Jump to content


Photo

Christian Fiction


  • Please log in to reply
28 replies to this topic

#1 kenmorefield

kenmorefield

    Supergenius

  • Member
  • 1,125 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 10:14 AM

I could use a little help here because I'm procrastinating to the point of self-irritation.

A friend and colleague has asked me to write an entry for "Christian Fiction" for a forthcoming reference book on literary genres.

I'm tempted to define the genre in terms of niche marketing since that seems to me to be the demarcating line between what is commonly thought of as Christian Fiction--can you buy it at a store like Zondervon? But there is a part of me that wants to justify trying to make an argument that Christian Fiction is more than just that and the niche-ing of the genre is a current trend rather than a definition of its (still formative? historical but forgotten?) identity.

Can anyone make an argument (or a nod towards one) that "Christian Fiction" is a useful designation for an existing literary genre, however small? Or, aside from Christian publishing , are there merely Christians who write in and allow their faith to inform other genres? (Example: John Grisham is a Christian who doesn't hide that fact and deals with Christianity in his work, but I don't think your average person on the street thinks of The Last Juror or The Testament as "Christian Fiction." Am I wrong?) Is "Christian" just a subset of other literary genres?

I did a lot of thinking about this topic when I was writing my disseration and I was struck by the fact that many niche-genres are defined mostly by the author but Christian fiction can come across to me as defined more by the intended audience. Still, I haven't really pursued that idea since then, so in revisiting the topic, I don't just want to immediately recycle old conclusions even if that's where I suspect I may end up anyway.

I don't really have to turn this in until February, so I have plenty of time to percolate ideas, but I thought this was an opportune time to ask the question given the turn taken by the Hollywood Jesus thread and Darrel's recent posts regarding Christians as a marketing force.

Any thoughts, however formative or tentative would be helpful. Right now I'm just in the thinking stage.

Peace.

Ken

#2 Darrel Manson

Darrel Manson

    Detached Existential INFP Dreamer-Minstrel Redux

  • Member
  • 6,650 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 10:47 AM

With friends and colleagues like that....

I don't go into Zondervan (or its equivalent) unless I absolutely have to, so do they carry stuff other than "Left Behind" etc.? Do Gilead and The Red Tent count? Chalice Press (Disciple publishing house) has a series of books about popular books. The books that are subject of the series are not necessarily Christian fiction, but fiction that Christians might be able to identify with.

What do you do with O'Conner or Buechner? Are they part of that Christian niche, or do you assume anything that has quality doesn't fit the niche?

#3 Doug C

Doug C

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,564 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 11:22 AM

Ken, I hadn't seen this post before, but you raise an excellent question.

As our acquaintance EJ Park recently put it, inanimate objects can't be Christian. So I bristle any time people refer to "Christian bookstores" or "Christian films" or "Christian businesses." You and Darrel have already pointed out the contradictions, but I'll suggest that the only definition here is market niche. A bookstore isn't a Christian bookstore because of what it sells, it's a Christian bookstore because of who it sells to: a particular publiching market and purchasing group. Personally, I think it's a little sad that a religious identitiy can be so easily transformed into a consumer label.

And of course this overlooks the full range of nuance in any work of literature or film. Are certain words Christian? Are certain phrases or ideas Christian? Is it a question of quantity or quality? Personally, I find many things sold in Christian bookstores anti-Christian and many so-called secular books and authors (and critics) profoundly--even if implicitly--Christian.

So yeah, write about O'Connor and Greene and everyone else who's worth writing about and let "Christian publishers" do what they will.

Edited by Doug C, 24 July 2006 - 01:34 PM.


#4 kenmorefield

kenmorefield

    Supergenius

  • Member
  • 1,125 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 12:06 PM

Doug:

Thanks. That's exactly the sort of paradigm framing definition that could allow me to incorporate the questions into a reference entry without turning it into a piece of criticism. Clear, succinct, and comprehensible to the layman. Are you referring to E.J. Narnia piece in CT or just to a post/e-mail?

Darrel:

QUOTE(Darrel Manson @ Jul 24 2006, 11:47 AM) View Post

With friends and colleagues like that....


Actually he's a good guy who I like quite a bit, and I was pleased and flattered he thought of me. Maybe I'm not understanding your inference; are you saying that you think I shouldn't do it?

Peace.

Ken

#5 Doug C

Doug C

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,564 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 12:45 PM

I think it was an offhand comment EJ made in reference to his CT Narnia article, but yeah, that article begins to get at some of the sticky issues involved when faith and commerce mix.

Edited by Doug C, 24 July 2006 - 01:34 PM.


#6 Tim Willson

Tim Willson

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,093 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 01:22 PM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ Jul 24 2006, 09:14 AM) View Post

I did a lot of thinking about this topic when I was writing my disseration and I was struck by the fact that many niche-genres are defined mostly by the author but Christian fiction can come across to me as defined more by the intended audience.


Ken,

I think this is fairly accurate, but Christian fiction seemed to get its start with Pilgrim's Progress (which may have been the first novel deliberately written for children, and so may be responsible for two genres). There were other fictional works with Christian themes, but it seems to me that PP started something.

I don't care for the term "Christian fiction" either, but it really is a fairly useful term. Think of The Color of Paradise and you might be thinking of a film by a Muslim, but it's not a "Muslim film," per se; in the same way, there are many Jewish writers whose works are not "Jewish novels." However, there are books and films that are decidedly "Muslim", "Jewish", "Hindu", "Christian" or whatever -- they are written to help educate, inform or influence. There is definitely a discinction between Napolean Dynamite (not a Mormon film) and The Other Side of Heaven or God's Army (both "Mormon" films, IMHO). The adjective is not preferred, but seems to be useful.

Christian bookstores exist not to serve the public generally, but to serve the Christian consumer, and Christian novelists write because the Christian publishers are busy developing product to supply to their bookstore customers. It's similar to the distinction that might be made between a grocery store that offers some kosher products, and a "kosher deli" -- the deli offering an exclusive selection to a defined market. The Christian bookstore is not interested in selling Grisham or Beethoven for the same reason that the deli is unlikely to add ham sandiches to the menu: they are specialists, not generalists. (And it does seem that a lack of specialists creates a sort of vacuum when a market niche grows to a certain size.)

(BTW, Zondervan is a publisher, not a store; it is now part of the Harper San Fransisco group.)

#7 Darrel Manson

Darrel Manson

    Detached Existential INFP Dreamer-Minstrel Redux

  • Member
  • 6,650 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 02:05 PM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ Jul 24 2006, 10:06 AM) View Post

rrel:

QUOTE(Darrel Manson @ Jul 24 2006, 11:47 AM) View Post

With friends and colleagues like that....


Actually he's a good guy who I like quite a bit, and I was pleased and flattered he thought of me. Maybe I'm not understanding your inference; are you saying that you think I shouldn't do it?
Just that he left you with such an ambiguous topic. Of course, ambiguity means you can do what you want, so it's really not so bad.


#8 TexasWill

TexasWill

    Easy Black Russian Terror Suspect

  • Member
  • 639 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 02:47 PM

QUOTE(Tim Willson @ Jul 24 2006, 01:22 PM) View Post

(BTW, Zondervan is a publisher, not a store; it is now part of the Harper San Fransisco group.)


IIRC, there used to be some Zondervan "Christian" bookstores here in the Metroplex, but they all were bought out by Family Christian(sic) Store.


#9 Crow

Crow

    Alaskan Malamute

  • Member
  • 1,419 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 04:00 PM

"Christian Fiction" is similar to "Christian Music" and "Christian Movies" as a niche. It is aimed at a particular subculture, American conservative Evangelical Christianity and marketed to be sold in "Christian bookstores".

There is a specific group of authors who write for Christian publishing houses. These and only these are considered to be part of the "Christian Authors" clique. Even books outside of this specific niche with spiritual themes are not considered to be part of the clique. For example, Terri Blackstock, Francine Rivers, and Ted Dekker are in the clique. Flannery O'Connor, Marilynne Robinson, and John Grisham are not. (Grisham had to go get famous before anyone found out he was a Christian so the niche couldn't claim him as one of their own, that rascal.) wink.gif Of course, it's absurd that Gilead probably isn't known by many Christian fiction readers because they can't find it in a Christian bookstore. But fortunately, some Christians shop at Borders and Barnes and Nobles, so they can find these kind of books.

Traditionally, Christian fiction was aimed at suburban Evangelical married women, and primary consisted of romances between spunky but tender widows on the Kansas prairie, and the strong silent hunk of a man who learns to get in touch with his feelings and fall in love with her. Fiction was considered a general waste of time as compared to the "higher" arts of Bible study and reading how to improve one's prayer life. However, when Frank Peretti wrote This Present Darkness (which only started selling after Amy Grant started promoting it, by the way), then it became acceptable for Christians, both men and women, to read fiction. When the Left Behind thing hit in the mid 90s, Christian fiction became a commercially viable genre. Still it was primary sold in Christian bookstores, and operated under a strict set of cultural rules:

- No profanity of any kind (This is the biggie!)
- Sinners will undergo some kind of religious conversion by the end of the story.
- No sex between unmarried people. If it is absolutely necessary to admit that committed Christians husbands and wives may have sex to procreate children, then be very discreet and for gosh sakes don't describe it in any detail.
- No scenes involving drinking or going into bars or pubs.
- If writing a political or a legal thriller, then the good guys are conservative family-values Republicans and the villians are liberal agnostic Democrats.

However, there are rumblings of change. The quality of fiction within the Christian fiction genre has improved over the last few years. There is a group of Christian authors writing thrillers who that are pushing the envelope a little bit, where evil is realistically portrayed so that the light at the end of the darkness can be shown, and stories where people don't necessary get "saved". But most of the cultural taboos are firmly in place. If Tony Soprano himself were to make it into a Christian thriller, he wouldn't say anything harsher than "darn" or "heck".

An interesting blog site with a discussion board can be found here.. The discussion board contains a group of authors and aspiring authors who are Christians and are interested in writing fiction from a Christian perspective but isn't bound to the tradtional "Christian fiction" niche, as well as Christians exploring breaking into the mainstream publishing world. The blogsite is run by an editor at a Christian publishing house who is publishing some of the highest quality work in the subculture. But like in other endeavors involving Christians and the arts, the walls between the subculture and the outside world will come down only when Christians want to take them down.

#10 Peter T Chattaway

Peter T Chattaway

    He's fictional, but you can't have everything.

  • Member
  • 29,474 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 06:19 PM

I wonder if Jeffrey will pipe up here. And I wonder if he would classify his upcoming children's book as "Christian fiction". It IS being published by a "Christian publisher", for whatever that's worth. But I suspect he wouldn't want to be limited to that market.

(Then again, the Left Behind books sold well outside the evangelical marketplaces, too; as Terry Mattingly reported this week, "8.6 percent of the readers were Catholics and the remaining 22.8 percent said they practiced Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or another world religion.")

Doug C wrote:
: As our acquaintance EJ Park recently put it, inanimate objects can't be Christian.

Um, well, sure they can. But it all depends on what you mean by "Christian".

: . . . I'll suggest that the only definition here is market niche.

Yeah, this is the answer I've always given when the subject of "Christian music" comes up.

nardis wrote:
: If I may "ahem" here . . .

You may, but "ahems" usually come with hypertexted links. smile.gif

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 24 July 2006 - 06:19 PM.


#11 The Baptist Death Ray

The Baptist Death Ray

    Member

  • Member
  • 743 posts

Posted 24 July 2006 - 09:15 PM

QUOTE
Can anyone make an argument (or a nod towards one) that "Christian Fiction" is a useful designation for an existing literary genre, however small?


I can tell you that it's a description used by both publishing houses and literary agents when they print their submission guidelines.

#12 The Baptist Death Ray

The Baptist Death Ray

    Member

  • Member
  • 743 posts

Posted 27 July 2006 - 12:56 PM

QUOTE(kenmorefield @ Jul 24 2006, 10:39 PM) View Post

BDR wrote:
QUOTE
I can tell you that it's a description used by both publishing houses and literary agents when they print their submission guidelines.


Got any specifics I can take a look at? The submission guidelines would be particularly helpful in ensuring whatever definition of the (sub)genre I include is based on something other than anecdotal experience and a skimming a few titles. I'll be happy to pay postage or give you a fax number where you can send them.

Thanks.

Ken


Hi Ken, sorry for the delayed reply -- the submissions guidelines I have are from a book called the Writer's Market 2005 -- it gets published every year and is a compliation of magazines, publishers, writer's agents and other useful information for people trying to get published. You ought to be able to find it at a Barnes & Nobles or B. Daltons or something like that.

You can also try their website: http://www.writersmarket.com

#13 Ijiwaru Sensei

Ijiwaru Sensei

    Member

  • Member
  • 28 posts

Posted 01 August 2006 - 10:54 AM

You might want to get a hold of Leland Ryken's collection of essays in The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing. Part 6: "State of the Art: Success and Failure in Current Christian Fiction and Poetry" has a couple essays that discuss exactly what you are talking about--Richard Terrell's "Christian Piety Is Not Enough" and Robert Engler's "Confessions of a Poetry Editor" both have valuable insights and criticisms of Christian fiction.

#14 Overstreet

Overstreet

    Sometimes, there's a man.

  • Member
  • 17,104 posts

Posted 06 December 2011 - 05:19 PM

Did you know that Frank Peretti is "the father of Christian fiction"?

If so, then you'll be excited to know he has "another classic."

#15 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,065 posts

Posted 06 December 2011 - 09:54 PM

Oh what a comically fun old thread to read.

Edited by Persiflage, 06 December 2011 - 09:54 PM.


#16 kenmorefield

kenmorefield

    Supergenius

  • Member
  • 1,125 posts

Posted 06 December 2011 - 10:17 PM

Oh what a comically fun old thread to read.


Since you bumped this old thread, I thought I'd go ahead and post a link to the anthology I mentioned in the first post. The eventual essay that I wrote appear in

Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading.

#17 mrmando

mrmando

    Lassie, the Barbarian Musical Thinker

  • Member
  • 3,636 posts

Posted 07 December 2011 - 05:09 AM

Did you know that Frank Peretti is "the father of Christian fiction"?

Really? What became of Dante? Bunyan?

#18 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,771 posts

Posted 07 December 2011 - 08:53 AM


Did you know that Frank Peretti is "the father of Christian fiction"?

Really? What became of Dante? Bunyan?


Pfft. Dante doesn't count, obviously. And Bunyan's just weird. :P

Actually, it reminds me of the time that a woman told me that The Shack was the greatest Christian book ever written. I was a little stunned.

To be fair, though, wasn't Peretti the father of blockbuster cross-over Christian bestsellers? I seem to remember reading that somewhere, but then again he first got popular a little before my time.

#19 mrmando

mrmando

    Lassie, the Barbarian Musical Thinker

  • Member
  • 3,636 posts

Posted 08 December 2011 - 04:46 AM

To be fair, though, wasn't Peretti the father of blockbuster cross-over Christian bestsellers?

Well, I do remember This Present Darkness going boom during my freshman year in college. I did read it, along with the sequel, Piercing the Darkness, but I can't really say either one changed my life. Enough craft there to keep you turning pages, but not a lot of substance. It's tempting to call Frank the Dan Brown of evangelical literature, but on second thought it might be more appropriate to reserve that honor for LaHaye/Jenkins.

Full disclosure: Frank's sister is a family friend and former colleague of my wife's. We once had Thanksgiving dinner with most of the extended Peretti family, minus Frank.

Whether he is the "father of blockbuster cross-over Christian bestsellers" depends on whether the Chronicles of Narnia, Hobbit/LOTR, Father Brown et al. qualify as either "Christian fiction" or "bestsellers" ... I wouldn't know for sure.

#20 NBooth

NBooth

    Magpie of Ideas

  • Member
  • 2,771 posts

Posted 08 December 2011 - 08:35 AM


To be fair, though, wasn't Peretti the father of blockbuster cross-over Christian bestsellers?

Well, I do remember This Present Darkness going boom during my freshman year in college. I did read it, along with the sequel, Piercing the Darkness, but I can't really say either one changed my life. Enough craft there to keep you turning pages, but not a lot of substance. It's tempting to call Frank the Dan Brown of evangelical literature, but on second thought it might be more appropriate to reserve that honor for LaHaye/Jenkins.


That seems really unfair to Dan Brown.... Well, I've not read Brown, so perhaps not.

I absolutely loved the Darkness books (or, rather, Peretti's audiobook recording of them) when I was nine, but when the time came to actually read them, I was less than impressed.

As potboilers go, however, The Visitation wasn't bad (at least, as I recall--it's been years). Can't say I've kept up with Peretti since then, though.

Full disclosure: Frank's sister is a family friend and former colleague of my wife's. We once had Thanksgiving dinner with most of the extended Peretti family, minus Frank.


"Dan Brown of evangelical literature" or not, that's pretty cool.

Whether he is the "father of blockbuster cross-over Christian bestsellers" depends on whether the Chronicles of Narnia, Hobbit/LOTR, Father Brown et al. qualify as either "Christian fiction" or "bestsellers" ... I wouldn't know for sure.


None of those were published as self-proclaimed [i.e. ghettoized] "Christian fiction," though, right? So they might be "Christian fiction bestsellers," but they wouldn't be "cross-over," which I think is the key term here.