More on Suspense in the CBA


Thanks to everyone who commented on the state of suspense in the CBA. Great words of wisdom shared on a very thoughtful topic. I think this discussion needs to be had. For so long it’s been said that Christian fiction is all about prairie romances and chick lit and Amish lit. But what about suspense? Fans of Christian suspense need to make their voices heard.

One of the commenters asked some questions about my motives for writing and I’d like to address them now with some questions of my own:

Why do you write what you write? I write suspense because I think it most closely mimics real life. Let’s face it, life can be really scary and suspenseful. Monsters are real. They may not look like those phony jobs in old Japanese movies but they are real. They come in the form of cancer and juvenile arthritis and Parkinson’s and the jerk who can’t keep his hands off his teenage daughter. I write suspense because it allows me to explore the human psyche and emotions on a much deeper level, and, I think, a much more realistic level.

What are the reasons for your writing? The reasons are varied. One is because writing gives me an outlet for my crazy imagination. Another is for the reason I stated above, writing gives me an opportunity to study people and get into the human psyche and what makes people tick and cry and laugh and scream with fear or burst with excitement. Yet another reason is because I want to inspire and encourage people through the power of story. And lastly, I write because it gives me a voice. I stutter and don’t always use the words I want to use when verbally speaking, but when I’m writing I can let my voice go and say what I want, how I want.

What are you trying to get across to your audience? Hopefully, what I’m getting across is hope. My stories have to have a strong Christian message to them. I want people to see that no matter how bad life gets, how scary or depressing or suspenseful, there is always hope in Christ. I learned that first-hand again with my own battle with a monster.

What does your writing do for the reader? Again, hopefully inspires and encourages them. Hopefully instills hope. And hopefully gives them an outlet from the work-a-day world, a place to escape to and lose themselves in.

Now, some questions for you:

I hear a lot about attracting female readership by having a strong female protagonist. Last year I wrote a book that I loved. Love the story, the characters, everything. I thought then (and still do) that it was some of my best work to date. But both my agent and editors at my publishing house balked at it because it didn’t have a female protagonist. They said women readers wouldn’t be interested. My question is (at the risk of sounding very chauvinist–which I am definitely not), are women readers that shallow that they can’t read and enjoy a book that doesn’t have a female protagonist? I’ve read several books by varying authors that didn’t have strong male protags and loved them (Dean Koontz’s The Darkest Evening of the Year and The Taking and Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story and Delores Claiborne, to name a few).

My second question is: What do you think of the subgenre of Christian horror? Does it have a fighting chance in the CBA?

I’m looking forward to your comments!

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About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on October 9, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Mike, thanks for sharing your reasons for writing, and for exploring this topic. Since Christian suspense/mystery is my favorite genere, I have been playing close attention to it.I think there should be more books that have a strong male protagonist, and focus less on the woman, and I am not a chauvanist either. My reason is there doesn't seem that much fiction aimed specifically at men on the Christian market. I have no problem with reading about a female protagonist either, and have read many, and enjoy them, but I'd also like to see more about men. And I would think women would enjoy that too.As to the horror. I'm not sure. I don't go much for that – "House" by Dekker and Peretti was a bit too much for me, but maybe that is my personal tastes speaking.I do believe too many authors are pushing boundaries with their novels, trying to appeal too much to the secular market, and I am not sure Christian horror could be confined to boundaries to be truly Christian fiction, but that is just my humble opinion.

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  2. I don't care about having a female protagonist. I just care about a well-written, exciting book with an engaging protagonist of either sex. I could even do w/o the exciting if it's well-written. And I doubt I could be easily prevailed upon to read an Amish/prairie romance. So please keep writing what you do. W/o suspense, there will be a big hole in the book market. Right now, I'm imagining the P.G. Wodehouse "Honeysuckle Cottage" phenomenon occurring.

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  3. Mike, I love reading and writing suspense for the same reasons you stated in your blog.It doesn't bother me at all to read a book with a male protagonist. After all, more books and movies have been made featuring a male main character. It doesn't stop us women from plunking down money to watch or read. Publishers should poll their readers about this.It plagues me and many of my friends at church to see so much Amish and prairie romances on the bookstore shelves. We'd love to see more thoughtful and intelligent books with a strong Christian message.Please keep writing your wonderful suspense (I loved Scream and the male protagonist) and I'll keep reading it.

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  4. The truth is there are many more well-written CBA novels in the suspense genre than a decade ago (even five years ago). Readers owe it to those who write in this genre to do more to make their approval known. As to Christian horror. If that means novels that clearly define good and evil in thought provoking ways, I'm all far it. If that means lumping in the whole vampire sub-genre, I don't know. Evil needs to be portrayed without tearing down sound Christian world-view themes.

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  5. Good topic, Mike. Thanks for tackling it. For my first published suspense novel, I confess that I purposely chose to make my main protagonist female for the reason you described. The statistics, I'm afraid, speak for themselves. Most Christian fiction readers are female; for that reason I think there needs to be something in the novel for them. The script writers for the Lord of the Rings movies worked female characters into the story; they wanted mass appeal. If they'd stuck to Tolkien's original vision, nope, females would have gotten very little airtime. If the main protagonist in a Christian novel is male, perhaps he has a girlfriend or a wife or someone female who gets plenty of airtime and is integral to the story. Otherwise I lean toward agreeing with the editors you mentioned. An all-male cast just doesn't do as well. At the same time, a lot of Christian suspense has been male-oriented and done just fine. Think of most Dekker novels, which have sold quite well. Even in the Left Behind series, the main protagonists (Buck and Rayford) were male. I don't believe that fact made any dent in sales, perhaps because those male protagonists had females closely integral to the stories as well. At a writer's conference in June, the lead senior fiction acquisitions editor from Bethany House said he was looking for more male-oriented fiction, so perhaps things are changing. Bethany is doing more male-oriented suspense. Think Tom Morrisey, Paul Robertson, and Robin Parrish. As for Christian horror, I guess it depends on what exactly you mean by the term. The secular counterpart is mostly known for an emphasis on evil and graphic gore. Hence the contradiction in terms. How can something labeled Christian delve into the same level of evil and gore common in most secular horror? To be honest, I don't consider your novels "horror" because the violence is restrained and because your emphasis is always on good and not on evil. I've read at least one other Christian horror novel by another author (I'll keep him nameless), and it literally turned my stomach. The violence was over the line, and I struggled in my heart to reconcile that level of gore with the Christian label. Forgive me for preaching a bit, but Philippians 4:8 talks about what our emphasis should be as Christian communicators, and I'm afraid some horror just doesn't pass the litmus test, at least for me. I realize this is a realm where not all Christians are going to agree, but that's my two cents. As long as you keep your violence restrained and focus on Christ and the difference He can make, then I'll continue to read your novels. Though the story may have some darkness, the light shines all the brighter. But some other Christians novels are becoming more secular and aren't shining the good news as brightly. Hence the stories can seem overly dark, perhaps turning off readers who want to see the ray of hope. I'm with you; I'm always looking for a strong spiritual message and feel let down when it's missing. A lot, I think, depends on how this aspect of emphasis is handled. Peretti's "Oath," for example, has some horror elements in it, but I didn't think he went over the line, and he kept the uplifting message supreme. So is there a place for Christian horror? I think so, but it all depends on this balancing act. Again, my two cents.

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  6. Mike, because of your discussion here, I found this interesting: I hold giveaways on my blog occasionally of books I review – up til now, they have been all Christian suspense, and I get around 8-10 entries. I just started 2 giveaways yesterday – one for an Amish Christmas book, and one for a Karen Kingsbury book. Already, in 24 hours, I have more entries for each contest than I ever have had for other ones – just found that interesting considering the points you made in this post.

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