by Karen Ball
Valentine’s Day is on its way, and that got me to thinking about that four-letter word we all use with impunity:
What a powerful word, one so full of meaning I could write a dozen blogs about it and still not exhaust the depth and breadth of all it entails. I’m grateful for love. For God’s love. For my hubby’s love. For my family’s love. For my doggies’ love. Love has blessed me more than I could ever deserve. But then, isn’t that the very nature of love—that it comes to us regardless of our so-called “worth.” And one area where I most enjoy the blessing of love is in writing. Whether poetry or novels, nonfiction or essays, I’m not afraid to admit that I love reading about love. And I especially enjoy–get ready for it–romance novels!
Anyone who has been in publishing has probably had a conversation or two about romance novels. As someone whose first novels were romance novels, and as someone who headed up a line of Christian romances novels, I’ve had more than my fair share of such discussions. And frankly, those conversations tend to be me defending this category of novels to those replete with criticism. Such as, romance novels are:
Simple-minded stories with two-dimensional characters.
Promoting unrealistic expectations.
Mindless stories for mindless readers.
Doing more damage than good.
Not suitable for Christian women to read.
And through the years, as I listened to all of this, one thing became abundantly clear to me: these people hadn’t read a romance novel. Not a good one. Especially not a good Christian romance novel. Because those novels are wonderful, engaging, complex, and uplifting stories. And I, for one, wish people would quit putting them down. Fine to say you don’t enjoy them. Hey, there are certain kinds of books I don’t like to read. But that doesn’t mean those books don’t have an audience, or that they’re “bad” or not worth publishing. In fact, I’m here to tell you that romance novels not only are worth publishing, they have kept publishing going!
It’s true. Those “fluffy” little books that folks like to dismiss have been the backbone of publishing for a lot of years. Nothing sells like romance. Why? Well, I think the most powerful reason is because God designed women with a soul-deep yearning for love. Christian novelist Robin Jones Gunn has said for a long time that the first and greatest romance ever written is found in that book we call The Bible. She’s pointed out that there’s the typical hero, coming to save us at the cost of His own life, and He even rides in at the end on a white horse!
Robin is right. And I’m not the only woman out there whose heart longs for that kind of giving, protective, warrior-heart, self-sacrificing love.
Oh, I hear the detractors grumbling already! “The heroes in those books are totally unreal! No man can live up to them! And the heroines? Insipid!” Okay, in some cases, that’s true. But you find the same faults in every genre, not just in romances. The genre isn’t the problem, folks. There are some awful, poorly written suspense/mystery/coming-of-age/literary/fill-in-the-blank novels out there. And there are some powerful, honest, life-changing romance novels as well. Novels full of truth and beauty and craft.
Name one, you say? How about Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers? That novel has enchanted and moved and inspired hundreds of thousands of readers. And it’s a romance. But that’s Francine Rivers, you say. Of course it’s good. Okay then, how about the following books. Take a look at what readers had to say about them:
Tying the Knot by Susan May Warren. Here’s what a reviewer had to say about this book:
“…the story line is as much about the characters discovering and working through the areas in their lives where they have misconceptions of God and need healing as it is about the romance that develops between them.”
Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble:
“Real, relatable, characters and an interesting plot take the reader on a rich journey that can reveal a lot about life and relationships with God and each other.”
Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer.
“I love how easily [Kim] shares spiritual lessons that we all need to be reminded of.”
Love in Bloom by Arlene James.
“[This book] makes you want to reach out and help those around you.”
At the core of any good romance novel is this eternal truth: The greatest of these is LOVE. Romance novels strike at the heart of what women long for and what God intended: relationships based on His love. And they remind us that love was God’s idea. Romance novels touch hearts and lives. They encourage and uplift and draw us to God, and then to each other. If you ask me, that’s a pretty powerful novel that can do that.
So to all of you who write and read and cherish stories of love and romance, Happy Valentine’s Day. And thanks for all you do to remind us that love really is what it’s all about.