I had a pleasure of attending the Romance Writers of America national conference in San Antonio two weeks ago, and what an experience! I’ve attended medical conferences in my former life, and I’ve gone to several Christian writing conferences over the past couple of years, but this was my first time being surrounded by almost 2000 romance writers in one place.
Introductions usually go something like this, “Hi, I’m [name]. Nice to meet you. What do you write?” If you answer contemporary, paranormal, or erotica, everyone nods and instantly knows how to categorize your work. But if you answer inspirational, often the response is raised eyebrows and a polite but confused, “What exactly is inspirational?”
It’s easy to forget that inspy is a small part of larger romance writing market, but it got me to thinking: what exactly is inspirational romance? The definition has changed numerous times over the years, and I believe it’s in the process of changing once more. So here are some trends that I’ve noticed lately in inspirational romance.
1. Realistic characters with true to life problems
There has always been a place for hot button topics in women’s fiction and literary fiction, but we are more often finding these types of backstories creeping into books that aren’t strictly “issue” books. As well it should be. Most of us bring baggage into our romantic relationships that must be dealt with on our way to the Happily Ever After—so what better place to show the triumph of both God’s love and romantic love than in inspirational romance?
2. A wider variety of settings
As historical romance was once confined to medieval France and England, inspirational romance was once limited to small American towns. That’s been changing for a while—Sandra Byrd’s 2007 novel, Let Them Eat Cake was set in Paris. My own 2013 novel, Five Days in Skye, was took place in Scotland. And closer to home, Hillary Manton Lodge’s A Table By the Window, features a French-Italian family living in Portland. As inspy romance stretches beyond its down-home roots, I’m eagerly awaiting more books set in foreign locales and underrepresented cultures.
3. Lighter inspirational themes
A friend of mine who wrote a very spiritual book with deep meaning got an email from a reader chastising her for not presenting the full path to salvation in her novel. At one time a book had to contain a conversion scene in order for it to be considered Christian, but today’s inspirational romance takes a more organic approach with lighter themes… the key word being organic. While in some stories it makes sense to have a fully-described conversion sequence, others might only have a reaffirmation of faith or some insight into living a Christian life. Just like real people, characters possess varying levels of faith, and today’s inspy focuses more on the internal spiritual development of individuals than external requirements.
What trends have you noticed in inspy romance? And what are you hoping to see next?