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I received a message from another writer last week that said, “I am an author in the first round of edits with my publishing company. Luckily, they aren’t pushing for an erotic, yucky smut scene between my characters. I want Christian love scenes — your blogs and posts have inspired me to move forward. Thank you for your boldness.”

Sweet William

My new release, Sweet William, which should be available in June 2016, is the first book I’ve written where both of the main characters are virgins. Most of my books are second chance at romance stories, and it’s no secret that I have steamy scenes in several – or that said love scenes co-exist alongside a Christian world view and struggles of faith. I don’t call any of my books Christian Fiction, but they are in every way Fiction by a Christian. Some who know me are fine with my integration of faith and the nitty gritty of life, including sex, when it is part of the story. Others are uncomfortable and think, as a Christian and a pastor’s wife, I should keep the bedroom door tightly shut. I was told by the owner of a Christian bookstore that my characters shouldn’t even think about sex.

The note I received got me thinking about the term Christian love scenes. Is there such a thing?

Love, and yes, sex, are two of the greatest motivators in life. Biological urge, temptation, taboo, obsession, pleasure, joy, disappointment, regret, – make no mistake that making love (or not) is a prime mover in the stories of our lives. Why wouldn’t it be included in the stories that we read? Before you write me off completely, take your Bible, turn to 2 Samuel 11, and  read about the love triangle between David, Bathsheba, and Uriah the Hittite. Then go to Psalms and Proverbs and think about some of the emotional and physical repercussions of  their actions. It’s the stuff stories – and life – are made of.

Writing realistic fiction is important to me. If a story is too far-fetched, out there, or unbelievable, I’m done. I can believe that there are a few people in the world who for whatever reason are not actively thinking about the desire to be held, the need to experience a physical manifestation of love, and enjoy the physical pleasures of making love. Most people have it on their radar. If I read a book that doesn’t acknowledge this basic fact of life, and the way it influences the things we do, the decisions we make, and the manner in which we act, you’ve lost me. It’s too important, too meaningful to be ignored. In my humble opinion, to pretend sex doesn’t exist casts an unrealistic aura over the whole book and lessons the believability of the characters to the point where it’s hard to bond with or care about them.

Cal - Rachel SS

Before I go any further, I want to make a disclaimer. Just because I write about sex and lovemaking does not mean that I endorse it in every time and circumstance that it occurs in my books. Authors write about murders, burglaries, terrorism, betrayals, lies, and all sorts of evil – the fact that these acts and occurrences are described through the eyes of a character, or pertinent to the plot in no way means that these authors endorse violence or deceitful acts, or recommend that you do them.

Teenagers and single men and women – please don’t have casual sex. There’s really no such thing. Sex is always serious, life-changing, and most-importantly, wrong when it’s done outside of a marital relationship. Save yourself for your wedding night. It’s the best and most beautiful form of lovemaking. Once you give yourself to someone, you can’t take it back. You can be forgiven and loved in the present, but the past is always there. I’ve never written about an adulterous affair, but again, I’ll go on record, in case it’s not already obvious – bad idea. Very bad. Don’t do it.

That brings me to my next point. How are love scenes written from a Christian perspective different from sex scenes written from a worldly point of view? Specifically, what can you expect from the love scenes that my characters participate in?

  1. The scenes are there for a reason. The love scenes in my book speak to the main characters worst fears, vulnerabilities, Achilles heels, and flaws. They progress the plot, derail or complicate a relationship, cause chaos, guilt, or confusion. They aren’t just a fun romp in the hay. They’re not there for no reason. They’re not inserted just for the sake of having sex.
  1. There are repercussions and consequences to making love. Giving our bodies to one another in an intimate setting is not a light matter. It changes us in both wonderful and detrimental ways depending on the person and the timing.
  1. My love scenes are respectful, tender, and considerate. There’s no foul language. They’re a thing of beauty, and appropriate to the character’s personality and issues. I was once told that a Christian writer should never glorify sex, murder, rape, or any kind of sin. Sex can be a sin, but it’s also one of the most glorious things in the world. Just like life, the trouble comes in sorting out when it’s right and when it’s not, and how far you can go without betraying your conscience. It’s a complex, often confusing, sometimes tender and sometimes heartbreaking matter, and one I try to deal with candidly and honestly.
  1. My love scenes often teach lessons. It’s sometimes subtle, but they have a point. Some of them end badly. Some seem wonderful on the surface but culminate in disaster at a later date. And some are just plain wonderful, done at the right time, for the right reasons. And no matter how things start out, or why, everything works out the way it’s supposed to in the end – another very Biblical perspective.

Backyard - beautiful   BBInn - daffodils

Are love scenes compatible with fiction written by people of faith with a Christian perspective? I think they are. We’re human. We were designed for lovemaking. I also realize that all of us, regardless of our faith, have differing preferences for how explicit we like our sex scenes. I have readers who love some of my books because they have no love scenes. Others don’t care for those same books because they like things a little spicy. And there are some who hate love scenes but read my books anyway because they like everything else about them. (Thank you!) I don’t want to lose readers because they’re afraid they’ll encounter a steamy scene. I don’t want readers to pass up a great book because they think it’s lacking in a component they enjoy.

I could do as many authors do, and make sure I include a specific number of sex scenes in each book, or conversely, guarantee that there will be absolutely no sex scenes in any of my books, so readers know exactly what to expect. I don’t feel that would be fair to me and particularly to my characters, all of whom are unique.

I write honest fiction with honest characters, each of whom has a different personality. My stories aren’t cookie cutter. They go in different directions. They’re character driven. Characters do what they will, which often means they go in a direction I would never go. I write my stories to be faithful to the story as it unfolds and the psyche of my characters. Does that mean that God is in only some of my stories and not others? No. He’s there, in every word, and every outcome, just as He is present in my life, all the time, every moment, even when I’m running away from something (maybe even Him), or in deep denial, on the wrong track or doing something completely idiotic.

Sex is an integral part of the human condition. God created us to be sexual beings. Lovemaking scenes can be beautiful and powerful, or heartbreaking and misguided. That’s why I love to explore this complex facet of our beings in my writing. For those who don’t feel the same way I do, here’s a handy guide to where each of my books fits on the steaminess scale.

Night and Day (1)

Night and Day:  A few steamy scenes. Mild by today’s standards.

Maple Valley Trilogy (1)

Stormy Weather:  I’m told it’s one of my steamiest.

Water Lily:  Mildly steamy in a tender, beautiful way.

Merry Go Round:  Mildly steamy. Adult subject matter and strong Christian themes which clash and cause an extreme amount of tension.

Love Notes

Love Notes:  They don’t do it, but they (well, one of them) thinks about it and wishes they were. Strong Christian themes and adult themes set against a very wholesome, yet sometimes warped backdrop – all mixed together, just like life.

Age old castles and blue-watered bays,White sandy beaches and quaint cottage stays.A rainbow of colors and chocolates, hand-dipped,A valley of bluebells and sheep, freshly clipped. Legends galore, buried treasure, and

Thistle Down:  Totally tame except for one boyfriend who’s a jerk.

Wild Rose:  Adult subject matter, including sexual temptation and sex gone wrong. Strong Christian themes. One extremely mild lovemaking scene between husband and wife.

Blue Belle:  One of my very steamiest and best. Creepy bad guys.

Shy Violet:  So deliciously steamy that it makes you want to cry when it doesn’t end the way you want it to.

Sweet William:  No sex, but not for lack of wanting it. A wonderfully patient and chivalrous hero you will love.

I want to end by saying that I don’t wish to in any way offend those Christian writers who have made the decision to keep the bedroom door closed. I have read and loved many of your books and respect the way you handle romance in your writing – just as I hope you will respect and show understanding for mine.  Nor do I wish to offend those of my colleagues who write more explicitly erotic scenes than I. We’re not all the same, and I don’t mean to imply that we should be. I like some of your books, too.

While I’m at it, please don’t dishonor me and other authors who include steamy scenes in their novels by  categorizing our literary achievements as cheap, bodice-rippers, porn or smut. There are well-written, thoughtful, smart books that include sex, and horribly written books that don’t. Please don’t generalize.

Finally, a special thank you to my readers – no matter what your stance on this issue – for your enthusiasm and support for my endeavors to write in a way that glorifies God, yet is true to the world as I see it and the way He created me.

Pictures from phone 9Sept2015 008   Ely - roses

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A friend of mine at Gather.com posted a photo today of her peach tree, laden with fruit almost ready to pick. Thoughts of enjoying juicy, ripe peaches fresh from the tree, still warm from the sunshine, made me mourn all over again for our own lost crop.

Our cherry, pear and apple trees at the new parsonage in Hudson, IA burst into bloom early this spring, each delicate blossom filling my head with thoughts of spiced pear jelly, fresh-baked apple pies and sitting on the back steps eating dark, sweet cherries and spitting out the seeds.

The trees were still in bloom, along with two rows of raspberry bushes, when we had a hard frost. We hoped it wouldn’t matter, but now it is summer, and there is not a single piece of fruit to be found on any of our trees. Nipped in the bud, literally. Thanks to a drought this summer, and to many excessively hot days, our corn crop doesn’t look much better.

It’s painful to watch hope turn into disappointment. When hopes are crushed by random acts of nature, it’s one thing, but I especially hate it when something you’re excited about fizzles and dies because someone purposely takes a pin and pops your balloon.

I recently felt this way when I got a note about my new Christian Inspirational novel, Love Notes.  The caller had read Love Notes, and was distressed because she didn’t feel she could recommend it to her friends, even though she liked the book very much, because it contained a word that is evidently not allowable in Christian fiction. I immediately deduced that the word was spoken by Billy Bjorklund, the vulgar, hate-crazed bad guy of Embarrass. On doing a search later that day, I discovered that I used the word 8 – 12 times. I will be the first to admit that the word is probably considered offensive, but I personally do not consider it a swear word, or I never would have used it.  Her suggestion was that instead of using the word, I should have said “He swore profusely,” or “He called her every bad name he could think of,” or “He uttered a string of expletives.” Both my husband and I agreed that if we read any of these phrases in a book, we would think of words far worse than what currently comes out of Billy’s mouth, which starts with a b and ends with a ch.

So, as Barney Fife always said, “We’ve  got a situation on our hands.” The logical action, since the last thing I want to do is to offend the very readers I’m trying to attract, is to (also compliments of good, oldBarney) Nip it in the bud!”  I spoke to my editor, and they agreed that I could edit the word out of future copies if I wanted to. (Oh, the joys of POD publishing.)

So my dilemma is this: I truly feel like I am da..ed if I do and da..ed if I don’t remove the word. Here’s why:  Some of the Christians I know will never even pick up a copy of Love Notes because I have previously written books that include steamy scenes. I’ve already been judged, pegged and deemed irredeemable. Others, even if they are not offended by the word Billy utters 8-12 times, or even if I take it out, will find something else to be offended about. Tommy Love, my hero, has been divorced twice. He encounters groupies. He’s going through a midlife crisis and thinks he wants to write hip hop. Billy, the bad guy, has a beer in one scene. He does several wicked and dastardly things. He thinks heinous thoughts. Evil is not glorified in this book, but it is present, an adversary to be overcome.

And if I leave the word in? As we’ve learned this past week, a person can also get into trouble for simply being open about their faith and beliefs. It’s certainly possible that other readers, some of whom do not share my Christian beliefs, may conversely be offended by certain God things and events in this book. God is at work in the lives of the characters in Love Notes, convicting, guiding, making things of beauty out of chaos. This may not sit well with some. Being openly Christian is not exactly a popular thing in today’s culture.

My conclusion is that if I try to re-write the book with the intent of offending no one, it would very probably  end up so watered down and without heart that no one would want to read it.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, take me as I am or leave me. My books have always been honest, candid and character-driven. Each of my books, steamy or inspirational, contains references to faith and old-fashioned, traditional values, and Scripture-based wisdom. I have always tried not to unduly offend while at the same time being true to my characters and the story as it comes to me.

My closing thoughts. Christians, be careful that you are not the hard frost that freezes the blossoms off the fruit trees. Sadly, at this point, I think the best thing for me to do may be to stop labeling Love Notes as a Christian inspirational, which I think is a shame, as it has a beautiful Christian message about the God-given gifts of hope, joy, peace and true love. I will say that if you are a Christian reader, it’s your loss if you let one somewhat offensive word ruin a perfectly lovely love story.

Now the song Accentuate the Positive is running through my head. Personally, I prefer its attitude to Barney’s  “Nip it in the Bud.”  So take me or leave me, just as I am. Thankfully, God does.

I’m in St. Louis for the first time in almost 30 years.

 

There is no way Louis and Clark could have envisioned this city, arch racing up and over the sky, one skyscraper reflected in the windows of another for blocks and blocks on end. And what about the parking garages and interstate highways that crisscross the land like spider webs?

We can see the old courthouse from our room, and there is a white, horse-drawn carriage lingering at the corner, ready to take me down the cobblestone streets of Laclede’s Landing, a reminder of days gone by (except for the price tag should I want to go for a spin).

Being here is causing a jumble of memories to resurface. My ex is from Saint Louis – is here still – along with his mother and father, his new, pretty, skinny young wife and six children. Enough said. (Read Water Lily if you want to know the rest of the story – in fiction form, of course.)

Even without the visions of ex associations, joys and traumas, it’s an emotionally wrought weekend. Our church (where my husband is the pastor) is scheduled to vote to leaving the ELCA this Sunday. I will not be there, as unfortunately, I cannot be two places at once. If the vote fails by one vote, I fear I will feel eternally terrible. If it fails, it will be the end of life as I’ve known it for almost 8 years. My time at Bethany has been the honeymoon period in my life as a wife, and a pastor’s wife, and will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m not ready for it to end. I am trying to leave things in God’s hands, knowing that the God of the universe does not need my stress, anxiety or exhaustion to accomplish his plan in the world. But it is hard to let go and trust, to believe that after months of stress and worry, arguments, threats and political maneuvering by the ELCA and those in our church who are in bed with them, that this whole terrible mess will suddenly be all better. And the truth is, that although joy is promised at the end of the journey, some of the wounds caused by this battle may never heal.

I am trying not to let my general disillusionment with the world and the church color my experience at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (the reason I’m in St. Louis). I’m here with two multi-published authors and another aspiring author who have a great deal of wisdom to impart to me. I’m privileged to have the honor of getting to know them better. I will soon have the opportunity to sit in workshops, as well as meeting editors, agents and authors who can teach me much about how to reach my goals re: my writing career. I want to share with them the pride I feel for the books I have written for Second Wind (Night and Day, Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round). I want to be filled with enthusiasm, overflowing with passion for my work, to impress them as a vibrant, high energy person who can write the next break-out novel. Can I do this when my back is aching from 8 hours in a car and a fitful night’s sleep on a hotel room cot? Can I come across in a positive manner when my heart is with my husband in Thompson? We won’t even talk about my worries that things won’t go well at the Blue Belle Inn while I’m gone, that I have left almost new staff-members in charge because my faithful employee of the past 4 years is off at college and too busy to help out in my absence as promised.

And then, there’s the fear that I shouldn’t be here. That I’m not good enough to write Christian fiction. Not “not good” enough – I have the talent, the gifts, the ideas, the track record –but “not GOOD” enough. That if they knew what I’d done and with who, they’d be so shocked that they’d forget the fact that I’m forgiven and run me out of town on a rail. Or maybe a riverboat.

St. Louis… one of many places in the world where I’ve done things that I’m not proud of. But that’s why I think I have the potential to be a Great Fiction Writer… and yes, a Great Christian Fiction Writer… because I’m living proof that God forgives, and gives second chances. I’m a walking Ode to Redemption – a testament to the fact that All Things Work Together For Good.

God would forgive the ELCA and lead them back to His ways, too, if they would let him. For the record, I hope one day they will.

In a few minutes, I’m going to wonder down to the river and walk along the banks of the Mississippi. Perhaps Old Man River will take my concerns and lazily float them down-river, never to be seen again. Perhaps God will respond to my prayers by giving me peace of mind about the events that will be transpiring in the next few days. Perhaps if I pray hard enough, God will even make the zit on my nose go away by morning so I don’t have to meet important people for the first time looking like a geek. Or, maybe God is trying to keep me humble. Or maybe, it’s better this way – to let people know I have a few quirks right from the start.

A girl can dream. Has to. And pray. Definitely pray.

UPDATE:  My weekend in St. Louis was inspiring and as hoped, very beneficial. Turns out I am good enough. :-) The zit never materialized. Thank you, God. My friend, Lyn Cote, won a prestigious Carol Award for her book, Her Healing Ways. I talked to a friend who had lunch at the Blue Belle while I was gone and she said the food and the service were excellent. Sadly, our church’s vote to leave the ELCA failed by 18 votes due to the fact that several people who haven’t attended church in at least 2 years showed up to vote. The honeymoon is over. I am reminded that when God closes a door, he opens a window. Think of us as we find (hopefully soon) the window and climb out into the sunshine.

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Golden Rod – New Release!

Sweet William

Shy Violet

Blue Belle

Wild Rose

Thistle Down

Love Notes

Night and Day

Stormy Weather

Water Lily

Merry Go Round

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