I feel like I have to preface every tweet, conversation, and thought by saying “before the pandemic” or “during COVID” or “whenever the pandemic is over.” Don’t you? My final term as a graduate student in Book Publishing at Portland State University was held remotely, as well as the oral presentation of my graduate thesis. Though I wanted to publish the information I found in my research sooner, it was hard to focus on this topic during a global pandemic. Now, I’m ready to talk about it.
My thesis was about the representation of people of color on Christian fiction book covers in 2018-2019, as well as the state of the industry in six big Christian publishers and imprints. While we are now in 2021, I believe my thesis findings are an important start to a conversation we don’t talk about enough in Christian publishing—the need for diverse fiction and representation in books and on their covers.
My passion for this project started, not surprisingly, in a bookstore. I could spend hours staring at the bookshelves at my local Christian bookstore Mardel’s. As a child, sometimes you don’t notice these things, but as I got older and experienced the trials of life, I longed to read or hear something that related to my life experiences, all the while showing how God gets us through these difficulties. Surely, there were other Christian girls or children who had similar experiences with immigration, deportation, and trauma. This left me thirsty to hear diverse stories.
In general, traditional publishing can be slow to change and is more likely to be forced to change rather than be on the innovative side. This is even more evident in Christian publishing. However, these industries can no longer ignore change. This research matters because, as we have seen with COVID-19, the world will continue to be presented with mountains that we must overcome. If we do not learn from our mistakes or make adjustments as needed, then we are doomed to fail.
This research is only the beginning of acknowledging the problem. There is an entire unexploited market that is to be had, not to mention the potential of translations of Christian fiction from other countries. Because Christian publishing operates from an implied morality and known theology, it is fair to assume that if the Christian God welcomes all people as they are, then the Christian publishing industry should be representative of the diversity of God’s people.
From the time I finished my research until now, I’ve had a lot of time to think and I’ve decided that I want to do something about it. My goal is to create a strong online community of BIPOC Christian fiction authors and publishing professionals. I will start this project soon and include more information about it later.
Before concluding this post, I want to ask a few questions. What has been your experience with finding or reading Christian fiction books with diverse characters or authors? What changes do you want to see in Christian publishing?
I haven’t written in a long time, but a few days ago I went to Powell’s with a friend and I just wanted to be consumed by the books. Truth be told, I think about this blog often and how much I want to write and I just can’t seem to find the time or will to write in between work, school, social media responsibilities, and generally just existing.
Earlier this week I was working on an assignment for my Typography class. It was passed late o’clock and I was sitting on the floor, surrounded by a pile of books, trying to stay calm under the pressure of a deadline.
Then it struck me.
I was sitting on the floor surrounded by piles of books, worried about an assignment about books, going to school for books.
Seriously, how many people can say that? I was overcome by how blessed I am to be who I am and to be doing what I am doing. I immediately stopped to thank God for this blessing. I also put everything in His capable hands. I’m so thankful that, even when everything seems like it’s crumbling, I know he will always catch me, be my support.
Have you ever stopped to think back at how the odds have been against you from day 1? Maybe that’s not everyone’s case but it certainly is mine. Statistically, I shouldn’t even exist right now. My mother had an ovarian cyst as a teen and had to have an ovary and part of a Fallopian tube removed. The doctor didn’t give her good odds of having a child, much less more than one. I could write an entire list of odds (that I didn’t realize until adulthood) were not in my favor, but that will have to be for another time. I have work to do.
One of the best things about some of my classes is that they require you to buy a book per term from either a Pacific Northwest small publisher or an independent bookstore. As a person getting into the book industry, of course I’d like to buy from indie bookstores all the time but the reality is that at this stage in my life it’s easier to buy on Amazon or eBay.
I can feel many of my publishing colleagues judging me right now, but if they would like to buy me books, then by all means do so.
Anyway, these past two months I’ve bought the following:
Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
I bought this one at Annie Bloom’s Bookstore to meet my class requirement. But while I was there, I saw a couple of other books that piqued my interest, one of which I ended up buying later.
Around the World in 80 Trees by Jonathan Drori.
I’m particularly excited about this one because I bought it to research more about trees for a book I’m writing. This is actually a very beautiful book filled with drawings and sketches of leaves and trees.
Fertile Ground and The Water in Our Veins by Penn Stewart
As I mentioned in my last post, I bought signed copies of this novel and short story collection at AWP.
BTS The Review: A Comprehensive Look at the Music of BTS by Kim Youngdae
I was particularly excited about receiving this one this past month. I was actually kind of proud of myself for ordering this on an all Korean website and only having to use the dictionary once.
Descendant of the Crane by Joan He
I came across the preorder for this book on Twitter and I was blown away. I can’t wait to read it. Plus the author sent a cool preorder gift—a set of 5 character cards.
The Murmur of Bees by Sofía Segovia
Amazon was doing this thing in honor of World Book Day and I got around 3 of the 9 free titles offered. This is the one I am most looking forward to. The offer ends April 24th so get the ebooks now if you are interested.
The Bait of Satan by John Bevere
We are reading this book as a part of a small group Bible study in the young adults group at my church.
I don’t tend to buy this many books in one (or two) months but there happened to be many special occasions these two months that I couldn’t pass up. I haven’t started reading any of these books yet except for Dragon Pearl which I’m less than a hundred pages from finishing. So excited! The only downside (?) is that my TBR keeps growing. This summer is going to be a reading fest for me!
It’s been more than a week since I went to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference, but I still want to share my experience. It was my first time visiting the Oregon Convention Center and let me tell you it was huuugee! Last I heard, there were over 14,000 people in attendance. Even though I was only able to attend on the last day, I had a blast, met a ton of new people, and overall enjoyed the atmosphere of being with other writers and publishing professionals.
I attended four sessions.
I enjoyed every single one of them, but the panel about creative research was my favorite. The panelists Susanna Vander Vorste, Namrata Poddar, Kristen Iversen, and Rajpreet Heir shared their personal stories and answered questions about their research methods and how those methods helped them in their creative process. They ended by reading sections from their work ranging from funny topics such as Rajpreet’s account of being “An Indian in Yoga Class” to chilling topics like Kristen’s near kidnapping experience and her indirect connection to Ted Bundy addressed in her story “When Death Comes to Golden.” I would definitely like to check out more of their work and learn more about creative research.
Fun fact. Just before writing this blog, I was at the PSU library and The Art of Creative Research by Philip Gerard was on the display shelf, so I checked it out. We shall see 👀
The second panel was probably the most thought-provoking session I attended. What I loved about it was that the panelists switched freely between English and Spanish and, inevitably, Spanglish. They were asked some pretty heavy questions like “In your writing, have you felt like you have had to choose between one language/culture over the other?” The truth is that some answers are easier to express in a certain language and I love how they embraced that dynamic during the session.
I left that panel early to head over to the book signing room. My former professor, Penn Stewart, or Dr. John Schulze, was signing his novel Fertile Ground and his collection of short stories The Water in Our Veins. It was nice getting to catch up with him and show him the Ooligan Press table. I’ll be reading and reviewing his both of them eventually.
After browsing the tables in the exhibit room, I headed over to the third panel. As much as I enjoyed the discussion, to me it seemed to lean more to the impacts of manuscript revision rather than actual methods, so I’m not sure how much I got from it. The last session I attended mostly consisted of the panelists talking about their style and showing us their work. Then again, I probably missed a lot because I kept dozing off. I had only had 2 hours of sleep the night before because I was up all night writing.
Ah, the life of a writer…
Upcoming post: March/April Book Haul