Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Christian Fiction That Doesn’t Mention Christ?

It’s something I’ve been pondering for years.

There seems to be a good number of readers who don’t consider a book to be Christian Fiction unless they see something explicitly Christian in it. Characters praying, studying their Bibles, learning from sermons in church, talking about God or coming to Jesus, etc. The basic idea is that if there’s no mention of Christ, then the book may tell a nice story, but it isn’t Christian.

I get it. And a lot of Christian novels that gave this (relatively young) genre its foundation were pretty overt about, well, preaching Jesus through fiction. Hence, I get it even more.

The way we’ve seen things done before frames our thinking about how things should be done. If we’ve seen Christ or Christian lifestyles represented in a certain way in ChristFic, and we approve of what we’ve seen, then we feel assured that that’s the way it “works.” So if we read a piece of fiction and don’t personally see “how it works” as a Christian book, we might feel iffy about it. That’s natural.

Yet, it’s no secret that the biblical book of Esther doesn’t mention God. (Notwithstanding the beautiful book cover here, I’m not referring to novels about Queen Esther but just the biblical book itself.) I’ve never heard a Christian say that Esther shouldn’t be in the Bible, or that the book isn’t reflective of the God Christians worship. Instead, I hear readers make comments to the effect of: “No, Esther doesn’t explicitly mention God, but we see evidence of Him in the book.”

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere.

Yes, Christ preached sermons and such, but not every message of His came in the same form. Among other things, Christ was a storyteller, sometimes using fictional stories—parables—to convey truth, without explicitly mentioning God in the stories.

And I’ll bet some people felt iffy about His storytelling. “Um…nice little tale You told us, there. But we don’t see how it ‘works.’ ” Nonetheless, I’ve yet to hear a Christian say that Christ’s stories weren’t reflective of Him, that they didn’t represent God, or that His storytelling was to no avail just because not everyone picked up on the underlying points His stories made.

A story may not work for every single person, or it may not work for everyone in the same way, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t work.

I think an author’s intended audience matters. But even within that audience, different readers differ, or they may need different things from ChristFic at different times. For instance, I don’t want to feel as if every Christian novel I read is trying to “get me saved.” It might’ve been something I liked seeing in books more, back when I was younger, but that’s not where I am anymore. So ChristFic readers are fortunate that authors can write various kinds of Christian books for different purposes. Not all Christian Fiction may “work” in the same way, and yet it can all still be Christian Fiction.

Besides, no one book has to fulfill all the purposes of ChristFic by itself, if that would even be possible. Books in the genre work together to meet the different needs of readers. It’s like the biblical principle of how one plants, another waters, and God gives the increase. One book may simply plant a seed, another might just add some water, but both books help lead to an increase, if you will.

Now, I’ll admit I don’t always agree with every publisher’s choices about what they label or market as Christian Fiction. Moreover, sometimes retailers make technical mistakes and put certain books into the wrong categories or on the wrong bookshelves.

Still, if an author has deliberately chosen to call their work Christian Fiction, they’ve done so for a reason. If you say the genre is only for stories that quote scriptures or explicitly talk about coming to Jesus, going to church, etc., then you’re also saying there’s no place in the genre for stories like the ones Christ Himself told. Even if an author’s book may not “work” for one reader, it may be working just the way it’s supposed to for other people.

And there very well may be underlying evidence of God in the book for those who are meant to pick up on it.


Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Want Deeper, Grittier Christian Books? Then They Won’t Be “G-rated”

I’m kind of piggybacking on my “Want Different Books?” post, here.

In conversations where fellow readers express why they enjoy Christian Fiction, I frequently hear readers say that A) they rely on ChristFic to be “clean”—to be free of material like profanity and sex scenes. (Granted, there’s a lot of “clean” fiction around that isn’t Christian, but that’s a topic for another day.) Some readers add that they read ChristFic because they don’t want to worry if their kids or grandkids get a hold of their books. Likewise, I’ve heard someone’s assumption before that the ChristFic genre as a whole is meant to be kid-friendly. I also hear readers say that B) they want relatable, realistic stories, and books that deal with tough, true-to-life issues.

I suspect that when readers who want A also want B, they don’t always consider that B books will typically need more room than “General Audiences” or “Kid-Friendly” ratings to realistically tell the stories.

In a spy or military thriller, an author will have to use more than vague, “safe” phrasing to develop a violent scene. (Then, an unfortunate incident took place, and Joe was wounded. It hurt.) I hear readers say they’d like to see more romantic ChristFic books about married couples, and yet, romantic married couples are often going to do what romantic married couples do. (Sue had been missing her husband all day. When she saw him at last, she hurried across their bedroom and heartily shook hands with him.)

Yes, I’m exaggerating a little, with unfortunate incidents and matrimonial handshakes. 😀 But I think in many cases, while ChristFic readers are reading or selecting a book, we’re simply trusting an author or publisher, trusting in the knowledge that the book is Christian Fiction, more than we’re worrying about what the literal content rating would be. If an author we know and love tastefully writes some mature material into a novel, we usually don’t deem it to be dirty or inappropriate. We trust the author’s storytelling and his/her reasons for including that material.

The challenge comes when we’re stepping out of our comfort zones, looking beyond the authors or publishers we already know. Then we may, consciously or subconsciously, fall back on tight restrictions, to be safe: “No sensuality, no substance use, little to no violence, please. And strong language? No thank you. ‘Strong’ might basically be cussing, and I don’t want to read cussing.” The prospect of mature material from an author or publisher we don’t know can feel rather risky.

Even me—I consider myself to be a quasi-conservative reader. I want reality. I want grit. And I generally don’t want salacious content, swear words, or stories that are gory for the sake of gore. However, when it comes to certain websites or book subscription services, and I, as an author, have to apply specified content ratings or levels to the books I’ve written, it makes me nervous. Not because I think my books are dirty or inappropriate but because I’m concerned that Christian Fiction readers who’ve never read or heard of me may be turned off by the ratings.

If my book has a romantic kiss that’s more than a quick peck, the sensuality or sexual heat rating has to go up. If my book includes a tough issue like a parent’s drug addiction, or even if someone smokes a cigarette or has a glass of wine with dinner anywhere in the book, it’s going to count as substance use. If my book addresses domestic abuse, then violence will be reflected in the content level or rating.

This can get especially tricky for rating-based book websites or emails if a ChristFic reader is thinking, “Christian = Clean = Mild. Since I’m interested in finding Christian books, I’ll only subscribe to see listings/receive emails about books with Mild content.” Yet, if an author is writing about some of the real-life, nitty-gritty issues that people, even Christians, have to deal with, it will likely require the content to be more than mild.

Besides, even if you’re a pretty conservative reader, let’s say you were going to objectively analyze the content in all of the adult, Christian books you’ve read that handle “deep issues.” Not depending on the authors or publishers of the books—just the content inside. If you, without bias, combed through all of the Biblical and Historical Fiction (including biblical battles, accounts of the Crucifixion, Christian persecution, World War and Holocaust stories, etc.), Suspense and Mystery novels, Romance and Contemporary Fiction, and any other ChristFic books you’ve read that include serious topics, it’s probable you’d find material in some of them that isn’t strictly G- or PG-rated.

Of course, everyone is entitled to read what they enjoy. Not every author’s style or level of content is right for every reader.

Still, if deeper or grittier Christian Fiction is what you’re after, know that even authors who write deep and gritty material take great care in considering their audiences. Because there are tasteful ways to write about all manner of true-to-life issues, it’s good not to assume that grown-up content means a book is “dirty.” Authors depend on your trust and maturity as they tell mature, realistic stories.


Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Want Different Books? You May Have to Do Something Different

A few conversations among fellow Christian Fiction readers urged me to post this post. 🙂

Whenever someone asks ChristFic readers what we wish to find more of in the genre, or what we think is missing, I hear a good bunch of recurring answers in every conversation.

Many ChristFic readers want books that address more tough, real-life issues. We want flawed, relatable characters and plots with realistic outcomes. Romances that aren’t too fairytale-ish or cookie-cutter. Faith elements that go beyond trite religious platitudes or too-easy fixes. Etc., etc.

I agree with so many readers I hear from–including those who point out that a lot of the different ChristFic books and topics we say we want are, actually, already out there. Written, published, and waiting for us. We just haven’t found them all yet.

And, yes, many of the books we haven’t found or don’t hear as much about are indie: independently published. So they’re not being promoted by mainstream Christian publishers, and most of them aren’t showing up on bookstore shelves along with Christian books from “the big guys.”

On my part, I often say I’d like to see more diversity in Christian Fiction, and it makes me glad when I hear other readers say it as well. At the same time, there are many authors, myself included, who are already writing diverse books, but it can be hard to get our books seen by the right people. Or, in my experience, it seems it can be common for our books to be seen but passed over, even in a forum full of avid ChristFic readers.

I’ve been realizing that “different” books often require something different from us. An author has to step out of the norm and take a chance to write/publish/market something different, and a reader has to step out of the norm and take a chance to find/buy/read something different. If the usual ways we find books haven’t given us the kind of selection we want, we may have to go beyond our usual ways. We may have to tweak our habits.

For me, that means I need to be more watchful as a reader. It’s super easy for me to find mainstream ChristFic books like I’ve always read, especially in Christian bookstores or in the Christian Fiction sections of secular stores. But to find some different ChristFic books, it means I need to visit a different book blog now and then, or a different book group on social media, or take a chance on an author I haven’t previously read or heard of.

When it comes to websites like Facebook and Goodreads, and the blogs and blog topics I follow, it oftentimes means I have to “slow my scroll.” Instead of breezing past that less popular author or otherwise “unknown” book in order to jump to an author or publisher that’s more familiar to me, or to jump to the next big release that everybody’s talking about, I may have to slow down and take a closer look at something that I haven’t seen or heard a lot of buzz about.

And if I read and like a book, I’ve gotta tell somebody! Write a review, let other bookworms know what I’ve found, keep my eyes open for more books by that author, and all that. I do what I can to make “unknown” books more known, so that the authors have a reason to keep writing ’em.

This certainly doesn’t only apply to Christian Fiction. Anyone who wants to find different books may have to do something different, no matter the genre. ChristFic just happens to be a big area of bookish interest for me.

Fiction Finder is a great place to search for Christian Fiction by author or genre, or even by specific issues we face in life. Books from traditional publishers and independent authors alike can be found on the site. (And if you, dear author or publisher, haven’t listed your ChristFic books there, you can register to do so.)

Indie Christian Fiction Search is a good place to check out some indie ChristFic authors. I’d recommend using this site on a desktop computer for the best view/navigation.

I’m a part of a group called Clean Indie Reads. CIR authors specialize in Flinch-Free Fiction in a variety of genres, including ChristFic.

Diversity Between the Pages is a great place to discover and discuss diverse Christian Fiction.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of helpful sites, but if you want to find some different books, start looking in some different places and taking new chances!

(P.S.–Of course, you’re probably not going to be a fan of every new-to-you author or different book you take a chance on. But don’t make the mistake of prejudging all new-to-you authors or books by the one or two you didn’t like, and thus conclude that “taking a chance” didn’t work. Keep searching, and you’re bound to find gems you’ll enjoy.)


Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books

Dear Authors and Readers: It’s Not About “Us” vs. “Them”

Authors and readers. Wielders of the mighty pen, and turners of the wondrous page. We’re all a part of the same book world, here.

Dear Authors. Dear, dear fellow authors:

We all know from Day One that not everybody is going to like our books, that no author can please every reader.

And, sure, the age of the internet and social media has familiarized us with internet trolls. People who post negative comments that nobody needs. Cyber riffraff who seem to have nothing better to do than to say bad stuff about stuff.

Then, up pops a new review for one of our books. Yay! Oh…wait a minute. Not so “yay,” this time. The new review is cutting. The reader did not like the book. The reader does not recommend the book. The reader rated the book with two stars or less. So, because of the undeniably negative, not-so-“yay” effect the reader’s cutting words and low rating have on the author, that reader must be a troll with nothing better to do than to say bad stuff about something the author worked hard on. Right?

Well, not necessarily right. A reader’s cutting review and low star rating do not automatically make that reader a troll.

But what about readers who post totally irrelevant reviews, with complaints about retailer shipping, customer service, or other things that have absolutely nothing to do with the author’s writing? Readers like that are trolls, correct?

Okay. This might be a good time to advise that an author shouldn’t be so quick with the gavel and the “troll” label. Don’t forget what a troll actually is: a person who is intentionally antagonistic online. Someone who makes disruptive attacks on purpose, merely to cause trouble and to get a rise out of folks. Yes, book reviews are a huge, important deal for us authors, and since our books and reviews are constantly on our minds and we know how reviews should be, knowing what or what not to include in a book review may seem like basic, universal knowledge to us.

But, dear authors, most readers aren’t living in our author universe. Or, maybe better said, our author bubble. Most people aren’t thinking about book reviews all the time. They’re not looking for ways to become savvy or expert book critics. They’re just decent, everyday folks, taking a little everyday time to post something online. Not being up on Best Book Reviewing Practices or Customer Review Guidelines does not mean that a person is intentionally antagonistic toward authors.

Likewise, expressing cutting opinions about a book doesn’t make a reader an attacker. Yes, authors, our work is deeply personal to us, so, naturally, it’s hard not to take reviews about our work personally. Still, it’s wise to recognize when a reader is making no personal attack on anyone but is simply saying what they think or how they feel about something they’ve read. Just as we authors are free to write the books we want to write, despite who may not like them, readers are free to choose what they read, free to think or feel the way they do about the books they’ve chosen, despite who may not agree with them.

And, trust me, we would not want to live in a world where only our professed fans would be allowed to buy and read our books, and no one else could have access. A world where people would only be allowed to say when they like something, where all negative opinions would be unwelcomed, censored, or silenced.

Dear Readers. Dear, dear fellow readers:

The age of the internet has made a lot of stuff more accessible to us. It’s even become easier for us to get books right on the spot, without having to wait around or go anywhere, thanks to the invention of ebooks and instant downloads. Yay!

Oh…wait a minute. Not so “yay” all the time. While some of us have totally fallen in love with the convenience and efficiency of digital books, others of us still don’t consider digital books to be real. We can’t really hold ’em in our hands. We can’t smell ’em. We can’t display an ebook on our bookshelf or pass the copy around to as many of our friends as we want.

Since an ebook doesn’t quite seem real to us, we might not be as ready to pay for one as we would a “real” book. Despite the fact that it takes an author just as much time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice to write an ebook as it does a print book. Despite the fact that an ebook still needs an editor, a cover designer, someone to format the files, and whatnot. Despite the fact that it takes finance to market and advertise a book, no matter what format the book comes in. Despite the fact that when traditional publishers publish an ebook, they still have to pay everyone on their publishing staff, pay their company bills, pay royalties to the author, and all that. The cost of printing, warehousing, and shipping a print book is only a fraction of what goes into that book’s retail price.

No, ebooks are not cost-free to produce and publish just because they’re not made of paper. Yes, an author still deserves to be paid for the work they’ve put in and for the art–the words–they’re sharing with the world, even if a reader can’t hold those words in their hands.

It’s much like when we pay to go watch a movie or to see a play in a theater. Or when we pay to attend a concert. To browse around a museum. To see a ballet, a tennis match, or a basketball game. We can’t hold a concert, a ballet, or a basketball game in our hands. But we still pay for the experience, for what people in their profession are sharing with us.

Whether a book is published physically or digitally, the author’s words are there. That’s what a book is really about: getting someone’s words out there to other people.

Besides, whether we like it or not, the world we live in is becoming increasingly digital. Book publishing can’t survive if we, dear readers, are willing to download digital books but are unwilling to pay for them. An author or publisher isn’t being mean, greedy, or unreasonable when they charge us to access an author’s words, just like a host of other kinds of artists and professionals charge for their work.

Now, there are plenty of other points I could raise on this author and reader topic, but my main point is this: we shouldn’t make a habit of thinking the folks on the “other side” of a book are out to get us, to cheat us, to make our life as an author or as a reader more difficult. Authors should extend consideration and respect to readers, and readers should extend consideration and respect to authors.

Don’t let it become about “us” vs. “them.” Authors and readers need each other to keep the world of books turning. So, we may as well read and write, buy and sell, give and receive reviews, and enjoy this book world we share with as much grace as possible.