If My Words Can Touch Just One Reader

Mabry headshotGuest Blogger: Richard Mabry, MD

We’ve all heard it said at one time: “Christian fiction? Never read it. Too preachy. Not well written. Can’t stand that stuff.” Perhaps that’s true of some books, just as some in the secular market are too filled with sex, profanity, and violence for my tastes. But it’s certainly not a universal truth. Nevertheless, it’s a wall many of us who write Christian fiction run up against.

But every once in a while an author will get an email or a note such as the one that follows, something that lets us know we’re getting through, even if it’s to only one reader at a time.

code blue

With the writer’s permission, I’d like to share that email here—not because she has nice things to say about my writing, but because my books changed her thinking about Christian fiction, changed it in a very positive way. And we need to know that what we do can make a difference.

“I am a voracious reader. I will read almost everything. I drive my husband up a wall with the volume of books our home is filled with. I am also guilty of buying books based solely on their cover image. I am a book junkie. At the same time–with the strength of 1000 lions, I avoid anything labeled ‘Christian Fiction.’ I am a budding Christian (that’s another story), but I equated Christian Fiction with ‘boring’ and ‘preachy.’

medical error

“I needed to write to let you know your writing has changed my long-held belief about Christian Fiction. Last Friday, I was searching the Barnes & Noble website in the Free Nook Books section and came across Diagnosis Death. The cover drew me in and the price was right. I didn’t read the description, I simply clicked download and walked away with my Nook…

“I was so drawn into Elena’s story I couldn’t put the book down. The story was THRILLING! Every character became a possible suspect, and I had to keep reading. I quickly finished Diagnosis and threw myself into the first book of the series, Code Blue. Bravo, Dr. Mabry.

Diagnosis Death

“I really wanted you to know how much I enjoyed these two books. I also wanted to give you the credit you deserve for shattering my belief of what Christian fiction ‘must be.’ Your books are making my own personal journey something I can grasp. Before them, faith was always something beyond my reach, or over my head.”

When I asked permission to share her thoughts, she graciously gave it, saying that she hoped her email would give others the courage to write, and that their writing would make readers feel God is a bit closer to them.

After all, isn’t that why we write?

Lethal Remedy If you’ve ever read a book that made a change in your life, did you let the author know? Authors, have you had such notes or emails? Feel free to share them in the comments.

* * *

Dr. Richard Mabry is the author of the Prescription for Trouble series (pictured) from Abingdon Press, and the upcoming Stress Test series from Thomas Nelson. Visit him at his blog or on Facebook.

  1. I’ll gear this review to 2 types of people: current Zune owners who are considering an upgrade, and people trying to decide between a Zune and an iPod. (There are other players worth considering out there, like the Sony Walkman X, but I hope this gives you enough info to make an informed decision of the Zune vs players other than the iPod line as well.)

  2. This is awesome Richard! That’s so cool that the Lord used your story to break her perception of Christian fiction. Very cool.

    And I agree about how meaningful letters from readers are. My first book has been out for 2 mos and I’ve already gotten several that have made my day. One in particular by itself made it worth all the years of sweat I put into the book.

    I will now certainly be committed to emailing any authors (who publish their emails) whose books I really enjoy.

    Thanks for posting!

  3. Deb Kinnard says:

    Richard, thanks for posting this and opening the dialogue. Always a refreshing thing!

    Is it wrong to want it all? LOL. I’d love for my books to resonate with Christian readers, but also fly so far under the “preachy book” radar so as to appeal to readers who just want stories that walk on the ligher, cleaner side. I wish Christian fic didn’t have to be segregated into its own shelving at bookstores — worse, its own bookstores! Yet my local Christian bookstores don’t carry many books; certainly they don’t stock the sort of titles I’m looking for.

    Richard’s books are great reads. I’d love to see something written from the (honest!) perspective of a nurse; it’d be refreshing to get a different perspective on the medical world.

  4. As I writer, when I say I write “Christian fiction” I get some bad looks that I pray people just don’t realize they’re making. Although, when I was first labeled as a Christian fiction writer, I probably made that same look. It’s not fair to write off an entire genre when really it’s hit or miss. The question becomes, when you’re standing in the bookstore: how do you know if what you’re buying will be a hit?

    Katie

  5. Patti Mallett says:

    Very encouraging post! Thanks for sharing! Now, I want to read one for myself and see how it’s done!!

  6. I’ve had this experience with two authors in the last year. The first was Seth Godin, whose work and writings have absolutely changed my life and how I do business. Most recently, a friend introduced me to Karen Kingsbury as her “favorite Christian author.” I got one of her books for my Kindle right before attending a Women of Faith conference because she was speaking there and because my friend recommended her. I’ve now read over 20 of her books and I’m hooked. They have made me rethink my faith. And yes, in both cases, I’ve sent notes to the authors. I’ve written a couple of books myself and understand that it’s always a great feeling to hear from someone that it helped them.

  7. Susan says:

    “It was worth buying a Kindle just to read this book.”

  8. MerceyV says:

    This fan’s sentiments as written to the good Dr Mabury are echoed by several friends of mine. In an attempt to see what they were going on about, I picked up a huge and varied bunch of secular books to read and explore. At the end of the day, I am so glad and THANKFUL we have Christian fiction!! I don’t know where I would be without it!

    The last set of books I just finished was Francine River’s Mark of the Lion trilogy. It has invigorated my faith from a new angle and cleverly, an angle from which God knows I can be affected most. None of the secular books I read achieved this. There were some I liked and would read again, but I despised the token sex scene or the token gay character being thrown in to make the story savvy. I hated the swear words and wondered why we should choose to fill our minds with this when there ARE good Christian options out there. From my perspective, this is where the Publishing houses come into play – by their house you shall know them 😉 You can pick up a book and get a fair guess as to what the content will be (another reason self-pubbing can be a let down).

    I have also come to avoid the chintzy frou-frou Christian fiction that holds no real content and character. If there’s no substance, what’s the point? It doesn’t have to be gory or rife with sexual tension to be gripping. A clever writer knows this and achieves it.

  9. And the hits keep coming… I think there are two points that have resonated with those of you who took the time to comment (and thank you for that). First, Christian fiction encompasses a broad range of offerings from lots of different authors, and there’s probably something out there for everyone. And second, if a book speaks to you, take the time to look up the author’s email address and send a note. It will make his/her day. This one certainly did mine.
    Thanks, Rachelle, for letting me share this with your readers.

  10. Peter DeHaan says:

    This is most inspiring. Plus, for every reader who takes time to write, there are likely a dozen more who feel the same way, but never bothered to share their thoughts.

    I suspect that most writers just hope that they “can touch just one reader” — and when we do, it keeps us moving forward.

  11. Wow, what an awesome testimony. Thanks for sharing, Richard!

  12. Rick Barry says:

    Richard, I came looking for writing advice, but you prompted me to buy the first two books in the series as stocking stuffers for my wife. (Everyone who knows Pam… shhhh! Mum’s the word.)

  13. We care. Deeply! All my author friends light up when they get a reader letter.f (I certainly do.)

    But I understand. Before I was published I had the mentality that an author wouldn’t have time to (or want to) respond to my e-mail, so I never wrote to say how much their book impacted me.

    Wrong.

    Most authors find tremendous encouragement when a reader takes the time to write. One of the reasons most of us put fingers to keyboard is to make an impact on people.

    Give them hope, give them more freedom, give them life, so to hear we’ve done that is a tremendous boost and one reason to keep putting in the long hours it takes to craft a book.

    I will say notes from readers sometimes get lost in the e-mail flood, but I feel horrible when that happens and other authors do too.

    Okay, time to stop rambling.

    Suffice it to say keep writing those authors. It means the world to them.

    And since Doc is a friend and a great writer, grab one of his books this Christmas. They won’t disappoint.

    Jim

  14. Brianna says:

    I love when that happens. I’ve written to authors before and not received any response, so to see Dr. Mabry take time out of his day to share a letter he received warms my heart.

  15. Great post, Dr. Mabry! I can understand her point. No matter the genre, I want to be wowed by a writer, and I don’t like sappy.

  16. Thanks, I needed this. Often, I struggle as an aspiring novelist, because I do not feel my books fit either market (Christian or secular). They are too inclusive for the religious market, and too wholesome for the secular. I think I need to read Dr. Mabry’s books.

  17. I’m glad to hear that worthy work like yours is reaching people, Richard! And I’m also excited about many of the other new writers who have debuted in the last two or three years. There have always been some good writers in the Christian market, but now there are many more. I think the quality of writing and the subtlety of the faith element is really improving. Some books are still more realistic than others, but as long as the quality of the plotting, characterization, and prose style improves, the books will attract new readers and build a better reputation for the CBA world.

  18. Nicole says:

    These are the letters/notes that make our days. Well done, Richard!

  19. Tirzah says:

    The first Christian fiction I read that made me think this was Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It wasn’t anything I expected.

    I like thrillers–I’ll check these out.

    T

  20. I’m gratified and humbled by all the comments. Sometimes it’s hard to realize that if we simply touch one life with our writing, maybe that’s what God had in mind all the time. And, as I’ve said about the writing of my non-fiction book on the death of a spouse, maybe writing the book was meant to touch us as well.
    Thanks to you all for your comments.

  21. My current novel, “The Upside of Down,” has a subplot about Down syndrome. One reader commented that after reading my book she saw DS in a new way. Music to my ears. As a mother of a child with DS, I, of course, want to change the world’s view of it. And that starts with one reader at a time. Every time I receive an email from a reader about one of my books, it makes all the time, effort, stress, and anxiety worth it. I may never be famous but if what I write touches some readers, that is what matters most to me.

  22. Timothy Fish says:

    I think one of the hardest things about writing is when you spend a lot of time working one something, put it out there and no one says anything. No matter how many books you sell, if you don’t receive some positive feedback once in a while, it seems like you’re wasting your time.

  23. Joe Pote says:

    Wonderful!

    This really is what it is all about, and it truly does take just one response like this to make all the effort worthwhile.

    I guess that now I’ll have to try one of your books, Richard.

    I must admit that I tend to steer clear of Christisn fiction, unless I already know the author and like their work.

    When it comes to Christian fiction, I tend to either love it or hate it; there’s not a lot of middle ground.

    I really don’t have a lot of patience for two-dimensional characters or predictable plot lines, that are so common in much of what is labeled Christian fiction.

    Thanks for sharing!

  24. Doc, these types of letters are the reward of the hard work you’ve put in. Well done.

  25. Richard, I may have emailed you this already. I LOVED Medical Error. I am a sincere Christian who doesn’t like a lot of Christian fiction because it’s often preaching to the choir. This one did not. I let my daughter borrow it because I found it to be superior quality. It should have won the Carol Award.

  26. Donna says:

    I love Dr. Mabry’s writing. I’m also often turned off by Christian fiction, but Dr. Mabry’s take on the genre left me wanting more.

    I reviewed Lethal Remedy on my blog.
    Girl Who Reads

  27. Wendy says:

    I remember reading a book I absolutely loved and then tweeting about it, commenting on blogs about it, and telling everyone I knew about it. Can you imagine my surprise and the excitement I felt when the author of that book began following me on Twitter? I was so moved I immediately typed in my twitter password and followed her back. That was a cool moment for me.
    Doc, you received such an encouraging email. It’s such a reminder how taking a few minutes to reach out can make a lasting impact.
    ~ Wendy

  28. That note you got is why I write. I hope that God uses the stories He’s given me to touch hearts and draw people closer to Him.

    Doesn’t that make you thankful for readers who take the time to write you?

    I’m such a words of affirmation girl. My Grandma Pfau has read every one of my books and after, she always writes me these heartfelt handwritten notes about how much the story touched her. I know she’s just my grandma, so of course she’s biased. But still….I keep all of her notes. 🙂

    I’d sure keep that one close, Richard!

  29. As a new writer, I really got into this. Even the titles of some of the books at tradeshows have bugged me. I refer to non-fiction as well. I don’t have to crack open the book to know that the author has written in a very contrived way, “something old under the sun.” I liked Ennis P.’s post as well as some others and agree on labeling writing one genre over another can be too stereo-typical. Christian should mean that the reader will be touched with a fully human, fully divine experience.
    I will be checking out Dr. Mabry’s books. Thanks!

  30. Your comments touched me when I read your post. I have been a family physician and medical director of a hospice for 25 years. I have also recently written my first book of modern Christian medical mystery fiction, The Bench, and received some beautiful feedback from my patients. I was touched by their comments. I also realize that writing helps us physicians to celebrate the many wonderful patients that have touched our lives as much as we touch theirs. Working on my second novel and looking forward to reading your series. God Bless

  31. Thanks to everyone who has already commented. (You either live in a time zone west of me or are very early risers!)
    I was hesitant about posting this story, because I didn’t want it to be perceived as self-serving, but as an author it’s exactly what I think we all strive for. I appreciate Rachelle’s encouragement in letting me share it.

  32. I am half way reading “Code Blue” and I have to say, I love the book! I love it because, one, I work in the healthcare field so I can relate to a lot of the medical background on the story; two, because of the encouraging reflections, the gentle christian message that touches the reader’s heart, and three, it’s so well written, it’s a delight going through each line.

    I already got “Medical Errors” ready for me to devour as soon as I finish “Code Blue.”

    Blessings, Dr. Mabry.

    Doris

  33. For years I also avoided reading Christian Fiction. I want to read something real. Something that shows the true grit and struggle.

    And something that grows my faith. I think the first “Christian” Fiction I read had characters who were automatically too goody two-shoes. I could not relate.

    I love, love, love this series by Richard Mabry.

    • Timothy Fish says:

      In many ways, I think Christian fiction has lost much of the grit it once had. But then, I’m going from what I remember from when I was a kid reading things like Pilgrim’s Progress and Not My Will. It would be wrong to assume that all of the books of their time periods had the same degree of grit to them. I haven’t given up hope that it can get some of that grit back. I think it has turned around some from what it was a few years ago, but I think we still have a long way to do.

  34. Congratulations on touching someone’s life in such a powerful and concrete way. Further congratulations on the success of your series!

    If I may, as a fellow writer and Christian, I’d like to raise a confusing issue that’s been on my mind that may also interest others in a similar situation.

    Despite my faith, I steer away from ‘Christian’ books for the reasons stated by your reader. However when it came to penning my own novel I wanted to include a Godly theme but to create dialogue, not preach. In taking this approach, however, I wonder if traditional Christian agents and publishers will be interested in my work.

    My question is this – how does the Christian publishing industry categorize a manuscript as “Christian”. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts and Rachelle’s as well.

  35. Jackie Ley says:

    Thanks for this, Richard. Several years ago I had a personal memoir published. It charts the journey God took me on as a Christian mother when one of my sons came out as being gay. The book hasn’t taken the world by storm as a bestseller (maybe I’m only just getting my head round the need for an author to get involved in marketing!), but I’ve received several very touching letters and emails from mothers and gay Christians telling me how helpful the book has been for them in their own journey. My royalty cheques are miniscule but these personal testimonies are pure gold.

  36. How wonderful to know the impact your writing had on someone! Having read your books I know the praise is well-deserved.

    For years I avoided reading Christian fiction for all the reasons others have mentioned. Then I was given books by Jane Kirkpatrick and Linda Hall that changed my thinking. (And yes, I let them know.)

    I write for the world from a Christian perspective and only recently began calling it Christian fiction. The distinction between may have blurred but my goal hasn’t changed. I’m not writing to convert anyone, only to present realistic characters in challenging situations where their faith makes a difference. I hope someday I’ll have the joy of learning one of my stories made a difference in a reader’s life, too.

  37. Marji Laine says:

    You’re absolutely right, Dr. Mabry. I can’t imagine anything better than for something I’ve written, book or blog, to make a difference like that. Being used for His greater purpose. Yes, that’s the ultimate goal.

  38. EnnisP says:

    Why must we call it “Christian” fiction? I am a Christian and have no problem saying so but because “Christian” nowadays encapsulates every denominational style, taste and opinion, not too mention all the tween stuff, there is no telling what you’re going to get. Some of it borders on scifi. It’s moved from mystery to mystical.

    The term “Christian” is just too broad to be useful.

    Maybe we should call it “real life” fiction or “how it really is” fiction or “down to earth” fiction or just use existing tags: historical, factual, romance, adventure and so on. All of those categories are fundamentally Christian without saying so! They became identified as non-Christian because Christians stopped writing.

    Pen up! Write! If your writing is Christian you won’t need to say it.

    Sorry, I’m not ranting and I’m sure Dr. Mabry writes a good read but for all the reasons stated before, and a few I added, it is difficult for me to intentionally buy “Christian” fiction.

    Plus, and finally, we can’t dialogue with the non-Christian community if we don’t know what they’re thinking and we can only get their thoughts if we read what they write.

    • Timothy Fish says:

      I suppose you have a point, but let me tell you why I embrace the idea of having so called “Christian fiction.” Most people who read Christian fiction are Christians. So, Christian fiction is preaching to the choir. Since Christians are the people I’m trying to reach, I want to focus my work at that level. That’s not to say that I want to turn non-Christians away, but they are simply not my primary audience.

      • Joe Pote says:

        Timothy, I agree with you on this. it is very important to figure out your primary intended audience, and to make your intent clear, up front. I can’t say I’m always good at this, but it is something I strive for.

      • EnnisP says:

        I understand and accept your focus. I would never say you are wrong but the truth is many Christians avoid books that are classified as “Christian,” so the choir may not be paying attention. Even the lady in Dr. Mabry’s post selected his book without realizing it was Christian.

        This should make us think, not about the content, or the purpose but the tags. That’s really what I was trying to say.

        • Timothy Fish says:

          EnnisP,

          If Christians are avoiding Christian books (I personally have not found that to be the case, but if they are), then I think it is safe to say that it is not the tag that is the problem but the way they view the content. For example, I avoid romance novels. It isn’t that I have a problem with them being tagged as romance novels, I just don’t care much for romance novels. Putting a different tag on them and calling them westerns (some publishers have actually done that) isn’t going to change my opinion of the content. So if we have Christians who are avoiding Christian novels because they are tagged as Christian novels then we have a segment of the potential audience for which we don’t have the right books.

    • Adam says:

      There will always be genres because it allows people to establish and define a preference.

      “Chrislit” exists as a genre because of the market presence of bookstores that need shelves to fill and a subset of readers who are looking for content without profanity and limited sexual content. Same as “Christian” music. What began as a response to serve an underserved market has evolved into a powerful genre with its own subset of voracious fans.

      Since the majority of formerly Christian imprints and labels have been purchased by larger “secular” publishers and producers, there is really no difference other than content. “Christian” books tend to have less sex and profanity and some offer interwoven allegories or overt theological messages. Readers who want that know what they’re getting when they buy “Chrislit.”

      • EnnisP says:

        So, the questions might be:

        Are formerly Christian labels being absorbed by secular publishers because the market is shrinking and if so, why? Is interest in explicitly Christian material waning?

        And

        Once absorbed do explicitly Christian publications become less Christian or less sectarian? Do the changes secular publishers make reduce the value or simply broaden the appeal?

        These are not arguments. Just questions. Thinking out loud.

        • Adam says:

          I would assert that those imprints and labels have been purchased because they are profitable. I don’t know that the stories are being changed as much as the stories are evolving. New and different authors with a more or less direct approach to proselytizing do not dilute the pool, but, I believe, simply widen it.

          I do think that the marketing machine can get out of hand when allowed to work with inertia, turning the act of publishing for an audience fully into the search for more money.

        • Rachelle Gardner says:

          EnnisP – The Christian publishers that are imprints of larger secular publishers have all retained their Christian sensibilities. Some might have a little more leeway in terms of being able to sell in the general market, so they can acquire different kinds of books. But I haven’t noticed any significant changes in the spiritual content of books once a publisher becomes part of a larger company. They continue to work to serve the Christian audience.

          • EnnisP says:

            Thanks Timothy, Adam, Rachelle and anyone else who listened in. I appreciate the information and the perspective, and I love the direction in which the publishing industry is going. Have no problems there at all.

            Sorry to get back to the conversation so late. I’m way ahead of you time-wise so I slept through a lot of the conversation.

            I won’t say anymore. All points are taken and respected.

          • Read this recent excerpt from a reader email:
            “Your book, I Say A Prayer For Me, was truly a God send. I got that book at the right time… About two weeks ago, I tried to kill myself because life was getting the best of me. My Godmother made me read your book. To see how God delivered you inspired me not to give up. I do believe in God and I know what He did for you, he will do the same for me. Since I read your book, God has being doing miracles in my life too. Thank you for inspiring me & writing this book. It is truly a blessing.” M.C.

  39. Beth K. Vogt says:

    I look forward to sharing your books with my husband, who is also a physician. (He doesn’t know yet, but they are on his Christmas Wish List!)
    🙂
    How wonderful that your writing broke through this reader’s preconceived ideas about Christian fiction.
    And, yes, I’ve let other authors know when their writing has affected me, influenced me, encouraged me. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised when those authors have responded to me. I too thought authors were too busy to take the time to read an email or letter — but I was proven wrong more than once.

  40. Donna Hole says:

    This is the review I write towards. For a reader to say “that moved me”; whether or not they bought everything else I’ve written.

    Context is everything to me. I’ve read some stories that had the required amount of sex/violence to peak my interest, and they were lousy because they added those aspects JUST to peak my interest. I’m with you’re e-mailer fan here, I’ll read just about anything – if its well written.

    I usually find Christian writing either too preachy, or too “mainstream wannabe”. So I’m glad that a reader liked this for the story.

    Fits my own vision: write a good story, and genre really doesn’t matter.

    ……..dhole

  41. Good for you, Doctor. It’s always nice to have an impact. As for me, I was impacted by Greg Iles’s writing. Once I discovered his books, I bought every single one, all 13. I aspire to write a fraction as well as he does. And I did email & tell him this, but I never heard back.

  42. I love his books, if I could only write as well as he from my nursing experience. A wonderful example of real life and Christianity in practice without the preachy or pushy attitude. I can’t say enough.

  43. Natalie says:

    I have always assumed that authors are too high up in the stratosphere of fame, cavorting with muses, to care whether I liked their work or not. Maybe I was wrong.

    • Nicole says:

      Oh, Natalie, do tell us. Some of us are the fragile sort, and any and all words of encouragement make for one great day. Every reader is important. Their opinions matter. If you don’t care for our work because of many reasons, it’s okay. Be kind. Let us know when you like/love something we do. It means so much to most of us.

    • Timothy Fish says:

      Unfortunately, some of us are. I wrote to an author one time and she didn’t care much for what I had to say, but that is more the exception than the rule.

  44. Anne Love says:

    This is wonderful. Very powerful. May we not forget the impact made from our keyboards. May His word not return void. Bravo!

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