When one says "Catholic fiction," what comes to mind?

Is it a story featuring a Catholic character, say a priest or religious, like G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown or Ralph McInerny's Father Dowling? Is it horror, like William Peter Blatty's "The Exorcist," or suspense, like Dean Koontz's "Odd Thomas."

Is it a literary work, like Shusaku Endo's "Silence" or "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh? Is it written by a Catholic author, or simply literature that contains Catholic themes or insights?

The truth is, like many things in our Catholic faith, it is "both/and" — all these things and more.

Catholic fiction is often hard to describe even for those like me who write and read it. It isn't simply literature that doesn't offend Catholic sensibilities, because while there is certainly a good deal of fiction that rubs against our moral convictions, the material that doesn't isn't always Catholic.

Late author Father Andrew Greeley once wrote that Catholic works of art, specifically the classics, "assume a God who is present in the world, disclosing himself in and through creation" and calling this trait the "Catholic imagination."

This makes Catholic fiction more difficult to define than Christian fiction, which, by contrast, is produced by a cluster of book publishers that strictly adhere to a mutually agreed upon set of literary guidelines.

Readers of Christian fiction know where to find this material and are encouraged by their religious communities to read it, though critics have often noted its formulaic quality.

Many Catholic writers do not seek publishing contracts with Christian publishers, as the publishers usually require edits that remove the Catholic nature of their work. While deep themes might slip through an edit, a practicing Catholic character that prays the rosary or attends Mass is not allowed by their guidelines.

There was a time when the Catholic Church had a sort of litmus test of its own for literary faithfulness when the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) placed fiction and nonfiction books on the "Index Librorum Prohibitorum," a list of books the Catholic faithful were forbidden to read. It did not, however, create a list of recommended reading or suggest guidelines for creating works of fiction it found favorable.

As a result, after that list's abolition, Catholic readers did as they always have done — purchase fiction from secular booksellers, only now without considering how a work did or did not enrich, or at least not deride, their faith. If a Catholic wants a novel now, he or she searches on Amazon or walks into Barnes & Noble to find what interests him or her the most regardless of spiritual impact.

Perusing regular bookstores or using the search features on Amazon for Catholic fiction can be problematic, however. Search results on Amazon and its partner site Goodreads are not necessarily attuned to a faithful Catholic sensibility.

When Amazon's search feature sees "Catholic fiction," it can serve up books that may have Catholic characters, tropes or situations but present narratives counter to our faith. Reviews help a bit, perhaps, but reading them can be time-consuming.

One also is not likely to find much Catholic fiction on the shelves of standard bookstores, as only the largest Catholic publishers distribute their products to the brick-and-mortar retailers, and these companies publish little or no fiction. This is because they primarily market to Catholic retail stores that in turn cater to a gift-buying or research-minded consumer.

You might stumble upon a single piece of Catholic fiction in a Catholic bookstore, perhaps a children's book or two, but certainly not a hearty collection of it. And if a secular chain bookstore stocks Catholic fiction at all, it is shelved with the Christian fiction or among religious nonfiction books with a given publisher's other offerings.

So, where does one go if one wants a good story that is Catholic in character or theme? To connect Catholic readers with Catholic fiction literature, several institutions have developed that focus on this niche market.

Below is a list I compiled with a selection of places where you can find good Catholic fiction.

I hope you'll investigate these avenues to Catholic fiction, buy a title as a Christmas gift, or curl up this winter yourself with an entertaining, yet spiritually edifying, new book. Go forth and read!

Catholic Reads (catholicreads.com):

Catholic Reads is the "Catholic BookBub." If you are not familiar with BookBub, it is a registration-required service that sends e-mail blasts with a list of titles offered at sale prices at online retailers like Amazon. Catholic Reads does the same for Catholic books, and the website also provides reviews as well as a semi-regular video blog with authors. For so young an enterprise, it has already covered an impressive list of titles.

Catholic Teen Books (catholicteenbooks.com):

This is another new site with a good collection of titles. Many parents of teens will tell you that it is almost impossible to find edifying young adult fiction today. Much of it is quite dark, featuring graphic situations, sexual content and language. Teen and young adult fiction does not have to be that way to present an engaging story. All the titles listed on Catholic Teen Books are written by decent writers and include a variety of genres young people really like. For educators, there's a list of learning materials and names of authors who'll visit your classroom.

Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval List (catholicwritersguild.org/seal-approval):

The Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval is a service the Catholic Writers Guild, or CWG, provides for Catholic bookstores, in which trained volunteers read content for its faithfulness to Catholic teaching. Many of the titles read and approved by CWG readers are listed on the guild's website.

Cath-Lit Live (cutt.ly/cath-lit-live):

Young adult author A.J. Cattapan hosts this regular 10-minute long live Facebook/YouTube video cast in which she interviews Catholic authors with new releases.

Good News! Book Fair (goodnewsbookfair.com):

A Catholic competitor to the Scholastic book fairs, Good News! Book Fair offers a slew of titles for young people. They bring their show to Catholic (and Christian) schools the same way Scholastic does. They recently launched a general online bookstore called goodnewsbookshop.com which is adding more products every day. Worth keeping an eye on this one.

Ignatius Press print catalog and Web store (ignatius.com):

While Ignatius Press is the largest Catholic publisher in the United States, it publishes only a smattering of fiction. Its print catalog and Web store, however, offer Catholic fiction for children and adults from other publishers, as well as the few fiction titles it publishes in-house.

Tumblar House (tumblarhouse.com):

Tumblar House is a sizable online Catholic retailer that carries a thorough collection of Catholic fiction books classic and new, all chosen for quality and faithfulness.

Independent or small presses that produce Catholic fiction: Many small or "indie" presses offer titles worth reading that are available through their websites as well as Amazon:

Angelico Press (angelicopress.org):

Angelico offers classic Catholic fiction as well as new literature in that vein.

Full Quiver Publishing (fullquiverpublishing.com):

Full Quiver publishes fiction and nonfiction with a Theology of the Body theme.

Raven Crest Publishing (ravencrestpublishingandproduction.com):

Raven Crest offers stories that communicate a powerful, life-changing and redemptive message.

Scepter Publishers (scepterpublishers.org):

An outgrowth of Opus Dei, a personal prelature in the church around the world made up largely of lay Catholics, Scepter publishes works to lead readers to find Christ in everyday life.

Silver Empire (silverempire.org):

A Catholic-owned publisher of edgy (PG-13) suspense, horror, urban fantasy and science fiction with Christian and Catholic themes and characters, Silver Empire offers a book club in which users purchase credits to have works delivered to them regularly at a discount.

Sophia Press Institute Press (sophiainstitute.com):

Sophia Institute Press is one offering of Sophia Institute, a non-profit organization "that nurtures the spiritual, moral and cultural life of souls and spreads the Gospel of Christ in conformity with the authentic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church." They offer fiction and non-fiction books for adults and children.

Wiseblood Books (wisebloodbooks.com):

Inspired by Catholic writer Flannery O'Conner, Wiseblood offers fiction, poetry, and philosophic works that focus on finding redemption in uncanny places and people.

Short fiction: These literary journals offer Catholic short stories as well as poetry:

Dappled Things (dappledthings.org):

A magazine "committed to quality writing that takes advantage of the religious, theological, philosophical, artistic, cultural and literary heritage of the Catholic Church in order to inform and enrich contemporary literary culture."

Ever Eden Literary Journal (everedenpublishing.com):

A magazine featuring the writing of Catholic women intended for all readers.

Lewis is executive assistant in the Office of Communications of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and the author of several books.