A Matter of Taste

I always enjoy reading comments on our blog posts. Recently a reader posted a provocative question:

In this time of great emotional upheaval, instability, and unrest, aren’t we ready for something more solid and inspiring than just different types of romance novels?

Those of you familiar with my career know that I am the author of many romance novels and stories — and Bible trivia books!

And while I represent a variety of authors in fiction and nonfiction, my list is weighted heavily to romantic stories. I do realize that not everyone has the same taste — nor should we. God has created each of as unique, and CBA offers a variety of books to accommodate all readers. Please see the twentieth entry in the comments section of my post, Study the Market, for my unscientific suggestions for those looking for limited or no romance in novels.

History Repeats Itself

As to whether readers are ready for heavier books during hard economic times, I would say that economic times themselves have little or no bearing on popular tastes. Because people always have been and always will be unique, in perpetuity you will find a segment looking to escape their problems and another segment looking to confront them in entertainment. Today’s tough economy is likened to the Great Depression. This decade brought us the complicated life and romances of Scarlett O’Hara  in the 1936 book release, Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, which led to the 1939 movie starring a king of Hollywood, Clark Gable. This decade also brought us the 1939 release of a gritty and hardscrabble The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, followed by the 1940 film, when the country had not yet recovered and was on the brink of war.

The Good Ship Lollipop

In the meantime, my grandmother, whom I called Precious, was watching Shirley Temple  films, lighthearted and heartwarming stories that are still run on TV from time to time and can be bought in a variety of volumes on DVD.  Shirley was so popular that Precious owned, among other trivia, a water pitcher and drinking glass set bearing Shirley’s image. Escapism? Yes. Popular? Wildly. Oh, and my other grandmother watched her “stories” on TV from 12:30 to 4 PM every week day — diversions popular through prosperity, inflation, stagflation, detente, and other such worldly cares.

Variety in Entertainment

Because I don’t want this post to lapse into a burdensome tome overstating a point, suffice it to say, a study of entertainment history shows a consistent pattern of musicals and anti-war plus pro-war films in time of war and silliness alongside consciousness-raising books in times of unrest. Some authors want to address society’s problems — and we will always have problems, though immediate concerns will vary. Those blessed enough to find an outlet and an audience for the important points they want to make may well change society, or at least make people think. But those books and films are likely to attract a different audience than lighthearted stories. There is plenty of room for both.

The Importance of Romance

And please don’t discount romantic stories and genre romance as fluff in the Christian Market. Read one or more of these books and think about the stories. The ones I have written, read, and represent have an underlying spiritual thread and message. In fact, the spiritual arc is one of the proposal points I ask my novelists to include in their proposals. The difference here is, our  romance authors are writing the love story as the focus but intertwine spiritual truths. They are not looking to offer a sermon, then the romance. Those who dismiss romance novels and romantic stories should reconsider. God is great, and He can and does use romantic stories to change lives. My authors have the fan letters to prove it.

Your turn:

What is your favorite romance or romantic story you have read in the Christian market? What books do you recommend in other categories?

 

 

 

25 Responses to A Matter of Taste

  1. Timothy Fish November 3, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Nice argument, but I think it missed the mark. The people who are tired of seeing so many romance novels in the Christian fiction market don’t really care whether some romances or even all romances have substance to them. What bothers them is that they are having trouble finding the books they want to read or they fear the publishers are ignoring the books they are writing because it isn’t a romance.

    I have read Christian romance novels. Most recently, I read Denise Hunter’s A Cowboy’s Touch. She sent me a signed copy, so I read it. It was actually very good. But I don’t normally read romances because they deal with certain aspects of life that I’m better off not thinking too much about. How deep they go or don’t go with regards to other topics is immaterial because I find them difficult to read.

    • Steve Laube November 3, 2011 at 7:56 am #

      Actually Tim you kinda sorta made the point even clearer. Tamela is saying that it is a matter of taste when it comes to any kind of fiction, not just romance. And you said at the end that you “don’t normally read romances.” And thus it is a personal choice.

      • Timothy Fish November 3, 2011 at 9:00 am #

        Then maybe I didn’t make my own point clear enough. To the person who asked for something “more solid and inspiring” than romance, Tamela seems to be saying, “don’t count romance out just yet.” To me, that isn’t the right answer. I don’t think the plea for something “more solid and inspiring” comes from lack of knowledge.

  2. Tamela Hancock Murray November 3, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    Timothy, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I addressed that concern in the comments section of a recent post, Study the Market. Here is an edited version of the response, which I don’t consider complete by any means:

    A study of Christian novels available today shows a variety of works. For example, a recent reprint is available from Thomas Nelson of THE OATH by Frank Peretti, and if you will visit Amazon.com, please note that one reviewer says the book is not for all readers, particularly those who like “syrupy romance” so it sounds as though his writing would appeal to you. Also search for authors such as Tim LaHaye, Craig Parshall, and Jerry B. Jenkins. Once you start an internet search for these authors, the site’s recommendations should lead you to even more. I suggest you spend a half hour or so on Amazon, Crossings, or CBD, and if you’re looking to purchase, I think your cart will be full by the time you’re finished.

    Please visit the post to see the entire discussion: http://www.stevelaube.com/study-the-market/

    Otherwise, what categories do you consider missing in Christian fiction?

    Timothy, I appreciate the input, and discussion. :)

    • Timothy Fish November 3, 2011 at 10:16 am #

      That’s not an easy question to answer. I usually take the attitude that I’ll know it when I see it. I’ve seen a lot of stuff that wasn’t it.

      There’s a lot of space between pastel, “syrupy romance” and the brown and black, “demonic forces are going to kill us all tomorrow” writing of the four men you mentioned. Something in a nice forest green or a royal blue would be nice. I might even go for a nice purple, but not lavendar.

      I’m sure there must be a few examples of this in Christian fiction, but it seems to me that the weak area is stories that involve ordinary people facing believable challenges that cause them to rethink their core beliefs. In other words, we need more stories that look like that of Job, the three Hebrew children, or Joseph. For that matter, I wouldn’t mind a few stories like those of Samson, Jael, and Ehud. There really are other books in the Bible besides the Song of Solomon and Revelation.

      • Laura in Texas November 3, 2011 at 10:43 am #

        Angela Hunt has written a number of “stories that involve ordinary people facing believable challenges that cause them to rethink their core beliefs.” As has, of course, Francine Rivers. Those are two that come to mind immediately. I know there are others, but at the moment I don’t want to take the time to go look at my bookshelves (or on my Kindle) to come up with other names. As a woman who also happens to be an Ivy-League-educated lawyer, I love a good romance, but only if it’s well written and intelligent. Both Angela and Francine meet those criteria, whether or not the book in question has romance as its primary feature.

        Ted Dekker also comes to mind, for a less “woman-oriented” body of work.

      • Timothy Fish November 3, 2011 at 11:22 am #

        Laura in Texas,

        I have read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. It is very much aimed at women and on the pastel side. I don’t recall having read anything by Angela Hunt, but her books appear to be a nice rosey pink. Ted Dekker fits in the browns and blacks. (He co-writes with Tosca Lee, for crying out loud!)

      • Laura in Texas November 3, 2011 at 11:42 am #

        Hmm – it wouldn’t let me reply directly to your reply to my reply, so. . . .

        I guess I respectfully disagree with your analysis of Redeeming Love, but there’s room for lots of opinions. You might look at her And the Shofar Blew. As for Angela Hunt’s work, while I agree she’s written some “rosy” books, you might try The Immortal (2000), The Truth Teller (2006), The Debt (2004), The Pearl (2003), and The Justice (2002). All ostensibly aimed at the female market, yes, and with female protagonists, but all fit into the description of stories of ordinary people facing believable challenges that cause them to rethink their core beliefs. And, at least AS important to me, well written.

        On the other hand, if there’s nothing out there in the CBA market that suits your tastes, you can explore the many options in the ABA market for books that have a moral underpinning but aren’t expressly targeted to the Christian market. Or, of course, write the missing book yourself! :-)

      • Timothy Fish November 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

        Laura in Texas,

        It is always difficult to talk about someone’s favorite book because anything short of “this is the best book ever” looks like criticism, but maybe a little explanation won’t hurt. The reason I say it is aimed at women is because even though it is inspired by the story of Hosea, the main character is a woman who struggles with the love that her husband has shown her. Other than telling her he loves her, the man has very little of the action in the story. After she runs away, it isn’t until she works out her demons that she is able to return home and even then, it wasn’t her husband who brought her home from doing her social work but someone else.

        If you want a complete picture of my take on the story, you should read For the Love of a Devil, but my take on the story is that Hosea isn’t about Gomer, but about Hosea. It isn’t about Israel, but about God. What interested me was that was Hosea’s ability to take it when his wife abandoned him and the children (assumption on my part) for men she thought had more money. As a man, I want to think that if I love a woman she will stay with me, and yet here is this woman who by her own will gave up the good things in life for a life of slavery. I had to understand how that’s even possible, but more importantly, I wanted to explore what Hosea was going through when it happened. It’s one thing to rescue a woman from prostitution, but how many are willing to love a wife when she turns her back on him and the children for other men? How many will let her lovers take credit for the things he’s doing to take care of her? That’s the kind of man that I can only aspire to be.

      • Laura in Texas November 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

        Tim, I should have been more specific about my disagreement — I do agree that Redeeming Love is aimed at women, in part for the same reason you so clearly explained. I meant that I’m not sure I agree that it’s “pastel.” I also imagine that Francine would agree with your thought that Hosea is more about him than about Gomer. I can’t speak for Francine, but I always assumed that, while there are plenty of scenes from Michael’s POV where you get his perspective on things and get to see how he struggles with just the issues you mentioned, Redeeming Love really was at least in part a look at that story from Gomer’s perspective, and what would lead a woman to act in those ways.

        That being said, I appreciated reading your explanation of your position. I will try to track down the book you recommended. My reading tastes are pretty eclectic, and actually very little of what I read falls within in the “romance” genre, so I’m always on the lookout for good books that let me see things from a new perspective.

        Thanks for engaging in the discussion!

      • Timothy Fish November 4, 2011 at 4:42 am #

        Laura in Texas,

        That delights me to no end that we could have disagreement about what color a story is. You could be right, it isn’t pastel. Some of it may be closer to a burgundy, but there are sections that very definately pink.

  3. Molly Noble Bull November 3, 2011 at 7:22 am #

    Thanks, Tamela, for a great article.
    I have a lot of all time favorite movies, including Gone With The Wind. But there was a book that became a movie that changed my way of thinking. And the title? Exodus, starring Paul Newman.
    As a Christian, this book and movie introduced me to other books by this author as well as the Nation of Isreal and the Roots of Christianity. When a book and movie does all that, it has to be good.
    Love,
    Molly

    • TC Avey November 3, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      Molly, Gone with the Wind is one of my all time favs! I remember the first time I read it, I was a junior in high school and was home sick. I read the entire novel in two days (I never have cared much for TV).

  4. Lindsay Harrel November 3, 2011 at 7:24 am #

    Tamela,

    I completely agree with you. I don’t think people should discount romances. I will admit that I normally consider them a “light read” and, while they do sometimes make me think, I don’t read them for that purpose. I read them mostly for entertainment.

    I will say, however, that “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers is at the top of my list. Is it categorized as romance? It deals with so many issues, so I wasn’t sure if it was women’s fiction with a romantic subplot or romance. Whatever genre it is in, it is a powerful story, because the love story is basically the story of Hosea and Gomer, which in turn represents God’s unfailing love for His people. So beautiful and it left me with quite a lot to think about!

  5. Ruth Douthitt November 3, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    I, for one, do not lean toward fiction even though I currently write fiction for kids and teens. During hard times, I tend to flock toward books about the Bible by Dr. R.C. Sproul, Christian memoirs, or historical books. But if I do read fiction…I want to escape to another world. So, right now I am reading the Harry Potter books!

    What can I say? I’m a child of the 70′s who grew up watching Star Wars 26 times in the summer of 1977. Movies (fiction) were a way to escape. So, I can see why some readers would prefer romance or other fiction genres to “escape” these hard economic times.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Blessings,

    Ruth

  6. Hilarey November 3, 2011 at 9:24 am #

    I normally choose women’s fiction, fantasy or action/adventure. Not always in that order. But I recently read “Maid to Match” by Deeanne Gist–which in my opinion was strictly romance. I needed something different after a very heavy read. It was a very nice distraction.

  7. Laura in Texas November 3, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    My favorite “romantic story” in the Christian market is Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love. The romance between Michael and Angel stands on its own as a great love story, but the way it demonstrates (without preaching) God’s persistent love toward us, his wayward bride, is life-changing. I’ve read it multiple times, and each time I cry during the scene when she finally returns.

    Brilliant writing.

  8. J.L. Mbewe November 3, 2011 at 11:10 am #

    I think that some of the disgruntled feelings about romance novels within the Christian market come from newer authors who write something different and have seen the market closed to their types of writing which, when it comes down to it, is all about personal taste and what is selling. I’ve seen it, heard it throughout my writer’s journey especially since I write fantasy. I like to read different types of novels depending on my mood, but I tend to stay away from romance novels. I can’t say I have any favorites among them, but I there are some I like, like Redeeming Love, Christy, and Only the River Runs Free. My favorite genre is speculative fiction and I think the CBA market is making strides toward expanding that category especially with the success of Marcher Lord Press. So my recommendations in other categories within the CBA market are: Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson, Arena by Karen Hancock (whom you all are familiar with :), Chosen by Ted Dekker, and Shadow at Evening by Chris Walley. I could go on and on, but I won’t. :)

  9. Pegg Thomas November 3, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    Dittos on “Redeeming Love”, I’m not sure that one will ever be topped for best Christian romance.

  10. Peter DeHaan November 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    I think that it was four decades ago that I read my last romance book! I forget the title, but still remember what it was about — and that I enjoyed it.

    I’ve made a promise to myself to not read as much non-fiction and read more fiction, The “Bone Box” was the last fiction book I’ve read — and I highly recommend it.

  11. Gina Welborn November 3, 2011 at 6:52 pm #

    I’m probably one of the few romance fans who didn’t like Redeeming Love, and no I won’t give a discourse on why. But, really, does it matter? Nope. Who cares what books I loved and which ones I thought were trite. What matters TO ME is that there are authors crafting novels that keep me up until the wee hours of the morning. What matters TO YOU is that there are authors crafting novels that keep you up until the wee hours of the morning. Should those books be the same–great! Should they be different–great too!

    Last summer I read ALPHA REDEMPTION by P.A. Baines. Totally not like the fiction I normally read which are 99% of the time romances. Loved the book! But the only way I could open myself up to the possibility of enjoying the books was to put aside my prejudices about present tense.

    Peter, I probably ought to make a promise to read more fiction than non-fiction. Only my last trip to the bookstore garnered two more non-fictions: The Journey of Desire by John Eldredge and To Live is Christ by Beth Moore.

  12. V.V. Denman November 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    I agree with Gina that it doesn’t really matter what each of us likes or dislikes. It all boils down to what sells. I don’t look at it as the publishing houses turning away certain genres. If anything, it’s the readers turning them away.

    It’s a fact that romance is king and most readers are middle aged women. Anyone that doesn’t prefer romance and/or isn’t a middle aged woman may have to look around a bit longer for an interesting read. (Interesting to them.)

    Even though I’m a middle-aged woman that enjoys reading romance, I still have trouble finding books that interest me. Oh well. I just keep looking.

    I have a somewhat-non-related question for you, Tamela.

    Recently, I heard a female Christian marriage counselor/speaker say that women should avoid Christian romance books. She stated there was no such thing as Christian romance. Since she was speaking on the topic of pornography, I assumed she was referring to fiction that leads the reader’s mind where it ought not to go. In my opinion, most romantic Christian fiction does not fall into that category.

    My question for you: How would you respond if someone told you Christian romance was sinful, or that there was no such thing? Has that happened to you before?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray November 7, 2011 at 6:36 am #

      V.V. — Your question is excellent. I have never been asked that directly but people have made derogatory comments about Christian romance to me and I have heard negative comments in speeches. Look for a more detailed answer in a future post because I think it’s an issue worth discussing. As always, I appreciate you for being a faithful participant in our blog discussions. :)

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