Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Straddling the Fence is not the same thing as Sitting on the Fence

My little beloved manuscript is still out at publishers being considered.

When I first sent my first book out into the world to be considered, I checked my inbox hourly to look for feedback. It took five months to hear anything at all - and the manuscript had been requested by the publisher. A few years and a few books later, I have learned that the process takes a long time.

It's also a tough industry. (What industry isn't struggling these days?) But in tough times, sometimes books become a luxury. And then publishers have a hard time paying staff, let alone paying for new titles. They have to be pretty certain they have a bestseller on their hands to take a chance on it. I explain it this way to people: imagine you're walking through the airport and you stop at the book kiosk to find something to read on the plane. Are you going to take a chance on an unknown writer? Possibly, but probably not. Same for publishers. I get that. I get that brilliantly amazing books (like my friend Erin Bow's) will find a good publishing home, but many clever, bright, creative, insightful books won't. Not in today's economy.

The other strike against my books is what I allude to in the title of today's post. My books straddle the fence of the publishing world. What I tend to write about are stories of people coming to know themselves and God better. The problem is: where to put such stories? Are they Christian novels? Well, kind of. Are they literary fiction? Yeah, mostly.

I had a Christian publisher roll eyes at my second novel, saying it was too "edgy." I can't remember if it was drinking, smoking or dancing that offended, but I think the publisher thought I was trying to be provocative. My book was coming across that way anyhow. There was also a mainstream publisher who didn't know what to do with the religious stuff.

What I write is - if you'll pardon the pun - neither fish nor fowl. It is a very good thing we don't depend on my fiction to put groceries on the table.

But here is the thing: I am writing about the world as I see it. A world in which people struggle to live out what they believe. A world in which people don't know what they believe. A world that is miraculously beautiful and devastatingly painful. A world where redemption is possible and hope is not foolish, but neither is it simple. A world in which dancing and drinking can be wonderful things - and can lead to big messes too. A world in which many of us straddle the fence where we reach out for something beyond ourselves but we don't always know how.

I believe with all my heart that the books I'm writing are ones that will lodge in people's hearts, regardless of their stripe of faith or non-faith. I believe too that good writing goes beyond categories. My brilliant friend Erin, again, sometimes feels apologetic that she writes genre fiction - but the point is that she writes astonishingly well and that goes beyond categories in a bookstore or fences of faith.

So, market realities are market realities. I can be surprisingly patient about that. What I get impatient for is the breaking down of walls and categories. There is definitely successful writing that transcends those borders - think Anne Lamott, Donald Miller and Sue Monk Kidd. It's what I love to read. It's what I am made to write.

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