Stories that Matter

Feature Friday! Welcome Author Richard Mabry!

Every Friday I will endeavor to feature a new author. Yes, you can rub shoulders with some of the greatest authors out there today right here, folks! At least I think they’re pretty great. Hope you meet some new friends and find some new books to read!

To kick off our first Feature Friday, I’m excited to have Dr. Richard Mabry as our guest. Richard and I share an agent, and you may also recognize him as the current VP of American Christian Fiction Writers. Richard writes wonderful medical suspense novels. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you need to. He’s a very supportive friend and encourager to many, myself included, in our writing community.

Today, Richard has a few things to share about being an author and how to handle criticism when it comes.

Take it away, Richard!

“My introduction to less-than stellar reviews occurred shortly after the release of my first novel, and brought up the question of labeling fiction as Christian. I’ve seen it with all my novels since then. Sort of like a fire, rekindling itself from coals you thought were dead, it continues to flare up.

Every writer expects criticism of his or her work. It’s part of the human condition. Something I heard years ago has stuck with me through times like these: “I cannot expect to be universally loved and respected.” And that’s a phrase I’ve had to repeat like a mantra since I first read a one-star review of my debut novel, Code Blue. The reviewer’s complaint? It was a “Christian novel.”

Just before the review appeared, Code Blue was made available as a free download as an ebook at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. That’s when several people took advantage of the free download, only to give the book one star because the novel is “Christian fiction.”

I’m prepared to have my writing style criticized. Perhaps the reader doesn’t like medical novels. Perhaps I don’t pack my work with enough suspense. Maybe the characters are one-dimensional. All these are valid criticisms. But I was crushed to have my writing criticized because it was written from a Christian worldview.

My latest novel, Lethal Remedy, has been getting some good reviews so far. But I’m holding my breath until it’s made available as a free download—something publishers do as a marketing tool (not to proselytize readers to Christianity). Undoubtedly, there’ll be criticism because of its Christian content. Go figure.

What is “Christian fiction” anyway? I went back and copied what I said in an interview on Writer Unboxed some time back. I think it’s as good a definition as I can give for my own version of “Christian fiction”:  The primary difference I see is that (these novels) don’t have cursing or explicit sex, and portray a Christian worldview… The books portray characters that are flawed, as we all are, and who struggle with their relationships, both with God and their fellow man…What I’ve frequently said is that the only difference I really see is that these novels are written from a Christian worldview and don’t contain anything I’d hesitate for my mother, wife, or daughter to read.

In the discussion that followed, a couple of people suggested that they wouldn’t have taken advantage of the free download if my novel had been labeled “Christian fiction.” My question, in turn, is whether some novels should be labeled “Smutty fiction” or “Fiction containing lots of cursing.” It just seems silly to me. If I don’t like it, I stop reading. I do the same with a TV program I don’t like. There’s no mystery to discovering what a book’s about. You can usually tell the nature of the book from the blurb (back of the book, or on the website of an online bookseller). Failing that, it’s possible to thumb through the book (in a store) or read excerpts (online at Amazon). Why have labels?

Some people will want to read what I’m comfortable writing, some won’t. But the question remains: Should Christian fiction carry a warning tag, so people who are uncomfortable reading it (and I wonder why that is…hmm) can avoid it? You tell me.”

You can learn more about Richard and his books on his website! 

Thanks for being with us today, Richard.

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8 Comments

  1. Katie Ganshert on December 9, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Interesting question. And I’ve seen this happen all over the place with book reviews of Christian fiction. Often times, the book is attacked because of the Christian content. What I find interesting is often these people will then go on to attack other elements of the story, but hte bitterness of the review seems to stem from the Christian content.

    See, as a writer, I think they are labeled. They are published by CBA publishers, which is label enough. But I suppose the general reading population doesn’t know this.

  2. Cathy West on December 9, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I think this is a great question and one I have asked as well, after receiving a review that said the reader had not been aware that she was reading a “Christian” novel and wouldn’t have bought it if she’d known, but she went on to say that she enjoyed the story! I never want to come across like I’m hiding anything from anyone. My book does not have the word Christian on the front or back cover, but I think that reading the reviews and perhaps doing a search on my publisher would definitely give people a clue. I think a huge issue is these free downloads. People don’t take the time to see what they’re clicking on and then they get all up in arms because they find out it’s a Christian book! Well, don’t read it then! The ones that do read it and give the scathing reviews are another story entirely and I do have to wonder whether they purposely troll for Christian novels and pounce on them, just to spew a little venom. Unfortunately I don’t think there is much we can do about it, except pray that maybe something they read in our books will stick and God will begin to work in their hearts. With that said, should our books be specifically labeled? Honestly, I don’t think so. Bookstores and online stores do this for us by putting our books into specific categories anyway. It’s when you get Christians criticizing fellow Christian authors that the real fun begins, but that’s another topic!!

  3. Jillian Kent on December 9, 2011 at 11:12 am

    I know this has happened to many writers and frequently after the book is offered free. Unfortunately I think some readers believe we are selling “religion” and not “story.” I remember being at a local writer’s meeting several years ago where a well known secular writer said I should be writing creative non-fiction instead of Christian Fiction. She made no bones about the fact, in her opinion, that she did not “approve.” What was that about? She said this in a roomful of fellow writers that I knew well. It was a slap in the face and I’m sure she’s never bothered to read anything written in our genre. I wonder if Zondervan and now Thomas Nelson who were bought by Harper Collins used the Harper Collins name instead of the Zondervan and TN names if it would make a difference? I hope that doesn’t happen, but still I wonder. And HC must know that a lot of readers love fiction with a faith element included or they wouldn’t be buying those companies. Personally, I don’t get it. We like some stories we don’t like others. We all make choices and if some folks don’t like what we write they don’t have to read it and if they download it for free and get angry about story content why can’t they make the effort to figure out what they’ve chosen ahead of time? By the way, Richard, I have Lethal Remedy in my to be read pile. Looking forward to reading it.

  4. diannechristner on December 9, 2011 at 11:50 am

    It’s frustrating when these ratings or reviews hit Goodreads. I once had a low review because the reader didn’t like the prologue so she put it down. I thought if she didn’t read the entire book, she shouldn’t have done a review that “Counts” on Goodreads. But it taught me not to use prologues.

    The free ebooks does seem scary, but an article in Romantic Times claims that they DO bring in more sales…somehow…so hopefully that will make up for any negatives. I know you don’t write romance, but it should work the same. And there’s always the hope that a takeaway remains with those negative readers who don’t like Christian fiction. It could be producing a miracle.

  5. Tammy Doherty on December 9, 2011 at 11:51 am

    For these free downloads, you could design an app that reaches out, grabs the potential buyer by the shirt (two fisted), yanks them real close to the screen and then yells “THIS IS A CHRISTIAN NOVEL” and they’d still say the author/publisher/cosmos tricked them into buying it. For one, because the word “free” makes people blind and deaf (and stupider than normal). Also, I think the people posting negative reviews because it’s Christian fiction are doing it just to attack Christianity. They wait for the free downloads so their hate won’t cost them – money. As we know, it is costing them something much more precious.

    When I read a review by someone complaining a book is Christian fiction, it shows me the reviewers ignorance. And laziness. Before buying a book, even if it’s free, you should find out about it. Unless a friend recommended it, and then they should be mad at the friend not the author. Frankly, people should be ashamed of flaunting their ignorance and stupidity (they really are 2 different things).

    However, referencing Katie’s comment: the publisher doesn’t mean much to the “average” person. There are people who buy books from certain publishers but I think that’s mostly Harlequin – and I’m talking “secular” readers. Christian readers are more educated when it comes to looking for a Christian book (although, my friend bought a novel at the grocery store not realizing it was full of smut and bad language – she was shocked…I kept my mouth shut but thought ‘nowhere did that back cover blurb make me think the novel was Christian’!) I think the average reader picks up a book that catches their eye, so the cover is important. If there are nearly naked people on the front, it’s doubtful that it’s Christian! But Christian novels don’t (and shouldn’t) have big Christian symbols on their covers. Again, in general, I believe “secular” readers are not as educated (in regards to publishers, not schooling) and are a bit lazy. Why else would the average newspaper be written for an elementary school reading level?

    But I rant. Thank you for ‘listening’ 🙂

  6. Tammy Doherty on December 9, 2011 at 11:52 am

    P.S. I forgot to mention, I loved CODE BLUE! The “rest” of Dr. Mabry’s books are on my wishlist 😀

  7. Richard Mabry on December 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I appreciate all the comments, and especially those of you who’ve said you liked my novels.

    This is an area that has bothered me a lot, but I’m learning to roll with the punches and live with it. Hearing or reading anything with a Christian connotation makes a lot of non-Christians uncomfortable. I had the same feeling before I accepted Christ. I don’t want to turn these readers off, and I hope that they will at least read enough to start thinking about their relationship with God.

    Truly, I’m not trying to “sell” religion to them. Rather, these free downloads are an attempt by the publisher to acquaint potential readers with the authors. Despite the belief to the contrary of some of the reviewers, it’s not a plot to try to insinuate my beliefs into the minds of others.

    Thanks, Cathy, for having me here.

  8. bethkvogt on December 9, 2011 at 9:49 pm

    I guess if it’s not labeled “Christian,” people assume it’s not.
    But what do you do if you’re a writer who wants to reach both Christian and “non” readers? Is that straddling the fence? Wasted effort? Will you, will I, offend some and water down the truth too much for others?
    Isn’t that the heart of our faith, after all? To speak truth not just to each other–but to others, no matter where they are on their faith walk?
    And, of course, we’re told people won’t like our message–no matter what form it takes. Whether it comes from the pulpit or from a novel, labeled or not, it won’t be accepted by some.

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