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Christian Fiction Sucks
Yes, the title is clickbait. But doesn't make it a lie.
Yes, I supposedly write "Christian Fiction."
So, what's the problem of "Christian Fiction"?
As with hanging or beheading, it's all in the execution.
So, how does Hell Spawn work as a Christian novel? To be honest, it’s a bit of a failure. Where’s the shoehorned salvation scene? The cutaway to souls in Hell? The ecumenical approach to doctrine? The 1990s This Present Darkness angel and spiritual warfare retreads? The sanitized approach to violence and evil? Where are the sermons?
I think that’s a good summation.
To start with, most of the books using the label “Christian Fiction” usually mean their heroes are spineless doormats. Or that the premise is so saccharine, there is little to no conflict.
It’s basically a lesser Hallmark movie, only with more religious platitudes. The fortune cookie tropes of the Hallmark film are replaced with Bible quotes or excerpts from saints.
In fact, a lot of the “religion” elements are excuses. Excuses for the hero to not stand up for himself or his loved ones (“turn the other cheek” and “meek” DON’T MEAN THAT). Excuses for bad writing (“You didn't like my book? You're anti-Christian!”). Excuses for padding the book with empty platitudes instead of plot.
Worst of all, they all violate the rule: show, don’t tell. The characters will not shut up about what they’re doing, and all their “super duper hard choices” that ... aren’t.
Maybe it’s me, but I’ve always been struck by Jesus saying “If you want to pray, don’t do it on the street corner. Go home and pray in a closet.”
So many of these stories are praying on street corners.
One of my favorite parts of writing Saint Tommy, NYPD, is that he's a hilariously good person. Yes, hilarious. Whenever someone hears that, yes, Tommy Nolan is a wonder worker with charisms from God, they think about it and go “That makes sense” — and it drives Nolan nuts. Because Nolan thinks he’s nothing special. Why SHOULDN’T he loan out a spare room to the homeless? Why SHOULDN’T he participate in his church functions? Why SHOULDN’T he find jobs for people (The more prosperity there is, the easier his job is. Duh.)?
It’s all common sense to him. **Obviously** he can do more. He’s just doing the bare minimum.
As opposed to some of these “Christian” books where characters want a medal pinned on them for making common sense decisions in no-risk situations. In Christian Fiction, everyone is the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14). No one is the Tax collector.
A few go to the extreme where they’re the tax collector 24/7, which is as unrealistic as the other end!
It drives me insane.
Not to mention how little conflict or adversity takes place in most of these stories. The stakes are so low, they’re nonexistent.
And yikes. I hate the plaster saints. They have no pet peeves. No complaints. They have NO personality aside from “Good pure and holy.” They're martyrs for existing.
Real saints are … all over the place on the personality map. Saint Francis was a little on the manic side. Thomas Aquinas was your standard genius — he probably needed a minder. Then there’s Saint Jerome... who didn't like anybody except for his pet lion and Saint Ambrose, who was pure good and holy.
There’s a reason I have Tommy Nolan making jokes about various and sundry orders: because these are the jokes I grew up with. My father’s a third order (ie: a lay) Dominican (from the Order of Preachers, not the Dominican Republic). My Christians have a sense of humor. And will do the dozens on each other ... they’re less “you’re mama” jokes, and more inside baseball. (EG: Not even God knows how much money the Franciscans have, or how many orders of nuns there are.)
In “Christian Fiction,” by and large, the plaster saints have no personality. They have no grudges. They have no anger. They have no life. For the love of God (literally) even Jesus braided a whip and used it on blasphemers! He probably spent hours making it from scratch, as fearful apostles looked on, wondering who was going to be taken out to the woodshed by Our Lord.
If you’re a purely secular reader, you might have glommed onto the key to the problem within the genre.
If not, let me ask: Because how much of this can be summed up as “message fiction”?
Probably all of it.
But instead of what we’re usually exposed to, this message fiction isn’t Leftist agit-prop. It’s feel-good agit-prop. I wouldn’t even call most of it Christian. Lines from the Bible are thrown out like Fortune Cookies.
Is this an unfair generalization? Please note that I keep using qualifiers: By and large, usually, most of, some of.
Then you look over at the “Christian Fiction” I’ve reviewed over at Upstream reviews. I have to put it in quotes because I normally wouldn't insult any of the books with the label. When one considers that the "best" of the genre has been ... what? The Left Behind series? I feel like it's insulting.
Why? Because the books I review at Upstream follows the first rule of writing.
Look at War Demons by Russell Newquist (My review / Amazon). Sure, if I wanted to, I could throw it into a Catholic literature course and prattle on about how the lead is an imperfect man who has to put himself against incredible odds to save those he loves, and finds redemption along the way.
Keep in mind, I could say the exact same thing about Die Hard. Because good character, good plotting, and character arcs SHOULD NOT be special.
(Also, John McClane is a Catholic action hero. So there.)
There's John C. Wright's Somewhither (My review / Book 1 link). Where it looks like standard epic fantasy … until you realize that the entire premise is that “The multiverse can only happen if the Source of Creation is involved”... so alternate universes happen only because of miracles (X universe is where Y miracle didn't happen). Sure, our hero is relatively sinless, but wow is he not flawless. It's a coming of age story … with monsters, swords, magic, armies of darkness, and an X-Men SWAT team. It's awesome. And it's John C Wright, so you can probably get college lectures off of his casual one-liners.
Keep in mind that the Silver Empire Christian fiction section includes L Jagi Lamplighter's Rachel Griffin Series (My review / General link). The series only hints at Jesus and monotheism, but God is inescapable, even in a world where He's been erased from memory. It's about as Christian as Narnia, and about as much of a Rorschach test. Seriously, it has Aslan as a running character, only with some of the serial numbers filed off.
Ann Margaret Lewis' Nephilim: Corruption, is where the Nephilim were moved to another planet. And if they fall, they fall hard. (My review.)
There's also my stuff, which is in the "Christian Fiction" section. All of it.
The Pius Trilogy is one part shoot-em-up, one part historical research paper. Even when I wrote it, I didn't see it as explicitly "Christian," I mostly saw it as an action yarn and a chance to redeem the memory of a good and just man. And fight a small war.
Love at First Bite? I used metaphysics as a way to explain vampires. I have some themes of redemption in there. I was more interested in exploring different ways for a human being to outfight a vampire. I still send said human to the hospital at least once a book. Because I don't feel like the hero has made an effort unless he needs a good week-long liedown.
Saint Tommy, NYPD ... do I need to explain that one?
Other people to read are Stephen R Lawhead. Or Tim Powers. Or Ralph McInerny. Or John Zmirak. Adam Lane Smith. Hell, I'd even throw some of John Ringo's books in.
You know what NONE of them have in the books?
Or long chapters of navel gazing.
None of them try to pass simple black and white decisions as life or death stakes.
In these books? Decisions are actual life and death stakes. None of them have "What if people don't like me?" -- it's "If we do this, we're going to be hunted down by people / demons who want us to die."
Because good writing is a priority.
As I said, there can be good “Christian Fiction,” but it’s all in the execution.