Catholic Fiction, or the Lack Thereof

This is a bit of a different subject for my blog, but I’m interested in hearing what everyone has to say about it. So please comment!

I’ve always dabbled in writing, mostly with the knowledge that I was only writing to put on the page and out of my mind whatever fantastical story is flitting around in my overly active imaginative mind. I haven’t ever written with the thought of it going anywhere, and hence rarely finish anything I write. Most recently, though, a certain story has plagued my thoughts and taken more shape than usual. I’m intent on finishing it and Chris encourages this. Not only does it not cost a dime for me to write in this economic downturn, but he is well aware of the gaping hole where Catholic fiction should be in the market, and he thinks it has potential.

It seems everyone is well aware of this lack of Catholic fiction, even bad Catholic fiction. If you go to a Christian bookstore, you’ll see plenty of what I call “junk novels” or “read once” novels where the storyline seems to draw people more than any kind of mesmerizing writing style (I’m thinking Ray Bradbury) and once the story is known, the novel has no more draw. The shelves are littered with books like the Left Behind series and novels by Karen Kingsbury or Francine Rivers or the like. Where are the rosaries and crucifixes? Why can’t Catholics be unashamed of their faith in book form as well? Are Catholics too good for overtly Catholic novels or Catholic “junk” novels (my writing style is nowhere near as poetic as Bradbury)? Of course there are Catholic writers like Dean Koontz, with elements of philosophy in their stories. Some are more subtle than others. But the pickings are slim.

My story didn’t begin as a search for a Catholic fiction story. It began in reaction to the market flooding with vampire/occult novels. Oh yes, I’ve read Twilight, and I liked it. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and the supernatural edge to these stories is hard to resist. But like everything else since my conversion, I began to view the occult from a Catholic perspective. I dug up Chris’s copies of The Rite and An Exorcist Tells His Story and was rather shocked by the fantastic nature of actual occurrences. The reality of good and evil, angels and demons, and our under-reaction to them took the form of this story in my mind. Now I have on my hands a couple of ragingly Catholic, flawed characters, and a story permeated with icons and Hail Mary’s and adoration. It’s completely unavoidable unless you want to deny the reality that we live in, the necessity of exorcists, the reaction of demons to the Holy Virgin, the power in the name of Christ, and I don’t want to avoid it. I don’t want to apologize for truth that may offend others. Neither is this story an evangelical tool. Nobody gets “saved” in this story (ha! you know how I feel about that now), nor does anyone become Catholic. It’s more focused on the opposing tenets of Catholicism vs. Satanism. Spelled out, that means the most extreme forms of “deny yourself and take up the cross” vs. “do what you want”.

Now I have a very “Catholic” fiction novel on my hands, maybe categorized as “Christian Inspiration” or “Science Fiction” depending on how overt the Catholicity of the characters become or how unrealistic the fantastic elements may be. Here’s what I’m asking: Besides the obvious two things to avoid–bad writing and preachy piousness–what should I look out for? Is there a market for Catholic fiction? What would put you off in reading it? Should I even be concerned a “mainstream” audience? Or should I let the cards lie where they fall? And exactly how Catholic can I get without being preachy?

It will be several months before the story is finished and probably over a year before it’s “presentable”. I’m hoping to coax it in its current liquid and choppy form into something decent. Although the story is generally complete, it’s moldable now, so any suggestions can be (probably) easily taken into account. I hope more dedicated writers won’t take offense at my “dabbling”, but will help encourage and point me in the right direction.

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17 Responses to Catholic Fiction, or the Lack Thereof

  1. cyurkanin says:

    I’ve been working at several Catholic novels – slowly – without the thought that they’ll ever reach anything more than a niche-market. No, there aren’t many strictly Catholic novels out there and most of them are very small market, such as ebook form, and many are even given away for free from some Catholic companies (just pay shipping). That’s not to say that it’s not possible to break through, just that it would take something more. Check out http://philangelus.wordpress.com/ and ask her opinion on the state of Catholic novels, she seems to be pretty grounded in the arena.

    For what it’s worth, I’d certainly buy a novel written by you!

  2. Stacey says:

    Slowly is the key for us parents! Thanks for the suggestion, I’ll check it out. I’d buy your novels too. You should announce them when they are finished! Self-publishing is always an option, too. I know someone who has done so fairly successfully, and since national acclaim isn’t really on my radar it’s something I’m thinking about.

  3. lenetta says:

    Oh, how I wish I could say that I’d read this! (In fact, I’d even offer my meager proofreading and editing skills along the way) BUT I personally get too freaked out reading such things. I’ve not read the Twilight series, or anything along those lines. I inadvertantly saw The Exorcist when I was about 5, and thought it was a good idea to read the book in high school. I read a few other true books with Satanism, and to this day, I still occasionally have “daymares” and remember bits and pieces, and get generally freaked out when hubs is gone at night.

    I think the idea certainly has merit, though!!

  4. Stacey says:

    That’s alright, Netta! As I find out more about this stuff, and see how much more twisted and dark it is than I ever realized, I get pretty freaked out by it too. I’m talking to Chris about exactly how much I can include. I’m kind of torn. On one hand, I don’t even want to read about it myself, much less write about it. On the other hand, there’s this HUGE pop culture obsession with the occult that is completely ignorant of just how sick this stuff really is. In this case, the truth really is stranger and much worse than fiction, and I don’t think I’ll be able to completely live up to the truth, for my own sake.

  5. Chad Toney says:

    Are Catholics too good for junk novels? I’ll admit I like the fact that Catholic novels tend to be more highbrow. I’ve spent the last year reading Waugh, Greene, Undset, Endo, O’Connor, etc. It’s been awesome. As a young evangelical the only thing I wasn’t completely embarrassed by in our stores was Stephen Lawhead.

    How to avoid preachiness in fiction? I’m no expert, but it seems like you can make the world & rules of the story explicitly Catholic, but the characters and their struggles need to be universal?

  6. Stacey says:

    Aha! You are too good for junk novels 😉 Of course, by junk novel, I really mean a story-driven one-time-reader novel, not necessarily the Catholic equivalent of a badly written dime romance or something, but definitely not “classic literature” either. You’re right about avoiding preachiness. I think telling the truth is the best way, and of course, the truth is all characters are flawed and struggle.

  7. lenetta says:

    Not sure if I’ve nagged you into reading Conversion Diary or not, but today’s post, item 1 is on a book and workbook to help you write a book. She explains it way better than I seem to be this early in the morning. Go here and I’m going to go fix myself a cup of hot chocolate to clear my head. (What? I gave up caffiene almost 10 years ago – I gotta have SOMETHING!) :>)

  8. Stacey says:

    Thanks! I’m putting the book on my buy list 🙂 I’m also thinking of Bradbury’s (yes, yes, one of my absolute favorites!) Zen in the Art of Writing. Of course his advice is funny, it kind of boils down to- be honest, you’ll suck otherwise.

  9. lenetta says:

    Well if that isn’t good advice for just about everything, I don’t know what is. :>) Happy Friday!!

  10. Stacey says:

    And you’ve given up caffeine???? You are my new hero.

  11. lenetta says:

    Had to – I have cysts in my (ahem) pectoral region that would swell painfully with caffeine. Luckily I never developed a taste for coffee so that made it a bit easier.

  12. Stacey says:

    Ah, sorry about that. I had a friend in college that happened to. She couldn’t have chocolate either. You?

  13. lenetta says:

    Thank the Lord that’s not the case. :>)

  14. Stacey, my novel has several Catholic themes woven into it. My agent is marketing it in the secular market as “Inspirational Fiction.” She represents the Christian market for the most part (CBA) but also belongs to the ABA. There’s lots of discussion going on about pegging fiction into specific markets, but there seems to be a newer trend of mixed-genre fiction, too. Do you know of any specifically “Catholic fiction” publishers? Victoria

  15. Stacey says:

    Hi Victoria,
    Sorry I’m so late in publishing and replying to your comment. Things have been crazy busy lately! The Catholic publishers that I’ve come across just in googling are Sophia Institute Press, and there’s Double-Edged Publishing, but I think that one’s just Christian and not specifically Catholic? I haven’t looked seriously into the side of what to do with my work when I finish. I feel kind of presumptuous just trying to get it done at this point, and I’m not wanting to double that by thinking ahead too much!

  16. Thanks for the info, Stacey. I’ll look into those publishers and perhaps pass them on to my agent. This is such a busy time of year but here in Reno we’ve been blessed with snow, snow and more snow. It’s been like a retreat this past week and I’ve gotten back to my second novel. Have a beautiful Christmas season.

  17. Stacey says:

    You have a Merry Christmas as well. I’ll have to read your blog to see more about your writing. I hope it’s going well for you!

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