Author, C.S. Lakin (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

The first question that needs to be asked about writing Christian fiction is, Who is the writer’s audience? Most Christian writers write for the Christian market, and the publishers in CBA (the acronym for publishers in that market) buy and solicit novels they hope will sell, based on the sales records and buyers’ demographics—which consist mostly of white, American females in their thirties with a high school education only, small children at home, and not extremely traveled or “worldy” in the more general sense of the word. These readers who are targeted by the CBA booksellers and publishers have very narrow tastes, and for an author to want to sell in that market, they have to tailor their novels to fit. Which, to reiterate, provides a very limited canvas on which to create.

What is meant by “effective”? If the goal of author/agent/editor/publisher is to sell books to entertain believers, then an author who writes such a book that sells well is “effectively” accomplishing the goals aimed for.

But there is another group of writers who want to be effective in a different way, and I am one of them. I don’t write for fun. I don’t write to entertain other Christians. I feel a pressing calling from God to reach out to the lost in the world, to those who have no hope and do not know a plan of salvation has been executed on their behalf and is being offered to them. I look at my writing as 100% ministry, and my efforts and prayers are all directed toward those ends. I take the views of authors like Flannery O’Conner and Madeline L’Engle who felt strongly that their writing should honestly and even painfully reflect the true state of the human condition, of sin, and all its ugliness without censoring. I was told pointedly by a senior editor at one of the largest CBA publishing houses that a Christian should never write for unbelievers. She should only write for Christians, and hope that some believer, for example, at her work would pass on the book to a non-Christian. Shock aside, I completely disagreed with her. I feel that, if this is truly the view of CBA overall, it shows the intent of this collective publishing endeavor is way off, and missing the heart of God. And to me, that paints a very sad picture indeed.

Censoring is a big thing in CBA because the typical CBA reader does not want to look at the down and dirty condition of humanity. She wants a clean, sweet, entertaining read that will upbuild her and make her happy. Not make her face life as it really is, and make her think deeply and outside the “safe cocoon” of the Christian life. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule, but I feel the writers who work hard in their ministry to reach the lost through their fiction, to be effective, need to do what author Tim Downs suggests—to woo the world back to God. To plant seeds and let God water them, for this isn’t a time of harvest but a time of planting and watering. Gone are the days of pounding people over the head with the Bible and decrying their sin and telling them to “repent for the end is near.”

Yes, we know we have a responsibility to preach the kingdom before the end comes, but it has been proven over time that “wooing” readers by sharing an honest worldview, as did writers like O’Connor and L’Engle, draws people to God more than preaching at them. And sadly, I have read way too many Christian novels that made me cringe and that I found appalling in their blatant preachiness that often not just bordered on but crossed the line into harsh judgment and abject scare tactics and manipulation. Those types of books offend me, so I can only imagine how much they would offend someone who does not know God or the Bible. I wasn’t raised in the church; I was raised a Jewish atheist, and so understand why God is using me to write the kinds of novels I write. I know what it’s like to be preached at and to be offended by certain phrasing and terms. It took me years before I could even say the name Jesus without a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s sad so many Christians (who were raised “in the church”) have no sensibilities at all toward those who come from such a different worldview and upbringing. We are to be “all things to all people” according to the apostle Paul in order to “win” others to Christ, and pushing our agenda in our fiction to force Christianity on others is not in line with his wise admonition.

Many Christians in CBA publishing would disagree with me, and are offended by my remarks and reactions to so many books in CBA. I feel hard-hitting, preachy books not only do a disservice to God, they turn people away from him and, in effect, serve the purposes of the Enemy, who wants nothing more than to chase people away from their Creator. Authors of those books will say they are not writing for nonbelievers. Yet, what are they thinking will happen when a nonbeliever picks up their book—purposely or incidentally—and reads it? If that novel subsequently turns them further from God because of its offensive presentation, even though it is hailed by Christians as a great read, what are we to think? I’ll leave that to you to decide. I don’t blame many nonbeliever critics of Christian fiction at all, and well, I would invite them to read my novels, and those of other Christian writers who share my view. The greatest joys I have had as a published author are the comments from readers, who are not Christian, telling me how moved they were when they read my books and how the topic of religion and faith was so nicely handled and did not offend, so much so it got them thinking. That’s why I write, and to me, that’s evidence of effectiveness of the best kind.

www.cslakin.com

C. S. Lakin writes novels in numerous genres, focusing mostly on contemporary psychological mysteries and allegorical fantasy. Her novel Someone to Blame (contemporary fiction) won the 2009 Zondervan First Novel competition 2009 (published October 2010). Lakin’s Gates of Heaven fantasy series for adults (AMG-Living Ink Publishers) features original full-length fairy tales in traditional style. Already in print are the first books in the series, The Wolf of Tebron and The Map across Time, with five more to follow. In addition to her mysteries and fantasy series, she has also written the first book in a Young Adult sci-fi adventure series: Time Sniffers, slated to be published. Her contemporary mystery Innocent Little Crimes made the top one hundred finalists in the 2009 Amazon Breakout Novel Award contest, earning her a Publisher’s Weekly review which stated her book was “a page-turning thrill-ride that will have readers holding their breaths the whole way through.”

Lakin currently works as a freelance copyeditor and writing mentor, specializing in helping authors prepare their books for publication. She is a member of The Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), CEN (Christian Editor Network), CAN (Christian Authors Network—regular blogger), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), and two regional writers’ groups. She edits for individuals, small publishing companies, and literary agents, and teaches workshops and does critiques at writers’ conferences, and occasionally guest blogs on writing sites.

She recently completed Intended for Harm, a contemporary take-off on the biblical story of Jacob and Joseph and is developing a swashbuckling dog memoir in the style of Moby Dick entitled A Dog after God’s Own Heart. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with her husband Lee, a gigantic lab named Coaltrane, and three persnickety cats.

Note From Nikki: Yesterday, we featured Jennifer Hancock, a humanist. Tomorrow David Rosman, an atheist will be featured. You can also read more about this series here.

14 thoughts on “Author, C.S. Lakin (Christian Fiction: Is It Effective?)

  1. I agree. Years ago, my husband and I read a book by Charlie Peacock – At the Crossroads, I think it was called. In it, he talks about the importance of being salt and light in the media industry as a whole; how important it is for Christians to work in the secular workplace and create positive media – books, music, movies, etc. I think we’re seeing some great fruit come from that idea with the new trend for movies like Courageous and The Grace Card to become so popular.

    We write for the non-believer as well. As a matter of fact, many Christians can’t get past the first two chapters of our first published novel, The Angel Crest Deception, because it’s just too dark. That’s ok with us though, because it’s not really for them anyway. The Gospel message is carefully laid out so as not to be preachy, and the concept of “no one is guaranteed a tomorrow” is hammered home. We know it’s going to reach the lost and give them hope.

    Thank you for sticking your neck out and not being afraid to ruffle feathers with your post. Jesus offended people every day, and especially religious people. So, if you’re offending religious people by talking about fresh ways to reach the lost with the Gospel – then you’re doing the right thing.

  2. Very good, Suzanne. Sounds somewhat like a post I recently did on my blog, and one which got figuratively burned in effigy by a smallish group of mostly gals from a group of Christian fiction authors. I do go a little further in my thinking, however, in that I’d love to see Christians infiltrate and reclaim the mainstream writing markets with profound, emotionally-powerful, entertaining fiction that /isn’t/ crude or overboard “edgy” but yes, very very honest when it comes to the human condition. I contend that it /can/ be done, and done well. That’s my ultimate goal as an indie publisher. For our Christian imprints, I’m hard-nosed about only wanting strong worldview fiction, top notch, and without a single “preachy” element to be found.

    Further, I’d love to see strong Christians write exceptionally well and win top-notch mainstream awards. Move over, world!

    Thanks for your good insights.
    Chila
    Port Yonder Press

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  5. Thanks for the kind words. Please note there are some great books and authors in CBA and sometimes the publishers put out some wonderful books. My firends Meg Moseley (When Sparrows Fall) and Linda Clare (The Fence my Father Built) are great examples. But book publishing is a business and their is a bottom line, so overall these publishers know who their market is and cater to them. Now with self-publishing getting more prevelant and respected, it opens doors for more “edgy” Christian fiction to come through. I decided to put Intended for Harm up since it’s more a literary novel and experimental in style. yet it has a very strong spiritual basis. We are to write the books God puts in our hearts using our voice and passion, and if that doesn’t fit the CBA model, then we have to trust God to lead us to other pastures.

  6. Hi… I’m a newly published author (since 2010) and my last book is historical Christian fiction. I find your opinion to be a very honest one and a very needed one. Jesus Himself said that those who were ill needed the physician, not those who were well. That said, I try to reach everyone with a “different” perspective with my writings. I’m from Louisiana, and because I like the historical factor, I can include all worship – in more ways than one, but all to the same Creator, Jesus Christ. I’d like your opinion ON my book, because that “rose-colored glasses” syndrome is NOT something I want in my books. I want to reach the lost and comfort the saved… if that makes sense to you at all.

    The following is a link to my first fictional novel, designed to be the first in the Legends of the Swamps series. Please contact me there, or at my email which I’m providing below, as well. Thanks so much for your insight. Many blessings to your writings and work for Christ.

    Kimberly Thompson
    http://legendsoftheswamps.tateauthor.com/
    ggzplace@gmail.com

  7. Thanks for this really terrific post. I too believe that it’s a lot more effective to teach Truth through the actions and deeds of the characters you create than to pound people over the head with dogma and doctrine. I totally agree with Sharkbytes. I also believe that some of the most profound stories ever told are those of wanderers who find their way out of the darkness, and to be appreciated, it has to be illuminated, as it were. I can’t see writing only happy-happy joy-joy novels or limiting myself to such a narrow audience or even world view. I especially believe it is possible to be a good Christian author, maintain one’s standards and be a good, compelling writer. It just takes effort and the determination to resist the quick and easy path of the salacious.

  8. Whoa! Thanks for the heads up about CBA. Sounds wrong-headed to me. I’m all for books like the C.S. Lewis space triology. He said something like you can sneak all kinds of doctrine into people’s minds under the guise of fiction. Thanks for writing this.

  9. CBA is not my market, by a long shot, but it sounds to me you know who you are, what you believe, and what you want to say, which means you’ll do just fine in the long run. Strange attitude the publishers have. Isn’t it precisely the people who DON’T believe who are most in need of their message?

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