Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Kelly Marstad ~ Today's Guest Blogger

A Mainstreamer’s Interpretation of the CBAs
By Kelly Marstad

Your hero is alone in the woods. He’s surrounded by miles upon miles of trees in every direction. He’s in a cabin and all he wants to do is chop wood. Why? Because I said so. He lifts his ax and takes a whack. After about an hour of this (yes, an hour, because our hero is a stud and can handle a LOT of physical activity without breaking a sweat, but no he isn’t super-human and therefore sweat will happen) when he gets flushed. A trickle of sweat runs from his temple, curls across his cheekbone and drips off the hard line of his jaw. Hero is over-warm.

He looks around and thinks, “I’m a Christian male who wouldn’t want to cause sin in the heart of my heroine so I must check to verify that there are only trees here.” He does it (ain’t he sweet, our heroic chivalrous man?) Nope, no women. Not even a nearby female bunny rabbit.
Hero lowers his ax, wipes he brow, and in one magnificent fluid motion whisks the hem of his shirt up and over his head, bearing his glistening, tight…. STOP READING!! Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

You have just crept up to the very edge of the CBA guidelines. Put down the hem and back the heck away. You heard me author this is forbidden territory.
The author crosses her eyes at the manuscript and tries again. Author lowers Hero’s shirt because, um, be-cause (why am I lowering his shirt again? Oh, yeah), because Heroine’s SUV is tearing up the dirt road.

She’s in a total panic as she brings the vehicle to a stop and runs up to Hero. “There are terrorists after me and I have to hide. I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go and you’re so, so, heroic! I know I can count on your good morals to help save the day!” she exclaims. She’d love to throw herself in his arms, BUT WAIT his Christian Hero CBA guideline force-field is wrapped firmly about his body and flashing in “go-away-glow”.
Stymied, our heroine accepts his hospitality to go inside where she can’t easily be seen, in case they followed her! Clever, clever Hero.
But alas, the sun is going down and being alone, over night, in the midst of all these whispering trees would be a bad idea. Hero gives her water then kicks her out. “Sorry, Ms. Heroine, I must comply with my regulations. I cannot be here with you, alone overnight. Risk getting shot at, instead. My bad.”
Author is ready to toss the laptop now.
(Sigh) Am I the only one who has run up against the CBAs and lost? C’mon, I can’t be the only one. This is the point where you tell me the CBAs are in place for the benefit of the Christian mind, purity, morality… and this is where I tell you that while I agree, sometimes things go too far.
Now I’m not published in Inspirational fiction, yet. I’m very published in mainstream. Some of my perspectives are not exactly welcome in the Inspy genre. That’s okay, we’ll all adjust. I also know that the above scenarios are not standard. I got the first example (shirt) from a well-known Inspirational author who made it big. But here’s the thing: Every genre has its Mega-stars. Nora Roberts, Ted Dekker, folks these two could write a cross-word and it would sell. Ie., they get to break the rules.
I don’t. I’m a mainstream author who has to prove herself first. Prove that I have what it takes and prove that I have a common inspirational goal in mind for my writing. That my work is respectable and won’t create sinfulness.
Here is where I tell you that my husband in a pastoral candidate in seminary. Yep. I’m gonna grow up to be a pastor’s wife. I’m glad to be making the switch in genres—personal conflicts, moral dilemmas, yada, yada, yada. And clearly, I’m a tad on the snarky side with a whole lot of irreverence. Don’t you want me in your church? Heh. No, seriously, quit laughing.
How much is too much? How much do we squint before we lose the reality of our characters? I think that alone, it is perfectly understandable for Hero to remove his shirt. Saying that, I also think not every rise and hollow of his torso should be described. TRUST me, I can see it in my head (now, now, stop grimacing at me. You can, too). But I also think Hero isn’t heroic for sending Heroine on her merry way when she needs help.
As an adult, I am perfectly capable of being more afraid than aroused when terrorists are after me. AND I SWEAR I wouldn’t jump on said yummy Hero just because I’m alone with him. No, I promise. I’d even sleep on the couch if he didn’t give up his bed. Heck, I might even sleep on the couch if he did give up his bed… icky sweaty sheets, ya know. Being that I can do this, I see no reason why Heroine could not. Do you catch my drift?
So in breaking into the genre I have also learned that my interpretation of CBAs are about, oh, one hundred times more strict than those who’ve never written mainstream before. It lies in that proof thing I talked about.
I’ve heard that you take ’em right up to the door and then shut it. Yep, okay. How ’bout sexual tension? Because that part in the CBAs which says the Hero may not kiss the Heroine out of physical attraction but must be motivated by spiritual connection and then with as little description as possible? Ya know that part? I’m having issues with it.
I’m a totally normal woman. I guarantee you that if I’m going to kiss someone, at least part of it is motivated by physical attraction. And if some letch I wasn’t attracted to, no matter how spiritual he is, tried to kiss me, I’d have to deck the man. I’m just sayin’.
Right, fire away. Give me an opinion. Shoot me down or commiserate with me. Either way, I don’t get offended so let’s hear it. What do you really think?
Kelly Marstad
Writing by Faith... One book at a time
Why Inspirational Fiction?
Kelly has written and been published in mainstream, however she is convicted to write in a way that pleases Him.

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.” Ps. 40:3

Kelly is an Active member of Midwest Fiction Writers, Romance Writers of America, Professional Author’s Network, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

With experience in the industry, Kelly knows how to brand, what to expect, how to respond professionally to all inquiries, and does not require hand-holding. She is a firm believer in open communication.


Julie Lessman said...

Oh my, Kelly, we could be twins separarated at birth ... except for the HUGE age difference!! THANK YOU for your delightful blog today -- as a died-in-the-wool "Edgy" Inspirational author, I couldn't agree more!!

You said: Because that part in the CBAs which says the Hero may not kiss the Heroine out of physical attraction but must be motivated by spiritual connection and then with as little description as possible? Ya know that part? I’m having issues with it.

Uh, me too. Which is why I was TOTALLY blown away when Revell published A Passion Most Pure, because it pretty much breaks every ironclad CBA rule.

And quite frankly, I got real tired of secular romance being the only place where strong romantic attraction takes place -- I mean for pity's sake, romance is a billion-dollar industry, so I'm guessing women WANT to read about strong romantic tension ... or at least I do! BUT, I want God's precepts laced in HEAVILY, a realistic, romantically tense battle between good and evil, temptation and God's way -- one that SHOWS me which way to go. Good luck finding that in the ABA. And until recently, good luck finding that in the CBA too. But it's changing ... and I, for one, am overjoyed!!

Thanks for your post, Kelly -- you got my blood stirring this morning for sure ... :)

Mary Connealy said...

First of all, Kelly, you're hilarious.

But here's where you're going wrong.
You said: I’m a Christian male who wouldn’t want to cause sin in the heart of my heroine so I must check to verify that there are only trees here.”

You've got the wrong focus.
It's not that you don't want ot cause sin in the heart of your HEROINE.

It's that you don't want to cause sin in the heart of your READER.

There aren't any woodlands big enough to hide this guy from ME when I'm reading your book.

Get that shirt back on that man.
And put that heroine out the door at night like a stray cat.


Seriously, getting the story told without going to far is tricky and lots of houses allow different levels of romance. Good luck finding the perfect fit.

Jessica said...

Hi Kelly,
I'm SO with you. The rules are what sometimes made CBA books a little less than realistic in my mind. But I understand their dilemma because . . . well, there has to be a line somewhere.
Ouch, though. Someone drew the line pretty far from the bible. I mean, c'mon, would Song of Solomon sell in the CBA? LOL, I'd love to see an author write a story based on THAT book.
Thanks for the post and for saying what I'm sure many others feel.

Molly Daniels said...

Hi Kelly...just wanted you to know I stopped by:)

Looks like you're not the only one after all:)

Cat Schield said...

Hello Kelly and fellow Seekers. As someone who grew up surrounded by religious types (i.e. nuns) and who doesn't write inspirational romance, I was intrigued by the notion that you are so limited in your writing of things such as the hero taking his shirt off or the heroine spending the night in his home. Forgive my ignorance, but aren't inspirational romances about faith? Isn't temptation what tests our faith? I think I agree that over graphic descriptions of your hero's six pack would not be proper, but why can your heroine or reader not admire and appreciate said six pack? As a Christian man or woman, am I not allowed to feel temptation? Isn't sin the act of doing something wrong? Isn't admiring different than coveting?

Thanks Kelly for the great post.

sheriboeyink said...

Hi Kelly. I couldn't agree more. That's why I'm liking the Edgy Inspirational Writers....they test the line with details, emotions, but then fall back on their beliefs as to why they don't take that last step into the bed with someone. THAT'S reality today.

Yeah, I agree with Jessica's question, "Would Song of Solomon sell in the CBA?" Man, that book is a pretty vivid description of love and attraction, but with a clear boundary line.

Thanks for the Post Kelly.

KellyMarstad said...

Hey everyone! Glad you enjoyed the piece. Mary, my love, the heroine is often replaced by the reader. Literal translation of heroine need not be applied in this circumstance.

After all, the romance is for the reader, right? The shirt taking off or lack of, is also for the reader. In this case, the reader must be blind folded. Can't have her calling her spouse up in the middle of the day BEGGING him to take a lunch break at home, now can we? ;)

I realize I have some different issues. Mainstream is a different animal all together. But add to it that my husband is a vicar and I'm NOT ALLOWED to be a sexual being. Or have purple hair. Woops. Guess I blew both of those. Heh.

I see CBAs and ABAs as two hallways though. On the left is the ABA hallway. There are doors at either end. I and the reader open the door, see the lovely sconces, the runner carpet, the pretty pictures as I walk down the hall. But the reader who walks this hall, upon opening the final door, expects to see an embracing couple who are so joined as to be siamese, passionate, loving and completely HEA'd.

On the right is the CBA hallway. THAT reader opens the door, sees the runner, the side board, the pictures, and when SHE gets to the end of the hall, she expects to open that door and see the heroine on her knees in prayer beside her chosen mate.

Do you see the difference? It's like asking Monet to paint a Rembrant, an oil artist to paint with water colors. The rules, folks, are completely different as is the purpose of the story.

ABA wants you to be intimately (uh no, not necessarily like that. get out of the gutter) involved with your characters for the point of romance. CBA wants the spiritual growth. As a confident Christian woman, I know my faith and it's personal. But I also want my romance without having to prove my faith all the way through the book.

Your interpretations??

KellyMarstad said...

And what if they do take the last step, Sheri? What if my flawed Christian woman and man succumb to lust, fall into bed, and then cope? We are human, after all.

Imagine yourself, privately for I promise not to make you raise hands, minding your own business in the grocery store. An old flame sees you. He tells you how amazing you look, how he regrets ever letting you go. Is it sinful to be flattered by his carnal appreciation? Okay, now said flame pins you down for a searing kiss. In your mind you know it's wrong, you didn't instigate it and you AREN'T returning it (no, you aren't get back in line ladies). But that doesn't mean he didn't plant a seed of sin.

Now, I'd much rather hear a story about you and your struggle than goodie-heroine-two-shoes and how she never ever stumbles.

I'm constantly told that CBAs are more flexible. That houses are accepting edgier stuff (good thing, coz folks that's definitely my line) but if you look at their guidelines, what does it say? STRICT CBA adherence. If they are accepting it, they aren't publicizing the fact.

Ann said...

I'm thinking it must be like labeling the salsa jars at the supermarket and publishers know who buys their stuff.

Readers of some lines know that they know that they only want mild.

They might plan to pass the book along to 11 y/o DD or 15 y/o DN. And just like I would not give a baby smokin' hot salsa, I would not give some books to some readers.

There are people who like medium salsa.

There are some (insane) people (like my husband) who like it hot. The salsa, I mean! What are you people thinking!

I imagine there are mild-salsa publishers and others of other flavors.

There my analogy fails b/c we also get into the territory of mild = good and spicy = bad. No easy answers. There are no value judgments amongst jars of salsa

THat said, I don't think I added much to the conversation.

HOw about some coffee, peeps? Kona blend again. I can also put the kettle on for tea.

KellyMarstad said...

(sigh) "But that doesn't mean he didn't plant a seed of sin."

Um. Clarification....

Not literal seed planting going on. You are, after all, in a grocery store. I mean that seed of an IDEA. Sorry for the confusion. Didn't mean to make anyone blush.

KellyMarstad said...

Ann... Tea = inspriational
coffee = mainstream

heh. Kidding. I'm moving to inspirational for a reason despite my playing devil's advocate here. I have no intention of writing bland characters without the spice and heat. I just won't um, describe what is happening once said heat is acknowledged.

And Ann, it's okay if your dh likes it hot and spicey. You're married to him. ;)

Mary Connealy said...

Here's the deal though,
CBA is actually far FAR more open to ideas than ABA.

You want an example, try pitching an ABA romance novel WITHOUT sex. See how far you get.

Yes in CBA you can't do it, but you can do every story line, every genre, every level of intimacy, including sex (married sex) off the page of course.
But in ABA, the words, "I think we should pray about this."
Totally forbidden.
The words, "I desire you madly but insist we wait until the wedding night."
You're rejected so fast your spinning head doesn't have time to roll to a stop.

So flexibility is in the eye of the beholder.
Unless you write erotic, in which case flexibility is someone OTHER than the eye...or so I've heard. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Oh, and I think you need to stop talking about planting seeds, too, Kelly. You naughty girl!

KellyMarstad said...

Who know seed planting could be erotic? (jesting at your expense Mary, but you look like you can take it). :) :)

Flexible CBAs? Not if I want to write paranormal (yes, spirits ARE mentioned in the Bible, why can't I?), fantasy fiction with zombies or vampires, time travel (um never allowed) yet I love to explore the idea of time travel. I have a book I wrote about it and another I wrote where the author goes into her own manuscript... neither of those would be housed in a CBA publisher.

As far as I can tell, only romance, mystery, suspense, and intrigue are permitted along with the potential for historical or contemporary outputs. I'm sorry, I know I'm petting the cat backwards, but flexibility is not a CBA trait.

But then, should it be? If we are conforming to the world, then we aren't apart from it. So maybe the argument isn't in defense of CBA flexibility, but in that CBA hallway. What is the point of the story and why are we telling it? We're telling it to uplift, reaffirm faith, enjoy without the snags on sinful life, right? So embrace that.

I'm in that gray area inbetween genres and fighting myself every step of the way as I make the adjustment and figure out exactly what I am meant to write.... this is me on watercolors. *snort*

Kim said...

I'm going to chime in as a reader here. For years I read ABA fiction. After I married, the Lord convicted me about the garbage I was putting into my head. Gratuitous and explicit sex, language and violence ad nauseum. I boxed it up and got rid of it.

That was some 20 years ago, and at the time the Christian fiction market was nothing more than a few books on a few shelves in even fewer stores. Not much to choose from, but I hung in there.

Today I enjoy a wealth of choices, and I am well satisfied with the market as a whole. It does bother me though that so many want to push the Christian market back into the trough with the other stuff. I understood that is why there is separation. If I wanted to read ABA - there are only about a million choices. I don't want to find the same garbage on the Christian fiction shelf.

Julie Lessman's books are a terrific example of realistically placing sex right where it marriage. It is supposed to be a gift and it is supposed to be enjoyed. It is NOT supposed to be used to sell books. That rapes the entire design of the relationship as God intended it.

If you've got to write sex - sell it to the ABA and make a bundle. But don't drag it over into everything else. We are called to be different in a Godly way. Not prudes, but not "selling our wares" on the street either. There is a balance. Don't push things over the edge.

This is a thought provoking issue. I think Christians are wrestling with balance in a lot of areas. If God is the focus, then everything else, including our reading material, will fall in line.

OK. Ramble over. Thanks.

berlysue dot blogspot dot com

Mary Connealy said...

YAY Kelly

I love it. Keep talking.
Like we can settle anything.

Oh, and it's Janet Dean's birthday today.

Not that she's sittin' around reading a blog. The woman is out celebrating!!!!

Kim said...

P.S. Ok, I just re-read my post. Sorry for the soapbox rant. I just respond to this one issue strongly because it was a very personal conviction to me and one that has remained constant all these years later. I didn't mean to fuss. Just expressing my opinion as a reader.


Opinion? Hence my blog berlysue dot blogspot dot com. Sorry for the rant.

Patricia W. said...

Okay, I'll start with "Happy Birthday, Janet!"


This is a debate that always intrigues me. Because Christianity is about redemption. So if a character, believer or not, finds herself tempted, succumbs to sex (largely off the page), and then deals with the consequences, both natural and spiritual, is that not Christian fiction?

It's probably not CBA, granted, but there's a place, I think, for that kind of story.

And sometimes I want it. When I do, I get it, from ABA publishers and occasionally from CBA publishers. At other times, I want straight up, completely wholesome, no-hint-of-sex Christian romance. And I get that too, again both from ABA and CBA publishers.

I'm all about the romance, the emotion and intimacy of the relationship, and the storytelling. A good Christian romance, doesn't have to have sex at all. But then again, it doesn't have to omit it either.

And I don't think that all sexual contact--kissing, touching, etc--between marrieds has to be "off the page". It just has to be tasteful and appropriate to the story context.

I think there are way too many restrictions placed by the publishers that I don't buy are necessarily a function of today's marketplace. Because way too many readers are saying otherwise. Christian fiction, like other genres, spans the gamut from very sweet to very sensual but no matter what, the focus must be on the relationships and a strengthening faith, not on the sex.

Kim said...

What Patricia said! I wasn't so eloquent! Thanks, Patricia!


KellyMarstad said...

Patricia, Kim, you both say it very well and this is exactly why were are struggling to find the balance. Because we want real characters we can relate to, we need some sin to be the reason for a struggle.

I read a book recently where the h/h were perfect, beautiful, utterly static. The secondary christian characters were flawed and it was for the h/h to fix them. I REBEL at this.

I'm flawed. I'm a woman of faith. I'm a passionate, romantic woman of faith who wants serious pacing in her books with an edge. I want my h/h to be challenged and REAL not perfect and struggling with whether or not they should paint toenails or blow dry their hair (cause it might be VAIN, gasp). No I want reality.

Our world is gritty. As Christians living in that gritty world, we are subjected to it. So subject the characters to it and make them deal with the consequences.

The CBAs say a heroine cannot lie. That she cannot be leading a sinful life. (read the Steeple hill guidelines if you want to see for yourselves) But I want a heroine who has the same issues, the same fears, temptations, I do. Maybe in her lie, she is trapped in a situation which creates the plot. Maybe lying is her cross. Maybe she learns that lying is sinful as part of her growth development. Do you see?

I know CBAs are just guidelines, but they are a model too and if grittier stuff is acceptable, then for Pete's sake, post it on the sub guidelines.

I love that you are feeling free to discuss these issues. Balance, I think Mary said it best. It's about Balance and credible stories, not fairytale fluff of perfection.

Mary Connealy said...

I can't say the authors name right now, I'm blanking on it. But absolutely Christian fiction, the book began with the heroine waking up beside her live-in boyfriend.

So, CBA can look straight at some 'real' issues.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Well, ain't this more fun than shootin' fish in a barrel on a hot upstate New York afternoon????

To click into Seekerville and find a wonderfully lively, spiritual and spirit-filled debate about...


Had to wipe off my Coke-bottle lenses, peer at the screen and make certain I hadn't popped into one of them thar' INTERSTIN' chat rooms my cousin speaks so highly of.


Well. Julie has a partner in crime...


I mean faith, LOL!

And Kim, you've got a support network in these here parts as well. Wonderful!

In the paraphrased words of Steven Hopkins
(2nd Continental Congress, 1776) "I ain't never seen, smell nor heard a subject too goldanged dangerous to talk about. Hell yes, let's open debate!"

What's good enough for the colonists is good enough for me, LOL!

Kelly, you touched on some great points that lots of CBA authors recognize. They may even agree with you, but you probably won't see most of them doing it openly because editors lurk on a lot of author sites. And if they're not lurking, there are others (authors and readers alike) who like to blow in CBA authors who may be too open. Some niches are very tight and party lines are established within strict boundaries and understandably so. If ya start bitin' the very hand that feeds you (i.e.: signs the contract) that hand starts withholding food.

Where's Gina today??? She's going to love Kelly and they'll become BFF's and thank the Seekers for it in years to come. And then they'll BOTH send us chocolate which I could use right about now.

I'm with you on a lot of this, Kelly. My Seeker buds know this and still let me play. Gotta love these gals.

Life happens. Sex happens, and not just to non-Christians. Or tucked safely in the past although lots of us have very interesting pasts to trip us up, don't we?

I love real stories of real people. They grab my heart, raise my consciousness, and yes, I want the HEA at the end, but I'm darned if I believe they get there without some very normal, natural sexual attraction. Oy vay, who wants to spend their life with a lump of cold potato when you can enjoy a plate of french fries?

Just sayin'...

So I'd take the hero's shirt off, and he'd probably make a show of wiping the sweat of his brow WITH the wadded up shirt, just to tick the heroine off.

And any hero that sends the woman out the door isn't a hero. He's a namby pamby who can't keep his hormones in check. And while Mary's right, that the goal of some houses might be to protect the READER, gag me now...

I'm a big girl and I can handle attraction, temptation and heightened consciousness. And since I'm reading my sneak preview copy of Julie's A Passion Redeemed (which should only be read by people who don't think Kelly's crazy, btw, and those who LOVE romance) let me just say this:

Julie, her agent Natasha Kern and Revell have opened a door in Christian fiction. Julie's characters are flawed, sensual and real. Their struggles hit home. This beautifully written piece of work should be nominated for awards next year because Julie's taken her writing up a notch in this new release.

Will it be nominated? I hope so.

Will it win?

Depends on who's voting. I'm willing to wager there are a lot of people who would find her work objectionable, suggestive and/or downright shameful.

Since I love what she's done, my vote would be in her corner. Not everyone will see it that way so I hope her audience continues to grow and reach those who see faith and sexuality as a true pairing, not an incessant war.

And I brought chicken salad with fresh lettuce and croissants! How prosaic, to be munching on chicken while this debate rages, but I'm starved. Hop in, help yourself. Ann brought coffee, maybe someone will come by with dessert and fresh drinks for the afternoon session.

Looks like it could be a good one, LOL!


KellyMarstad said...

Ah, Ruthy, I think I'm in love with you already (totally spiritual and figurative, of course). Mary the woman who woke up beside ex-boyfriend, I'm thinking that author has written several before that book, yes? Ah, and that's my point.

I haven't written CBA, only ABA, and doing well, thank you very much. Breaking into the genre as a mainstreamer means I have hoops to jump through and having a heroine who wakes up beside her lover is NOT one I'll be allowed to jump right off the bat.

There was one woman who wrote me in the ACFW loop and I will spare her name because she intended well, and I appreciate that. Anyway, she said there was a lot of flexibility because in one book she read, the author let the heroine admire the hero's legs below the line of his shorts. (as a mainstreamer, I chuckle at the innocense of this) and in another by that same author, gasp, the heroine admired the back fit of the hero's pants.

That, for me, is a given, not an explanation of relaxed rules. I don't need to describe the way his jeans cuddle his backside or the flex and shift of the fabric as he rolls into a lope, (le sigh), but that it's in the book, gee I hope so.

As to agents and editors lurking here, PICK ME PICK ME!! Heh. I abide by Christian principles, heck I live them daily via the vicarage but I also want realism in my romance. Do I need sex? Um, I mean, do I need sex in my books? No. I don't. But I'm irreverent enough to want to ASK for attraction which speaks to the body and the soul.

Seriously, Pick me. ;)

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I love it, I LOVE it, I LOVE IT - and I agree 100% LOL!

You are not the only one who gets/got/has been frustrated with CBA guidelines - for YEARS.

That's why I'm published with small press publishers who allow a little (in some opinions a lot) more leeway with the sensuality issues.

Of course I haven't given up on the CBA, I've got a couple of ideas for a couple of novels....we'll see.

Wonderful post!

aka: Pamela S Thibodeaux
"Inspirational with an Edge!"

Kim said...

Leave it to Ruthy to stop by and liven things up even further!! You are such a light, Ruthy!!

I'll offer some peanut butter oaties for some dessert....luscious peanut butter, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookies that are soft, gooey and warm and go swell with a hot cup of java!!

You guys are the best!


Melanie Dickerson said...

Kelly, have you read Deeanne Gist's very first book? I think you're just reading the wrong books!

Seriously, I agree with everybody. I like to see a little physical attraction. Susan May Warren does it well. Lots of Christian authors do it. But oh, my, the Steeple Hill guidelines have been getting Christian writers up in arms for a WHILE. But they're just one publisher. Write something really good and I believe there's a Christian publisher who will publish it.

I like to see some physical attraction, but a hero taking off his shirt just makes me roll my eyes. I've seen it too many times in TV shows and movies. I can't help myself. I think, "Oh brother, there goes the shirt. How predictable." Sorry! I just had to say that! Because I think you can show two people's attraction to each other in a very sexy way without showing a lot of skin.

But I agree! I want sexual tension! Temptation is okay, too! Temptation isn't the same thing as sin, and characters who are never tempted are BORRRING!

Ruth Logan Herne said...


Love you back. These cookies are to die for...

So seriously. Something about that peanut butter chocolate mix...

Hello Reese's! :)


Melanie Dickerson said...

Oh, and speaking of Steeple Hill, have you ever read Ruth Axtell Morren's historicals? She writes for Steeple Hill and she goes way over the edge, and she is GOOD! The Rogue's Redemption has a scene in which the hero picks up a prostitute (this is before he becomes a Christian) and takes her back to his room and is unable to, um, well you know. If you read the reviews on Amazon you'll see that some people had a lot to say about it and it wasn't good. But honestly, it was tastefully done and not offensive me in the least. And Steeple Hill allowed it. So, I'm just saying...

And I highly recommend Morren's books, by the way. She doesn't pull punches when it comes to attraction and temptation.

Mary Connealy said...

Kelly, everyone who hangs around here ends up loving Ruthy. Whether for herself or out of fear isn't settled. :)
So welcome to the club.

Tina M. Russo said...

Who are you? Why haven't we met before? Can we start a club?

Sandra Leesmith said...

HI Kelly, What a great post and boy do I agree with you. I want my hero and heroine to love the Lord, but for heavens sake (this is an expression not allowed by some), there is no conflict if this isn't a trial. I love the stories where there is passion. I love the Book of Solomon obviously. But I love temptation and how to deal with it. I love the consequences that have to be dealt with that make you want to avoid the pitfalls. The Bible is full of these stories. The book of Judges is a great example.

But Ann has a point. One of the major convictions for me when I was book signing my Temptations by Harlequin and this was before I was born again, was all the sixteen and younger girls coming up for signatures. Wow. That really hit me.

There are audiences of all ages who want mild and mellow. And to be truthful, I respect the Houses that stay true to their readers. When I pick up a Barbour book, I know what kind of read I'm going to get. When I pick up a Harlequin American I know what kind of read I'm going to get. When I pick up a Revel or Waterbrook, I know what is possible. That is reassuring to me especially with the price of books nowadays. So if you like to write a certain level of passion, look for the publishers who are allowing it and target them.

Lisa Wingate writes wonderful stories that are faith based and publishes them with NAL. Francine Rivers books go way over the edge. Most of hers I've read were Zondervan. Of course she fits in that category one of you mentioned, with her fame allowing her freedom. But she took a hit on The Sin Eater because it was so different. I loved it btw

And Kelly, I hope a pubisher does pick you pick you pick you because your writing sounds like something I would enjoy. Best wishes.

Sandra Leesmith said...

PS. Ruthy, how about an A & W root beer float? Doesn't that sound yummy to settle the thirst and sweet tooth? Thanks for the chicken croissants. They hit the spot.

KellyMarstad said...

Tina, get us a banner and I'll start the club. ;)

Pam, spit out the name of your publisher so I can hit them up with some edge.

Melanie, Steeple Hill isn't the only one promoting strict CBAs. Barbour is too, ya know. A lot of publishers are... which is fine absolutely, but here's where I differ. Some Christians, don't want the shirt off. Give 'em strict CBA. Some want that shirt off. Give 'em some leeway. And temptation is unacted upon sin. Just ask my spousal unit who is in the ministry. It's tempting because you've let sin dwell in your heart... yes, whole new subject, I know. But you ladies can handle it.

Kim, Ruthy, quit making me hungry. Sheesh.

Pam Hillman said...

Okay, before I read one cotton-pickin' comment, has anybody told Kelly Marstad that Ruthy is over here in Seekerville masquerading (had to type that 3 times to get it right!) as her?

On to the fun comments below....well, they WERE below when I typed my comment.

Anita Mae said...

Okay, I'm late so I'll post this then read what you all wrote.

Great post Mary - again.

Kelly Marstad I've never read one of your books, but after this post, I’ll grab the next one I see with her name on it. :-)

This post is so true. I don’t want to write explicit scenes – even if I could – but God gave us a deep passion for the person He’s chosen for us. There are numerous biblical examples of God condoning passion - God told Adam and Eve to go out and multiply, didn’t He? And what do people think it means when scripture says, in Gen 2:24 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” ?

Sure it’s emotional and spiritual but don’tcha think there’s a wee bit of sexual passion as well?

Gwen Stewart, my CP was a guest blogger on lit agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog a couple months ago on this very same subject. She sent numberous drafts my way as she tried to explain how we as Christians can incorporate the Song of Songs (Solomon) into our writing in a way God would approve. Her blog post is eloquent and true.

No wonder we have a hard time winning others to Christ if the secular world thinks they have to give up ‘that’ part of their life when to become saved. If they think we’re lying by ignoring sexual conflict in our books, why would they want to follow our example?

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

kellymarstad said "Pam, spit out the name of your publisher so I can hit them up with some edge."


I have a 4part series through ComStar Media - very small, family run business. Also, a full-length single title and 3 short stories (and a new contract for #4!) through The Wild Rose Press as well as a WF novel under contract (just finished edits YAY!) with Enspiren Press.

Good luck!


KellyMarstad said...

I have a friend editing for TWRP, she says they aren't accepting inspy.

Anita--Would LOVE to send you over to my buy page but I'm not pubbed in inspy yet. ;) Only my secular stuff is out there and I ain't telling you that particular name. Might get us in a whole new world of hurt. heh.

Pam H. Sweetie-doll, I'm my own tornado. No need to tack me on to someone else's. I just ain't shy about giving an opinion. Um, as you can see.

Pam T.-- Going to go NOW and check out your pub house.

Gee, such a warm reception from y'all I can hardly stand it. Will I see many of you in Mpls?

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Anita Mae said:

If they think we’re lying by ignoring sexual conflict in our books, why would they want to follow our example?

Anita, what a spark of light that simple phrase brings.

I think a lot of criticism rains down on CBA because of that lack of realism in some works. Not all, of course. Of that, I think it shows up most vividly in romance because we all know that sex is tempting. Lust is tempting. Lustful ideas can beget sinful actions.

Whereas most of us don't steal or kill or embezzle, etc. the sins of the flesh are much more readily available and easily appeased so allowing MORE might lead to 'more'...

But again that takes away the common sense of the reader, their inner morality and faith and the ability to command our own destiny according to God's will. I don't need or want someone else to do that.

Marlena Fortune told me (wise woman, very smart, looks good in red and wears great shoes...) 'Ruthy, don't confuse your faith with your library...'

But I also chucked a whole bunch of very explicit books a decade or so back because they were too detailed, too enticing. I don't ever want to be THAT person either. I don't need sex spelled out for me. Got it down. Took years of practice...


Harlequin does do some lines that allow strong sexual tension without sex. I've read them in Supers, in Special Editions and others I can't recall specifically. And Mary made a good point about the lack of overt faith mention in romances but I've seen mention of praying, going to church, singing in the choir, working on faith projects/works for churches...

You don't see conversion scenes but it's nice to know that there are some alternatives out there.


I LOVE ROOT BEER FLOATS!!!! Sam's Club has HUGE ones for $1.45...

I can get real happy for under $2.00... How many people can say that these days?


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

KellyMarstad said...
I have a friend editing for TWRP, she says they aren't accepting inspy.


I'm not sure who your friend is or if TWRP that he/she is referring to is samd The Wild Rose Press that I'm published through, but I just had another short story accepted so they are accepting inspy. Check 'em out!


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

PS Kelly,

Here is the url for TWRP's White Rose (Inspirational) line:

Again, Good luck!

Gwen Stewart said...

No, no, dear friend Anita, I got it perfect the first time. Really! I think you daydreamed at the keyboard and read my Draft of Perfection multiple times by mistake. :)

I kid, I kid. Truly. Thank you for your kind words about my post.

Yes, Kelly, you have hit an issue that resonates with me. Now I shall duck tomatoes and other flying objects...I don't think admiring a beloved other is even temptation. **ducks** Now, I did not say "lusting" or "leering", but admiring. I believe God put those feelings in us for good reason, as Anita says, and when they're directed toward the beloved other, they're part of the compelling glue that holds a marriage--even an impending marriage, when kept in good control--together.

However, I respect those who want milder reads. As others have said, there's room for both in the CBA.

I loved reading your post and all the excellent responses.

KellyMarstad said...

Pam T, yes TWRP (The Wild Rose Press). I know she edits in a different area so she could be out of the loop, but I asked her and that's what she told me. Glad she's wrong.

So here's a question for everyone... We've been addressing sex and temptation. How lacing our books with it could lead someone astray. What about murder? What about having bad guys who slash and trash people and places? Without the sin, where's the plot in books with evil doers in them? If I have a story about a serial killer, does that make me the spawn of temptation to the readers?

Think carefully because if you say no, I want to know why THAT is different than sex. I want to know why we can murder people, or antagonists can, but sex cannot be discussed. Devil's advocate time.

Go on, let's hear what you have to say. (challenge issued)heh heh heh

Mary Connealy said...

Oh, I've got a good take on sex vs violence.

I think most parents, if they're decent parents, really don't spend a lotta time worrying that their little angels are gonna go knock over a liquor store, guns blazing.

but sex???

Yeah, we worry about that.
so sex makes us nervous and violence....not so much.

It's sort of the same mindset that says, 'sex and violence-sex is about love and violence is about hate.

Except we all know sex ISN'T love far, far, far too often. But that blurring of the line between sex and love is a line that's crossed oh so often.
While our children stick to almost never shooting anyone.

KellyMarstad said...

Ooo. Nice answer.

So what about dwelling on the sin of violence? If I'm in the antagonist's head and I'm murdering someone, then that puts it in my head as the writer, yours as the reader.

If Hero isn't Hero but antagonist- from the blog -whips off his shirt, goes into that cabin and seduces heroine. Would that be acceptable? What if hero is antagonist and has stuffed heads on the inside of the cabin wall?

Is violence okay but not sex? Who draws that line? And if one form of sin is acceptable because the world at large decides it's recognizable, then who decided I didn't recognize sex as sin? And therefore forbid me to write it.

Okay, yes, we are going way off subject and I swear not to take you down the insert A into B mode, but there ARE these lines. Where are they drawn, are they truly gray or flexible, and do you need a hall pass in order to challenge the status quo?

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

I think Mary's right on in her answer, but I agree, Kelly.

My book, Tempered Dreams (#2 in series) deals openly and candidly with domestic violence. So much so that in chapter 3 the heroine's ex pays her a visit and we get more than a glimpse, but an example of what she's lived with all of her adult life.

The 'normal' CBA reaction - you can hint at abuse but not show it.

Duh, how can 'hinted at' abuse show the FULL glory of God's healing if the reader doesn't even have a clue of what real domestic violence is?

The lines are real blurry when it comes to things like murder and rape, etc. in Christian books but they are very clear when it comes to sensuality.

Don't get me wrong, I love reading a good Christian novel, even those I'd call 'conservative.'

It's just not what I write.

Great discussion!


Mary Connealy said...

I don't really exactly have a response. I just read what you write then I write whatever comes to my head.

This makes this blog a 'Rorschach Inkblot Test' I suppose.

But what came to my mind was a scene in Petticoat Ranch where Adam, a secondary character, survives an attack on his cattle camp. He regains consciousness to see his three saddle partners have been hung.
although I didn't consider it too graphic, I had several readers refer to it being a 'shocking' scene.

I suppose people are just all over the map on what they want to read. That goes for sensuality levels as well as violence levels.

So, Christian fiction meets a need in the consumer market.

Capitalism. :)

Jessica said...

I think the temptation thing might be true. Like, when most people read violent stories, they don't feel tempted to BE violent. (LOL, I'm guessing this is true as I've never felt like a murderer but have been a bit scared. . .)
Sex, however . . . Well, too much detail is almost like erotica. When a sex scene is four pages long, that's too much for an inspirational, in my opinion.
The marriage bed is holy and wonderful and pleasurable. (wow, hope no minors are reading this) I also think it should be private. I'm getting a little confused by the comments. :-)
I'm all for attraction and noticing body parts, etc. I'm not for licking, errrrr, you know? I've told my hubby that I have ratings for certain authors. Some authors write X-rated, some R, some PG-13, some PG and some G. There are some authors I just don't read because of their sex scenes.
I guess CBA doesn't want inspirational writers arousing readers sexually.
And I don't want that, either.
But if you're talking just about attraction and stuff, well, I have to agree with others that the market is much looser. Steeple Hill is one of the absolute strictest, I think.
Kelly, I think you should write what you feel is Godly and accurately shows what you think is appropriate. I don't think an editor interested in the story will reject it based on sensuality level alone. I'd guess that they'd just have you revise it.
But, LOL, I'm unpublished. I could be completely off here.

Anita Mae said...

Well now - my 'dream' publisher is Harlequin and Love Inspired in particular...but I'm starting to wonder...maybe I'm not their 'dream' writer...hmmm

KellyMarstad said...

Oh I hope some curious minor (but not too minor) did read that comment because they SHOULD know that married sex is wonderful, holy, and sexy (for lack of a better word). It's not dirty but beautiful... within the limits of marriage. Nicely said.

I'd just like to thank the Seekers blog for inviting me to post today. This has been a lively and full discussion. Thank you so much for this opportunity, in particular to Mary for issuing the invite. ;)

Happy writing, all!

Melanie Dickerson said...

This all made me think about the book I just finished, in which the heroine has heard her priest rant every Sunday about lust and how women are the tool of the devil, yadda-yadda. Then when the hero holds her in his arms, and she naturally likes it, she thinks she's lusting, when really she's just feeling a natural attraction. But she's heard nothing but "you people are a bunch of lusting sinners" that she doesn't know the difference, and of course it creates lots of delicious internal conflict and keeps the hero and heroine apart, creating lovely misunderstandings for a hundred pages or so. But I don't really think CBA publishers would have a problem with that. What they do have a problem with is that my novel is set in Europe. Heaven forbid. And the characters are Catholic. Gasp! And it's set in the middle ages. Yes, THOSE are the strikes against it that may keep it from getting published.

But as Mary has told me, I should have known better than to write anything other than an American Amish-Mennonite story set in the 1800's. Sheesh, what was I thinking?

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, man, what a LOUSEY day to be away from the computer!! You guys have gone crazy with some GREAT commentary here, and I'm joining the party late while my husband is screaming for me to come watch Sarah Palin!!!

Ruthy, let me just say that I was totally touched by your comment, my friend. But don't go getting soft on us now ...


Cheryl Wyatt said...

ROFL. This post is hilarious. Kelly, loved it!

I do think CBA pubs are loosening up. I don't think most eds give a flip if the book is written real as far as sensuality as much as they know what readers are buying. So....if we wanna change the direction of what's being bought by acquisitions and pubbed...we need to be buying the edgier books like Julie Lessman's and Deanne Gist, etc.

And in judging this year's ACFW BTY, I was pleasantly surprised at how much physical attraction was in Heartsong's and Steeple Hills etc, which I consider to be two of the most conservative.

All of my Steeple Hill books have kisses that are motivated by a physical attraction. Yes, I have an emotional reaction...mostly from the heroine. But there is definitely zing there. I recently read a Robin Caroll book that had the word "sexy" used to describe the hero. Yep. Cool, eh?

I'm finding that more and more in the 2008 releases I've been reading across the board.

Great post. Thought provoking and brilliantly written!

Cheryl Wyatt

Pam Hillman said...

Oh, Kelly, you're going to Mpls? Yay!

I'm the ACFW Treasurer, so I'll definitely be there. Several of us will be.

KellyMarstad said...

How wonderful! I get to meet a bunch of you. I'm so much less controversial in public. ;) Think you can handle that? I'd hate to disappoint.

I'm so glad to have tickled some funny bones today.

Mary Connealy said...

Kelly we're ALL less controversial in public. It's the WRITING that gets us in trouble.
In public we mostly are sullen, anti-social, troubled loners.

Except Ruthy, she's just as clear and honestly scary in person or in writing. It's one of the things I like best about her.

Ann said...

Holy cow, people, you should have told me we are pulling an all-nighter!

More coffee.

I brought some Whoopie Pies from teh Amish farm auction we went to last night. Those are home made soft chocolate cookie sandwiches, filled with icing or creme filling.

I thought Whoopie Pies sound strangely appropriate at this time.

Emotional attraction vs. meaningless physical attraction ... well ... a kiss with no physical attraction is like, just ick. (Speaking from blind-date experience) That sounds odd to me.

I enjoyed all this discussion, learned a lot and have stuff to think over while I am flipping burgers at the restaurant today.

Cara Putman said...

So far I've been able to write the stores the way I wanted except for a scene where the h/h had to be alone overnight. I had to bring in a chaperon. Not ideal, but it worked. No one's pointed it out in that book.

But I'm getting ready to write a book where the wedding happens in the first chapter, and I have to tell you I'm wrestling with how to write the tension. It's much easier to know where the line is when they aren't married yet. It's a good challenge, but I'm underlining A Passion Most Pure, yet wondering if that will work with this publisher. Probably not.

But the wrestling is good. I'm having to figure out why I think the tension is needed. The h/h are newlyweds, so they should still be heavily attracted...I'll let you know how it turns out when I turn it in and get revisions back :-)

Robin Caroll said...

My, my, my....aren't y'all just the busy bees? And Cheryl, hon, you KNEW I'd get a "sexy" in my book, didn't ya? But, AHEM, don't you have a deadline? And Pam Hillman, don't you have some ACFW biz to get to? STOP PLAYING and get back to writing! LOL

Seriously, Kelly, interesting post. For a long time I was frustrated with similiar arguments, but once I got contracted, I realized that as long as I keep in character with my characters (who are so flawed it aint even funny), the editor will let me write the story I see. For instance, Steeple Hill published one of the books where my heroine is a voodoo priestess. Yeah, you read it right, a voodoo priestess! Only in the 4th book of the series did I have her realize that way wasn't right and have her turn to Christ. But for 4 books, she was a voodoo priestess. IMHO, that's on the edge of guidelines. And yes, there are books out by new authors, that discuss premarital sex. Cara Putman's first LI Suspense has the backstory of h/h that not only did they engage in premarital sex, but . . . wait, don't wanna put in a spoiler here, but trust me, there was nothing chaste about their past. Again, I think story rules.

That's my 2 cents, and now, back to work! :D

Pam Hillman said...

Cara, your post reminded me of my first finished ms...under the bed, btw.

The premise was...Would a Christian with amnesia remember her faith if she was surrounded by non-Christians?

Haven't we ALL written an amnesia story at some point? lol

My heroine didn't know she was a Christian because she was surrounded by strangers, but in certain cases, she felt conviction, but didn't really know why she felt so uneasy....

I wrote in all kinds of no-nos for the sake of shining a light on her convictions: living with the hero, going on a business trip with the hero, dancing, drinking, revealing clothes (they had to go to the mall, so she's trying on these clothes and she feels conviction over some of them.

Hmmm...I stuck it under the bed because of the taboos in the market. I might have to drag it out again.

Actually, I'd just rewrite the whole thing, but keep the premise and the triggers that make her feel conviction.

Patricia W. said...

Had to come back because I had a feeling this one was going to go on and on and...

Love the discussion. Love the TONE of the discussion most of all. This is a very frequent blog topic but the tenor is not usually as open-minded and friendly. That's why I love Seekerville. We may not always agree, or agree on in shades of the same color, but we're a lovin' bunch!

Now, about tension in a story where they marry in the first chapter, same "rules" apply. Really they do. There's awareness. Like when my husband the preacher walked across the pulpit to deliver the Word, handsome as all get out, with a fresh shave and haircut in a dark navy blue suit, and I thought, "Wow, that's one sexy guy! Hope he doesn't talk too long. (And hope no one else is seeing what I'm seeing!)

Then there's affection with reasonable levels of detail. Then there's intimacy through gestures, actions, and dialogue. And, since they're married, there's sexual intimacy, but again, no need to give us a video-like description or instruction manual.

But there might be a little more innuendo than with unmarrieds, the sweet, emotional, sexy kind, not the disgusting kind.

And for me, nothing better than reading about Christian marrieds who have a wholesome, loving relationship despite--or maybe once they resolve--whatever conflict is keeping me turning those pages.

Tina M. Russo said...

Pam, what an awesome story premise. I bet SOMEDAY you find a home for that amnesia story.

KellyMarstad said...

WHAT?!?!!? You guys are still commenting? Huh.