The Story Behind My Blog's Title

The Story Behind My Blog's Title
Why is my blog named "My Father's Oldsmobile"? Click on the car and find out.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Clean Doesn't Equal Christian and Vice-Versa

I have a book coming out in December in which the main character is a preacher, and at the beginning of the story he lies.

Sort of.

What he really does is withhold some information because he doesn't want to hurt someone he cares for. His hope is that if he solves the problem quickly enough, telling this person won't be necessary.

Now, you can probably guess that since this happens at the beginning of the story, things don't go the way my preacher character intended, and his decision leads to a bit of a mess.

So here's a question: Does this setup, and the fact the character who stumbles is a preacher, exclude this book from the genre of Christian fiction?

Would it surprise you if I told you that this book was rejected by one publisher of Christian fiction for that exact reason?

I guess everyone has their own opinions on this, and further into this article I'll share mine, but to begin with, I think it's important to consider what qualifies a book as Christian fiction. There's a lot of debate.

Some feel that the primary purpose of Christian fiction should be to provide "safe" stories for Christian readers. What does "safe" mean? From posts on this subject, and readers' reviews, what I've come to understand is that when a Christian says they want a story to be safe, they generally mean that a story marked as Christian fiction should not introduce any language, imagery or situations that might cause the reader's mind to drift into unsavory territory. Now you've probably already guessed that this is highly subjective. What I consider "safe", someone else may find offensive, and vice-versa.

What I fear has happened, though, is that publishers of Christian fiction have become so afraid of offending anyone, that they've limited stories to such narrow guidelines that the realism that is Christianity has been lost. The characters in the books don't have the struggles and temptations that we, as Christians, face on a daily basis. At most, they may have had them in the past, but overcame them before the story began.

Do you ever wonder how they overcame them?

I did. And that's what motivated me to pick up my very first Inspirational novel some years ago. When I read the blurb, I thought the character might be someone I could relate to, and since the character's struggle was similar to my own, perhaps the book might provide some insight.

Now, I know you may be thinking, "Shawna! It's fiction! What were you expecting?"

Well, fiction is written by people. People have their own set of experiences. My hope was that the author used her personal insight, gained from her own experiences or observations, to create a character with a real struggle who found a real solution. But that's not what I found. What I found was the issue I wanted to read about disappeared before the story began.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that it's not my intention to denigrate such a book. The set of expectations I had were clearly not compatible with what the book was intended for. It was written to be "safe". And I'm certain that many others' expectations were met when they read that book. It was very clean, so to speak. And I would certainly classify it as a Christian book.

So that brings me back to my story that releases in December, and... my November release, and my book that came out in May; and quite frankly every book that I intend to write. These stories deal -- and will deal -- with a variety of controversial issues experienced by my Christian characters, and in some instances my characters fall to the temptation before them. Are these books Christian for including such things?

Well, I certainly hope so. Because what these things reflect is my life, and I am a Christian. These things reflect the lives of other Christians around me. Writing openly about real life, in all of its ugliness, lets others know that they aren't alone in their struggles, and no one is beyond God's greatest gift; the gift of Grace.

It's important for Christians to keep their thoughts pure, and that's why I applaud authors of "safe" Christian fiction. But it's equally important to use our talent to share the glory that is God's Grace, offered to us through the sacrifice of His only Son.

What is more Christian than that?


  1. I personally feel that any story that focuses on strengthening a faith or getting back to God, etc. qualifies. I may be wrong, but I feel your story fits!

  2. Well, I have read said story, and it is most definitely Christian. It is a story about selfless love, about putting the needs of someone else before your own.

    I agree with you whole-heartedly on this topic. There is nothing wrong with "safe" if that is what you are looking for. But if you need real, then real needs to be available!

    I love what you say about no one being beyond God's Grace. So true.

  3. Fiction that isn't real -- a real story about a real person dealing with a real struggle -- is no more than a drug --something to usher them off into fantasy land so they can forget life. Christian fiction shouldn't anesthetize us against life, it should transform it.

  4. Oh, Shawna -- three cheers and more for a great post. You're right on the mark. I've only recently broken into the Christian inspirational market, and as I broaden its exposure via social loops, etc., what I've found to be the case of 'non inspy' readers is exactly what you discuss here. They tell me, "Christian fiction isn't realistic. It doesn't deal with how flawed (aren't we all!) but faithful Christians are dealing with the issues of modern culture. At present I'm reading Karen Kingsbury, and the woman is, quite simply, a revelation to me about how wonderfully developed Christian fiction can deal with us as sinners, as redeemed and beloved children of God, and tackle weighty issues and realistic circumstances. I love Keith's comment about CF not being meant to anesthetize, but transform! AMEN.

  5. Marianne, this is how I feel about Francine Rivers too. If you get the chance, read Redeeming Love. Both Francine and Karen have impacted people's lives through their writing. It's really wonderful!

  6. Great honest post, Shawna. And I love Keith's word: "anesthetize" -- I think that is such a vivid term to describe "Christian Fiction" which devalues the pain of bad choices/sin. Thanks for being real, Shawna, and for writing real characters doing real things with real consequences!

  7. Real vs safe - oh, great thoughts, Shawna. In all there art there are audiences who love, like, tolerate, dislike, despise our offerings. It's up to the consumer to choose, but also up to the artist not to misrepresent.

  8. Shawna, Such an important topic— what *is* Christian fiction. I remember years ago Calvin Miller's bottom line answer: "If it's Christian, it will be optimistic."

  9. Late but finally here! Great post Shawna. You're a blessing to me. :) I am very proud of you and your work, too. Keep on writing real. :)

  10. Thanks for a great post, Shawna. Real is where its at - because we serve a 'real' savior and we face 'real' problems.

  11. I think you've made a great decision about your work Shawna, and I will keep reading! Good post!


  12. This is excellent. I am still on the lookout for a book where the character actually falls into temptation. Where they struggle! I know one author that just irritates me because the characters are so "clean" and it seems they never really struggle with the thing, they have the perfect family and just sort of float on a level above the rest of us. My dream is to write a book (I am not really a writer yet) that tells my story through a character. I read a blog post giving advice to writers thought that says we shouldn't write about our personal wounds because it is too obvious. I have a story to tell that needs telling, so I want to write about my wounds. They're all I know about. I can't write about "your" wounds, or "her" wounds with any degree of real-ness. YOu know what I mean? I would love to read your book No Other. Do you have a printed copy of the book available?


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If you're curious about the story behind the name of my blog, click on the car. :)