I’ve published three novels, all faith-based, and I’ve had an unusual experience with all three – readers are roughly divided 50-50 between Christians and non-Christians. Equally interesting is the gender divide. I expected more women than men to read the novels simply because women tend to read more faith-based fiction than men do. And yet my readers seem split 50-50 here, too.
The element of the novels that all readers seem to respond and react to is the role that faith plays. It’s a significant role, especially in the first and third novels (the three form a trilogy). In Dancing Priest, the first novel, faith forms the central tension between the hero and the heroine – he has it, and she doesn’t. They’re in love with each other, but faith is the stumbling block – and it eventually drives them apart.
How the heroine comes to faith is a key element of the story. It’s also pretty much how I came to faith – I fully used my own experience to create hers, including an initial rejection of faith. But come to faith she does, and she finds it leaves her more open and vulnerable than ever before.
Most readers (including non-Christians) appeared to like the tension that faith creates in these stories and understand it. Some do not. One sent me a long email in which he objected to the heroine, Sarah Hughes, finding faith; he didn’t think it was necessary and he was pretty adamant about not liking it in the story. I had to point out that without her finding faith, the story would have stopped, or she would have been written out of it. The central character – Michael Kent – is a young Anglican priest, and a conservative Anglican priest, and he would have no choice but to marry a believer.
Faith plays a subtler role in the second novel, A Light Shining. Michael and his wife Sarah are caught up in religious violence, part of the larger global religious conflict we see happening today. How they respond to what happens is infused with their Christian faith, and their responses include stepping off into the unknown. They’re able to do that because of their faith. The third novel, Dancing King, continues the story of Michael and Sarah, but it’s set within the growing conflict between Michael’s faith and the institutional church.
When I wrote the first two novels, I didn’t think of myself as writing “faith-driven” stories. I was simply writing the stories I had to tell. Looking back, I can see that’s exactly what I was writing. And yet I can’t say these stories are what we associate with “Christian fiction.” They’re not. They don’t tightly fit any one genre, and that’s a problem, especially for marketing. And they’re not “crossover” stories, because the faith element is simply too strong, even if it’s not obvious. Perhaps another way of saying this is that I don’t hit people over the head with the faith element in the stories, but it’s clearly there.
While my characters talk about faith, what’s more important is what they do because of their faith. They give villains a second chance; they reach out to abandoned children; they give people (and themselves) room to doubt; they’re kind, even to people who don’t deserve kindness. Faith is more about what they do, and less about what they say. And that may be a clue to my 50-50 split between Christian and non-Christian readers.
I didn’t begin writing with these themes and ideas in mind. I never consciously decided that these are things the characters would do because faith is more about what you do rather than what you say. Instead, they came from the story I had to tell.
Photograph by Karl Frederickson via Unsplash. Used with permission.