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“When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic, I cannot afford to be less than an artist.” – Flannery O’Connor
The World is Hungry for Powerful Stories
Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms.
In an interview with The Central Minnesota Catholic, author Tim Drake stated, “Christ himself used stories, and so must we.” He talked about the Catholic Literary Imagination and its attempt to “convey truths through stories.”
Those of us who are Catholic storytellers can’t be afraid to share our faith through our characters and their stories. In fact, those truth-telling stories are needed and wanted today more than ever, and most readers don’t even realize it.
Hi, I’m Amy Schisler, and I’m a Catholic author.
I published my first novel in 2014.
It wasn’t a “Catholic” novel, but there were mentions of going to Mass and praying the Rosary.
Over the past six years, I’ve become bolder in my writing. After a 2016 trip to the Holy Land, I felt called to create characters who are “more Catholic,” who live their faith, talk openly about their faith journey, and share their faith with their neighbors and the readers.
I was worried, at first, that this would turn off readers, but that has not been the case.
In fact, my non-Catholic readers are buying more copies than ever, and my Jewish friends and readers tell me they love the books and the themes in them.
I believe this is because there is a need, not only for good fiction, but for uplifting fiction. Our world is hungry for something it cannot name and cannot comprehend.
Religious Fiction is in High Demand
According to a recent study, “Religious books and bibles are the most popular adult genre, with 21.2 million sold,” and “the second most popular is general adult fiction, which sold 20.4 million units in 2019.” Numbers were even higher in 2020.
The Bible continues to be the top selling book of all time with over four billion copies sold. Add to these statistics the fact that during the pandemic period of March 2020-March 2021, over 47 million romance books were sold in the US.
In fact, the most popular fiction genres are:
- Romance and Erotica
- Crime and Mystery
- Science Fiction and Fantasy
- Children and Young Adult
I point this out to show that a) there is a huge market for fiction and b) an even bigger market for happily-ever-after books as well as religious and inspirational stories.
Readers are looking for more: more happiness, more love, more inspiration, more spirituality, more connection with God, and more writing that gives them something to believe in.
Note that along with romance, the trending genre is erotica. I don’t think I need to go into what kind of writing that entails.
While readers are looking for something more spiritual, they continue to turn from joy to pleasure, most likely believing they are one in the same. C.S. Lewis wrote in his wonderful book Mere Christianity, “I sometimes wonder if all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.”
He understood that joy and pleasure are not the same, something that readers of erotica have yet to discover.
All that aside, the point is, people are reading a lot of fiction.
They’re reading a lot of romance and erotica but also a lot of religious and inspirational fiction. The question is, are they reading Catholic fiction?
Well, that depends…
Catholicism Whispers into Readers’ Hearts
There exists a large library of contemporary fiction written by Catholics. Among them are bestselling authors such as the late Mary Higgins Clark, Diana Gabaldon, Alice McDermott, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, and James Patterson.
Most of these modern-day scribes are writers who are Catholic, not Catholic writers, though some do a nice job of weaving Catholicism into their works.
Clark often had characters speak of going to Mass or saying the Rosary.
Patterson’s most popular characters, Alex Cross and Michael Bennett, are practicing Catholics with children in Catholic schools, and Bennett’s grandfather, the sage of the family, is a priest.
Gabaldon’s Fraser family holds tight to their Catholic identity even while breaking the Commandments.
One of the most beautiful scenes in all the Outlander books is in Go Tell the Bees that I’m Gone, in which Jamie and his sister, Jenny, say an intentional Rosary for all those they love, naming each person, dead or alive.
These books are from multiple genres and appeal to mass audiences, but are the works Catholic in nature?
I would argue, yes and no.
Gregory Wolfe writes, in “The Whispers of Faith in a Postmodern World” appearing in the Wall Street Journal, “Today the faith found in literature is more whispered than shouted.” He believes, and I agree, that writers of today are sharing their faith in literature through whispers—the mention of the Rosary, a glimpse of the Mass, a family saying grace—rather than openly displaying religious practices.
Think of Blue Bloods, the wildly successful CBS police drama in which Tom Selleck, Donnie Wahlberg, and the rest of the Reagan Clan gather for dinner after Mass every Sunday and begin the scene with the familiar-to-Catholics prayer, “Bless us oh, Lord…”
Is their faith visible to the audience in all that they do?
Often, it is.
Does this make Blue Bloods a Catholic show or a show in which there are Catholics? Wolfe writes, “Indeed, one of the most ancient religious ideas is that grace works in obscure, mysterious ways. But obscure is not invisible.”
We Can Help Readers Find What They’re Seeking
Going back to the fact that people are seeking—whether through erotica or in the tales of vampires and witches—something more, Catholic writers have a role to fill in today’s fiction.
Readers are seeking something obscure, something mysterious, something invisible. Like the me who wrote pre-Holy Land, many writers today write in the obscure, visible but invisible.
The traces of Catholicism are there if one looks for them, but there is little that is overt. When I decided to step away of my insecurities, stop worrying about turning people off, and allow the Holy Spirit to influence my writing, my audience grew.
I once had someone close tell me that if I didn’t stop writing about God and religion in my blogs, people would stop reading them. I mentioned that comment in one of my posts, and so many people commented that they read my blogs because I talk about God and faith.
Flannery O’Connor’s manifesto was, “For the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind you draw large and startling figures.” She understood that faith in fiction is necessary, that it needs to be said and done, that it needs to be read, that those who are searching need to read it.
Faith cannot be invisible.
Not only is there a place for Catholic fiction in today’s literary world, there is a need for it.
Christians are being silenced.
The Church is losing members.
The secular world is growing as the faithful world shrinks. Now is the time for faith-filled writers to stand up to the court of public opinion because religion is on trial.
“And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light” (John 3:19).
With good writing, compelling stories, and rich characters, Catholic writers can lead people to the light.
We have an obligation to do so.
Check out All of Amy Schisler’s Books
Go check out all of Amy Schisler’s books on her Amazon Author profile (this is an Amazon affiliate link)