Are Today’s Novels Too Vanilla?

A Rush of Wings

In Tuesday’s post (The Breath of Dawn – Novel Recommendation), I talked about one of my favorite series published in the CBA, the A Rush of Wings series (though not technically a series as all books stand alone) by Kristen Heitzmann.

One thing stood out to me as I was reading those books again, a question that nagged at me:

In the current market, would these stories be published in their current form by an unknown author? Or would they be stripped down, made lean according to present-day authorial rules, rules for tightness that can sterilize personality and neuter voice.

Kristen Heitzmann’s books are anything but lean. Her prose isn’t bound by the scarcity-of-words rule, where the words often becomes bland, tasteless. Heitzmann is a gifted wordsmith, writing with prose that flows and sometimes meanders. Nowadays, meandering is a definite no-no, but it’s often in the meandering that we discover beauty. Her books aren’t lean; they’re not for the diet-driven reader but for the reader who loves the flavor of a little fat.

I honestly don’t find books like this nowadays. With authors encouraged to cut all the fat from their novels, too often the flavor is stripped away as well. Now, too many authors follow a recipe laid out by cookie-cutter teaching. What’s left is a menu of books that all look the same and read the same. They’re vanilla.

There’s nothing vanilla about Kristen Heitzmann’s novels.

What do you think about the novels published today? Are you happy with lean, or would you prefer to read something with a little fat? Can you name another Christian fiction author who gets away with writing non-lean novels?

For additional perspective on tight writing, read Nicole Petrino-Salter’s The Impatient Reader post on Novel Rocket.

Comments 4

  1. You know how much I agree with you on this, Bren. Totally. I know a while back a favorite thriller author of mine was told to trim his manuscripts to around 100K. He was concerned about forfeiting some character depth/development because plot and pacing consume so much of certain kinds of thrillers. I thought: what a waste. Conserve to cater to those readers who have little patience to enjoy a long novel or conserve to save money on producing the book. Either way, you get a trimmed story which could be so much more engaging with those supposedly peripheral details.

    I think most of Kristen’s post-Rush of Wings, etc. set of novels have been shortened to meet the current standards, and although my favorites of the period are Secrets and Unforgotten, the rest of them have been less intriguing until Breath of Dawn because it goes back to her strengths as an author.

    It’s not that some authors don’t accomplish good goals in their shorter novels, but not all do. As a result, we’ve got a lot of formulaic and vanilla, as you say, stories, characters, and plots. Predictable might be nice for the large CBA demographic that likes to read the same story and characters in different locations with different names over and over again, but I believe there’s an even larger demographic that is being totally ignored – as writers and readers.

    1. I don’t know whether it’s a larger demographic or not, anymore, that wants deeper reading. It seems more and more people just want to read something light to escape from their busy lives, which is fine for them. I just prefer reading a book in which I can savor the words, a novel that explores characters on multiple levels, prose that isn’t afraid to wander. I want to read something completely fresh and original, something unpredictable and not Xeroxed.

      Heitzmann’s books, particularly the Michelli Family series and the Rush of Wings series accomplish that. Francine Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series is another prime example. Is there a scarcity of these novels because the reader doesn’t want to read them? Are writers not penning them? Are publishers avoiding them? Or is it a combination of all three?

      I don’t know the answers, I just know that’s what I hunger to read. I’m not a fan of vanilla.

  2. Thanks for this blog Brenda! Certainly makes me think a bit more about my reading habits/choices. I got a Kindle a little over a year ago and I think the abundance of free books on there has made me read some books that I probably would never pay for, at least full price; in a bookstore. I’m not normally someone who doesn’t finish a book once started, but there have been several I started on there and just didn’t finish. I didn’t pay anything for it, so it’s no great loss.

    I read Kristen’s Diamond of the Rockies series, but I’m not sure I’ve read anything else by her. I’ll be keeping my eye out for titles by her in the future!

  3. Hi Patty – You’ll have to try Kristen’s contemporaries. She’s fabulous! And since you’ve read her Rockies series, you should pick up her Michelli Family series first. I understand the characters in the Rockies series are ancestors of the characters in the Michelli family. (I haven’t read the Rockies books, so I could very well be mistaken, but that’s what I was told.)

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog. I really try to introduce books that are high quality, or books that might be different from the average CBA choices. I tend to have eclectic taste. Above all, I simply love talking books. 🙂

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