Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Crossover Fiction: The Great Divide!

By Rel Mollet

My topic for today stemmed from a comment our own Iola Goulton made in response to my introductory interview at ACW. Here's Iola's comment:~

"I'd like to know what she {Rel} thinks about "crossover" fiction and the trend for fiction from the big publishing houses (e.g. Thomas Nelson) to be more "inspirational" than "Christian".

Well, what a topic! I'll be addressing "Crossover" fiction today and will save the "Inspirational v. Christian" content for another day!

Francine Rivers and her debut Christian novel, RedeemingLove, started a trend of sorts. Christian authors who were writing general market books, became convicted over the content of their stories, and began writing Christian novels for the CBA. Some authors that come to mind are Terri Blackstock, Robin Lee Hatcher, and Tamara Leigh, but they were certainly not the only ones. The tide seems to have turned now and we are seeing well known Christian authors seeking publication in the general market with stories that don’t compromise their Christian beliefs (according to the ones I have read or authors have told me about specifically) but may be different to what their Christian readership has come to expect from them.

Now, there are many in the CBA who are applauding these writers and supporting their venture into the general market, usually seeking to gain a broader audience. Unfortunately, there also seems to be a view pervading the CBA, from authors as well as readers, that authors who crossover to the general market are compromising their Christian views, “betraying” their readers, and diluting the faith themes in their novels.

Given the opposing views, and no doubt plenty in between, I thought it would be worthwhile to look at readers’ responses to some general market novels written by a number of highly respected CBA authors.

Susan Meissner, continuing to publish in the CBA with a new Amish series, co-written with Mindy Starns Clark for Harvest House, has recently released an ABA novel, A Fall of Marigolds, with NAL. Amazon readers have this to say about A Fall of Marigolds:

"So full of hope and love."

"Lovely intertwining stories that leave the reader feeling hopeful and at peace."

"Very profound and thought provoking life questions."

"This was the first book by this author that I have read. You can bet I'll be getting her others to read now."

Charles Martin penned five well received overtly Christian novels for Thomas Nelson before writing five novels (and counting!) for Center Street which are not written in the traditional sense of Christian Fiction. Yet here are some Amazon reviews of his most recent novel, Unwritten.

"UNWRITTEN is a book that will have you analyzing, reflecting, and examining life."

"This is a must-read novel that will warm your heart while begging life altering questions of your soul..."

"This book is a bit different from his others but still carries the same themes of being around water and nature, a strong faith and the connections between man and woman."

I am firmly of the belief that this is the kind of feedback any author writing from a faith perspective would like to receive about their novels. That they are stretching readers, making them think, and opening their eyes to spiritual matters. There are so many readers out there who won’t touch a Christian novel, or even an inspirational one, but could be challenged to contemplate the state of their own lives and matters of faith, when reading a general market novel written from an author with heaven on their hearts. When we have a narrow view of what is an acceptable “Christian” novel we are underestimating the power of God to use whatever He wishes to draw people closer to him. But more about that next time, when I address the second part of Iola’s comments.

Another beloved writer in the CBA is Siri Mitchell whose historical novels with Bethany House always draw accolades. Siri has now published two novels in the general market under her pseudonym, Iris Anthony. She plans to continue publishing in both the CBA and ABA.

Recently, in an interview on Iola's blog, Christian FictionReads, Siri opened up about her ABA novels, The Ruins of Lace and The Miracle Thief with these thoughts, "With my general market books, I can also feed my fascination for tough questions. I can write about Europe when it was wholly Catholic. I can even write a book about miracles which I could never hope to sell into the Christian market. (Sounds, paradoxical, but it’s true.)".

And this, "I decided then that whatever I wrote and whomever I wrote it for, my words would always evidence my belief in redemption and grace. Even if my characters don’t reach for it, I always want to hold it out to them."


It is well worth reading the full interview here but I was fascinated by Siri’s comments and found them very insightful and perceptive. While Christian publishers continue to restrict what writers can include in their novels so narrowly (and I'm not talking profanity or explicit violence and sex) but location, eras, themes, and sometimes authentic character responses, authors who feel compelled to write novels that are outside those boundaries, often because God is calling them to write that particular story, will seek publication in the general market. I think that is a good thing!

I could go on! There's so much more to say but for now I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

**With thanks to Iola for permission to reprint selections of her interview with Siri Mitchell

~~~~~~~~


Rel Mollet founded her book-reviewing blog www.RelzReviewz.com in 2006, which is dedicated to showcasing Christian Fiction and its writers by way of reviews, author interviews, character spotlights, and more. Rel is a contributing writer for NovelCrossing.com andFamilyFiction.com, and an Advisory Board member of the INSPY Awards.  A book club co-ordinator for over a decade, Rel resides in Melbourne with her family.

32 comments:

  1. I agree, Rel. I adored A Fall Of Marigolds. As with all of Susan Meissner's incredible writing I found myself reflecting on the story and its hope filled themes long after I finished it - much more so than many a book I've read with much more overt Christian content.

    I think it's great that there are Christian authors writing fiction with redemptive themes for the general market who would never in a million years choose to read a "Christian" novel. The book of Esther in the Bible doesn't mention God anywhere in it, even though his fingerprints are clearly all through it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    2. Yes, I think some Christian novels can be a little too obvious in getting a message across, rather than a story. For me, that takes away from my own internal musings.

      I'll be taking more about fiction that is similar to Esther in that regard in my next post.

      Thanks for sharing, Kara

      Delete
  2. Great post, Rel. I think it's a 'good thing,' too! A wider variety means a wider audience. I'm always interested to see how authors achieve this, especially with the warning to not veer away from your brand and reader expectations.

    I'm a Siri Mitchell fan. Haven't read anything by her as Iris Anthony yet, but I'm so looking forward to catching up on her crossover titles.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Dotti. Isn't Siri fabulous? I've loved all her books from contemporary to historical and now as Iris!!

      Delete
  3. Rel, Excellent post! I think it's sad that Christian authors who publish general market fiction from a Christian worldview aren't feeling supported. We need to respect that each Christian author has a unique calling, and that calling can be fulfilled in either the Christian market or general market.

    There have always been Christian authors writing for the general market. Debbie Macomber comes to mind, as well as NZ author Abby Gaines. Abby has written for Harlequin Super Romance and Love Inspired Historicals.

    The market position of a book (Christian or general) doesn't define whether or not a story can touch readers. I agree, God can and does use books in both markets to draw people closer to him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "We need to respect that each Christian author has a unique calling, and that calling can be fulfilled in either the Christian market or general market." - so VERY true, Narelle.

      The funny thing is, Narelle, God is not above using a story many of might think is lame or poorly written, either!! Thankfully He isn't limited by our perceptions.

      Always appreciate your insight and comments!

      Delete
  4. Wow! Thanks, Rel. A whole new bunch of stories to catch up on... I love well-done crossover fiction as it tends to be less simplistic about spiritual themes, in my view. Though I'm not keen on the kind that washes the Christianity so strongly it's indistinguishable from "nice".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Anne, I agree there is often a complexity of thought in certain crossover fiction that is not always seen in CBA books. As Siri said, strange but true!

      Delete
  5. Great post, Rel. Yes, one day there will be another novel like Les Miz written I'm sure and let's face it the Narnia & LOTR series are other great examples.

    Love that the authors you mention are exploring both markets. I expect we'll see more of it with self-publishing & hybrid authors taking on greater prominence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, Ian, and thanks for your encouragement. I'll be talking more about self-publishing in my next post :)

      Delete
  6. What a wonderfully positive post. I was feeling the weight of 'must do this, must do that' overload when I woke up this morning, and in the few moments I took to read your post I feel like a fresh breeze blew into the room and perked me up. I'm delighted to hear of these authors following God's heart to reach the multitudes with every tool at their disposal. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Cathie! How wonderful. I'm so pleased this post encouraged you :) Hope your day continues to be perky! Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
  7. Great insights, Rel. Hmm, I think it's a wise idea to take on a pseudonym if not wanting to "upset" followers. But isn't it strange to have to pander to a narrow minded viewpoint?

    As for some publishers ideas... Too preachy. Not enough Christian content. Too overtly Christian. It's a veritable minefield for an author to negotiate nowadays.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The pseudonym is an interesting one, isn't it? I see pros and cons on both sides of that issue ;-)

      As for your last comment, yes, finding the "right" formula can be a challenge. I think the only way through that particular minefield is to write the story God puts on your heart and let Him work out the details. Somewhat simplistic, I know, and I'm not trying to downplay the complexity of the Christian publishing world but I'm not sure how else you do without losing a little of your mind ;-)

      Delete
  8. Thanks for a great post Rel and some new suggestions of books to check out. I think it is so true that many people will not read a Christian novel but would easily pick up a general market novel that is written by a Christian and has some spiritual insights as well as a great story and characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do agree, Dale, that the label Christian Fiction on novels can, for many people, be a real turnoff. If only they could be described by genre like everything else and be "judged" on the quality of the writing rather than how "Christian" the content is perceived to be, or not be!

      Delete
  9. Jillian Hart is another who writes cross over fiction. I haven't read any of them but know she has a large following who will read anything she writes. I have only read her Inspirational romances and one that was for the sweet line I think it was. (not LI)

    ReplyDelete
  10. I haven't read any of Jillian's books but have seen her name around - thanks Jenny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I enjoy her writing but haven't read her cross over books.

      I just read a book by Rebeca Seitz who has just released a novella which would be considered cross over fiction. I didn't realise it when I signed up but reading the info I see it is and from reading the novella.

      Delete
  11. Good post, Rel. I've been questioning the validity of the "crossover" market since reading and reviewing a YA book that was specifically being marketed as crossover, and being disappointed both by the sub-standard writing and the complete lack of a Christian world view. It's encouraging to see examples of Christian authors writing for the general market because those are the books they want to write, not to simply chase the almighty dollar. That, to me, is how it should be.

    I'll be looking forward to your next post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree this a good post and certainly very timely, Rel. I too share Iola's concerns about the lack of Christian world view in such books. My biggest concern is that Christian writers trying to target "crossover" type market of books may be in danger of "sitting on the fence" too much when it comes to spiritual content and thus not pleasing either general or Christian market readers. I've had published both sweet and inspirational romances but it became easier to stop writing my medicals for Mills and Boon after my editor wrote and told me medicals were about caring and I didn't need to have my characters going to church or saying grace - which is all the "spiritual content" I had at all in those first three medicals she referred to. One of the issues I have battled with over the years is trying to "show" the faith in Christ in my characters without being "preachy". More and more I believe there are times when the reader does need to be told "the reason of the hope (faith) within" - the scriptural reasons so that their actions make sense, can be believable to more readers. I also believe that no matter how great my story might be, what wonderful hero and heroine I have, it is the words of scripture the Holy Spirit especially uses to accomplish what God wants to reveal of Himself to the readers. An example is when characters end up with the power from Him to forgive what is in some cases the "unforgivable".

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Mary ~ appreciate your kind words and your insightful comments about your experience.

      Delete
    3. Hey Iola - I believe there are many authors who are striving for substance in their general market stories and have a lot of spiritual integrity. As you say, it's as it should be!

      Delete
  12. Thanks for a great post Rel. I love the comments you included from readers. I think that's a great thing - planting gospel sees that bring hope, inspire and are perhaps steps along the way to encountering a God of love and grace. Apart from loving storytelling, this is something I aspire to in my own fiction writing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love what you said, Jeanette - "Steps along the way to encountering a God of love and grace." Exactly!

      Delete
  13. Interesting post. I know a lot of authors who are traditionally published in the CBA, now doing some Indie books that fit into the general market. Hadn't heard the term "crossover," but I am doing one of those myself (soon to be moving into the Indie market). Some of my favorite authors from the early 20th century were Christians who wrote stories that weren't overtly Christian, but were stories of faith journeys. Elizabeth Goudge, George MacDonald, CS Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle (sp?), etc. I am a Christian who is also an author. I hope and pray my writing is pleasing to the Lord, whatever I write. I have written Christian fiction for the CBA market. I've also written books that don't fit the guidelines for traditional CBA publishers. I suppose they would be defined as "crossover" books. From a smart marketing stance, I should be writing to a target market. I'm not savvy or a marketer. I will write whatever God plants in my heart and mind. I hope my readers will see peeks of the Kingdom in my stories.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi Sunni ~ lovely to see you here. I loved your book Flowers for Victoria - a beautiful story. I think you are spot on with your comment, "I will write whatever God plants in my heart and mind. I hope my readers will see peeks of the Kingdom in my stories."

    I do agree that there are some wonderful stories that express faith, and the faith journey/struggle, beautifully that wouldn't be considered a Christian novel, in the traditional sense.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thank you for a very informative article. I wonder how CS Lewis would comment? This is one of my favorite quotes: "Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people's minds under the cover of fiction without their knowing it." #CSLewis

    ReplyDelete
  16. Great post! You raise the issue of how we as authors can be restricted by standards in the CBA. This is a concern for me as I often like to ask hard questions, and answer them as realistically as possible through the power of story. I really identified with Siri Mitchel's comments. Rather than using crossover fiction as an opportunity to sit on the fence, I believe it has the potential for a writer to speak the language of a wider audience, and to speak to their hearts the message God has entrusted to the author without preaching - rather imparting hope.I can't say I am ready to 'cross over' yet, but it certainly interests me.

    "When we have a narrow view of what is an acceptable “Christian” novel we are underestimating the power of God to use whatever He wishes to draw people closer to him"

    I couldn't agree more. Thanks Rel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Catherine - appreciate your insightful thoughts on this :)

      Delete