f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Will There Always Be “Us” and “Them” ?

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

Friday, April 22, 2005

Will There Always Be “Us” and “Them” ?

Right now, nearly every CBA publishers are holding firm to the established content rules that seem to be the line of demarcation between “non-CBA” titles and “CBA” titles. Some, in fact, are entrenching more deeply on the side of CBA.

Meanwhile, book by book, most every other area is growing blurred. CBA fiction spans nearly all the genres. There are excellent selling novels from CBA publishers that barely have any explicit Christian content. There are novels gaining unanimous praise for their craft. Some of the taboos have fallen. Drinking is no longer verboten. Smoking occurs. Given what’s going on in nonfiction, I’m guessing there’s going to be an increasing openness to sympathetic characters from mainline and orthodox Christian traditions. Class and race and geography shouldn’t be a problem.

So when all those things happen, is there still going to be a dividing line? Are we still going to be talking about CBA novels?

I think we need to stop, even now. The term has already lost its usefulness. Because right now it applies to every novel that comes out of a CBA publisher. The industry is too broad and too deep. As I said the other day, "We are large, we contain multitudes." (It's the only Whitman quote I know.)

Lisa Samson’s The Living End.
Tim Downs’ Chop Shop.
Karen Kingsbury’s One Tuesday Morning.
Kristen Billerbeck’s What a Girl Wants.
Chris Well’s Forgiving Solomon Long.
Ray Blackston’s Flabbergasted.
Dale Cramer’s Bad Ground.
Karen Hancock’s Arena.
Jerry Jenkin’s Soon.

Reconcile this list. Because, right now, I can’t. You might like some of them. You might not. As I see it, the only thing these books have in common is that there’s no explicit sex, no swearing, and a Christian worldview of some sort. What an odd group of correlatives.

That’s the stamp of approval thought that makes these books a genre, though. And a particular set of readers who need that assurance are the driving force for us maintaining the CBA label. So long as that readership is vocal in its insistence of those standards “Us” and “Them” will remain.

Very likely, though, you’ll begin seeing “us” and “them” within publishing lists. Books designed to go to the very heart of CBA readership and novels for which a separate, less particular, readership exists. Hopefully, when that happens, the boundaries won’t matter as much. Great writers will tell their stories both in and out of CBA fiction. Readers will find their books. And we will laugh at those years when it seemed we could only do one or the other.