Deep POV: Confessions of a Christian Writer

The ramblings of an emergent-realistic-edgy-working-for-God-and-the-pay-isn’t-that-great-sometimes-confused-christian-fiction writer (uh, that would be me).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Christian Fiction

Over on Mick Silva's blog, he's been interviewing Brandilyn Collins. She's made a passionate, knowledgeable, and quite extensive defense of Christian fiction, and even brought along some of her friends from ACFW to lend support. I have no quarrel with what she's saying, but something nagged at me as I read Part 1 and Part 2. I finally realized it was her defense of "Christian fiction" that bothered me. It is, of course, what she writes. But look at this comment from Dave Long. He made it in a Faith in Fiction post on November 17, 2003:
It's not going to change, but I think we are using the wrong terms in our discussions of Christian books and literature. Everybody says Christian Fiction when they are talking about books like Left Behind or Ted Dekker or Beverly Lewis, but they really should be saying CBA Fiction.

In my mind, Christian Fiction encompasses a far broader spectrum of writing and writers. Crime and Punishment is a Christian novel. Anne Lamott's Blue Shoe. Grisham's The Testament. These are all works of Christian fiction, but find themselves outside the category because, for the most part, they are not carried at Christian bookstores nationwide.
I'm betting that's what Brandilyn means when she's discussing Christian fiction--CBA fiction. According to The Complete Guide to Writing and Selling the Christian Novel by Penelope Stokes, CBA fiction comes with specific requirements as to worldview (which must be evangelical Christian) and other content (no foul language or misuse of the Lord's name, a minimal level of sexual involvement even with married characters, no graphic violence). As Brandilyn says, it's been changing and it certainly isn't what it used to be years ago, but there are still specific things you can and cannot do in CBA fiction. The consumers expect it (the legion of my former friends, the righteous-grannies-with-the-killer-attitude**) and they would be quick to complain if those specific areas changed.

However, those rules do not apply to all writers of Christian fiction. Such writers may restrict language, sex, or levels of violence, or they may not. They may write about Jesus, or His church, but even if they do, they probably don't proselytize because if they did, they would likely offend their secular readership. They may also choose to suffuse their novels with layers of Christian values rather than any direct religious reference. I'm talking about the likes of Anne Lamott, Leif Enger, Marilynne Robinson, Brett Lott, Jeff Berryman, Anne Tyler, and Susan Howatch, not to mention classics by such notables as J.R.R. Tolkien, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Flannery O'Connor, Leo Tolstoy, or Willa Cather. They are Christian writers. Some of them would be acceptable to the CBA, some would not. That's why "CBA fiction" makes it clearer what we're discussing.

I do not, however, expect this distinction to catch on. :-) I do think, however, that there's room in the vast publishing worlds of the CBA and ABA for all of us. Right?

**I am, in case you don't know it, a grandmother who used to do a lot of tsk-tsking whenever anyone pushed their toe over that line the least little bit.