Christian Fiction: A Changing Genre

Janette Oke’s first, trailblazing ChristFic novel, which has gone through revisions and cover art makeovers since its first publication in 1979.

I’ve heard my share of praise and criticism about the Christian Fiction genre since I started reading ChristFic novels over twenty years ago. Sometimes I disagree with what I hear, and other times I agree.

When it comes to the criticism especially, I bear a certain point in mind. While authors have been writing Christian literature for centuries, the modern genre that we now call Christian Fiction (a marketing label) is still relatively young. It only started becoming a “thing” around the late 1970s, early ’80s. Anything young takes a while to mature, to get better with time, and as a bonus, it’s not unheard of for authors and publishers to go back and revise, reedit, and repackage—coming out with new and improved editions of previously published works.

Now, ChristFic isn’t the only genre I read, and I’ve spent years delving into classic works and other books that give me strong examples of command of language and storytelling mastery. It’s been my goal to take what I learn as a reader and to apply it to ChristFic as a writer.

The storytelling in some ChristFic novels has amazed me over the years.

No, I’m not claiming that I’ve become a literary master. Writers grow (or at least they should grow) and improve over time. Even now, I’m not the same writer, or the same person, I was back when I wrote my first novel, Yella’s Prayers, and my first historical fantasy book, The Movement of Crowns. (Oh, I still think the books were good back then, and more recent revisions have improved them.)

More ChristFic books that have been made-over since their first publications.

But I’m glad I’m here at this time in Christian Fiction, both as a reader and a writer. I do think that during earlier years in this young genre’s history, lots of Christian readers were simply happy to find wholesome novels with Christian content, with more choices available than, say, Grace Livingston Hill romances from the 1940s and earlier. That’s not at all a knock against GLH though, as I love old-fashioned books, I’ve enjoyed a number of GLH’s, and I respect her as the key pioneer of Christian romance novels.

The vintage cover art of a few of the Grace Livingston Hill classics I’ve read gives me a certain kind of nostalgia.

Even so, it seems to me that in a general sense, during the modern ChristFic genre’s earlier stages of becoming a whole distinct market, excellence and virtuosity in the style and fine art of fiction writing itself wasn’t the goal so much as having stories that conveyed Christian (and oftentimes evangelistic/salvational) messages.

But now that the genre has been around a little longer, ChristFic authors and publishers are raising the bar, and ChristFic readers’ standards and preferences are shifting and expanding. Along with themes reflective of faith, ChristFic readers want more skillful and insightful storytelling. More subgenres to choose from. More varieties and levels of content. More diversity.

ChristFic has come a ways in diversity, and we have quite a ways to go!

Moreover, while there’s a place for different levels of spiritual content in Christian Fiction, many ChristFic readers don’t necessarily want or need on-the-nose or “in your face” Gospel preaching or teaching while they’re reading novels. Everybody has their own preferences, and Christian Fiction has been shifting from meaning only “fiction that is conspicuously Christian” to meaning “fiction that is suitable for Christians,” whatever the level of spiritual content may be, and also “fiction from a Christian worldview, suitable for broader audiences.”

(And yes, readers have different opinions about what should qualify a book to be Christian Fiction. But before you say, “If it doesn’t have explicitly Christian content, it can’t be Christian Fiction!”—remember that Christ Himself told fictional stories, and His stories didn’t have what we would call explicitly Christian content in them.)

As for me, I started writing and publishing ChristFic because I couldn’t find all the kinds of stories I wanted to read in the genre. I saw that Christian Fiction had room for growth, change, and diversity, and I wanted to help bring that to other ChristFic readers. (I also write for readers who don’t normally read ChristFic, as I think telling a good story can and should often transcend genre/market labels and other boxes. You know?)

I’m not at all the only author who writes books because I want to read them.

The Christian Fiction genre is indeed changing. Sometimes change is hard and unsettling. It involves trial and error and learning, taking risks and seizing the day, and many times, change is necessary, healthy, and enriching. Back when I first curled up with novels like Oke’s Love Comes Softly and GLH’s Happiness Hill, I didn’t know I’d one day be reading ChristFic military and legal and political and techno thrillers, and ChristFic historical mysteries, and ChristFic psychological suspense, and ChristFic written by authors of color featuring main characters of color, and on it goes.

This relatively young genre isn’t what it was forty years ago, and I’m looking forward to seeing it continue to mature, expand, and improve with time.

Decades ago, I didn’t imagine some of the different kinds of ChristFic I’d find to read years later.

2019’s Top Ten Posts

Prismatic Prospects just had its busiest year so far! Check out 2019’s Top Ten Posts.

When Calls the Heart (Television Show)

The Canadian West Series by Janette Oke

Christmas Book Picks 2019

Favorite Covers 2019

Romance in Christian Fiction: How Much Heat is Too Much?

Who Brings Forth the Wind by Lori Wick

Diversity in Christian Fiction: How Can Readers Help?

As Time Goes By by Lori Wick

The Kindness of Critical Book Reviews

Favorite Reads 2019

 

Favorite Reads 2019

I received complimentary copies of some of these books for honest reviews, which you’ll find in the posts I’ve linked to.

I look forward to these awards all year! As my blog is all about hope and inspiration, these are the books that most fit that bill for me in 2019 and that I highly recommend to fellow readers. You’ll find them listed in the order I read them.

To the authors of the winning books, if you’d like a medal for making the list, see the bottom of this post.

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Literary Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Asher’s artistic gift grates against his Hasidic Jewish observance… No, I don’t read many novels this stark and somber in their beauty. Yes, you do have to have an ear for nuance and for the power of what’s left unsaid to hear and appreciate the music and poetry behind such a narrative. I empathized with this coming-of-age story that depicts the impossible pain of becoming a creative. A fine, raw, magnificent novel.

Long Road Home and On the Other Side by Jessica Marie Holt

Literary Fiction, Short Stories

★★★★★ each from me

*Long Road Home is a 2019 Favorite Cover Pick*

Even with Nate’s flaws, there’s hope for him. And who knew that helping an elderly neighbor would change Kevin’s life? This author is one of the best short story writers I’ve found in quite a while. Such a simple (but not simplistic), deft, poignant style. Such an understanding of human nature, with its strengths and its weaknesses. It’s brilliant when a story can manage to break my heart and then deeply inspire me in less than a half-hour of reading, and these inspiring reads are stellar examples of just how much short fiction can mean and what it can say without saying too much.

A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

Christian Fiction, Historical/Biblical Fiction

★★★★★ from me

Some call Maviah a slave. Others call her a queen. And a Jewish mystic, Yeshua, may change her life. This story of an Arab woman, her perilous journey through desert sands with two warrior allies, and the vast scope of the novel (including but beyond the confines of a simple “Jesus” tale), romanced me as I read. Besides the intrigue and harrowing aspects of this poignantly-rendered epic, what made it an amazing read for me was the space it gave me to wrestle with mysteries, as the Way is indeed a mysterious one.

Songbird and Other Stories by Jennifer Lamont Leo

Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction, Short Stories

★★★★ overall from me

*Includes The Christmas Robe, a 2019 Christmas Book Pick*

Four short ‘n’ sweet tales set during the Jazz Age? Yes, please! Sometimes you just need to sit for a little while with something you’re sure is going to hit the spot. I needed something quick, uplifting, and entertaining, and that’s what I got. This is a great collection to read before or after this author’s Roaring Twenties novels. No, you don’t have to read the novels first to follow these tales, but you’ll want to find out the rest about these characters if you haven’t. They’re the cat’s pajamas!

The String by Caleb Breakey

Christian Fiction, Psychological Suspense

★★★★★ from me

*A 2019 Favorite Cover Pick*

Markus is determined to stop the deadly social experiment of a sociopath: The Conductor. What I like most about a core group of characters trapped in “the string” is that they’re thinking people who choose to be proactive. Even a few of the key female characters who could’ve easily been the helpless or hysterical damsels in distress are instead rational women who’ve got grit. This isn’t a basic “shoot ’em up and catch the bad guy” story with a neat and tidy ending. It’s psychological warfare with spiritual impact, and if you let the central message really hit you (as it hit me), then you’ll likely begin to anticipate the next book in the Deadly Games series.

Fifty-Five: City Edition by Tearra Rhodes

Christian Fiction, Contemporary Flash Fiction

★★★★★ from me

The city’s bustle and city dwellers’ hearts: fifty-five words at a time. This collection is quite a credit to the art of flash fiction. So much can be wrapped up in just a few words when a writer knows how to wield them, and page after page in this short book takes a close and compelling look at life, with faith woven in. Some of the stories are connected to pack a bonus punch, while others get the job done on their own. One of them even brought tears to my eyes. Just that fast. In fifty-five words. Whether you’re new to the world of microfiction or not, I’d encourage you to give this inspirational collection a go.

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

Christian Fiction, Biblical Fiction

★★★★★ from me

*A 2019 Favorite Cover Pick*

A young Jewish woman, stolen from the life she loved. Stolen by a king. The strength of this novel about Esther is in the way it tackles difficult, sacred tension. How it paints a bold but deft picture of schemes, depression, injustice, murder, and suicide in a realm of royalty and excess. How it addresses so many ironies, not the least of which is the pairing of power and imprisonment. It’s a substantive account of a woman in an impossible situation, using what resources she can to save her people, and even to empower other women. It’s beautiful. “The king has asked for a whore; I will show him a queen.”

New Kid by Jerry Craft

Contemporary Fiction, Middle Grade Graphic Novel

★★★★★ from me

Twelve-year-old Jordan wants to go to art school, not to a school where he’ll be different. I picked this novel up because of the race/diversity issue it addresses, and it resonated with me in a number of places on that score. But the novel doesn’t get caught up in being so issue-y that it ceases to be entertaining, accessible, and inclusive. Jordan’s story strikes a balance between the downright hilarious parts and parts that can prick your heart or make your stomach drop. It packs in both obvious and understated genius, and no matter your age, if you can relate to being “new” or different, it’d be hard not to take away something awesome from a book like this.

Clean Hands by Richard B. Knight

Christian Fiction, Science Fiction, Short Story

★★★★★ from me

Can Instinct survive a critical battle in a human’s shaky dream world? Wow to this. I needed a quick read when I picked up this allegorical kind of sci-fi short. I was gradually drawn in by Instinct’s discussions with Imagination and Logic, then came some crucial action I might expect in a sci-fi adventure. But I didn’t expect that I’d be “wowing” aloud the instant I realized where the story was going. Then it did indeed go there, and I “wowed” again. The story doesn’t linger too long at its destination. And yes, to fully appreciate it, you do already have to be familiar with that ending place, but… Yeah. Quite a read from a new-to-me author.

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You can get your reading started by picking up free Kindle copies of On the Other SideFifty-Five: City Edition, Clean Hands, and The Movement of Crowns (one of my books.) Be sure to check the prices before downloading!

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Now is a great time to pick up a copy of another of my personal favorites, based on a true story: World of the Innocent. Pick it up at Amazon, or click here to find links to more stores.

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Congratulations, authors, and thank you for writing your books! If I’ve selected yours as a Favorite Read this year, you’re welcome to a complimentary medal to display on your website, blog, social media—wherever you wish. Click the image below and contact me to receive a full size PNG medal. (The lined watermark will be removed, and the medal will include the year on it, 2019.) Thanks again!

 

Favorite Covers 2019

I received complimentary copies of some of these books for honest reviews of their content, which is separate from my personal assessment of their covers here.

I’m not strictly a “judge a book by its cover” kind of reader. Still, I have an appreciation for cover art as a part of the reading experience. Here are covers I particularly liked from books I’ve read since this time last year—and it’s quite a list again, this time around! The books are listed in the order I read them (with the exception of two books in one series I paired together.)

To the authors of these books, if you’d like a medal (one for you and/or for your cover artist) for being on this list, see the bottom of this post.

Jacob’s Bell: A Christmas Story by John Snyder

Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction

This Christmas, forgiveness may be Jacob’s greatest gift. What fan of hopeful holiday tales could resist this novel’s nostalgic cover? The streetlights with a lemony glow as soft as the falling snow. The Christmas wreath over that telling red kettle. The old man with a golden bell, regarding a little girl bundled in red for the winter. A new friendship, perhaps? Just charming!

Severed Signals and Cryptic Commands by Steve Rzasa

Christian Fiction, Science Fiction

 

When former oppressors are enslaved, Captain Vincent Chen’s mission takes a critical turn. I didn’t read the book blurb before grabbing up a copy of Severed Signals. Couldn’t resist the vivid, electric blue cover design, with slanted rain pelting down on Vincent, who’s obviously poised for action. The “severed” font of the title doesn’t hurt either. The electric red cover of Cryptic is a perfect complement, where I spy a girl with a gun behind the hero. Hmm, the plot thickens…

Long Road Home by Jessica Marie Holt

Literary Fiction, Short Story

Even with Nate’s flaws, there’s hope for him… Here’s another story I practically knew nothing about before I read it, but I found its cover to be a strong one. It’s a lesson in focus, simplicity, and nuance, the dark fade at the bottom hinting at the depth of emotion, the sunlight at the top giving hope, and the porch swing in the middle—a single symbol. A fitting setup for a serious but ultimately uplifting story.

The White City by Grace Hitchcock

Christian Fiction, Historical Romance, Mystery

1893 Chicago. The World’s Fair. And mysterious disappearances. With just one hint of gold in the middle of this cover, the rest of it depicts how a bold black and white shot can be just as “in your face” as a brilliant rainbow. The deft imagery begins the mystery before you even open the book.

Convergence by Ginny L. Yttrup

Christian Fiction, Suspense

A psychologist. Her stalker. And the phantom of fear. The heroine’s wary but determined expression at the top tells of danger she must face, while at the bottom, your eyes can hear the roar and crash of the rapids against the rocks. The title is bold and the colors are kept to a minimum but with splashes of hot pink that stand out. Bring on the suspense.

Of Fire and Lions by Mesu Andrews

Christian Fiction, Biblical Fiction

Exile from Jerusalem. Slavery in Babylon. And a woman’s choice between secrets and truth. I mean, come on—the heroine in vibrant red, sweeping her lengthy, soaring garment over the head of a lion with smoldering eyes and a mane ablaze with flames? How much more vivid artistry and dramatic allusion can you harmoniously fit into a book cover image depicting the wife of Daniel?

Breach of Trust by Rachel Dylan

Christian Fiction, Legal Suspense

When Mia uncovers corporate espionage, the stakes may prove deadly. This cover is so on point for legal suspense, with the unfocused, off-center, off-kilter courthouse lit up against the night sky in the background, and the alert heroine in the foreground, looking cautiously over her shoulder. Watching out.

Outbreak by Davis Bunn

Christian Fiction, Suspense

They’re out to prevent a global pandemic—if they can stay alive. Man. What’s going on beneath the surface of those stirring, deep red waters? The imagery is so effective, it makes me cringe. And that dusty red cloud breathing over the one-word title has a chilling factor indeed. I don’t usually get a kick out of feeling the skin on my scalp crawl, but, man.

Santa’s Secret by Linda Leigh Hargrove

Christian Fiction, Contemporary Romance

The handsome “Santa” Chelsea meets may have something to hide… Gotta love this Christmas romance book cover. The tone, the sparkling lights, and the “holiday surprise” vibe that’s inviting without being corny are all major pluses. You’ve just gotta find out what Santa’s secret is now!

A Christmas of Hope by Danyelle Ferguson

Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Short Story

A divorced mother needs her friends’ encouragement this Christmas. I just love the soft and frosty holiday glow and sparkle of this cover. Doesn’t it put you in the mood for a warm mug of Christmassy cocoa or another such treat?

The String by Caleb Breakey

Christian Fiction, Psychological Suspense

Markus is determined to stop the deadly social experiment of a sociopath: The Conductor. Yeah, the typography is so minimal and striking, with the “i” in “String” tripling as a letter, a string, and a music conductor’s baton. But have the hands of a conductor—just hands, teal-toned hands, set against a nuanced black background—ever been creepier? Ever?

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther by Ginger Garrett

Christian Fiction, Biblical Fiction

A young Jewish woman, stolen from the life she loved. Stolen by a king. Yes, this novel’s cover has been updated since its first publication, but it was this earlier, textured cover that caught me, with the reflective, watchful, mysterious eyes of Esther as she’s partially concealed behind a veil, ready to present a notorious man of excess with something he isn’t ready for. No damsels in distress here.

Blessing on the Run by Alana Terry

Christian Fiction, Suspense

Blessing’s ex-boyfriend’s threat could destroy her for good. The colorful but serious tone of the controlled but bold book cover design drew me to this novella. It’s intensity contrasted against darkness, light contrasted against night, with bold topography bringing it all together in the center. Suspenseful and brilliant at once.

The Bewildered Bride by Vanessa Riley

Regency Historical Romance

The husband Ruth once lost is still alive—and so is the danger that tore him away. The call of a Regency romance couldn’t be any clearer than the call from this radiant dessert of a cover, which gives us every slanting ray and delicious drop of violet-ness that it so pleases. It’s divinely grape, as I like to put it. Simply stunning.

Unscripted by Davis Bunn

Contemporary Fiction

An unlikely film project could help a ruined line producer redeem his career. This cover strikes the right serious tone in clear but unassuming, deftly blended green and gold, with a contemplative hero looking out over Hollywood from behind Hollywood, where the lights make a statement without a bright and glamorous feel. Excellent imagery!

Blood in the Snow by Sarah Pennington

Christian Fiction, Fantasy

An ancient prophecy. Two kingdoms at stake. And a princess with a Bloodgift. The cover for this fairy tale retelling snagged my attention in less than a second: the serious gaze of a young woman in red with her black tresses flowing in the wind, the heroine standing before a giant moon glowing white against a wintry, deep blue backdrop with trees and peaks, Asian architecture, and geese in the snow, overlaid with the thin, red, beveled glass of the title and its flash of white light. Atmospheric excellence, this cover is.

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Entries for 2019’s Favorite Covers giveaway are now closed, but comments on the post are remaining open.

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You can get your reading started by picking up free Kindle copies of Severed SignalsA Christmas of Hope, and The Movement of Crowns (one of my books.) Be sure to check the prices before downloading!

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And these are two of my books with covers I’m excited about! Check out Reviving the Commander and Eubeltic Descent at Amazon.

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Congratulations, authors, and thank you for writing your books! If yours has one of my favorite covers this year, you’re welcome to a complimentary medal to display on your website, blog, social media—wherever you wish. Click the image below and contact me to receive a full size PNG medal. (The lined watermark will be removed, and the medal will include the year on it, 2019.) If you know the artist who designed your cover, feel free to pass on the word about the award. The artists are welcome to display the medal as well. Thanks again!