Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Definition Of Christian Fiction

Now this is interesting...

There was a very interesting confluence of circumstances in the world of Christian or CBA fiction this week. First of all, I am a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and I subscribe to the main email loop for discussion of issues in Christian fiction. I haven't been following it for a while, but this week I happened to open up my digest and there was an interesting (if not new) discussion.

How "Christian" should our stories be?

Larry Timm started the discussion with this question on his blog and he threw it out to the ACFW loop as well. Both the comments on Larry's post and the answers on the email loop were enlightening.

The answers varied, for sure. Some thought that Christian novels should explicitly glorify Jesus in some way. Being a sweet romance without profanity or sex wasn't enough. Some answers thought there should be some lesson or purpose in the story. Others wondered if their stories could be considered Christian if there wasn't a path to redemption/salvation shown clearly in the text. There was concern that the message may be watered down in the current climate to appeal to wider audiences.

Is it enough if the worldview Christian, if the characters are Christians and live, make mistakes, and learn from their sin, without preaching it to the reader? Is there a place for good, clean fun, or do they all have to change our lives somehow? I liked what Randy Ingermanson said, something to the effect that we're called to be salt, but people like different levels of saltiness in their soup.

The consensus seemed to move toward different stories for different folks. Authors may be called to tell stories with the themes veiled or more subtle, while others may want to specifically deal with a theological/moral topic. People were respectful. It is an old debate in the CBA world, and it will continue to recycle as long as we continue to write.

What made the timing interesting to me was the introduction  this week of...The Hinterlands.

Marcher Lord Press has developed a significant niche in the CBA world as the go-to place for Christian speculative fiction. Other publishers will produce some science fiction or fantasy, but no one sells out for it like MLP.

Now they are ready to push the boundaries - figuratively and literally, it seems.

Hinterlands is the new MLP imprint for mature fantasy and sci-fi. It is designed to reach out to people who love secular fantasy/sci-fi but wouldn't pick up a typical Christian novel. The first book is called A Throne Of Bones by Vox Day, and it is specifically targeted to be for fans of epic fantasy such as George R. R. Martin and his Game Of Thrones series.

According to an article in Christian Retailing, Hinterlands will feature books with content that does not always mesh with traditional CBA fare.
“Just as some Christians have the ability to watch R-rated movies without stumbling and others do not, so it will be with A Throne of Bones and other titles to come in the Hinterlands line,” [Jeff Gerke] said.

MLP's owner and publisher Jeff Gerke went on to say,
“It’s not going to be erotica, and the characters aren’t going to be dropping f-bombs left and right,” he said. “But these books will still have more mature content than other Christian novels. Having these books in their own imprint will allow our fans to find the Marcher Lord Press books they’re interested in and avoid the ones they would rather avoid.”
“Hinterlands books may contain vulgarity, profanity, nudity and/or sexual content, but never for gratuitous purposes. Hinterlands allows us to pursue crossover publishing that will put the word of the gospel before people who would never otherwise pick up a Christian novel. It also allows us to examine mature themes in a realistic manner that some Christians will appreciate. We know that not everyone will want to read these books, so we have set them apart into the Hinterlands imprint.”

So we have two separate streams in the CBA realm that may be flowing in parallel, or depending on your viewpoint, moving far away from each other.

One side sees Christian fiction as standing apart from the world. Generally this group sees Christian fiction through the lens of Philippians 4:8, wants to see a clear story of redemption or salvation, and hews to an evangelical Christian framework.

Hinterlands is new ground that is trying to engage the world in realistic ways. This imprint could be the publishing home for stories from the Bible like Judges, Genesis 34 or 38, or be a realistic portrayal of life of King David. It sounds like they will take great care to avoid gratiutous use of profanity, violence, or sexual situations, but they won't avoid it wholesale if the story seems to require it.

I am very interested in seeing how this plays out. Can MLP succeed in this bold initiative with Hinterlands? Is there room for Christians producing this type of literature? At least, is there room in the CBA world? With the new world of the internet and social media, perhaps the old forms of marketing and distribution aren't needed anymore, and a niche like Hinterlands can succeed and reach people.

Can we reach people with gritty stories? This question has been debated in the CBA for a while now. I guess we'll be finding out with Hinterlands.
What do you think? I've got my opinions for a later post, but I want to hear from authors and readers of Christian fiction and speculative fiction. What is Christian fiction, and is there room for Hinterlands-type books in it?


  1. I like the way Marcher Lord is doing this - setting aside a whole imprint for books you wouldn't want to recommend for a 12-year-old. I think there's a place for realistic stories that still have a Christian worldview at the center.

  2. Thanks for commenting Katie. I can certainly get behind what you're saying here. I'll be sharing more a little later.

  3. I'll be interested to see where this goes. my big question is how they'll be marketing this. It can't be aimed at mainstream Christian fiction readers, I don't think. So is it aimed at a different demographic of Christian readers? If so, where do you go to market that? Or is it aimed at the general market? If so, then it could bump into the same crossover issues all Christian authors face: explicit vs. implicit Christian content. Either way, it's a step in the right direction.

  4. Thanks for the insight Mike. I think you are spot on with your questions. The first one is being called the Christian alternative to Game of Thrones. Well, who will pick that up? A very small niche - but they frame it in evangelistic terms of reaching out. If so, how will they hit that market?

    It will be very interesting to watch, that's for sure.