Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. He writes supernatural suspense/Christian horror and is currently at work on another such book, much to his mother’s chagrin (“Why can’t you write a nice romance?”). In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Visit his website: Twitter: and Facebook:

How NOT To Get Published

The State of Christian Fiction

I am sitting in a coffee shop near our place on Topsail Island, North Carolina, after having spent a week cruising around the Caribbean.

In other words, I’ve had a lot of time to write and do some thinking . . . and work on my tan while watching folks unfamiliar with the Caribbean work on their lobster suits. Ouch! And while spending some quality time with my wife/best buddy, I began to think about a couple of things: (1) If your beer belly pokes out so far you can’t see your feet, do not wear a Speedo; and (2) Some of the changes in Christian/faith-based fiction over the past fifteen to twenty years.

In the early days of Christian fiction, the available novels sold simply because nothing else was available for those who wanted a faith-based fiction alternative. Readers of that period weren’t picky, and though the writing generally left much to be desired, readers were willing to pay the price. Plot was often lacking, prose tended to border on pedestrian, and the answer to many questions seemed to be “gather the prayer warriors and pray.”

Fortunately those days are mostly gone. The current quality of faith-based fiction is markedly superior to those early efforts, and a new movement toward “edgy” Christian fiction has made inroads, despite that few agree on what it means. In short, things are looking up.

But that also that brings us to the big question: As authors, how do we make faith-based fiction the best it can be? Three things come to mind immediately.

• Get out of the office. You can’t sit on your butt all day in front of a computer screen and expect to write honestly about real life.
• Listen to the poeple around you. Listen to those different from you; learn without prejudging, condemning, or categorizing. (This doesn’t mean you have to agree with what you hear, but you do have to understand the attitudes.)
• Think about faith-based fiction from the standpoint of someone without faith. How can you connect with others in a way that won’t alienate them from the outset?

While the quality of faith-based fiction has improved since those interesting first days, I still hear and read these kinds of comments from readers:

“I don’t recognize the male characters as being true to life, especially the Christians. Few of the men seem to share my struggles or concerns or personality or lifestyle . . .” or “Christians have a higher divorce rate than secular people, and this is not reflected in Christian fiction. We have precious few divorcees as characters.”

So who’s to blame for these writing transgressions?

Actually, publishers and writers must share the responsibility that characters are sometimes hard to identify with. We’ve not been listening. We’ve not been reading as widely as we should. We’ve even let those who don’t hold the same beliefs and truths we hold to get the upper hand in some cases. And while we do not need to mirror society, we must remember that we live and minister in the real world.

One of the hard truths whispered among editors is that Christian publishing consistently lags behind secular publishing by five to ten years. Secular publishers do a better job on the whole in publishing works that reflect the world as it is. Christian publishers do a better job showing the transforming power of Christ in the world, as should be expected, though (with a few exceptions) they regularly describe a much more sanitized world than the one we inhabit. This in itself interjects a nonrealistic and unbelievable element to the reading.

Look at the books that have become crossover successes. They are often the books that show God’s power in the real world, not our cleaned-up version of the world.

To be fair, there are some things the reading public (secular and faith-based) will not allow, and that’s what drives publishing companies. The bottom line in publishing is making a profit. Publishers are not charities, and even those who choose to “buck tradition” still have to keep the doors open. So they sell what their target audiences are buying. But what about the new markets? Are we still looking to the same markets we’ve always targeted?

Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at what readers beyond a few small sectors want. Maybe it’s time to give them real life, allowing for real questions, some of which have no answers. Or painful answers. Or incomplete answers.

Maybe it’s time to give them an accurate view of faith, an integrated worldview that doesn’t preclude all the real-life things that happen to real people.

What would happen if we found a way to combine the two approaches: the real-life believability of truly good fiction and a Christian worldview? What would happen if there was a move toward the best of both worlds, the real world, inhabited by real people like us and those not like us.

I’m just thinking out loud, and I don’t really know what the answer is. There may not be an answer. That happens a lot in this old world that God gave us. Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know.”

But it’s something to think about.

And thinking is something we writers are supposed to be good at.


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