What is "Catholic" fiction? Is it simply fiction written by a Catholic? Must it include Catholic characters and treat distinctly Catholic themes? Does it reflect a "Catholic sensibility," being a product of the "sacramental imagination"? Ought the Catholic reader -- or the general reader, for that matter -- even bother with such questions?These are the questions that they are asking at InsideCatholic, the weblog of Crisis. I am looking forward to their discussion of Exiles, Ron Hansen's new novel about the wreck of the Deutschland and Hopkins' creation of his great poem (and I am cooking up a review of the book myself). The questions, though... is anyone else tired to death of them? Does anyone else think that they are questions that journalists ask, rather than novelists or readers? Does anyone else mutter, "Didn't Flannery O'Connor tuck these up for the night in the fifties?" Compare them with some questions that Barbara Nicolosi just proposed for a Hollywood conference on storytelling:
- Can a story offer healing to a person/a society and how?
- Ethical questions - What are people reaching for when they show up to get a story? What do we owe them? What does the world need for people to be getting from stories?
- What is a hero in 21st Century storytelling?
- Looking at character choices - irrevocable, visual, active, high stakes - what do these mean and why does the audience need them?
- The Great One: What Did Flannery O'Connor know about paradox in storytelling that we have all forgotten?
- Theme: What do we mean when we say a story needs to be universal? What does structure have to do with theme?
- A brief history of storytelling and where are we know (in terms of structure/theme/method/ dsitribution)? What is coming next?
- What makes for a brilliant/healing ending in a story? (Resolution, Satisfaction, leave work for the audience to do - what do these mean?)
- Considering Developmental needs in stories - what do little kids, adolescents, gen x, boomers each need in their stories?
- Is Aristotle's Poetics still relevant? What is a "cathartic experience of fear? of pity?" What is a "beautiful" story according to the smart Dead Greeks.
- What process do great storytellers use? (Pixar)
- In the Church: Sermon on the Mount (for the disciples) vs. Parable (for the unfriendly crowds). Is there a role for storytelling in the church?
- Darkness & Story- how dark can you go? When have you gone too far?
- Marketability for Christian content- transcendent in storytelling. What has happened since The Passion wave, and what have we learned about shopping a story with transcendent themes?
These questions have a slight Hollywood tilt, but they can apply to any medium that uses storytelling. These are questions that must have useful answers - useful for artists, I mean.
For more context: What happened to popular Catholic fiction? (by an editor for the Sophia Institute press, also on InsideCatholic) and an interview with the Senior Editor of Farrar, Straus & Giroux (by the way, was that you doing the interviewing, Santiago?). It's maddening: the comments on the two InsideCatholic threads add up to this: Catholic presses won't publish fiction and mainstream presses won't publish Catholics; "[Catholics] can't sell the genre fiction to a secular publisher without "taking the religious stuff out of it"...but a Catholic publisher won't take it, either." And the whole occasion for the discussion is Ron Hansen's novel... and NO ONE seems to notice that Ron Hansen, an orthodox and avowedly Catholic author who has seen one of his novels adapted for the screen by Hollywood, is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which is as mainstream as can be! And their senior editor is as Catholic as anyone could want! Di immortales!
I understand that genre fiction (as opposed to "literary fiction") is a different story. But this defeatist attitude upsets me. And then they want to take their MSS to evangelical publishers, who are probably going to be more dogmatically opposed to them than mainstream/secular presses. The worst of both worlds. There's nothing wrong with choosing to write and market to a niche audience, as Regina Doman is doing with the JPII High series. But if you're trying to get published by a Catholic press because you're scared of the big bad secular presses - come on!
Be the best and they can't ignore you. Be a good craftsman and be surprised at how far you can go. If writing is your calling, that should make you confident.
Has anyone read any good fiction/sci fi/fantasy lately? By Catholics or non-Catholics?
Postscript: I can't actually name anyone who has published fiction with a Catholic press because they saw it as a safe, kiddie alternative to dealing with large, mainstream publishers. That was ignorant and insulting. My apologies.