I try not to play the victim or Woe-is-Me card when my work is rejected or when it receives a poor review. But recently I experienced a rejection that made me pause and ponder on the state of literature, Christian writing and readers in general…
First, I must admit, that I myself don’t read much Christian fiction, but only because the genre has been secluded, marginalized by mainstream literature and therefore has produced subpar work as a result.
My response to this lack of quality was to write Amidst Traffic, a collection of short stories that is literary in style but holds Christian Theological undertones.
Last month I contacted an editor from an independent journal up North who seemed really excited about reviewing Amidst Traffic. The editor put me in touch with her book reviewer, whom also expressed excitement because she liked the genre of interconnected short stories, so immediately I ordered a copy of the book from my distributor and sent it to her.
Three weeks later I sent her a follow-up email to see how it was going, and she told me she had to decline reviewing the book because it was Christian. She made the argument (which sounded very weak to me) that Christian Fiction requires a specific type of reviewer and that she wouldn’t be right for the job.
I asked her to please give the book a chance, promising her that the book was Literary in style and not commercially Christian. I asked her to read just one or two stories before passing, but again she refused.
After some reflection, I sent her the following email:
My response to being rejected on the basis of Christianity:
Hey (Reviewer’s name),
You’ve made your stance clear and I won’t push the review request any further. If I can make a recommendation, take a look at “Fires of Our Choosing” by Eugene Cross.
It’s a short story collection by an author living in the Chicago area. The stories are not interconnected, but they all have a recurring theme of abandonment and loneliness that is really well done. I plan on writing a review of the book on my own blog soon. The collection is contemporary fiction and I think you’d enjoy it.
If you’re able to ship the book back to me so I can find a new reviewer for this copy, I’d be grateful, but since that would cost you postage, I’d be thankful if you donated the book to a public library for someone else to discover.
Ultimately, I wanted to convey that my collection is not merely Christian (I would argue that it’s literary first, human second and theological third) but it’s hardly worth the effort pushing the issue at this point.
I respect your decision for not reviewing the book, even though I disagree on some of the premises you mentioned. For example, when I was in college at Pitt (a liberal arts university),
I took an entire literary course on human sexuality that focused primarily on homosexual topics and narrators. Even though I’m not homosexual, nor do I support homosexuality in society, I could still identify with the literature because of the human struggles (both internal and external) conveyed in the stories. I think that’s what makes fiction and literature universally applicable and what should allow us to look past genres, for the very fact that it’s intended to embrace a reader with characters or subjects he normally wouldn’t find familiar or comfortable. Fiction pushes and challenges readers to understand and feel compassion toward topics or people’s struggles they normally wouldn’t consider. In other words, a theologian or a Christian reader are not required to evaluate or enjoy a book that tackles Christian issues.
(Editor’s note: the case would be different if the book were Theological Nonfiction, but we’re talking about fiction here.)
The same goes with the idea of a 27-year-old man reading “The Hunger Games”
whose main narrator is a 16-year-old girl. Or for a Christian to read (and enjoy) both “The Kite Runner”
and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,”
both of which are centered on the Muslim faith as the driving force behind the story: Islam being a faith at odds with Christianity for more than 13 centuries.
(Editor’s note: No literary critic would be so simplistic as to categorize those two novels as “Muslim” and dismiss them so easily because of it.)
Unlike you, when reviewing a book, I think that what’s most important is not the genre but the quality of the author’s execution of the story. It’s the story that matters. The writing itself.
That’s my aim with “Amidst Traffic:” to write about theological topics and address questions that both the atheist and the believer struggle with (Does God exist? If so, then why does so much evil happen in this world? If God is sovereign, is man free?), and do so in such a way that is LITERARY not just Christian. I think it would be somewhat close-minded to label these stories as merely Christian, and therefore pigeonhole (and dismiss) the whole collection as such.
In any case, my intent here is not to keep pushing for the review, but to provide additional context.
If you’re able to send the copy back to me, I’d be happy to send you my mailing address. Otherwise, I hope you can find a library that will be happy to have it.
Take care and God Bless,
What about you?
Has your artistic work ever been rejected simply because it had Christian themes?