f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans

There is a nearly empty city in America right now. That's staggering to me.

When even CNN is using headlines like, "Calls for Prayer in Louisiana"...

UPDATE: Want to know where you can send aid for the Hurricane Katrina Relief? Lisa Samson mentions an organization on her blog where, in theory, 100% of your donation will go to food and aid.

Interview with Dale Cramer

InFuze has a new interview posted with Dale Cramer, author of Bad Ground and the recent novel, Levi's Will.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Fire in the Belly

This is going to be a mostly rhetorical post because I’m not sure I have any answers to the questions I’m going to ask.

First, you’re going to have to take a look at Mark Bertrand’s post at Master’s Artist from a few days ago. (If it seems like I’ve been quoting Mark a lot lately, that’s because I’m lazy and also he’s not yet figured out how to charge royalty, a loophole I’ll exploit as long as I can.)

If you refuse to read Mark’s post, and really that’s to your detriment, I’ll summarize it. A friend/mentor of Mark’s read his work-in-progress, called it technically perfect but said it lacked heart…the emotion that theoretically fuels great fiction.

To quote:
"What it needs," he said, "is fire."

"Fire?"

"You're not pissed off when you write. You're not grabbing it by the throat."

Mark’s friend didn’t mean to imply that anger is the only fuel for art. But of all the strong emotions, that’s certainly at the top of list.

Here’s the rub:

To what extent does being a “Christian” file down those rough edges that prick and bleed in other writers. And while I know we’re all in agreement that following Christ is no roadmap to a life without suffering or pain, how much does our call to peace, hope, joy, patience, kindness, etc. dull or extinguish our instinct to write from the fire in the belly.

So where do we find the fuel to fire our art? I’m unsure how interested I am in “angry” Christian writing. The things that seem to enrage many in the church these days (including Venezuela, apparently) already fill too many lines in too many books while the stuff that should turn our stomach (Sudan, anyone?) goes generally ignored under the radar. Or, too often, it becomes a novel about the topic rather than the fire that topic ignites.

The easy end answer, I suppose, is that we write out of devotion and love and passion for God. And I do agree that in a number of novels, that is certainly the fuel that burns brightest. But then our vocabulary becomes haltingly limited. And while the fire is there, the art fails.

Is there a combination that works best? What fueled Gilead—hope or sorrow? What fire burns in you?

Monday, August 29, 2005

News: Part 2 - ACFW

The American Christian Fiction Writers Conference is coming up in Nashville, TN from September 15-18. I'll be there.

I'd like to meet (at least) two unpublished novelists of immense talent there, so if you fit that description please sign up to speak with me. There are some on-going talks about a F*i*F gathering at some point during the conference. Please join us. Putting faces to internet avatars makes this all a little less digital.

UPDATED: I forgot to mention this the first time, BUT obviously at ACFW I'm representing BHP's acquisitions needs as a whole. So if your novel doesn't quite fit the tone of this site, that's no reason not to meet with me. The core of our publishing program continues to be mainstream CBA fiction and I'm happy to talk with you in Nashville.

So even if I annoy you, you still may want to schedule a meeting. Dilemma, isn't it?

News: Part 1 - Ezekiel's Shadow

The discussion/dissection of Ezekiel's Shadow will commence on October 10. That should give you plenty of time to track down a copy if you're interested in playing along from home.

Mark Bertrand and I will spend the interim hammering out the best format for this. We have agreed that all lingering disputes will be settled in a pay-per-view steel-cage match on Halloween.

Back...Sort Of

It's going to take a bit to get back up to speed here. Lots to deal with in the aftermath of going away for ten days. Although the company still appears to be running and books are being sold, so I'm not such a big cog as I like to believe.

For those I met at the Philly Writer's Conference, thanks for saying "Hi" or chatting.

(And yes for those who were wondering I did take time to enjoy an Italian hoagie during my trip east. And a cheesesteak. And a sizable cup of Thrasher's fries. I'll be taking cardiologist recommendations shortly.)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Parting Thoughts of a Summer Intern

Wow. What a ride. I can't believe that this fabulous internship is over and school starts in less than a week. Sometimes I wish I could put a time-freeze over those moments where you laugh until you cry because someone said something extremely ridiculous or where you are so intrigued with what is going on that you don't ever want it to end. But alas, God created time that moves--what a crazy world.

I didn't get to write as often as I would have liked this summer, but 20 hours a week goes by so quickly and there was so much to be done and to learn here. So I am here to share with all of you lovely people a few little nuggets of knowledge I gleaned from the wizened one that is my boss (and all his co-workers of course).

10 things I learned this summer:
1. The publishing world is not as mysterious as those inside make it seem.
2. Those inside the publishing world are real people (mostly).
3. BHP is an amazing place to work (or pretend to work in my case).
4. It's not as easy to get your book published as you think (hello slush pile).
5. Acquisitions Editors have the best work schedule ever (it doesn't exist).
6. Don't ever tell Dave your mother's name is Meg if it is Linda.
7. Don't share embarrassing stories from your past and expect your boss to not tease you mercilessly (he's just jealous).
8. Authors are not just another jewel in the crown--they are well taken care of, as are their books.
9. Athol Dickson has an ASTOUNDING book coming out this spring (no, they did not tell me to plug that--I did it all on my own--Dave is wearing off).
10. I can't tell you because I learned it in a Top Secret meeting--but boy is it good!
11. (10 doesn't really count) Having a "secret" candy drawer is not as normal as one would think.

Well, I learned so much more, but there is no time or room to tell it. Thank you all for letting me post a few thoughts. I enjoyed your interaction. God bless you all and try to enjoy the little bit summer left!

CS

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference

I'll be on the faculty there Thursday through Saturday. Hopefully I'll see a few of you .

An aside about Philly:

Minneapolis is a good town. BUT, nowhere have I found a place who can make an Italian hoagie like you find in Philly. Cheesesteaks, I assumed would be impossible to find. But an Italian sub? What in the world? It's driven me nuts. I've eaten sandwiches all across this metro area and only a few have even been decent as a meal in their own right. And always with the huge amounts of mayo! I swear, if it's bland and somewhat gelationous (think Cream of Mushroom Soup) it's a midwest staple.

(I won't be talking about hoagies at the conference. I may be wearing bits of one on my shirt and have little chunks of Amoroso bread in my satiated smile, but I'll not mention them further.)

Update: the day after I write this post, as if in answer, our local alterna-newspaper publishes this article. Only problem is that Eagen is not exactly close to where I live. It's a quandry.

I Learned a New Word Today

Monopsony - an economic term for when demand for an item comes from primarily/exclusively one source. It's analogous to a monopoly, but on the demand side, not the supply side. Basically, the buyer essentially dictates terms of purchase...and come close to getting the product for cost of production.

This is what Wal-Mart pushes closer and closer to in many of their purchasing deals.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Next Week

So it's goofy-crazy here at the moment. Some excellent things, some annoying things, some innocuous things that are getting caught in the middle and thus become annoying by proxy. Plus, The Intern is leaving and soon-to-be-published-author Tony Hines spent a few very nice hours visiting us here and my daughter's cast finally came off and I'm playing a dangerous game of chicken with the Northwest Airlines mechanics and there's a photographer who I'm about to punch and my lawn seriously needs mowed. Which is why there's no post today.

Next week, just to let you know, there will be no posts whatsoever. It's a week off for me and I've not prepared anything in my absence. Remember, there's the short story contest--which I'm already beginning to see entries for. This is a great week to get started on your story. Or finish a draft. Remember, it's only 3000 words. (Talks are ongoing to name a partner. Hopefully there will be an announcement in September.)

The rest of this week will be assorted bits and pieces. With, hopefully, an interview with the Intern to cap it off on Friday.

Ask the Intern!

Is there a question you'd like to ask our illustrious Intern about her time here with Bethany House? About what really goes on behind-the-scenes of a publishing house? About what it's like to work with a meglomaniacal dictocrat? Now's your chance!

I'll be interviewing the Intern before she wraps up her summer and heads back to school for her senior year. Email me your question--within some boundary of good taste, please--and we'll see if it makes the final cut.

Friday, August 12, 2005

The Book

You knew the answer to this didn’t you?

The book that Mark and I are going to be examining is Ezekiel’s Shadow.

Mark’s response when I asked him to participate is classic enough to quote:

“This is kind of like getting a request from a friend who wants to saw off his own head but needs help getting through the back half of the neck! So naturally, I accept. I'd hate to see your head lolling off the side, held on by half a vertebrae. Let's make a clean job of it. Thanks for thinking of me.”

My reasons on the surface for selecting Ezekiel’s are easy.

1. It’s out of print, OP, so BHP doesn’t stand to lose anything.
2. I wrote it, so it’s not like I’m attacking another author.
3. It’s flawed.

Whether there are deeper, darker reasons for my choice (morbid exhibitionism, the desire for vain self-flagellation, masochistic narcissism) I’ll leave to you armchair psychiatrists. All I know is that I want to talk about a CBA book critically and my position here doesn't allow that without me being reprimanded or fired. (Either of which I'd deserve.) So this is, pretty much, our only choice. (If you’re a CBA author and you’d like to have the same thing done with your book we can start a list. But I may need you to sign a waiver of some sort.)

Anyway, so we’re going to be tackling Ezekiel’s Shadow. It won a Christy Award. It sold around 15,000 copies, I think. It is a book I have not read in five years, so I hope to have gained an objectivity and distance from it that will both allow me to see its flaws while still letting me remember what I was trying to do with particular sections and areas. Mark is joining me for the obvious reasons that he is objective and has experience with this sort of thing. Together we should hopefully be able to pinpoint not only some weaknesses but even discuss why they went wrong.

What I’d like to do is invite you all to read it and participate in this discussion, too. Like I said, it’s OP, so I do not benefit financially at this point from you buying the book. There are used copies galore online, many for much less than a gallon of gas.

I need to confirm with Mark the week that this is going to happen. Perhaps the first week of October. After the short story contest deadline.

This experience may end up scarring me deeply or cause a deep rift in my relationship with Mark Bertrand to the point that I can’t hear the words University of Houston without curling into a ball and weeping…but I’ve talked enough about trying to become better that it doesn’t seem to out-of-line to hold myself and my writing against the standards and practices I promote.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Critical Analysis: Or, How Do We Improve?

I will make a single assumption about those stopping by this site: you have hopes of being a better writer tomorrow than you are today. We are all at different places in terms of our talent and skill and understanding. That’s wonderful. Regardless, each of us, from the award-winner to the bestseller to the rank amateur should seek to improve our craft.

Excellent. We’re agreed. So let’s go improve!

Here’s where the rubber tends not to hit the road as much. Because how does one actually go about improving? Do you just assume that your third book is better than your first? That seems plausible on some levels…but I think we know that’s not the case. Do we assume that revising a story three times instead of two will help it? Well, actually, that’s probably an assumption worth making. Do we assume that gathering informed critiques of our work will help us in its shaping? If they’re coming from trusted readers, yes, that’s probably true, too.

There’re two other methods by which authors can improve that are a little more time intensive. (And here I begin to borrow liberally from Mr. Bertrand yet again. Royalties are in the mail.)

In looking at responding to fiction, the various forms tend to group themselves into a few categories.

1. Reviews – Written post-publication, these are written with other readers in mind, essentially answering two questions: 1.) What’s the book about? and 2.) Is it worth your time?

2. Critique – Offered during the draft (pre-pub) stage, this is written with the author in mind. The intent is to improve the book on any number of levels before it comes out or is submitted for publication.

3. Analysis – Written post-publication, this is a more thorough examination of a novel often written with other writers (or scholars) in mind. The assumption is the novel is well-crafted enough to be worth looking at quite closely. (Most of my discussions of books to the right, hopefully, fall into this category.)

4. Critical Analysis – Written post-publication, this form is linked to analysis above but comes from a different direction. Here, the book examined is flawed at some level and so the intent in looking at it closely is to learn from, for lack of a better word, failure.

Analysis and critical analysis are the two forms that are the most time-consuming, but potentially the most instructive. They are the engines that should drive reviews…but reviews often don’t take the space to fully explain or explore all that worked or failed in a particular piece.

What waits ahead of us is a foray into the world of critical analysis.

The assumption underlying this exercise is that no book is so idiosyncratic that deconstructing will prove worthless or unhelpful to aspiring writers. Narrative, story, plot, character development—these things tend to be fairly universal at some level across all fiction. A book that stumbles in one of these respects may either remind us of problem areas in our own fiction or implicitly show us how it should be done.

My contention is that you can learn in this manner from any title. What we’ve skirted around in many of our conversations is that we’ve simply not engaged CBA fiction on this level very often. And if CBA fiction is a category linked by certain characteristics and characters and content choices, then it seems like it’d be helpful to tackle a book within our industry instead of always going to ABA.

The goal, after all, is Phoenix in nature. To destroy something in order that something new and better will replace it.

Otherwise, how do we really know we’re improving?

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Getting Specific

CBA fiction is great.

CBA fiction is awful.

These seem to be the most popular viewpoints in much of the online discussion on the state of Christian fiction. Neither ends up being all that helpful to us because, it’s becoming clear, CBA fiction is too diverse and broad to classify as anything in general.

At one point you could argue fairly convincingly that CBA fiction was only for female readers. If you browse shelves, those days are obviously gone.

Not too long ago you could be reasonably assured that the gospel message would appear in CBA fiction. Now a growing percentage of books tackle Christian and faith themes, often without explicit evangelical language.

Ten years ago, we had half the number of house publishing fiction that we have today, and so the scope and breadth of the books arriving in the market was far less.

There are still some valid generalizations to be made about our industry.

1. Content restrictions are still in place, though the specifics of these seem to be morphing and changing.

2. Fiction authors writing tend to be racially homogenous; the readership is often seen in the same way.

I’m wary about making any generalizations about craft however, because it seems to do no good. We’re unhappy talking about “good writing” and “bad writing,” even though I think at some level we all agree that there are objective standards. Not every novel, after all, by a Christian writer should be published.

This is where I think we need to leave the realm of the general and move into specifics. We need to become like first-year-medical students. Anatomy, to this point, has always been in textbooks or with skeletons. Now is the time we need to head to the slab and find a body to dissect.

So that’s what we’re going to do. At some point in the weeks upcoming, Mark Bertrand and I are going to take scalpel and magnifying glass to a CBA novel. (Mark has his MFA in creative writing from the University of Houston giving him definable skill in this area.) The point isn’t to tear apart this novel for kicks but to learn from it. If it, in some small way, is representative of CBA fiction, are there pitfalls and problems in this book that can be diagnostic in approaching other CBA novels.

I’ll let you know the book on Friday. And the part you can play in our discussions.

(Tomorrow we’ll talk a little more in-depth about critical analysis—essentially the attempt to learn through deconstruction.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Reading Critically

There’s been a lot of hullaballo here and there about whether to critique or not to critique and whether book critics are actually the spawn of Satan his ownself and whether we’d all just be better off getting along.

This isn’t a post in that vein. Instead, it’s a small thought about the skill of reading critically, in general, and whether this is something we can learn, develop, and turn on and off as needed.

No matter what we think of “critics” I don’t think anybody has fully denounced the need for critical feedback of our writing at some stage. Nothing we put down is holy writ, and if you think it is, I have a jacket with rather long sleeves I wouldn’t mind snugging around you. (Or failing that, I implore you not to send me your work.)

So if we do want people to comment and critique our work, we are saying that there is a particular kind of reading we want them to employ. And I think it’s different from simply sitting down with a book and enjoying it at the beach.

I’ve written before about some traits that I think most good “readers” have. The “discerning” part mentioned on the list is the trait that comes most into play in reading critically. It’s an awareness while reading of the mechanics and machinery of the story. It’s a trait editors develop throughout their careers…the ability to read with a pen in the hand.

And it’s quite different from pleasure reading. In-house here, one of The Intern’s prime responsibilities has been launching and managing a new review aspect to our department.** A little like focus groups, this is gathering input from potential readers on projects either before they're contracted or before they're edited.

Proposals and manuscripts go out and we get readers’ thoughts in return. What one always takes with a grain of salt is how critical these reviews are. People’s mindsets and expectations are completely different when given a review “assignment” next to simply picking up a book and reading it for enjoyment.

The “review” focuses on the negative. What can and should be fixed? This is the time to get it done, so focus on the broken. The “intention” of the review is critical in nature.

Pleasure reading is often the opposite. Theoretically, you’ve spent money on a book intending to enjoy it. Do you really want to ruin that by nit-picking a book to death? (I, for instance, just finished Michael Connelly’s The Closers. Is it an astounding piece of literature? No. Did I give myself over to it for four hours and simply enjoy the experience? Yes. Did I find any major things that detracted from my reading experience? Nope. Could I have found lots of minor things? You bet. I just didn’t try.)

Amazon, in some ways, has done a bit of a disservice by turning everybody and their uncle into a critic. The day of the pleasure read may be dead. Not only is it not enough to read a book, now you’re supposed to have formulated and posted your opinion on it within hours of closing the cover. That’s not a trend that’s necessarily all that positive. It does honestly reflect the self-absorption and narcissism of our time…eg., the final word on this book hasn’t been said until I weigh in.

We do needs critics. We don’t all need to be critics, however. Except in our own writing and when we’re called on by friends. Otherwise, what’s the harm in reading something for the enjoyment?

**If you are interested in joining our growing list of potential readers, The Intern would love to hear from you. You can email her here.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Affirming What We Already Know

Fiction is culturally irrelevant. So says the NYTimes. And they're right about everything. (Actually this bookends nicely with the Jonathan Franzen article we read two weeks ago.)

Friday, August 05, 2005

Have a Nice Weekend. Write Something!

No post today. And The Intern is currently entangled in a "fun" project from early 20th-century Christian writer Amy Carmichael, so she's in no state to be blogging.

Think about the writing contest mentioned below. If you would, mention it on your own website or blog. Spread the word. We got about 50 entries last time, and I wouldn't mind approaching that or beating.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Next Short Story Contest

Okay, given a few of my posts today and the writings of others around the web, I think it's time to focus back on why we're here: faith in fiction. With that in mind, it seems appropriate that we should think about having the next short story contest.

Last year's Christmas contest (with InFuze partnering) was, I thought, successful. Fun and diverse entries... and I know at least one author nearing a book contract (not with BHP) whose work first got some notice there. I'll post more about that if I hear something.

This time around I'd like to up the difficulty a bit.

One of the most crucial (and hard) things in writing Christian fiction is the "God talk"--making it sound authentic and natural. And one of the hardest things to write is a conversion scene. Yet, this should be the most powerful thing we should read--this should render us awestruck that a name has been written in the Book. (Metaphorically or literally, depending on how much Calvin you like in your theology.)

So, I'd like us to write conversion stories. Simple as that.

We complain a lot about bad conversion stories, so let's see if we can write something more compelling.

Rules (to this point, more may be added)
1. 3000 words or less.
2. I have no definition for what a conversion story is, but we're talking about some Christian salvific experience. It also needs to be fiction, no autobiography or memoir.
3. Deadline will be Friday, September 30, 5:00pm central time. Earlier is appreciated. You can email your entry. One story per writer. Please send it as an attachment rather than in the text of the email.
4. I haven't talked with anybody about partnering on this one, but I'll try to track somebody down. Let me know if you have suggestions or contacts at online journals.
5. There will be prizes for the chosen finalists. They will be more symbolic than impressive. Unless someone wants to give me a grant.
6. But remember, these things get read and a book contract emerged out of the last group.

I'll post this at the discussion board, too. I think people critiqued each others' works last time, and I encourage that again. (If you're not a member of the discussion board, I highly recommend it. It's free and has lots of nice, smart people going deeper-in-depth on these issues in a mature and thoughtful way. Unless I show up.)

The Quills Nominees: Or, Dave Is About to Have Coronary

Remember The Quills? That new book award that's somehow going to include popularity into its judging equation? Well, the finalists have been announced. I haven't been this irritated by something so unimportant since Forrest Gump won all those Oscars.

Here's the Religion/Spirituality group - Personally, I'm pulling for Deepak.

General Fiction
- So Gilead, which came out last year is going against Hornby's newest, which came out practically last week? I'd go with Gilead here, not that it needs another award.

Graphic Novel
- This is an insane category. Judging a book like Bone, which is essentially years of storytelling vs. an intentionally single volume like Persepolis or In the Shadow of No Towers makes no sense. Bone should win.

Debut Author - I don't know most of these, but I'll go with the food book because its simple message of moderation is one Americans don't seem to understand. Also, The Historian was boring.

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
- The Historian was still boring. I like Michael Connelly.

Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
- The Historian, a book ABOUT DRACULA!, wasn't nominated in this category. Go, Susanna Clarke!

Poetry - So the goal is to increase the visibility of books and yet you're about to give the award to dead people? There aren't five living poets worth honoring?

Health/Self Improvement
- Malcolm Gladwell's Blink?!!? Did I read the same book as these people?

Humor - The Daily Show's America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy was hilarious.

Children's Chapter Book/Middle Grade - Are you kidding me? Harry Potter? Cornelia Funke? Lemony Snicket? In this category? And yet Wormwood and Abarat are teen?

All in all, this is train wreck. I think the collective response of America is going to be: shrug. But others have reminded me, forcefully, that bringing books attention on TV can't be a bad thing. So I'll tune in. October 22. NBC.

Dallas Willard on the Emerging Church

I've talked before about the echoes I see in this discussion of expanding the vision for Christian fiction and what the emerging church is doing. Jordon Cooper posted this quote from Dallas Willard, speaking about the emergent church in Leadership Journal. I think it has resonance.
They have a justifiable and healthy reaction against the model of programmatic church, and I think that it's good in many respects. I hope and pray that they find their way and bring us something really positive and good. That remains to be seen. The great challenge for the emerging church is determining their message. Reacting against the modern church is not a gospel. But if their message becomes living in the kingdom at the street level, then that's going to be wonderful.

The penultimate and concluding sentences are the key to our own discussions here. While our fiction doesn't correlate 100% to "living in the kingdom at the street level" I think that's an implied part of the "reality" we want to see in our novels. My intention, as much as possible, is to make that the focus and purpose of this blog. How do we write those stories? Our time of reaction and critique needs to be fading. Our time of producing new voices and kingdom building books needs to dawn.

(Also, read Michael Snyder's post today at the Master's Artist. It's not totally on this topic, but there's a sense in which it is.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Potential Ratings

We have two competing camps. One want Christian books to mean, “books safe enough to pass on to my precocious daughter. The other wants books that understand and explore the difference between milk and meat. Perhaps the answer is not in ratings, but in the simple acronym coding suggested in the comments by Dan K.

To wit, some suggestions:

SfP10D – Safe for Precocious 10 year-old-Daughter

CK – Chaste Kissing

NCKFbIOWP – Non-Chaste Kissing Followed by Inevitable Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy

UMNC – Undergarments Mentioned in Non-Sexual Context

UMSCFbIOWP – You can guess.

BSPrTR – Bestselling Scenes of Pre-Tribulation Rapture

ZGAWWFH - Zany Great Aunt Who Wears Funny Hats

TSCtFA - Thoughtful Spiritual Content that Feels Authentic

OP – Overt Preaching

MCS – Moving Conversion Scene

ToCS – Tacked-on Conversion Scene

EHE – Earned Happy Ending

ToHE – Tacked-on Happy Ending

ECWT – Edgy Christian With Tattoo

MHWT – Mean-spirited Heathen With Tattoo

ADCoEG – Acceptable Death Count of Enemies of God

GEPROSW – Generic Exclamation Poorly Replacing Obvious Swear Word

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ratings

In yesterday’s post and the comments, the notion of a ratings system has been bandied about. I’d like to dwell on the idea a little longer, not because I support the notion, but because I think it gets to the heart of what we’re trying to figure out in this industry. And also because I haven’t any other ideas for things to write today.

I visited the MPAA site for a little research on movie ratings. Without getting too deep into the history of the thing I found these snippets from their website interesting:
By summer of 1966, the national scene was marked by insurrection on the campus, riots in the streets, rise in women's liberation, protest of the young, doubts about the institution of marriage, abandonment of old guiding slogans, and the crumbling of social traditions. It would have been foolish to believe that movies, that most creative of art forms, could have remained unaffected by the change and torment in our society.

The result of all this was the emergence of a "new kind" of American movie - frank and open, and made by filmmakers subject to very few self-imposed restraints.

In 1968 after the old “Production Code” self-regulation proved fruitless, the MPAA launched their first ratings structure—at that time G, M, R, and X. Its self-proclaimed purpose:
The basic mission of the rating system is a simple one: to offer to parents some advance information about movies so that parents can decide what movies they want their children to see or not to see. The entire rostrum of the rating program rests on the assumption of responsibility by parents. If parents don't care, or if they are languid in guiding their children's moviegoing, the rating system becomes useless. Indeed, if you are 18 or over, or if you have no children, the rating system has no meaning for you. Ratings are meant for parents, no one else.

“Won’t somebody please think about the children!?” shouts Helen Lovejoy in The Simpsons.

Ratings in music (Parental Advisory, Explicit Lyrics) and video games (ESRB has seven of them including breaks at 3, 6, 10, 13, and 17 years!) soon followed.
::
Where I think we find ourselves today (to look back at the MPAA history) is that, while not an abandonment, there is a questioning of old guiding slogans. And there are writers out there looking at producing a “new kind” of Christian fiction—frank and open. (This isn’t actually new at all. But pursuing it within the CBA industry is.)

Whether we want to admit it or not, in years past, simply being published by a CBA publisher was its own form for rating. Dr. Jonathan Cordero has written a academic paper on the industry’s self-refereeing tendencies in the past. (Thanks, Mick Silva, for the link.) What is up in the air is how well those self-policing tendencies will work. And whether greater external controls are going to be sought by consumers looking to return to the days when “such-and-such a brand meant ‘safe for my kids.’”

Monday, August 01, 2005

Adult Fiction

There’s that oft-quoted verse in 1 Corinthians 13 that talks about speaking and reasoning as a child, but that a point comes where it’s time to put childish things behind us. But then there’s Jesus’ admonition that a child’s faith is something not to scorn, but to strive for.

I bring this up because within the CBA industry one you thing realize is that our “adult” books are being read by kids. My wife was a big Bethany House fan growing up; she loved and still loves the tales of Janette Oke. A colleague of mine has admitted to having a crush on one of Janette’s youthful characters as a young teen.

The reason oft-cited (by parents) for why they offer their children our books is that they know they are going to be “safe.” (There’s that word again. Mark Bertrand dissected implications of “safe” fiction on Friday. I won’t rehash it.)

It is reassuring to know as a parent that the book you will give your precocious ten-year-old daughter will not raise unwanted problems or questions through troublesome, provocative content.

What I struggle with is what it means to publish fiction that must be suitable for being read by ten-year-olds. Some will be. Gentle fiction has had an enormous, devoted following through generations: from Christy to Little House on the Prairie to Janette Oke’s beautiful series of prairie books.

I don’t think that’s a terminus however in where we feel we can confront readers. Jesus’ is calling us to a faith of unbridled joy and trust, but Paul admonishes us to reason as adults.

So what of books that tackle “adult” topics—perhaps infidelity or divorce or abuse or a variety of other topics. Are “ratings” the answer? Concerned conservative consumers have forced these moves in the movie, music, and video game industry. Books, for whatever, reason have been passed by. That’s fine in my estimation. UNLESS, the implicit understand is: If it’s in a Christian book store, my eleven-year-old should be able to read it! To me that’s too constricting a call. Shouldn't there be room for our books to "put childish things behind them" and stand before the dark glass, no matter how perplexing and confusing the view might be.