Friday, September 14, 2012

To Romance or Not to Romance, That is the Question

A good friend recently listened to my lament as we recovered from too much sand and sea. (Is that possible?) She’d heard my line of questions before. “Where are the readers who like non-genre books—a strong, complex story about characters we all recognize, fear, and love, a bit literary, startling in its beauty and truth?” (I'm not delusional. I don't believe I've attained this standard, but it's where I'm shooting.)

My friend is a bit of a bean counter, so she asked, “What’s the best-selling genre?”

“Romance by a mile—more like 3,000 miles.”

“And what is it you write again,” she asked.

“My stories have a romantic thread, which I try to write real, but I write stories about familial relationships. And there’s a dog in every story, but I was warned by my editor to NEVER kill the dog. Too many angry letters. Kill the kid, but save the dog.”

“How’s that working for you?”

“Not great.”

I’m happy with the stories I’ve written, as happy as a neurotic perfectionist can be about anything she makes, but my sales figures are dismal. Add a recession and the investment of hiring editorial support and a photographer/graphic artist to independently publish my next novel (along with 20 million of my closest writer friends), and I started wondering if writing romance—doing it really, really well—wasn’t the answer.

To be truthful, I stopped reading romances exclusively the summer of my 9th grade year. I read every Victoria Holt book at the library. After a few books, I could predict what was going to happen next. Then I started coaching the heroine, “Hon, the rich, dangerous type is not a good investment for your heart. Do you want that man bouncing your kid on his knee? Find a nice, boring guy who will talk to you without snearing.”

Before I continue, to prove I’m not anti-romance, here’s my favorite scene from You’ve Got Mail.

I love this scene because of the tension. Meg wants Tom to be NY152, but she can’t be sure that there isn’t someone a little less complicated out there for her. Tom wants her to choose him because of who he is, even though he put her out of business. I get all goose bumpy during the last scene where he tells her not to cry, Shopgirl, but this scene is my favorite. The evil big-box bookstore owner earns entre into her heart. Sigh.

And since I love this movie, it was completely possible that I needed to take a second look, a more current look, at romance novels of the Christian type, so I read four novels in one week. (Truth: I have read other Christian romances over the years.) I chose books with 4+ stars on Amazon. I also wanted to read different types of romances. I read a contemporary Love Inspired romance, an Amish romance, a Western romance, and a Christy-Award-winning historical romance. I know a larger sample would be better, but life is short, and my post was due today.

Those who write Christian romance do so with a sense of mission. They are good-willed people who are probably a lot more godly than me. They aim to provide inoffensive, entertaining stories that evoke the romancing nature of God. Think Zephaniah 3:17:

“The LORD your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

I love that verse! And let’s not forget Song of Solomon, the story of Hosea and Gomer, and Ruth and Boaz. All beautiful stories that symbolize the passion God has for us His beloved. This is romance at its best.

Some who raise questions about Christian romance see parallels between why women like this genre and men turn to pornography. I DO NOT put Christian romance and pornography on the same moral plain at all, but Joy Eggerich (daughter of the Love & Respect authors, Emerson and Sarah Eggerich) raises some interesting questions in this short video:

What she says about false expectations leading to a lack of grace really struck a chord. Ouch.

Okay, so what did I like about the romance novels I read?

  • I knew the story would have a happy ending. This is hopeful and optimistic.
  • The promise of stress-free entertainment was realized, little real tension or conflict.
  • I was reminded not to overuse the same word. One author used “threatened” or “threatening” six times in the first two pages. Another author mentioned the hero’s blue eyes eighteen times. (I realize this isn’t really a thing I liked, but I needed to pad this list.)

Here’s what drove me nutty about the romance I read:

  • I knew that the hero and heroine would end up together in the end. I like surprises, even disappointing ones. I actually find that entertaining. That says a lot, doesn't it?
  • Since the outcome is presumed (boy and girl together), any conflict or tension the author inserts comes off as artificial, at least it did to me.
  • Weak, crazy, outlandish (are you getting my drift here?) premises.
  • All of the heroes are chiseled (this word was used in one of the stories) and drop-dead handsome.
  • All of the heroines are beautiful with oddly colored eyes. Amber? Violet? 
  • The heroes demonstrated strongly feminine characteristics. Where’s the mystery in that? 
  • Even the best written of the four novels—good research, realistic premise, well-developed characters—was all about the first kiss.  
  • None of the four books I read provided a view of the world that challenged me think bigger.
  • Lots more sexual tension than I expected, especially from two childhood sweethearts who were compelled into marriage by an Amish loophole. 
You may have guessed that I’m sticking to my low sales numbers and non-genre fiction. And I think I’ll stick to romantic comedy movies over romance novels—in and out in two hours. This is a personal choice based on my personality and preferences.

I’ve been pretty hard on Christian romance, and I may have made some of you angry, some folks who I love and admire. I’m truly sorry about that. There are well-written Christian romance novels out there, and many, many people have been ministered to by reading them.  Please, feel free to give me some titles.

Okay, let’s talk. Did I miss something? Convince me to become a Christian romance lover. Are you someone who chose to stop reading romances? Would you tell us why? Does it matter one way or another if we read Christian romances? How do you feel after you've read a Christian romance? Do you think Joy Eggerich is all wet or on the money? What's your favorite romance movie scene?

By the way, these are my ideas. Latayne, Debbie, Bonnie, Katy, and Sharon are innocent and very nice.


Unknown said...

Your post reminded me of one of my favorite christian fantasy romance series, though I suppose perhaps it is as much or more an adventure book as it is a romance. I have to admit, I'm more of a fantasy or mystery fan myself, but that series spoke to me. If you're interested, it is the Tahn series by L.A. Kelly. She has written several other books that appear to be straight romances, but I've yet to read them. Have a nice day!

Megan Sayer said...

Wow, that Joy Eggerichs video is VERY interesting!
I read a really interesting thing the other day, I'll copy a bit here. It's a quote from this: :
"One of your jobs as a writer is to discover where in the spectrum between “authentic” and “aspirational” you feel your voice falls". The author comments that most secular fiction is generally "authentic", while most CBA fiction is aspirational. In other words, secular books keep it real, while Christian books give you something to hope for/dream about.

Personally I'm all for keeping it real, because that's the best place to start dreaming from. It's really helped me clarify what I'm trying to write and why, and why I don't fit the CBA mold.

Patti I LOVE the reality in your books. I'm so glad you're not going to give up writing beautiful and authentic stories for the sake of $$. Keep it up! And if you do need money - just go hire yourself out as a Meg Ryan stand-in. They'd love you!! : )

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Ah. Little Joy Eggerichs. Is it dropping names to say "I knew her when" and "I went to a teeny little Christian school with her big brothers"? Well, even if it is, I'm dropping the name. I'm proud of Joy and all she's doing to minister to young adults. :)

Your point about the physical appearance of the hero and heroine is something that needs to be considered seriously. In the secular world, we see SO MANY images of perfect looking people, airbrushed and injected into plastic-like, "gorgeous" images. Not real. I strive to write characters who have insecurities, imperfections, maybe a bit of a tummy. Real. I'm not anti-skinny. Just anti-perfect looking characters.

I must say, also, that I felt very convicted by the quote Megan shared. I'm so grateful that I've found a publisher who isn't scared off by my real characters and gritty situations.

And, eh, money. But, hey, people who are moved by our books! Because maybe, just maybe, they'll see themselves in the characters and see God in a more authentic way. Or they'll love Jesus more deeply.

And that's worth it all.

BK said...

I don't read romance--Christian or not, for many of the reasons you list.

While I suppose we could argue that most stories are predictable, this is excessively so in the case of romance. It has been done. Bazillions of times. There truly is nothing new under the sun.

Weak premises--I have found this a lot in romances. Outlandish things where I simply could not suspend my disbelief.

But the most important point you made was this one:

"None of the four books I read provided a view of the world that challenged me think bigger."

On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most important reason I don't read romance, I give this point a 2000. I do understand that a novel, ANY novel, needs to focus on just a few characters.

But I like stories that have BIG impact. Stories that examine what kind of impact WE have on the world around us--our neighborhood, our region, even our world-- something a lot deeper then "Will she get the guy? Will he get the girl?" I DON'T CARE!

I like books with seismic impact. I do understand that for many women, reading a good romance is great seismic impact for them. And I'm glad--you have a heck of a lot easier time finding books to read than I do.

But that stuff simply doesn't move me. If I must read romance, I want it as a small thread in a much bigger picture story.

Which brings me back to my usual concluding statement when I discuss this stuff. I understand that romance is and always will be the major seller. I understand that my opinion of romance is vastly different from 90 bazillion women.

Therefore I ask that all the romance readers and writers out there who have daggers in hand ready to take me out, to understand I make these commentaries as a continual plea for fiction for me too. You like to read. I like to read. I just don't want to read romance. And it's extremely hard--beyond exasperating, to find non-romance fiction, ESPECIALLY non-romance historical fiction.

And if anyone reading these comments knows of historical fiction that ISN'T romance I would love it if you would send the book names my way.

Patti Hill said...

Julianne: Many thanks for the author and titles. I do enjoy a good fantasy.

Megan: Authentic vs. Aspirational, what an interesting distinction. We love being affirmed, and that's what the aspirational fiction does. But the authentic can do that too. Have you seen the move Gran Torino? Very authentic, very redemptive. Not all that easy to watch.

Susie: Thanks for bringing up the physical appearance of the romance hero and heroine. As Christians, we should understand better than others that beauty is not only the braiding of hair and the wearing of jewelry. Beauty is a matter of the heart. Is it submitted to Jesus?

BK: Have you read Geraldine Brooks? She's a mainstream writer, Pulitzer winner. Great historical fiction. I would start with People of the Book. Also, Gap Creek by Robert Morgan, These is My Words by Nancy Turner, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, and books by Tracy Chevalier and Sandra Dallas. None of these are CBA.

Patti Hill said...

BK: I forgot Tracy Higley who is CBA and The Dovekeepers by Alic Hoffman who is not.

BK said...

Thanks, Patti. I'm pasting these authors/titles into the bottom of my journal so I can seek them out. I really appreciate the book suggestions!

BK said...

P.S. These Is My Words is fantastic. A great example of a book that does have romance in it but goes for so much more. I've read it three times.

Dina Sleiman said...

Everybody has a right to their own opinion, so I won't try to sell you on romance. In fact, I read this website because you all tend toward more literary and realistic fiction, which I find refreshing and encouraging. And I personally don't like most books that are category romance, although I've found exceptions. All that being said, I always have enjoyed a good romance, and I've found plenty of romance authors on the more literary end of the spectrum, especially in historical romance. Best examples would be Julie Klassen and Siri Mitchell (Siri's books are usually called romance, even though there's no guaranteed happy ending).

My first novel is historical with a romantic thread, but it's with a small company and not selling very well. When my agent asked me to write romance, I really thought through what sort of romance I could write with a good conscious. Here's what I came up with.

1) Make it funny - like those romantic comedies we all love. Romance is a bit ridiculous anyway, so it might as well be funny.

2) Give the hero and heroine a really good reason (beyond stubbornness and prejudice) that they can't be together.

3) No whirlwind romances and marriages. Hero and heroine must either have known each other before the story, have a long courtship within the book, or only be moving towards marriage by the end.

4) No unrealistic expectations.

5) Relationship must go far beyond physical attraction.

6) It should require God's healing and direction for heroine and hero to end up together.

7) I should write my personal best including elements like lyrical descriptions and symbolism.

8) Have a powerful spiritual thread

I wrote that sort of book and had no problem selling it within the first month that my agent sent it out. It still might not make your favorite list, and it might not sell you on romance if that isn't your thing. But I feel good and confident about it. I feel like I stuck by the calling God placed on my life as a writer while still creating a marketable product, and I think that's what matters.

Dina Sleiman said...

BK, four of the WhiteFire historicals have romance, but don't fit into the romance genre. They're all big books with a big impact.

A Stray Drop of Blood
Jewel of Persia
Dance of the Dandelion
Shadowed in Silk

Also, Siri Mitchell's Love's Pursuit and A Constant Heart, and Susan May Warren's Heiress and it's sequels. Havah by Tosca Lee is wonderful. Ginger Garrett's Chronicles of the Scribe books are highly literary. I would also mention that Julie Klassen's first book The Lady of Milkweed Manor isn't a true romance and will keep you guessing until the end. It's just beautiful. And if you haven't read The Last Sin Eater by Francine Rivers, you must start there!

This is really my favorite genre and I do hope to return to it someday.

S.L. Bartlett said...

I have to agree with you. My co-author and I were extremely lucky to find a publisher who is willing to take a chance on us, since we chose to write a "thinking woman's" romance book. We were told by other publishers that "women who read romance don't want to think, they want to feel." First, I found this insulting to women, and second, why can't these women have both? Our publisher is the first to accept the extensive research we put into this book and incorporate a passionate love affair into the story. My question is, is it true that women who read romance don't want a meaty story along with the romance, or do they indeed skip over those parts to get to the love scenes?

Nicole said...

Patti, in CBA fiction, for me, Kristen Heitzmann and Becky Wade have written good romance. Beyond them, I've basically quit reading romance. Even romantic suspense is not done very well in the novels I've chosen with the exception of Sibella Giorello who barely dips her toes in the romance part of the story and writes superbly. Now I mostly read thrillers, mystery, suspense.

So, I write the kind of love stories I want to read. "Raw, Romantic, Redemptive" That's me. I can't do fluff.

I didn't listen to Mrs. Eggrich before writing this because I've garnered my own opinions of those who immerse themselves in CBA romance, the way it is.

You write what the Lord called you to write. Anything else will be forced and insincere, formulaic.

I actually have my favorite romance scenes which feature a kiss, so, yeah, I'm a diehard romantic, but the stuff in CBA novels mostly doesn't work for me because it doesn't capture the grittiness and real trials of life, sexual attraction, etc. And I don't read romance from the general market. I don't want graphics: I want reality.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Dina, I don't feel that the WhiteFire books fill the stereotypical romance. They are more literary, that's for sure. "Dance of the Dandelion", in my reading, was much more about Dandelion learning to fall in love with Jesus. That is what made me love the book. :)

Bonnie Grove said...

Reading comments, eating popcorn. This is better than the movies--seriously!

Loving the conversation!

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Susie :) You know I love your writing too, which actually did include enough romance to make me happy. I'll be curious to see if my new Zondervan novel is too much of a romance for you.

Patti Hill said...

Dina: I would definitely read a book like that. In fact, my Garden Gate series is point-by-point what you've described. Very thoughtful. You've added a lot to the conversation and authors that slipped my mind. Thanks for all.

S.L.: I would be very interested to see the demographics of the romance reader. From working in a library, I can tell you that some of them use walkers. We must respect that people read for different reasons. For me, a book that challenges me to think is still escapism and entertaining. And no one would ever accuse me of being an egghead. To prove that, hop on over to to read some of my humor writing in today's blog post.

Nicole: Thanks for more great author names. And yes, we must write the stories the Lord gives us. I've been praying for a children's story. Not yet.

Bonnie: Pass the popcorn!

Dina: Be sure to tells us the release date.

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks for asking, Patti :)

It's Love in Three Quarter Time releasing October 23rd with Zondervan First. It's the launch title for the imprint, so I hope there won't be any delays.

As I wrote it, the thing that amazed me the most was how strong the spiritual elements ended up being. And not just my main theme, which is letting God lead your dance, but other themes like forgiveness, freedom, and the importance of truth somehow made their way in there as well without me even really planning that.

Patti Hill said...

Very cool, Dina. Sounds amazing.

Patti Hill said...

Patti, this is wonderful. Really. And you crack me up: Bonnie, Debbie, Katy, Latayne and I ... we aren't that nice (and you know it). I love the conversation your post has generated. I'm on the sofa beside Bonnie, feet up on her coffee table, dipping into her popcorn (could use more salt, Bon). I am a fan of romantic comedy movies -- and I love the dynamic between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But I am not a fan of romance novels for all the reasons you cited. This was a well-thought out post, and I applaud your transparency. I applaud your everything ... because you're amazing.

Patti Hill said...

It was ME, SHARON who posted that last comment but Blogger is at it again, and it won't let me delete the comment so I can enter it as ME. I HATE BLOGGER!!!

Sharon K. Souza said...

I'll try again.

Sharon K. Souza said...

I'm back! yay.

Sharon K. Souza said...

Now I'm going to post my comment as me.

Patti, this is wonderful. Really. And you crack me up: Bonnie, Debbie, Katy, Latayne and I ... we aren't that nice (and you know it). I love the conversation your post has generated. I'm on the sofa beside Bonnie, feet up on her coffee table, dipping into her popcorn (could use more salt, Bon). I am a fan of romantic comedy movies -- and I love the dynamic between Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But I am not a fan of romance novels for all the reasons you cited. This was a well-thought out post, and I applaud your transparency. I applaud your everything ... because you're amazing

Patti Hill said...

Sharon: I'm proud of you for taking on Blogger and winning!

You're on the couch with Bonnie? No fair!

S.L. Bartlett said...

Patti, exactly. That was my whole point. The big houses responsible for the romance writing genre follow a formula that you dare not stray from, and it's a shame there's not more room for more variety. I read you article at and commented. Very well done!

Bonnie Grove said...

Don't sit too close, Sharon, I have strep throat. Here, I'll get you your own bowl.

I'm so loving the comment section today. Cheering on Susie and Dina for making their way in the INSANE world of publishing, and very much enjoying the lively discussion about what we love to read and why.

Oh, and I AM nice. Really. *smile* Oops, forgot about my sharp teeth. Ahem.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

I back Bonnie. She really is nice. I think the sharp teeth are from some kind of Halloween costume or something. :)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Oh, and, fun fact, Dina is the editor who acquired me. Where did she find me? Here, at Novel Matters. :)

Patti Hill said...

I love that! We're like the soda fountain and you're Lana Turner. Too old of a reference? Let me try again. We're like American Idol and you're somebody who can sing better than anyone else. I'm going to dust now.

Dina Sleiman said...

Very true. I had my eye on Susie for a while.

BK said...


Thanks for the recommends. I will look into them.

And with regard to the oft-cited movie "You've Got Mail"--I did finally force myself to sit down and watch it prior to a writing class where the instructor asked us to watch it (yep, you guessed it, they wrote romance). I would've liked the movie more if one of them had had a gun. 8-)

Samantha Bennett said...

I absolutely loved this post and the conversation it's begun! Personally, I do read romance but I've branched out lately and been glad of it. Two such reads include Alice Hoffman's The Dovekeepers and The Book Theif by Markus Zusak. Oh my word, talk about books that change you.

Bonnie Grove said...

Samantha, you have my hearty stamp of approval on all your new branches. Brilliant reading, my friend!

Dina/Susie: Didn't know that. Wow, I feel like that rude English guy on American Idol--bringing brilliance together via an ensemble show (well, blog).

Unless Sharon wants to be the rude English guy. I could be the guy on the buffalo.

Megan Sayer said...

Bonnie I for one could tell you some stories about things that have happened because of Novel Matters that would blow your mind for a week. And I'm deadly serious.
Are you only now catching up on the fact that God hijacked this place a while back?
HA! And you thought you were just writing a blog!!! : )

Patti Hill said...

Nothing you could have said would have been so sweet as that, Megan. Thanks.

Bonnie Grove said...

I'd love to hear those stories, Megan.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

God bless Novelmatters where we turn out the lights BEFORE we take our clothes off.
That's how they used to write romance. Any time the light switch was mentioned...well, you know.
I agree with Joy. Men get pictures Women get words. And if we take it too far we all get dissatisfied.
I was disappointed when romance crept into my story but I shouldn't have been surprised. I love a good love. Hopelessly romantic in every way and still can't stand modern romance genre. No subtlety, no light switches.

Pamela King Cable said...

This is all very interesting. However, I'm wondering how many have had their fill of typical Christian romance.

My novel, about to make its debut, was not written, specifically, for the the Christian audience. A saga of romance, religion, and crime, I wrote to pierce the hearts of my readers. The novel, Televenge, a story about the dark side of televangelism, is also about the light of unconditional love. Grace abounds amidst the darkness in the book. It is not for the faint of heart.

I am a woman of faith. A Christian woman inspired by the events of her past. But I wrote the reality of the world as I saw it. Simply, Christian novels are much like the Hallmark Channel. Predictable. I wanted to reflect the realities, the long-last devastation, and horrific effects of legalism.

I wrote Televenge to inspire deliverance and strength. There are explicit descriptions of the darkness. But hope, faith, and family balance the darkness.

Maybe some will be content with the vanilla reads in much of the Christian romance currently filling bookshelves everywhere. But I believe many are looking for stories with a little more gumption.

Just my opinion. God bless all.

Shopgirl said...

I agree with a lot of the comments regarding romance fiction. I too have been frustrated with perfect heroes and heroines and predictable plots. I do still read it, however, and I think it's like comfort food. Sometimes you just want a story that you're pretty sure will end happy, especially if you're having a bad or stressful day. I like to mix it up a lot more now and take turns reading historical, suspense, romance, supernatural, etc. BK-have you read any Lynn Austin? I've read a couple so far, the latest being Though waters roar. About three generations of women from about 1860 to 1930. Has a bit of romance in it, but not the focus. Writing's very good. Also Cathy Gohlke-Promise me this-1912-1920s- was interesting. I have reviews of both here: Francine Rivers' series Mark of the Lion is amazing! There is some romance in there, but not focus at all and not predictable! 1st century Rome and a lot about gladiators. It's epic. Liked Sin Eater also. I've read a couple of her contemporary books too and they're great. Some romance I've liked are Hawk and the Jewel, As time goes by, sophie's heart, and pretense (much more than a romance) by Lori Wick. I like a lot of her romance books but I think these are the standouts for interesting characters and plot. Perfecting Kate by Tamara Leigh was great too-definitely not a perfect heroine! I found the Lauren Holbrook series by Erynn Mangum hilarious and Camy Tang's Sushi series brings in Chinese culture and interesting characters and story lines. Widow of Saunders Creek by Tracy Bateman is a supernatural, grief & romance in one. For non-romance contemporary, Demon by Tosca Lee and Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins are two I read lately. Also have you read Safely Home by Randy alcorn-opens your eyes to persecution of the Chinese church and Gold Medallion Book
Award winner. I reviewed these last four also. I also like Angela Hunt; she has some romance and some not.

S. F. Foxfire said...

Wow, loads of comments now. Let's see if anyone reads mine. (Bahaha)

My views on romance . . . I like it to be unexpected, gritty, real, and even heart-shatteringly painful. Because that what love is. Love isn't fluff and kittens and unicorns, and I hate it when the plots of romance books are. Bah! To hey-ho with fluff! Let's get gritty! Let's be unexpected, and even heart shattering! I want to be punched in the face! Every time I pick up a romance novel I DARE it to punch me in the face, and so far that hasn't happened. Well . . . anyway.

That's what I think.

Patti Hill said...

Henrietta: I always enjoy your comments. There are elements of romance/new love in all of my books, but they're not typical and not always successful in that the guy and gal don't end up together. We miss so much about the grit and drama of life, the beauty of life, if we don't look at all redemptive relationships. Stepping down from soap box.

Pamela: Congratulations on your debut novel. I'm heartened that your story found a home. I hope a gazillion people buy and read it.

Veronica: Wow, you've done a great job rounding out our reading list. Thanks so much. I'm so glad you mentioned Lynn Austin and Francine Rivers latest series. Oh boy, I better go do some reading.

BK said...

Veronica, thanks for the recs. Thanks to all for your historical recs today. I feel like I've hit the jackpot and will start working my way through the list one by one.

I'm aching to read something that wows me.

Patti Hill said...

S.F.: Ha! I'm still reading comments. I keep thinking of a Sandra Dallas book I read several years back. It's the story of a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law who are left behind, together, when the men go off to the Civil War. These two women must learn to love one another. One of them accidentally chops her foot off. The point is, life scars us all. I like to read stories where the unthinkable has happened and the characters experience redemption. That's what's hopeful to me.

Patti Hill said...

OOPS! That Sandra Dallas book is April's Tulips. My favorite of hers is The Persian Pickle Club.

Bonnie Grove said...

Tell you what, I'd rather be punched in the face then have my leg cut off.

Just saying.

Rebecca Olson said...

One of the reasons I am most likely to pull a romance off the shelf rather than a meatier piece of fiction is when my personal responsibilities won't let me check out from the world for 8 straight hours to finish a book. With predictable, fluff-read romance novels/novellas, I can feed my need to read while watching my kid at the park or while stirring food on the stove or waiting for my husband to get home for dinner. I know it's not great literature, and usually I get frustrated with the book on one level or another, but I put up with the non-literary nature of the story just for the joy of story in general. And yes, when I have the time to read a book that I am not as embarrassed to carry around I am so much more satisfied, but those days are rare.

Cherry Odelberg said...

Good heavens! I go to work for one day and when I come home there are 46 comments on Novel Matters! This must be a popular subject.
Patti, please explain non-genre. The last writer's conference I attended, I was counseled that I MUST choose a genre and that I couldn't make up one of my own (relational fiction) because there was already too much splintering going on. Did I write women's fiction or not? Of course not. I don't want to be limited to chick lit. or peabrain writing.
I am inclined to agree with Joy Eggerich - and you- not as injurious as porn, but not helpful either. In fact, I have a conspiracy theory: Christian women's romance is a device to keep us in chains believing in the guarantees of legalism.

Lynn Dean said...

I concur 200%--100 with you and 100 with Joy Eggerich. I absolutely think that movies and romance novels have preconditioned many women to be dissatisfied with real men. One dearly-loved-and-always-single lady in my life mourns, "All I ever wanted was the fairy tale..." She waited for that perfect soulmate and dismissed several honest, decent fellows because they were not "(fill in the blank)" enough. Now she feels disappointed by love, by men, and by God. Breaks my heart!
1) Hello...fairytale = FICTION!
2) Romance must never be "all we ever wanted"

I write historical fiction with a romantic (or maybe I should say "relational") thread. My stories include love because love is part of life, but only part. Romance will never be what my stories are "about" because the fulfillment of all our personal romantic fantasies is not what life is all "about". Life and eternity are so much bigger. God is deeper.

I believe women are also deeper. One editor advised me not to make my stories too complex or challenging. She said, "Women just want something sweet to read in bed as they wind down from a long day." Okay, sometimes that is what I want. But my time is limited. If I invest time in a book, I'd like the take away something that makes me more than I was before.

And (just being opinionated here) Polly Perfect heroes and heroines really annoy me. There's a reason "average" is average. Most of us are not perfectly proportioned with violet eyes and pert little noses. We'd like to be loved for who we are, not what we look like. So is there a chance that perfect heroines support the myth that only beautiful women "deserve" to be loved wonderfully? My heroes are men who see more than the world sees.

That said, I love books by Francine Rivers and Brock and Bodie Thoene. History, romance, and spiritual depth. Their stories illustrate God's romance with His people. If I can write like that when I grow up, I might yet produce a Christian romance story.

Patti Hill said...

Rebecca: With your reading style--eight straight hours!--a romance may be the safest alternative. I schedule an hour of great reading each day. I consider my reading exercise to develop me, not into a bikini-clad super model (ha!), but a stronger writer. I also go to bed early and read until I fall asleep. That gives me a couple hours.

Cherry: That will teach you to go to work! Glad you could join us afterward, though. Non-genre is writing outside the prescribed genres. That would include most literary fiction and women's fiction, usually contemporary. There are elements of other genres, but they are a thread and not the main event. Here are some samples: The Poisonwood Bible, The Secret Life of Bees, and Peace Like a River, just to name a few. They're good, riveting stories.

If you are interesting in actually selling the books you write in the CBA, the advice to write within a genre is excellent advice. And you should be proud of writing excellent stories within a genre. It's never easy to write a good story.

Lynn: Yowza! All I can say is AMEN, sister!

Megan Sayer said...

I have nothing intelligent to add to this conversation, other than it's been fascinating reading everyone else's thoughts. I just wanted to be the 50th comment!
You guys ROCK! : )

Megan Sayer said...

(Oh look, I get to be 51 as well!)
I was thinking of this post late last night after a conversation with a friend. We were both putting feelers out about something, an idea that's close to both of our hearts, but something so deep we both felt protective, and vulnerable. We arranged a time to get together - at a coffee shop, just to talk, see how it goes. Turns out we were both so nervous, it felt like arranging a first date, when in reality we're old, honest friends talking about getting together to pray some time.
Funny, eh?
But it made me realise that it's the same feeling as new love: I-want-this-but-I'm-scared-of...And then it occurred to me that the book I'm working on at the moment has that same feeling - but instead of new romance it's a couple who have been married so long they've ceased to remember who the other person is (no it's NOT based on personal experience!).
Both of those thoughts combined, and the image of Julia Roberts in "Notting Hill" standing with Hugh Grant and saying "I'm just a girl, standing with a boy, and asking him to love her". I don't think romance is about romance after all - I think it's about vulnerability and finding a place where we can share our heart with someone. That's a common thread through so much of life, and story. But we confuse that with romance novels...or sometimes with sex.
Well. That's a slightly nebulous and unresolved thought, but I'm not sure who's reading this far down anyway, so I thought I'd just say it. Thank you!! : )

Kathleen Popa said...

Wow, I've been away from the computer a couple days, and look at all this! I almost missed the party!

Okay, look here:

Boy meets girl.
Both know immediately they are meant for each other.
But he's been hurt, and she's seen too much of real life to trust her feelings.
They struggle with their fears. They almost don't make it.
But in the end, love gives them courage.
They take the leap.

That's my real-life story, and yours is probably something like it. I don't know if it's true that every happy family is happy in the same way, but I do think falling in love looks like falling in love.

That said, I dearly love You've Got Mail, and I'm always up for a romantic movie. So why (with notable exceptions - like The Painted Veil) don't I read romance novels? Because a movie takes an hour and a half, and that's about enough time for that stuff.

One more thing:

My husband tells me the va-va-voom in espionage books ALWAYS has green eyes. Which makes green-eyed me strangely happy.

Did Henrietta say we take our clothes off here? (We must be more careful!)

And God can hijack this blog anytime. Dina and Susie, you made my day.

Marcia said...

I just got done reading Sharon Souza's Unraveled and thought it had a wonderful, sparkling brand of romance. It was realistic and understated; while not the main course, it definitely added to the tension and depth of the story. Fantastic job, Sharon!

Also among my favorites: Catherine Cookson's books and the movies inspired by them. These depict realistic romance, where love is stretched to the limit and submitted to bone-crunching pressure. While her writing doesn't have Christian themes, it has an honesty and an integrity which I appreciate. The ones I've read or watched have turned out well, which is satisfying, but you're half dead with heartbreak by the time you get to the end.

It occurred to me that romance is kind of like happiness-- if you focus on either as the main course in life, you come up strangely empty. But both are satisfying as by-products which happen on the way to the greater goals God has for us.

I think what some Christian women (who read a steady diet of Christian Romance) miss is that the real HERO their heart longs for is Christ. Only He can satisfy those bottomless cravings for love, acceptance and recognition. To hail any man--fictional or real--as a being who can ultimately satisfy them is idolatry.

This is something I had to learn, both in the reading of fiction and in reality, where I tried to put my husband on too high of a pedestal!

Great discussion.

Lynn Dean said...

Ooo...just gotta say, Marcia, I love a couple of your lines. I may steal the bit about life stretching love to the limits, but what you said about romance being kind of like happiness--sage prose! I need to write that down and stick it in my Bible.

As you say, the real hero our heart longs for is Christ. That's just gold. Pure gold. Thank you for putting it so beautifully.

Marcia said...

Hi, Lynn, I don't know if you'll come back to read this, but thanks so much! You lifted me up from a down day.

Dina Sleiman said...

You ladies asked for an update when my historical romance released. "Love in Three-Quarter Time" with Zondervan. It's available in ebook formats. Only $3.99.

Not surprisingly, the reviews are already mentioning that it goes beyond the normal romance. Hopefully that won't hurt it with the romance crowd. I'd love to hear what you ladies think.