Today, we turn to author Jane Lebak for an answer to that question: What is Catholic Fiction?
Jane Lebak writes books and knits socks. She lives in the Swamp with her Patient Husband, four kids, three cats, and several fish tanks. She also blogs for QueryTracker.net, a resource for writers seeking agents and small publishers.
Do you have a favorite Catholic fiction author?
My favorite currently-writing Catholic fiction author would have to be Karina Fabian. She creates in-depth characters whose faith is seamlessly woven into their lives while at the same time positioning these characters in fully-realized worlds.
What qualifies an author’s fiction as Catholic fiction? How do you identify a novel as Catholic Fiction?
I think Catholic fiction has elements of hope that are frequently lacking in secular fiction, plus an element of recognizing goodness in creation which sometimes is missing from mainline Christian fiction. Because the sacraments all have a material component, Catholics seem more embracing of all the physical aspects of our faith lives.
In fact, I think an awareness of the sacramental element of God’s plan is very definitive of Catholic fiction. Catholics tend to be very “sensual” in terms of relating to God because you can’t get much more physical than bread-become-God, putting it into your mouth and tasting it. God-made-flesh, or water that removes original sin, or any of the physical aspects of the sacraments fuel the Catholic understanding of God as inherently a part of creation. To some extent, all Catholic writers are going to imbue their fiction with an understanding that God is with us not just in spirit but in the world we inhabit.
Do you think a book that doesn’t mention religion or Catholicism can be Catholic fiction?
It can, and sneaking it in the back door definitely has its place. “Stealth evangelism” is mostly seed-planting. All the same, when I write secular fiction, I don’t try to market it as Christian even though there’s usually some moment when the characters are examining their belief system or intersect with someone who is Christian.
What do you think separates secular fiction from Catholic fiction?
An awareness of the moral components of our daily decisions. Catholics believe that our everyday decisions do matter: whether because they shape us for eternity or because they affect other souls. This isn’t absent from secular fiction, but in secular fiction, you’re more likely to find fiction that’s hopeless about the human condition or where the characters are fully self-centered. And in secular fiction, there isn’t always the sense that there’s something greater to be achieved than just personal fulfillment or personal growth.
Do you identify your own novels as Catholic? What makes them so?
Some of them, some of the time. Other times people are surprised, and I get reviews along the lines of “I’m an atheist, but I liked God the way she wrote Him.” Those are the best moments because I feel kind of like God used my story to show Himself to someone who doesn’t know Him yet. And if God used my story to plant seeds regarding the Church, then that’s wonderful.
Are your books explicitly Catholic, or are they secular stories with Catholic themes?
The angel novels and the Father Jay novels are definitely Catholic, but that’s because the characters are angels and priests. Pickup Notes is not Catholic even though a Catholic wrote it, but I was specifically intending to keep that one for the secular market (and yet you have a Catholic character whose faith infuses her opinionated self, and a sense of connectedness to the world, and so on.) In the middle you have Honest And For True,, which while they have an angel and do raise spiritual questions, are primarily about fun and one person’s growth. That series straddles the line, and I’d hope anyone could enjoy it.
What are some Catholic themes?
Finding goodness in the world around us. Hope. Making a great impact with our small daily decisions. Staying true to our duties as a means of being malleable to God’s design. Mercy.
Tomorrow, we will hear from Amanda Lauer.