Guest Author C. S. Lakin on “Christian Fiction–Is is Effective?”

February 7, 2013


The first question that needs to be asked about writing Christian fiction is, Who is the writer’s audience? Most Christian writers write for the Christian market, and the publishers in CBA (the acronym for publishers in that market) buy and solicit novels they hope will sell, based on the sales records and buyers’ demographics—which consist mostly of white, American females in their thirties with a high school education only, small children at home, and not extremely traveled or “worldy” in the more general sense of the word. These readers who are targeted by the CBA booksellers and publishers have very narrow tastes, and for an author to want to sell in that market, they have to tailor their novels to fit. Which, to reiterate, provides a very limited canvas on which to create.

What is meant by “effective”? If the goal of author/agent/editor/publisher is to sell books to entertain believers, then an author who writes such a book that sells well is “effectively” accomplishing the goals aimed for.

But there is another group of writers who want to be effective in a different way, and I am one of them. I don’t write for fun. I don’t write to entertain other Christians. I feel a pressing calling from God to reach out to the lost in the world, to those who have no hope and do not know a plan of salvation has been executed on their behalf and is being offered to them. I look at my writing as 100% ministry, and my efforts and prayers are all directed toward those ends. I take the views of authors like Flannery O’Conner and Madeline L’Engle who felt strongly that their writing should honestly and even painfully reflect the true state of the human condition, of sin, and all its ugliness without censoring. I was told pointedly by a senior editor at one of the largest CBA publishing houses that a Christian should never write for unbelievers. She should only write for Christians, and hope that some believer, for example, at her work would pass on the book to a non-Christian. Shock aside, I completely disagreed with her. I feel that, if this is truly the view of CBA overall, it shows the intent of this collective publishing endeavor is way off, and missing the heart of God. And to me, that paints a very sad picture indeed.

Censoring is a big thing in CBA because the typical CBA reader does not want to look at the down and dirty condition of humanity. She wants a clean, sweet, entertaining read that will upbuild her and make her happy. Not make her face life as it really is, and make her think deeply and outside the “safe cocoon” of the Christian life. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule, but I feel the writers who work hard in their ministry to reach the lost through their fiction, to be effective, need to do what author Tim Downs suggests—to woo the world back to God. To plant seeds and let God water them, for this isn’t a time of harvest but a time of planting and watering. Gone are the days of pounding people over the head with the Bible and decrying their sin and telling them to “repent for the end is near.”

Yes, we know we have a responsibility to preach the kingdom before the end comes, but it has been proven over time that “wooing” readers by sharing an honest worldview, as did writers like O’Connor and L’Engle, draws people to God more than preaching at them. And sadly, I have read way too many Christian novels that made me cringe and that I found appalling in their blatant preachiness that often not just bordered on but crossed the line into harsh judgment and abject scare tactics and manipulation. Those types of books offend me, so I can only imagine how much they would offend someone who does not know God or the Bible. I wasn’t raised in the church; I was raised a Jewish atheist, and so understand why God is using me to write the kinds of novels I write. I know what it’s like to be preached at and to be offended by certain phrasing and terms. It took me years before I could even say the name Jesus without a bad taste in my mouth, and it’s sad so many Christians (who were raised “in the church”) have no sensibilities at all toward those who come from such a different worldview and upbringing. We are to be “all things to all people” according to the apostle Paul in order to “win” others to Christ, and pushing our agenda in our fiction to force Christianity on others is not in line with his wise admonition.

Many Christians in CBA publishing would disagree with me, and are offended by my remarks and reactions to so many books in CBA. I feel hard-hitting, preachy books not only do a disservice to God, they turn people away from him and, in effect, serve the purposes of the Enemy, who wants nothing more than to chase people away from their Creator. Authors of those books will say they are not writing for nonbelievers. Yet, what are they thinking will happen when a nonbeliever picks up their book—purposely or incidentally—and reads it? If that novel subsequently turns them further from God because of its offensive presentation, even though it is hailed by Christians as a great read, what are we to think? I’ll leave that to you to decide. I don’t blame many nonbeliever critics of Christian fiction at all, and well, I would invite them to read my novels, and those of other Christian writers who share my view. The greatest joys I have had as a published author are the comments from readers, who are not Christian, telling me how moved they were when they read my books and how the topic of religion and faith was so nicely handled and did not offend, so much so it got them thinking. That’s why I write, and to me, that’s evidence of effectiveness of the best kind.

C. S. Lakin writes novels in numerous genres, focusing mostly on contemporary psychological mysteries and allegorical fantasy. Her novel Someone to Blame (contemporary fiction) won the 2009 Zondervan First Novel competition 2009 (published October 2010). Lakin’s Gates of Heaven fantasy series for adults (AMG-Living Ink Publishers) features original full-length fairy tales in traditional style. Already in print are the first books in the series, The Wolf of Tebron and The Map across Time, with five more to follow. In addition to her mysteries and fantasy series, she has also written the first book in a Young Adult sci-fi adventure series: Time Sniffers, slated to be published. Her contemporary mystery Innocent Little Crimes made the top one hundred finalists in the 2009 Amazon Breakout Novel Award contest, earning her a Publisher’s Weekly review which stated her book was “a page-turning thrill-ride that will have readers holding their breaths the whole way through.”

Lakin currently works as a freelance copyeditor and writing mentor, specializing in helping authors prepare their books for publication. She is a member of The Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), CEN (Christian Editor Network), CAN (Christian Authors Network—regular blogger), ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), and two regional writers’ groups. She edits for individuals, small publishing companies, and literary agents, and teaches workshops and does critiques at writers’ conferences, and occasionally guest blogs on writing sites.

She recently completed Intended for Harm, a contemporary take-off on the biblical story of Jacob and Joseph and is developing a swashbuckling dog memoir in the style of Moby Dick entitled A Dog after God’s Own Heart. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with her husband Lee, a gigantic lab named Coaltrane, and three persnickety cats.


2 Responses to “Guest Author C. S. Lakin on “Christian Fiction–Is is Effective?””

  1. “Preach” it, Sister! To say that Christian writers must write for Christians is like saying Jesus came for the righteous.

  2. Sara said

    Ms. Lakin, this blog totally sings to my heart. I am an avid reader and a fledgling author and one of my many frustrations with the Christian market is how sanitized things are or predictable the stories are. There’s nothing wrong with that; sometimes we want some safe, good reading. But I know as a Christian, I am still a sinner and I still struggle with wordly issues. And I want to read about realistic characters in books who struggle with faith and the world. I don’t want the book’s question to be: will he or won’t he believe God in the end? If it’s on a Christian bookshelf, I know the answer before I open the first page.

    What I crave are stories with other thematic elements, ones that still possess a current of faith but explore it from the vantage of different characters (believers, non-believers, and anti-believers). I want to read and write stories that are relate-able and exciting for the believer and the non-believer, ones that raise thought-provoking questions but don’t reach through the page to choke me with lecture or preachiness.

    Your post is exactly why I want to write and describes the kind of material I am excited to read. I confess, I have not yet read any of your books but I am picking one up as soon as I end this post. Thank you for standing up to the market and expressing your need to write for a market that needs Jesus as well as the one who has already found Him.

    God Bless.


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