Sunday, June 23, 2013

An Open Letter To Christian Fiction

Dear Christian Fiction,

I really, really like you. In fact, after neglecting your genre for about a decade, I've been reading you like crazy, discovering all the books and authors I missed in the meantime. Seriously, I've read more than sixty books in your genre this year already. And tons more a decade ago when it was all I read. As someone who's been both inside and outside the Christian camp, let's chat.

First off, some of your books are really, really, like crazy good. Mainly any book by Laura Frantz (oh my gosh I'm obsessed with her books lately, pardon my fangirl) or Deeanne Gist, Tamera Alexander, Lisa Tawn Bergren, Melanie Dickerson, and Julie Klassen. Thoughtful books where the writer's aren't afraid to let bad things happen to their characters. Where there are good and bad people alike, and those lines aren't always determined by whether they are Christians or not. These writers are doing it right.

But here's my problem with you, Christian Fiction. When others writers among you paint the world as made up of THEM, ie, non-Christian heathens who are evil and immoral and driven only by darkness vs. US, the Christians who maybe make mistakes but always choose the right thing in the end, it makes me kind of sick to my stomach. It's not how the world works and oh my goodness I sure hope you know that.

And here's the other big thing that ticks me off: when you have God speaking to the characters all the time. Like literally a voice in their heads, in pretty italic letters on the page. Do you not get how painful it is to pretend that's the way the world, and God, work? Do you know how upset I was as a teenager because God never 'spoke' to me like he did in all the books I read and how I thought that meant I must be doing it wrong? And in such plots, God always steps in at the last moment so nothing bad ever happens to the characters. And I want to pull my hair out because BAD THINGS HAPPEN to people. And painting a world like this, where the Christians are always good and do the right thing and hear God's voice... it's just plain wrong and hurtful and destructive, to all parties. I mean it's not just you, it's Christian subculture too. Either way, I was so shocked and unprepared when real life hit in my early twenties. I was unprepared for life's squalls and storms because it didn't fit this picture I'd been fed of how the Christian life worked. I was shattered.

I get it, Christian Fiction, I do. You have your tropes the same way other genres like Romance or Mystery or even YA do. I don't even mind all the preachy bits because I understand, the point of this genre is you get to talk about God and have your characters talk about God. And I'm generally fine with a little wish-fulfillment fiction. I like happy endings as much as the next girl. I just have a problem when you ascribe it all to God and pretend this is how the real world works.

In the meantime, I'll keep on reading you, and just avoid the authors who trigger my gag reflex. Because I still enjoy you, Christian Fiction. I like that your characters have depth and go through big emotional character arcs, and I like the way you do your love stories in historical settings, and I like that I can read you without worrying about being assaulted by graphic sexy times every other chapter (which I still like on occasion, but not every single book where it seems like that's all the scenes are just wishy-washy character-wise, all driving toward the sexy times scenes!). And yeah. Like YA, I like that your books seem to have more time and attention spent editing them than a lot of mainstream genre books. Sometimes I even like it when you talk about God.

Still, please be on notice Christian Fiction. It's hard enough having faith in God in this world. Please don't muddy the waters with your wish-fulfillment on how you WANT God to act and give us a little more of how he DOES act, which more often than not, is silence, requiring faith.


  1. Hmmm, thoughtful words, sister. Thanks for sharing your letter with all of us. It's a significant challenge to incorporate God in fiction without "cheapening" him. Thankfully, I believe many, many more authors are succeeding at it these days than not. The genre has come a long way, and I'm glad you gave it another chance!

    AND, I love meeting another YA writer! Off to order GLITCH. Will add it to my summer reading pile. :-)

    1. Hi Lisa! Yeah, I can imagine it is a challenge, and I agree that Christian fiction has come a long way from when I gave up on it a decade ago as just too hurtful to continue reading. I admire Christian writers for taking on the difficult task of trying to talk about how faith works and doesn't work in the world. It's just such a responsibility too, though, since you're talking about GOD. Anyway, I love it when writers manage to walk that thin line of talking about faith in a way that makes me THINK, instead of makes me squirm.

      Btw, if you'll allow a little fangirl moment, I loved the Waterfall series and first two books in the Grand Tour :) I'm looking forward to reading Remnants.

  2. Yes. I generally avoid the genre and have for years now, but.... there's something there, I'm sure. You should write a few more detailed reviews. Someone like me would trust you more than most reviews in Christian fiction?

    And may I make my own suggestion? This isn't explicitly Christian (actually the writer is a convert to Judaism), but it is deeply religious and feels Christian sometimes. Read Mary Doria Russel. Seriously. I started with The Sparrow.