I've been thinking about something Sara Zarr mentioned at the conference I went to recently. She was talking about religious fiction because that's what some people in our group were writing. About 85% of teens say God is important in their lives, and that's huge. Of course, religious fiction has always been around, mostly as niche fiction that only highly religious teens would be interested in reading. As for mainstream religious fiction, though, there hasn't been much. When you consider how many teens believe in God, it's strange that this population has been underserved for so long. So religious fiction is going to be a huge trend in the upcoming years.
First of all, why isn't the religious fiction that's already out there selling? I think there are a couple of reasons.
One: Teens don't want to be preached at. If there's a moral an adult is trying to shove down their throats, teens will see through that. If they want preaching, there's church. I think teens are more interested in how a religious person lives. Not how to be moral, or religious, or faithful, or even to make good choices. I'm not saying there isn't a place for that. It's called church, and plenty of teens attend. But they don't want to go to church when they read. Teens just want to know how to live. And religion is a part of that.
Two: It's got to be good. Maybe authors are intimidated by the New York culture that the publishing world is immersed in. Maybe they're afraid it won't sell. But there isn't much of it out there, and so the pickin's are slim.
I don't know if other authors feel this way, but I steer clear mostly because I think it would be so hard to write it well. I mean, how intimidating is that? To put what you believe in into print for thousands of people to scrutinize? Even the genre sounds scary to me.
Three: Another reason I am afraid of religious fiction is this: It can't be cheesy. That's even more embarrassing than preaching. Warm fuzzies that make readers cringe. It's fiction, but on some level, it had better be real. For someone who grew up listening to preaching, it's hard to translate scripture into contemporary characters. In sermons and scripture, everything but the lesson to be learned drops away. They need to be accessible to everyone. Not that there aren't subtle layers of understanding, symbolism, great dialogue, action, etc. But complex characters and ambiguity? Not so much. They usually draw straight lines of the either-or variety, but fiction is seldom that way, and when you try to create gospel-style simplicity in fiction, it falls flat.
I don't mean that creating good religious fiction is impossible. I just think the challenges are different when you start bringing in religious themes, ideas, and characters. And I'm excited to see what the next few years of religious fiction will produce.