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.

33 comments:

  1. Sounds interesting. Put me down for a chance.

    msudawgtoo AT comsouth DOT net

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  2. This looks interesting. I have often struggled with some of the Christian books that I have read because of their lack of spiritual content. Add a little bit of titillating romance with characters that don't "go all the way" and mention God once or twice and the book gets labeled Christian. It sounds like there is more of a message in Joann Durgin's book. I would like to give it a try.

    Julie @ My Only Vice
    gravesok@gmail.com

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  3. Also, obviously I was able to post, but I have noticed Blogger is definitely having some kind of issues with posting comments on some sites. I also tried to "follow" a couple of blogs and wasn't able to until I logged into Explorer instead of Firefox. So maybe they are having some compatibility issues?

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  4. Sounds great

    gfc follower

    vidishamun@gmail.com

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  5. Hi. Please enter me. Sounds like a great book. I love to read romance. I don't read mainstream, as they are too much, but I do wish Christian authors would include more clean, pure romance in their books. Thanks.

    sweetdarknectar[at]gmail[dot]com

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  6. I've read Awakening and fell in love with the characters. JoAnn did a great job with making her characters believable and fun.
    Great blog post--makes you think: How would I have answered the question "What makes a romance novel Christian?"

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  7. That picture made me laugh out loud. I'm interested in checking out Awakening so put me in for the giveaway.

    kdwoodmansee@gmail.com

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  8. I like the points made in this point. It can be hard to strike that balance in Christian romance between sweet and sensual. Some books I've read pushed the envelope, while others closed the story with barely one kiss.

    I also would like to see the chemistry between the hero and heroine handled in a realistic and mature way, minus the blush factor.

    Your blog is a big help for picking good reads!

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  9. That was so good. The photo is priceless.
    (not an entry)

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  10. Hi everyone, and thanks for stopping by! It's wonderful to "meet" potential new readers. Just to let you know, Awakening is the first in a rather long series with Sam and Lexa as the core characters as they become mentors to others (some introduced in Awakening) in Sam's TeamWork organization and his family. You will hopefully fall in love with these characters and as they start to "grow" their own families. I personally love that, and if you're interested in a series, please check it out!

    Joy, I so much appreciate your willingness to post my guest blog today. Thank you! I'd invite all of you to check out the sneak peek feature on Amazon to read the first few pages of Awakening, if you'd like (sign in, and you can read even more!). Blessings! JoAnn Durgin

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  11. JoAnn's book sounds great. I steer clear of romance for the reasons listed earlier, but a nice clean romance would be nice.
    melanie
    melanieinoh2003@yahoo.com

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  12. Intriguing perspective! Thanks so much for sharing. I'm off to check JoAnn's blog. ! Thanks, Joy! :o)

    PS...The Name/URL works as an entry for blogger too. Most of the sites that are having comment problems have the Captcha code or moderation set on them.I took the Captcha off my readingwithlarri blog, and have had no problems with spam. Blogger's crazy, isn't it? Happy Monday! :o)

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  13. Sounds great. Count me in please.

    lkish77123 at gmail dot com

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  14. Sounds Awesome Joy! I just went to Amazon and purchased it on my Kindle! Can't wait to read it :)

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  15. Thank you, Loren! You made my day/night/morning (it's 1:55 a.m. as I write this). I hope you enjoy Sam and Lexa's story. Feel free to leave me a message on my website or Facebook after you read it. The second installment with the TeamWork crew, Second Time Around, is coming sometime this summer! Blessings to you.

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  16. Hey everyone! Thanks for stopping in to say hi to JoAnn, hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day!

    JoAnn, thanks for guesting for me! This was such a gret post.

    Larri- That's interesting about the captcha, I haven't noticed. But I have problems leaving comments on my own blog sometimes, and I know I don't have captcha turned on. I really hope they iron out these problems soon. Things haven't been the same in weeks! :(

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  17. Victoria ZumbrumMay 31, 2011 at 7:46 AM

    I love Christian romance novels or Christian book. This book sounds very good. Please enter me in contest. Tore923@aol.com

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  18. a wonderful posting...and i love the picture, too :)

    thanks for the opportunity to read your debut novel...it sounds very romantic!

    karenk
    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

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  19. Hi Joanne,

    I can so relate to what you were saying. I find some of the 'sweet' romances too tame. It's hard to find a nice balance between romantic and too graphic. It's also hard to write Christian themes without getting preachy (but I try hard!)

    You can have a wonderful romance without graphic details as many new Christian writers have succeeded in achieving. Good for you for walking that fine line. We like 'edgy' Christian romance!

    Cheers,
    Sue

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  20. Thanks for the great opportunity to be here, Joy. There's plenty more where that came from, so feel free to call on me anytime! I appreciate all of you leaving a comment. Susan you're right about the "preachy" aspect of Christian romance novels. Like everything else, the degree varies from book to book, author to author and dependent upon the publisher. One person's "sweet" is another person's "edgy" and one person's "beating over the head" with faith and spirituality is not quite enough for others. It IS a fine line, but you have to write (and read) what you personally prefer and how you feel the Lord is leading you. Blessings!

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  21. What a great post! Please enter me for a chance to win Awakening - it sounds great!

    Jordan
    lizzielaura17(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  22. Thanks for a great post, and the chance to win! The question "What makes a Christian book" caught my eye. To quote a friend Martin Whitbread of Living Books Inc. - by definition Christian means 'born-again' so books cannot be Christian, only have values! And in my mind there is a fine line between protraying good values and adding a scene just so the character can explain the 'new-birth experience' to someone instead of it flowing naturally through the story.
    mitzi_wanham[at]yahoo[dot]com from Peace River Country, Alberta

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  23. I'd love to be entered for the review copy - thank you! (msshaffer2003@yahoo.com)

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  24. Thanks for the GREAT article! I am going to send it to my sister who is also a Edgy Inspy Romance writer! We were actually just discussing the same issues just a few days ago. You articulated everything so beautifully. I'll admit, I'm one of those people who will read Julia Quinn and Gasp, Eloisa James ( I do skip parts though, I'm not hard core.) because of the depth of the attraction/relationship that simply is rarely found in a "Christian" romance which is sad to say, very disappointing. I have an AMAZING marriage, I have a love story I SHOULD write about and while many Christian romance stories are sweet and really cute, they are very lacking in real emotion. Thanks for the great article. I'd love to be entered for the giveaway since I've not read your book yet. My e-mail is kristinkatjoyce at Gmail dot com

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  25. PS I love the picture.

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  26. Love it--and it's so true Joy as an author it is SO HARD to find that line..I am constantly revising and re-editing. I find myself constantly in prayer that what I am writing will connect with Christians and non-christians because let's face it, a lot of Christian romance ends up being unrealistic and too cheesy. We want to reach those who arent saved and show them the greatest love story of all--the sacrificial love of Jesus. Thanks for this post !

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  27. This books sounds great..if I don't win it, I am going to look for it at my library!

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  28. Wow, it sounds like a great read as a debut book!
    I am most grateful to be included in this giveaway!

    Many Blessings and Smiles,
    Charlotte Kay
    charlovesmark at gmail dot com

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  29. Thanks for stopping by and the great comments, everyone. Writing for Christ is my passion, and the Lord knows the hands He wants Awakening to fall into. It's my prayer that you'll embrace His love and find enjoyment in all the wonderful fiction out there written to glorify that unique love. It's one-of-a-kind. Blessings!

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  30. I loved the picture. It cracked me up. :) This book sounds great.

    sassysasha817 at gmail dot com

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  31. Thanks everyone for entering, and thanks again to JoAnn for visiting my blog. The winner of this copy of Awakening is Linda Kish!!! I'm emailing you now. :)

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  32. I've just "finished" my first draft of a romance novel about Christians. I hadn't really done any research on the genre before writing, because I wanted to write what I wanted to write, without really worrying about whether or not it would be deemed inappropriate.
    My characters are real, honest, flawed people (I hope), and I wanted to show that. I also felt that, as it is based in the modern-day UK, the traditional American Christian ideals would present some problems for me while I wrote. British Christians are a little more relaxed about certain issues (social norms) and it was hard not to include a bit of "going out for a drink" but I tried to generalize it so it didn't sound like "going to the pub for a beer" and could be just going to Starbucks for coffee.

    Anyway, I appreciate that there are others out there wanting Christian romance novels to sound more true-to-life. I'm a real person, and I want people to see my characters as relatable, even if my readers aren't Christians.

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  33. Sounds great!
    smilesalot2010(at)gmail(dot)com

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