Sunday, July 17, 2005

Sometimes I get irked . . .


when I hear people bashing Christian fiction, faith fiction, whatever you want to call it. In most of these cases, people either haven't read it, or they haven't read it in the last five years, or they read ONE book that could be called "Christian" and have written off the entire genre--and its authors.

I also get irked when I hear the old tired arguments about literary versus popular or "commercial" fiction. As if the quality of a book can be determined by the number of words per sentence! Good grief, if there's one place where we ought to be forebearing and gentle with each other, it's in the area of the arts! Taste is so subjective, and what may thrill me may leave you lukewarm.

What the Spirit uses to speak to me may not apply to you.

I've read literary (and commercial!) fiction that put me to sleep, and that, my friend, is the unforgiveable sin in this market. If a book is to tickle and touch my heart and life, it's got to keep me involved.

I'm not irked--I'm hurt--when I read comments by believers criticizing the work of other believers. Our mothers were right--if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Or if you must say something, let's try spurring each other to excellence, let's teach each other; let's keep lifting the bar and encouraging each other to offer nothing less than excellence to our Lord. Whether you write for the Christian market or the world at large, if you are a believer, then you should be offering the work of your hands and heart as a worthy sacrifice.

I'll admit I'm not perfect in this area--it's all too easy to find fault with others' work. In my standard speech, I frequently joke that working writers love to read others' books and gleefully note mistakes in the margin. Okay, so maybe I do that . . . in private. Father, strike me upside the head if I do that in public. Help me to keep my teaching examples anonymous, just as I'd appreciate it if another writer kept me anonymous while pointing out mistakes in my early books. (Better yet, help me make up "bad examples" on the fly.)

This past February I taught the fiction track at the Florida Christian Writer's Conference. Because that venue is within driving distance of my home, I loaded my trunk with a box of one of my old titles--enough for everyone to have a copy. I sent my class home one night with a homework assignment--using the techniques I'd just taught them in class, edit chapter one.

Oh, yeah, there was LOTS of room for improvement. After we'd gone through several pages, one of my students asked, "How did this ever get published?"

"Because things were different then," I told her. "Now things are better. The quality is better, the writing is better, the editors are sharper--many of them are sharper than their equivalents at general market publishing houses."

So that's why I get irked when I hear people trashing Christian fiction as if it were a shoddy stepsister to "real literature." It's not--my brothers and sisters are writing their hearts out, producing quality literature that will amaze you.

When I attended the Maass conference a few weeks ago, I offered one of my scenes for my critique group. When I'd finished reading it aloud, I remarked, "And that's Christian fiction . . ." and one woman in the group nearly fell off her chair.

Oh, yeah. We've come a long way, baby. So before you write us off or offer that snide comment--or allow someone else's to go unchallenged--pick up one of the new novels and read it.

The iron is continually being sharpened. As it should be.

David once said, "I will not offer to the Lord that which cost me nothing."

Amen. Our offerings cost a lot . . . in terms of work, study, and yes, critical thinking for private perusal. We dig deeper and spill our hearts, unveiling our most private places in the hope that what we write will reach farther than a person's intellect or funny bone. We write to influence hearts and lives. We write so our words can be a tool of the Spirit of God.

Well, I'll climb off my soapbox for now. Tomorrow, after an interview in the a.m., I have to write the first 5,000 words of my WIP.

Maybe I'll get to bed early. :-)

8 comments:

BJ Hoff said...

Angie--

The roaring sound you hear is my applause. Long and loud and gleeful.

BJ

Accidental Poet said...

Angela, you are "lifting the bar". I've just been poking around your website and read the letter from the reader who was disappointed that Peyton MacGruder had no conversion experience. I just have to say ...I applauded that. The message is so completely there that a conversion experience would have been heavy handed and intrusive and disappointing. As it is, The Note is the first book that has made me cry in a long, long time. Thank you for that.

Susan Plett

Robin Bayne said...

Great post!

Cindy said...

Hi Angela...I loved this post, and used part of it as a "Quote o' the Day" on my own blog.

As a lover and defender of Christian fiction myself, I think you couldn't have said it better!

Sherry said...

Aren't book reviewers supposed to review? Can't we speak the truth in love? Wouldn't you want reviewers to write honest assesments of your latest novel---not just puff pieces? I try to write honestly and, yes, critically, about the books I read in hopes of helping readers and writers to find each other. Sometimes I must say that I didn't like a book, that I thought it was poorly written or just didn't work for some reason or another. I agree that personal slurs are off limits, and there are times when the it's best to say the least you can and leave it alone. However, for the quality of fiction offered by Christian publishers to improve and continue improving, we must have critics and discerning readers.

lisa said...

Great post, Angie. Here, here! I think it would be fun for any lay-reviewer to offer up their own life's work for our review!! Hey, Bob, nice spreadsheet, but I think you should've used a different font. Julia, you didn't line up the hamburger, the cheese and the bun just so. Dr. Brown, I don't like to see blood during surgery, and you always have blood during surgery!

I could care less anymore what reviewers who have no credentials write. The internet gives anyone on-line a voice. But it doesn't give them credibility.

After all is said and done, them that can write novels, do.

And all the the self-hype about there not being a market for the good stuff in Christian publ., read: "The wonderful, insightful, poetic sort of thing *I* write that's far better than all the pedestrian drivel out there" simply isn't true anymore.

Oooh, nice place to rant a bit! If I did it on my own blog . . . I might burst into flames or something! :O

Anna said...

My response to this lovely post can best be summed up with: thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou. See? This is why all I need to see is "Angela Hunt" on a book cover, and it's in my basket.

After reading much Christian bashing on other blogs, this is a wonderful answer. Yeah. What she said.

Katy said...

Angela,

I'm putting this post together with the one you posted July 23, extolling one of my favorite magazines.

You must not be saying here that you oppose negative book reviews, even if they make the poor writer cringe on occasion. Otherwise you would have been put off by some of the reviews in Bookmarks.

On Page 51 of the issue you have pictured, in the review of The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd, the New York Times is quoted, saying "If a computer had been asked to combine romance, spirituality, nature, tourism, and violent self-mutilation it might have come up with something like this."

On page 61, in the review of The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Letham, The Fort Worth Star Telegram is quoted, saying "While it's rare that a writer is willing to place himself under such a powerful microscope, doing so is based on an arrogant conceit: that he believes himself interesting enough to be studied by others. He's wrong."

Do I understand you correctly? That blanket bashing of Christian books is unfair, but a review of an individual book, even if that review turns nasty, is fair game?