Friday, July 2, 2010

Christians, Spec-Fic, and the Amish Issue

A good friend of mine sent me this link the other day, about why there isn't more Christian Speculative Fiction on the market, and why the Amish seem to be taking over the world.

Well, Christian bookstores, at least.

I thought it would be fun to blog about.

So let's take a look.

1.) Christian Bookstores don't carry much spec-fic/sci-fi/fantasy.

Sure, we know that the bookstores skew towards a female, and often older, demographic (hence the Precious Moments population). We know that spec-fic readers tend to be male. The two don't meet well. But even if you could get the spec-fic reading men into the bookstores, past the Testamints, and into the bookshelves, you still have a person standing in your way.

The person who buys the store's stock.

We're in a recession. We have been for a while. Though there are sure-bet spec-fic authors like Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker, stores are going to be less likely to pick up books by lesser known authors in a genre that doesn't sell much.

And it's not just Christian bookstores. Mainstreams booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart are going to buy what they think will sell well in their stores.

2.) "Everyone" is asking for more Spec-fic, though.

Keep in mind that, yes, spec-fic readers are very vocal, but one more thing - they know how to use their computers (this is not necessarily true of Amish Fiction readers. Just sayin'). Mike Duran's inside source (and if my hunch regarding the identity of that source is right, is a solid person to listen to) made the point that if Spec-fic really truly sold like gangbusters, publishers and book store buyers would sit up and pay attention. Really. But they're not. So my guess is that "everyone" isn't as many people as you'd think.

3.) Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker are the big fish in the spec-fic world.

True. BUT there are tons of other writers out there. Bill Myers is one of them; he'll also be keynoting this summer at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Canby. Jill Williamson's By Darkness Hid was not only Marcher Lord Press's biggest seller, but won the 2010 Christy Award in their Visionary category. Randy Ingermanson has several books out, Eric Wilson did a Vampire trilogy with Thomas Nelson Publishers, Stephen Lawhead released several fantasy books. The books are out there. You might have to order them, but they are in existence.

That said...

I have to be honest here. My husband has read a lot of spec-fic of the Michael Crighton, James Rollins, Matthew Reilly, Clive Cussler type. (By the way, how much should Clive Cussler be on Dancing With the Stars? Tons, that's how much. He can drive to the lot in his pink car. Sorry. Tangent.) He's also read some of the Christian releases.

And honestly? He usually likes the general market ones better.

There have been some exceptions, but he prefers the plotting in the general market releases. And rather than ignore the elephant in the room, I'm going to go out on a limb here, and accept that I may receive angry letters - there is some really, really good Christian Fiction out there, of many genres. But some of it is not so great. Just because a book is written from a Christian world-view doesn't mean that it's a worthy piece of art or entertainment. I'm sorry. it doesn't.

So. There you have it. I'm not pointing fingers or naming names, I'm just putting it out there.

4.) Historical Romance and Amish are what's selling.

The economy is bad. CBA readers, by and large, are looking for love stories, and they want them in long skirts. Gloves optional. Why Amish? Because it's safe. Because it's cozy. Because their world is simplified. Because our world isn't. Our world is scary and war-ridden and filled with gray areas that are difficult to wade through.

Also,the rest of us look impossibly hip next to the Amish. There are loads of reasons. I did find out recently that the Amish boom is plateauing, at least. Most publishing houses have filled their Amish Writer Quotas, and in an industry where platform is the new black, that means that either you're already in, or you get to do something else. A new sub-genre will get its turn in the spotlight shortly. In the past we've seen Chick-Lit, suspense, and Prairie Fiction do really well. We'll see what comes next.

5.) The popularity of Amish Fiction represents a Christian world-view shift.

This is an interesting idea. In this blog, Mike Duran posits (sorry, watching lots of Fringe these days) that Christians are veering away from material that contains elements of the supernatural, that they avoid the mysterious. Duran argues that the Bible, what with the fish taxi and the speaking snake (oh, and the speaking mule), and the angels and the prince of the air and the curses and the locusts and the food appearing on the ground and the visions and the prophecies food multiplying and the dead being raised (reanimation? Sorry, like I said, watching Fringe) and the RESURRECTION, scripture alone includes a lot of weird. We won't even talk about end-times prophecy.

My theory on the subject is that Christians, by and large, like their spiritually-oriented paranormal material to be served straight-up. By that, I mean they want it to stay within the covers of their Bible. Because outside of that, you've got a lot of tricky theological decisions about what kinds of weird are okay, and which are twisting spiritual truths incorrectly and not okay, or downright occultic.

It's true, though, that many believers like to skip over the weirder passages of Scripture. Other believers prefer to believe a lot of the stranger bits are literary devices. We live is a post-modern world that clings to science and reason and avoids or negates the inexplicable. To think that post-modernism hasn't crept into the church is unrealistic.

Now, to say that non-paranormal stories are bland and avoid mystery is unfair. To quote Proverbs 30:18-19, "There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden." Life is mysterious. Romance is mysterious.

There's a lot of thoughts there, not necessarily a lot of conclusions.

What do you think?


  1. Agggh...had a really cool response all written out and I deleted it. Oh well...I think you're probably right about why "spec-fic" isn't more popular...backtrack, isn't sold as much as other forms of literature. I do remember Stephen Lawhead from my earlier years :) :) :)...specifically the Pendragon series..I believe that's what it was those years ago..and they were great...and very popular and people were buying them. Oh by the way...another good Stephen Lawhead book "Patrick"...
    I tend to think that some Christian bookstores..some..not all...will buy what will sell/make money...versus offering things that will also build up/encourage/be of substance etc...including in the areas of fiction. Does that make sense?
    For me personally, I'm not so concerned to be quite honest...because most of what I read right now has an element of historical fiction weaved in it!!!
    Apropos Precious Moments...that would be my generation...and I"m only a few years older than YOU...:) :) :)..but funnily enough, I never owned a single Precious Moments anything!!!...never...
    Have an awesome 4th of July!!!

  2. Thanks for being honest, and facing sticky issues! I too am saddened by the fact that one mostly has the option of quality or Christianity in terms of artistic content anymore. I hope to be part of positive change in that this area, though I am young, tend idealistic, and don't know exactly what God has in mind for me. We shall see. Anyway thanks for the comment!


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