Christian fiction should not contain…

Excuse me while I lick my wounds. My new novel Fall from Grace just received a one-star review (on Amazon and Goodreads) from someone who was offended by its language and the two scenes in it that are sexual in nature (but not overly explicit; I draw the curtain). This reviewer remarked that “there is so much in this book that should not be in a Christian book.”

I suspect the reviewer picked up the book thinking that if it’s marketed as a Christian book, it will fall into what  publishing calls the “inspirational fiction” category. This subgenre in fiction has very, very precise guidelines for what can not be contained in the book. I know the restrictions because my day job is copy editor for a major publisher.

I’ve edited inspirational fiction, and I’ve had to refer to the guidelines to double-check if, say, it’s okay for the hero to say “for Pete’s sake” (nope) or “jeez” (nope) or can he play cards (nope) or drink (of course not). He can’t kiss the heroine below the neck, and there can be no suggestion of the heroine reacting to physical affection except, well, chastely. There can also be no use of words like “heavenly” or “angelic” except in the literal sense. Oh, and no reference to Halloween, either. I could go on. Suffice it to say it’s a very restrictive genre.

Fall_From_Grace_COVERI’m not criticizing inspirational fiction’s restrictions, though. I like the idea that one can pick up these books knowing what’s (not) in them. I’ve written two myself (Kit Austen’s Journey and Mending Ruth’s Heart).

But Fall from Grace, while a Christian-themed book, is not an inspirational. You won’t find it on the shelves of a Lifeway store, for example, which stocks inspirational fiction exclusively.

The reviewer’s claim that there is so much in the book that shouldn’t be in a Christian book got me thinking, though. I would love to see the genre of Christian fiction expand beyond the restrictions of inspirationals. I’d love to see Christian and/or spiritual themes, in fact, woven through more mainstream fiction. While most fictional characters in novels are usually highly secularized individuals, most real people do pray (at least occasionally) and wonder about God. Many even go to church.

Fall from Grace covers sin–adultery. I chose to show one of the main characters in that sin (again, closing the curtain at a certain point) to convey the depth of his fall…from grace. I wanted to show his impulses, what leads him to this act of betrayal, to, yes, have the reader cringe at his sin, to be repelled by it.

The rest of the book, of course, is about whether he can overcome that sin, whether he can climb out of the pit into which he’s fallen. To convey that struggle, I did include bad language (some even spoken by “pure” characters), moral dilemmas, kissing that isn’t sweet (although it isn’t below the neck!) and the very human challenges he and his wife face as they try to figure out: What does Christ require of us?

If that kind of story is for you, then pick up a copy of Fall from Grace. But if you’re looking for inspirational fiction, don’t. Buy my other books in that category instead! (See covers below.) 🙂

To reassure readers who might consider looking at Fall from Grace, it did receive a wonderful review from another source:

“Truly a novel for our times by an author with a genuine flair for deftly created characters and engaging storytelling from beginning to end, Fall From Grace is one of those novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.” Midwest Book Review

Inspirationals: Where faith isn't preachy; it's just not hidden     Mending Ruth's Heart_250x400




Filed under Book reviews, Uncategorized, writing

8 responses to “Christian fiction should not contain…

  1. jennycarlisle

    Christian Fiction is constantly changing. Thanks for reaching out to a new audience. We All need Jesus!

  2. terirose22

    I haven’t read the book yet, but now I want to. Church, and by extension Christianity, isn’t a museum for Saints. It’s a hospital for sinners! Infidelity, betrayal, dishonesty, temptations…these are all things that face EVERYONE, even Christians, but we know that sin is the war the devil is waging against us. I’m sorry you had to be hurt & disappointed by the negative review, and it may not be your only one. I just hope you are strengthened in your convictions to keep sharing real, honest stories that show flawed characters & real life!
    Terirose22 (at) hotmail (dot) com

  3. Thank you for writing reality. I’m a Christian, and I love Christian literature, but the problem is, much of it is so saccharine, so careful not to offend the sensibilities of anyone, that it is nothing more than a caricature rather than a picture of real characters. No, I don’t write obscenities or profanity, and especially I don’t use God’s name in vain , nor do I write sex scenes, but I believe we must put our characters into real-life situations, even when they skirt the edges of impropriety, and show how the grace of God can bring them from it. One should never glorify sin. That is not the point. Sin, though, is real, and real Christians sin. One cannot write honestly and not address life as it is. We cannot just write about life as it ought to be. Even during the millenium, with Christ on the throne, there will be sin.

  4. Kathryn Harris

    This was something I worried about when I released “The Long Road to Heaven.” I struggled with finding the balance between the expectations of a story with heavy Christian undertones and the darkness involved in the realism of addiction. I simply ended up writing from the heart, and took my chance with reviewers/readers. I have no regrets.

  5. I’m writing my first Christian fiction book and have a blog where I write fiction short stories based on my real life experiences. Being new to writing, I was blown away by what can’t be in inspirational writing. No wonder inspirational writing is often seen as boring. I haven’t read your book, but it sounds like something we need more of!

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