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Morality to murder, B&H offers expanding line of Christian fiction

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–What do Nicki Towns, Todd Fortune, Jake Denney and Chip Hilton have in common? They’re all fictional characters in Broadman & Holman Publishers’ ever-increasing slate of Christian novels.
B&H offers everything from morality to murder in its multi-genre fictional repertoire, said Robin Patterson, publicist for the book-publishing arm of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Its fictional collection includes romance, historical, contemporary, western, youth, sci-fi and spiritual warfare, she said.
“For the last three years, the fastest-growing area in all of American book publishing has been books classified as spiritual, inspirational and religious,” said Bucky Rosenbaum, director of B&H’s trade books department. “And within the Christian book selling industry, the most popular genre has clearly been Christian fiction.”
Patterson is not only a spokesperson for B&H fiction books; she is a consumer. Her favorites, if she may be allowed, are the books in the Chip Hilton Sports Series for young people. In fact, Patterson was able to recount every story line from all 12 Hilton books published to date. Eventually, the series will contain 24 books, she said.
“And I can’t wait to read the next one.” The practical plots make the teenager “seem so real,” Patterson said. “I have two boys, and I want them to read these books. Chip is really realistic. He’s a Christian and he goes to church, but he’s not too preachy.”
The Chip Hilton books are being re-released from a series first published in the 1940-60s, Patterson said. Clair Bee, a longtime college basketball coach who died in 1983 at age 87, wrote the original 23-volume series. Bee’s daughter and son-in-law, Randall and Cynthia Farley, are updating the books to a more contemporary style and will finish the series off with a 24th — never before published — manuscript, Patterson said.
As for the other fictional characters mentioned above, Patterson recounted that Nicki Towns is a “beautiful and brilliant American-Vietnamese physicist” in “Blood Moon Rising,” a contemporary fiction novel by Eric Wiggin. Todd Fortune is the main character in “Shadow of Legends,” a western adventure written by Stephen Bly. Jake Denney is a criminal lawyer in “Blind Justice” who has had more than his share of problems. Jake is the creation of James Scott Bell, an author and attorney who writes contemporary Christian fiction with a style likened to John Grisham, the publicist said.
B&H started producing fiction full-force three and a half years ago when Ken Stephens came aboard as publisher, said Vicki Crumpton, acquisitions and development editor for B&H.
“One of the areas Ken made a commitment to moving our program into was fiction,” Crumpton said. She said Broadman & Holman accepted the occasional fiction novel before Stephens assumed leadership in May 1996, but not on a regular basis.
Romance and legal fiction seem to generate the largest number of readers, Crumpton said.
One of B&H’s first attempts at Christian fiction in 1996 was “Anonymous Tip” by Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association. A story about a woman’s struggle against the power of big government, the book made the Christian Booksellers Association’s best-seller list.
Another huge success is “Murder on the Titanic” by Jim Walker. In 1998, the book was cited on amazon.com’s best-seller list under two categories — historical religious and inspirational fiction and religious fiction-mystery.
With romance particularly, Crumpton said, Christian readers get to enjoy a good love story without having to wonder where the characters are going to wind up after dinner. “I think one of the reasons Christian fiction is popular, particularly in the romance arena, is because readers feel a level of trust and confidence in what we publish,” she said. “They can still get the emotional feel, but with a G rating, not an X rating. They are not pummeled with profanity and bedroom scenes in our Christian novels.”
Crumpton said B&H is discriminating when choosing new authors.
“We want to do more than add to our number of fiction titles,” said Crumpton, noting that B&H receives 2,000 to 3,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year. “We want to set a higher standard and be more selective.”
One of B&H’s new contemporary fiction novels to watch, Patterson said, is “Grace at Bender Springs” by Vinita Hampton Wright.
“The novel is receiving praise for its realistic portrayal of those trying to walk as Christians, but stumbling along the way in spite of their best intentions,” she said. Within the first month of its release, a Hollywood producer contacted B&H to find out how to obtain the movie rights to the book.
Rosenbaum said Broadman & Holman’s mission is the same as the corporate LifeWay mission — “to help people know Jesus Christ and to seek His Kingdom by providing biblically based solutions that spiritually transform individuals and cultures.”
“We believe we are doing just that when we offer readers of all faiths and backgrounds high quality fiction that entertains, inspires and refreshes,” Rosenbaum said. “It is our prayer that, just possibly, they will be transformed in ways they might not have expected when they first started reading one of our books.”

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  • Terri Lackey