I love story. Not surprising, given I’m a writer, but even before I started writing seriously, I loved it. I was one of those kids who read their way through the fiction shelves of the school and public libraries, borrowing the books out over and over until I could pretty much quote them. I read non-fiction too, biographies especially, but it was fiction I loved.
Not much has changed (although I don’t read too many Saddle Club or Sweet Valley High books anymore!). I still read far more fiction than non-fiction. I’ll read around 75 books a year these days, and at least seventy of them will be fiction, most of those with some element of romance. Because they’re easier to read, because they capture my heart but also because I find myself changed by them.
I learn from non-fiction – amazing biographies, the insights of Max Lucado, John Ortberg, Christine Caine and so many others – but it’s fiction which changes me at a heart level. There's something in me that gets defensive when someone tells me I have to change and how I should do it. But fiction, it doesn't set out to change you. It simply tells a story. The characters aren’t real, I know that (although, funny story, I have twice (at least) claimed to have a friend who does something only to realize later it was a fictional character…oops…) but as I read their stories, I find myself relating to them, laughing and aching with them, going on their journeys, and being changed.
I was astounded, again, by how powerful fiction can be last weekend as I read two books in particular. P.S. Goodbye, a novella by Tari Faris, and I’ll Be Yours, by Jenny B Jones. Both of them were romances, both of them ended with the boy getting the girl, and yet both times, upon finishing them, I found myself changed. Yes, by a simple romance. Because they were so much more than just a romance. Amidst the love story, there was pain – an ex-soldier dealing with PTSD and feelings of failure, a woman who’d been hurt by the past and was clinging with every plan and post-it note she could to her dreams for the future, a high-school senior being both brother and father to his two little sisters while trying to hold everything together, a sixteen-year-old girl who’s known far too much rejection and doesn’t know how to trust. But, alongside the pain, there was hope. Friends who wouldn’t let them walk alone, moments of clarity and healing, love in unexpected places, God breaking through.
Fiction changes me because I get to walk alongside these characters and get inside not just their heads but their hearts, growing my own heart in the process. Grant, Caroline, Ridley and Harper might be fictional characters but their struggles are real. There are people in this world and maybe even in my life who struggle with the same things they do. Who come from the same places they do. Alongside the author’s heart, I get a glimpse into God’s. His heart for these people. I find myself praying for people around the world in those situations right now, knowing that, even though I don’t know them by name, God does.
It’s funny, knowing this, how embarrassed I am sometimes to admit that I write romances, especially Christian ones. People are all impressed when you say you’ve written a book only to have that respect take nice plunge into ‘oh, one of those’ territory when you say it’s a romance. Yep, one of those. Predictable storylines where the guy gets the girl and they all live happily ever after. Airy fairy froth filling women’s heads with unattainable heroes.
And yes, many of them are. But not all of them. There are so many that are so much more. I wish I could tell those people who look down on them how many have changed my life. Stories by Becky Wade, Melissa Tagg, Robin Jones Gunn, Kristi Ann Hunter, Rachel Hauck, Kara Isaac, Susan May Warren, Roseanna M White, Karen Witemeyer, Liz Johnson and so many others. They don’t set out to get a message across, they simply tell a story. And through that, change lives.
I hope one day, people say the same thing about my books. My humble Young Adult Inspirational Romances. I hope they remind people that there is hope, that God can use anyone, how amazing grace truly is, that it’s never too late for a second chance (or third, or fourth) and, above all, that God loves them. The first and greatest romance ever to be written.