I visited a local Lemstone/Parable book store today to say hello to the book buyer and inquire about a possible author event in late summer or fall to promote my medieval thriller/romance RELICS. She knew and trusted the publisher (Thomas Nelson Inc.) but it didn't seem to matter as much as the answer to her question: "But is there spiritual content?"
I said something about the protagonist struggling to be accepted by his father and in the process learning what it means to be accepted by the heavenly Father. And it's true. But the themes are much broader and deeper than some simple spiritual "lesson"' the reader is supposed to take away from a 320 page novel.
Isn't there "spiritual content" to any thoughtful novel? If done well, novels are about what it means to be truly human -- made in God's image, but fallen. Crime novels like RELICS (and BLEEDER, due out in August) in particular are "spiritual" in content not because they have a not-so-subtle religious message or moral or trite "Biblical basis" but because they deal with greed, fear, revenge, anger, hope, grief, suffering, justice and injustice, social tensions and sometimes redemption. They present homo extremis -- human beings at the extreme of emotions and choices. That's spiritual.
But I knew what she meant by the (innocent) question and she surely meant well. She wanted some assurance that the book was authentically "Christian fiction," inoffensive to conservative customers who come to the store with certain expectations: That it would be as 'safe' as the row of Amish-heroine romances on the shelf behind me in the store, and that it would be inspiring in a way to reinforce one's faith.
What I told the woman was true. But I hope the book is more emotionally complicated than what I told her. The old saying holds true for "Christian" writers as all others: "If you want to send a message, use Western Union." A novel that tries to do so ends up as an illustrated lecture.
I just wanted to tell a heck of a story. Any 'spiritual content' as a take-away value is up to the reader.