Friday, August 06, 2010

Opinions on Christian Fiction

In the past few weeks there has been a healthy discussion about the state of Christian fiction. I talked about whether some CBA authors should seek publication for the general market via the ABA. That was nothing. Novelist Eric Wilson really sparked the discussion with his post "Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?" Then I collected several thoughtful posts together in a post last week (I encourage you to at least check this one out - not for my words, but the numerous links).

The conversation has been continuing at other places. I want to highlight a few. If anyone knows of other blogs/authors/etc talking about this, I'd love to read what they have to say.

My friend Nicole Petrino-Salter has written several novels, but is self-published, so she doesn't necessarily have an "insider's" view of CBA fiction. However, she is a prolific reader and blogger, and has cultivated relationships with numerous figures within CBA fiction. She reviews a plethora of novels and has an educated opinion about the whole matter.

She has posted her thoughts on her blog. Then, she has had three days (so far, more coming) of opinions from various individuals within the industry, authors and editors alike. Some of those commenting requested anonymity, as they still have to go to work in the morning! She asked them to make up to 5 recommendations for Christian/CBA fiction.

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3 (the whole post is by Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press - very intriguing).

Another author posting about this is Robin Parrish, whose novel Nightmare started my own musing about the boundaries of Christian fiction. He wrote his opinion early this week (which I enjoyed), but I actually felt a comment on the article by Dana Timmerman was one of the best opinions I have read on this issue. He speaks of working hard on the business side of writing, to make sure the quality is as high as it can be, and to be broken before the Lord in approaching this ideal.

Finally, Robin in another post references this article wondering why there isn't more science fiction in the CBA (almost another subject, but relevant to this discussion). Of course I am interested in this idea as a member of the Christian Sci-fi/Fantasy blog tour.

The general consensus on the posts from Nicole is that the insiders would like to see a little more risk taking by the powers that be in CBA publishing. They would like readers to be willing to take chances on things a little more. There is acknowledgment that CBA fiction has grown a lot, but quality needs to be a continuing priority. There is mention of mentoring new talent, and grooming new authors to step in when the Karen Kingsburys and Ted Dekkers are done writing.

It seems to me that a consensus is out there, even if it isn't readily apparent. The people who want grittier fiction  recognize a place for "safe" fiction to read, but ask for a place that allows a Christian imprint to push books toward the mainstream more. I miss the old imprint West Bow, which used to be a label under Thomas Nelson. West Bow was producing the earlier Ted Dekker books, and had a reputation of books that pushed the boundaries.

Ultimately, CBA is a business, and it is run by supply and demand. People who ask for certain types of books (speculative fiction, horror, "realistic") need to support the books that do come out with their dollars. I could've gotten Nightmare for free through a review group, but I chose instead to buy it, as I was familiar with Robin's work and wanted to support him.

I'll keep an eye on the conversation as best I can and post updates as they come around. I hope the discussion continues in a productive manner, and I certainly encourage the conversation here!


  1. Nice aggregate here, Jason. Appreciate your tracking of this important discussion.

  2. Jason, thanks for your generous words and for linking to the posts. As you pointed out here, the insiders "hear" the objections, and some agree with them. Changing them? Well, that seems to be another thing entirely when both editors and authors choose anonymity because of "their publishers".

    If this discussion facillitates any kind of growth, then it will have been successful. If it's only thought provoking, progress will have been made. Many of these authors have multi-published works. These aren't wannabes and pre-published hopefuls.

  3. As a Christ-following speculative fiction writer, I'd say the CBA suffers from a lot of problems. Honestly, I'm not sure they can be fixed.

    First, the CBA is a counter-culture industry. The whole reason there is "Christian" publishing, music, magazines, and so on is because we decided to give up on popular culture and instead focus on our own version. The problem with isolating yourself culturally is that in time you are so unlike the popular culture, no one outside your little group has anything in common with you. It's hard to grow like that. The CBA has been promoting the same mix of fiction for years now, catering to the same dwindling mix of people - women in their mid-40's. A narrow focus doesn't lend itself to much risk-taking.

    The CBA's second problem is that they are woefully unprepared to handle change. Maybe that's due to their myopic market focus. Their main distribution model is based on Christian bookstores, which are closing left and right. While the rest of the world is buying nearly 2 million digital readers a month, the CBA is just now beginning to talk to booksellers about developing a solution (see:

    I could go on and on, but as a writer I have three choices: hope for reform in the CBA, go mainstream ABA, or go independent. For me, going independent seems like the best way to go. I can interweave my faith to the level I desire in the genre's of fiction I enjoy. At the same time I can take advantage of the opportunities digital change is bringing to target a different audience than the CBA chooses to focus upon.

    Thanks for keeping up with this debate. I'm glad it's getting a lot of attention - not just from fans but from those within the CBA.

  4. If as an author you're writing for a (Christian) subculture, the result is apt to be formulaic. Narrow demographic targeting tends to weaken the quality of the fiction. In a genuine work of literature the author should have something to say of universal significant. And it can't be preachy. Please visit my blog and leave a comment.