Many thanks, again, to those who chose the nominees for this year’s Christy Awards. I’m told it is a rare honor to have a book nominated in two categories, and this year, Auralia’s Colors was nominated for Best First Novel and “Visionary” (best fantasy novel). I am still recovering from the surprise.

(UPDATE: The judges decided that Stephen R. Lawhead’s Scarlet was the year’s best Christian fantasy novel, and that The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello was the best first novel in Christian fiction. Congratulations to Lawhead and to Giorello.)

It was an encouragement to see Auralia’s Colors included alongside books by such admirable writers.

It was also quite surprising. I don’t consider Auralia’s Colors to be “Christian fiction” ‚Äî in fact, in interviews I’ve insisted that it did not really make much sense in such a narrow category. Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled when Christians discover Auralia’s Colors. But frankly, I didn’t write it with that audience in mind. I wrote it hoping that it would be read and enjoyed by the same wide range of people who appreciate The Hobbit, or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, or Bridge to Terabithia, or A Wrinkle in Time. All of those books were written by Christian writers, but I’ve never heard them described as “Christian fiction,” and I don’t think any of them ever won a Christian book award.

What makes a book “Christian fiction”? The truth that it reveals? The beauty of its craftsmanship? The publisher identified on the spine of the book? The author’s worldview? The “message” of the story?

I know of Christian novelists who win prestigious awards for their literary achievement, but they’re ignored in the realm of “Christian fiction.” What would have qualified them? A religious publisher? Some kind of deliberate attempt within the story to persuade the reader that Jesus is Lord?

I’ve asked this question before, and I’m still curious, so I’ll raise it again: Where is the recognition for Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl, which was a fantastic first novel that was nominated for the National Book Award? There’s already a film in the works, developed by well-known, immensely talented artists. Sara speaks openly about her Christian faith in interviews. Was it the fact that she wasn’t published by a Christian press that kept her out of the running? I’m rather baffled. I don’t get it.

I’m glad that the judges appreciated the book, and I’m grateful. I was especially excited for the folks at WaterBrook Press, who took a gamble on a rather unusual book, and who helped me shape my first novel and share it with the world. They deserve all the credit they get and more.

But I’m no closer to understanding the distinction. And I hope Auralia’s Colors will be assessed with the same tough standards as any work of fiction in the general ‘Fantasy’ section, and not explained as some kind of particular, “religious” fiction.

Anyway… whatever the thinking was behind the scenes, I am grateful for the vote of encouragement from the Christy judges.