Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's the Word?

Christian, or Inspirational Romance as it's generally known, is one of the fastest-growing subgenres of romance today. And I'm really quite fond of em.

Yes, yes, I've told you my favorite romances are hot and lusty, and generally revolve around a big ol alpha male and some medieval armament.

But I'm here to tell you that Christian romance today is more than just a bad boy, a good girl, and a heaven-sent Altar Call. Writers like Tamera Alexander and Deeanne Gist explore human sexuality and practical morality in ways that don't preach or proselytize. Rather, they celebrate the joy of the many facets of love between men and women, husband and wife.

Why or why isn't Christian romance relevant within the romance genre?
Do you read it? Write it? Why?
Update!!! Tamera's just reported that "Rekindled" has sold out of it's 2nd printing and is going into a third. (Hope I'm not telling tales out o school, Tamera.). Way to go! Look for my feature of "Rekindled" soon on Romance: B(u)y the Book.
Encore! Thank you Emma Holly for sharing with us everything Jack in yesterday's guestblog. We hope "All U Can Eat" is the hit it deserves to be.


Julie in Ohio said...

This is Julie coming out from under her rock again... I didn't know there was such a thing as Christian Romance.

I would be interested in reading it. Thanks, Michelle, for the heads up.

Valeen said...

I have to say its never been a sub-genre I've been interested in.

I've heard many people say wonderful things about this group but I've always tended to steer clear of them.

As much of a stereotype as it may be, I'd always assumed there would be preaching in them and it just wasn't what I was interested in reading.

Deeanne Gist said...

Christian romance has come a long way. I've been a Christian since I was a wee little girl, but I never read Christian romance. I had assumed the same thing you did, Valeen.

But what I've discovered is that Christian novels of all genres are simply about people overcoming adversity. In *Bride* my characters are Christian before the book ever starts. So there is no big evangelical message. No "lost" person being saved. No preaching. It's a story. Simple as that.

Now, please don't misunderstand. There is a *huge* market for evangelical fiction and lots of readers love it and lots of authors write it. I think that is wonderful and I'm all for it. It just doesn't happen to be my personal first choice.

I have seen *Bride* on both the Inspirational shelves and the mainstream romance shelves. It's one of those books that can fit just fine on either one.

Tamera Alexander said...

Thanks so much for plugging Rekindled, Michelle. I appreciate it!

Inspirational fiction, and the romance genre in particular, is experiencing tremendous growth right now. People who haven't tried it before are taking the chance (and I also understand the hesitation you mentioned, Valeen) and are discovering deeply evocative stories with characters that are FAR from perfect, and circumstances they can identify with. They're discovering real life stories that are threaded with hope and a subtle message of faith that grows out of the lessons the characters learn, the struggles they endure.

If you haven't tried Inspirational romance recently, or at all, I would encourage you to pick one up. Not just because it's what I write, honestly *wink*, but because I truly think you'll discover yet another genre of stories and characters that will snatch you away to that "other world" that we all love to venture to when we read.

And when you turn that final page, chances are really good that your hope and faith will have been renewed along the way. But with nary a pulpit in sight. *grin*

Monica Burns said...

I'm under the impression that Christian/Inspirational romance is a lot like the Christy books that were popular a number of years back.

It's been a while since I've read something in this genre, but I've always been struck by the fact that it's as Tammy points out, stories about people trying to overcome obstacles just like the rest of us and how their faith interacts in the face of their adversity.

I've never gotten the impression that these romances preached anything. In fact, I've read some blurbs that were really interesting and had me thinking the story would be really good.

There are a lot of people whose spirituality plays an important part in their life, and writing about it highlights the choices the characters make based on their faith. THAT can provide some major conflict in a story when you think about it. Nothing's more powerful than faith and the motivation of a character.

Unfortunately, since I spend most of my time writing and researching (aside from playing here at my fav hangout on the net), I don't get to do much pleasure reading, inspirational, erotic, contemp, whatever. It's really frustrating, because reading is such a great pleasure for me. I mean I have four books going now, that I pickup here and there as the time permits. I don't get to sit down and just read. *sigh* One of them I've been going back to for more than a year now! GRRR

BTW Deeanne, I love your cover!

Monica <---who needs an extra 24 hours every day

Julie in Ohio said...

The biggest reason I read romance is for the happy feeling it gives me at the end. The feeling that all is right with the world.

I have to say that I'm intrigued by this sub-genre. I had never heard of it but I will be checking it out.

Is there a list of all of the sub-genres out there? I have learned about so many different kinds of romances out there that I never knew existed by this and other blogs. I thought I was being adventurous by going from regencies to paranormals.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

First -- if you haven't tried Chr/insp romance, I recommend starting with these two historicals set in very interesting periods of our nation's history.

Now, I know there are lots of you lurking around today, and I sure am glad of it. Actually am every day. But it's really cool that you're writing in about a sub-genre many readers don't know exists. So, the terrible joke goes something like:

Q:What's Christian Romance?
A:An oxymoron.

But I don't think any of us who love it can afford to be condescending about sub-g's we don't like or understand.

That's why I'm so jazzed that you're interested and open-minded--and why I'm so glad we've got some really thoughtful readers here at RBtheB. You set the tone.

It's very cool that you've stopped by today Deeanne and Tamera. No one speaks more eloquently re the subject of Insp romance than you writers; we're lucky to be learning from you.

Tell us about your readers/fans. Are they like me and most of the Bellas here -- chicks who dig all types of romance? Or are they Christians looking for representations of their values and moral quests w/in the romance construct?

I appreciate your honesty, Valeen. It's important for everyone here that we talk about likes and dislikes in a positive manner. And, like you, JulieO, I sometimes don't want to believe there's anything other than Regency; I love it so much.

Monica, you more than the rest of us, maybe, face some of the same type of marginalization Christian romance writers and their sub-g do. You also must be brave to write erotic romance. Yet here you are supporting fellow writers rather than criticizing.

Tamera Alexander said...

Monica wrote: Nothing's more powerful than faith and the motivation of a character.

I so agree, Monica, and having faith is something we can all relate to. We might believe in different things, but we can all relate to that aspect of struggling and growing spiritually. I write from a Christian worldview, and that core belief/motivation influences my writing, my characters, their struggles, how they react, etc... and I find that balance of "what I should do" versus "what I want to do" captivating. Especially when you mix in desire, revenge, greed, remorse, fear.

When I read a romance (or any genre for that matter), I want to be moved. Moved emotionally. Moved romantically. Moved in my faith. I want to feel what the characters are experiencing, both the good and the bad. When I close a book, I want to be changed from having read that story. I think we all want that from a book.

Rekindled is a "married romance". Another oxymoron, you say? Not at all. ;)

What better way to explore romance and the depth of it, than in the institution of marriage. In this day of "disposable" relationships, I was drawn in by the question of whether two people who seemingly know one another so well could actually "fall in love" with each other again, given the chance.

You asked about our readers/fans, Michelle. Rekindled has only been out for a couple of months but the cross section of reader mail that I've received has been surprising. Almost half of the letters have been from men (shocker!), and quite a few of those men are reading the book with their wives, which I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!! Because Rekindled explores the differences in how men and women "love" and how we interpret (and misinterpret) one another.

You know...the stuff of romance. ;)

Unknown said...

I've read Deeanne's book and Tammy's is on my TBR list. Inspirational romance fiction has come along way in its relatively short history. Now more than ever there is a great breadth in the type of stories, from sweet to steamy to suspense.

I'm an RWA member and tend to enjoy a wide variety of genres of romance, as well as literature in general, and find that inspirationals fit on my shelves next to Suzanne Brockmann, Debbie Macomber and other romance faves.

And I agree with Monica. I want more hours in my day to read too :)

Deeanne Gist said...

I'm right there with you, Julie. I'm way into the Happily Ever After--but to truly appreciate it, I want to have to fight for it (in the novels I read, anyway).

What a great bunch of gals you've got here, Michelle. So diverse and willing to experiment.

As to your question: My readers are overwhelmingly female. Many are faithful inspy readers. Many are faithful general-market romance readers. I get handwritten letters from grannies and emails with no puncuation from teens--with everything in between.

I heard from a Bible translator in Peru who thought it was fabulous and a mother who threw it in the trash because she didn't think it was appropriate for her household. (I'd say 98% of the mail is encouraging, though.)

So, when marketing asks, I say my readers are females between the ages of 16 and 90. Then they say, "Can you, maybe, narrow that down a little?"

So I think about it, then say, "Well, not really."

Blessings! Deeanne

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

LOL, Deeanne. Everyone has a saturation point at which they become uncomfortable with sensual or even spiritual content. I haven't found mine for either, but that's kind of my job. I've got to read it all clinically or I wouldn't consider myself ethical.

Many people trash romance novels as immoral. I find that they generally strive toward healthy sexuality, commitment, monagomy, and showcase positive aspects of relationship building, family, self-determination,the list goes on. Of course, morality is in the eye of the beholder, as you show in the reader who threw your book in the trash.

Is she wrong? No. I think she has the same right to what she thinks is appropriate for her as does the reader of erotic romance, or even erotica.

Do I agree with her judgement? No. I would gladly give my teenage daughter a copy of your novel as a way to help answer some mysteries about sexuality in general and as it relates to personal faith. She could also learn about different choices men and women make based on their experiences.

Meg said...

I'm one of Deeanne's fans, but I don't know if I'm a "typical" reader of Christian romance. I enjoy the secular variety, too, especially some titles by Jennifer Crusie and Helen Fielding, to name a couple.

I shy away from anything that's preachy or too sweet to be believed, so I loved the honesty and realism of Deeanne's "Bride." It's not yesteryear's prairie romance, and I'll bet Tammy's won't be, either. That's another one I'm looking forward to reading.

Thanks for highlighting these books, Michelle.

Manda Collins said...

Late to the party today, ladies. While I haven't read any inspirationals I am intrigued by today's discussion. I will definitely add both Deeann's and Tammy's books to the TBR file.

I must admit that I had misconceptions about the subgenre, but then I've just in the last five years or so branched out of Regency and Regency historicals. So I hadn't really explored many other subgenres at all.

As for the reader trashing Deeanne's book, I agree with Michelle. It's in the eye of the beholder. One thing I think reviewers like Michelle do that is invaluable to readers is the sensuality ratings. Of course these aren't consulted by everyone, but doing your research before you buy does prevent those angry surprised moments. Reading is a very strange thing that way. Expectation, especially with romance novels, plays such an important role in the way a reader reacts to the novel. If I'm reading what I expect to be a sweet novel and it turns out to be NC-17, then my expectations are thwarted and the surprise isn't a good one. Not sure why that is, but it does happen.

That's the end of my longwinded analysis for today! Thanks, Michelle for provking me to thought...again!

Tamera Alexander said...

Mandacoll got it right: Expectation, especially with romance novels, plays such an important role in the way a reader reacts to the novel.

So true, Mandacoll. I appreciate the frankness with which Michelle reviews books on her site, and how she gets to the heart of things. Not mincing words, and doing it with such fun and flair! ;)

Rekindled was given a 6 out of 10 on sensuality from one reviewer. A 5 out of 10 by another. And a 2 out of 10 by another. Go figure. I've only had one woman so far who said she was surprised by the 'romantic element' of two of the scenes in the book. She said she had to finish reading it (LOL, which I appreciated that!) but that the sensuality between the couple was surprising to her. Again, a subjective thing to a large extent.

And my readers are mostly women as well. So far, the youngest I've heard from is 13. The oldest is 92, bless her heart. She wrote and asked when Revealed (book 2) is out. I told her this fall and she replied, "I hope I'm still alive by then, I'd like to read that one." LOL! Think I'll try and get her an ARC. ;)

Michelle, thanks for prompting this discussion today. I've got several books from your site in my TBR stack and will be watching for more.

All best,

Manda Collins said...

LOL, Tammy! I guess that must put some pressure on getting the next book finished when a fan wonders if she'll still be alive when it comes out!

Right about the sensuality being subjective. I guess one gal's G is another gal's R.

Stacy~ said...

Another great topic! I do believe Christian, or inspirational romances are just as valid as any of the other sub-genres out there. I may not read inspirational romances, mostly because I was always under the belief that they are more sweet, and I prefer at least a sensual romance, but that doesn't mean I never will. As boundaries loosen and sub-genres inter-mingle more and more, I see a great future for inspirational romances.

This brings to mind author Lucy Monroe. She has a very strong faith, though you don't really see it in her books, and she writes very hot, sexy, emotional romances. She'll tell you herself that the sexual side of a relationship is very important because it's a sharing of yourself with your partner and it's something God gave us the ability to enjoy - I totally agree. The bedroom door shouldn't close just because it's a story with Christian connotations. I find the idea of a really sexy inpirational romance intriguing, and would love to read a story like that. If anyone knows of any, please let me know. Who says an inspirational story can only be sweet or that an erotic romance only features aetheists/agnostics? I don't believe we should or need to keep the two separate. As a reader, I don't like the idea of any limitations other than what I impose on myself. Let me decide.

Deeanne Gist said...

LOL, Tammy on your senior-reader! That is just too great.

I so agree with y'all about readers expectations and saturation points. I wasn't at all upset that my reader discarded the book. I totally respected what she was saying. What's the point of having the Spirit within you if you don't pay attention when it convicts you!

I love the way mandacoll puts it: "One gal's G is another gal's R." Amen to that!

I haven't read any of Lucy Monroe's books, Stacy, but I do know that God created sex and wired us to enjoy it. He also has placed some expectations on us in regards to said topic. Sometimes, though, we Christians fall short of that mark. I think it's important to acknowledge that with the characters in our fiction. And then show what our characters do as a result.

Do they figure since they've already crossed the line, they might as well dive deep into it? Or do they repent and backtrack? Well ... that would all depend on the character now, wouldn't it?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

You go, Bellas! Isn't this so much more fun than making fun of cover models?

I really appreciate the discourse you got going on this topic. And I'm giggling over the varied sensuality ratings Tamera talked about. I have a chart that's different from the one you see on the sites. It's got body parts and all kinds of unseemly stuff, but it keeps my rating a little scientific.

However, I'd be hard-pressed to give Rekindled more than a 2.0. And I have friends who think my ratings are conservative!

Meg, welcome. Glad you're here, and I agree with you about the realism of Deeanne's books. Same with Tamera's. I also like that both of them leave me wishing I knew more about the sensuality the couple shared without making me feel cheated; any more would not be authentic to their writing.

Manda: feel free to give us a long-winded analysis any time. :) Appreciate your checking in late.

Stace: Wild that you're thinking of Lucy. yes. we all make our choices in faith, and in what we think God's ok with. I was just writing my Nathan Kamp interview and came across a portion where we were discussing how we qualify the fields we work in with what we believe...

Thanks for stopping in tonite, everyone, and thanks to Tamera and Deeanne for stopping by so often. This will be just a first in future discussions about this fascinating sub-genre.

Buona sera, Bellas!

Camy Tang said...

Hi everybody! Tammy's email sent me here and this is such a great discussion! Congrats, Tammy on going into 3rd printing!

I have to admit I didn't read Inspirational Romance for a long time because I thought it was too sweet. But a few years ago, the Christian publishers have been pushing the envelope with great fiction like Tammy and Deeanne's.

There's so many terrific love stories now between people who are real--who aren't perfect, whose faith influences their actions, but where the "religion" isn't some big stick beating the reader over the head.

I still read all sensuality levels, but I'm so pleased with the kinds of stories available now under the sub-genre of Inspirational Romance.


Michele said...

Oh, I simply have to put in my two cents worth.
I too am new in knowing about Inspirational Romance. My first exposure came last month when I was asked to be a stop on a Blog Tour someone was putting together for Colleen Coble. I said "Sure, why not?" although I'd never done such a thing before... you know, asking interview questions?
I learned a lot.
I learned that there's more to Christian/Inspirational romances that their genre title lends you to believe. If Colleen's work is any judge, it's not a wonder it - as well as Erotica/Romantica - are the two hottest selling areas at Barnes & Noble.
They are both touching and reaching a need we all have. As there are four seasons to a year - in most places anyway - so too our moods for reading choices. I think it is wonderful to have such variety. Don't you?

Julie in Ohio said...

I am totally blown away by this discussion. I have checked in periodically through the day and am convinced that I would love this sub-genre.
I still adore the historicals and paranormals and such but I am intrigued by "Rekindled". It sounds so different from anything I have ever read. For starters, the couple is already married. I think this is a wonderful subject.
I have been married for 10 years and have fallen into the comfortable trap (which is great), but I have often wondered if we could fall in love all over again.

Thank you for the lively discussion on what could have been a rather preachy one. It was great.

Monica Burns said...

Wow! I'm sorry I didn't get to come back here yesterday to read and play with the Bellas! What a terrific discussion this is. (I'm supposed to be working here at the day job, but I want to play here!)

I love romance, it doesn't matter what sub-genre as long as it ends with a HEA. The degrees of heat vary with my mood too. I just reread an old Jane Aiken Hodge a couple of weeks ago (boy I'm dating myself here! LOL). The total amount of intimacy were two chaste kisses in the entire book, but it was a FANTASTIC story and a wonderful, fulfilling read. I read it in high school, and it still held up all these years later!

That's what's important for me as a writer and a reader. THE STORY. The characters and their personal story are first and foremost in their importance. How the characters play out their romantic dance depends on the sub-genre.

For me, writing in the Erotic Romance genre, I get all kinds of generalizations and responses from people. Michelle mentioned marginalization, and I guess I have that, but I don't worry about it because it's different strokes for different folks. For those who treat me with condescension, I simply smile and remind myself of Newton's 2nd law of motion. Whatever you send out comes back in direct proportion to the force with which you deliver it. (And for some people they're gonna see a sledgehammer coming at them at light speed! ROTFL)

I think if a writer listened to all the nay sayers about their particular genre (in our case "Romance") or sub-genre (take your pick here) the writer would find it difficult to write what they love. And when a writer writes what they love, that love is reflected in their stories. The writing is on fire, and THAT's when you create a GREAT book, no matter what the sub-genre.

Having been married 20yrs this June, I love the idea of Rekindled! And Deeanne's cover is too enticing NOT to buy it! I can see now that I have no choice but to buy these two books because I'm totally intrigued.

Monica<--feeling far from brave as her agent submits her latest to NY

Tricia Goyer said...

As another writer of Christian romance, (although mine can also be called historical with a thread of romance) I've enjoyed this discussion.

Personally, I plot everything for my books, except the spiritual thread. For me, that "happens" as the people grow and change. And I'm usually surprised by the conflicts that arise.

There are no easy answers when it comes to "faith" and I like to explore the questions in my novels. Questions that sometimes go unanswered.

Tamera Alexander said...

Julie and Monica, I'm coming in late on this, but just read your last posts. Thanks so much for giving Rekindled a try. I'd love to hear your thoughts once you're done.

And thanks again, Michelle, for all you do to promote reading in the beloved romance genre. Something we definitely all have in common. ;)

Blessings in abundance,


Tiffany Amber Stockton said...

I wish I could've stopped in here yesterday when Tammy's email directed me to this blog. What a great place. Never heard about it before today but now have it bookmarked.

As an inspy romance writer myself, I love to hear of other romance lovers who have recently discovered this subgenre and are willing to give it a try. My own interest are so eclectic, but I draw the line at anything that gets too graphic. For me, it's because I would rather use my imagination than have it spelled out in black and white in front of me. *g*

But Stacy made a great comment: "I may not read inspirational romances, mostly because I was always under the belief that they are more sweet, and I prefer at least a sensual romance, but that doesn't mean I never will."

Actually, it wasn't until recent years that this sub genre WAS all sweet and sappy. It appealed to a very specific group of readers and publishers were hesitant to branch out. But then books like Francine River's REDEEMING LOVE (one of the BEST love stories out there) hit the shelves and scandalized so many...as well as made that many more beg for the next book, seeking out others like that one.

As a Christian since I was a child, and one who has loved romance just about as long, when I got into fiction, I found myself looking for books that portrayed the characters in a more realistic manner. I didn't want to read about characters who had it all together and only encountered minimal challenges. I wanted to know they were real just like me. That they faced temptations the same way I do...at odds with their faith at times and making mistakes but knowing they could still go on. Faith brings in a whole other element to the conflict and you can explore that many more areas in a different way by introducing it to the story.

Today, inspy fiction is growing by leaps and bounds. And it's exciting. And yes, I've read both "Bride" and "Rekindled" and absolutely love them both. Tammy and I even joke about how my pushing her book, to all the fiction lovers who walk into the bookstore where I work, is the reason for her 3rd printing. LOL! Bless your heart, Tammy.

And Deanne? One of the best historicals I've read since "Redeeming." Looking forward to books #2 from both of you.