Monday, October 22, 2012

To Romance or Not to Romance with Dina Sleiman

So glad to welcome my friend and author, Dina Sleiman with us today. Dina and I have a tendency to cause attention to ourselves when we're together at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. It's my pleasure to have her here today.

Last year there was quite a kerfuffle in the Christian writing industry over romance. It started with a well-known minister writing a lengthy blog post about how romance harmed Christian women, going so far as to relate Christian romance to emotional porn. Of course that was followed by tons of response in the writing community, some in support of his article, much opposing it.

The truth is, I’ve had my questions about Christian romance as well. Especially about the popularity of it to the exclusion of other genres and the overriding demand for escapism in fiction. While I enjoy romance, I also have great respect for novels with depth, realism, and literary value. But all that aside, there are a few things I know for sure.

-Many sincere Christian women feel called to write Christian romance.
      - Lives are touched through Christian romance.

Anyone who tries to deny those facts, simply has not done their research. God gives each of us different callings and gifts, and none of us needs to judge callings that we don’t understand. Do short category romances sometimes seem a bit skewed and unrealistic? Maybe. But that has more to do with genre constraints than any intent on the part of the author. I personally know a woman who renewed her relationship with Christ because she got tired of secular romance and started reading sweet, little Christian romances instead. So, don’t try to tell me that God can’t use romance if He so chooses.

But…when my agent asked me to write romance, that presented a different issue. Did I fell called to write romance? Could I write romance with a good conscious? On one hand, all my novels contain romance. I love romance and happily-ever-afters. But on the other hand, I do feel like reading too many romance novels in my youth had negative effects on my life. I always secretly thought of my novels as “anti-romance” that would still please the romantic soul. They were really coming of age stories about falling in love with Jesus. Through Christ’s healing and intervention the couple found one another and their reasonably happy (although the reader will hopefully understand that life and marriage will not be perfect) ending.

In fact, in a blog article I wrote a few years back called “The Trouble with Romance”, I actually gave a list of elements I personally thought a Godly romance novel should contain:

1) Making the relationship more about why God would want the couple together, especially if it doesn’t fit their plans.
2) Hearing God's voice about getting together.
3) Having to overcome old hurts, prejudices, and weaknesses in order to fulfill God's plan for hero and heroine to be together.
4) Heroes with plenty of real life variety flaws, but heroines that love them anyway.
5) Show physical attraction and feelings coming and going, but ultimately it is a choice to love and fulfill God's plan.
6) Make sure that the hero and heroine really know and love each other, flaws and all.

The question remaining was, could I write my style of novel in the romance format? And, thankfully, the answer was yes! In my new historical romance novel, Love in Three-Quarter Time, releasing tomorrow with Zondervan First, I was able to write a romance that still met my personal standards while fitting the genre and winning the heart of my editor.  I took a few detours from strict category romance by including five points of view, a love triangle, and some fun subplots. I call this my Scarlet O’Hara meets Jane Austen novel, so I figured a big cast with some unexpected Austen worthy twists and turns would be appropriate. And if you read closely, I think you’ll realize that it is at least as much about falling in love with Jesus as it is about earthly romance.

Now I know. I can write romance that I feel good about and that still works for the market. And while I think it’s important that every writer seeks God for their own direction in their career, I think it’s also good to know that we can write the same message in a variety of genres and formats. I hope you’ll check out my new novel and see what you think about my brand of romance.


In the style of Deeanne Gist, Dina Sleiman explores the world of 1817 Virginia in her novel Love in Three-Quarter Time. When the belle of the ball falls into genteel poverty, the fiery Constance Cavendish must teach the dances she once loved in order to help her family survive. The opportunity of a lifetime might await her in the frontier town of Charlottesville, but the position will require her to instruct the sisters of the plantation owner who jilted her when she needed him most. As Robert Montgomery and Constance make discoveries about one another, will their renewed faith in God help them to face their past and the guilt that threatens to destroy them in time to waltz to a fresh start?


Beth K. Vogt said...

What a way to start off the week.
Great post because it made me think (and I haven't had my first jolt of caffeine yet!)
Thanks, Dina, for your thoughtful approach to writing romance.
I, too, didn't have the best introduction to romance novels as a teenager. I even took a break from reading romance as an adult. But here I am, writing romance -- even believing it's a way to reflect God to the world and to draw people one step closer to Jesus, wherever they are on their faith journey.
And I know other authors who pray before they write, as they write and after their manuscripts are sent off to the publisher -- not just for success, but that God will be glorified in their romance novels.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Great post, Dina. I've definitely shared the same thoughts about romance and the fallout it can cause on marriages--even Christian marriages--such as setting unrealistically high expectations for men to always know the right things to say, etc. But I know most Christian romance writers strive to "keep it real" as they write within the romance parameters. Glad you were able to find a way to do it on your own terms!

Dina Sleiman said...

Beth, are you the lady who did the princess class at Blue Ridge, or am I just making this up?

Yes, like you I felt romance had some bad effects on me as a teenager, especially secular romance. In my first published novel, I purposely attempted to dispel the myths of romance novels, hoping it would save young girls some heart ache. But it's still an incredibly romantic book with a happy ending. The heroine just has to find God's love in order to get there.

But I also read Christian romance novels as I teen, and I would have to say they were a mixed bag. The ones that were just normal romance with a little Christian message tacked on still had some issues. But I do believe any truly Christian romance should bring glory to God.

Dina Sleiman said...

Hi Heather,

I think you have a good approach to romance.

Getting personal now. But my husband was the "take charge" kind of guy in the romance novels. And like the romance novels, he swept me off my feet, charmed me with his foreign accent, and married me three months later.

Let me just say that in real life, these things don't play out as prettily as they do in a romance novel. "Take charge" before a wedding can quickly turn into "controlling" after a wedding. And the cultural differences have been nearly insurmountable. Some of these "differences" are downright unacceptable in our culture. His one saving grace, I will say, is that he truly has a heart for God. But nineteen years later, things are still tough.

Dina Sleiman said...

Pepper, I sure do love making trouble with you :)

Pepper said...

So glad to have you here, Dina!

And this post is wonderful. Thought-provoking on a MOnday morning, even. What a trouble-maker :-)

I LOVE writing romance, because of the reasons you mentioned. I want each of my books to reflect the love of Christ through the human love of the couple. And I work hard to have my hero and heroine have their own separate spiritual journeys too - apart from the romance.


Dina Sleiman said...

You know, Pepper, as I worked on my blog schedule, I had certain articles in mind and thought this one would be the best fit for Writer's Alley. After I sent it to you I had a moment of panic. "Why did I send that article to a blog full of romance writers? They're going to hate me." LOL. I'm glad you ladies have enjoyed it in the spirit it was intended.

By the way, I've had a hard time proving to your captia system that I'm not a robot this morning. I guess I need another cup of coffee.

Lindsay Harrel said...

Currently, the series I'm writing has romantic elements but isn't a straight romance. I read tons of romances, but haven't had the guts to write one yet. However, I am warming to the idea for sure. Great post. Really made me think!

Lisa Jordan said...

As a teen, I read novels that should not have been read by anyone of my tender years. I cut my teeth on Harlequin novels too. When I decided to write, I wasn't a Christian, and my beginning manuscripts reflected that.

When I gave my life to Jesus, I asked for quality Christian romances. That September Harlequin debuted the Love Inspired line. God answered my prayer.

I wanted my first novel to be published by Love Inspired. Again, God answered my prayer.

Writing for Love Inspired has been an exciting career choice for me. They do have certain restrictions, but many publishing houses have similar restrictions. I do believe my novels portray realistic characters in situations without being skewed or unrealistic.

Thank you for an insightful post, Dina! I believe each writer needs to follow the path God has laid before her and allow Him to guide her to the right publisher.

Dina Sleiman said...

You know, I think it's really hard to write a short category romance. I tried to write a Love Inspired once and I bombed. It wasn't my best writing and it wasn't a great short romance either. The broader genre of long romance fits me much better.

My first published novel would be called historical with romantic elements. And I also have a contemporary sisterhood novel with romantic elements that a publisher is considering right now. I wrote that before Love in Three-Quarter Time. I kind of fumbled around looking for the genre that fit best, but the contemporary still had some elements that made it a hard sell. If I do sell it now, I might need to use a pen name, because it's pretty different than this novel. Although, there are some overlapping elements.

Dina Sleiman said...

That's an awesome story, Lisa. I actually grew up reading a lot of Silhouette novels. Both their inspirational and teen lines. I've always loved romance, but I try to sink my teeth into some weightier novels from time to time also, just to keep things balanced.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Wow, what a great post. This really made me think and understand a little better why I write Christian romances. Before I became a Christian, I wrote romances and other genres for the secular market.

After I became a Christian, all I wanted to do was write romances and they were always so much more fulfilling. I suppose it was because I got to use the romance and the characters to reflect something bigger and more important. A relationship with God.

Dina Sleiman said...

That's awesome, Cindy. I think it's good for all Christian romance writers to take stock of why they write what they do and then check themselves regularly to make sure they're achieving their goals.

Dina Sleiman said...

I also wanted to mention for everyone that Love in Three-Quarter Time is only $3.99 if you'd like to check it out. It's part of Zondervan's new program and the prices are amazing.

Angie said...

As a romance writer, I am very cautious about writing the romance parts in a way that is God-honoring. I love how your list of elements contained in a romance novel is focused on God's plan and God's hand. God will certainly use your stories for His glory! Thanks for posting on the Alley today! Can't wait to read your book. :)

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Dina, I'm so excited for you! I think that your kind of romance is edifying and I truly appreciate it. I can't wait for tomorrow!

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Angie. A big focus in all my writing is how to have an intimate relationship with God and hear his voice. That's a huge part of why I write. I don't want to just teach people to be good or religious, I want them to have a truly personal life changing experience with God. I try to model this in the characters that I write. In each book in different ways the characters learn to study God's word and listen for his personal words to them as well.

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Suzie. You've been such a great supporter in this journey. And I can't wait either.oomstsN 9

Julia M. Reffner said...


What a great and thoughtful post! Awesome how you felt this was a great fit for the even fits with a discussion we had amongst our loop not too long ago.

Love that you put such careful thought into the reasons and motives for why you write what you write.

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Julia. We have discussions like that on our loop at Inkwell Inspirations too.

Allison Martin said...

Interesting take on Christian romance, Dina. I'm looking forward to reading your newest!

Rachel Wilder said...

Five POV's? Now I'm even more excited!! I love having that many to tell the story.

Dina Sleiman said...

Thanks, Allison.

Dina Sleiman said...

Great, Rachel. I like extra points of view too. Really brings the book to life for me. I've noticed a lot of romance authors lately who stretch this rule.