Is There a Place for Bodice Ripping in Christian Romance Novels?

Bodice Ripping in Christian Romance Novels
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Editor’s note: This guest post is by KT Bowes, a novelist who identifies herself as “An English lass in exile in New Zealand.” She has written 21 novels so far.  She agrees with the CWT philosophy that, “A Christian writer is not necessarily someone who writes on Christian topics, but someone who addresses all topics with Christian values.”

I’ve never tagged my work as Christian or slipped it into that shiny genre. Perhaps I’m ducking responsibility. Maybe I’m declining the challenge to produce a fully wholesome diet. I’m not sure why, but know I don’t want that label. Yet, I know my work attracts the desperately seeking because of the email requests I receive from readers in crisis and needing prayer.

I do pray for them. Every single one. It doesn’t matter if they’re paid up members of a church community or not. Mostly, they see God as an unreachable deity. They need his help but don’t know how to access him.

Why do they pick me to pray for them? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t pick me from my author photo. I’m grinning like a lunatic while the horse behind me snorts goop over my dress. I’m wearing Wellington boots out of shot and the sun is in my eyes. They don’t know it, but I’m entirely undeserving of their faith in my prayers. Fortunately, I know someone who’ll always come through for them. That will have to do.

Reading was My Portal to Writing

As a brand new Christian in 2000, I read every book in our church library. I stormed through a main course of Corrie Ten Boom and Nicky Cruz, followed by a dessert of C.S. Lewis. My hunger for books consumed me. I needed to connect with others who’d stood in my shoes and succeeded.

An avid reader, it seemed the natural way to test the validity of my new freedom in Christ. Surely testimonies of hardship and victory contained the blueprint for my new Christian life. Back then I found the Bible confusing. To scratch its ancient surface, I needed a trendy commentary and my pastor on speed dial. I craved understanding.

Hindsight displays more than my insatiable craving for explanation. It highlights vulnerability. The unsuspecting authors shared an enormous responsibility to point me back to the bible at every opportunity.

As a wide-eyed Christian in a world of sparkly lights and clamouring voices, I believed most of their words. My weak discernment muscle couldn’t distinguish poetic licence from truth or biblical fact from fiction. More susceptible during those early years than I would ever be again, I sucked up truth with a dollop of falsehood on the same spoon. It turned out this was a training ground for me. Later, aware of the fog created by some Christian books, I was empowered to write with clarity and truth.

Bringing Honesty to Fiction

My novels are raw and honest. My characters do stupid, worldly things and suffer the consequences. But hidden in the depths is a believer handing out some form of truth even if it’s spoken between the lines. Don’t be fooled. Readers are intelligent, hungry people. They second guess even the best mystery writers and find needles in haystacks. If I lay a subtle trail, they’ll find it if they want to.

But we live in an all too real world with fragile people experiencing life shaking circumstances. Add my own faults to the mix and I’ll never bake shiny characters with squeaky clean morals and wisdom for every season. There’s only one person deserving of a pedestal and it isn’t me.

Humanity in Christian Fiction

Someone once asked if I could draw the line between myself and my lead character Hana, in the Hana Du Rose Mysteries. The answer is yes, but also no. She’s a Christian, but struggling. Her halo is definitely on a wonky angle, rather like mine. She tries to do the right thing and somehow scrapes through. Her life is more chaotic than mine, but I’m married to an Information Technology (IT) guy, not a school teacher with his finger on the pulse of a New Zealand mafia. Like so many of us, Hana’s the voice of mediocre reasoning in a confusing world.

My novels contain cynicism about the church community too. Anyone wounded by a Christian body understands there’s no pain quite like it. It’s another elephant in the room and I don’t shirk it. Faulty characters in a fallen world make mistakes. It’s real, so I talk about it. It’s resulted in some incredible email conversations which I’m grateful for. Readers crave understanding and hope. And there’s definitely hope.

Humans are Sexual Creatures

My characters do minimal bodice ripping. For a start, that’s because my prime beta reader, my mother, reads everything I publish and I need to look her in the eye over Skype. Otherwise, she’ll think there’s something wrong with me and worry.

Another reason is because I have an issue with online erotica. I’d hate to discover my gorgeous husband reading a porn magazine, so why not hold myself to the same standards? Just because I’m a woman and explicit sex is legitimized through the digital novel label, does that make it any less pornographic? I have made my decision about that. Other Christian women are reading so-called extreme “Christian romance” and justifying it. That’s their battle to fight. I don’t read it and don’t write it.

But if there’s one thing I’ve spent the last eighteen years learning, it’s that God hasn’t yet made me the judge or jury. Any temptation to point the proverbial finger is expunged by a quick glance at my reflection. I see the biblical plank, just above the left iris and covering most of my cheek.

Faith at the Heart

My faith is undeniably present in my work. When I wrote Artifact, I included a scene in which a troubled young woman finds salvation. Like everything poor Lara does, it’s hilarious. How many people do you know who’ve accidentally set fire to a symbolic cross on church property? Umm, I know someone. But in my defense, I didn’t know that would happen and anyway, it wasn’t a cross. We’ll leave the similarities there because I’m still traumatized by my own stupidity.

While I do sometimes draw on my own experiences, my stories aren’t everyday occurrences. I don’t know many hitmen and you can’t believe everything my laptop browser tells you. But I’m real. I bleed, I cry, I pray. I stuff up daily in the throne room and plead forgiveness to start again tomorrow.

I don’t preach and I certainly can’t judge. All I’m ever able to offer is myself. Sometimes it will be good enough and other times it won’t, but I’m here and available. It’s a privilege to trespass into another person’s mind and heart through my writing. If I show love then surely God will do the rest. It’s up to him. What else matters?

Understanding the Boundaries

As writers struggling to color inside the lines drawn by faith, we must realize that it’s a heart matter. We’re human and it’s easy to become numb to the warnings of conscience under constant bombardment. Sometimes it seems easier to bow under pressure because every novel and movie in popular demand contains scenes which would have embarrassed our grandmothers. But we know what’s right. We really do. Christian romance novels can be above current worldly standards.

I picked someone many years ago who I respected and used her as my spiritual benchmark when I wanted to read or write something which crossed the line. If I couldn’t recommend the book or movie to her because I felt uncomfortable, then I had my answer. I freely admit that I push the boundaries in my own writing because I write for real people. But that is the dilemma faced by all writers with Christian values—we either meet our readers where they are or we don’t meet them at all.

KT Bowes authorKT Bowes says she “lives in the middle of nowhere between a river and a mountain” in New Zealand with her husband of 27 years. She has four children, whom she reports, “have all escaped my clutches” as they live their adult lives. She says, “I love being a Christian, but my guardian angels are due a substantial pay increase.” Her first novel, About Hana, is free on all platforms here

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