I write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist.
But what does contemporary Christian romance mean . . . and how do you know if it’s something you’re interested in?
Well, contemporary is relatively easy to define. It’s set now. In the present. Or perhaps the recent past, if the book is part of a series (because almost all series move forward in time with each successive book, whether it’s by years, months or mere days). Some people define contemporary as anything after 1950, but as a reader, I disagree: contemporary has to feel like now, complete with the internet, social media and 24/7 connectivity.
Romance is also pretty easy to define. Romance Writers of America, the leading voice of the genre, define romance as having a central love story, and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Put simply, romance readers expect a happy ever after (HEA) ending, and for the romance to be the core element of the plot, a some minor subplot.
Christian . . . now, that’s a little more difficult. It’s often referred to as inspirational romance, in that Romance Writers of America define inspirational romance as “religious or spiritual beliefs (in the context of any religious or spiritual belief system) are an integral part of the plot.” A lot of inspirational romance is simply that: inspirational, perhaps morally uplifting, without the focus on sex found in most modern romance novels. Such novels might be inspirational, but don’t always feel especially Christian— I’d like to think being a Christian is a little more than being religious or inspirational or focusing on fleeting feelings.
As we know, the word ‘Christian’ describes a wide range of belief—Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican (or Episcopalian if you’re from the USA), Baptist, Pentecostal. Most Christian fiction steers away from referring to specific denominations, but tends to be at the conservative evangelical end of the Christian spectrum (in part, because one of the largest Christian book chains, Lifeway Christian Resources, is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention and won’t stock anything that runs counter to their beliefs).
Even so, many of these Inspirational Romance novels are ‘Christian-lite’, featuring characters who go to church but don’t seem to pray or read their Bibles except on Sunday. Others are ‘Christian-heavy’, overdosing on preaching and sermons and characters who can’t seem to utter more than a few words without throwing in a Scripture quotation . . . which breaks the number one writing rule, of show, don’t tell. It’s a fine balance, as different readers are looking for different levels of Christian content.
So what is Christian fiction? And Christian romance? I’ll discuss it more next week, but meanwhile, what do you think? What are you looking for when you pick up a Christian novel?