I believe CS Lewis said that we don’t need more Christian fiction. We just need more Christians writing fiction. And I hold with that: I would love to see a bookstore filled with a rainbow of novels written by authors with varying worldviews, the main characters all being true expressions of what it means to be agnostic, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, atheist, Hindu, whatever. Most of us read to step out of the world we know, and personally speaking, I don’t have a problem reading about a character whose beliefs are markedly different from my own.
At the moment, sadly, Christian characters keep getting stereotyped. In Christian inspirational fiction, they’re stereotyped one way (the True Believer who holds with the literal interpretation of the Bible and solves all his problems that way) and in mainstream fiction, from what I’ve seen, there’s a tendency to stereotype the other way (two dimensional hypocrites with no compassion for anyone.)
That’s why the BookWenches’ review of The Boys Upstairs just had me beaming from ear to ear.
In their 4.5 star review, the reviewer writes,
Although I normally don’t seek out inspirational titles and consider myself to be anything but religious in my beliefs, I found this story of brotherly love and second chances to be well-written and touching.
And there’s my litmus test. This is what I’d wanted to accomplish all along. I want to write multifaceted characters who do happen to have a spiritual edge to their lives and who are not preachy. One of my reviewers criticized the book for not having a call to conversion, but that was never the point. I hate books with an agenda, whether that agenda is converting me to the author’s belief system or enlightening my conscience about the crimes in East Timor or making me recycle. Even at the times I agree with the author, it sets my teeth on edge because I don’t want a sermon.
As a writer, I have one agenda: it’s to tell a damn good story, to draw the reader out of his world and into mine. It’s to entertain. It’s to create. And as a reader, I’m usually reading to be entertained. For most of us, when we want to be enlightened, we head for the nonfiction section.
The review continues:
There is no preaching or spouting of holier-than-thou religious dogma in The Boys Upstairs. There are no miraculous religious conversions or miracles. The characters are simply acting in accordance with their faith (or lack thereof) to the situations around them, not trying to convert the reader. As a result, I found myself respecting the characters beliefs, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with them.
At this point, I wanted to cry. Because isn’t that all any of us want? Writers want to create characters who are acting out of who they are. We want situations that draw out the best of them. Readers want characters who live. Who are real. Who can be respected even when we disagree with everything they believe.
We don’t need more Christian fiction. We just need good fiction. We need people of all faiths writing good fiction and publishers willing to publish books that highlight those different belief systems. We need a meeting of the minds and hearts. We need genuine people and not cliches. It can be done.