The New Unknown of Christian Fiction

Way back in another lifetime, I was covering every forked road I could find in the South, and there were plenty of them, and I found myself in Nashville to write an article about the resurgence of country music. Folk music protest songs and the British invasion, headed by the Beatles, had almost sounded the death knell for any love songs delivered with a hillbilly twang.

Porter Waggoner

Porter Waggoner had survived simply because he had found a fan base and, through it all, stayed loyal and true to them. I spent a week on the road with Porter, and he was in real fine spirits, considering he had just walked out on a million dollar deal. No sweat. No regrets.

ABC Television had looked out across the American landscape and realized that country music was making a serious comeback and wanted to produce a major new TV show hosted by Porter Waggoner. “We’ll pay you a million dollars,” the ABC executive said.

Now Porter Waggoner had come off a Missouri farm and risen to country music stardom wearing Nudie suites that glistened with sequins, brightly colored suits, usually blue, decorated with large wagon wheels and cactus that glowed as though they were neon in a hillbilly bar.

However, ABC disdained Porter’s outlandish outfit and wanted to make the country music special more mainline and a little more sophisticated, the executive said.

“How do you plan to do that?” Porter asked.

“We want you to wear a tuxedo,” the ABC executive said.

Porter smiled. He looked at the million-dollar check lying on the desk, shrugged, smiled again, and walked out of the room.

The executive caught him in the hall. “Where are you going?” he asked.

“Back to Nashville.”

“But you didn’t sign the contract.”

“Don’t plan to.”

“Why not?”

“I appreciate the offer,” Porter said. “I really do. But right now, I have enough fans out there who’ll buy two hundred thousand copies of my record if all I do is sing happy birthday. They know who I am and what I am. If I walk out on TV stage in a tuxedo, they’ll think, ‘Well, old Porter’s left us now. He’s gone big time and big city. I can’t afford to let them to ever think I’ve left them.”

Porter knew his market. It was definitely not big city. And he was comfortable where he was.

I think that might illustrate the problem facing a lot of writers these days. We think that all we have to do is write a novel, throw it out for Kindles, Nooks, and iPads, and thousands will find it. Sometimes it happens. Mostly it doesn’t.

I know there are exceptions – there always are – but it strikes me that most authors are simply writing novels without really taking the time to identify and define their primary market, then figuring out ways to reach the swarms of readers who make up that particular market.

Personally, I’ve had a change in heart.

Not long ago, Stephen Woodfin and I were talking to Bert and Christina Carson, and Bert made a point that I’ve been thinking about ever since. He said, “We need to be writing good, strong stories and targeting the over-fifty crowd. I believe those are the people who read and may like our novels.”

He was right. I had been approaching it all wrong.

Instead of concentrating on a novel that I hoped would find a market, I decided that I would be better off targeting a specific market, then writing the kinds of books those people wanted to sit down and read.

The over fifty crowd made sense to me. I was part of it. I knew what I liked, and I had a pretty good idea about the stories appealing to that crowd as well.

A little romance.

Some intrigue.

Some suspense.

A mystery.

A murder or two, if necessary.

Strong characters.

A satisfying ending.

Besides, I never did feel comfortable writing or reading multiple pages of gratuitous sex. I believe when you write that a man and woman walk into the bedroom and close the door, you let the reader’s imagination take over. Their mind can do a better job with the sex scenes than I can.

Neither have I ever been a fan of gratuitous and graphic violence. When you write that the shot was fired, and the man, or woman, dropped to the ground, you don’t need paragraph after paragraph describing how blood spread across the sidewalk and gurgled its way down into the pit of a storm drain. Once again, a reader’s vivid imagination can make the scene as graphic or as violent as they want it to be. It’s not something I have to do for them. Death is death.  No one needs to stare obscenely at an author’s Polaroid picture of it.

From all I read, from all of the research I’ve done, that’s the kind of story that the over fifty crowd wants to buy and curl up with on a Saturday afternoon.

But who are they, and where are they hiding? The answer is simple, and they’re not hiding at all. They are, I discovered, the readers and buyers of Christian fiction, and their multitudes are growing larger every day. What’s more, Christian bookstores seem to have a much larger and more loyal following than Barnes & Noble, where too many come to sip coffee, thumb through magazines, peruse the discount stack, and generally wander back home empty-handed.

As a result, I am introducing my first Christian thriller, Golgotha Connection. It’s been cleansed of sex, profanity, obscenities, bars, brothels, beer, and whiskey. The violence is necessary to the undercurrent of the story, but it has been greatly dialed back.

I was, however, honest with myself as a writer. This is the story I wanted to tell, told the way I wanted to tell it, and I feel comfortable within its pages, which is all that counts. My journey into a new unknown really begins today with free downloads of Golgotha Connection on Amazon’s Kindle store.

For the first time, I have a game plan. Some work. Some don’t. But every author needs one before the first word is hammered out on the page. Like Porter Waggoner find those who appreciate the stories you tell well, then remain true and faithful to them.

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