Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Who Are You?

Well, ECPA PubU has come and gone, and I'm here in Illinois on vacation. Okay, it's supposed to be vacation, but I've spent a boatload of time dealing with work. Ah well, as I told folks in Twitterland, publishing waits for no (wo)man's vacation.

Anyway, though PubU is over, several of the conversations keep running through my mind. Questions. Posits. Debates. Explorations. So many topics floating around that caught my attention, only to be pushed aside by the next equally challenging--or troubling--topic. In some ways, publishing is in such a state of flux. In others, it's utterly grounded and unshakeable. Good and bad on both sides.

The final editorial community workshop on Monday was especially fascinating--and worrisome. Our first topic: What makes a Christian book Christian? The answers came fast and furious, but before I share them, I want to know what you think.

So, as a reader, what are you looking for in a book, especially fiction, from a "Christian" publishing house? What do you expect to find. What do you expect NOT to find? What makes a book "Christian"?

Please share your thoughts. And then I'll let you know how our conversation went...and what other questions it led us to.




Patsy said...

substance-values-healthy humor

no shock value foul language, no using the Lord's name in vain, no explicit sex scenes

christa said...

What makes a book Christian? Well,while I'm not sure this "makes" a book Christian, I know I won't find gratuitous sex--writhing body parts and all that tangled stuff.

Otherwise, I'm looking for a book that offers me truth and hope. That lets me know coming to faith in Jesus is a process,and sometimes a messy one.

My first Christian fiction read was Lisa Samson's TIGER LILIES. I didn't know it was Christian fiction; I didn't even know Christian fiction existed. I barely and rarely considered myself a Christian then. I bought it because I liked the cover and the blurb.

I loved the characters, I loved that they were women with real issues and problems and quirky friends. And I loved that woven through the story were threads of hope and faith and forgiveness.

Camy Tang said...

When I read a book from a Christian publisher, I want a Christian worldview from at least one person in the story.

I don't need a "conversion scene" or lots of prayers or even a scene in a church. But I do want a point of view that affirms my faith in God's sovereignty and love.

I think part of that includes a sense of hope at the end of the story. I read a few books lately that lacked that sense of hope, which really disappointed me. I read to escape, and a book without a hopeful ending leaves me dissatisfied rather than happy with the time I spent reading.


Catherine West said...

As long as there are a couple of Amish bonnets floating around, its Christian.
Okay, kidding. Sort of. :0)
As a reader, I like to see the characters struggling with sin, just like I do. Knowing that they can't do it alone, but they're stubborn enough to try. And then of course after a few go-rounds, they realize that only their Savior can heal their broken and battered spirit.
A book must convey the ultimate power of the cross, but in a way that smacks of reality. No fluff. I like to be entertained just as much as Mary Lou down the street, but please don't patronize me.
As a writer, I keep to the same rules.

Susan Storm Smith said...

I look for substance whether fiction or non-fiction. No new age promotion calling it mystical Christian, which far too many "Christian" books are falling into this category. Fiction that goes from non-belief to disciple, wonderful! Biblically based in the end.

Great question! Can't wait to hear the discussion remarks

Adam Blumer said...

I look for Christian characters whose faith actually bubbles over into their lives. I'm not looking for a story that is simply void of language and sex. (That's just clean fiction, not necessarily Christian fiction.) I'm looking for a story that speaks of redemption and what God can do in a life. That doesn't mean the characters are perfect and pray on their knees and read five chapters in their Bible every morning. But I want to see life through their eyes and observe their obvious worldview: that God is real and in control and doing something in their lives. They may make major mistakes and experience heartbreaking struggles, but I want to see Christ and their relationship with Him win in the end. Too much "Christian fiction" being written today is, in my opinion, just clean fiction. Any semblance of faith is usually watered down, skimpy, shallow, or nonexistent. Everybody seems to be afraid of being labeled "preachy," so they go to the other extreme. I personally think that's a tragedy.

BJ said...

Different ideas abound for this, and an accurate "definition" may incorporate aspects of all those ideas. But above all else, I think it has to be written by a Christian. How else can the worldview or the "story view" be genuinely Christian? That writer then can weave, naturally, not artificially, elements of faith and spirituality through the lives of the characters. The "breath" of Christianity will be real, not tacked on or forced.

The obvious is that filth and gratuitous sex scenes (or gratuitous violence) won't be be splattered on the pages to make us feel the need for a shower while we're reading it. But it's much more than that, and I think it begins with the writer who's developing the book.

When you come right down to it--it's almost impossible to define. It's one of those things that really does defy description.


Deanna said...

A Christian book should be a "seed planter" for Christ.

They represent every facet of the Christan life. I want them to be books that challenge my faith and my my walk.

I also want them to be ones that make me want to share them with others.

C.J. Darlington said...

Great question! My sister Tracy did a piece for TitleTrakk.com called "What Makes a Christian Band Christian?" that might be interested for everyone to read because it's the same issue only with music.

Regarding books... my thoughts are as follows. When I pick up a Christian novel most especially I expect to NOT find swearing, explicit sex or violence. Many "Christian" novels actually do have a lot of violence, but it really depends on how it's done for me.

But then we get into sticky territory. Should there be a Christian message? Salvation experience? I'll tell you, I truly do love reading stories where lost people come to know Christ. It's certainly not necessary in a Christian novel, but it doesn't offend me in the slightest. I don't feel like the author is preaching to the choir because I need to be reminded every day of the power of the Good News.

You know, that's something I've noticed. It seems like some writers are almost ashamed to include a Christian message, or even the gospel, because they're afraid of offending, of being called preachy.

Terry Burns said...

I think there's a difference between a Christian book and a book written by a Christian writer. A Christian writer can write a book that is clean and wholesome and missing the things that have already been mentioned. A Christian book has some degree of faith content, from a little to a lot.

As an agent I fear I have a pretty low tolerance of representing books that aren't wholesome which cuts down the amount of ABA work that I do. As a Christian writer I will write a book that isn't a Christian book - the world needs clean entertainment too but I can do so because I am also managing to publish some that have had some strong faith in them as well.

A book that is neither Christian, or wholesome . . . those are pretty easy to spot, aren't they?

Carrie said...

A Christian writer writes Christian fiction. Please do not preach to me. Do not have your characters preach to me. Have real characters, honest (if messy) situations, strong writing, layered story lines, and truth. God's truth. No quoting Scripture please. Engage me, put me in your story, build characters I love or hate. SHOW me Christianity lived out, please don't tell me about it.
Humor, mystery, romance, chick-lit, whatever your niche...write well.

Oh, and please, believability. I cannot tell you how many times I gag. Be credible, have your characters remain true to who they are, warts and all. Some of the most "beloved and best-selling" Christian authors are on my list of "never again read" authors.

So, from the publishing house I want them to find good, strong story-telling. Without gratuitous sex or violence vividly described. Real life, real people, hope. Not saccharine... the story doesn't necessarily have to end tidily, wrapped up in a big bow to satisfy. But, if I can see hope for the characters, that resolution is in the future, I don't have to read it. I also want them to be able to promote these books in the mainstream as good reads. Not Christian fiction and all the baggage that goes along with that connotation. Christian authors, who write well. Do we have to keep preaching to the choir?

Eeek. My bias and cynicism shows. Sigh. At least I didn't name names. And, too, Christian fiction grows better and stronger. Some wonderful authors leap to mind...and I didn't name them either.

Cara Putman said...

Some of my bias probably came through at ACFW. I don't want a book that preaches at me. If there's a salvation, it needs to be realistic and flow organically from the story. I want spiritual threads that are realistic -- a book that keeps me thinking after I've hit "the end". Tamara Leigh's books are good about that. I laugh even while getting pinged. The thread can be very subtle. I think about some of Brandilyn's books.

But what I must have is a thread of hope. The story world can mirror the gritty world we live in, nut justice should prevail. I should get a sense that ev en though life isn't lived in pretty little packages there is light and beauty in the world.

Wow, didn't know this would get long. But as a writer, this what I try to do. Nothing is worse as a reader than flying through pages to end a book on a down note.

Nicole said...

I guess for me I'm old school. If it comes under the "title" Christian fiction, I expect the gospel to be in there somewhere. Not just spiritual themes which "point" to God, but the real Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having said that, I don't want to read a novel filled with Christian-ese, sappy characters, tight little dramas with churchy circumstances that only embrace a small parcel of real faith. I want to see the contrast between lost and found and feel the tension of living in this world. I expect depth in the characters and conflict.
I don't want graphic sex, but I want to experience the temptations and rushes of honest romance, godly and ungodly.
I want worldly language portrayed and eluded to but not spelled out with f-bombs.
I want redemption to be available even if the characters don't choose it. Therefore, I want consequences for actions.
I want real.
And these personal requirements are what I try to write.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

What a good question, Karen. I judge this everyday because of my various roles in Christian fiction! While I usually have a list of criteria (lists of what an editor or agent has said they are looking for, what can't be in the story) as a long time reader of Christian fiction, I have my own thoughts.

I want the book to have hope. No matter how bad everything looks in the story, I know that no matter what, there is triumph, that because of Jesus, the characters have hope beyond this life.

In the movie "Braveheart," William Wallace is tortured and eventually killed at the end. He had been betrayed by those closest to him. How "Christ-like!" And what made me stand up and cheer at the end? He doesn't compromise his principles, not even taking the numbing medicine the Princess gives to him. He yells, "Freedom!" at the end.

So, I look for that message in the book. It is a worldview that is woven into the very fiber of the story. It is Jesus who fills that "hole" in the story,in the main character.

At least that's what I think.

Rachel Hauck said...

In the technical sense, the publisher and the author make Christian fiction, Christian. Books aimed at the CBA are "Christian."

As for content, perhaps the fragrance of the Lord in and on the author regardless of the story.

Yet, I think stories that some how convey a Christian world view, a message of hope is Christian.

I also think we don't feel obligated to use explicit language, sex or violence.

I expect to find well told, well written stories with characters I can relate to, ones with real issues and flaws to overcome.

I'd like to think faith some how plays a part in CBA fiction. If we don't write about it, who will? Don't we have the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead living in us? (Col 1:27)

What and how then can we deliver a message no other author can deliver? I believe we have to ask ourselves this.


Deena said...

A Christ based message, either overt or covert, and no ick quality. Can't understand why some feel the need for explicit details when I'm fully capable of imagination when required. But if I can't sense God in the story, it isn't Christian...it's just clean.

Not that there's anything WRONG with that...I just feel it's false marketing and in a way (saying gently now) lying to the buyer.

Robin Caroll said...

For me, I want a book that will touch me. Give me reality, but show me a character living their faith, dealing with all the ugliness of the world with faith as their rock.

ForstRose said...

Christian books to me are written by a Christian from a Christian worldview there are a few - very few - authors out there that do this and are not published by CBA/ECPA or even independent Christian houses. The goal of the book should be to glorify God as should all our endeavors as Christians. Whether overt/preachy or more subtle doesn't matter in the actual Christian content, if the person is a Christian their worldview will naturally show up in their work.

I also have issues with books that claim to be "Christian" and include graphic sex, violence and other language or content that is not glorifying to God. Characters are and should be realistic and flawed since we humans aren't perfect but the degree and type of detail used to portray that needs to be appropriate. My gauge is most often would I go watch a movie if the rating is R and sometimes even PG 13. If a book has that degree and type of detail it usually bogs the story down and I don't need it going into my brain anyway so I pass.

Clean doesn't make the book Christian but I do think that Christian books should be clean.

jamie carie said...

I agree with Crystal's comment on the movie Braveheart. When I think of Les Misérables and how the priest loves and forgives Jean Valjean, giving him a redemption chance of forgiveness. Or the movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, when Edmond loses all hope in prison and the old man, Faria, painstakingly teaches him, encourages him, and finally gives his life helping him dig out, I think the Spirit of Christ - more than interwoven in the story - it becomes the backbone of the story.

Romans 8:9 (NIV) "You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

As a writer I must be directed by "the Spirit of Christ" to have any chance of portraying a story that is both real, relatable, righteous and redeeming. When my sin nature gets in the way (and it does! I thank God for my editor!!) I allow some of that junk (be it obvious like graphic sex or obsinities or subtle like flat characters, badly written "fake Christianease" dialog, etc.) to spill into the story. This requires my full surrender of "my story" to seek out and know "His story." When John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother's womb as Mary neared with Jesus in her womb - wow - that is our reaction when we meet with the Spirit of Christ whether in a book, a film, a work of art, a play, another person, a sunset…anything that is filled with HIM. It's more than hope we gain, it's our eternal Groom, our Saving Grace. How lovely that God has imprinted His likeness in our spirit and that it craves Him and leaps for joy when we see a glimpse of Him in His creation.
Jamie Carie

Susan May Warren said...

I think the biggest element of Christian fiction is that it contain Truth - and the source of Truth. I don't want just a human world view, I want to read something that makes me think about my God and my world, and how to live in it as an "alien." I want to be encouraged by walking with real people on their journey, and along the way having my soul stirred with a breathtaking Truth that I can take away and let seep into my heart. And maybe even change me.

Rel said...

Mmmmmm! A simple question with a complex answer.

I read to relax, escape, be entertained, moved to tears, challenged and encouraged. It is unlikely I will get all those things from one story so I love reading the gamut of books available in Christian fiction now.

Personally, I don't need a conversion scene but there are books where that is needed.

I love thrilling suspense so action and non gratuitous violence is a part of that.

Sometimes I want to be moved by the emotion of the story or even swept away by the romance.

I want books I can give to my neighbour who is not a believer and know it is a fantastic story that will make her think not be turned off.

I want the men in my life to have solid, entertaining books they can enjoy without wallowing in explicit sex, brutally explicit violence or language.

I could go on but you may fall asleep.

So what does that mean? I will read books written by believers who feel called by God to write what He places on their heart. Not sure how I can determine that but I hope you get the gist of what I mean :)

Karen B. said...

Thanks so much, everyone. Your comments are thought-filled and thought provoking. I appreciate the time you put into your responses a great deal.

It's this kind of dialogue that will bring about more powerful and authentic works than ever.


Lori Benton said...

@jamie carie,

**When my sin nature gets in the way (and it does! I thank God for my editor!!) I allow some of that junk (be it obvious like graphic sex or obsinities or subtle like flat characters, badly written "fake Christianease" dialog, etc.) to spill into the story. This requires my full surrender of "my story" to seek out and know "His story."**

Jamie, that was so on the mark and where I'm at, too. Thank you for putting into words so well something that's been in my head, but oh so nebulously (is that a word??). And I love this quote too:

**When John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother's womb as Mary neared with Jesus in her womb - wow - that is our reaction when we meet with the Spirit of Christ whether in a book, a film, a work of art, a play, another person, a sunset…anything that is filled with HIM.**

Right there is what I want in a Christian book, that inner leap for joy when I recognize His Spirit in the pages. No matter how subtle it might be in any given story, or how blatant. And it's what I want to give to readers too. That gift of connection with Him.

@Karen, this was a great question. I look forward to further discussion.

Lynn Squire said...

When I settle down with a good book I want to be stretched. I want to see the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ come to life through the characters. I want to see the characters come to grip with the struggles of being a real Christian in a dying world. Fact is, I rejoice when a character is saved from his sin.

What I don't want to read about is the emotional trip of a romance, but that is just me. I like romance as a side plot but not the main focus. When I read a Christian book, I do not want to have to skip over highly emotional romantic experiences where details of their physical responses are given. And I don't want to read foul language.

To me, a Christian book reveals Christ and the salvation He brought to those who chose to turn and believe in Him. This might be done allegorically as well, but the message of redemption would be clear.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

I'm jumping into this discussion late. I found this post through Crystal Laine Miller's blog.

One thing I'm noticing in fiction purported to be Christian is occult content. As long as the writer makes it clear this activity is wrong and provides the antidote in Christ, I can deal with it.

Unfortunately, I'm seeing instances where the whole book is based on occult practices with little or nothing to offset it. To me, this is as bad as blatant sex, gratuitous violence, and foul language.

If God condemns such practices in His Word, who are we to make light of them?