Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Way Christian Fiction Oughta Be....

...including Catholic fiction, too, for that matter.
You want to know how to write good old-fashioned story, from the viewpoint of faith? Then look up Rochelle Krich--or as she's known on some earlier books, Rochelle Majer Krich. If that name doesn't sound like a typical Germanic-WASP-Amish storyteller's name...congratulations.

The girl is Jewish.
Orthodox Jew, in fact, if she is writing heroines who are like herself (as most of us do).
So how is this the way Christian fiction oughta be, if the person writing it is Jewish?

Let me backtrack a bit.

Recently, I dipped into a book that was highly touted in Christian circles. It's not a new book, by any means, but it was and has been raved about for years...by an author who basically "owns" one of the major Christian publishing houses. If I said her name, and you know Christian fiction, you'd recognize it.

I avoided this woman's work--I admit it. I avoided it partially because of the perverse notion I have that if everyone is raving too much about someone's work, I suspect that either they're all her friends or they all wanna be...and partially because, by nature, I'm a contrarian. You can bet that out of all the bestselling authors in the world, I'll like one or two, be bored by another bunch, and despise one or two at the other end of the spectrum.

And it must also be said that when it comes to bestsellers--especially Christian bestsellers--I am not impressed by the overall body of work. There are a handful of exceptions; I so wanted this gal's work to be one of the handful. I wanted to be proven wrong. And, for an immensely pleasurable time in the book, I was.

For a long ways into the story, it was exceptional. It was full of flawed people who sinned all over the place; it was full of dark murky things people had to "get over" and people who couldn't get past some of those dark murky things. It had fearful people as well as faithful people--sometimes in the same skin. So far, so good...until the last couple of chapters.

At that point, God was reaching into these characters' lives in some very real ways, they were coming closer to Him, and so they had a lot of questions to ask. And they started asking them of the central "Christian" godly woman character in the piece. And she sat down and started answering them.

What followed was something like a dozen pages (I don't know exactly how many; I gave up!) of what we Catholics would have called "Catechism class." Three major women characters in the book sat and talked theology. They sat and talked why God allowed certain things to happen. Why their lives had been the way they had been for the previous, oh, 300 pages or so. The beauty of Jesus' redemption of them all. Whether they could trust God or not. What would happen if they did. Did they need God's help? How could God love them? Was it all for real?

They became talking heads, spouting obligatory Bible truths, and the story stopped dead.
I realized it some distance into the discussion--about three pages or so--when I suddenly looked up from the page and said, "Wait a minute. Has anyone moved from a chair? Has anything happened in these last three pages besides three talking heads having Sunday school? And for whose benefit is this?"

Well, dear reader, the clear answer to that is...it's for your benefit. Yes, in case you hadn't gotten the message that God Loves You No Matter What, Yes, Even You, Yes, No Matter Where Or Who You Are, Yes, Just Trust Him--a message you definitely would have gotten by the way the characters' lives had interacted previous to this, especially the main "saved" character and her frequent spoutings of mini-Bible truths--the author decided to Lay It All Out Here And Show You How Marvelous This Christian Faith Is, By Golly.

But if you would rather the story have kept its intention and let you see that played out the rest of the way in the characters' lives....
Tough.

The author and editors of this fell right into the all-too-common trap of, apparently, believing that for Christian fiction to be really Christian, by golly, you'd better have That Gospel Truth Spelled Out In Plain English So That Your Reader Can Get Saved Reading Your Book...Even If You Have To Stop The Book Dead To Do It, Because It's Too Important To Let Slide, And God Knows We Can't Trust People To Be Intelligent Enough To "Get" That From Our Storyline Alone.

So they took a compelling, absorbing read and turned it into pap.
Just that fast.

This happens so often in Christian fiction that it's become a cliche in itself. And don't even get me started about most Catholic fiction--with a few notable exceptions, it's even worse. Not with the Gospel presentation, so to speak--"conversion scenes" as a rule aren't our stumbling blocks. But if the Catholic is actually writing from the POV of being faithful to the Magisterium--rare enough in itself--all too often, the book is little more than a treatise on Fatima and/or the End Times prophecies and how This World Has Already Gone To Hell, So Get Out That Holy Water And That Rosary OR ELSE.

Like I said...from potentially intelligent story to pap, in one easy and unfortunate step.

Enter the second book from my library bag that week: Rochelle Krich's BLUES IN THE NIGHT.

As a matter of fact, you should do that precise thing: enter the book. As in go to the library, check it out, and enter the world of Molly Blume and Rochelle Krich as her creator. Especially if you're a mystery buff at all--or a crime-solving buff at all. And who isn't, between Law & Order and CSI and all their spinoffs?

Because Molly Blume isn't just any ordinary mystery heroine. She's a published author of true crime stories...and an observant Orthodox Jew...who finds herself embroiled in solving real-life crimes as well. She says regular daily prayers, keeps kosher, and stops her work and ordinary everyday activities for Shabbat. She is very human--which means she's at times flawed, insecure, snarky, scared, and vulnerable...and also sweet, considerate, compassionate, and principled.

But most of all, she's a woman of faith, a faith as integral to her character as her hair color and height and personal baggage. In other words, she's a real woman, and a real Jew--unlike the Pollyanna Christians, Amish bonnet-babes, and/or wild-eyed borderline-personality Catholics we often encounter in so much of what attempts to be "faith-based" fiction. Yes, she's different. Yes, she's countercultural. But she isn't written that way so a reader will get A Message through the story. It's simply who she is, and the stories unfold in the ways they do because of the inevitability that a woman of faith--this particular faith--will have certain approaches to life that will make her story turn out in a different way from one in which there is no faith element present.

It's interesting to note that Ms. Krich's books aren't categorized as "religious fiction." That's because they're not. They're books peopled with Orthodox Jewish folks, they give you a fascinating glimpse into a life and a people many of us know almost nothing about...but make no mistake. They're not tracts. They're stories. And danged good ones, to boot. As in not-put-downable.

Which is a heck of a lot better than I can say for 99% of Christian fiction, past or present.

What we're talking about is special stuff, people: story, first, last, and always...with faith as an integral, inseparable, and sometimes determinant element--and with no need whatsoever to preach.
It's what we as Christians writing fiction ought to be doing.
Unfortunately, we still don't get that.
So I'd recommend we get to know Molly Blume, and see how to do it right.


Thoughts?
Janny

4 comments:

Janka H. said...

Dear Janny,

I wonder if you could recommend me any other of good Christian fiction, especially Catholic if possible. I reside outside of the U.S., but I´m going there soon for a business trip and I´m eager to buy me some nice Christian fiction books. So far I like Lisa Samson and Claudia Mair Burney.

Thanks in advance !

Janka (which means Janny in my language :))

Janny said...

Janka-

If you can send me your snailmail address, I can forward that to an author friend of mine who has done some great Christian/Catholic-friendly fiction. SEASONS IN THE MIST is the title I was going to recommend to you, so if you have an e-reader, you can go to Amazon and download it as well. Author's name is Deborah Kinnard.

Also, she recommends SENSIBLE SHOES, a novel by Sharon Brown. :-)

Hopefully, this helps, and if you can get e-books, there might be a lot more I can recommend your way!

Thanks,
Janny

Janka H. said...

Janny,

thanks a lot !!! Am I right that snail mail means my postal address ? (not compatible with all the terms as English is not my native language). If yes, of course I will give it to you, just confirm it please - but, please, don´t post it on your blog :)
When in U.S., I´m also buying an Kindle (because of postal fees), so yes, ebooks are also a possibility.
THANKS !

Janny said...

Janka-

Just send me your address directly to my personal e-mail, jbutler824@aol.com, and bypass the comment box entirely. That way nothing slips through that shouldn't!

When you get your Kindle, by the way, I will also have an e-book coming out in January that you can download as well. :-)


Thanks,
Janny