The Constant Convert
Salvation and the Drama of Publication
Robert Fay at The Millions recently asked, "Where Have All the Catholic Writers Gone?" He noted that the drama of salvation has been absent from works of the highest literary caliber for some time and then cites hypotheses for this absence ranging from a secularization of the culture to changes in the liturgy of the Mass.
One thing Fay did not consider in his article is how publishing has changed in the last fifty years. When the big box stores usurped independent booksellers, when bestselling authors received six-figure advances, when the novel became a transitory event, rather than a timeless one, the drama of salvation had difficulty finding its place on the shelf.
Here's a one-line summary from the back of the Flannery O'Connor novel: Wise Blood "evokes a terrifying world as it reveals a weird relationship between a sensual young girl, a conniving widow, and a young man who deliberately blinds himself."
Sounds like a bestseller to me! And where exactly would it be shelved? It's too short to command the $25 hardcover price, and it's too long for a short story collection. It's highly likely that in today's market, Wise Blood would never have seen publication.
Recently I received an email from a young author named Ellen Finnigan who self-published her memoir, The Me Years. She wrote:
Upon graduation, I set out to write the book I wish I could have read in my twenties . . . for young adults like myself, who find that they can't completely turn away from the religion in which they were raised, and yet find that they are largely a product of, and remain mired in postmodern, secular, mainstream American culture.
Though her book had interest from several publishers, including FSG, it "had a serious genre problem: It was not religious enough to go on the Christian Inspiration shelf at Barnes & Noble, and it was too religious to go anywhere else."
Finnigan describes the conflict for authors grappling with spiritual themes in today's publishing climate, "I was not willing to 'church up' my book so that it could be more easily marketed to devout Catholics, and I knew that the book was probably going to be too 'edgy,' its concerns too broad, for Catholic presses, so I decided to part ways with my agent, forgo traditional publishing, and go it alone."
Elizabeth Duffy is a freelance writer and author of the blog, "Betty Duffy." Her writing has appeared online at Faith and Family, the Korrektiv Press Blog, and numerous other venues. She and her husband live in rural Indiana with their five children.