Saturday, April 22, 2006

Fencing God In--Or Out?

I met a new friend through blogging that I am trading chapters with for critique purposes. Cathy has been kind enough to offer another pair of eyes for an honest opinion from another writer's perspective. She has raised valid questions that I want to open up for discussion.

First of all, I have had to study genres to determine exactly where my book is going to fit in. I also have started looking at publishers and agents. Before you can market your book, you need a good idea of where it fits in in the marketing world. I'm not sure I have a clear idea on that yet.

If I had to describe my book in a paragraph, this is what I'd say:

It is a novel filled with drama and suspense with colorful regional characters and Southern based settings. Having said that, can one write about her own beloved South without broaching the subject of Christianity? True to my Bible Belt roots, I chose to include this aspect of Southern life in my novel. Does that make it Christian fiction. I think, most certainly. Is that the best market for it? I'm not so sure.

The novel is overwhelmingly contemporary mainstream suspense with literary overtones. If you were to read through the titles on my bookshelves, you would find an abundance of classical titles. You would find an abundance of contemporary suspense. You would find, to a great degree, modern mystery. And on those same shelves you would find several translations of the Bible, a set of Matthew Henry's commentaries, and a full set of Spurgeon's sermons. You would not find any pornographic material, very little science fiction, maybe a volume or two of horror, and lots of motivational nonfiction which is mainly my husband's. In my younger years, I read Nancy Drew, Grace Livingston Hill, and Agatha Christie. I was also fond of historical romance. I will read almost anything, but the books I choose to keep on my shelves--those are the ones that influence me, inspire me, and ultimately draw me back for rereads years down the line.

But back to the subject at hand. My problem with classifying said novel is brought up in the very first chapter. It's in my themes. A young girl finds herself pregnant and scared. The young girl goes to Memphis to obtain an abortion and is abducted by a drug runner. She is kept in captivity throughout her pregnancy, but finally gets the courage to try to escape. A violent conflict ensues. Perhaps too violent. How much violence is too much for Christian fiction? How much sex is too much sex for Christian fiction? If you are being realistic, and trying to make a valid statement about teens, peer pressure, and promiscuity, bad choices, consequences, and redemption, is any or all excusable? Would a Christian editor immediately stop reading if he ran across a compromising situation between two teens?

As I write, I try to keep in mind that regardless of where I market the book I want it to glorify God. I try to keep in mind the audience for which I am writing. I do not want to write anything I would be ashamed for my grandparents to pick up. At the same time, I do not want to sugar coat my message. I want teenage girls to read my book and be able to identify with the characters and their choices. Of course you can say euphemistically that they "succumbed to temptation" or that they "had premarital sex" or "committed fornication," but does that make it real to the teenager who is reading? Why isn't it ok to put a character in a situation, and put her right up to the moment of decision--the moment where there is no turning back, and even have her succumbing to the moment, the feelings, the desires? It does not have to be pornographically portrayed. I know what erotic literature is. I know what pornographic literature is. It is not my intention to write either.

I know what violence is. I know what graphic violence looks like in the movies and on television. It is not my intention to add gratuitous violence for the sake of violence. The violence I intend to include is the climax of the novel representing the battle between good and evil forces. It will not be pretty. None of the battles in the Bible were pretty. And I also seem to recall some pretty adult themes, some graphic description, and some pretty plain language. And if you read closely enough, you just might find something bordering on erotic in the Song of Solomon. (Please don't leave me hate mail for that one.)

Am I putting myself in the same category as the inspired writers of the Holy Word? I can't say that I am writing the oracles of God. But I am saying that I am representing Him. And I want to do that to the best of my ability. I do not want to offend. The whole aim of my novel is to show how God's mercy redeems us from destruction--yes, even delivers us from our bondage. Thus, the title, From Pharoah's Hand.

I need input. What are your thoughts on adult themes in Christian literature? My character will eventually give birth in a very tension-filled scene. Inappropriate to include as well? These scenes are important to the structure and plot I have mapped. Do I scrap the idea of marketing it as Christian fiction and stick with traditional houses? And what about the spiritual overtones, the Biblical parallels? How will they go over in a secular market? We could explore the possibilities from the other side of the fence.

Am I straddling the fence and trying to please both sides? I have chosen my side. I am in prayer over this. When this project is finished, I want to be able to lay it at the feet of Jesus, much as I have my musical gift, and say, "Here it is, Lord. Use it as You will." If He is pleased, that is all that matters. Pray for wisdom in this, and leave me your thoughts.


Ellen said...

Got here through a random hit on CWO blog ring (I'm at I don't know anything about you or your book since this is the first time I've been here. But I will say this: I normally don't read Christian fiction because most of it is too sappy and unrealistic (at least for me). I came to Christ in my 20's (will turn 50 in 2 years) and prior to faith (and even after) I've fallen numerous times, and great distances. I would love to read Christian novels that are based in reality as we know it in 21st century America. This walk is not an easy one. We mess up. Life is hard. I say tell it like it is. Be true to what you believe God has called you to share and He will send the readers... we're out here, and you can tell the publishers that. Bless you for your efforts on behalf of the Lord. P.S. I might never find my way back here, so come visit me sometime!

Lisa said...

I too struggle with these same issues. I'm not sure either...but for now, I've decided to go mainstream with my novel for bigger target audience and easier restrictions. But I could go either way quite easily (I think.) I also have issues when writing short stories-haven't found the right niche yet.

If I come across site explaining Christian fiction genre requirements, I'll pass it along to ya. One thing's for sure, trying to please both sides as you write is quite difficult. I wish it wasn't, but that's just the way it is.

I have short story that I'm trying to get published by Skyson Press, Dreams & Visions that deals with more unique Christian themes (esp magical which is another no-no.)

But I haven't run across genre that mixes Christian with what I call mainstream. I do like the idea very much-I tried to mix mine also.

There are agencies that deal with Christian fiction - you might check out their sites to see what their requirements are. Get a feel for what agents are looking for and then go from there. Just an idea! Maybe you'll run across one that fits...

It's tough enough to get a first novel out there, let alone narrow down the genre to something that isn't popular-yet. That is not to say it can't be done! I'd like Christian fiction to take a step into reality...but how far?

Keep on writing!! I'll be keeping an eye on what others have to say.

Delia said...

I also like the idea of a Christian fiction taking a step into reality. And I think there are many readers out there who feel the same.

Christians deal with many "tension-filled" situations - let's face it folks life isn't always a candy coated treat for everyone - so why shouldn't there be a genre out there based in the Christian faith that deals with these situations.

I also hope that if you search around, you'll find an agent and a publisher that you can deal with and hold onto both, the Christian and the mainstream aspect of your manuscript.

Jade said...


As a Christian teen, I'm gonna say something here:

What matters to teen readers is identifying with your character. Show us that your characters go through the exact same struggles we peer pressure, sex, teen pregnancy, friends, dating, me that your characters lie awake at night like I do, wondering about their place in the universe. Let me see that your characters sometimes make mistakes or lose their way. Let me hear them questioning God's plans for their life.

Make me believe that your characters are as real as I am and I'll become fan of yours...I've read Christian fiction that was WAY TOO SWEETSY! And I never read those authors again. But authors who dare to deal with the darker and sometimes more uncomfortable issues of growing up in an ever-changing world, are the ones that I read, recommend to my friends, and remember!!

Your Sister in Christ,


Chi said...

I think that people tend to believe that Christians live in a world apart from the secular & we all know this isn't so. Therefore, in my humble opinion, I think your novel will be an eye-opener & that you should follow your heart.

Thank you for visting my blog...I'm really glad you enjoyed the poem. *s*

Jada's Gigi said...

You said, "I don't want to offend" on this goal I think you may as well give up. If you have anything to say worth saying it will probalby offend someone. My thought is that you should make sure God is not offended....there is violence that does not incite to violence but rather creates the picture you are trying to portray, there is sex that is realistic without being pornographic as you have referred to. If you wish to appeal to Christian Publishers (notice I did not say Christians....)you must have good and God triump very visibly....not just good but good coupled with God. Otherwise I think they will be scared off. AS for Christian readers, I think they can handle quite a bit in Christian fiction. You can always write about a good little Christian girl who goes astray(which is as common as dirt in the South) and market to almost any audience I think, they won't care as long as you don't bring God into it too much. but to market to Christians...God has to clearly, irrevokably win. I feel that Christian readers will put up with a lot for a good read but Publishers will probably be a bit more skittish.
Just my humble opinion...not any expert here. :) Just experienced

Magnolia said...

I've felt some of the same struggles within. How refreshing it is to read a blog that openly discusses these questions.

Robin Lee Hatcher wrote something about the 'dark' side of Christian fiction on her blogsite that was quite eye-opening. She raised some points I'd never heard before.

What I am learning to do is to write first and foremost for the Lord. I used to write to please people, create characters that didn't offend (not that I aim to offend at all!) and in the end, those characters were wooden, unrealistic.

The Christian life is not one of smooth sailing where people never get caught up in bad situations, but rather it's one of victory over those situations.

I can't relate to Christians who have lives without loss or heartache, without trouble. It's just not reality.

Reality is teenage girls (and boys) make bad choices. So do adults. The difference is, we have a God who can take those bad choices and make something good from it.

Books like yours that deal with issues people don't like to face can give hope to those who have had to face it or will.

Like you said, "If He is pleased, that is all that matters."

You write that book. I'll buy it.

Sharon J said...

Hiya. Are you sure this is Christian fiction? I believe in God but have no religion and as such am perhaps not the best person to comment, but the way I see it is that you're writing a story that portrays life in the South. Without the Christian element then surely the backdrop would be wrong?

I really don't think there ought to be room for questions like "how much violence..." and "how much sex..." because this is a story and these things happen in life, in varying degrees, regardless of whether it's a Christian experiencing them or otherwise.

Whoever said writing a book was easy?

Sue aka MsCreativity said...

Hi, thanks for your comments on my blog.

IMHO I think you should write the story that needs to be told. Don't try and rewrite it to fit into another 'Christian's' theology. It's a hard lesson that I'm still learning, but I believe that we aren't following Jesus if we get too caught up caring about what other people think.
Quite often (again IMHO)Christians who judge others aren't real Christians at all.
Jesus knows whats in your heart. I believe that Jesus wants us, as writers, to reach out to other people. The very people who have lived through the darker side of life. The very people society has judged, and who therefore don't believe they have a place with Jesus. What real-life writing can do is show them that they *can* experience the 'bad' stuff in life, and still come out at the other end a stronger and better person in Christ.
Jesus loves us no matter what mistakes we make, and I personally feel that this isn't shown enough.
Just my thoughts :-) Apologies for rambling...

C. H. Green said...

You've all given me some much needed feedback to chew on. Thanks for reinforcing my belief that there is a niche for my book.
Thank you for sharing your opinions and ideas. I am so thankful for this avenue that blogging has opened.

Cathy West said...

I think that the Christian market IS changing, but slowly. I know editors and agents alike who are frustrated beyond belief with the 'too good to be true' requirements of the CBA. You have been given some great advice here. What you really need to do is wait on the Lord and see where He wants this story to end up. Unfortunately, the way it is still now, if you are going to target Christian publishers. you will have to eliminate certain elements of your novel. Detailed scenes that hint or more than hint at sex and violence will not be accepted. That's just my opninion and I may be wrong, but I don't think so.
Keep at it. God will show you very clearly where this needs to go.

Hattigrace said...

Uh, let's think about the Bible. We have rape, incest, adultery, murder, betrayal, lust, etc, etc.

In the Protestant Church there is little understanding of human sexuality (I am 3 years a Catholic) and so the church ignores teaching what God says about our sexuality and just harps on tithing.

I think there is a huge market for real and honest and vulnerable. For heaven's sake, David, the adultorer was known as a man after God's own heart. Rahab the whore is in the lineage of Jesus. Keep looking up His lineage. . .

Thanks for your visit and I pray your book sales rocket!

C. H. Green said...

What a great discussion on this topic. I see everyone has a definite opinion on it. I appreciate your posts.