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What Are the Biggest Challenges Facing Catholic Fiction Writers?

What are three of the biggest challenges facing Catholic fiction authors today?

That’s what we’re going to discuss as part of our Easter 2024 series, “Rebuild My Church,” and offer us, the Church, the Body of Christ, at least three actionable ways to help overcome those challenges in an effort to bring renewal from within.

I am joined today by Rhonda Ortiz, Editor at Chrism Press, award-winning novelist and nonfiction writer.

Rhonda’s initial comment: Any piece of writing, whatever it might be, presupposes a relationship between writer, reader, and the piece itself. In talking about writing, I necessarily will talk about reading. So, I’ll try to frame these within that relationship context.

Catholic Fiction Writers Challenges and Solutions

Challenge One: The false dichotomy between fiction and nonfiction, or the abandonment of fiction all together, which is indicative of the Cult of Reason at the expense of the imagination.

Solution: Think “both/and” instead of “either/or.” Remember that Jesus was a storyteller. He knew that stories engage the imagination and form the heart through empathy and catharsis. Stories convey truth in a way that “telling it straight” sometimes can’t. The attitudes of, “I only have time for my spiritual reading,” or, “I’m a serious thinker, and stories can’t teach me anything,” are not attitudes our Lord shared. We need both. So take a risk on fiction! For writers, that means getting that story down on paper. For readers, that means reading it.

Challenge Two: Ignorance of and prejudice against contemporary Catholic fiction, especially popular fiction.

Solution: Did you know that Catholics are writing fiction today? And not just fifty or hundred years ago? Most people don’t know this, in part because we don’t have the market visibility, and also because some people aren’t interested in seeking it out. (“If it’s not part of the Approved Canon, then I’m not going to waste my time on it.”) Furthermore, I have seen much prejudice against anything not strictly literary fiction—as if Shakespeare or Austen or Dickens or Dumas wrote exclusively for a highfalutin audience. All genres are open to the Catholic writer. 

Again, take a risk! Writers: Don’t worry about being the next Flannery O’Connor. Go ahead and write that young adult steampunk/science fiction mashup! Go ahead and be explicit about faith in your story, if that’s what the story demands! Strike the words “preachy fiction” from your mind—that’s just fear mongering. Goodness knows Evelyn Waugh didn’t knead everything into the dough. Neither did Dante. Neither did Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky or Undset or Greene or Endo. If you’re praying and doing the hard work, the rest will take care of itself. 

Readers: Become an adventurous reader! Try fiction by living authors, even so-called genre fiction. You may be surprised.

Challenge Three: Burnout.

Solution: Burnout is something all authors face, especially given today’s market. The hard truth is that most authors will never make more than a few thousand dollars a year on their writing. Career authors produce books at rate most people cannot sustain without serious harm to their health and relationships. Now authors are competing against books written by AI. Furthermore, with the collapse of brick and mortar bookstores, marketing now leans more heavily upon the author’s own platform and personal following. An author is expected to write brilliantly and also be a TikTok sensation—all while holding down a job that actually puts food on the table and/or being a decent parent to their children. Writing is a labor of love, but it’s also a grind! 

For what it’s worth, publishers and editors are in a similar position: the profit margins are slim and most editors barely make a living wage, if they make a living wage at all. No one goes into publishing for fame and fortune. We do it because we love books.

For writers, I have two suggestions for battling burnout. First, moderate your expectations. It takes a lot of work and a deep backlist before you will be able to quit that day job or side gig. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? Second, push back against the grind. If you’ve lost sight of the reason why you do this, or if you’re exhausted, or if your spouse and kids are beginning to resent this crazy co-vocation of yours, it’s time for a break. The creative life demands periods of rest. You can’t give what you don’t have. Grant yourself some grace.

Readers can help their favorite authors in a variety of ways. The best thing you can do is buy our books! If you loved a story, buy a second copy for a friend or ask your local library to stock it. Or suggest the book to your book club, then ask the author to join you via Zoom to chat about it. Trust me, your request will make that author’s day. 🙂

Other ways to help authors: write an Amazon or Goodreads review, sign up for author newsletters, follow them on social media and share their posts, and even join their launch teams. Same goes for Catholic publishers. All these things add up and help make our work possible.

CONNECT + FOLLOW Rhonda Ortiz & Chrism Press at:
rhondaortiz.com
chrismpress.com

SOCIALS:
instagram.com/writingrhonda
facebook.com/writingrhonda
youtube.com/@writingrhonda
instagram.com/chrismpress
facebook.com/readChrismPress


Rhonda Franklin Ortiz is an award-winning novelist, nonfiction writer, graphic designer, and founding editor of Chrism Press, WhiteFire Publishing’s imprint for Catholic and Orthodox Christian voices.

In Pieces, the first installment of her Molly Chase series, was the recipient of the ACFW-VA Crown Award, the ACFW Genesis Award, and the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval, and was a 2022 finalist in the Oregon Christian Writer’s Cascade Award and Catholic Media Association Book Awards. Her articles on spirituality, family life, and arts and culture have been published by a variety of popular media outlets, and she was a contributor to The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections. She has also served as art director and webmaster for Dappled Things.

Rhonda is a fully professed lay member of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans).

A native Oregonian, Rhonda attended St. John’s College in historic Annapolis, Maryland and now lives in Michigan with her husband and children. Find her online at rhondaortiz.com.

About Author

Creative, Entrepreneur & Silly-Heart. Christ has called her to bring the broken to His Sacred Heart. Calls Austin home with her mountain-man husband, Mike, who she loves to travel through life with as well as around the world.

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