Good morning! Hope your coffee is hot and your mind is waking up slowly and pleasantly.
In my search for a very good question, I have hauled out one that is potentially controversial, so I hope that any discussion will be bracing but encouraging.
Vince Mooney recently guest-blogged on Seekerville about his system for calculating "Rewards per Page" in romance novels.
Seekerville: Guest Blogger Vince Mooney
Vince's post really intrigued me because I have been doing a lot of silent meditation on the opposition between durable and consumable fiction that he discusses in his article.
Some authors, he says, are writing to create critically-praiseworthy novels that are "durable goods." Other writers are more interested in meeting the readers' needs by creating not a durable book but a consumable "intangible experience." For the consumable fiction writer, he argues, it is important to give the reader a high number of rewards per page.
The plain fact is that romance is the best-selling category in the publishing industry, and many of those romances qualify as Vince's consumable intangible experiences. Yet, at the same time that consumable romances are big sellers, CBA editors have occasionally called for a better caliber of writing in CBA novels. While there is no doubt that some writers combine terrific style with consumer appeal, it's also quite clear that consumer appeal is not always related to literary quality. In other words, some CBA editors may want great prose, and some writers may wish to write great prose, but not all CBA readers care about great prose. And that is their prerogative. We are asking them to part with their hard-earned cash, and if what they want is a consumable intangible experience, we need to respect that need as much as the need of the most literary reader in Christendom.
So here's my question for today: without bashing either the durable or the consumable variety of fiction, can we talk about what it means to be a Christian writer and try to give our readers "rewards per page?" What kind of rewards are we talking about, exactly?
Some types of readerly reward are simply out-of-bounds in inspirational publishing. There is no CBA erotica, or CBA thrill-kill fiction. But there's a big gray area in between completely-wholesome and completely-toxic reader rewards. I think the discussion is most interesting when we don't just stick with lust, which tends to be the dead horse issue here, but when we also talk about vanity and pride, revenge and anger, ambition, greed, sloth, and envy. Does our fiction occasionally offer rewards that cross these lines? For instance, at one point Vince mentions that one potential reward for a romance reader is the vicarious feeling of being envied, as when a heroine gets to walk into town with the hero, and other women notice the handsomeness of the hero. A professor-acquaintance of mine once referred to this particular kind of reader-reward as "narcissistic candy." Do you agree with my professor friend that there are certain types of rewards in a romance (or in any other genre) that cater to lower impulses in the reader? Or do you think that any given reader takes rewards from a novel depending on the level of maturity that particular reader brings to the reading experience, and that as novelists we cannot concern ourselves with the reader's level of maturity? (This might get particularly interesting when we talk about the difference between a Christian romance and a Christian YA novel, I think.)
Perhaps the moral issue isn't even the most interesting discussion. Maybe, instead, we should ask: what are the unique readerly rewards of a CBA novel that are usually not duplicated in mainstream novels? I don't just mean "getting closer to God," or other generic responses. I'm curious about specific plot incidents or episodes, and why a Christian reader would find in those episodes a reader-reward where another reader might not.
Leave a comment, and, as promised, I will enter you in a drawing to win three books of your choice from my list of ten or fifteen that need to leave my house. (They're good, too, and very recent--but I've already read them and I need to clean up some of my book piles.)