A little bit on Christian fiction

It’s rare that I write about my faith on the blog, so I hope everyone will indulge me just a tad tonight. A few days ago, most of you probably saw my blog entry on reasons I won’t finish a book (If you didn’t, you can find it here). It generated a bit of discussion, but one point that people didn’t really say much about was #5 – “It was too clean.” I found that a little strange, since I felt that was one of the more controversial reasons (maybe too controversial for people to talk about?)

So I was thrilled when I ran across this fantastic blog post by Josiah DeGraaf today–and he hit on every single reason that clean Christian fiction has always felt a little off to me. Go ahead, read it. I’ll wait.

Anyway, there are so many fabulous points there–but for this I want to focus on the definition for clean fiction he came up with: Clean fiction does not contain acts or words that might bother readers.

Wow.

If that’s the case, I’ve made a good decision to take what might turn out to be a permanent break from writing–because I’ve got a few problems with limiting Christian fiction (as in, fiction written by Christians) to “clean fiction.”

The first is that I don’t have any idea what bothers other readers. After writing almost four books, I’m beginning to get an idea, but guessing doesn’t come naturally to me. I grew up in a mainstream Protestant denomination, and not many books were off limits. It was a shock to find that clean fiction was something associated with Christian fiction–and I’ll admit, I’m still surprised at some of the things people find objectionable in my work.

But my second problem with expecting Christians to write clean fiction is this: life isn’t clean, and I want to write realistic stories.

Let me digress here for a second. This week I’m tagging along to Arizona with my husband on a business trip–I’m writing this post from a hotel in Tucson (with some really sketchy wifi, I might add). Yesterday, my four-year-old son wanted to visit Tumacácori National Historic Park (highly recommended, by the way), a Catholic mission halfway between Tucson and the Mexican border, founded in the 17th century by Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino. And that’s all the history lesson, I swear.

The museum in the park does a great job of showcasing the history of the mission and surrounding areas, and I’ll just let this little bit speak for itself:IMG_20181014_0946271

This board scarcely scratches the surface of the situation, which affected both Europe and the New World, but my point is this: in 1767, some really bad stuff happened in southern Arizona to Christians. To missionaries. To priests.

Now think about this from an author’s point of view. Could you write their story without being graphic?

Of course. The National Park Service did it in the photo.

Can you write it without being disturbing and dark?

I don’t think you can. In fact, yesterday was my third time visiting Tumacácori but only my first time at the museum, and I would have been happy visiting another dozen times without hearing that story. It disturbed me. It made me uncomfortable. It bothered me. I’m still thinking about it a day later. If there was a fictionalized version of their forced march to the Gulf of California, would it be considered clean? I doubt it. And if someone managed to sanitize it, it wouldn’t be the same story.

Are there subplots in Asrian Skies and Unbroken Fire that disturb readers? Yep. There are. I don’t include any of them lightly, but they’re there–partly for realism, partly to kick off some character development. They’re not graphic, but I don’t sugar coat anything, and that level of detail continues in the following two books. I’ve considered deleting some references to better appeal to Christian readers, but the books are shelved in part because I can’t bring myself to do it.

Today, I realized why.

Christ came to save a broken world, not a perfectly clean one. And to ignore the darkness of the world does a disservice to the people who are living or have lived through it, don’t you think?

9 thoughts on “A little bit on Christian fiction”

  1. So much truth in this post. I wonder what the apostles, who met their own grisly deaths, would think of modern Western Christianity’s sanctions on storytelling. They certainly understood the contrast of light and dark in their own accounts.

    If you write again, write the story you are passionate about. Our pens can be a spear in our sides, and like Christ, we have not just water to bleed, but blood.

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  2. So much truth. I refuse to write comfortable fiction. And I don’t like reading ‘comfortable’ fiction. It’s so false.
    The only thing, so far, i don’t write is graphic sex, I’ll do a fade out, but I’m not pretending a married couple are attracted to eachother and enjoy sex, I simply don’t show the act.
    The book I’m writing now is violent and dripping with grief and agonizing realities. Because sometimes that is what we are faced with in life.

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    1. I don’t write graphic sex, either. I have one fade out scene (a wedding night) in my books, but that was pretty intentional and included after a lot of thought. I’m sure some aren’t ok with it, but it was important I show the beauty of that side of marriage. It’s a hard line to walk, for sure!

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  3. Amen, amen, amen! I love how you distinguished between “graphic” and “disturbing and dark”. I think that’s a key issue in this conversation, that many completely miss. We NEED things that bother us, that upset our worldview; it’s the main way we grow, is by wrestling with those things once they’re exposed.

    Granted, there is something to be said for remaining clean for the sake of mental purity. The first thing that comes to mind is my own example with violence and torture. My mind vividly creates images, so I have to avoid stories that engage a lot of that (Phil 4:8). That’s not holding me back from “reality”; hopefully I’d never have to witness/experience something like that in real life, and if I do, it would be something I want to have to lean on God for because of the first-time, real-world impact. I don’t want to engage something before God makes it time, before I’m fully equipped to process it (kind of what Heb 5:14 discusses).

    But even that is an example of graphicness, not of dealing with disturbing concepts. We need to be forced to think about hard things. Some may need it done through the Bible, others (like myself) are more impacted by seeing it exampled or paralleled in fiction. (For example, Morgan Busse’s Daughter of Light made me fully mentally grasp/realize something in Scripture that I hadn’t just by reading verses.) But we need it, either way.

    On a slightly unrelated note — have you heard of Enclave Publishing? You’re not alone in your wanting to be real with Christian fiction. They do the same thing, and they’re the first time I’ve appreciated an entire publishing company’s books rather than specific authors. If you consider publishing again, they may be a place to look into (if you haven’t already, that is).

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    1. Enclave is great! I never queried them because of their “evangelical worldview” requirement (and because I honestly love self-publishing), but I adore their mission. And isn’t the Follower of the Word trilogy awesome?

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      1. Ooh, I actually didn’t know about their “evangelical worldview” requirement! That’s good to know! (Not that it’s good or bad, but just for in the future when I consider referring people and which people.) And yes, Daughter of Light is amazing; I’m so excited to read the others <333 (Free time has not worked in my favor lately.)

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