Eric Wilson’s Open Letter to Readers, Writers, and Publishers of Christian Fiction

After nine books and well-over a decade as an author in the Christian Fiction industry, Eric Wilson is throwing in the towel. Why? Is it because he has forsaken the faith? Is it because the grass is greener in the general market? No.

Eric Wilson is leaving the Christian fiction industry because of what he perceives that industry has become.

In a recent post entitled Is It Time for Christian Fiction to Die?, Eric expounds upon the reasons for his decision. Subtitled A Challenge to Readers, Writers, and Publishers, the article serves as a window into one Christian artist’s struggle to write the story of his heart within “the parameters of a ‘religious fiction’ market” that have increasingly narrowed.

If you haven’t read Eric’s Facebook post and ensuing discussion, or the original article, you must. In it, he expounds upon his journey:

By the time I was 19, my own faith had faced more obstacles than I found in most “inspirational” novels. I hunted for stories that dealt with real issues from a Biblical perspective, but found offerings that were mostly trite and poorly written–with Bodie Thoene’s books being an exception. Did it have to be this way? Even those who love Jesus struggle with doubts, depression, sexual and financial issues, addiction, and disease.

If the Bible truly offered the Answer, I wondered, then why did these stories seem so afraid to ask the questions? Hoping to be part of the solution, I read, read, read, and wrote, wrote, wrote. I studied the craft of fiction. I earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors from an accredited Bible college, got married (faithful for 20 years now), and published my first novel in my mid-thirties. I have since written nine more novels, with over a million words in print. One of those books spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list. Trying to be part of the solution, I have also reviewed and endorsed hundreds of novels—the majority of them by Christian brothers and sisters. I’ve done my best to open doors for up-and-coming authors. I’ve invested the past decade in broadening the reach and readership of this market, and in reclaiming genres that had been hijacked by immoral and/or humanistic worldviews. Despite my efforts, and many incredible yet relatively unknown writers who have bettered them… this market’s recent influence and parameters seem to have narrowed.

Of course, Eric Wilson is not the first or the only Christian artist to express concerns about the “narrowing parameters” of the Christian market. Some would say, no doubt, that Eric’s growing frustration and eventual exasperation are his own doing. The titles are a reflection of what Christian readers want, the argument goes. If you don’t like it, then go publish in the general market.

But at stake is a larger issue, one that threatens to permanently caricature Christian fiction and force the exodus of many other talented Christian authors. He writes:

If our own writings fail to also wrestle honestly with life’s difficulties, it seems to me that we gloss over the bloody, earth-shaking war that Jesus fought on the cross—and we undermine the triumph of His resurrection. True, the publishing number-crunchers feel the need to meet profit margins. Yes, we writers of the faith are called to honor God in our storytelling. Does this mean, though, that we should censor all the raw elements? Isn’t the Bible itself filled with depictions of violence, sexual misconduct, deceit, and bigotry? Some of its stories have happy endings. Some are dark cautionary tales. Few, if presented as modern fiction, would make it past the industry’s “gatekeepers.” …I know there are authors who desire to write more than scrubbed-clean, rose-scented fiction. Must all Christian novels be “inspirational,” or can’t some be challenging, daring, even ironic and unresolved? (emphasis mine).

Eric’s query is the crux of the issue — What should Christian fiction look like? Should it be “scrubbed-clean, rose-scented fiction,”or can it be “challenging, daring, even ironic and unresolved”? Must it target a narrow swath of conservative church-goers, or can it discard traditional guidelines in order to address a broader “seeking” audience? If Eric’s decision is any indication, the debate may be already over.

The Christian-fiction market, if it remains myopic, could very well die. I hope it does not. It has done many good things and produced some quality novelists, both commercial and literary in nature. Before we settle into mediocrity, I pray we’ll see godly writers of all genres, all ages, all races, ready to raise the bar even higher and impact the world around them. Some are already published but struggling. Others are waiting for their opportunity. The question isn’t whether the market will die, so much as whether it will push aside fear and allow its authors to live.

If you’ve been around for a while, you know about Eric’s passion for Christ, his love for the lost, and his desire to encourage other Christian writers. He is not grinding an axe or thumbing his nose at us before splitting the scene. Nor is he down on Christians who write exclusively for other Christians. This is a veteran of the Christian fiction industry, not a bitter, unpublished author. Which is all the more reason we should sit up and take notice. And ask questions.

Is our industry forcing writers like Eric Wilson to go elsewhere? Have we “narrowed the parameters” of our fiction so tightly that they have become shackles, a Pharisaical system of our own making? Must Christian authors with a heart for the lost leave the Christian fiction industry just to follow their call? And can we afford to keep closing our ears to this issue?

Whatever the answers, I’m a fan of Eric Wilson! Thanks, Eric, for fighting the good fight! Godspeed and wisdom to you, blessing and provision as well. And consider me part of the next wave of troops…

* * *

Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Journey. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of WordServe Literary. Look for Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” in stores Spring of 2011. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.