Fiction by Catholic Authors

Hello! I’m new to the forum. A friend in Catholic Writers Online asked me to start a thread on Catholic fiction, so here I am. The truth is that Catholic publishers don’t publish fiction, so Catholic writers are limited to the amount of Catholicism they include in stories, but we can write novels that profess our faith without defining it as Catholic. That’s what I have done in my books.

A Piece of the Sky is women’s fiction about a woman who is infertile and goes behind her husband’s back to use a sperm donor to get pregnant. Obviously she isn’t Catholic. But her husband, although described as attending a non-denominational church, projects Catholic thoughts and doctrine, getting a subtle but powerful message across to readers.

My two young adult novels are about two friends. Maggie Come Lately deals with a girl who wants to be popular, but when she is saves a girl who was raped and left for dead, she is thrust into the limelight and discovers she doesn’t really want to be popular afterall. The story deals with abstinence and touches on warnings of molestation as covered in the Catholic Virtus classes that church employees and volunteers take at parishes across the country.

My Beautiful Disaster is about Maggie’s best friend, Dixie. It’s a pro-life story about teen pregnancy.

Young adult novels nowadays must be very contemporary to sell, but I find dealing with teen issues in fiction is an excellent way to show teens a viewpoint that is aligned with what they hear at church instead of what they see on TV.

I’d love to answer questions. Ask away!

Michelle

Thanks for starting the forum, Michelle.

I’m the senior editor of the inspirational line at The Wild Rose Press–a small royalty-paying romance publisher. Just to let everyone know, I’m very open to seeing Catholic romances.:thumbsup:

Here’s a link to the Submission Guidelines

I have written four inspirational romances for Awe-Struck E-Books (awe-struck.net
Two have won EPPIE awards. All of them have gotten great reviews. The latest one, The Keeper’s Promise, has just been reviewed in the September issue of the Romantic Times Bookreviews magazine. The reviewer, Faith V. Smith, said, “Marzec continues to deliver thought-provoking inspirational romances…The emotions are on mark in this compelling read.”

I feel very fortunate to have a publisher willing to put my faith-filled books on the market.

I belong to a group called Catholic Writers Online. Many of us, including me, write Catholic fiction.

Karina and Rob Fabian’s “Infinite Space, Infinite God” has had rave reviews and much success recently. And looking at the stories, you will find a highly imaginative look at what the future of the Church would be, even in outer space.

You will be amazed at the quality of the stories and how Catholicism takes centre stage in all of them. You can’t get another volume of fiction more Catholic than this one, at least for the time being.

And if you pick your way through well established books, you can find “A Canticle For Leibowitz” by Walter M Miller Jr. This has been in print since the 1950’s when it was first published, and used in University literary courses, e.g. “Technology in Fiction” by secular Universities. Again, when you read about the Order of Monks of St Leibowitz in a post Holocaust era and how they get Leibowitz canonized, in a book filled with Catholic thoughts and ideals and updated and redefined Latin, you will be astounded. The word, “brilliant” describes this book.

Catholic writer, Kathleen Techler, writes romances too which you will find more contemporary. Among her gems, one fictional book, called Shalom, Mary stands out – it is a series of letters written by Our Lady to a woman friend describing all the marvellous events in her life, in a gentle, simple, believable style that is an inspiration to prayer.

For modern romances in a space setting, try Star Sapphire, by Han May. This Awarded book is again blatantly Catholic, and well received by the secular literary people in the country where it originated – Singapore.

Looking at classic fiction, you will find ample Catholic fiction in works by Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), Graham Greene, A J Cronin (The Keys of the Kingdom), G K Chesterton (Fr Brown mysteries), Guareschi (Don Camillo books), Taylor Caldwell.

And don’t forget Dean Koontz. :smiley:

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes “fiction with a Catholic flavor” makes the best-seller list, through secular publishing houses (like Simon & Schuster.) Three words:

Mary Higgins Clark

Or, Aimee and David Thurlo’s Sister Agatha mystery series (the fifth book, “The Prodigal Nun”, just came out in hardcover!) is another example of “fiction with a Catholic flavor”. The characters are Catholic, they do Catholic “stuff” (like go to Mass, be a nun, have an archbishop as a family friend, etc.), and they are NORMAL people, not psychos, nor child molestors, nor involved in Vatican conspiracies, nor whatever else fictional “Catholics” are doing in Dan Brown’s or other novels. But there is no ambiguity about their religious affiliation: they are Catholic.

Still, I would not consider those books “Catholic fiction”.

I don’t know exactly what would be considered “Catholic fiction”–Louis de Wohl’s “The Spear”? Marcus Grodi’s “How Firm a Foundation”? William E. Barrett’s “Lilies of the Field” or “The Empty Shrine”? Does the story itself have to be about being Catholic? So what exactly is the definition of a “Catholic novel”?

It is a shame that Catholic publishers don’t see that there is a great deal of interest in good Catholic fiction (or, fiction with a stronger Catholic flavor than mainstream publishers might consider.) Maybe we Catholic writers have to step up and show them what we’ve got and that readers want it!

But I don’t think that Catholic fiction should be didactic. Yuck.

With all due respect to Marcus Grodi (I love his show and wish my husband and I could be on it), I think that How Firm a Foundation is a weak story with stock two-dimensional characters and a very predictable and unsatisfying plot. The “novel” serves as a vehicle for Catholic apologetics sermons. In fact, entire chapters in the novel are basically Catholic Answers pamphlets, as related by various characters in the novel.

IMO, fiction needs to first and most importantly have a really good, gripping, well-constructed STORY with multi-dimensional dynamic characters who speak believeable dialogue in a logical setting.

I think that the writer needs to put most of their time and talent into constructing the story first, with a logical plot (unless lack of logic IS the plot, e.g., some cool psychological thriller!) and a beginning, middle, climax, and conclusion.

Then the writer needs to create–just like God!–a “world” in which the plot can occur believably. The characters have to be conceived and born and grow up and develop until we meet them. We may not see any of this background, but it has to be there, or the characters won’t breathe like real people.

The rest of the “world” has to be created, too–time, place, geography, climate, buildings, etc. This all has to make sense–it’s highly unlikely that a world-famous ice sports training facility will be located in equatorial Africa–although if a BILLIONAIRE built it and populates it with athletes who have escaped from terrorist regimes, it could happen! (That sounds kind of exciting, doesn’t it?)

You see, things have to make sense. In most stories, the ice training facility will probably be in a country where people can actually afford to ice skate.

One thing I hate is when a story that is supposed to be “real” sounds incredibly FAKE. For example, a Christian romance–I haven’t read any of the Catholic romances yet, so I’m not talking about YOUR novels! But I’ve read Protestant romances–eeugh! I just refuse to believe that a couple in love in this day and age living in a city here in the U.S. and working at normal jobs will never kiss until their wedding night. I do not believe it!!! I do NOT!

(I also don’t believe that they will never become sexually aroused. Nope.)

And then there’s dialogue. I also don’t believe that couples in love will dine in the revolving restaurant on the top of the skyscraper, and have a discussion about the Five Points of Calvinism and share how totally blessed they are to be believers in this doctrine and how they can trust in Providence to provide even when the way looks dark and drear (yes, drear–of course, we ALL use this word in everyday conversation, don’t we?!)…

Ridiculous. People just don’t talk like that! C’mon, now!

I think that anyone who writes “Christian” dialogue should go out with friends or spouse and “run” the dialogue just as they have written it and see just how fake it sounds. Then re-write it, and if that means making it sound a little less “Christian,” so what? When Christians all start talking about “the Lord” in their everyday lives all the time, THEN I will buy novels where they talk like that!

After the groundwork is laid–then the “Catholic” can happen and WILL happen.

It may not be didactic at all. The characters may not ever preach anything. There may not even be a quote from the Catechism in the novel! And not a single saint may be mentioned.

But even without a homily in every chapter, the “Catholic” will shine.

Madeleine L’Engle has written a wonderful book, Walking On Water–Reflections on Faith and Art in which she claims that a Christian can only create “Christian” art. That doesn’t mean that it will be didactic. But it will be “Christian.” I highly recommend this book, BTW, for Christian writers. It’s quite deep, even though the title implies being on top the water.

Michelle,
Welcome to the forum! I clicked on this thread because of the title: “Fiction by Catholic Authors.” Most of the posts seem to address Catholic fiction. I have written a fantasy novel, which not only is difficult to categorize by genre (not quite urban fantasy, also isn’t contemporary fantasy, and has too much fantasy to be literary fiction) but which also cannot really be categorized Catholic fantasy because the symbolism, although Catholic and meant to acquaint the reader with Catholic truths, is used (hopefully) in a way that primarily entertains and, therefore, will appeal to a secular audience. Try writing a query letter for that one :eek: Yes, it was a challenge.

As a published author, do you have any advice on how a Catholic writer of fiction may find an agent?

Perhaps, you know of other published writers who would be willing to critique chapters of a new author’s work and, possibly, recommend them to an agent or to a publisher.

The publishing world is so difficult to enter. A writer who desires to further the Kingdom of God by presenting theologically and morally sound stories (which we will assume are entertaining) needs all the help that he can get. (I have several people reading my novel from whom I will be receiving input. They volunteered to read in response to a thread that I began on the Forum. I’m still open to more readers :slight_smile: )

So, are there any writers or editors affiliated with third-party publishing houses who would be willing to take up the banner for Catholic authors, offer to read samples of novels, and maybe lead the way to a revival in good literature, regardless of genre, by Catholic authors?

Gidget

I agree, Cat! :thumbsup:

That’s why I ask what exactly IS considered “Catholic fiction”? It should be what “Christian fiction” should be… well written stories about believable characters in believable situations who just happen to be Christian (or, more specifically, Catholic).

Which is why I love MHC (and now Aimee and David Thurlo’s Sr. Agatha books)… her characters are people I can identify with without being clobbered over the head with the CCC.

The average Catholic already knows the Church’s stand on pre-marital sex, abortion, birth control, etc. so there is no need to turn each chapter into a homily. Just let the characters live out their values. In real life, during Lent, I do not normally give a short course on abstaining from meat when I go out to lunch with friends and they order a Philly steak sandwich and I order tuna. They know that’s what Catholics do. Same thing should happen in a book. If the secondary characters know the main character is Catholic, they probably don’t need a mini-lecture right in the middle of lunch (especially if it’s a mystery novel and the main character is the sleuth attempting to get information about the crime from a suspect, but I digress.) Now if you’re writing a catechism or apologetics book loosely masquerading as a novel (which is exactly what Marcus Grodi was doing when he wrote his novel), you might wax eloquent on the practice of fasting and abstaining during the Lenten period… but you might lose your audience. There are enough books on Catholic practices out there. If your reader wanted to know about them, then they probably wouldn’t have picked up a novel to read in the first place.

Now, granted, sometimes in real life, I am asked about things pertaining to being Catholic. Or the normal course of conversation will cause me to state my uncompromisingly Catholic opinion. Whatever. I don’t have a lot of control over what happens in real life. In a story I’m writing, I do. Should circumstances lead my character to such discussions, then I should be brief, clear, and natural, not pompous nor idiotic (unless my character** is** a pompous idiot, then I’d better have a really terrific reason why he or she is attempting to explain Catholic practices or doctrine!)

In any event, it would be refreshing to find more fiction with Catholic characters who boldly live out their faith and are not just negative or offensive stereotypes. And that is why I hope Catholic writers do take up the challenge to produce good fiction without compromising their principles nor the quality of their work. Beverly Lewis and Wanda Brunstetter may write very “light and fluffy” fiction, but they never apologize nor hide the fact that their characters are Amish (although why they get published by Christian publishers and books about Catholic characters don’t is a subject for another thread!)

Anyway, as another thread stated a while back, November is coming and so is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month–www.nanowrimo.org ) so sharpen your pencils and let’s see if we can’t produce a little more fiction from Catholic authors!

I admit to some ‘Catholic’ content in my fanfics. In fact, the story would fall apart without it.

But—well. I guess you’d have to decide for yourself whether it’s didactic. I really only thought in terms of story and character, though.

I self-published a sort of mystery novel in my youth. Not heavily Catholic, but officially written by a “Catholic author.” http://l.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/i/mesg/emoticons7/4.gif
The Circle of Six. I think you can get it at Amazon too.

ok if u start i will end it :smiley:
just believe in catholic

This is a fantastic subject, what constitutes the Catholic essence in a work of fiction. How about the critieria of the supreme author of the Christian imagination Dante Alighieri? This signifies that supernatural and transcendental quality including yet beyond historical time, unified with the Presence of God, and contention with the Satanic character of worldly vanity manifested in all eras, and the vitality of applying Catholic philosophy (St. Augustine and St. Thomas, especially) to all human problems of life in our own era.

I would like to mention a thought evoked by the name “Blue Rose”–it is reminiscent of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks movie, “Fire Walk With Me”, where FBI chief Cole (Lynch) instructs his two agents to take note of the blue rose worn by Cole’s relative, a young woman giving these agents clues in a terribly tragic case involving an adolescent girl. This blue flower’s message directs them to a path of absolute mystery. I think there is celestial Catholic design in auteur Lynch’s metaphysical film esthetics.

And here I thought Lynch was just a sick you-know-what. :eek:

Well… I HAVE thought about writing a mystery novel… but really, my name has several meanings, none quite so intriguing! :blush:

Glad to see all the discussion.

My two cents on what’s been posted:
First, I define Catholic fiction as stories in which the characters are Catholic. Period. I totally agree that no Christian fiction should be preachy. I detest that. Anyone reading my fiction will tell you my stories are gritty, edgy, very real. Creating an entertaining story is paramount. Faith drifts in at will, but is not the POINT of the story, though a tenant of faith is often the underlying theme. The Christianity within the story is simply part of the character. Characters base decisions on faith/Christian/Catholic world view; or on lack of faith; or because they are revolting against what they were raised to believe.

In my opinion, characters should make wrong decisions, they should be sinners, they should be confused, guilty, imperfect, and so forth. I actually had one editor tell me I HAD to change the mother in A Piece of the Sky so that she didn’t lie. I couldn’t do that. It ruined the plot. It destroyed her believability as a character. So I went to the top editor. He said No, don’t change her!

You’ll find that romance publishers are most likely to look for those “perfect, chaste” characters than other CBA houses. Most houses now want more realistic characterization.

I never have perfect characters and I don’t preach, but I don’t openly depict my characters as Catholic. I just give them Catholic beliefs without naming it such. In Maggie Come Lately, Maggie simply uses her faith as a guideline in dealing with boys and newfound popularity. In My Beautiful Disaster, a bible-toting bag lady gives Dixie a profound message (though Dixie doesn’t recognize it as such at first) when she spouts off a scripture. In A Piece of the Sky, the main character Carla has no faith at all; Catholic beliefs about artificial insemination are expressed by her husband, but under the guise of being non-denominational. Why? Because I haven’t found a CBA house that will publish a book with Catholic characters.

To the post about finding a critique group: I initially joined five online groups found through Yahoo Groups. From there I gradually developed a small group of three writers that I felt really understood writing, and could critique without trying to change my voice or my vision. It’s as personal a thing as choosing an agent. I don’t use critique groups anymore. I write my manuscript and turn it in to my agent. So I can’t really tell you where to look. But if you join CatholicWritersOnline, AmericanChristianFictionWriters, The Writers View, or any of the dozens of groups online, you’re bound to connect with someone.

Blessings,
Michelle

Another writer here (and member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild). I’m primarily a children’s writer, but I am also an essayist–and starting to dabble in radio. :slight_smile:

As far as how I infuse my stories with a Catholic influence, I think the influence is clear, but I certainly don’t use my stories to preach. (Well, okay…one science fiction experimental short story maybe, but that’s it–promise!) With me, it’s more about underlying themes and subtle additions. The last line of my children’s book refers to the ringing of distant church bells, for example. The non-Christian might not even notice it, but there’s symbolism and meaning there for me.

Peace and all good, good people!

First let me thank you for this. I LOVE that there’s a place to discuss issues that Catholic novelists, published or not, face.

Now for my confession: I’m afraid I wrote some of those awful “Christian” romances some of you spoke of. No worries, there’s a lot of bad Christian fiction in the world, and I can always stand a heaping portion of humility from healthy criticism. And the unhealthy kind is a purgation of sorts, also good for the soul.

I came home to the Catholic church this Easter, but in the process of my on-going conversion I continued to write novels for my largely Evangelical audience. My latest release, written before I crossed the Tiber, is about a young, bipolar, African American single mom who receives the passion wounds of Christ on Ash Wednesday at her Vineyard church (Wounded: A Love Story). A design company the publisher sought out to create the cover didn’t want to take the job because the novel was “too Catholic”. And that was just a cover design! Worse was said.

Now that it’s out, Evangelical reviews are mixed. Some like the story, but are uncomfortable with what they believe is my misguided Catholic theology. Others have insinuated that Catholics aren’t Christians. Others are bothered by stories of the saints and stigmatics interwoven in the narrative. But I must admit, because I was not Catholic and was writing as an outsider about a decidedly Catholic phenomenon, I don’t think Catholics are going to be crazy about the book, either! What’s a novelists to do? I wanted to address suffering. I did the best I could with what I had at the time. Publisher’s Weekly said Emergent Christians will probably like it. I won’t even comment on that.

After I wrote the book I began reading Catholic novels. Loved the Loyola classics series. I was floored by Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair. It was all oh so real, and deeply moving to my soul, and honest in a way I don’t see in most Evangelical fiction. I “got” the spirituality in those books, but they would never have been published in an Evangelical market.

In my research, I did not find Catholic novels written by African Americans. Not only am I in the process of being formed as a Catholic novelist, but as a black Catholic novelist. I think all of our fiction will evolve as we write it, and publish it for whosoever will let him offer me a contract. God is up to something. I believe he’s going to surprise us.:wink:

Some Eastern Orthodox friends of mine have asked how I got away with some of the edgy writing I did for the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) audience, and I really don’t know the answer to that. I think they thought I was crazy, and were afraid to stop me. Okay, not really. I think God wanted my voice to be heard. The truth is, I will never be a beloved author and perpetual money maker in that market, but I did open up to Evangelicals the possibility that other novelist, in their own midst, can write from the deep vein of ancient Christianity that is orthodox and yes, Catholic. It’s not all Amish and prairie romance! Not anymore. Look for sneaky Catholic content from Thomas Nelson author Lisa Samson. Not only are her novels very good, they are very friendly to Catholics, but not so heavy handed that Evangelicals run for the hills when the read her books (apparently the response my novel is eliciting).

Again, thanks for this discussion.
May God grant y’all peace.

Claudia Mair Burney,
also known as Mair Francis

This is very interesting indeed. Thanks to Michelle B.
There’s been much discussion of what constitutes “Catholic fiction”. Michelle’s answer is different from my own. I don’t suppose it matters much except to critics who must use certain analytical nomenclature. For publishers and for writers themselves, the question is one of genre, so the discussion tends to get bogged down in apples and oranges issues. E.g., are we talking popular fiction or “literary” fiction? Popular fiction can be subdivided into mystery, children’s lit, romance, sci-fi, etc., fiction that aims for a “popular” market. Literary fiction would be Waugh, Greene, O’Conner, etc., or fiction that aims for university syllabi., classics canons, and all that. Popular fiction is craft; literary fiction is art. The latter’s most prominent contemporary example is probably Ron Hansen, one who writes in “poetic prose”. Though his work is not to my taste–I have my reasons–he’s much praised.

I had a story in the Easter issue of Dappled Things, a Catholic literary quarterly of considerable quality, and a very welcome oasis in the literary desert of boringly predictable existential angst. I hope they will continue with high quality poetry and fiction and not lapse into reviews and essays, becoming yet another Catholic cultural journal–we have enough of those, I think. I have another story appearing there in the fall. But I am working on a novel now which would be called “popular” fiction, though I know it will never be published, set in Elizabeth England. (Yes, there is irony here. The “literary” fiction is published; the “popular” fiction is not and never will be.) I’m writing it anyway because I’m interested in the countless silent white martyrs of that period, invisible in both Protestant revisionist history and in Catholic emphasis on the red martyrs of the time.

What constitutes Catholic fiction is fiction that is produced by a Catholic mind, regardless of themes or intended market. If a writer is thoroughly Catholic, his work will also be Catholic. Yes, Mary Higgins Clark fits that definition; so does J.R.R. Tolkien. “By their fruits ye shall know them” or “It must follow as the night, the day.” Take your pick.

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