Debbie Kaufman didn’t set out to write inspirational romance (or even romance at all), starting with suspense. But between joining the Romance Writers of America and reading an account of missionary life in Liberia in the 1920s and 1930s, she couldn’t help but think, “I wonder if I could set a romance there.” Today, she writes historical inspirational romances, and she feels strongly that inspirationals should be, first and foremost, a good love story.
What is inspirational romance?
Inspirational is its own little subculture within the romance community primarily because what we do is, besides the sweet romance arc that you have to have in every story, we put the inspirational arc in too. So a hero and a heroine have to go through this faith journey. If there’s no faith journey—and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they went from—that they have a huge salvation experience. They could already be a person of faith, but they have some of sort of challenge in their faith to overcome. So once they do that, then your arc is complete. They have to realize. They have to see something about God, about their faith. And then a good inspirational romance writer ties it into the love story.
It’s primarily a love story anymore. Used to be, you got preached to on the page. And I heard an agent say today, and I loved what he said, “It’s like when is the last time you bought a sermon?” That’s the thing we have to overcome. People keep thinking that we’re going to preach them a sermon, and they don’t understand that contemporary inspirational is now a love story, just with faith elements. A lot of them are surprised when they read it too and see that it’s not the sermon on the page.
I think there’s as much diversity in the inspirational writers as there is in the Christian community as a whole. The Christian community is so diverse, like you said from Baptists on up. Pentecostals. You name it, it’s in there. But what I tend to see that they have in common is that they just simply desire to get that faith across. Most of them aren’t going to do it denominationally. The publishers don’t want that. They want a faith experience and a love experience that everybody can relate to without that distracting.
Harlequin’s had an inspirational line since the late ‘90s. They started out with Love Inspired itself, which is just a good sweet romance. Then they added Love Inspired Suspense, which Love Inspired is now at six books a month. Love Inspired Suspense is at four. I’m not sure how many years ago it was that they added the historical, but it’s a relative newcomer, and we just went from two books to four books in January. They tell me that it’s one of the fastest growing lines at Harlequin right now. I think that some of it has to do with people just wanting hope. Sometimes we want a good escape and a lot of novels offer—I mean any good novel will offer you a good escape, but I think sometimes we just want a little bit of hope. And the faith element plays into that big time. And there’s not really the darker elements. You’re not going to find the darker elements. So if you’re just at a point in your life when you just don’t—can’t handle the darker elements, maybe there’s enough going on in your life that you just aren’t going to buy into that right now, then you just get sweet story. It’s always a positive ending, and you get the hope of the relationship with God.
There’s something for every reader who wants different elements in their story and who likes different things. I think that the inspirational is starting to gain a little bit of momentum with readers who haven’t read inspirational before. I think for a while, we’d been relegated to being a little bit of the red-headed step child. But I think erotica was relegated that way too. We’re seen as the two extremes, which is kind of interesting. Some of my good friends write erotica, and we don’t seem to have any conflict. I think the world expects us to have a conflict there.