Thursday, March 01, 2007

RLH: One Woman's Inspirational

Every so often, discussions erupt in the general writing world about "inspirational" novels. Readers and writers who are not of the evangelical Christian persuasion object to the fact that there aren't "inspirational" novels published for or about Catholics, Hindus, Jews, New Age, etc. Actually, there often are books published that feature such characters, but they are not a defined market as is the CBA market. (The CBA, made up of Evangelical Christian booksellers and publishers, has been around more than 50 years.)

First of all, let me say that few (if any) of the Christian writers I know refer to themselves as "inspirational writers." We know that what we write is Christian fiction. That's our worldview, our belief, our passion. However, the common use of the word "inspirational" to describe our books has made it impossible to completely avoid the term. I have won many awards for my Inspirational fiction, but they all come from secular, not religious, organizations. I can't say for certain how far back said term goes, but Romance Writers of America presented "Inspirational Awards" to Christian romance fiction back in the mid-1980's.

Readers seek books that affirm their worldview and belief systems. Of course, we enjoy books that reveal other cultures and customs and religions. I personally loved the novel, The Kite Runner, about a Muslim in Afghanistan. And what appealed to me the most about The Kite Runner was the thread of redemption that ran through it. Redemption, of course, is a huge part of the evangelical Christian faith. So when I read that book, while learning new things about another culture and another faith, the novel also affirmed my Christian worldview.

I can understand the frustration of readers who would like to find more "inspirational" fiction about their own faiths. What I cannot understand is why they level their displeasure at the CBA publishers for not publishing said books. It's unrealistic to expect Evangelical Christian publishers to release books that aren't written from an evangelical Christian worldview. Evangelical Christians are the target audience. CBA publishers don't target readers who are Hindu or Jewish or New Age for the same reasons a romance publisher doesn't target readers of horror or sci-fi. Because that wouldn't be good business. CBA publishers know the readers they are publishing their books for the same way marketing giant Harlequin knows the readers they are publishing their books for.

Redeeming Love, the awesome book by Francine Rivers, is an example of just how gritty and real and deep CBA fiction can get. For anyone who thinks Christian fiction readers are afraid of such things in their novels, make note that Redeeming Love hasn't left the bestseller list since 1997 when Multnomah first published the book. This story is about a girl sold to a pedophile who is later forced into prostitution. Even after finding a man who loves her, she returns more than once to a brothel.

Anyone who says that Christian fiction is about perfect characters and that flaws are only alluded to and not explored in depth hasn't been reading much of the fiction being released in the CBA market today. Edgy, gritty Christian fiction about complex characters who are flawed and entirely human abound. I write novels about imperfect Christians because that's the only kind of people I know. And the Christian novels I read are filled with flawed characters who reveal their deepest, darkest thoughts and emotions. I would run out of room if I tried to list all of the CBA authors who are writing such books.

Author BJ Hoff had a wonderful Charis Connection post along the same lines. I invite you to read: Writing Grace

I wrote 30 books for the general ABA market. I was free to use curse words (I did to some extent), name intimate body parts (I avoided for the most part), write sex scenes (I did), etc. But I was not free to write about my Christian faith except in very general, euphemistic terms. As my faith and my relationship with Jesus deepened, so did the need to write more openly about what mattered most to me. Which is what drew me to write for the CBA — the freedom I was offered by the CBA publishers to write about adultery, family secrets, alcoholism, rebellion against God, etc. To tell stories about realistic characters, struggling with real-life issues.

So when I hear griping that a writer can't use curse words in CBA-targeted fiction, I want to tell them first that restrictions and requirements are everywhere in publishing. They're just different, depending upon the market they are writing for.

Robin Lee Hatcher is the best-selling author of The Victory Club and Loving Libby
Web site:


At 9:43 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

Profound post, Robin. Thanks. You said, "...restrictions and requirements are everywhere in publishing. They're just different, depending upon the market they are writing for."

That's so true.

At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, Robin. I think those who complain the loudest and most aren't necessarily reading Christian fiction. It's available in all forms--the light and fluffy or the heavy and darker.
And, in fact, in some of the more recent novels published and sold in CBA stores, there isn't word one of the salvation of Jesus Christ which saddens me.
A good writer can do many things with the gospel without being preachy or even blatant.
And I agree about Redeeming Love: a truly profound book.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger PatriciaW said...

I've heard so many writers praise Redeeming Love that I recently checked it out of the library to read.

I've been having a discussion with another Christian writer about not being able to publish a gritty manuscript. You explain more eloquently than I ever could about the restrictions and requirements of the publishing industry. I'm a newbie but I get having rules. Society is based on them. When we don't like the rules in one arena, we have to find (or create) another arena that has requirements we can live with.

Of course, some writers may be ahead of their time, because restrictions and requirements change. Some of what is published now by the CBA wouldn't have seen the light of day twenty years ago.

Still, I can also understand the frustration of believing in one's baby only to have it rejected as not quite fitting with the other kids in the sandbox. The more I learn about publishing, the more I discover I need to learn while maintaining confidence and God-given direction for my goals.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I think a lot of the good CBA fiction being published today could easily be read by non-Christians simply looking for a good novel without all the language and sensuality problems in current bestselling ABA fiction. That's one reason I wish more secular magazines would review Christian fiction. I think there is a HUGE untapped market for our fiction among both nominal Christians and average Americans who don't identify themselves as evangelicals, but who want a good clean story. Not even necessarily wanting something "inspirational."

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Karen said...

When you mentioned Francine Rivers, you had me hooked. "Redeeming Love" is my all-time favorite fiction book. And her Mark of the Lions series is subperb! It even deals with homosexuality. If I ever teach a literature class Rivers will definitely be included in the syllabus.

Great post! I'm gonna check out your blog now.


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