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“Heaven Help the Christian Writer”

by Kathryn Lively

During the formative stages of judging for the 2003 EPPIE Awards, members were called to construct succinct definitions of fiction and non-fiction categories. Most categories, of course, are quite self-explanatory – how much more does one need to say about science fiction or historical fiction in order for an author to choose his/her respective category for entry? If only it had been as easy to define the category assigned to me: inspirational fiction.

Think about the phrase “inspirational fiction,” what comes to mind? Treating this as a word association exercise, perhaps your first immediate response would be “God.” Rather, you would think of a novel or short story where the primary characters closely observe some denomination of the Judeo-Christian faith and exist in a plot where religion plays a part. Perhaps characters do not cuss or engage in sexual activity outside of wedlock…or with members of the same sex. Perhaps a character has fallen out of faith and other players try to heal this spiritual rift through prayer or some level of evangelization. The resolution of the story might not yield a storybook happy ending, but to some extent a faith in God is restored or reiterated. For the fiction contest, it was decided that “inspirational fiction” would be interchangeable with “Christian fiction,” and hence be defined as fiction where Christian belief is central to the plot, and while all the characters do not have to be Christian, the tenets of the faith should be upheld throughout the story. Having judged this category last year, I have noticed the majority of titles written under this umbrella fall into various sub-categories. My intention, in the next several weeks, is to introduce readers and writers to various sub-genres of Christian fiction. This column’s focus is the inspirational romance.

A recent report by Marla Lehner for FOX NEWS details the rise of production and popularity in this romance sub-genre, where steamy love scenes are spurned in favor of more wholesome storylines. Whereas the typical Harlequin and Silhouette paperback might feature a forbidden, impassioned tryst replete with pages of heavy breathing and more, the inspirational romance may concern something less sordid – a hero’s or heroine’s conflict with his/her beliefs as he/she finds herself attracted to a non-believer is a common theme in such stories. One half of a blossoming couple may seek forgiveness for a past wrong, as what happens in Lauralee Bliss’s A Season for Love; or perhaps a main character fallen away from God is reminded of what it means to have faith and to be blessed, as in Penelope Marzec’s Sea of Hope.

Christian publishers Barbour, Tyndale House and Bethany House are the more recognizable names in this genre, publishing the works of romance heavy-hitters Janette Oke, Beverly Lewis and Peggy Stoks. Romance powerhouse Harlequin Books also recognizes this growing market of readers, having launched the Steeple Hill imprint for the Christian audience. In the electronic book realm, Mountain View Publishing and Awe-Struck are among the many e-pubs involved in getting inspirational romance to e-readers. Settings may range from the present time to the days of America’s early settlers and England’s Regency Era, and even further back to the time of Christ.

The formula for writing an inspirational romance is similar to that of a secular story, with only a few important modifications – the aforementioned omission of sexual activity and dialogue free of crude language. Characters need not kneel down and pray every five pages or speak as if reading directly from the Bible, yet those created with a faith in God should successfully bring forth their beliefs into the story. With proper character development a writer can create a believable, spiritual hero or heroine endeared to the reader.

Links of interest to Christian romance writers:
Bible Gateway – http://www.gospelcom.net
Christian E-Authors – http://www.christianeauthor.com
Catholic Writers Association – http://www.trincomm.org/cwa/index.html

Links of interest to Christian romance readers:
Barbour Books – http://www.barbourpublishing.com/welcome.htm
Bethany House – http://www.bethanyhouse.com
Crossings Book Club – http://www.crossings.com
Tyndale House – http://www.tyndale.com

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