Writing religion into a romance

First, a lovely surprise – a fascinating comment from Laura Kinsale about her research and thought processes as she wrote Flowers From The Storm:

This was Maddy’s central conflict, trying to distinguish her own self-will, which was obviously to be with the man she loved, from God’s will. Laura V felt he was too satanic for her to love him as a husband, which is exactly what Maddy thought too, so she left him. But when she heard him speak to her, at the end, and thought and listened and wrote another paper, she felt sure it wasn’t only her self-will, but also God’s. I guess if a reader doesn’t accept that as possible, then it won’t ring true. But even though not a religious person myself, I’ve grown up in a Christian tradition, and I’m very sure that it’s taught that Jesus loved sinners more than righteous people. Beyond a romantic connection, or anything about his lifestyle, I think that is the impulse within her, that not only she but he are both sinners, and full of questions about how to live rightly, and that he was her husband and it was wrong to leave him and right to stay with him, however that would play out.

Second, an interview with Noelle Adams about her recent contemporary romance, Married For Christmas, which features a hero who is a pastor. Married For Christmas is a wonderful example of how faith can provide external and internal conflicts, rich characterisation, and a very satisfying romance. I loved it.

Can you tell us a bit about why you chose to write a romance about people whose faith was such an integral part of their lives?

I didn’t start out with the idea to write about people of faith. I was actually brainstorming about realistic scenarios for contemporary marriage of convenience, since it’s my favorite trope but I didn’t want to use a premise I’d already used. That’s how I came up with the pastor hero who needed to marry to be called by a particular church, and the characters’ faith was simply a result of who they were.

In your author’s note you say that Married For Christmas isn’t an inspirational romance. What would you say distinguishes the book from inspirational romances and why did you decide not to go down that route?

As I understand inspirational romance as a genre, they are stories defined by their religious message. That’s not what I wanted to do with Married for Christmas. The story is not about a specific, explicit religious message. It’s about these characters, and these characters happen to be religious. That distinction is important to me, and I think it makes for very different sorts of books. I also didn’t want to be limited by the tight boundaries around content that inspirational romances seem to require. Since regular of readers of inspirational romance expect those boundaries, I thought it was very important to distinguish Married for Christmas from the genre. The story also doesn’t try to proselytize and doesn’t limit the Christian experience to conversion and morality. I don’t want to make broad generalizations about a genre I haven’t read widely in, but all of the inspirational romances I’ve read have done those things—which is one of the reasons I don’t read them anymore.

You do a great job in the book at showing both the interior life of faith and the external life of the church. How did you balance the development of those aspects of the plot with the romance?

This is a great question, but I don’t have a great answer. I just wrote what felt right for the characters. Since Daniel is a pastor and that’s an unusual job for a contemporary romance hero, I thought readers would want to see some of what the life of a pastor might look like. The central conflict turned around internal spirituality, however, so that had to take up a substantive part of the plot and was really the most exciting part of the story for me.

One of the things I loved about the book was the way in which you showed Daniel and Jessica’s flaws. I particularly loved the scene where she uses decidedly unChristian language! Did you ever feel that you “ought” to write Christians speaking or behaving in certain ways?

I didn’t really feel like I ought to portray them in any certain way—except what is genuinely human, which is always my guide for characterization. I did think readers might expect a different sort of portrait of Christian characters. I dealt with possible expectations by making the language at issue in the story itself. Since Jessica felt guilty about it, the topic itself could be addressed in a somewhat natural way—which I thought might help with any surprise from

I know that you’ve self-published several books as well as being published through Entangled (me too!). What made you choose to self-publish this one? Have you ever had any discussions with publishers about whether they’d be interested in books featuring characters of faith?

I’m pretty sure no publisher would have touched Married with Christmas, but I didn’t actually shop it around. It’s out of the box in so many ways it would have been a hard sell even without the pastor hero. It’s category length, but not high drama, and it’s third person limited with no hero point-of-view, and it’s religiously-oriented but has graphic sex scenes. Add this to the pastor hero, when romance readers aren’t interested in pastor heroes in anything but inspirational romances (or so I’ve been told), and you have an impossible story to sell to a publisher. Maybe I could have found one publisher who would have taken a chance on it, but I didn’t want to even try, because I didn’t want to risk the book being edited to fit a certain publishing niche. I love self-publishing, since it frees me up to take any sort of risk I want to take without trying to force myself to fit into niches that just aren’t right for my stories. I was mostly convinced this book would be a complete flop, but that was a risk I was willing to take because I wanted so much to tell this story.

I notice this is the first in a new series of books you’re writing. Will the others also feature Christian characters and can you tell us about them?

Yes, the other books in the series will be set in Willow Park and will revolve around the same church. The next one is an Easter book and will feature Daniel’s brother, Micah, who was a player before he came back to the church. I’m really excited about it!

I’m always looking for recommendations! Have you read any other romances featuring characters of faith that you can share?

Not really, unfortunately. I don’t read inspirational romance, and the contemporary Christian fiction I’ve read hasn’t really impressed me. I will say I haven’t read widely so there may be great stuff out there I’m not familiar with. It really seems like religion is a topic that isn’t deal with in non-inspirational contemporary romance—except in rather superficial ways. I don’t know why, unless writers are going with the “polite” conversation rule and avoiding controversial topics like politics and religion in their stories. I’d love to see more of it or hear recommendations if there’s more out there that I’m not aware of.

I’ve been in theological colleges and seminaries for the past 11 years. Why haven’t I met a sexy pastor like Daniel yet?

LOL. I guess they’re all already in marriages-of-convenience. I often wonder where all these young, sexy CEO’s are from romances too. Evidently, there’s one around every corner, but I never seem to run into them!

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Noelle. I’ll definitely be looking out for Micah’s book next year.