AFTER OVER FIFTEEN YEARS in the business of creating and publishing Catholic fiction, I've found there are generally three questions I get asked when people find out what I do.
1) Catholic Fiction? What's that?
As an editor who's worked for three different Catholic publishers, here's how I define it.
Catholic fiction is that fiction which is generally about Catholic characters, dealing with themes or issues that Catholic audiences want to hear about, generally written by Catholic authors for a Catholic audience.
It's fiction that Catholics can call their own, fiction that they feel resonates with them. Yes, it's a specific audience, but one that I think has been under-served, especially Catholic teens.
Here are a few things I've learned about this Catholic audience:
They are very diverse, are at different places in their faith, but in general, they tend to read the best of what the secular culture puts out. They don't have brand loyalty to Catholicism per se -- they like good stories, and they will enjoy them wherever they find them, whether they are from Protestant sources, secular sources, or Catholic sources. So a poorly-written book with Catholic labels all over it won't generally succeed with them. But something that's just really well-told that morally resonates with them will be embraced.
What that means for us as publishers is that we can't cut any corners when it comes to storytelling quality. That's not how you reach a Catholic audience. That's not how you serve a Catholic audience.
2) Why are you bothering to write Catholic fiction? Why not just write plain fiction, like Flannery O'Connor or J.R.R. Tolkien did?
I have no problem with those Catholics who want to write for a secular audience. Our inspiration, G.K. Chesterton, did just that. I hope to do it myself someday. It's just not what I happen to be doing at Chesterton Press yet, that's all. Basically, I believe passionately in the need to build up a Catholic culture. The question of Catholic culture is one that has fascinated me all my life, and continues to do so, particularly as modern culture continues to break down into pockets of isolation. This is a question that is beyond this short blog post, but I will merely state here that I believe an intentional and overtly Catholic culture is necessary. Why? Because there is a difference between a hothouse and a greenhouse, even though both look like glass houses full of plants.
A hothouse is an environment meant to shelter plants from the outside ecosystem for their entire lives. A plant in a hothouse can't survive outside the artificial environment. A hothouse isolates and transforms the natural into the artificial. It is also unnecessary, something for the wealthy or the eccentric. That is not what a Catholic culture is meant to look like.
A greenhouse, on the other hand, is a necessary part of any agricultural environment. It's for baby plants, for young plants, for damaged plants to grow and be nurtured and recover so that they can survive in the outside world. I believe that's what Catholic culture is meant to be, and what it does best. That's why Catholics have built schools and hospitals and retreat centers and rehab centers. That's why they operate nurseries, orphanages, and old-age homes. That's why current Catholic leaders like Pope Francis continually stress the importance of the Catholic family.
That's what Catholic fiction can do. It can support and nurture the imagination of young and growing Catholics. It can help older Catholics reorient themselves and find rest in leisure. And it can do this while being entertaining and FUN.
We seek to support the mission of Catholic families, Catholic schools, Catholic parishes, and Catholic ministries with the books we sell and the stories we tell.
It's not everyone's mission, but it's the mission of Chesterton Press. And if we do our job right, non-Catholics will find our books just as enjoyable as Catholics do. In fact, we know some who do already.
3) Catholic Fiction??? That is so cool! That is JUST what I've been looking for!!!
For every three people who question why we do what we do, we find seven people who are absolutely thrilled and excited to discover Chesterton Press' books. If you are one of those people, I have to tell you that YOU are the main reason we are able to keep going.
Every time you love and buy our books and tell your friends about them, you enable us to keep on writing and developing more good stories. So thank you, and please keep on doing what you're doing. We are just as happy to have found you as you are to have found us!