None of Them Had it Easy. None.

Are you a fan of Biography? Here are a few of the profiles I’ve taken a gander at in the past two months:

• John Travolta
• The Rolling Stones
• Jamie Lee Curtis
• Eminem
• Jodie Foster
• Chelsea Handler
• Anthony Hopkins
• Jennifer Lopez
• Kelly Clarkson
And wait! Yes, I watched more!

It’s fascinating to see where these celebs came from, what got them there and what they had to go through to get there. If I may be frank, even though I’m really Jim, I was surprised.

I had this idea that most stars walked into their gifting/destiny with a few minor pebbles in the road, not a street where bombs had gone off and were still exploding.

ALL of the stories revealed serious setbacks before these stars achieved fame and fortune. All. (And they continued to have challenges.)

A repeating mantra when outsiders describe these people are statements like:

“They were so incredibly determined.”

“They worked harder than anyone else.”

“They knew what they wanted, fixed their eyes on it and refused to give up.”

“No one came to see them at first, but they didn’t care. They just kept at it.”

I suppose I could have made this post much shorter and simply said, “Hey, it’s tough on everyone who wants to reach a dream, you’re not alone.” But I think knowing others have been on and are on this path helps.

It comes down to this: You have to believe in yourself. When no one else does. There is no other choice.

There is no other road.

James L. Rubart is the best-selling author of ROOMS, BOOK OF DAYS, and THE CHAIR. During the day he runs Barefoot Marketing which helps businesses and authors make more coin of the realm. In his free time he dirt bikes, hikes, golfs, takes photos, and occasionally does sleight of hand. No, he doesn’t sleep much. He lives with his amazing wife and teenage sons in the Pacific Northwest and still thinks he’s young enough to water ski like a madman. More at www.jameslrubart.com

Why We Should NOT Label Christian Fiction

Anyone who thinks the debate about Christian Fiction — what it is and what it should be — is getting old, should check out literary agent Rachelle Gardner’s recent post, Should We Label Christian Fiction? (At this posting, the comments are at 193.) What makes that discussion so informative (and potentially helpful) is the broad swath of readers and writers Rachelle’s site attracts.

By the fourth comment, one reader, Colin, asked the obvious question

“…what is ‘Christian’ literature in the first place?”

That’s the real issue and what makes Rachelle’s question so squishy. The problem with labeling / not labeling Christian fiction is that we can’t exactly agree about what Christian fiction is, or should be.

So while some define (and defend) G-rated, religiously explicit, redemptive, hope-filled stories marketed to conservative Christians, others gravitate to (and defend) more subtle, ambiguous, edgy, non-preachy stories aimed at a less conservative, broader readership. Which is why we Christians have had a notoriously difficult time in labeling some of our own books. Just ask any group of Christian readers if the works of Flannery O’Connor are “Christian fiction.” J.R.R. Tolkien called The Lord of the Rings “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work” (see Dr. Ralph Wood’s wonderful essay Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings: A Christian Classic Revisited). But nowadays, LotR is rarely considered Christian fiction. Even the Chronicles of Narnia are up for debate. Point is, these books, while being written by believers and containing biblical worldviews and biblical imagery, do not fall neatly into the ‘Christian fiction’ label.

I think this is a good thing.

It’s also one reason we should be very cautious about throwing around the label “Christian fiction.”

In the comment thread at Rachelle’s, Jessica Kent wrote:

“Why aren’t Christian writers writing novels that laymen readers can get in to? Isn’t that the whole point? To write a book with themes of faith, love, and sacrifice that anyone can access and be changed by? You wouldn’t dismiss Tale of Two Cities or Les Miserables as ‘just another Christian fiction book.'”

Jessica is stating our dilemma: When we define Christian fiction in narrow terms, we narrow our audience. This may be good marketing, but it’s somewhat antithetical to our mission. The last I checked, Christianity is about broadening its message, going into “all the world,” reaching “laymen,” spinning tales “that anyone can access.” Sure, there’s a place for preaching to the choir. Problem is when the choir is our ONLY audience. By targeting only Christian readers, we unnecessarily limit the boundaries of our own house, shrink our base, and fail to “impregnate” a second generation of “believing readers.”

And our stories become decidedly… predictable. Which is why comments like the one below are wholly to be expected. From Adam:

“I generally avoid labeled Christian lit because I have little interest in reading a book that waters down its characters to appeal to folks who are horrified by contextually-realistic sex, violence or profanity (I also avoid authors who trade in those arenas). To me that creates a plastic surreality, a dystopian Disney landscape that all too often makes the plot wooden and untenable. But the ultimate reason I avoid Christian book stores and most novels that are specifically labeled ‘Christian’ is that I have no interest in reading a 300+ page Chick tract …Most people understand exactly what they mean when they say Christ-lit: essentially, clean dialogue and chaste relationships wrapped in a 300 page gospel tract. “

Before you dismiss Adam’s opinion, pause to consider that he is representative of a vast number of readers who have come to scorn Christian fiction. Our knee-jerk reaction is to chalk this up anti-Christian bigotry. And it may well be. But isn’t it possible that Adam is one of those “laymen” we should be reaching? Isn’t it also possible that his opinion about Christian fiction is spot-on? “[A] plastic surreality, a dystopian Disney landscape [containing] clean dialogue and chaste relationships wrapped in a 300 page gospel tract.”

Which brings me to my point: The problem I have in labeling Christian fiction is that the moment we slap a label on our books we are conceding a stereotype.

  • If Christian fiction IS easily definable, then let’s label it.
  • If Christian fiction IS “a 300 page gospel tract,” then let’s label it.
  • If Christian fiction IS G-rated, family-friendly fare, then let’s label it.
  • If Christian fiction IS NOT something “that anyone can access,” then let’s label it.
  • If Christian fiction IS ONLY FOR CHRISTIANS, then let’s label it.

But if we concede that good Christian lit can reach outside religious circles, carry a biblical worldview without being preachy, and be enjoyed by “laymen,” then we should fight to keep our stories and authors from being burdened by a label that has, frankly, become dead weight.
Mike is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. He is represented by the rockin’ Rachelle Gardner of Books & Such Literary. Mike’s debut novel, “The Resurrection,” is in stores now and his novella, “Winterland,” is available in e-book formats. Mike’s sophomore novel The Telling releases May 2012. You can visit his website at www.mikeduran.com.

You Are What You Say (and Do)

Today’s gues
devotion is by Loree Lough, from: Be Still…and Let Your Nail Polish Dry © 2008 Summerside Press
You Are What You Say (and Do)
And as ye would that men should do to
you, Do ye also to them likewise.  
Luke 6:31 (NIV)
You’ve heard it
said that reputation is what others think you are, but character is WHO you
are. Two of my favorite quotes come to mind when mulling over that one.
            
The
first is the one my grandfather quoted when one of us grabbed a cookie before
dinner, crossed the street without looking both ways, or snooped in his attic
without permission…and stretched the truth when he caught us red-handed at any
of those things.
            
“Your
thoughts,” he’d say, pointing at each of us in turn, “become words. Words
become actions. Actions become character. And character is everything.”
            
I
don’t imagine any of his little cookie thieves knew what in the world he was
talking about…until we grew older and spent some serious time in the real
world. Then the hazy meaning of the adage became clearer, and we began to
understand that it’s synonymous with my other favorite, The Golden Rule.
            
“Do
unto others as you’d have them do unto you” has long been the center point for
morality, ethics, religion, and politics. It’s the worldwide litmus test for
fairness and decency. And Matthew and Luke weren’t the only Bible scholars who
believed in the concept. Quite the contrary! Mark, John, James, Paul, and Jonah
cited it, and similar passages can be found in Proverbs, Leviticus,
Deuteronomy, and others as well.
            
More
than twenty world religions have adopted some version of its intent and meaning
as doctrine. Confucius touted it as a moral truth, and in 1963, President
Kennedy reminded citizens of its intent in an anti-segregation speech. “The
heart of the question,” he said, “is whether we are going to treat our fellow
Americans the way we want to be treated.” To apply it, we must first try to
identify with our brothers and sisters and, as my American Indian ancestors
would have said, be willing to walk a mile in their moccasins.
            
I
try to remember these famous sage-isms when a driver cuts me off in traffic,
people at the grocery store dump whole cartloads of merchandise on the conveyor
belt in the 15 Items or Less line, or someone says something to hurt my
feelings. Instead of an in-kind knee-jerk reaction, I recite Luke 6:31, and
Grandpa’s maxim, too.
            
Because
I hope that by living The Golden Rule, my reputation as a woman of Christian
character will precede me…and follow me…everywhere.
Today’s Prayer:  Jesus, Lord and Savior, continue to
teach me the true meaning of turning the other cheek. Let the life I lead prove
to the world that a Christian’s heart becomes caring and forgiving through the
strength found in Your Word.
With 81 books (3,000,000+
in circulation), Loree Lough’s novels consistently earn 4- and 5-star reviews,
such as From Ashes to Honor, a 9/11
story (First Responders series) and Love
Finds You in Folly Beach, South Carolina
. She splits her time between her
Baltimore home and a cabin in the Alleghenies…where coffee enables her to
correctly identify “critter tracks.” Visit her website at
www.LoreeLough.com

Why do Adults Read YA Books?

More and more adults are reading and enjoying YA books. What’s the big appeal?
Mike Duran asked about this here on Novel Rocket a year ago. He revisited the topic on
his Facebook page recently. The answers he’s getting
haven’t changed much in the past year and they are still somewhat
unsatisfactory to me. I’ve read a couple of dozen articles on the topic and
polled my YA-reading adult friends. The top
three answers are as follows. Adults read YA because these books:
  1. are not going to have graphic sex and/or
    foul language in the romance novels.
  2. are shorter, less complicated, and easier
    to read.
  3. are about the struggle between
    good and evil with big themes that are easily understood.

I’m baffled by these answers, because: 
  1. Graphic sex in YA books has been around a
    long time. Forever, by Judy Blume was
    first published in 1975. 
  2. Many YA novels are not shorter and
    easier to read than adult novels. The Harry Potter books, Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaues series, and The Book Thief, to name a few, are
    longer and more sophisticated than many adult novels. 
  3. It’s not true that YA
    books are about big struggles between good and evil, either. An awful lot of
    them are vapid stories about shallow girls fighting and having sex. 

YA books are not all the same. YA is not a genre. Merriam Webster defines genre as: a category of artistic, musical, or
literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content,
but YA fiction comes in many different styles, forms, and types of content.
Spend some time browsing. You’ll find mystery,
romance, steam punk, historical novels, literary novels, and contemporary YA
books. There are coming of age stories, action/adventure novels, issue books, thrillers,
horror novels, dystopians and, oh yeah, fantasies.
If we look at particular genres, instead of looking at YA as
a whole, we might come up with different answers to the question at hand.
I suspect that many fantasy lovers read YA books, because the spec-fic kiddie pool is huge and some of the best fantasies ever produced are splashing around there.  
Adult shelves are full of good whodunits, though, so I doubt that many mystery readers are looking for YA books on the minuscule mystery shelf in the children’s section.
Romance? I
don’t know. There are clean romances and raunchy romances on shelves in both the adult and the YA sections. Maybe some women prefer YA over adult romances because in YA novels readers are more likely to find stories about first love (you can’t write about first
love these days with an adult heroine and have anyone believe it), and there is something attractive about first
love–love that still believes in a soul mate, love that sill believes in
happily-ever-after.

Dystopian is enjoying huge crossover appeal. I think this is the one genre about
which it can be said that YA books are more simplistic than their adult
counterparts. Teen dystopians are fast-paced, mostly written in first-person
and often in the present tense. They are about action, not about
characterization, and most don’t offer deep, thoughtful commentary on the state
of the world. They are full of cartoonish government bullies and kick-ass heroines. I think adult dystopians are deeper and require more thought.

But while all these genres offer different things, I also think there is one thing that almost all YA
books do have in common, regardless of genre: hope
.
YA books are aimed at teens, and teens are asking the big questions. Why am I here? Where am I going? How can I
do something significant? Teens get involved in causes. They protest wars and
picket abortion clinics and speak out against bullying. They are moved by songs about suffering and loss. They are idealistic. Seeing inequality
and poverty in the world, they look for ways to fight those things. Teens still
hope to find the love of their lives and they still think they can succeed at
anything if they only believe.  
YA books don’t all have happy endings, but most leave us with hope. (There are exceptions. Go scan the titles on the one and two-star reviews of Mockingjay if you want to see how betrayed
many YA readers felt when the Hunger Games series ended without hope.)  I think adults might like YA novels because they end with hope. In a society
where many have come to realize that we aren’t in control and life is
painful and people die and stocks lose value, adult readers might be looking for
books that end in hope
Hope springs eternal in the human breast, not
just in the teen’s breast, after all.
So what about you? Do you read or write YA? What
genres? Do you need a happy ending? Do you prefer stories that end with hope?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 is represented by Reclaim ManagementHer short works have been published in various magazines, including Highlights for ChildrenShe blogs about young adult novels at sally-apokedak.com. You can read a sample of The Button Girlone of her YA manuscripts, here if you like