I’ma Give You a Piece of My Mind…(Then I’m going to need that back)

I’m feeling some type of way y’all. One of my pet peeves is being put in a box. No, not literally. I out-of-the-boxwish somebody would try that mess. I’m speaking figuratively. I don’t like when people assume that the girl raised in Compton, CA and Long Beach, CA is automatically hood (although I can be ’bout that life if necessary). I don’t like when people assume that, as a woman past a certain age and unmarried (especially a Black woman) I must be ready to walk down the aisle with any chump, whether he’s unemployed or toothless or batting for the other team. I don’t like when people assume that being overweight, fat, thick’ums or whatever you want to call it, means I spend my days curled up in a fetal position moaning about my cursed life.

That’s that ish I don’t like.

But you know what gets my goat more than any of that? It’s when someone tries to tell me what I can and cannot write. I consider myself to be a Christian Fiction writer. I’m learning more and more that identifying myself as such comes with a huge set of rules that I know nothing about! Not only that, but there’s an undeniable stigma attached to the title as well.

ChristianFiction

On the one hand, you have people in the Christian publishing industry up in arms about authors who are using the Christian Fiction title without following the strict guidelines set forth, which include no explicit anything. On the other hand, you have readers who are unfamiliar with the genre who look at you sideways when you identify as a Christian Fiction writer; like you’re going to beat them over the head with a Bible, take their lunch money, and then tell them that they have to forgive you ‘cuz Jesus said so.  Needless to say, they often run in the other direction without giving your book a second glance.

Which is why I’m over here in my feelings, wondering what kind of writer am I? I don’t want to mislead readers. I want readers to be satisfied that what they thought my book was, and what they actually received was pretty much on the money. I also want to attract readers who might have never considered reading faith-based fiction. How do I best present myself in the most accurate and authentic way?

I’m not going to pretend that I have all of the answers. I not even going to pretend like I have some of the answers. But there’s a few things that I do know. I know that I want to be the kind of writer who writes what I’m passionate about. I want to be the kind of writer who writes what I know to be true. For me, that means that I’m a Christian who writes fiction about life. Life as I see it.

Whether all of this ever falls into a neat little box is yet to be determined.

What do you think of when you hear “Christian Fiction”? What do you think about genre specific guidelines? Do you think genre lines are blurring? Do you think the publishing industry is evolving when it comes to genre specifications?

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16 thoughts on “I’ma Give You a Piece of My Mind…(Then I’m going to need that back)

  1. You’re so right!! You just don’t fit in a box and that’s great!!
    I don’t like the rules for christian fiction (no explicit anything) because life isn’t like that. I’m always looking for christian fiction that is neither cleaner than life nor hitting the bible over the readers head. This kind of literature is very difficult to find. Perhaps because there’s no such box. Some authors (like Ted Dekker) don’t publish under the christian label to avoid being put in the christian box (with all the above mentioned). Others stay with the clean line and very often that makes their novels a bit boring or unrealistic.
    I idon’t know how you can promote your books in such a way that people like me (christians who want to read interesting christian fiction about life as it is) and people who are not yet christians will find and read them. But there must be a way because the world needs this unnamed genre.

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    • Thanks for your encouragement Barb! I feel the same as you about wanting to read realistic CF. I respect the fact that guidelines are needed because readers want to be assured that there won’t be all kinds of explicit sex or detailed descriptions of a serial killer taking out their victims. I get that. I just don’t feel that being Christian means you will always make the right choices, or never do things that you regret…I’ve got my share of ALL of that. That doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian. And if my main characters also have all kinds of issues, that doesn’t mean that God loves them any less or that my books should be exempt from the Christian Fiction label. I’m still debating and trying to think of the best way to describe what I write. For now Christian Fiction is the label I’m going with.

      As far as promotion goes, I’m going to pray and research and hope that eventually I’ll find more readers like you!

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  2. I think you are right. I find myself deeply annoyed when people find out I am a 34 year old black woman with no children. They act as if something is wrong with me – never mind that I am not married yet, but I digress. As a Christian I actually find myself drawn more to secular books because of their authenticity. They may be explicit, but I don’t feel like I’m reading a fairy tale, but real life. Many mainstream CF books lack diversity of life’s situations. I’m sure my work would never make the mainstream cut for CF because of the violence of the battles and the heaviness of the situations. I had a reviewer actually warn Christians that even though one my books wasn’t explicit it dealt with some really heavy issues…Sigh… I know that writing is my assignment from God. If anyone has a problem with it because they are not comfortable with the issues God tells me to address then that’s their problem. At the end of the day, I am responsible for my own obedience. I feel like God is everywhere and in everything. That means the good, the bad and the ugly situations in life. How will those who are truly hurting be delivered if we’re afraid to talk about what they are going through. While my work does not contain any explicit language or sex scenes it does contain real life. For that I will not apologize, especially when I see the gift God gave me bearing fruit in the lives of believers. What is the point of me reading CF if it doesn’t challenge me to be a better Christian. To have a stronger prayer life, increased faith and to be obedient. My two cents. Don’t limit God in your life because others limit him theirs.

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    • Where is my fan because you are PREACHIN! I need something to wave at you. “I know that writing is my assignment from God. If anyone has a problem with it because they are not comfortable with the issues God tells me to address then that’s their problem.” You said a mouthful right there. I think that’s where my focus needs to be. Do what God puts in me to do and leave it just like that.

      I’m a witness that your books bear fruit. I’m still reading Surviving Sunday (not because it’s not awesome, but because my time management is jacked up) and within the first few pages I already felt that my prayer life needed a BIG overhaul. There’s a three day weekend coming up with Surviving Sunday all over it.

      I’m not even going to touch on the many crazy stereotypes and expectations placed on Black women…we’d be here all day!

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  3. Amen to that, Faith! Wheh, Chile! Amen to that.
    I am SO glad you addressed this, because we as Christians have REAL world problems. But, we have an edge on the competition, because we also have the ANSWER.

    I love what Melinda said about being drawn to secular books, because of their depth. Honestly, I hadn’t read Christian Fiction in years (except Frank Peretti) until I discovered artists like you and New Nigeria. I’m slowly discovering other Christian Fiction writers.

    Regarding a sub-genre of Christian Fiction, how about “He Ain’t Through With Me Yet”? Or nah?

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    • Hahaha, I love it Simone! “He Ain’t Through with Me Yet” sounds like the perfect sub-genre. Or what about “Saved, but We’re Still Working on the Sanctification Part”?

      I love reading all kinds of books, although I generally stay away from horror ‘cuz I’m a scaredy cat. I’m glad you’re back to including CF in your reading. I think that for a while, CF was a struggling genre due in part due to the specific guidelines/restrictions of mainstream Christian publishing houses. With the indie revolution in full effect, more CF authors are able to write stories with a little more edge and realism.

      I remember reading the submission guidelines at some of the CF publishing houses and thinking, “They don’t want none of Ms. Jacelynn!” She’s got too many issues to fit the requirements of their MC’s. I hope this changes over time, ‘cuz the Lord knows I would love to take advantage of the wide distribution offered by CF publishing houses!

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  4. What about “ecumenical fiction” as a classification? It would embrace all faith traditions and include stories that are realistic and ultimately faith-promoting, whether they’re HEA or HFN, comedic or tragic, and regardless of genre. That gets us away from that scary term “inspirational” and that stuffy term “religious.” I don’t like boxes, either. 😉

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    • I get what you’re saying Christine (once I looked up what ecumenical means, HA!) and there are many faith-based writers that are pushing for that very thing: something inclusive of all different types of Christianity and/or other faiths. I want to be careful though, to make sure that readers know that the Christian faith (through the confession of Jesus as the Redeemer) is the only one promoted in my books. I thought about considering myself an Edgy Inspirational Fiction writer, but then I thought that might be misleading. What if a reader expects a book that’s all inclusive of various faiths? That’s not what my book is…Chile’ you’ve given me MORE to think about!!!!

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      • It’s the category that would be ecumenical. Individual books would not need to include multiple faith tradition. The labels for different books in this category could look like:

        FICTION: Ecumenical/Christian/ND (ND meaning non-denominational; also short denomination names or standard abbreviations, such as Amish, RC, and LDS)
        FICTION: Ecumenical/Christian/Multi (such as my first novel, which is about Catholics and Mormons; or “O, The Brave Music,” which is about Anglicans and Congregationalists)
        FICTION: Ecumenical/Christian/Women (or other genre, such as Adventure, Romance, Suspense, Mystery, YA, etc.)
        FICTION: Ecumenical/Historical/Biblical (for derivative stories)
        FICTION: Ecumenical/Conversion/Christianity/[ND or denomination, optional] (used also for Islam or Judaism)
        FICTION: Ecumenical/Islam/Modern
        FICTION: Ecumenical/Judaism/Historical

        The category could be applied to a variety of novels, similar to the ones shown in my post, “Which of These Books Have You Read?” (http://wp.me/p30cCH-gz).

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        • Thank you Christine for taking time to break all of that down! I thought you were talking about some kind of universal religion thing, so I was like, “Ummm, no. Pump your brakes.” Lol Those categories might be really helpful in figuring out how to list my book via the retail sites.

          I guess I’ve actually read books in the ecumenical genre and didn’t even know it. I read The Shunning years ago when my sister was on an Amish kick and left it lying around. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read a couple of other books by Beverly Lewis back in the day.

          Now I’m curious, being that you write books that include Christianity from varying theological view points (and I’m gonna be totally honest and say that I have NO background in theological studies) how do you describe your books to readers? Do you open up with something like: I’m a Christian Fiction author. Or do you say something more specific like: my books feature characters from varying faith backgrounds?

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          • Theology and comparative religion studies have always interested me, and have provided insights into my own faith. Re: disclaimers, your second statement is similar to something I said in my post, “A Weed in a Wheat Field?” (http://wp.me/p30cCH-1dM). I’m Christian, I believe that writing is my calling, and I use religious keywords in retail listings, but I don’t market as a faith-based writer because of the restrictive “box” and stigma. Besides, my book crosses so many genre lines, it would be better classified as “Fusion Fiction.” This means that although faith issues and spiritual experiences constitute a large part of the story, so do romance (the focus is on a developing relationship), psychology (the characters have mental health problems), aging (most of the characters are middle-aged or older), and sociology (because of Irish historical scandals and current controversies). I blog about mixed-genre writing at a separate “Fusion Fiction” site (http://wp.me/P5dJqx-5).

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          • I’m noticing that a lot of authors sort of define their unique brand over the course of a few books, which makes it easier to pick out commonalities. It could be that my genre/brand will become more defined as I continue to write. I like that term Fusion Fiction. As soon as I read it I thought of an an author I love (shout out to Unoma Nwankwor!) who uses the tagline “Fusing Faith Romance and African Spice”. It perfectly describes her faith-based romance novels featuring African characters and culture. That’s where I should put some energy: create a tag line that gives the reader a good idea of what they can expect.

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  5. I hate labels but unfortunately the bookstores (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Lucky Dog, etc.) need to know what category to slot our books in so they can make it easy on readers. The genres/subgenres also make the marketing more targeted, supposedly. How book categorizations will look in the future is a big, fat question mark because as you say, the lines are blurring. But for now, having read your book, short stories and poems I think you represent Christian fiction. And do it well. If that category makes others uncomfortable, that’s their problem but more importantly, that’s not your reader. Trust me, there are plenty of readers who want to read what you write. I’ve told my cousins and aunt about you because they are Francine Rivers (?) fans. Besides, if it makes you feel any better think about us poor slobs who are Christian and write horror. Now, that’s fun to explain!

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    • Just thinking about those Amazon, etc categories makes me shudder! I’ve been playing around with categories lately because I want my book in front of the right readers…I’m sitting there like, “Well, I guess it IS African-American fiction, but I certainly think lots of different races would enjoy it. I read books about other races all the time.” Then I’m all, “It’s definitely Women’s Fiction, but is it Romance too? Is it Urban or nah?” Why can’t they let me choose all of them?????

      Thank you for telling your peeps about WTRTCA! Just being compared to Francine Rivers is a big honor for me. I’m a huge fan of her’s. The one about the girl who was raped and ended up pregnant was EVERYTHING! She took such a risk on that one, and if she hadn’t been so established in the publishing industry, I know many CF publishers would have turned it down citing that their readers wouldn’t be able to relate to that.

      I feel your pain on the Christian/Horror thing. That’s a hard one to sum up in a little nutshell. I don’t envy you on trying to describe that one!

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  6. All I have to say is this: write what’s in your heart and forget about genre. Like, seriously. Some folks are calling my most recent novel horror. Horror! And guess what? If I had said to myself that I was going to sit down and write a horror novel, I wouldn’t have done it because I’m not at all familiar with the genre. So I say don’t even THINK about genre. Think story first because the world is helpless in the face of a good story, regardless of the genre. I say just write the best darn story you can and let your readers take care of the rest. Good luck! Looking forward to that next book:)

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    • Girl, ‘The New Mrs. Collins’ scared me! I won’t give any spoilers, but I’m still thinking about that ending. 😉

      I love what you said here: “Think story first because the world is helpless in the face of a good story, regardless of the genre.” That’s where I’ve shifted my focus. It’s all about telling the stories I want to tell, the way I feel God wants me to tell them. I was all in my feelings when I wrote this post, but I’m glad I put it out there because this discussion has really made me think about some things. AND it helped me come up with an author tagline that I think will sum up my writing and help readers understand what I’m all about.

      My next book is coming along nicely (albeit slowly, I think that’s just how I do) and I’m still referencing your feedback. It’s been so valuable. Thanks for that!

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