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?”
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.
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.