Monday, May 30, 2011

(Secrets and) Sensuality in Christian Romance by JoAnn Durgin (and giveaway!)

I’m a Christian romance writer. Let’s face it – like it or not – the word “romance” is often equated with sex. In and of itself, “romance novel” conjures up visions of beautiful women with gorgeous tresses and overflowing bosoms straining low-cut gowns and swooning in the arms of strong, virile-looking men. A gentle wind may or not lift wisps of her (and maybe even his) hair. They are kissing on a cliff, clenching by the sea, riding a horse in the forest or even reclining on a (gasp) bed. At dusk. At midnight. At sunset.

Just check out any local grocery, drug or chain mega store with row-upon-row of romance novels depicting shirtless, broad-chested men (usually a billionaire, cowboy, pirate, rogue – or a combination of all of the above) and women in various stages of dress, or undress, posed provocatively with laughable titles. What’s deceptive are those romance novels with seemingly innocuous covers featuring seascapes, houses and flowers – but enough in-between the covers, so to speak, to make your cheeks positively flame.

Okay, eyes back to the text. Find it hard to stop staring at this larger-than-life photo (and have you ever seen Ken look so, um, masculine)? That’s pretty much what you find with traditional romance novels. I was going to reduce the size of the photo, but then decided to leave it. Your eyes are drawn to it because of the sheer enormity. When I found it, I couldn’t stop laughing. It proves my point beautifully without using “real” people or an actual book cover. Simply put, it’s “over the top.”

A Jewish friend of the male persuasion recently asked me, point-blank, “What makes a romance novel Christian?” Ah, that is a great question. If you write Christian novels, especially romance, I suggest you find your own answer. It is perhaps the most important question you might ever be asked as an author and an opportunity to make an eternal impact in someone’s life.

Christian romance authors have an awesome responsibility – write a realistic book about a man and woman falling in love, recapturing love or saying goodbye to love without offending sensibilities. It’s a very fine line. We’re charged with writing an involving, God-honoring story without resorting to sensual scenes at least every 10-15 pages like our secular counterparts. Write about murders, and you won’t have a problem. But write something even remotely sensual, and people will squirm.

I’ll tell you a secret: I know Bible-believing, strong Christian women who read secular romance novels. Why? It’s not usually because they want their glasses to steam and their naturally straight hair to curl. Ironically enough, most Christian romances don’t fulfill their need for pure romance. You know what I’m talking about – those moments that make you swoon or sigh and maybe increase your heartbeat. Most Christian romances are safe, sweet and non-threatening, and a large percentage of the plot past the midway point involves keeping the main characters apart until the end due to some type of conflict. Why? Because it’s safe.

When I first started writing Christian romances years ago, there was almost a stigma associated with it, and I was told, “Editors don’t want to touch it because of all the temptations and pitfalls of modern life.” Thus, the preponderance of historical Christian romances. Gradually, the contemporary Christian novels became more prominent. While I love reading historical novels, I simply don’t have the time for the research involved in order to write them authentically. I’d invariably have my characters say the incorrect thing, wear the wrong thing, or violate any manner of practices or habits out of sheer ignorance of the terms and customs of the day.

One of the most precious things in life is that first blush of love, that rush of adrenaline at a glance, a touch, a kiss… Personally, I love the hope and joy in an uplifting romance. As a writer, I don’t generally adhere to the “three kiss rule” – one kiss early on or toward the middle, one about two-thirds of the way through the novel and one at the end. Sometimes I simply need more pure romantic moments, not necessarily with kisses.

While I understand and applaud the safe and sweet, I also believe there’s room for more within the scope of a God-honoring story. I’ll admit to loving witty, flirtatious banter between my hero and heroine. I believe in weaving a strong element of faith throughout a book, and I’m a firm believer in the happy ending. It’s more satisfying and I believe, deep down, it’s what the majority of Christian romance readers want.

As a debut author, the title of my book, Awakening, unfortunately conjures up sensual connotations for some, but the name is as perfect now as it was when originally written more than a decade ago (just a tip, though: search for my name instead of the book title to avoid the erotica).

Awakening is loosely based on my own story with my husband, Jim, and involves a spiritual and emotional awakening. I sincerely appreciate that my publisher, Torn Veil Books, put the tag, A Christian Romance Novel, following my book title. Cuts down on any possible misinterpretation. It might limit my audience in some respects, but that’s more than fine. Awakening will find its way into the hands of those the Lord wants to read it, and hopefully, it will bless their hearts and/or touch their soul in some way.

While Awakening is interwoven with that strong element of faith, it’s also realistic in terms of a mature, adult relationship – complete with lots of romantic moments and flirty banter interspersed with drama and emotional moments. It’s important to show how characters react to the temptations and pitfalls of life, maintaining a mindset to honor the Lord, even when they stumble.

In my book, two great characters are falling deeply in love – my God-fearing hero, Sam Lewis, and my God-seeking heroine, Lexa Clarke (yes, Lewis and Clarke - it’s a contemporary romantic adventure, after all). They work through situations and problems together, and it’s those things that truly bond them together even more, building on a foundation of mutual admiration and respect. Sam and Lexa also make the conscious, mutual decision to honor the Lord in terms of their physical relationship and share an open, honest discussion.

It’s a beautiful testament to waiting on the Lord’s timing. No clothes come off that shouldn’t, and there’s nothing offensive or inappropriate, yet some might perceive it as edgy. I stand behind this scene as written. It’s endearing and incredibly tender. I’ve also never seen anything quite like it in a “traditional” Christian romance, although I’m sure there are some.

But they’re few and far between. Why? Most likely because it might make readers squirm. As one reader affirmed, what shines through in this particular scene is Sam’s integrity and desire to honor the Lord and Lexa. I’ve had mothers tell me teenage girls should read Awakening as a testament to abstinence before marriage. So, you see, Christian romance authors have an awesome responsibility. All Christian writers do, but we’re perhaps unfairly categorized by sheer virtue of the connotations of our genre.

Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love. God first loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for our sins, and it’s through His boundless love that I write. Humans, like characters, often stumble and sometimes fall but they find grace, forgiveness, love, redemption and hope when they seek to follow the Lord’s will for their lives. Matthew 5:16 is my personal theme verse, and it’s my prayer that His light will shine through the words in my books, giving light and hope to an often hurting world. It’s my high honor and privilege to share the love stories the Lord has given to me. May you find the love of the Lord in your life today, and each and every day. Blessings, my friends.

JoAnn Durgin’s debut novel, Awakening, released in late 2010. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Romance Writers of America (RWA), she was a finalist in the 2010 RWA/Faith Hope & Love Touched by Love contest (long contemporary romance), and is a Clash of the Titles “Best Back Cover Copy Blurb” champion and winner or finalist in several flash fiction contests. JoAnn invites you to visit her website at www.joanndurgin.com.

It's giveaway time!

I have a review copy of Awakening here to pass along just as soon as I finish reading it. Leave a comment for JoAnn between now and June 14 to be entered.

And is Blogger still acting funky for anyone else?!? I can't seem to log in to leave comments on posts. But this blog is set up to accept anonymous comments, so don't hesitate to leave one that way. Just make sure to include your email address.

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