Have you been looking for good Catholic fiction? So is Sophia Institute Press.

Regina Doman, author of several Catholic fairy-tale novels for teens, and her husband, Andrew Schmiedicke, are freelance editors/agents for Chisel and Cross Books from Sophia Institute Press.

Doman spoke about the exciting developments in Catholic fiction at the Manchester, N.H., publisher and shared writing tips for aspiring novelists.

What is the current state of Catholic fiction?

Catholics are starting to want it, and publishers are looking to see if it’s feasible or not. The basic problem is with the buying habits of Catholics. Catholics don’t have an identifiable subculture like the evangelical Christian culture. They don’t have brand loyalty. They don’t read something just because it’s Catholic. They read it if they know it’s good.

But there is a growing subculture in Catholicism among National Catholic Register readers, the home-school movement and other movements informed by dynamic orthodoxy. Regular Catholics usually join it when they have children: They look at popular culture and think, “It’s not good enough for my kids.” I think we’re at a tipping point: If it’s available, Catholics will buy Catholic fiction, and publishers will make money.

A lot of Catholic publishers love the idea of doing Catholic fiction — they just don’t see a way. But I’m told that the Christian fiction industry as we know it today started when Bethany House got serious about publishing fiction and hired a real fiction editor. That person found Frank Peretti and Janette Oke, who wrote some of the first Christian best sellers. So it wouldn’t take much to get things going.

One objection I frequently hear: Well, J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor published with regular secular publishers. Why do Catholic publishers have to do fiction? Why do we need it? Why imitate Protestant Christian fiction? Won’t it be schlocky and tame?

My response: My goal, even as an author myself, is to be good enough to be published by Random House.

But I believe helping to create a Catholic subculture is a valid thing. It’s the difference between a hothouse and a greenhouse. A hothouse is for exotic plants who can’t survive outside the structure. Protestant publishers aim to keep their readers Christian and pure, allowing them to be entertained in a safe way. For Catholics, that’s not our theology. Like a greenhouse protects young plants until they’re strong enough to survive in the outside environment, our goal is to encourage and build Catholic identity so our readers can know who they are and have the tools to survive when they go out into the world.

Plus, when we read fiction, we want to be able to identify with the heroes and heroines. A lot of times, Catholics have not been able to identify completely with characters in secular novels. I identify with the heroine — except when she jumped in bed with the hot guy, got sterilized, or told a white lie. After a while, it becomes wearying to read fiction like that. It’s not fun. That’s why many Catholics are looking for something else.

Is Sophia Institute Press at the forefront of Catholic fiction?

I think so. Sophia Press is actively seeking fiction.

How did you get started with their fiction division?

I was working with Sophia Institute, which published my book Angel in the Waters. Another apostolate asked me to develop short stories for teens with specific morality points. I’d gotten started with my fairy-tale books for teens and writing the third book, Waking Rose, by this time, so I had a good idea of what you can and can’t do with teen fiction. I said, “You can’t reach teens like that. They don’t like pointed morality, but there are a lot of Catholic topics that I think would work in a longer narrative.” That became the proposal for the John Paul 2 High series. The apostolate thought it was too expensive and turned it down. Then John Barger [founder and president of Sophia Institute Press] looked at my proposal. An hour later, he said, “We’ll do it.”

Teen fiction is the smartest way to approach the market. Catholic parents will buy books for their kids. Then it’s a short jump to adult fiction. So we seriously began looking towards that.

We were at lunch at a Catholic Marketing Network tradeshow a year later, and I commented to John, “Women buy the most fiction and most religious goods, and yet any foray into adult fiction by a Catholic publisher has started with men’s fiction. I don’t understand why no one’s publishing women’s fiction.” He said, “Find me some.”

What is forthcoming?

There are exciting developments on the horizon. Our first titles are coming out in 2009, and we’re hoping to have a nice lineup for 2010.

We have several things we’re working on. We’re working with an author who has written a series for grade school kids featuring a Catholic school girl detective.

There’s also a true story of a priest who was accused of raping a women in the confessional in the 1840s that we’re trying to acquire. It’s completely riveting.

And there’s more coming up: historical, young adult and mystery — and John Paul 2 High’s next two volumes.

What novels are available now?

Our first adult novel is Bleeder [released Aug. 15], a murder mystery by CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) author John Desjarlais. He converted to Catholicism, wrote a Catholic novel, and as God would have it, he sent it to us.

I’m really excited about a young adult novel we’re on the verge of publishing by seasoned author Claudia Cangilla McAdam, Awakening: A Crossroads in Time Book, about a young girl who travels back in time and has a chance to stop the crucifixion of Christ. It’s really a fun and powerful book. Stay tuned!

Does your experience as a writer help you as an editor?

Writing and editing are two different talents. We badly need good editors who love storytelling if there’s going to be a revival of Catholic literature.

A good editor has that outsider’s perspective. It’s difficult for writers to tell if 250,000 people will feel the same way that they do about their book. It’s a different kind of charism to know if this is a sellable story. When I found an excellent fiction editor, I married him: my husband and co-editor, Andrew Schmiedicke.

What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

Be good. You have to tell a really good story, trying to apply the best story standards of the secular publishing world — that’s what I learned in Barbara Nicolosi’s Act One Writing Program.

We’re looking for books about people like us: devout Catholics or people who have a Catholic influence around them.

Don’t feel like you have to be catechetical. Tell us a good story. In some ways, that’s harder.

Amy Smith is the

Register’s copy editor.

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