Sanitary Fiction

If you read my blog, then you know my thoughts on shying away from difficult subjects in fiction. But I realized the other day, while skimming over some notes I’d made on various and sundry things, exactly how to word it. You see, I can’t stand the wishy-washy, soft, baby-food Christian fiction that churns from the presses these days. Every once in a while there’sΒ a deep, thought-provoking novel that I can sink my teeth into, but more often than not, Christian books are so watered-down that they don’t do anything for me.

I realized exactly what is.

Christian books these days are too sanitary. There are subjects and themes that should not be sanitized like they are. Is the Bible ‘sanitary?’ Does it soften and water down difficult issues? No. It confronts murder, incest, homosexuality, rape, adultery, and many other pressing issues, and it confronts them head-on. Nowhere in the Bible does God say “I want you to tell people how wrong this thing is…but I want you to do it nicely. In fact, I want you to be so nice about it that they have no idea what you’re really talking about. Don’t step on any toes. After al, I want everyone to be comfortable!”

Let me say this – I have never, ever heard of a soft, baby-food book changing someone’s life, shaking them from the core, opening their eyes to truth. The books that change people’s lives are always the difficult ones, the ones that venture into rarely-trekked territory, the ones that make you think.

There are issues today that need to be addressed, but Christians are too afraid to address them. Just take a look at our publicc and private schools, and beyond. Horrific bullying, rape heterosexual and otherwise, unwed mothers, prostitution, parental and drug abuse – and the only books that talk about these things are books by secular authors.

Who are we, to hand over today’s most pressing issues to the world? Where are people going to turn, when they see Christians aren’t talking about the subjects they need help with? My novel Acceso is my current most popular work in progress, and yet it deals with depression, suicide, and underworld slave contracts. Do you know why it’s the most popular? Because it helps people. I’ve gotten emails and messages from people who are reading it, thanking me for writing about such difficult subjects because they never hear it put in a right way from anyone else.

There are things that were never meant to be sanitized. Get it right, get it Godly, and don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable; because nobody is going to be changed by comfort and normalcy.


34 thoughts on “Sanitary Fiction

  1. Oh. My. Word. This has to be *the best* post I’ve read in a long time… and expresses just about everything that I’ve ever wanted to say, but couldn’t put into words! Every Christian writer needs to read this!
    On another note, I’ve always wanted to write a contemporary novel that deals with some of these issues, but I don’t think that I could do the stories in my head the justice they deserve. :/

    • I’m glad you liked it! Acceso was my first real jump into contemporary literature, and since then I’ve begun to enjoy tackling hard subjects. Sometimes it’s REALLY hard, because the world can be awful and getting a godly balance is hard. You could completely do it. I know you. πŸ˜‰

  2. Amen, sistah! Lately I’ve been mulling over a new plot that I realized could be categorized as ‘Christian fiction//romance’. And I *HATE* ‘Christian Romance’ with a passion! It’s probably the genre I hate and despise most– for the EXACT reasons you mentioned above! And yet… this new book idea doesn’t both me because I’m not seeking to sugar coat everything. A good book is one that make you think, pulls things out of the dark closet corners and forces you to make you mind up about them. And that’s exactly why we love your books. Keep it up, girl!

    • I know that feeling!! When I began “The Meaning of Always” I was afraid it would be classified as a summer teen romance, which I didn’t want it to be. I love how it turned/is turning out, though, so I’m not worried anymore. πŸ˜€

  3. Here’s to you, Mirriam, and your frank approach to “dark issues full of disaster.” I’m glad to find another author of my strain out there, though the direct confrontation of these issues is often your main thrust, and often a secondary one for me. Among other things, GINGERUNE tackles sexuality in a way that I cannot allow to be “sanitized” or weak (because that’s insulting to lovers), nor pornographic, which can also be found in Christian literature, unfortunately.

    Here’s to you, old bean. ^.^

    • I love how we tackle hard subjects in different ways – I LOVED the way you dealt with issues in The Shadow Things. It was probably my favorite thing about the book!

  4. YES! This is exactly why I’m so proud of Jeff Gerke for releasing the Hinterlands imprint! I commented on his post and said that Christians should be known for being intrepid. After all, what do we have to fear?

  5. And perhaps this is why I have wanted to avoid being labeled as a Christian writer? I have rarely found a book under the Christian label that really handles real subjects– or was even very well written, to be honest. I write things that handle rougher topics occasionally. But I’ve always figured I’d try to avoid that Christian label on my books. Who’s going to pick up those books besides a Christian? Or the ones at the library with the big Christian sticker on the binding, only a Christian is going to pick those up and it’s not necessarily going to help anyone. The people who would need it most would be more likely to avoid that label. So I always figured I’d avoid having that sticker on something I write, it won’t help anyone if I’m shoved in a little boxed genre that everyone has low expectations for… And that, I’m afraid, is my sad little sort of bordering-on-off-topic spiel xD.

      • I agree with what Lewis said too. I’m an author who is Catholic, thus what I believe morally is going to show in my characters-though not likely my villains or those who have to grow into that-but the story is not necessarily going to be about their faith, yet their example is what expresses it. Mostly because I have a hard time writing directly about religion in fiction without it sounding corny. Just like you were talking about in your post and Christian literature becoming quite pathetic in theses times. You certainly showed them Mirriam, with Monster! Keep up the good work! πŸ™‚

  6. See, I get where you’re going with this, even though I’m not Christian. This is a fact we’ve discussed in the past, and it’s just the way I was raised, after a falling-out with the Catholic church. For the most part, I agree with what you said, from an outsider’s point of view, at least. But there was one point– where you talked about public schools– that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. Because I’ve known people who went to private schools who have had bullying that is 10x worse than anything I’ve ever encountered in my public education. And the fact of the matter, is that bullying, rape, unwed mothers, prostitution, and especially parental and drug abuse, can happen anywhere. It doesn’t matter if you go to a public school or a private school or if you’re homeschooled. Yes, people who aren’t homeschooled are often more exposed to things like drugs and unwed families, but it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen in other communities too. Yet, to me, I don’t see what where you’re educated has anything to do with these issues. I do know what you mean, about Christian authors. The blogging communities that I have stumbled upon are mostly Christian, and many review books by Christian authors, and it’s rare that I see these kinds of issues addressed in those reviews and posts. Although if you do look outside of the “Christian author” community, you’ll find countless books addressing any one of these issues.

    I do think this is a good post, though, and very well worded. It helped me– an outsider on most accounts– to see your point of view. I’m not trying to tear you down or anything, and I hope this comment didn’t come across that way.

    • I agree; bullying, rape, etc. can happen anywhere. I worded it to sound as if it only happens in public school, which isn’t what I meant. It can happen in a parking lot, in private school, public school, boarding school, in the open, in your house.

  7. Have you read anything by Chris Fabry? I just finished Every Waking Moment (it’s not technically out, but I had the privilege of reading a prerelease copy). Mr. Fabry is certainly Christian, but he isn’t afraid to tackle tough issues – Almost Heaven is particularly gritty. He’s also an excellent writer.
    I think you’d like his books πŸ™‚

  8. This was amazing to read. and it was perfection. Peickal. Whathaveyou.

    And I think this isn’t confined to just literature – you see plenty of it in other things, such as music. This is partially the reason I don’t listen to much CCM anymore. It’s more brutal in Rock and Metal, and I like brutal, you know? I like things that make me think, not only because I enjoy a good debate, but also because in asking questions of Him I get answers in all sorts of forms.

    A friend of mine has a saying, “The words that hit hard are the ones that stick.” I think this goes well along with that. Political correction to political awareness – I wonder which will win.

    Thank you for this.

    • I completely agree. This stretches into the areas of music, movies, etc. as well. I love music, but rarely listen to ‘Christian’ music because it’s so washed-out and pointless. Groups like Skillet and Daughtry stick with me, because the artists are Christians but they’re willing to deal with deep, thought-provoking subjects! πŸ˜€

      • I love Skillet. =D And some of the bands I listen to are so abstract in lyrics they’re ambiguous and I love that, you know? It’s sort of like how the Bible itself is, amibiguous to some and yet crystal clear.

        So yeah.

  9. I’m going to have to be honest… I agree… And… I disagree. I think there is a place for any of the literature that exists in the Christian world. I do agree that a lot of times Christian literary works can be majorly watered down and sappy, but I can tell you from personal experience that there have been times when that has been exactly what I have needed, or all I could manage to read. When life has been too weighted down by challenge, tribulation, hard times, (or lack of sleep) and I have desperately wanted to read my heart out but not been able to handle anything weighty. Sometimes those sappy, watered down creations have been just what I have needed to have a breath of fresh air, some have spoken Jesus to my heart in spite of the, what you would call, weakness of it. YES! There is a place for edgier works. Yes, I also NEED that, which might be why I am anxious to get my hands on Monster, besides the fact that “sanctity of life” is near and dear to my heart… You mentioned other topics that you touch on or feel should be touched on in books… I think it comes down to authors, any authors, doing as GOD calls them to do. Not all people are the same. I have faced challenges in my life that others could only dream of, Characters are different, so are experiences and needs. I happen to like sappy, tacky, and lame, because I can LAUGH and learn through them. Through recent challenges, “she who laughs, lasts” has been a reminder that God can and will bring me through. He has used those weak works to bring me back to strength, so that I can look forward again to read real meaty works like yours. “there is a time for everything…” right? I get, REALLY GET, what you are saying. I’m assuming that it can be really hard not to get trapped as an author into a certain “type”, too… May God direct you and all authors to be faithful in whatever you write, whether it be books or music. What touches one, may or may not touch another. Be who God has made you and expects you to be, but please consider that God calls us to be a body, not demeaning one another, but lifting each other up. Those of us with eclectic tastes have it and shouldn’t be judged because of it. It’s not our duty to judge how another handles the talent God gives them. Other authors may be doing exactly as God intended for them. While He has a different plan for you. I look at it like Christian motorcyclists, truckers, pastor’s kids, mechanics, cashiers, stay at home moms, or whatever. I can touch a life that YOU may not be able to reach, just as you can touch a life that I may not be able to reach. You may not agree with the CONTINUATION of sappy, weak works, but that’s not your responsibility. YOURS is to heed the voice of Jesus, using your talents and giftings to bring him glory. I have a situation myself where a sister in the Lord has continually ridiculed me due to singing differently than her. I am at peace knowing that the Lord has made my voice and style My Own so He can use me differently than He’s using her. Whatever you do, do as unto the Lord and not to man!!! (Colossians 3) Certainly don’t let what God created you to do be shoved in a certain boxed type. YOU are interesting, unique, and make me excited because I know God has amazing plans for you. Be passionate, hungry for more, motivated to see God REaLLY work and move for His glory in all creative areas, but be careful not to judge your brother along the way because he’s blessed where he is or likes what he likes… Big hug! πŸ˜€ “God bless you.. Keep you… Make His face shine upon you… Be gracious to you… And give you peace.”

  10. You hit the nail on the head, Mirriam. I came to your blog for the first time in a while (I’ve seen it once or twice before) and to have this post greet me, something that I agree with entirely, was a beautiful gulp of blue sky. πŸ™‚ The issues need to be addressed, feelings aside.

    Words are here for us to describe & relay things. Let’s use them for good.

  11. (newcomer here!) I agree with Celita. Sometimes those deep, gut-wrenching books (or movies/music) is just not what I need at a certain time of life. I love emotion with all of my being, and I also love books that delve into the human psyche and the gritty aspects of the human soul…but I also love One Direction and ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’. I also, personally, don’t want my children to read books that delve into the mind of a twisted world. Children should keep their innocence until I feel that they are ready to learn about the world and how twisted and perverted it is. At times I wish that I hadn’t learned certain aspects of human behavior as young as I did because it tainted a portion of my childhood.
    While, yes, I believe that there need to be more books that deal with Christianity and the deeper, more gritty aspects of society, I do not believe that should be /all/ that should be out there. Look at C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series. It definitely deals with aspects of the human soul, but it is also fun and beautiful in it’s own way.
    I am still young, barely out of childhood, but I have learned that when you dwell on darkness with very little light for too long it can mess with your mind. If you read the Bible, yes, it deals with some pretty raunchy themes, but it also deals with love and beauty. It is not all darkness, which I am pretty sure is not what you are advocating πŸ™‚ (Btw, I read ‘Monster’ and loved it. It gave me the same feeling that ‘The Great Gatsby gave me…which is a very good thing). I am pretty sure that God is pulling me in a direction that deals with the darkness in this world and brings the Light of Christ to it, while I see two of my younger sisters being pulled towards a life more like my mother’s, that of a stay-at-home mom whose battlefield is their home, and the small community that surrounds it (that is everyone’s ‘main’ battlefield…but some are called to bring their home field into a darker place to battle as a family unit…if that makes any sense). I guess what I am attempting to get at is that everyone is called to write something else. I know that I, personally, have grown from reading a cheesy, mainstream Christian book because at that point in time I needed laughter and cheese-whiz to soothe my soul πŸ™‚ Tears and heart-ache would have made it worse and pulled me into a deeper depression πŸ™‚


    • Also, all Christian artists are not all ‘wishy-washy πŸ˜‰ Many times they are creating praise music; music meant to cause you to smile and remember that ‘God is good’. It’s not meant to pull you on a roller-coaster of emotions, instead it is to bring your soul to a place of worship, a place of rest. THAT is why I love Chris Tomlin, Sidewalk Prophets, Tenth Avenue North and Jonny Diaz. It reminds me that God is ‘I AM’ that He is the author and the creator πŸ™‚

  12. THANK YOU. This is exactly what I needed to hear… My current ‘pet project’ has a lot of philosophical arguments laced in there, and I had been struggling a little with the fact that some people might not deem it ‘neat and tidy’ enough to be ‘Christian.’ Thank you for this!

  13. I have greatly enjoyed reading this post, and the ensuing comments. I would simply like to point out two things:
    1. Most authors bearing the label of ‘Christian’ are not going to reach many people in non-Christian audiences. So, if you’re carrying that label, why not focus your books on edifying your fellow Believers? I think it is wonderful when a Christian writer finds their way into non-Christian audiences (and we definitely need to see more of that), but there are also many ways in which we Christians can build each other up through our writing. Why don’t we have more books dealing with the tough issues Christians face?
    2. Bear in mind that a book can deal with darkness without becoming depressing and horrible and dark. I deal with darkness every single day, in my life, the lives of my friends and family members, and society in general, yet my life is, on the whole, a very joyful thing. Why? Because of Jesus. We should bear in mind that God brings us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. So, though our stories may have to tell the hard truth about some very ugly things, the ultimate purpose is to point the way to a very beautiful thing – the redemptive grace and love of God.

    Truth and Beauty is my motto. πŸ™‚

    And keep up the good work.

  14. I love gritty books and novels, and I’m very much in agreement with you. I probably just take it a little farther even, haha. πŸ™‚ Congrats on graduating and your book being published. πŸ™‚

  15. I agree with you for the most part but at the same time I don’t think we should delve too deep into evil or graphic. I’ve read enough CF to know how wishy-washy it is(me and my family like to call it “fluff”:) and looking for a good thought-provoking novel can be like looking for a needle in a haystack! But I have read some that I felt like I needed to stop reading because I felt like it was too sensual or dirty. But like I said I, I agree we need more fiction that inspires and informs.

    • Oh, exactly. I think we need to know how much is TOO much, but at the same time, don’t wash things out so much we sacrifice the moral o the story. πŸ™‚

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