Monday, June 25, 2012

Christian or Not: Quality Writing Matters

Yesterday I happened to read - in our local Sunday paper, no less - a story about people who downloaded a book for free on Amazon only to discover that it was {gasp} Christian Fiction. Then those folks left nasty, one star reviews.

The story quoted Rachelle Gardner, which pleased me greatly because I read her blog about writing and publishing.

Gardner wrote a post way back in January of this year about the need for labeling Christian Fiction. You can see her post here: Should We Label Christian Fiction? The comments (at my last count there were 202) are also interesting and informative.

The news article I read yesterday was not the first I've thought about this subject. I've been saving links for a while now, trying to organize my thoughts on this topic. After all, I'm a wannabe writer. And I'm a voracious reader. These questions matter to me. If I'm a writer and a Christian, do I have to be a "Christian author"?

Here's a post in response to Rachelle Gardner's (this one is by Mike Duran): Why We Should NOT Label Christian Fiction. I confess, I am not familiar with the "Novel Rocket" blog, but I may start reading it now. He makes some good points.

Here's where I stand on this:

As a child and teenager I read a lot of Christian Fiction. I spent birthday money almost every year to buy the latest book by Bodie Thoene. Considering how much I was reading, and what I might have picked up had I not had "Christian" books to read, it's probably not such a bad thing.

But here's what happened: as I read more, as I grew and matured as a person and a Christian, I came to the conclusion that most of what was being published as "Christian Fiction" was simply dreck. It was poorly written. The stories were predictable, filled with "As you know, Bob" type dialogue (also known as "Info Dumping"). Many would have one character (the good guy or girl) lead another character (the "Bad guy" or former enemy) to the Lord, complete with clunky "sinner's prayer" (and don't even get me started on whether that is a scriptural concept).

Here's a quote from a now-defunct blog (anyone else remember Jenni and One Thing?):
Every time I receive CBD’s catalog of the newest Christian fiction offerings, I find myself giggling. Setting aside, for the moment, the very fine argument that the moment “Christian” fiction became its own genre it also nestled down inside a slick and silky coffin and began driving in the nails, I submit that for every one quality “Christian” novelist there are at least 100 high-school-creative-writing-teacher’s-pets churning out books that get published simply by virtue of the fact that they are bereft of anything objectionable, and contain at least one scene of someone getting baptized.
Some authors, not to name names, seem to have the idea that all you need do is write a chaste romance with no objectionable elements, slap an Amish bonnet on the girl and suspenders on the guy and You.Are.Set.

This is my problem: God is the Creator. He is The Author. He gave us the gift of language, and, though it is not a perfect language, (and no, the Bible was not originally written in English) I still believe that English is a beautiful, versatile language. It is powerful. You don't have to read much Shakespeare, Austen, or Dickens before you come to that conclusion. (And you don't have to be Austen or Dickens to do it justice.)

Yes, there are many non-Christian books that are poorly written, unimaginative, and wastes of time. With so many books published every day, there are far more duds than greats. But Christians ought not to depend on "Well, that secular author is worse".  That's really not a stellar argument in our favor, you know?

Two more posts that I found to illustrate some of the problems with defining "Christian" books as a separate genre:
 Yes, I confess, when I'm sick in bed an old Jannette Oke or Gilbert Morris book might be my "comfort read" of choice. I still love the WW2 series that Bodie Thoene wrote and I re-read it every once in a while.

But here's the deal: Real Christianity is not sterile. It is not always easy. It is not boring.
It is vital. It is challenging. It is disturbing at times. (Anyone read their Bible lately? It's not all lollipops and roses in there.) It is life altering.

Books written by authors who claim Christ as Savior should be no different.

So, what do you think? Have a favorite writer who happens to be a Christian? Have an argument for or against? I'd love to read your comments.


MacKenzie said...

I don't read much "Christian Fiction" but I will confess I do like to pick up an occasional Francine Rivers novel.She isn't Shakespeare but I do find her plots to be intriguing.

Julie Anne Turner said...

I am adding this post to the list of reasons why I am proud to know you. I have felt this way for years. I was raised on Janette Oke, and I do love her. But I am to the point where Christian fiction just upsets me. Brilliant post.

Gram said...

Thumbs up, kiddo!

Lisa said...

Agreed! Some of those books I can barely make it through. :)

Karin said...

Love that German word - dreck! Yup! I honestly tried to read one of those from our in-house library and I just can't!

Amy said...

Yes, good "Christian fiction" is hard to come by. I've been disappointed in quite a few, and I consider myself a pretty easy critic. I've thought of it as kind of embarrassing before. As in "Really? This is what "we" as Christians are putting out there as "our" reading material?" :-S

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