February 22, 2013


This post could very well lead to my banishment from the publishing business for all time. These just might be the last words that anyone ever reads from me. But it’s important. So if you never hear from me again, it’s not because I didn’t try. (Think Jerry Maguire.)

I started out as an author in the Christian book business, but today I work as a literary agent and will handle just about anything. Religious, secular, etc. There are a few subjects I won’t touch, for various reasons; but let’s table that discussion for another time.
A little backstory on me: I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, somewhere between the generations of Leave It To Beaver and Happy Days. Like most children I knew, I went to church every Sunday. Sometimes we had spiritual discussions around the dinner table. Like 95% all Americans, we believed in God; like 84%, we called ourselves Christians.

Not so with the Cleavers. Or the Cunninghams. Or the Ricardos, the Nelsons, or the Bradys. We didn’t see them pray, attend church, or talk about God. Unless, of course someone got married; at that point they called a preacher, booked a chapel, and suddenly knew to stand, kneel, and bow their heads at all the right times.

On a more contemporary note, I think of one of my favorite sitcoms, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. When Baby Nicky was born, they considered it vitally important to have him baptized – by a minister they didn't know, at a church they didn’t attend, in keeping with a religion they didn’t practice. It was a touching, warm-fuzzy, made-for-television family moment. What gives?

Of course, I don’t live in a cave; I’ve known plenty of people who live this way. But if you didn’t go to church last week – and you don’t plan to attend next week – then who do you think you’re fooling, by showing up now? It all seems so empty, so shallow, such a waste of time.
Now, back to publishing: Some of my clients write books that are explicitly and deliberately religious. Some are more subtly so; others offer no spiritual content or value at all. Which is fine with me, because I work under a big tent that has a place for everybody.

Recently I had a client who wrote a wonderful romance novel. I pitched it far and wide to about 30 publishers, some “Christian” and some secular. Uniformly, the secular publishers rejected it. Why? Some didn’t give a reason, but among those who did, they all said it was too religious. “We believe this book is more suitable for a Christian publisher.” Huh? I scanned the manuscript: the couple prayed together once, and talked about God twice.

Which is exactly what over 90% of all Americans do. Or at least, it’s what we say that we do, when someone asks. We call ourselves Christians, but we’re ashamed to talk about Christ in public. We decry the moral bankruptcy of movies filled with illicit sex and graphic violence, but we can’t bear to watch when someone dares to live out the lifestyle we idealize.

Which is why I appreciate the TV dramas American Dreams (NBC, starring Tom Verica and Brittany Snow) and Blue Bloods (currently on CBS, with Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg). Without pretense, these shows explore the lives of people of faith, as they struggle to live out their faith in a hostile world.

Of course, if a book (or script) contains depictions of warlocks casting spells – or New Agers chanting in Sanskrit – or Thor saving the world – nary an eyebrow is raised. (And does anyone remember Hot Stuff, the hilarious insecure adolescent demon from Harvey Comics?) These are fascinating tales with exciting visuals, and we love them. Only a small-minded bigot with manifold hangups would ever object.

Funny, I thought we strove for realism in our literature and movies. Witness the TV hits Criminal Minds and Law & Order; we applaud their increasingly gritty depictions of big-city crime. The hospital dramas ER or Chicago Hope give us all the sights and sounds of a busy hospital. Philadelphia showed us, for the first time, the ordeal of a man battling the ravages of AIDS. And yes, our children really do sneak around to drink, smoke, and fornicate in the strangest places. So we might as well talk about it.

But if you want to talk about God, virtue, clean living? Go hide in a corner, and hope no one sees you. And don’t forget to bring a lawyer, in case someone overhears and gets offended.

Something’s wrong with this picture.


  1. I nearly had a heart attack after reading your first paragraph! Don't do that to me! It's discouraging sometimes how much we have to fight against the main stream to bring back the morals and values our country was founded upon. But that's no reason to give up. I'll fight to the end, and with the help of my agent ;), we'll make a dent.

  2. Steve, I read this post after submitting the e-mail query form for your consideration. I see now that you will understand the point I was trying to make under the "Moral or Spiritual Lesson" section.