Monday, August 04, 2014

Why I Do (and Don't) Recommend Christian Fiction

Now, don’t anyone get upset when I say I don't recommend Christian fiction or authors anymore. I just don't do it publicly. An agent or in-house acquisitions editor should tout and promote all their authors by every means possible. Readers should rave about their favorites. But editing Christian fiction behind the scenes is one of my freelancing niches, and I do not want to make any author whose work I touch feel they are being slighted if I don't shine a light on them or their books. So I've decided to support but not recommend.

What? Did you think at first that I, like some, have come to believe Christian fiction as a whole is not worth anyone's time? Think again. While I am sure some of those doubters have read at least one Christian book they did not like, perhaps written by someone who had not developed the craft of writing or who chose to communicate their message with a "heavy hand," I can tell you that Christian novelists do indeed offer a good read. Sometimes with a light romance or tale with just enough conflict to keep the reader intrigued; sometimes with a harder look at life.

I was talking to someone who was surprised to hear about some of the plot elements in Christian fiction, which they had always seen as not much more than sanitized "Disney" creations. Really? Uh, huh. Christian novels can include big time cluelessness, mess ups, and some of the most horrific events anyone can face. And why not? Everyone on this earth faces what this life, temptation, and fellow human beings can dish up. Those who rely on God just have Someone in their lives to whom they can take their disappointments, pain, and screw-ups, which is what most authors of Christian novels want to make sure you know by The End.

Of course, some novels conclude with happily-ever-after endings; those are satisfying and we appreciate them. Other novelists are more pointed about the natural consequences of some of those screw-ups. Both approaches mirror fiction without Christian content. Christian authors in both cases, however, make it clear in their books that God can make our lives some kind of beautiful if we let him, even if in his time and not our own.

Here's what I do want to shine a light on. If you have always thought novels with Christian content—even based on previous experience—are all sappy, badly written and edited, Goody-two-shoes . . . give a recently published Christian novel a try. Just choose a genre you already know you like—Romance, Dystopian, Thriller, Suspense, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical, Young Adult, Allegory (and more) are all out there in good form. Look for recommendations on Goodreads, start with "crossover" books like Jan Karon's Mitford series if you like that genre, peruse bestseller and award lists such as from ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), or register as a reader on the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) FictionFinder.

I hope you discover a novel you are willing to chance. You might not like it; I have not liked every single Christian novel I have read. But if you find one that, in the end, makes you say, "That was pretty good!" . . . well, that's good news to Christian novelists everywhere.

For readers, what Christian novel or author have you recently read that you would like to recommend?

For writers, what resource or author would you point someone to for choosing a worthwhile Christian novel?

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