Staying Out of the Faith Box

writing

*Scroll down if you’ve stopped by to enter the giveaway.

“I’m going to write my way…If it’s a lifelong mistake, it won’t be the first one that’s been made.” – James Dickey

I’m going to do a no-no here and address a comment I heard in a review of one of my books, not to refute it, but because it got me to thinking about what happens when writers (or artists) let others put them in a box because their art isn’t religious enough.

What I found interesting about this two-starred review was that it briefly mentioned  a few things the reviewer didn’t like about the book, but nothing too terrible, and then it ended with the random statement “Not recommended for Church libraries.” I might ruffle some feathers by saying this, but I have to admit that I didn’t know whether to be insulted or complimented by that comment.

I am a Christian and I write fiction.

My publisher is the evangelical arm of Random House, so they have a Christian worldview. I feel confident my books fall well within my publisher’s guidelines, but it’s something I tried not to focus on when I was writing my first two novels. I tried to focus on the story. My worldview naturally came through my writing, but it was never my intention to preach. I’m glad this reviewer and a few others agree with me on that point.

While I love to hear a good sermon, I don’t like being preached to. Most people don’t like to have an idea forced on them and when I write a book, it is never my intention to do that to my reader. I love when I receive comments from readers who tell me they were touched deeply on a spiritual level. I love when they thank me for not writing about smut. But I  especially love when they tell me they couldn’t put my book down. That’s what I was really going for.

I have to admit that I certainly don’t write with church libraries in mind. It’s not that I am against them carrying my books. Of course that’s not the case, but my goal is to write a good story that will bring my readers hope. If it comes across as preachy or dogmatic, then I have failed. I don’t want to put my readers, or myself, in a box when I write. I want to write for the world (a lofty goal, I know).

I wish I could say that such comments and reviews, such as the one I mentioned earlier, don’t bother me or make me stop and question myself as an author, but that would be a lie. I’m human. Negative comments from fellow Christians do make me second-guess myself. The last thing I want to do is offend, but as an author I have to pause and consider who am I really trying to please? Ultimately I have only one judge, and I look to Him for my affirmation, as well as direction in my writing.

Since I am a Christian, it would be easy to let comments like “Not recommended for Church libraries” and other statements about books not being Christian enough stifle my writing. It’s sort of like having someone in your own family put you down. It’s not a nice thing, but it’s not about being nice, right? It’s about having a conversation. Each person in a family is different. Not all Christians are the same, no matter what the media would have us believe.

I don’t want to let anyone, not even my family, put me in a box. God didn’t create me in one, so why should I climb in there now?

I  know I don’t normally rant about too many things on my blog, but today is different. It’s hard as a person of faith to write without feeling the obligation of other people. If it’s coming from God that’s one thing, but in this case, I don’t think it is.

And by the way, if you can’t find my books in your church library, don’t worry. There are other places you can get them. And you never know, your librarian might want to order them.  And they really aren’t even all that edgy! And they have lots of flowers in them. And most people tell me they are clean!

What do you all think? Feel free to agree or disagree with me or each other.

–Tina

10 thoughts on “Staying Out of the Faith Box

  1. Hi Haleigh. How interesting that we have the same name! I’ll have to ask my husband if he knows any Forkners in Virginia. Thanks for your nice comments. I hope you will like trying the books. My niece is 12 and she likes Ruby Among Us, but is waiting a year or two to read Rose House. Ruby is about a mother, daughter, grandmother relationship. God bless you, sweetie.

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  2. Hey, I am 12 years, i live in Richmond Virginia! I am a Christian too, I accepted God when I was 3 years old. Your books sound really good!

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  3. I sat down for a weekend and read both your books. I devoured them and was so pleased with the lack of smut. I would happily place both in my church library and the public library and recommend them to everyone I know.
    You handling of personal situations brings out two very important things people need – forgiveness and grace. If I recall correctly those are major God things, so any Christian can easily use the books as a tool to show God to someone. To the reader who picks up your books at B&N or on line or at the public library – God could use that as a launching point for them to engage in honest converstation about their lives with the One who gave them life.
    I hope if/when I get a book out there it can have the same universality while pointing to the One who made the book possible.
    Well done, Tina! I am sure God is clapping and saying the exact same thing.

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    1. Cindi, thank you for saying such kind things. I really appreciate your support and all of your thoughts. I agree that forgiveness and grace ARE major God things.

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  4. Thans, Rel. And Joanne, your comments are interesting coming from someone who will be writing soon in the ABA (can’t wait for your new book!) and works in bookselling. Thank you for your insight.

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  5. Tina, I really admire you for staying true to yourself. It’s hard to keep working when critics make us second-guess our creative impulses.
    I think your books make an eloquent case for faith as a source of hope and inspiration, and you bring that message to a broad audience by avoiding a “preachy” tone. It’s very clear that faith makes your characters strong enough to win their battles and reach their goals.
    I’ve always thought it was odd that Christian fiction should be so rigorously separated from the so-called “mainstream” and shelved in a separate area of bookstores. The way you blend faith into your stories makes them entertaining and enlightening to all sorts of people–not just “church library” customers. I think that’s a good thing, and it takes a special talent like yours to walk that fine wire.

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  6. Thanks Steve! So nice of you. I have Peace Like a River and now that you mention it, I’m going to read it.

    Niki, love your thoughts. Jumping for joy. 🙂

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  7. I think you should jump for joy! (And if I ever find myself in the same situation, please feel free to hit me over the head with my own comments.) To me, also a Christian who writes fiction, if a book “doesn’t belong in a church library” that means people who actually need to discover something about God’s love for them might read it and be ministered to in a way that a tract, a “religious” book, or a church sermon never would. Somehow I think God would be more pleased by that than by the gift He has given you finding its way to a dusty church bookshelf. Keep up the good work!

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  8. I agree,
    We are created as individuals each with a unique voice. We have to be who we were meant to be no matter what christians or non-christians say.
    Maybe the criticism should be taken as a complement.There are great works by Christian writers that have managed to escape the Christian Fiction Ghetto in the booksore. “Peace Like a River” is the first book that comes to mind.
    Thanks to one reviewer Tina will have a new reader, I look forward to reading your books.

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