By Audrey Stallsmith
Like most writers, I am all too familiar with rejection. The majority of manuscripts are refused many times before being published--provided, of course, that they ever see print. (I have scads of spurned ones languishing in my filing cabinet at the moment!) But this week, I received a rejection letter that really annoyed me, for a couple reasons.
An agent who had been considering one of my books alluded to a lack of political correctness in an elderly character. But his main reason for turning me down seemed to be that I have no "visibility" or "platform."
The latter is a kind way of saying that the vast majority of the reading public has never heard of me! While I readily concede that, it bothers me how celebrityism has come to be as essential in the Christian world as in the secular. Most CBA publishers these days would rather see a manuscript from a big-name who can’t write than a no-name who can. After all, they can always hire one of those obscure types to ghostwrite the celebrity’s book. But we all know whose name will appear on the cover!
It seems those publishers don’t recall Paul’s repeated warnings that Christians are not allowed to be respecters only of important persons. And James states quite bluntly that "you are breaking this law of our Lord’s when you favor the rich and fawn over them; it is sin." (James 2:9 LB)
As for the agent’s problem with the elderly character in my novel, it is my experience that ninety-some-year-olds are the people least likely to care about political correctness. And I was trying to be honest about what latent prejudices she might harbor, and what she really would or would not say.
I had thought CBA publishers were getting over the idea that all characters in Christian fiction must be either plaster saints or dyed-in-the-wool villains. But apparently I overestimated the progress that has been made.
As Chesterton writes, "According to us, a moral book is a book about moral people. But the old idea was almost exactly the opposite; a moral book was a book about immoral people. . .Telling the truth about the terrible struggle of the human soul is surely a very elementary part of the ethics of honesty. If the characters are not wicked, the book is."
After considering both issues, I conclude it all comes down to a matter of convenience. It is easier to promote writers whose names are already well known in some other connection. And, although the secular publishing industry dotes on controversy, in the CBA--which has a smaller available market--it is easier to make money by selling books that aren’t likely to offend anyone.
There is also a regrettable tendency these days to 'dumb things down." Because the reading level of the public has dropped, so, apparently, must the writing level. Although I am all for using shorter words when shorter words will do, there are times when only a more unusual or difficult term can properly convey what is meant.
It doesn’t seem to occur to publishers that readers might like a challenge, might enjoy stretching their mental as well as their physical muscles. No, these days books must be as quickly accessible as burgers.
Anyway, it all got me to thinking about how much convenience dictates the course of modern life. For instance, it is much easier for us to do all of our shopping in a mega-store like Walmart than to run to several different family-owned businesses. I excuse this to myself on the basis that I am also saving money, but am aware that is a precarious defense.
"It is a lie," Chesterton states in The Outline of Sanity, "to say that we cannot help buying the best advertised goods or going to the biggest shop or falling in, in our general social habits, with the general social trend." It is just easier.
It is also easier to abort an unwanted child than to rearrange one’s life to accommodate an infant. Although much ado is made about the few exceptional cases where the mother’s life is at risk, it is usually only the mother’s way of life that is in danger.
Those parents who press their teenage daughter to have an abortion, so as not to jeopardize her education or career, have lost a very real opportunity to teach her a lesson about taking responsibility for her actions. Even if she is too young to raise an infant herself, her investment of nine months could provide a childless couple with the baby of which they can only dream.
Of course, that is going to cost the girl some time and discomfort. But, when adults urge abortion instead, they have assured their teenager it is permissible to extinguish another life for her own convenience--a very dangerous message to send.
"We are always near the breaking point," Chesterton wrote, "when we care for what is legal and nothing for what is lawful. Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft."
It is also often more convenient for modern Christians to attend mega-churches, where they may remain anonymous in the crowd. There, they are frequently provided with free childcare, refreshments, and feel-good sermons with very little being demanded of them in return.
It is certainly easier than attending a small church where everybody knows everybody else a little too well. There we must pitch in, learn to love our fellow Christians--even when they get seriously on our nerves, and be brought to account by them when we error.
With our addiction to convenience, we should, presumably, be living lives of carefree leisure. But are we? The truth is closer to what C. S. Lewis details in The Pilgrim’s Regress. "Their labour-saving devices multiply drudgery; their aphrodisiacs make them impotent; their amusements bore them; their rapid production of food leaves half of them starving, and their devices for saving time have banished leisure from the country."