Pretentiousness, arrogance, haughtiness, elitism–I don’t think any of it belongs among Christian writers and readers. But sadly, literature–or more accurately, people’s feelings about literature–generates attitudes of exclusivity.
Some suggest that sweet romances are inferior, others that literary fiction is superior to all “commercial fiction.” Still others go to the extreme of saying that fiction of any kind is a pack of lies and unworthy of the Christian’s time.
Then there are those who draw lines between types of publishing. There are those who believe traditional publishing is best because having an agent, editor, and pub board choose a particular manuscript means that industry professionals have validated the quality of the story and writing. Others believe independent publishers who are more accepting of different styles or different subject matter are far superior because of the freedom they allow an author. Still some boast that self-publishing is the only way to go because publishers keep a lion’s share of the revenues a book generates and authors aren’t fairly compensated for the writing and promoting they’re responsible for.
Another divide when it comes to books is based on “what’s allowed.” Should stories from Christians always be G-rated, or PG-rated, at best? Or should publishers allow for more “realism”–some cursing and sex scenes. Some readers adamantly hold to the former position and some writers, to the latter.
What about theology? Some believe Christian literature should filter out the distinctives of any denomination so that all Christians will feel at home in a novel. Hence, churches are called [name of town] Community Church, and little, if any, denominational doctrines come to the forefront, even in books intended for Christian readers. Others believe novels offer a good avenue for a look at how doctrines are played out in real life. A third group thinks novels are not the place for theology at all.
There’s another divide which I’ll term writing philosophy. Is the Christian writing Christian fiction, regardless of the audience, no matter whether he is published by a Christian house? Or is Christian fiction a silly term that ought to be done away with, as some people seem to think? Some suggest our Christianity ought to be intentionally infused into our stories while others think an author’s worldview will naturally leak into what she writes.
For speculative fans, the divide can sometimes be between genres: readers ought to read horror; fantasy is better than science fiction; the bolder forms of steampunk or cyberpunk are more artistic; dystopian fantasy is more relevant than epic fantasy.
I think all these topics are worthwhile to discuss. I think it’s helpful for believers to share ideas with others and to listen to how others view fiction. I think it’s important for writers to listen to readers, and for them to share their varied experiences of publishing.
I don’t think there’s a place for snobbery–one way or the other.
I’ll be honest–I have an ulterior motive for bringing this up. Shortly the Clive Staples Award will be open for nominations and once again parameters will be laid out for the books that are eligible for this particular award. Some people believe that parameters equal snobbery. I don’t believe this. I do believe that parameters are appropriate because not all books are trying to accomplish the same thing.
Hence, it would not be appropriate for a picture book to be entered into the Clive Staples Award to compete with full length novels. Does that apply a bias against picture books? Certainly not. But the scope of this award does not include picture books. The same is true for novellas or for mysteries. Those books may be well-written and the top of their category, but this award at this time is limited so that those books don’t fit.
The vision that I personally have for the Clive Staples Award is that one day we will have multiple divisions–a young adult category, for example, and one for science fiction. I’d even like to see a small press category and a self-published category. Perhaps those could have subdivisions based on genre as well.
All that is future, however. The award has made strides, one of the best being the sponsorship of Speculative Faith and Realm Makers which allowed us to give a monetary prize to the winning author. But we’re a long way off from offering the same to multiple winners in various categories. We’re a long way off from having the volunteer help we’d need to support a multi-layered contest.
All that to say, there will undoubtedly be some fan favorites that won’t fit the parameters of the Clive Staples Award. Know that these parameters are not a statement as to the quality or desirability of books that fall outside the parameters. My hope is that no one will wrongly assume that the Clive Staples Award prefers to be exclusive.
In fact, when the award first came into being in 2007 many of the avenues for publishing that exist today, were not available. The award was tailored to the standard of other awards for Christian fiction. If and when we are in a position to expand to the newer, burgeoning forms of publishing, we’ll take the appropriate steps to do so in a way that will enhance the award and honor the winners.
In the meantime, I pray that the Clive Staples Award will not be a lightning rod for snobbery, one side or the other. If it becomes that, then it will be time to put the idea of this particular award for Christian speculative fiction to rest. Because I don’t see a place for snobbery in Christian literature.