Writer's Corner for June, 2006

Inspirational Romantic Suspense Roundtable

Romantic suspense has been a very hot section of the secular romance market for several years now, and it is likewise a very popular subgenre in the inspirational market. As the inspirational romance market has grown and attracted many new readers, entire lines of romantic suspense such as Steeple Hill's Love Inspired Romantic Suspense have launched.

I recently started reading some of these new books and have enjoyed what I've read. Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in a Writers' Corner discussion with Beth White and Hannah Alexander. Beth White has written both romantic suspense and straight inspirational romance for a variety of publishers, most recently Zondervan and Steeple Hill. Hannah Alexander is the pseudonym for the husband and wife team of Mel and Cheryl Hodde. The two have written a variety of romantic suspense novels and they have used Mel Hodde's background as a doctor and Cheryl Hodde's writing experience to create medical thrillers for Bethany House and Steeple Hill. We chatted about the inspirational market, their interests as writers and the projects they have on the horizon - projects which show just how flexible the inspirational market can be for authors.

--Lynn Spencer

 

I'm glad you all could join AAR's Writers' Corner this month. The inspirational market has really taken off in recent years and I know our readers will be curious to hear more about it.

Hannah Alexander: Yes, it's been changing, growing, and maturing for quite some time.

Beth White: I'm amazed at the breadth of subject matter a Christian novel can take in.

Hannah: I feel we've all been incubating in CBA until the time was right to share more of the Truth with the rest of the world.

Romantic suspense, in particular, has been a hot section of the inspirational market. There are more inspirational romantic suspense books out there now than I remember seeing in years past, and Harlequin/Silhouette's Steeple Hill divison has even launched a line devoted to the subgenre. What do you think is fueling this interest?

Hannah: I think Dee Henderson's great best sellers helped a lot. My favorite genre has always been romantic suspense.

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Beth: I was just going to say that. Dee hit a nerve - I know I loved her O'Malley series, and it made me more interested in writing that type of book.

Hannah: Exactly. I'm curious, Beth, do you ever think some other genre would be easier? Sometimes I struggle with the intricacies of suspense and mystery.

Beth: Well, I've written more "straight" romance, and it has its own difficulties...pacing It's a challenge to keep the plot moving when there's no suspense or mystery element to drive it!

Do you find it difficult to balance the suspense and romantic portions of your plots?

Hannah: Oh, yes, all the time. I've found romance is sometimes easier, but it's tricky to keep the suspense tight enough to be interesting, yet keep the romance believable with that fast a pace. I see what you mean, Beth. I need the suspense to weave with the romance to keep it interesting for me!

Before we go too much further, I just wanted to go back to something that Cheryl and Mel said before. When you stated that you felt like you had all been incubating in the CBA, I wondered what you meant by that.

Hannah: Well, we're perceived as being protected in CBA. Our books sell to Christians, for the most part, who already want to read about our convictions. But I feel that nonChristians desperately need to read about the hope that comes with Christ. I believe the world is reaching out to CBA books for that reason...plus the fact that CBA books are high quality. ABA readers are beginning to realize that CBA books are high quality. That's wonderful!

For those of our readers who are not familiar with the term, by CBA, you mean Christian Booksellers Association?

Hannah: Yes. The Christian market.

I have noticed more Christian fiction being carried in stores such as Borders and Books a Million. Has this helped increase your readership?

Beth: There are still two fairly disctinct markets, though the lines are blurring. I sell lots of books in BAM and Barnes & Noble.

Hannah: Most definitely, with our books being carried in secular bookstores, there are a lot more shoppers finding out about them. Steeple Hill is especially good at getting our books everywhere, as I think Beth can attest to.

Beth: My books for Steeple Hill get me readers for my Zondervan books and vice versa.

So, what brought the three of you to writing inspirational romantic suspense?

Beth: I didn't sit down one day and decide to write a romantic suspense. I wanted to tell a story about a landscape architect who struggled with ministering to her illegal alien workers. Then I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have an undercover Border Patrol agent on her crew pretending to be an illegal alien?

Hannah: I've always written romantic suspense. Even my first little romances had suspense in them. Our medical ER novels with Bethany House had suspense and mystery along with the romance. And our first women's fiction book with Steeple Hill had a mystery, even though we hadn't planned it to be so suspenseful.

I read the book Beth is talking about. Very good idea!

Beth: Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I had some suspense in my very first novella with Tyndale, too. I forgot about that.

I read that one too. I enjoyed the Border Patrol books and I had wondered what made you decide, Beth, to do a series on Border Patrol. It sounds like the suspense grew out of the stories you were already telling.

Beth: Serendipity, I guess. But after I started the research, I realized there was a hole in the market I could fill.

Hannah: As far as the spiritual element in the romances, I think Beth probably has the same experience as we do - there has to be the spiritual story going on as well as the romance and suspense.

Beth: I wonder if Cheryl and Mel's first book for Steeple Hill is what gave them the idea of launching the whole line.

Hannah: Oh, yes... Hideaway was the inspiration for the small-town charm of the whole series. Difference romances and people, but same setting.

Do find any special challenges to bringing a Christian message to books which in some ways center on criminal (and very non-Christian) behavior?

Beth: On the contrary, I think it lends itself particularly well.

How so?

Hannah: So far, we don't have a problem with that. We agree with Beth. The contrast between darkness and light is very effective in showing the light.

Beth: You put a Christian character in the crucible of such a dramatic situation, and they're forced to grow in their faith.

Hannah: And they're forced to depend on that faith, and God's power, to keep them going.

But as far as ugly scenes, non-Christian behavior, I think it's more difficult to show the characters as whole people, and not just one-dimensional.

Beth: You might think that the criminal element wouldn't go over well with "churchy" readers, but they understand that the enemy is at work in our world.

Hannah: Oh, yes.

Mel and Cheryl mentioned earlier that there has to be a spiritual story as well as the romance and suspense. Is there something that you hope your readers will bring away from your books?

Hannah: Hope is what we want them to take away. Forgiveness in some books, reconciliation in others. Real characters need to connect with real readers to show how God loves them.

Beth: You know, that's pretty much what I'd say, too. That there is hope in Christ. That yes, there's bad stuff out there, but God cares and He has a way out for us.

Hannah: And if we've strayed, we can always come back. We also have to show that God's people are fallible. Not perfect.

Beth: Well, not always a way out in the sense that things work out rosy--but that He's walking through difficulties with us.

Hannah: Yes, that's it, Beth. He's walking with us!

One thing I have noticed in all of your books is that your characters often inspire by example rather than with preaching. Do you find that a more effective way to reach readers?

Beth: Way better.

Hannah: Definitely. Actions speak louder than words. Preachiness is boring to the reader.

Beth: Thank you for saying that, Lynn, that's a high compliment!

Hannah: Example is the essence of inspiration.

I had a question for Mel and Cheryl. I'm primarily familiar with your work through the Hideaway books, though I did manage to find some of your mysteries published by Bethany House. How do you divide up the writing? Do you both write or do you split the writing and medical research?

Hannah: I, Cheryl, am the main writer. When we need medical, especially in our medical ER series, Mel did most of the medical scenes and I rewrote to incorporate them into the story. He also edits and helps inspire me when I think this wip is the worst I've ever done LOL!! Mel also tries to make sure that the medical characters show the medical life accurately through their eyes.

Since I know that Mel is a doctor, I do have a question that I'm sure you hear a lot. Are any of your medical situations based on actual cases?

Hannah: One reason our writing works so well is that Mel realizes I'm the writer, and I realize he's the doctor. We defer to one another. Yes, many of our situations are based on actual cases, but they are changed to the point that no one would recognize themselves...except maybe the man who got bitten by his pet lion.

Pet lion? Well, I imagine that definitely does not happen every day...

Hannah: LOL. No, only once in Mel's experience, I think.

So, do you have any more Hideaway books planned or is something new on the horizon?

Hannah: Yes, we have several more Hideaway books on board.

So what can we expect from the next one?

Hannah: We're working on an historical next, which will also be romantic suspense. What have we gotten ourselves into?!?

Beth: Wow, what period?

Hannah: 1945, WWII, and it'll be a Hideaway, with Red and Bertie. Release in 2007 late, I think.

That sounds very promising. Would you like to share any plot information with us or is it still too early?

Hannah: Well, it will involve the Bald Knobbers resurrection from Branson, which is a vigilante group from the 1800s. I think.

Murder, and stuff, of course.

Beth, I know that you write for both Zondervan and for Steeple Hill, who publishes your Border Patrol books. What do you have coming up that readers can look forward to?

Beth: The October Z book is a romance set in South Mississippi, about a wildlife veterinarian and a professional bowhunter. Fair Game is the title.

Now that sounds like quite an attraction of opposites.

Hannah: Sparks will fly! Mel is curious about how you're going to build conflict in the romance. LOL

I guess we'll have to read the book to see how they work things out. Is this one suspense as well?

Beth: Very southern and comedic in tone. No suspense really.

I would like to do more suspense for Steeple Hill, just don't have the right story yet.

Really? I'm more familiar with your suspense stories, but southern comedy sounds like fun.

Hannah: Do you have trouble writing the humor, Beth? That just sounds so hard for me.

Beth: No, that actually comes easier for me than the murder and mayhem.

Hannah: Oh, wow, how the time has flown. Lynn, thanks so much! This has been great!

Beth: Oops, yeah gotta go. Thanks for having us!

I'm glad. I enjoyed getting a chance to "meet" you all.

Hannah: Same here.

Beth: Ditto.

Good night!

ATBF: Focus on Inspirational Romance

 

 

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