Yes, But Can Romance Change the World?
Whether it’s historical, contemporary, sweet and simple, complex and thought-provoking, serious or comedic, every subcategory of Christian romance has evidence of how the genre is going beyond the printed page to show its profound influence on readers’ lives. Most authors love getting feedback from fans of their books, yet in the case of many Christian romance writers, the letters received explain a profound effect that these seemingly “simple” stories can have.
In Mindy Starns Clark’s Million Dollar Mysteries series, heroine Callie Webber finds herself attracted to her boss while still healing from a painful past. Most secular books would make no issue of the romantic sparks progressing into an eventual bedroom encounter. Yet Clark’s character took a different, more virtuous path—one noticed by a reader who wrote to the author.
“In her note, the reader said that she had always thought that celibacy was ‘a nice idea, especially for a Christian, but basically unrealistic.’” Clark says. “But then as she read Callie and Tom’s story and saw how they were committed to purity and managed to resist temptation despite their deepening relationship, this reader decided to follow their example.” Clark says the reader decided to recommit to God and commit to purity until marriage.
Christian romance authors such as Kristin Billerbeck, Kathy Herman and T.L. Higley have received letters from readers who say they accepted Christ into their lives because of their books. Other readers have stopped short of suicide after finding hope through these books, while countless marriages have been rescued after women found strength—through the pages of a Christian romance novel—to recommit themselves to their husbands.
“Some people refer to Christian novels as ‘clean,’” says Thomas Nelson fiction editor Ami McConnell. “While it’s true that Christian romance novels don’t [contain] gratuitous sex or profanity, it’s more than that. God uses romantic love to work sacred things in our lives. Romance, and especially marriage, is a holy thing.”
Readers point to Christian romances as the place they were introduced to the truth that God loved them. In a novel, they found a reason to change course and choose life over an abortion. They drew courage to wait for the Lord’s choice for them. They discovered a communication bridge in those books, a talking point for friendship, marriage and faith. They saw their own relational blind spots reflected in the characters and determined to start viewing life and the people they love the way God sees them.
“No genre offers hope more dramatically and emotionally and inspirationally than romance novels,” Arnold says. “In a world full of broken promises and unpaid bills and isolation, readers yearn for an eternal love that transcends time. Only a Christian view of life can offer that. It’s not a flirtatious love but a truer, deeper, sacrificing love—as mirrored first in Christ—that can satisfy us at the soul level.”
A Future for Women
It’s not by chance that most of the issues addressed in Christian romance lean toward the feminine side. This is, after all, a genre almost completely targeted toward women. Authors and publishers alike understand the overwhelming majority of Christian romance readers are female and, given the proactive nature of their audience, that suits them just fine. Women are prone to identify with characters in a book and glean insight from them as they deal with their own relational or life difficulties.
This proactive way of reading, in turn, is shaping the future of the genre—from its heroines to story settings to plotlines.
“Our Love Inspired franchise was launched in 1997, offering three contemporary romances a month,” says Love Inspired editor Melissa Endlich. “Then the readers spoke, and we listened. Now, in 2011, there are two additional lines, Love Inspired Suspense and Love Inspired Historical, and we offer readers 14 books a month to choose from. ... As we get deeper into the 21st century, there are more readers who see 1900-1945 as a historical period and less as the recent past. We’ve seen an uptick in the number of stories featuring heroines entering formerly male-only professions (as in the Air Force), heroines involved in wartime espionage and so on. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing what other innovative ideas our authors can create.”
Publishers note that while the public’s current appetite for Amish fiction (see page 52) is likely to diminish, other subgenres featuring another time period or culture will undoubtedly emerge in its place. Yet whatever the future holds for this thriving category of fiction, as long as readers still enjoy the escape and encouragement found in Christian romance, authors and publishers are happy to provide new settings, characters and plots by which the everyday reader can learn about a higher love.
As romantic suspense author and romance reader Colleen Coble says: “[Christian romance novels] let me see God and His love in the shadows of those stories. And that’s one big difference for me between Christian romance and general market novels. I see Christian romance as a great way to reveal how love is a choice. When we’re upset about towels left on the floor, we might be snappish, but the books can be a reminder that love overlooks the unimportant.”
Cynthia Ruchti is the author of a story of reclaimed love in They Almost Always Come Home (Abingdon Press) and the romantic comedy The Heart’s Harbor in A Door County Christmas novella collection (Barbour Publishing). She is a past president of American Christian Fiction Writers and lives in the heart of Wisconsin with her plot-tweaking husband.
What’s the Deal With the Amish Appeal?
Is it curiosity? Domesticity? The signature bonnets? Why can’t readers seem to get enough of Amish fiction these days? A recent survey for Harvest House Publishers titles revealed these reasons, straight from the hors—er, readers’ mouths:
- Simplicity. “The way faith is wound into the story and their lifestyle is beautiful to read about. The stories really do give you a glimpse into another life, one without all the worldly distractions. Yet, the characters still stumble, have troubles and make mistakes.”
- Presence. “I’m right there with the characters. They remind me I am blessed.”
- Peacefulness. “I often wonder if I could live like that. ... [It] makes one appreciate the true value of life.”
- Perseverance. “[I love] the fact that the characters go through so many trials, but their faith remains intact and stronger.”
- Godly examples. “Amish women remind me of the joy to be found in homemaking and the simple things in life.”
- Spiritual message. “The faith lessons—they’re whispered rather than shouted.”
- Community. “Everyone is there for one another.”
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