Monday, January 26, 2015

A Bookstore Condundrum

Be forewarned: I am about to get up on my soap box and rant.

I had another topic planned for this week (which should have been LAST week's post, postponed by someone blowing her data allowance for the month a whole week early and that same someone being too lazy to haul off to the library), but I changed my mind when I got the Christian Book Distributors catalog in the mail. Because it reminded me of my recent trip to the book store which ended, sadly, in heartbreak and tragedy.

So, here's my story, and I shall try not to burst into inconsolable tears here, because it is not pretty. A few weeks ago, I went to Barnes and Noble to do some browsing. "Browsing" in Savannah-speech is more a "pick up six, and maybe put one back--no, wait, I will get that one, too." Anyway, I went to the Christian section and found two racks of Christian fiction. One of the racks was entirely filled with Amish stories. Entirely. Top to bottom, side to side. The other rack contained everything else (everything else being historical fiction, primarily westerns, a couple of Ted Dekker titles, and a few detective stories and political what-ifs that, honestly, just didn't grab me with their originality...or, rather, lack thereof.) At this point, I noticed something.

That something being the SELECTION.

It was awful.

I walked out without a single book (because I already owned both Dekker titles).


And then, a few days later, I got the CBD catelog and I thought: oooh! Christmas in January! I'll only get one or two or ten. Sadly, no.

Fifteen pages of Amish fiction. Just as many pages of historical fiction. A spattering of mysteries and modern stories. One page devoted to fantasy. ONE, ALREADY-SKIMMED-OVER-IT-AND-HOLY-SMOKES-IS-IT-GONE-ALREADY, PAGE!!

Yes, I am crying now.

I have nothing against Amish literature. I live in Amish country: I love the culture and the people. I have nothing but fond memories of my Plain neighbors from when I was a child. Sanctuary and The Shunning sit on my shelf. But not the 2,000 copy-cat titles that came tumbling after.

What has happened to our creativity and appreciation for new and exciting stories? It's like we've decided "Okay, this is good and appropriate literature" and sure that's all been done (a lot) but let's hammer away at it, beating the proverbial dead horse we used to call good Christian literature. Are we just writing copy-cat stories because it sold then, so it must sell now?

Again, I don't have anything against Amish literature or historical fiction. I have plenty of each on my own shelf...ahem. Shelves. Er. Personal library. Whatever. The point is, that isn't ALL I have. But it seems like that's all that's out there.

And that's sad. Super sad.

What am I supposed to buy for my hubby? There is almost nothing out there for men. My husband is an avid reader. He is extremely intelligent. He devours commentaries and theology books like he devours candy. He likes deep, thought-provoking themes, with good action and a bit of mush-a-mush for that sentimental streak I adore. He gets almost as starry-eyed over allegory as he does over me (almost, but not quite). He loves Tolkein and Lewis, Lawhead and Terry Brooks. I recently introduced him to The Goldstone Wood series and am waiting for his review on them. But you don't find this kind of stuff on the have to go digging around on the internet and, even then, without much success.

Somebody commented once on my penchant for writing "dark" stories. My heroes are not good people, not always. Yes, you are going to find an occasional dragon or creeper running around trying to eat people. At the time, I didn't have an answer for them. Now I do. I write dark stories because, at their heart, they mean something. Most of us don't live in a world where we can just walk on over to the Amish neighbor and swap apple pie recipes (although I literally could). Most of us live in a world where we lose our jobs, and our loved ones, and our self respect, and our faith in God. We watch our loved ones suffer everyday. We see them bullied, and abused and neglected. Then we pick up the pieces and ask the hard questions. The why's. And the how comes. And the why me's. And, hopefully, the why did I ever doubt You's. I write dark stories because I believe God's love shines brighter in the hard times. I write dark stories because my husband enjoys reading them, and I can't find much of anything else to give him that isn't riddled with sex and excessive gore. He could care less about the apple pie unless he is the one actually eating it.

Honestly, I think we writers need to broaden our horizons if we're ever to compete with secular literature. Because when I can't find books in the Christian section...I haul my starving little self over to the teen best sellers and pick up The Hunger Games or Divergent. I would love to find some of these kinds of stories by Christian authors. Some good dystopian and fantasy stories that end with a positive theme and not depression, drugs and death. Are there any of these on the Christian bestsellers? Besides Karen Hancock's The Arena, which is pure and simple genius. I've read it a dozen times and will read it a dozen times more.What do we have to offer our kids that can actually compete with The Hunger Games?

The sad fact, folks, is not much.

One of the reasons I love fantasy and science fiction is because it gives me an opportunity to do something that's never been done before, or at the very least, not done very much. Not The-Shunning-done-ten-times-over. (I'm sorry, I just can't get past those FIFTEEN pages of Plain stories).

It's time to step up our game. We live in 2015 not the 1900's. Let's write like it.


  1. I have the same problem. I ended up telling a bookstore employee: 'never mind then, I guess I have an unusual taste.'

    Have you read John W Otte's Failstate books? He writes about teenage christian superheroes- refreshing.

    1. No I have not read this series: I will have to check it out!! Thank you!!

  2. Oh my, do I agree with you! I am blind, so I read anything I can get my hands on. Braille and audiobook producers latch onto historical and Amish Christian fiction, but there is little Christian fantasy available. Always thought it was just the audiobook industry that was decidedly lacking in the Christian fantasy or science fiction genres, but I guess I was wrong. If i want to read a particular series or book, I have to pay a great deal to have it transcribed, and that's very frustrating. It's a shame that the book industry seems to focus more on what sells than on broadening their horizons. There are so many terrific authors who have stories to tell. Perhaps the issue is that bookstores aren't doing as much business as online retailers, but there's still nothing quite like roaming through a store and touching books. I could gripe and gripe about this issue, but I'll stop now. Am glad that others feel the same way, though.

    Thanks for this post. Have you written any books available in audio format? Keep up the excellent work.

    1. I am so glad I am not the only one who feels this way. At this point, I have only had short stories published but after hearing your story, I will definitely be keeping the audio books in mind!!!

  3. Oh, and I love Arena, too. I've lost count how many times I've read it. Have you read Calvin Miller's The Singer Trilogy? It's one of my favorites, and if your husband likes allegory, I think he'll enjoy it.

    1. I have not read this series either!! I never thought by writing this post I would get so many wonderful suggestions. I feel as if I can go shopping now. :)

  4. Two more suggestions, though I have a feeling that you will be familiar with at least one of them... The Tale of the Lifesong (Hamerton) is my definite favorite of any modern fantasy, non-Christian. The Chiveis Series (Litfin) was really good, but the core idea would have made a better single volume than trilogy, Christian.
    ~ from Turkey

  5. Oh yes, I am SO familiar with this struggle. I've never actually read an Amish story that I really liked, so while I have no problem with people who enjoy that genre, I'm so tired of the ENDLESS pages of it in the CBD catalog and the prominence of it in the bookstore compared to other Christian books. I do read mostly historical fiction, but even then I've noticed that aside from a few of my favorite authors, there's this "sameness" to them all that leaves me wanting something historical with a new twist. The lack of Christian Sci-fi, though, is truly disappointing, although I have noticed lately a turn in the Christian YA genre to dystopian.