Friday, July 30, 2010

CFBA Tour - Dark in the City of Light

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Dark In The City Of Light
Bethany House (July 1, 2010)

Paul Robertson


Paul Robertson is a computer programming consultant, part-time high-school math and science teacher, and the author of The Heir. He is also a former Christian bookstore owner (for 15 years), who lives with his family in Blacksburg, Virginia.


What Evil Haunts the Shadows of 1870s Paris?

Baron Ferdinand Harsanyi — After his wife's mysterious death, this Austrian attaché holds control over mines whose coveted ore could turn the tide of war.

Therese Harsanyi — Swept up in new romance and the spectacle of Paris, the Baron's daughter is blind to the dangers stalking her family and the city she loves.

Rudolph Harsanyi — Unsure whom to trust, the Baron's son's grief over his mother's death twists into growing anger and a desire to break free.

As France and Prussia plunge toward war, one family is caught in a web of deceit, political intrigue, and murder that threatens to tear them apart.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Dark In The City Of Light, go HERE.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interesting Times in Christian Fiction

Let me say up front that I am merely an observer of the CBA market for Christian fiction. I review CBA books for a couple of blog tours. I have interacted with various authors at various stages in their careers. I have been quoted for an endorsement - a highlight!

Still, there are some interesting rumblings in the CBA world.

Last week I wondered out loud if some authors shouldn't consider ABA publishing (basically secular publishers or the general market) for their works, as what they write chafes some readers of CBA fiction.

More importantly by far, novelist Eric Wilson wrote a post entitled, "Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?" This has already generated some light, as in the discussion on his Facebook page, and some heat as well. Mike Duran talked about this article at Novel Journey on Monday (see the comments for a little of the heat). Mike references Eric's article again for another post discussing a related issue, "Should Profit Be the Bottom Line for Christian Fiction?" where he asks about the conflict of "ministry" vs. "business."

Of course, there was more discussion out there. My friend Becky Miller initially had a little different take (okay, she calls it a rant). Then she referenced another thoughtful post by novelist Mike Dellosso, who talks about an author following their calling wherever it leads, and trying to avoid some things that can bring frustration (like tracking Amazon sales numbers). What Mike talks about is fleshed out well in Jeff Gerke's Tips for Writers (see #93), where he stresses understanding whether a writer is called to write for the Christian/CBA market for encouragement/challenge/entertainment, or whether they have a missionary vision to reach non-believers (who usually won't be found in a Christian bookstore buying CBA books).

My friend Nicole at Into the Fire will be posting some responses from CBA industry insiders starting next week, and she has already posted some starting thoughts here and here (the last one is about the heartache caused by our culture's use/misuse of sex - very poignant).

Finally, after inundating you with links, Tim George (a frequent reviewer of CBA fiction) chimes in with thoughts similar to Mike, but are worth checking out on their own.

Can I sum up what I've seen so far?

  • Eric seems to be crying out for the CBA "industry" (actually a conglomeration of publishers, agents, booksellers, etc and not one specific agency) to be more open for those called to reach the culture for Jesus, rather than singing to the choir.
  •  He sees a place for "clean" or "safe" fiction for entertainment/encouragement, but doesn't want it to the exclusion of fiction that reaches out and perhaps crosses some boundaries.
  • He feels there has been a "narrowing" of what is acceptable in CBA fiction lately.
  •  There is a running debate behind the scenes on whether CBA fiction should be more "edgy." The definition of edgy is nebulous. Some mean it as detailing real-to-life scenarios. Others ask for CBA fiction to be less restrictive of certain taboos such as non-erotic descriptions of sex or some cussing.
  •  CBA is a business responding to supply and demand, and the main buyers of the product tend to be middle-aged women who prefer romances, historicals, and/or Amish fiction. The market for suspense, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc is a lot smaller.
  • Also, the market has been affected by the recession and the new trends of ebooks.
  •  Responses to Eric's post range from hearty amens, people who accuse him of not being a "team player" or taking a "parting shot" as he leaves the industry, to others who think CBA is broadening, just not as fast as some may want.
  •  Some like the dialogue and think of the sparks created as "iron sharpening iron," while others suggest we've been down this road before.
  • Finally, people are wondering if there isn't room for both "edgy" and "safe" in the CBA. (If we could define what is edgy...)
Like I said above, I'm an observer, albiet an interested party as I am slowly working on a book that, for now, I feel should go into the CBA realm, but it may be a hard sell due to its content (the characters confront sex slavery in Thailand). I will be watching this discussion intrigued. Nicole's posts for next week I will certainly not miss.

This is only a small part of the discussion. I'd be interested in other thoughtful posts if anyone knows of any out there. I am excited for dialogue, but we shouldn't forget strategic prayer that those in leadership/influence for CBA publishing as well as the authors know God's calling for them, and pursue it to the best of their abilities, and that He will open doors for it to be used. I am all for being strategic in trying to positively affect culture, but I also realize where my Source comes from. Blessings, all!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

CSFF Tour - Starlighter

Hey there true believers! (Sorry, thinking about Stan Lee for some reason...)

The Christian Sci-fi and Fantasy blog tour is off to a great start featuring Starlighter, the latest book from Bryan Davis. I'm not off to a great start, as I kinda missed out on this one. I didn't realize it was the first in a series, so I wouldn't have been behind from the get-go. Oh well, summer is busy.

The cover there looks great, and I'd still like to point you to some further sources of info if you're into dragons that kidnaps humans, or heroes named "Jason" (great choice there Bryan!)

Specifically, check out Fred Warren's excellent (as usual) posts discussing the book: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.

You can find Bryan's blog and website at the links.

Below are the links to the others in the tour. For direct links to posts, go to Becky Miller's blog for the most up-to-date postings.

Brandon Barr
Beckie Burnham
Jeff Chapman
R. L. Copple
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Andrea Graham
Tori Greene
Nikole Hahn
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Jane Maritz
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson
KM Wilsher

Monday, July 19, 2010

Boundaries in Christian Fiction

Yes! Another blog discussion on the boundaries of Christian/CBA fiction!

Seriously, this has been dragged around the virtual block more than a few times. If you're late to the party and want to catch up, I hinted about this subject, then talked some more about it, based off the new Robin Parrish novel Nightmare, and intertwined this subject with a review of a new, gritty police procedural Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand.

Nightmare is a book best categorized by the term "paranormal suspense," while Back on Murder is a very real-to-life crime novel. How do these two relate with each other and pushing the boundaries of Christian fiction?

The CBA market (fiction carried by Christian book stores for the uninitiated) is a growth market for the publishing industry. In the 1990's it was mostly historical fiction, romance, or historical romance, with the Left Behind series thrown in for good measure. Oh, and this guy Frank Peretti had some spiritual warfare novels that were a hit.

In the 2000's CBA has grown to hold pretty much any genre of fiction: suspense, science fiction, fantasy, chick-lit, horror, romance, contemporary, historical. For some reason Amish stories are a particular favorite, but we won't go there today. Still, there are questions about what gets published under the (nebulous) banner of CBA fiction. Nightmare got great reviews from a recent blog tour for its writing and suspense, but a few people questioned the subject of ghosts and how they were handled in the book (I'm currently reading Nightmare and will go in detail on it later).

How far will CBA fiction go? I think it will go where the market allows, being a business. I don't expect it to cross into subjects like erotica or new age topics that don't measure up with the Bible. Slowly publishers seem okay with the "grey areas", but this market still skews mostly to the Evangelical Christian reader.

Does Nightmare push the boundaries? Perhaps. Should it? Maybe. Maybe it should be published in the "secular" book market (the ABA is the umbrella term for publishers who don't produce books with mainly Christian book stores in mind. Basically most of the publishing world...). I think Robin's book could go either way. Maybe its place is in a larger field to play in. Then again, there is a much bigger market out there, and perhaps it would not find an audience with so many choices available (not for poor quality, but sheer numbers of other books).

How about Back on Murder as far as pushing boundaries? My friend Nicole didn't think it did. Maybe not in a controversial way. I feel like it does in the fact that I haven't read a book like it in CBA fiction (then again, straight crime/police procedural novels aren't my first choice). I think it could stand in ABA fiction as it is - especially compared to the garbage that James Patterson writes.

Some books are more or less written for the CBA market. There is a valid place for this market, but it has struggled with self-imposed rules and (mostly undeserved) image problems of being inferior quality. I see certain writers with their feet firmly planted in the CBA market. Others like Tosca Lee, Gina Holmes, Mark Bertrand, and Tim Downs have written stories that could crossover, in my opinion, quite easily to the ABA market, due to the quality and way that faith is handled. Why do we not see these more prominently in Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc?

CBA fiction is growing in a good way, and I'm happy to see it. I just wonder if some books still aren't better off in a different pond...

What say you?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CFBA Tour - Back on Murder

I've talked in the last couple of posts about Robin Parrish and his latest novel, Nightmare, a paranormal suspense that has mostly glowing reviews with a couple of people giving a polite cough and wondering if it belongs in "Christian fiction."

I wonder if a similar situation will occur with the latest CFBA book tour feature: Back on Murder by J. Mark Bertrand.

Back on Murder is the first in a series about Houston homicide detective Roland March. The book starts off on a note that doesn't bode well for keeping a series going: "I'm on the way out."

March has been a star detective in the past, but events personal and private have sapped him and pushed him to the periphery of his department. Now he handles the garbage cases no one wants, like the bait-and-switch "Cars for Criminals" program and investigating suicides within the department.

When the pretty blonde daughter of a prominent Houston televangelist goes missing, it captures all of the media attention. March ends up helping with a case flying under the radar, a gangbanger murder that seems like a typical hit. This last gasp gives him one last chance, and when he notices signs of something more at the crime scene, he is given a lifeline.

As he chases down leads others disregard, he starts to suspect a connection in these unrelated cases. March maneuvers the politics of the police department, weathers a hurricane along with the turmoil in his personal life, and tries to piece together the disparate clues to see if he can get "back on murder."
J. Mark Bertrand is an author I interacted with on prior writing sites. He is a deep thinker and appreciates quality writing and a artistic use of language. He constantly challenged our group on what it means to write Christian fiction. Therefore I was very intrigued to read his first solo book (he co-authored a romantic suspense with Deeann Gist, Beguiled).

I linked Nightmare and Back on Murder because they represent new frontiers in Christian/CBA fiction, not because they are very similar. They both take risks that may make some readers a little uncomfortable.

Mark talks in a guest post at Forensics and Faith how he took risks with his book. Some of it is technique: he tells the book in a first person/present tense point of view. We see the events as Roland March experiences them, without a past tense introspection or other viewpoints that lets us see what is occurring elsewhere. The other risk is that there is a lot of ambiguity with the book. March is not a Christian, but he interacts with people from the megachurch as they search for the missing daughter. Bertrand doesn't shy away from subtle critique through March's viewpoint, but he doesn't preach through it.

So what about the story? It is a bit of a slow burn. It builds up carefully at first. There was enough to whet my appetite, but at times the action isn't moving along as fast as a popcorn-special-effects cop flick. There is a little perseverance require to get the payoff as different threads slowly weave together. Mark does a good job of keeping some cards hidden for a long time, like the personal trauma that affects Roland in his marriage and work. The first third of the book suffers a little drag at times, but again, there is a rich and exciting ride that follows. The ending keeps the reader guessing, and there is a wrap-up on most points while leaving some questions hang for another book.

The characters are quite deep. Roland March has a voice that seems very authentic for a jaded detective. Other characters are fleshed out convincingly, and there are shades of grey all around. It isn't a book where the bad guys twist mustaches or the good guys wear white hats. There's a lot to plumb out of these flawed people.

How does it push the boundaries of the CBA? Well, there is no clear-cut declaration of faith (which isn't AS edgy anymore.) I'm not a big reader of detective mysteries, but it gives a realistic view of life as a detective with the grittiness intact. Faith interacts with the story, but it isn't always pretty. Still, Mark does a great job looking at some modern Evangelical flaws without cynacism.

I think the biggest push is that the book isn't neat and tidy. Hard things happen, the miracles aren't always apparent, but hope is not lost. I think it has a distinctive voice that is unlike most CBA books.

This is where Nightmare and Back on Murder come back together. In reading reviews on Amazon (in general) I get the feeling a lot of CBA readers like uplifting tales that show life that is a little too polished. Everything gets a happy ending. There are certainly places for those type of books, but if you like a book that examines real life (BoM) or examines the supernatural what-ifs (Nightmare), then the good news is that CBA continues to evolve.

To sum up: Back on Murder asks a little investment, and in return you get a distinctive book that entertains and offers up scenarios that are thoughtful, without the author telling you what to think. I really enjoyed the book, and I will be looking forward to book two, Pattern of Wounds. As I said, this isn't my typical genre, but Mark Bertand has earned my interest - and you would do well to check it out! 

 If you want to check out the first chapter of Back On Murder, go HERE.

Finally, I have a few more thoughts on Christian/CBA fiction that I'll hopefully address tomorrow. I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on BoM or books in general.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Nightmare for CBA Fiction?

OK, not quite tomorrow. How about in a week?

In my last post I talked a little about Robin Parrish (Dominion Trilogy, Offworld) and his latest novel Nightmare. It was a featured book of the CFBA this week, and my copy has just arrived from Amazon. I haven't started it, but I've heard not to read it too late at night.

It is being billed as a paranormal suspense. It deals with a girl whose parents were some of the country's foremost ghost hunters. After a friend of hers disappears, she has to help the fiance find out what happened.

I've followed Robin for a long time, as he used to run a significant culture website called "Infuze" that examined the intersection of art and faith. I know that he loves the Lord. I also know that he has a particular taste in speculative fiction and is trying to explore some bigger ideas with his work. He was a big fan of Lost and I believe he uses that influence in his writing (never really watched it myself, so I can't say for sure).

The point of this is, there were some reviews of Nightmare that questioned its place in the CBA realm of Christian fiction. (For the uninitiated, CBA is a term used to designate fiction written primarily for an evangelical Christian audience, usually through a store like Lifeway or Family Christian Bookstores. CBA is more precise here than saying "Christian fiction").

It has been argued frequently and widely through the blogosphere on what constitutes Christian (CBA) fiction. Since I've been paying attention since around 2005, the tentpoles have increased significantly in just that time. The market is dominated by historical romance and Amish fiction, but includes quality suspense, chick lit, mystery, legal thrillers, and is starting to include more and more speculative fiction (such as science fiction and fantasy).

Having not read Nightmare yet, I'm a little limited in the claims I can make off of it right now. Still, is there room for CBA fiction to grow? Speculative fiction that encompasses more wide-ranging topics is very popular in mainstream culture (I'm quite interested in the upcoming moving Inception).

The CBA could move into other literary genres as well. My next post will talk about a new crime thriller, Back on Murder, that may also move boundaries some.  Check back!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Nightmare Is Coming

This week the CFBA is featuring Nightmare by Robin Parrish. I didn't sign up for this tour because I wanted to support Parrish by buying the book (the one downside of participating in the tour sometimes). The book is on its way, and I am looking forward to getting into his mind again.
Still, I want to add a little support to the CFBA tour. Robin provides some interesting thoughts for Christian (CBA) fiction. What are the boundaries of Christian fiction? What can this market accept? Mind you, I haven't read Nightmare to give any opinions on its content, but I've seen a review on Amazon that questions its place in CBA fiction.

Let's talk more about CBA's boundaries tomorrow. In the meantime, if you would like to read the first chapter of Nightmare, go HERE.