Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Amish to Vampires--The future of Christian fiction?

A few weeks ago the Associated Press came out with an article about the changing world of Christian fiction. I could recap the entire article for you, but you can either read it for yourself (click on the link) or buy my one-sentence summation: "This ain't your grandma's Christian fiction!"

I have a confession to make. Until I signed a contract with Tyndale House Publishing, the last Christian fiction book I had read was a Janette Oke when I was a pre-teen. I think I liked it...? Throughout my teenage years my mom had a few Inspirational books laying around the house, and though I picked them up and tried to read them, they seemed really out of touch with my life and the things I was experiencing. I inherited my dad's reading habits: Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, Robin Cook... you get the picture. Which is kind of ironic because it's not like I had so much in common with Ludlum's covert spy gone rouge, the infamous Jason Bourne.

Any-hoo, as an author of Christian fiction (something I never thought I'd call myself!) I've had the pleasure of meeting many amazing authors and reading their equally amazing books. Apparently, I'm not the only one who has longed for more substance, more literary quality, more raw struggle in my books. The truth is, Christian fiction is becoming more... (dare I say it?) edgy. Okay, I hate that word. Don't know why, though it may have something to do with the implication that edgy Christian books blur the line between decent and indecent by sashaying up to the line in the sand and doing a seductive tango all over it. Is that necessary? Sometimes. And yet, I don't think it's something we should force in our books. But I digress...

In the next few days I'd love to continue this conversation and share some of my favorite Christian fiction authors with you. I'm also going to be giving away some books so stay tuned! In the meantime, I want to leave you with a question and a quote. The question is: What do you look for in a good book? What does it take for you to close the cover and sigh in contentment?

And, last but not least, they mentioned me in the AP article! How exciting is that?

"Other Christian fiction shows growing sophistication. No longer must characters follow a predictable path to salvation, for instance. The heroine of Nicole Baart's "The Moment Between," published by Tyndale, is not a conventional believer but a spiritual seeker; the novel is set in a vineyard and deals with a suicide."

Cool, eh? Have a fabulous Tuesday!


  1. I loved your book/writing for many of the reasons you listed above. You weren't afraid of authenticity and real characters. Yours is the exact kind of Christian fiction I love to read.
    What I look for in a good book = believability and tension.
    ~ Wendy

  2. In answer to the question posed in the blog, I find contentment in everything ending in happiness. That's how I like it. However, your books (Leaves and Snow) allowed me to appreciate and favor those stories that end, not so much wrapping up every little detail, but leaving some spaces open for hope to wedge into the reader's contentment with the overall story. So, thank you. :)

    Now, about the topic in general: One year, fourteen chapters, and a week of contemplation later after coming up with an idea for a story, I decided to restructure the format and switch from first to third person point of view. So, basically, I'm rewriting (for the millionth time) a story that's been following me around for an entire year. I've finally found a structure I'm excited about, and I've recaptured the fun in writing this story. However, one thing I've been struggling with is decency vs. indecency in this idea. Because I'm more of a "dark" (as I like to call it) writer. I like writing about serious topics and redemption. So, I've been struggling with one particular character who, in his childhood and adolescence, was definitely on the indecent side, and I've been wondering how God would want it written. Because some of the most crude people with horrible lifestyles have found God through His amazing Grace. Would certain aspects of said person's story need to be censored for God or would God prefer the vulnerability of such a harrowing story? It's just something I wondered, because naturally I wouldn't want to write something that would offend God, but I also want to tell the stories of genuine people with terrible, but redemptive stories. The reason for that is because I know people who have had indecent pasts, but found God. Those are the stories I'm interested in writing, so should their be any censorship? What would be considered crossing that indecent line for christian fiction and for general fiction?

  3. Wendy, I'd love to hear what other Christian fiction books you've read and enjoyed. I'm learning that this market is much more diverse than initially meets the eye!

    And Lauren, I'm glad that my books had enough hope to hold your attention. I find that the older I get the more I long for happily-ever-after stories. I wonder why that is?

    As for your question, I think that the line between decent and indecent is always going to be hard to define. There are some people who are going to think that my "graphic" suicide scene at the beginning of "The Moment Between" is unnecessarily descriptive. And there are others who will find it frustratingly tame. As for me, I think the line is crossed when something you write tempts someone into sin. For example, I read a Christian fiction book a while back that was downright titillating. It wasn't erotica, but it was darn near close. Personally, I think that's unnecessary and that it leads people down paths that are probably better left unexplored. Same goes for swearing/cussing/whatever you want to call it. Writing this will probably offend someone, but where I grew up the word "shit" was just a part of the vernacular. I live in a farming community and that's just something that animals do. Period. But I know that some people would find that word incredibly offensive so I avoid it in my writing. Same goes for the words "gosh," "golly," and even "god." I was brought up to believe that those words are all derogative nicknames for the great God that I love and adore. It really bothers me to hear someone say them. But I have friends who use them on a daily basis with no ill intent. So I think that even if your intentions are pure, someone is probably going to find fault with what you write if you craft anything other than plots and characters that are pure as the driven snow. The good news is, there are lots of Christian authors these days who are willing to tackle very real issues. Tosca Lee wrote a book about demons, Mary DeMuth deals with drug, alcohol, and sexual abuse in her books, and Travis Thrasher writes Christian horror stories. These stories need to be told, and I'm glad that there are people brave enough to tell them. Sounds like that includes you, Lauren. I think you should write what you're called to write and let the chips fall where they may. You can always edit. ;)

  4. What makes me love a book? Wow, that's sort of a tough question, because really, there's no set formula and writing is so subjective.

    But here are a few things that might hook me:

    An intriguing, sympathetic character. I love characters.

    Lots of tension...I like to squirm when I read.

    Emotion. I want to laugh, cry, be inspired, get angry.... Basically, I want to care. And emotion makes me care.

    When it comes down to it, the stories I love are the ones that sweep me away and make me forget I'm sitting on my couch, reading a book. They are the ones that wrap me in the story and transport me to a different time and place. I have no idea what ingredients make that happen, but I love it when it does.

    My favorite authors:
    Francine Rivers and this charming woman from Iowa... I think her name is Nicole Baart. ;)

  5. I am really looking forward to your upcoming post (and the give aways too!) about some of your favorite authors because I am an avid reader and am always on the hunt for a really great book. I don't want to put down Christian authors in ANY way because Christian fiction is mostly all that I read. I often find that they are "easy" reads. In your recent book, The Moment Between, I really loved how it wasn't predictable, fluffy, and the characters didn't always say or do the right thing. Thank you for being willing to write a story that did deal with a sensitive subject matter. In the end, a story of grace and redemption was clearly told and I loved every page of it! I really enjoy books that challenge my thinking, make me laugh and cry, and when I feel like I have connected with the character(s) in some way.

  6. My review of ATLF is here: http://www.amazon.com/After-Leaves-Fall-Nicole-Baart/product-reviews/1414316224/ref=cm_cr_dp_all_helpful?ie=UTF8&coliid=&showViewpoints=1&colid=&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending

  7. I also definitely agree with Katie. A book is good when it draws out your emotions, because, yes, that means you care. And thank you Nicole for the feedback! I appreciate it. :)

  8. I'm sensing a vein here... We like emotional books--books that make us feel something. I agree. And I'm astounded by how that emotion can be brought out in a myriad of different ways. Through characters, circumstances, conflict, even chaos in our books. Hmmm. Something to think about.

    Thank you, Katie and Christy for your gracious words. I want to do all of those things you talk about in my books, but I know that I often fall short. Is it possible to pen a perfect novel? Thankfully, blessedly, no. But thanks for being my guinea pigs as I try and try again!

    Warren, thanks for the lovely review. I'll include lots of fun stuff in the package I send with Summer Snow. :)

    You're welcome, Lauren.

  9. Hi, Nicole! I've posted here a couple of times and wanted to share my thoughts on this post.

    The emotion factor is usually key with me. I love getting pulled into a character's story and made to feel alongside of them; then, the descriptions, imagery, etc makes me physically feel as if I am part of their world.

    Francine Rivers is one of three Christian authors I have read. (You and Tracie Peterson are the other two! Though, I've only read a novella collection called 'Castles' by Tracie.) I was a giant ball of tears reading through Francine's The Mark of the Lion trilogy. Not sure why, but I could NOT put those books down. I was so connected to her characters and their lives that I just had to keep reading, even though it was three in the morning. That's the emotion/tension aspect of reading that I enjoy having in a book.

    As far as 'After the Leaves Fall' and 'Summer Snow', I greatly appreciated the more literary style that you have. It was a different reading experience. I felt more challenged as a reader. It was more thought-provoking and interesting, actually. I like the fact that your characters, especially for a Christian novel, have elements about their lives that aren't so perfect. Because we aren't. But there is still hope and determination in Julia and others that we get to see. And we still see God's grace in action. So, in nutshell, you nail the emotion/tension AND make me feel as if I've been challenged. A good combination I think. :) I haven't had a chance to read The Moment Between yet, but I am looking forward to it!

  10. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts! I couldn't agree more: Francine Rivers is an unparalleled author--her gift is stunning and her books are moving. I also devoured The Mark of the Lion series with tissue boxes nearby. :)

    As for your kind words about my books, thank you. It's so uplifting to know that there are people who my stories resonate with. I think you've captured what I try to do in my books: write real, compelling stories that show both the darkness of our current condition and the beautiful grace that is so freely offered. It's a hard balance to strike, but I hope to keep trying for many years to come!