcohol addiction, cancer, an abusive childhood, drug abuse, you can see, these aren't all characters who have lived perfect lives and some are dealing with the consequences of their choices. I think the difference in these books is how the subject matter is dealt with. If you haven't picked up an inspirational fiction book lately, I'd encourage you to give one a try. You can read first chapters at eHarlequin and maybe you can find an author whose writing style fits your reading preference.

SmilingSally said...

As a book reviewer and an avid reader of Christian Fiction, my eyes are beginning to open, thanks to your discussions. I always note if profanity or adult themes are contained in the books I read, but I have not referenced Christian Fiction. I think that I will begin to indicate if faith plays a part in the plot. It would seem to be a better review for the reader who is shopping. Thanks, Amy.

Amy said...

Thanks for the comments for everyone! I'm going to write another post on this soon, so hopefully I'll touch a little more on what Deborah said. ;)

S. Krishna said...

I don't mind reading Christian fiction if there isn't much religion in it. My problem is when books are preachy. For example, if I read a Christian fiction book, enjoyed it, and then found out it was Christian fiction, I wouldn't really care. But I try to avoid the genre in general because it's hard to tell whether a book will be preachy or not!

Ali said...

Thanks for doing these posts, Amy. I've never accidentally read any Christian fiction (or romance or thrillers or any of the other genres I usually steer away from)--but I can understand how it might put a blogger in an awkward position if they felt obligated, because of receiving a review copy, to read and review a book that isn't the right fit for them.

Kim L said...

I enjoyed this post because although I grew up pretty much having Christian fiction be the exclusive category of fiction purchased for me by my parents. I will be honest. There were some authors I did like, but there were a lot of writers who I did not like and so I avoid Christian fiction now. I have heard people say that the genre has expanded, but the stereotypes and conventions always frustrated me.

I would not be bothered if I read a book, enjoyed it and saw it was from a Christian publishing house, but I would be very surprised if I did not catch on until the end of the book. I don't enjoy preachy novels of any variety, so if it was just a good book, I would accept it as that.

Anonymous said...

I tend to avoid Christian Fiction like the plague, but there are some authors who are CF that I like and read. I think the CF world is opening up a bit -- and Thank God, b/c as many have mentioned, its not just non-christians that have to deal with sex, drugs, violence, the real pressures of life.

What I have to look out for, as a non-Protestant Christian, is the vitriolic hate towards Catholics and Episcopalians in many Christian Fiction books (including, most prominently, Left Behind). So much for love your neighbor.

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