Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Finding the Christian in Christian Fiction

By Ian Acheson - @achesonian

I was relatively late to Christian fiction. I didn’t discover it until my thirties when I devoured Frank Peretti’s “Darkness” novels and the “Left Behind” blockbuster franchise (yes, I’ve read everyone of the 16(?) of the series, prequels and all). I was captivated by the strong Christian themes and Peretti’s fiction account of the supernatural world lingered in my mind for year afterwards and inspired my desire to write something similar.

Spoilt for Choice
Now 90% of my fiction reads are Christian. Award programs dominate the first half of every year's reading as I love assisting as a judge and, accordingly, my fiction choices are made for me. Typically, the remainder of my reading is filled with favorite authors, friend’s releases and trusted sources novel “gushes”.
Many of you will be familiar with last week’s release of the INSPYs Long List and there are simply so many on it that I want to read. They alone would fill most of my reading time for the next year.
Faith Arc
This week I finished “When Angels Cry” by MaryLu Tyndall, which is a supernatural end times story. I was motivated to read it, as I’m about to dive into the third episode of the Angelguard series and was keen to be inspired by something of a similar ilk to stir my imagination. And it did that. One of the aspects of the story I enjoyed the most was the faith arc of the lead character, Angelica, who is a single mum working as a cocktail waitress to support herself and her son, Isaac. She sees angels and demons and is a passionate evangelist as she responds to the darkness around people by sharing Jesus with them. But it’s her journey of learning to trust the Lord that I was most attracted to, in particular, in letting go of Isaac into God’s hands.
I love stories where the faith arc is as compelling as the romance or the suspense or the thrill. In fact, the two elements are uniquely bound. For example, the suspense is enhanced by the protagonist's faith. It serves to challenge me not just as an author but also as a lover of Jesus. As this is what growing in Christ is about, immersing every aspect of our life with Christ.
Wrestling with Shadows
I submitted the manuscript to Wrestling with Shadows, the sequel to Angelguard, to the latter’s publisher who had requested first access to it. Nine months later, they responded by advising they weren’t going to proceed because it was too Christian. At the time, the publisher was working themselves out of being in administration and were keen that all their new releases were able to sit across the general market as well as the Christian market. I understand that position.
It consolidated my disappointment with a lot of what was coming out under the Christian fiction label. Yes, I’ve read some great stirring stories that I love but many have lacked a faith arc and at times I’ve struggled to find the story’s Christian. I realise that I may simply be reading the wrong novels.
It’s Hard
I’ve always considered writing a great faith arc to be hard. Harder than many of us think. Because we don’t want to be seen to be preachy or we think seeing characters praying to be a bit weird or we have other means of having our faith inspired and don’t want to read it in our fiction or our faith arc doesn’t fit in the traditional Southern Bible belt mindset.  So the speculative element, or the romance, or the suspense, takes precedence and in most cases the story would still survive if there were no faith element.
Indie Alternative
But it’s clean with no sex, no bad language and whatever else fits the Christian fiction “norm.” Fortunately, we’ve seen some gutsy faith stories go Indie for whatever reason. I only have to think of Sally Bradley’s much-admired “Kept” as one example.

I'm also reading a novella series titled "The Eli Diaries" which depicts Jesus as a teenager called Eli Shepherd living in modern day California. Eli's friends happen to be guys like Peter, Jude, Tommy, Laz, Martha and Mary. In addition, one of the major characters is Maggie, who has a poor reputation for sleeping around as she searches for love. I just finished the seventh in the series over the weekend, Payback, which was told from Peter's POV. Tim Shoemaker, the author of this episode, does a great job demonstrating the love of Christ in how Eli goes about addressing some serious teenage issues like stalking and paying back with violence. Yes, Eli at present is probably the only 'believer' but the story wouldn't have worked without his alternative means of addressing such matters.
The next blockbuster
I want to read it. Ideally, one of us here at ICFW will write it. How cool would that be? It’s going to happen. Sure it may be controversial like “The Shack” but isn’t it time for the next faith arc blockbuster where the Lord’s love and grace are front and centre in the life of a character?
I can’t wait.
I’d love for us to share in the comments what stories first drew each of us to Christian fiction and what great faith arc stories have you read recently that I should be adding (to the top of) my TBR pile.
Here’s to a great year of writing and reading some stellar Christian fiction.

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguardwas recognised with the 2014 Selah Award for Speculative Fiction.You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter


  1. I'm with you, Ian. I've been told so many times that my stories are too Christian. It's frustrating. Do you like Jim Rubart novels? I read The Long Journey to Jake Palmer and enjoyed it. Maybe something like what he does could work for us? I think he did a great job creating a story that's meaningful for the Christian journey and at the same time meaningful for people who might not know Christ yet. Oh, and I'm waiting for the next The Alchemist. I still love that story so much. Did you read it? The world needs more of that. Who knows what we at ICFW will come up with next? Exciting, mold-breaking, unforgettable stories, I pray :)

  2. Hi Patricia. I love Jim's novels and have read all of them.

    I reckon you're going to be the one ... let's both keep doing what we're doing and write "exciting, mold-breaking, unforgettable stories." I love that ... what a great headline that would be on a review!

    Now The Alchemist ... I'm bad in that I've had it sitting on my night table next to my bed for about 2 years waiting to be read but I keep putting other ones (or the iPad) or top of it. Now I simply must. Just like I must read your one. And before judging season starts again.

    Appreciate your support.

    Grace and peace, Patricia.

  3. Hi Ian, I have Marylu Tyndall's book sitting in my Kindle tbr list. I was fascinated by the premise, and I should bump it up to the top of my tbr list. I was in my mid-twenties when I started reading Christian fiction. 'Redeeming Love' by Francine Rivers was the Christian fiction book that really hooked me into the genre. Patricia's book is fabulous, and I recommend everyone looking for compelling Christian fiction check out 'A Season to Dance' because it's different to the typical Christian fiction read. I enjoyed 'Angelguard', and I'm looking forward to reading Book 2. :)

    1. Thanks, Narelle. I really must read Patricia's novel. I think I will squeeze it in before my judging starts next week.

      I'm excited for your Tuscany series ... as you can see I love the episodic style of delivering fiction. And your one sounds interesting with this common thread that crosses through all the stories.

  4. Hi Ian, I'm over here in England where we have access to very few Christian novels. I'm just so grateful for kindle and the internet so I can discover and download great reads. I've also met that 'too Christian' rejection and have resorted to a co-operative publishing deal with my publisher to get my books - historicals - out. (Just in case anyone wants a peek, I write as Dorothy Stewart - When the Boats Come Home and the Mizpah Ring trilogy.)

    1. Hi Dorothy, what fun to see you in ICFW! At least you are doing your part to improve the Christian Fiction scene in the UK!

    2. Hi Dorothy,

      Lovely to 'meet' you here. I'm sorry you too experienced a similar rejection but it's all in the Lord's hands and He sure knows what He's doing.

      Wishing you well with all your writing.

  5. Great post, Ian. I caught the first wave of Inspirational Romance writing just before Frank Peretti and have "grown up" as a writer as the whole genre developed and expanded. What a ride it has been!

    1. Wow, Donna. You must have seen so much. A ride it is and it is fun knowing we're still on it!