f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Frothing at the Mouth Like Cujo

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Frothing at the Mouth Like Cujo

As I mentioned yesterday, I was interviewed by CBA Marketplace for a roundtable discussion on the place of “edgy” fiction in the Christian market. “Edgy” wasn’t really defined in the piece other than to say it would be fiction that would appeal to twentysomethings who would otherwise ignore Christian fiction.

On some levels that’s true. If you look at websites and magazines that appeal to younger Christians they tend to use imagery, design, and tones that convey a more aggressive attitude. They also tend to tackle issues that, in general, older generations are little more uncomfortable with—or last least review movies, music, and television shows that older generations certainly aren’t watching. And that’s considered “edgy” by a lot of mainstream Christians.

If that’s the first step, so be it. But it can’t be the last step. And it can’t be a step in-and-of-itself. Reiterated many times in the article and by many people is the fact that it isn’t the content of these books that’s the problem—it’s the craft and construction of the books themselves. Content is just one aspect we have to address. And it’s the easiest to be frank. Getting writers to train themselves to do the hard work of writing is a whole other ball of wax.

I also want to take a moment to rant if I might.

Rant begins.
We were asked the question: “Can you make a case for “gritty” fiction that deals frankly with thorny subjects and portrays characters honestly—warts and all?”

Reread that question. Reread that question again. I’m sure you have an answer formulated—most of which should include, “It’s sad this question even needs to be asked.” Now look at what we’re up against.

[From a retailer] “The edgier fiction gets, the less retailers trust the publisher. All is takes is one customer to return a book with an objection, and we’re more wary about purchasing from [the publisher] in the future.”
This, more than anything in our industry (even Testamints), infuriates me. I see red when I read or hear stuff like this.

One complaint. Do you know anything else in the world (outside breaking the law) where wholesale change occurs if one person walks into a store and is upset because a glass of wine is mentioned? Or the word “damn” is used? Or sex is had by people who don’t believe in Jesus? And just one person. Do we understand how much power we’re giving that person?

What this amounts to is spiritual blackmail. “Do what I like or I’ll raise a ruckus.” It’s training people to deride the freedom we’re allowed by Christ in non-creedal issues. And turns the cross into a bludgeon to make art conform to an extraordinarily narrow interpretation of life and faith.

Stores have it tough because, to be honest, it’s a tenuous livelihood. You rarely go into Christian retailing thinking you’re coming out a millionaire. And if there’s a personal boycott it affects them in their bottom-line. Publishers are affected less—so far as I know there’s never been a HUGE uproar or protest against a publisher because of non-theological content of a single title—but we don’t test those lines too often. Nobody wants to be first. So we pass it on to writers, telling them what to write and what to avoid. There’s a lot of smart and creative people who say that art needs to be practiced in an environment outside of censorship. That environment, sad to say, isn’t the CBA.

And so one little old lady has just tipped a domino that has handcuffed our industry for years.

Well, you know what, I think it’s a bluff. I don’t think one person walking into a store has that much power. We’ve simply given it to her. I think if a book is a certain quality then the anger it raises in a minority will be minimal to the joy it brings the majority. Stores need to learn simply not to let little old ladies buy such books and publishers need to market and promote such titles so little old ladies (and how derogatory am I being with that label? Sorry.) don’t want to buy the titles. The answer isn’t (as is suggested in the article) warning labels on the outside. We don’t need ratings for our books. We need awareness and openness and the fortitude to say, “Thanks for your opinion, little old lady, but I think there’s a generation out there different from yours that will be powerfully challenged by this book.”
Rant ends.

Thanks for listening.