Christian Romance- It Really is a Thing

When folks find out I am a writer, I usually tell them I plan to be a fiction author when I grow up. Their natural next question is “What kind of books do you  want to write?” When I say “Christian Romance”, they often chuckle, and sometimes even say, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?” So sad. Obviously these people have been reading the wrong romance novels.

I must confess that I have delved into those other kind of books once or twice in my lifetime. For the most part, I wouldn’t call them romances. The wonderful emotion called love is usually left out. Many of them concentrate only on the physical side of a relationship.

My friend Shannon Vannatter has made a very successful career out of writing about honest, flawed couples who are struggling to develop all sides of a relationship. Heroines who have been abused and have trouble trusting even the most appealling hero. Men who have made bad choices in the past, and are trying so hard to prove they have changed. Characters who have loved and lost, and are not sure they will ever find that feeling again. Set against a fun backdrop of small towns, cowboys and rodeos, her books easily sweep the reader up for an amazing ride. What a joy these books, and their sweet author are to all who know them.

Two other authors who really know romance are critique buddies Rachel Hauck and Susan May Warren. Their stories are multi-layered, multi-generational, and full of delicious heroes and heroines we can easily identify with. They play on a larger stage, ending up in exotic places, and taking the reader along for a breathless, magical adventure. These two never dissapoint, and I can’t wait to pre-order when they announce a new release.

What these books have in common is the spiritual thread that binds the hearts of the protaganists. Only when they surrender to God’s will do the pieces of their lives begin to come together.

Christian romance- Oh yes. It is very real, very satisfying, and never one dimensional. Now, if you will excuse me, I have another book to read.

Hauck and Warren kindle books

 

GOT YOU COVERED!

CatMOckingbirdI am a librarian. Yes, I see book covers on a daily basis, and yes, a great book cover STILL has the power to draw my eye. I’m a sucker for a great cover – contemporary, historical, fantasy – you name it, I am drawn to that cover.

I did a little thinking, though, and found some of my favorite covers. They’re not new, up-and-coming titles, nor are they vintage covers – they’re just covers that will STILL draw me in and make me read them, even if I’ve already read them!

And yes, I think Book Covers have distinct personalities.

Almost AlwaysComeHome

I remember the first time I saw Cynthia Ruchti’s debut contemporary novel, They Almost Always Come Home. The cover entranced me. Cynthia, in a mentor meeting at ACFW, entranced me. Now, some of you know that I’m not usually drawn to reading material that won’t make me laugh, or at least swoon. But I was drawn. And I read it. And I was totally, fantastically, humbly, AMAZED at the story journey that that little boat took me on. Sometimes we need to let the cover draw us in!

BrideMostBegrudging

Occasionally, it’s the dress that gets me. I read my first Deanne Gist novel because the dresses were just SO PRETTY! What was great, however, was the girl inside that dress!

CourtingMorrowLittle

I would have read Laura Frantz if it had a plain brown wrapper, but you know what, her books do NOT have a plain brown wrapper – instead, her heroines are bedecked in glorious silks and an expression that is JUST LIKE you would expect when you get to know the heroine.

the-brides-of-bonneterre-series

And then there are the “fellas.” A few of my favorite authors, for certain series, have opted to put the HERO on the cover, as opposed to the HEROINE. I can certainly live with that . . . Kaye Dacus, in her “Brides of Bonneterre” series, just gave us PART of the hero . . . and that was enough. OutOfControlMary Coneally, in her “Kinkaid Brides” series, gave us three distinct personalities for her three distinct heroes. Interesting that both series titles have the word “brides,” and they feature the GROOMS! I love it.

FoolsRushIn

A few other series that caught my eye, and one that I’ve seriously already read twice, is Janice Thompson’s “Weddings By Bella” series (which now has a sub-series started!), and Susan May Happily Ever AfterWarren’s “Deep Haven” series. The colors, the art, the playful quality of both series’ covers make me want to hang them on the wall so I can look at them all the time!

So yeah. Talk about a topic that a librarian can sink her teeth into? It’s book covers.

I’m totally . . . flabbergasted

Cover Conundrum

This post was tough for me. I don’t really pay attention to covers and can honestly say I’ve never bought a book based on the cover. My perusal of the cover consists of looking for layers of fabric, dead bodies, or bonnets and buggies. If it’s not historical, suspense, or Amish, then I’m good. I turn straight to the blurb and see if the story grabs me. Only four covers have really intrigued me. And I still didn’t buy the book–I won one, influenced for another, and still don’t own the other two.

Christine Lynxwiler’s Along Came a Cowboy was the first inspirational romance novel I ever saw with the guy on the cover instead of the girl. I thought it was a novel idea. I mean–romance readers want to read about the guy, not the girl. I got lucky and won this book and it’s still one of my favorites. One I’ll definitely keep and re-read.

Karen Witemeyer’s A Tailor-Made Bride was the first historical to ever intrigue me. I love clothes. Not layers and layers like this, but I can feel her cringe as this rude, ruffian steps on the hem of her dress she probably spent months hand-stitching. I didn’t buy the book and probably never well. No offense, it’s just not my genre. But if you’re a historical reader, I’ve heard it’s really good. Seeing that dress just makes me mad. I’m way too modern. If I wrote historicals, my heroine would be ripping off layers. “Don’t you people know it’s 105 and we don’t have air conditioners. I’m not wearing this mess.” Probably wouldn’t go over very well, so I’ll stick with contemporaries.

Jennifer Rogers Spinola’s cover intrigued me partly because I sat across from her at Barbour’s author reception one year and partly just because it’s such fun. She was so fun to talk to and her story was so interesting, I asked her to be on my real life romance blog and received an influencer copy of Southern Fried Sushi. This is another keeper that I’ll re-read. The unsaved heroine is so unapologetically selfish and it’s so fun to watch her change and grow. Her reactions and thoughts are so real and true, it made me take a good look at myself and repeat, It’s Not All About Me. I recently received my copy of the sequel Like Sweet Potato Pie. Another keeper. The difference in the heroine since she met a certain Savior is like night and day and I can’t wait for the third installment.

Linda Yezak’s Give the Lady a Ride caught my attention because I was researching bull riding for my rodeo series. Her book is about a woman learning to bull ride. I thought it sounded like a nice twist and I really like the cover. Partly because if I had a backside like that I’d wear blingy jeans just like those. I haven’t bought it yet. But if I happen upon it in a bookstore, I probably will.

Usually, the way I decide to buy a book is by author name. Sorry, but that’s just the facts and true for a lot of readers. Which means this no name author needs to get busy and make a name for myself.

Lorna asked me what I was going to blog about and I told her I didn’t know because covers don’t matter a lot to me. I said, “The ones I really like are the ones with the guys.” And she said, “That’s what you should blog about. It’s a new trend.”

So for your viewing pleasure:

Look, the same yummy guy that graced Christine’s cover is on Susan May Warren’s Reclaiming Nick. I hope he sticks around and graces lots more covers in the future.

Mary Connealy’s Over the Edge–this guy might convince me to buy a historical. Not to read mind you, just to look at him.

The trend has caught on over at Love Inspired too with Debra  Clopton’s Her Rodeo Cowboy. I really like this guy and might have to buy the book. This surprised me since Love inspired covers are mostly couples or families.

One question, why are there only cowboys gracing covers? Okay, I love cowboys too, wrote three books about them, but regular guys are hunks too. Nothing curls my toes like a man wearing a nice button up shirt,  jeans,  and no shoes. Maybe sitting in the sand on the beach. I haven’t found that cover yet. If you find it, let me know.

It sounds like I don’t get books unless I get them free, but it’s not true. It’s true I grew up a library mouse, so for years I never bought books. But last year, I decided that if I wanted people to buy my books, I needed to be a book buyer. I’ve bought more books in the last year than I have in my whole life. I just didn’t make my purchases based on the cover.

Time to chime in. Does the book cover affect what you purchase? What do you think of the trend with guys on the cover?

CHRISTMAS NOVELTIES

It’s Christmastime and time for a novel,

Time to read about the little King,

To fill the mind and roll out a myst’ry,

Don’t want to miss a thing . . .

 

And that’s the whole point of reading books about Christmas, isn’t it? We don’t want to miss a moment of the joy, the festivity, the FEELING of Christmas!

I haven’t had a lot of time to read in the last few weeks, but I did manage to read a couple of novels that have been on my list for a while. The first is The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren. It’s a heartwarming read about a mom who just wants to make it the best Christmas ever for her family of grown children, something I’m identifying with more every day! Here’s the blurb:

Marianne Wallace loves the holidays. From dressing the tree to her traditional Christmas dinner, it’s all about creating memories for her family. But when her children begin to leave home – and their traditions – behind, she has one last chance to create a holiday they’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, she’s soon in over her head, and one impulsive decision leads to a string of events that will change the way her family – even her small Minnesota town – sees the Christmas season.

Hint: There will be football, and who DOESN’T like a good football story?

Another favorite that I read last year, and plan to read again this year, is Mary Connealy’s Cowboy Christmas. Full of Mary’s classic “romantic comedy with cowboys,” Annie and Elijah make for a great story of redemption and love. The back cover:

Singer Annette Talbot used her voice to spread the gospel with a traveling missionary troupe. When the Latrells take over and want Annie to dress provocatively and give up singing her beloved hymns, Annie flees to Ranger Bluff, Wyoming, dreaming of uniting with her father for Christmas. But trouble chases her – right off the edge of a cliff!

Elijah Walker’s heart turned as cold and barren as the high plains in December after his ex-fiancee betrayed him and caused his father’s death. But when he rescues Annie out of a freezing river, Walker’s instincts tell him he must help a stranger in need.

With her hermit father retreating to the high country and the Latrells intent on kidnapping her to make money off her singing, Annie may have no way out.

Has Annie hidden the truth about wanted posters bearing her face too long for anyone to believe her now?

Can Elijah overcome the painful past and learn to love again?

Will there ever be peace in their hearts in time for Christmas?

Such a good book!

Right now I’m reading Amy Clipston’s Naomi’s Gift, and waiting in the wings is Susan May Warren’s Baby It’s Cold Outside.

 

A few books I like to read most Christmases are John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas – which by the way, is much better than the movie, although it IS entertaining, and Grace Livingston Hill’s The Substitute Guest. If you get a chance, and just want a nice, tender read, this is the one for you!

 

Joanne Fluke also has some great Christmas cozies, The Candy Cane Murder and The Sugar Cookie Murder, and like a lot of Christmas books, are a little shorter than the average novel, which is great for this time of year! Oh, and Joanne’s books ALWAYS have recipes!!

Happy Christmas reading, everyone.

Continue reading CHRISTMAS NOVELTIES

Oh The Places You’ll Go

My first ACFW conference I, along with Lorna found ourselves  in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we met Marlene Garand. I learned how to keep my readers Up All Night  in Suspense with Terry Blackstock. I also Talked Dialogue with Donita K. Paul in a more than he said, she said class. Lastly I learned many police procedures from Mark Mynheir, who was nice enough to answer questions that next year by email. Angela Hunt was our Keynote Speaker and I have her book, The Tale of Three Trees, signed by her in my now growing collection of autographed books by Christian authors.

Biggest lesson learned: Boy, do I have a lot to learn. The best part, how inspired I felt and how great everyone was, even though I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Oh, and I adore Marlene’s French Canadian accent.

My second ACFW conference was in Denver, Colorado and Shannon came along for the ride with Lorna and me. (We also all roomed together, another perk of going with friends!) Jim and Tracie Peterson taught me the Foundational Basics in their class. Virginia Smith showed me how to draft a Story that Sparkled, and Jeff Gerke helped me to Build a Plot Out Of Character. Debbie Macomber was our Keynote speaker.

Biggest lesson learned: I can do this if I keep trying. The best part was Shannon’s stories in the car ride to and from conference. Shannon’s a natural story-teller.

Conference number three saw me riding out to Indianapolis, Indiana with Shari Barr, Cathy Richmond and, of course, Lorna. Shannon, Kim, Regina, Brenda and Linda met us there, and man, what a blast! Besides rooming with Kim, Lorna and Regina (did I snore?) I found out how to develop metaphors and symbols in my writing with Rachel Hauck. Kaye Dacus helped me to Find My Voice, and Jenny B. Jones proved today’s world isn’t Sweet Valley High for Today’s Teen and YA market. Tim Downs was our Keynote Speaker.

Biggest lesson learned, do not walk down the stairs of a hotel all dressed up and wearing heels if you haven’t tested the doors for their open-ability. The best part was the pajama party in the room (and how funny Jenny B. Jones is!).

This year, at conference number four, it was five of us riding down to St. Louis, Missouri, in Lorna’s van. Cathy Richmond joined us first and we picked  up Shari Barr and Judith Miller along the way. There I learned from Julie Lessman and Ruth Axtell that A Kiss Is NOT Just a Kiss, and boy, they are not kidding around. Kristen Heitzman topped it off with her Nitty Gritty Point of View. I skipped out on class with some unknown assailants and visited the St. Louis Arch which, by the way, was a block away from our hotel.

What I learned: not to try to fit my square peg into the round whole of one-size-fits-all writing, and not to feel guilty or odd about writing what I feel God has placed on my heart. The best part was meeting more authors I admire and re-acquainting myself with old friends.

Does it seem like I have grown? I surely have from that naïve, overwhelmed person who went to Minneapolis and could  barely remember a person I met there due to brain overload. Each year I remember more ACFW Memebers, understand more about the publishing houses and the agents.

Now, if I could just decipher my own handwriting on these notebooks… Anyone buy the CD’s? I can’t read a thing  that I wrote in class!

 

Deeper and Wider Characters

We’ve discussed movies, TV shows, and novels to share what types of characters jump off the page so far during this segment. Today, I’ll head in a different direction — what course, mentor, book, or workshop have you learned the most from on developing memorable characters? For me, the answer to that question is easy — Susan May Warren. She’s not only one of my favorite authors, she’s hands down my favorite teacher, too.

The best fiction-writing training I’ve ever received has been at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) workshops taught by Susan May Warren. She is not only an amazing person, she is an awesome teacher, and I recommend that anyone who wishes to write great fiction either attend her workshop classes or buy some of the books she’s written on the craft of fiction writing.

Which comes first, the Character or the Plot?

Of course, that question is personal to the writer, and every novelist has his or her own way of developing the story. Susan May Warren says she first comes up with a story idea and then figures out what type of person would be best to put in that situation.

What makes her stories and characters so special?

Susan teaches a layering method of character development. She explains these layers in depth in her book, Deep and Wide, but here is a (very) simple outline of the layers she uses. If you’ve ever read one of her books, you know that she integrates these layers seamlessly to create amazing characters and great stories.

Layer One is a character’s Identity — how he or she sees themselves and how the world sees them.

Layer Two is the character’s Purpose — the reason why he does the things he does.

Layer Three is the character’s Competence — the main thing your character does well.

Layer Four is the character’s Security — Susan uses this layer to determine the character’s “point of no return.” What would prompt a character to do something he or she would otherwise NEVER do?

Layer Five is the character’s Belonging. She uses this to develop his developmental and spiritual arcs. What holds the character back from happiness? What holds them back from God?

I picked up the two books Susan wrote, which stemmed from some of her classes I’d taken, at the last ACFW conference. I’ve not been disappointed. The second book in her craft how-to series is called From the Inside Out.

So, who or what has helped you create memorable characters? What “best tip” on character development have you used over and over again in your writing?