Years ago, I taught a class at a Romance Writers Conference in Kentucky. I asked a group of about 25 women, "What do you think Christian women want to read in fiction?"
The answers were all over the board.
But what surprised me was most agreed Christians do not necessarily opt for Christian literature each time they walk into Barnes & Noble, or log on to Amazon. Unbeknownst to their pastors, they want a good story first. It must move them in some way. Heart wrenching, painful, shocking, gritty -- romance should encompass all of these and more. And here's the best part: the industry is finally discovering that women (Christian or not) are now demanding it.
In fact, one woman in my class expressed herself in such a way that it hit me hard. Enough to write down some of it. She said, "Christan romance has quite possibly been developed to hold women captive within the boundaries of legalism." I recently read something like this on a recent blog post, which stimulated my need to write about it again.
The big publishing houses no longer have control over what is being written, published, and read by thousands. Formula romance, though beloved by many over the years, is suddenly being squeezed out by real, redemptive romance. Romance that includes suspense and the paranormal. Or mystery and murder. Crossing genres, romance is often woven through many of today's great novels.
In Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, for example. The romance between Jamie and Claire is some of the best I've ever read. But no one can deny the sheer suspense of time travel in and of itself. You can't read the series without knowing a little more about Scotland and its history. I've read Outlander more than once, and I can tell you I'm glued to every bit of its 627 pages.
I want to see writers put their characters under mind-blowing pressure. And then I want the writer to make their worst nightmare -- worse. Stretch the characters to the limit and then bring them back. Real love is like that. It doesn't have to involve a Christian message or even erotica. Just kill us with tears, gasps, and sighs by the time we get to the last chapter.
A gripping love story, one that readers will remember, includes great sacrifice, incredible courage, and breaks the bonds of the selfish. If it includes sex, it's not only well written, it's full of emotion and yearning. Any novel where the writer labors over the romance, making it come alive, will captivate a reader.
Christians are not looking to have their ears tickled anymore. They're not bound by the church as to what they read. With conviction, they may steer away from the "shades of grey" but they're not afraid to tackle the reality of romance.
If you're a Christian who writes, as I am, don't hold back. Write your heart. You may be surprised where it takes you.
Blessings to you and yours.