Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BC: “Safe” Christian Fiction—My Take: Part 2

Dead of Night, third in my Hidden Faces suspense series was a pretty intense book. And yes, some really bad things happened to some really good people. My target readers really enjoyed that book—many say it’s the best in the series. They could enjoy its intensity because it fell within their boundaries of D#1 safe. (BHCC members—forget it.)

But Dead of Night wasn’t D#2 safe for all those same readers.

"I am an intercessor, but had become discouraged … Dead of Night reminded me of the job and the power God has given us in prayer. Thank you."

"I read Dead of Night at a time when I needed to realize the importance of prayer …I am a pastor’s wife, and so many people assume I don't struggle in my relationship with God … I’m struggling right now with my husband’s illness … I realized after reading about Annie's struggles that even when I don't know how to pray, if I only turn to God in prayer, He will give me the strength I need. After reading your book, I felt an overwhelming urge to pray ...”

Definition #2 for safe Christian fiction: A story whose underlying message does not shake up the reader spiritually in a way that will bring him closer to Christ.

I don’t want my novels to be D#2 safe.

However, this is God’s territory. While my novels include an underlying spiritual message—some more overt than others, according to how it would naturally unfold within the story—not every reader is going to respond to that message. Some may not be weak in that particular area of their spiritual lives. Some may not have a spiritual life at all, and their hearts are hard against the message. Some may say, “Amen, amen” yet fail to put that belief into any meaningful action. For these folks, even if the book’s message is right-on, the novel is still D#2 safe. It’s God’s territory.

In some of the discussions I’ve heard about “safe” Christian fiction, Definitions #1 and #2 have been lumped together. As a result there’s been a lack of agreement as to what we’re even talking about. When I look at D#1 and D#2 as separate entities, I see two patterns. Please note that these are generalities; I’ll freely admit each point has exceptions. But I don’t think we should argue exceptions and miss the main point.

A. Should a reader happen to pick up a novel that turns out not to be D#1 safe, that novel most likely will be D#2 safe. I see two possible reasons. First, because the reader is so emotionally upset that he/she can’t begin to hear the message behind the story, even if it’s fairly overt. For example, the Gentle Reader letter I quoted yesterday—which was a typed page and half long—had plenty to say about “wrong” events in the story but never mentioned the spiritual message of the book. Herein lies a great temptation on the part of the more gentle readers. They can too easily label a D#1 unsafe book (according to their opinion) as lacking spiritual value (ergo, D#2 safe) for everyone, simply because they can’t personally see the message amid being so upset over content. This erroneous perception can pit some members of the so-called “core Christian audience” against those authors who aren’t targeting them as readers in the first place. This is a sad thing.

And/or—second possible reason: the author indeed may have been purposely subtle in his spiritual message because his target readers lie outside the core Christian audience. This is perfectly acceptable. While a subtle message may be plenty D#2 safe for someone who’s been a Christian for thirty years, that same message may cause an inner stirring in the heart of a non-Christian that will eventually lead that reader to Christ.

On the other side of the spectrum (and sounding somewhat like an oxymoron):

B. Christian readers who deem a wide range of novels as D#1 safe can erroneously view the spiritual messages in the books targeted for the more “gentle” D#1 safe readers as rehashed, “preaching to the choir,” and shallow, and/or “preachy.” These folks like their content envelopes pushed. Some may also prefer the more subtle Christian message. All well and good. These folks will tend to view the very widely accepted D#1 safe novels as totally boring in content. That’s fine too. They’re outside the target audience of such books. What’s not fine is to then assume that because these books are D#1 safe for just about everyone, they’re also D#2 safe for everyone. Remember, D#2 is God’s territory. He will use what He will use. That thirty-year Christian may be happily reading a very D#1 safe book—and be unexpectedly struck to the core by its message.

My bottom line: First, in our ongoing discussions, let’s not confuse the two aspects of “safe.” They mean very different things and have very different purposes. Two, let’s be very sure that our personal opinions of what constitutes D#1 and D#2 safe don’t lead us to judge what’s D#1 and D#2 safe for others. The wide range of readers calls for books on each end of the spectrum and everywhere in between.

Seatbelt Suspense™ author Brandilyn Collins blogs Monday through Friday at Forensics and Faith.


At 9:39 AM, Blogger Kristy Dykes said...

You are so erudite, B! Learned, knowledgeable, grounded, insightful, accomplished. Those are the things I thought as I read both posts on this deep subject. Thanks for breaking it down and giving us this knowledge, perception, enlightment, inkling, side light, information. Okay. I used my thesaurus and dictionary. Just felt saucy.

Appreciate your post.

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll admit, there was a time--not too long ago--when I had the bad habit of looking down my nose at what I termed "blue-haired old lady fiction." I think the core issue was that I felt that type of writing had dominated the CBA for so long, there was little chance of my stuff ever being given a chance. But Brandilyn, you've shown us it can be done. Now with three CBA suspense novels of my own out, I can point to folks like you as pioneers for the rest of us. True, my books aren't to everyone's taste; I'm just glad I have a seat at the table. Thanks.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

You go, John!

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Eden said...

Awesome post!

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Karen said...

Is the Gospel message safe?

Let's's got deceit (Adam & Eve), murder (Cain & Able), abduction (Joesph sold to slavery), prostitution (Rahab), affairs (David & Bathsheba) and a whole lot of other unsafe stories, ideas and theology.

It's safe to stick to the status quo like the Pharisees, but sometimes we have to walk on water if we want to see Jesus face to face.

I think C.S. Lewis, said it best when describing Aslan as untamed lion, who wasn't safe but was good.

There's this one article I read on Christianity Today that confronts this whole issue very well, but I couldn't find it, but I did come across this...

Katherine Paterson who wrote "Bridge to Terabithia" talks about how her books go against the "safe for the whole family" trend in the Christian industry. Here's the link:

Good post Brandilyn!

At 3:32 PM, Blogger Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Thought-provoking ... but you know me, Brandilyn, always the fly in the oinment. LOL

Here's what I'm thinking. Some of the D1 unsafe books ought not to be. Let me say up front, I have not found this to be true of your stories. Just the opposite. I think what might be unsettling in your stories doesn't come across as unnecessarily unsettling. The hard parts are necessary to the story.

I've read other books, however, that have "gritty" subject matter for no apparent reason than to tout the fact that the book contains gritty subject matter.

There are story reasons why books should remain D1 safe ... or safer than they try to be, I think.

Oh the other hand, I've read lots of books that could try a little harder to be D2 unsafe. Yes, that is God's territory ... except Paul did tell one church to stop with the milk and break out some meat. I for one wouldn't mind a few more authors going with a meat dish here or there.


At 4:54 PM, Blogger ~ Brandilyn Collins said...

The gospel message is not safe. True. The Bible is not safe. True. I've heard the argument numerous times that our fiction should not be safe, because the Bible isn't. Hm. What kind of "safe" are we talking about?

Most people who read the Bible do so to learn about God and draw closer to Him. They know that drawing nearer means often stepping out of their comfort zones, including in the content they read. They are willing to forego feeling safe because it's good for their spiritual lives. So the Bible to many readers is both D#1 and D#2 unsafe. And this is OK for the greater good of studying God's Word.

Totally different with fiction. Again, readers usually approach fiction to be entertained. Most aren't willing to forego their safety regarding content in their entertainment hours. The whole point in our fiction, therefore, is to be D#1 safe for our target readers, while being D#2 unsafe. If this is what people mean when they say, "Our fiction shouldn't be safe because the Bible isn't"--okay, I can understand what they're getting at. But too often this argument has been used in relation to CONTENT (D#1 safe). That's an apples and oranges comparison because of the very different purposes with which people approach the nonfiction Bible and their entertainment fiction.

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Susanne said...

Brandilyn, I am amazed after reading these two posts how knowledgeable and skilled you are in your craft. I am learning so much from you.

At 8:54 AM, Blogger Jannie Ernst said...

Thank you, Brandilyn! You have taught me a lot by putting these thoughts into concrete words. When I grow up, I want to be a writer just like you - in God's hands!

At 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

#@$! that word verification!

At 10:29 PM, Blogger Deena Peterson said...

I find myself in different moods when I read. Sometimes, I desperately need a light-hearted chick-lit novel to cheer me. Then there are times I need to be challenged, and I reach for one of YOUR novels, Brandilyn, and other authors who write challenging, edgy spiritual novels. Sometimes I want to feel connected to my sisters in Christ, and I'll reach for a Neta Jackson or similar read...
We are not all the same in the Body of Christ. We have different tastes and different needs. We are all at different places in our walk.
We need to respect those differences, and acknowledge the incredible variety God has in His family.
Publishing companies must be clear in the back-of-the-book blurbs, so we know what we are getting into when we purchase a book...and readers must take care to read reviews and to ask questions about what they are purchasing.
Thank you, Brandilyn, for writing about this. I appreciate you and enjoy your work tremendously.


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