Inspirational qualities

Photo, Amish Family Goes Fishing, louisepalanker, Jul. 21, 2009, Flickr, creative commons
louisepalanker, "Amish Family Goes Fishing," Flickr, 2009.

Readers of inspirational romance want both a compelling, wholesome love story and an uplifting Christian faith element. A good inspirational romance supplies both of these, and more. Many contemporary readers find it challenging to live an authentic Christian life in today’s world, to act with integrity in an impure culture and to keep their faith, hope, and love alive in an atmosphere that doesn’t always promote or support these attributes. They are looking for books that will inspire and guide them in these goals. Both the requirement of wholesomeness—i.e., no profanity or explicit sex scenes and a high moral tone—and the presence of a faith element distinguish inspirational romance from general romance. Ideally, the faith element is organic and the lessons are embodied in the story without recourse to “preachy” or didactic language.

Wholesome romance is heartwarming and positive, always delivering the “HEA” (happily ever after), with either a church wedding or the promise of one by the end of the book. But although these romances are “clean,” that doesn’t mean they are boring or even unrealistic. Characters often have flawed and even scandalous pasts—after all, there can be no redemption without sin. In our Love Inspired series, we’ve had heroines who were former prostitutes and heroes who are ex-cons, and these books sell well.

The faith element can also focus on a protagonist’s struggles to find the deepest meanings of faith and spiritual practice. One of my favorites is A Father’s Place by Marta Perry, in which the heroine fears her father’s past as an embezzler will jeopardize both her romantic future and his own. She comes to acknowledge that her own smug self-righteousness and need for outward respectability are the true obstacles to her faith and relationships, and learns to appreciate what it really means to love and forgive.

Cover, Johanna's Bridegroom, March 2013, Emma Miller, Harlequin Love Inspired

Emma Miller, Johanna’s Bridegroom, Harlequin Love Inspired, 2013.

All romance novels focus on character and relationships, and the best romances involve transformation of either hero, heroine, or both. Since God’s grace is always transformative, inspirational themes and romance are a very good fit. Often a protagonist has no faith at the beginning of the book, and when he or she starts to believe, a different worldview and view of self develops as well, leading to changes in the character’s behavior and ways of relating to others. For example, in Terri Reed’s March 2013 Love Inspired Suspense book, The Cowboy Target, the cowboy hero, who has isolated himself on his Wyoming ranch, is accused of murder. Only through faith in God is he able to trust the heroine, a bodyguard, to find the killer who framed him.

Inspirational romances tend to be highly idealistic, suggesting if people would only live by the Golden Rule, the world would be a kinder, better place, and this is especially true in the currently popular Amish romances, which focus on a simpler, nonmaterialistic lifestyle and tight-knit communities. In May 2013, we are publishing such a story, Johanna’s Bridegroom by Emma Miller, set in the picturesque Amish community in Delaware. In this book, a widow finds herself being courted by a former admirer, but must learn to forgive past mistakes before the couple can forge a new life together.

The longing for simplicity and community has also led to a resurgence of popularity for the historical novel. In Linda Ford’s March 2013 Love Inspired Historical romance The Cowboy’s Unexpected Family, a lonely cowboy with no family rescues four young orphans. Since he needs help caring for the children, he appeals to the heroine to give the children a temporary home. Together, they finally learn about family, faith, and love.

Beyond the inspirational element, what makes an inspirational romance good is no different from what makes any novel good—an interesting story, well told, with relatable characters and a compelling author voice. Our Love Inspired author aims to deliver these qualities in romances that help readers to better guide themselves, their families, and their communities toward purposeful, faith-driven lives.

Joan Marlow Golan

Joan Marlow Golan is Executive Editor for Harlequin's Love Inspired franchise, and also works with New York Times bestselling authors Linda Lael Miller in the HQN imprint and Sherryl Woods in the MIRA imprint. After earning a Ph.D. from Harvard University, Joan learned that editors get paid to read, and so has been an editor for 33 years, the past 15 of them happily-ever-after at Harlequin. She's profoundly thankful for work she loves and membership in the extraordinary romance community.

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