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UM Publishing delves into Christian fiction Kathy L. Gilbert, Aug 25, 2009
UMNS PHOTO BY RONNY PERRY
The Call of Zulina by Kay Marshall Strom is one of the first Christian fiction books released by Abingdon Press this summer.
By Kathy L. Gilbert United Methodist News Service
NASHVILLE, Tenn.—A beautiful young woman, tall, willowy with raven hair and dark eyes, casts a wistful gaze out to the sea while a castle burns behind her on the front cover of the novel The Call of Zulina.
From the back cover are these tantalizing words: “Despite being held for ransom, viciously maimed by a runaway slave, and threatened with death . . . Grace risks everything to follow her heart.”
The only features missing are a ripped bodice and a handsome, dangerous man with his arms around her frail shoulders, and this first United Methodist foray into fiction would be right at home clamoring for attention in bookstores and supermarket checkout lines.
After carefully searching for the right authors, the United Methodist Publishing House has plunged into the world of romance, suspense and drama with seven novels.
The more faith, less lust approach is working.
The Call of Zulina by Kay Marshall Strom sold out of its first print run of 3,600 in one month and has gone into a second printing of 5,000. Three other books of fiction have also sold out of their first printings are into the second with sales for all four books topping 22,000.
All of the books have “exceeded expectations,” said Barbara Scott, senior acquisitions editor for fiction at Abingdon Press, an imprint of the United Methodist Publishing House.
And all while upholding strict standards that will allow readers to keep these books on display when the pastor comes to visit.
“Our promise is that Abingdon Press fiction will inspire you to do no harm, to seek to do good and to love God,” Ms. Scott said.
This Christian fiction is a “clean” read, Ms. Scott said.
“Plots, conversations and scenes,” she said, “focus on the emotional aspects of relationships but do not include physical descriptions of sexual activity, voyeuristic or excessive descriptions of violence, or shock language that profanes the worth of human beings or other living creatures. It glorifies God and our relationship with Him.”
What Ms. Scott looks for in novels for Abingdon are quality writing, original plots and complex characters.
In The Call of Zulina, the first in a trilogy on the horrors of slavery during the 1700s, Ms. Strom found the inspiration for her heroine, Grace, in the true story of an English sea captain and his African wife who ran a slave-trading center. Ms. Strom stumbled across the couple while researching a book she was writing about John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace.”
“I thought what great characters they would make in fiction because I wondered, if they had a child, where would that child’s allegiance lie? Would it be in the white world or the black world? Whose side would they be on? And what would be the seed that would make the difference?”
Ms. Strom has written 36 books, mostly nonfiction. The Grace in AfricaTrilogy will be her first partnership with Abingdon Press. In these three books, Ms. Strom explores the brutality of slavery in the 1700s.
She proposed the idea to some of publishers she has worked with in the past and they turned it down.
“They said, ‘We love the story, we love everything about it, except we can’t publish it because it will make people feel guilty.’”
She praises the United Methodist editors and publisher for being willing to look “at the hard stuff.”
“I love Abingdon for being willing to look at things they way they are instead of looking at things the way they want to see them.”
At a time when the United Methodist Publishing House is experiencing its greatest sales decline in 20 years, it may seem a little risky to be venturing into fiction.
“Obviously, there is added risk introducing a new business in the current economic environment,” said Neil Alexander, president and publisher of the publishing house. “We are gratified that we now expect to exceed first-year sales goals.”
Research shows readers want novels about real-life issues that demonstrate how faith can help them find answers, he added.
“Abingdon fiction has no interest in stories that seek to trivialize or manipulate emotions for the novelty of it or for shock-value,” Mr. Alexander said. “We will shy away from speculative fantasy or apocalyptic stories for similar reasons. Instead, we look for stories that illuminate particular aspects of the human condition as people seek to know and love God and shape their relationships with families and neighbors and with the wider world.”
When Agnes Sparrow prays, God listens. She has seven miracles under her belt, but the day she tipped the scales at more than 600 pounds she decided she was not leaving her house ever again.
Joyce Magnin writes about an unusual woman who has committed her life to prayer in The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow.
In Gone to Green, by debut writer Judy Christie, a big-city journalist trades her corporate life at a large newspaper in the Midwest for the ownership of a twice-weekly newspaper in rural North Louisiana. Her expectations of a charming little town are shattered as she faces prejudice and financial corruption. By the end of her first year she finds newfound faith and unexpected blessings.
Surrender the Wind is a historic novel set during the American Revolution that revolves around the love between Seth, a patriot, and Juleah, the daughter of an eccentric gentleman. Their love must survive a sinister plot of murder, abduction and betrayal.
All three books have received good reviews in several publications. Gone to Green was selected as a Crossings Book Club selection and received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. Rita Gerlach’s Surrender the Wind has received several positive reviews from veteran authors such as Julie Lessman, Golden Keyes Parsons and Sharlene MacLauren.
Ms. Strom’s novel received a starred review in Library Journal. The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow received a Seal of Approval and bonus selection from the Pulpwood Queens, a large regional women’s book club started by Kathy Patrick, a United Methodist, in Jefferson, Texas.
Among other planned offerings, Linda S. Clare’s The Fence My Father Built will be a “buyer’s choice” in LifeWay Christian Stores’ fall fiction catalog. Ariel Allison’s eye of the god is the first book selection for the new fiction book club of Proverbs 31 Ministries, a non-denominational, non-profit Christian ministry that seeks to lead women into a personal relationship with Christ. Myra Johnson’s One Imperfect Christmas has been selected as a featured title at Cokesbury Christian bookstores.
And they are just the beginning.
The Abingdon line will expand in the spring with 10 new titles and 20 new novels for the year. “We will be adding new genres and storylines, all to inspire a deeper sense of faith in God’s love and grace,” Ms. Scott said.