This One’s for You, Romance Writers(Sorry, Barry Manilow)

Love! Romance! Commitment!

And that’s just Genesis, folks!

When I began writing Christian romance, it didn’t escape my notice that many people viewed my scratchings as ‘fluff.’ In fact, I had one very nice lady in my church tell me that I should either write something that would honor God or find another way to minister to people. I remember being heartbroken by those statements. Why couldn’t I write what the Lord had laid upon my heart?

But now, some ten years into my writing journey, after reading God’s Word and spending countless hours praying and studying the craft, I can make a daring statement.

Our God is a romantic!

Let’s look at the facts. In the first two chapters of Genesis, the Creator had worked a masterpiece. Light and darkness. Earth and sky. The seasons. Fully matured plants and fruits that sustained all the animals. And of course, man.

You’d think that would be enough, wouldn’t you?

But even in all that splendor, God knew that there was a serious problem. Man was alone. Some folks may asked why God didn’t just go ahead and make man and woman at the same time. After all, He knew His creation wouldn’t like being alone.

Maybe God wanted man to be exposed to solitude for a reason.

Think about that first meeting between man and woman. After having all the creatures of earth brought before him, Adam must have felt an emptiness. Where would he find the one creation that could ease his loneliness, someone he could share the paradise the Lord God had created?

In that moment, the Creator stared into the soul of man and knew his heart was ready. With just a thought, Adam fell into a deep sleep and when he awakes, he’s not alone.

“Adam, I have brought one more creature for you to name.”

Do you think Adam’s heart fluttered in his throat the first time he saw the slope of Eve’s face? Was he breathless when he compared her soft curves to the hard angles of his own body? Or did he simply stare into her eyes and recognize her for what she truly was?

The missing part of himself!

Ah, romance!

It’s hard to have a Christian marriage in today’s society. The world has taken God out of the relationship equation and made the sacred union between a man and woman something cheap and sordid. The media weave the world’s view of love throughout our days. Cheap sex. Empty relationships. Changing partners.

How sad!

Give me a good story with a hero and heroine who put Christ at the center of their lives. Let me cheer them on as they fall in love. Let the tears fall when they have troubles that help them grow stronger. And let me smile as they learn to lean on God in their relationship.

I write Christian romance because I’m a romantic. Just like my Father.

Writing Romance When Your Marriage fails ~ Kit Wilkinson

Kit Wilkinson is a former Ph.D. student who once wrote discussions on the medieval feminine voice. She now prefers weaving stories of romance and redemption. Her first inspirational manuscript won the prestigious RWA Golden Heart and sold to Harlequin’s Love Inspired. She is currently working on her fourth novel.

Besides writing, she loves hanging out with friends and family, cooking for lots of people, and spending time in the sun. She, her two children and one extremely energetic Border Collie live in central Virginia.

Writing Romance When the Real Romance Fails

How do you write a happily-ever-after when your own story has turned into a tragedy?

When I landed my last novel contract, frankly, it was the first bit of good news I’d had in a long while. I’d prayed to be able to write this book for a few months, thinking it would be just what I needed to take my mind off of what was going on in my real life—a divorce.

I was so thankful when it came through. I read through my editor’s notes immediately and sat down at the computer. I couldn’t wait to bury myself in this new story. But instead of pouring my energy into the new book, I found, for the first time ever, that I couldn’t write at all. Not only could I not write, I loathed sitting in front of the computer. I found myself doing anything else—bathing the dog, painting rooms, cleaning the garage, all sorts of things I REALLY hated to do. And, if I did happen to get in front of the computer, I was emailing my lawyer, trying to negotiate the sale of my home or figuring out whose weekend it was with the kids. Even emails I feared would be full of bad news. And I especially avoided staring at the blinking cursor on the white page of my very incomplete manuscript. The document sat minimized on the dock of my desktop.

My deadline came and went and I’d barely squeaked out half of the story. I started wondering if I could finish. I started wondering, if I could even write romance anymore. I mean let’s face it I was a failure. I’d failed as a wife. And now I was failing as a writer… What next? I was afraid to think about tomorrow.

Desperate for inspiration, I pulled out writing books and plotting outlines. I went to my favorite writing spots. I tried using Scrivener, thinking something new to look at would inspire me. I set little daily word count goals and failed at those. I even tried to use some of my confused feelings to “get into” my story, but while sorrow and depression might inspire some artists to abandon themselves into their work, I was stuck with the worst case of writer’s block ever. My ability to focus on anything had vanished and I didn’t know how to fix it. Depression hung like a cloud in my mind and my fingers were paralyzed at the keyboard. Even with great family and friends and a whole lot of prayer, there were days when I wanted to crawl in a hole and come out in a year or two when all the difficult stuff was over.

It was in the midst of all this that I found myself at a writer’s conference sitting on a panel of “pro” writers (something I’d agreed to do a long time before all the other life turmoil began). I looked out into the audience at other authors and even at my editor who should have been pointing at her watch and glaring at me for the late manuscript I owed her, except that she’s way too nice for that. I was feeling like a total fraud when someone in the audience asks, “What are inspirational romance readers looking for?” Great question. I repeated it for recording purposes then promptly passed the microphone to the author next to me because…well, I had no idea… I couldn’t write anymore.

It was author Margaret Daley who sat next to me. She leaned up to the microphone and without a second of hesitation said, “HOPE. Our readers are looking for hope.”

Hope. Now there was a nice little four-letter word that I’d forgotten about. A romance story needed hope. Or wait…maybe I needed hope. Because how can I give my readers hope when I have none of my own? If I wanted to finish my story—and I did—I had to find a way to remember my hope. I was determined.

But it didn’t happen overnight. It was slow—one minute, one hour, one day at a time, I stole back that hope that sorrow taken. I’d find hope in my children’s eyes. I’d find it in a friend’s voice. I’d find it in God’s promises. I’d find it in doing something for someone else. And the hope began to trickle over into my work…

I quit trying to write the story as fast as I could. I’d find a few quiet minutes here and there and I’d write a page. Many times that was it—one page. But then two or three and slowly, so slowly those characters worked their way to a happy ending. In some ways, I felt like I was healing along with them.

Of course, real life doesn’t stop at page 385 like a storybook romance, so I won’t end here by saying I got my own happy-ending. But I do have all I need to expect many more happy chapters. I have God’s promises and perfect love. I have friends and family and two beautiful children full of life.

And soon I’ll have more stories to tell of romance and love and hope.

Speaking encouragement: Investing in writers’ lives

“God didn’t set us up for an angry rejection but for salvation by our Master, Jesus Christ. He died for us, a death that triggered life. Whether we’re awake with the living or asleep with the dead, we’re alive with him! So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it” (1 Thessalonians 5: 9-11 [The Message]).

Writing fiction is a solitary pursuit. Much of the time we authors are alone (if you don’t count the cast of characters mouthing off in our heads) and it can be easy to lose heart—to wonder if what we’re doing matters to anyone but us.

That’s why opportunities like the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis Contest and the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest can be seen as balms to a writer’s tired soul—a much needed validation. Certainly, when I finaled in the Genesis two years running, I took that as confirmation.

But, I didn’t win. Either year.

So I started to question my ability—my calling—and I set aside my keyboard for a time and turned my focus to editing. I became discouraged.

I’m concerned too many others place the focus on the wrong thing in entering contests—validation—and do the same.

No wasted time

One writer who takes a different approach is Jennifer Slattery, one of the five finalists in the 2010 Operation First Novel (OFN) contest with her entry, Impossible Choices.

“I used to struggle with discouragement and would spend days moping,” Jennifer says. “God always drew me back to His will. Only in the meantime, I’d lost countless hours of productivity.

“I finally decided, either I believe God has a plan for my life or I don’t. Either I believe He’s in control or I don’t. If He’s in control, what is there to be discouraged about? A rejection letter or a harsh critique is not going to divert His plan. In fact, it could be part of His plan.”

Discouraging discouragement

This year the Guild received 139 full manuscript entries in our contest. In 2010, ACFW received almost 500 entries (15 pages each) for the Genesis, according to contest coordinator Camy Tang.

Surprise! Not everyone is going to win. But everyone who enters any contest wins a more important battle. You’ve beaten back the voice of discouragement and put your words out there—the words God gave you. That’s no small accomplishment.

As Diana Prusik, an OFN finalist this year (with Delivery) and in 2008 and a semifinalist in 2009 says, “I am most thankful to those who have met with success in the writing and publishing worlds and who still take the time to encourage aspiring novelists like me!”

Encouragement from others in the business is helpful as we pursue our solitary ministry. Another OFN finalist, Kimberley Gardner Graham (The Rockinghorse of Tuscumbia), admits to feeling “relief” at learning she finaled. “It was as if someone handed me a huge plaque that read, ‘You’re Not Crazy.’”

So I do want to “speak encouraging words” into other writer’s lives. To “build up hope” that, regardless of contest placement, what you are doing matters. But I also want to encourage writers that while the accolades are nice and you should enjoy them, they don’t validate God’s call on your life.

To paraphrase Jennifer, God already knows what you’re going to accomplish, has gifted you to fulfill His plan, and is at work training you.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

More on Operation First Novel

See the five finalists for The Guild’s 2010 Operation First Novel contest. On Feb. 10, 2011, at the Writing for the Soul conference in Denver CO, one will win $20,000 and a publishing contract from Tyndale House.

To attend the Writing for the Soul conference, visit our website to register or call 866.495.5177.

Learn about the rules and submission requirements for the 2011 Operation First Novel contest here.

Michael Ehret is the Editor-in-Chief for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. He has written for newspapers and other print and online outlets. He edited several nonfiction books, was the senior editor for a faith-based financial services and insurance organization, and is the ezine editor for American Christian Fiction Writers.