Celebrating our Award Nominees and Winners!

It’s award season, and with it comes recognition for some great books! The Carol award finalists were announced earlier this week, with winners to be presented at the ACFW conference in August. Several were from the Bethany House family, and I’m excited to show them off. You can click on each cover to read an excerpt.

Contemporary:

Finding Me
Finding Me by Kathryn Cushman

After her father’s death, Kelli discovers a shocking secret: She has a family she’s never known. She may want answers, but are some doors better left shut?

Historical Romance:

BeyondAllDreams_mck.indd

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

When a librarian and a prominent congressman join forces to solve a mystery, they become entangled in secrets more perilous than they could have ever imagined.

Worthy Pursuit

A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

A teacher on the run. A tracker in pursuit. Can Charlotte and Stone learn to trust each other before they both lose what they hold most dear?

Romance:

Until the Harvest

Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

When a family tragedy derails his studies, Henry returns home feeling lost. Can a gifted young girl and her older sister help him find his way again?

Young Adult:

Dauntless

Dauntless by Dina L. Sleiman

Timothy Grey plans to earn a title by capturing Lady Merry and her band of orphan thieves. But will he carry out his mission when he meets their dauntless leader face-to-face?

Also, a special congratulations to Susan Anne Mason for winning a Christy Award in the Best First Novel category for Irish Meadows. Irish Meadows also joined Taken by Dee Henderson and The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen to win Christian Retailing’s Best Awards. Also recently announced was Patrick W. Carr’s INSPY award win for The Shock of Night. We’re excited for you!

To celebrate, we’re doing a giveaway on the blog. Comment below with an answer to this question: what’s a time period or setting you would enjoy reading a novel about? I’ll choose 5 winners on Tuesday, July 5 to win their choice of one of these five Carol finalist titles. Winners will be notified by a reply to their comment.

Ask BHP: How Much Christian Content Should a Christian Fiction Book Have?

Welcome to this month’s Ask BHP, and it’s a doozy. First of all, thanks to whoever in Internet-land thought to themselves, “I’m going to ask Bethany House a seemingly innocent but extremely complicated question.” I see you there, chuckling sinisterly, waiting for this post to come up.

Fortunately…I love complicated questions. But you might have to content yourself with a less-than-simple answer.

Another way of asking this is if you see this sign at Barnes and Noble, what does it mean?

Another way of asking this is: if you see this sign at Barnes and Noble, what does it mean?

 

We’ll start with this: I don’t like the term “Christian content.” Maybe it’s the only helpful way to discuss this topic, but I think the terminology is flawed. Here are a few reasons why.

One: Content can’t be really Christian. Are the rows of chairs in your church “Christian chairs” just because of their location or use? Nope. Same thing with a novel and its content. People are Christians—“little Christs,” followers committed to living out the gospel and becoming more like Jesus. Content can be written for a Christian audience, written by Christians, or contain characters who are Christians, or all three…but the content itself hasn’t had a conversion experience.

If you’re thinking, “Amy, that’s 100% semantics, you know what that term means,” here’s reason…

Two: Thinking of books in terms of Christian content tends to make people reach for a checklist. If you’re a writer and feel like you have to have particular moments or themes and force them into your story, that typically doesn’t work well. If you’re a reader and are disappointed by a beautifully written tale that lacked a conversion scene (or, on the other end of the scale, if you’re offended by mentions of a character’s faith), you’ve missed the point.

But this post is in a series called “Ask Bethany House,” not “Amy Green Defines Terms,” which means I should probably give a useful answer.

Christian fiction is a genre, and that means a lot of things to different authors, readers, and publishing companies. Those definitions include, in no particular order:

  • Beautiful writing by Christians. The thinking goes that since we are made in the image of God, and God is a creator, we worship through excellence in all we do, including our storytelling.
  • Books that contain at least some overt references to God and his truth in a way that would inspire and encourage readers in their faith.
  • “Clean” fiction without the problematic content (and everyone has a different definition of what that is) that you find in general market fiction, possibly with a few spiritual references, but maybe not.
  • Stories where the central theme involves truth about God and how to live out your faith (forgiveness, unconditional love, the danger of greed, etc.). It’s more than a passing reference to prayer, but should leave the reader with something to take away and apply to their lives.

Bethany House books are going to be all over the spectrum, though I can’t think of an example of a recent BHP book that is either a fictionalized sermon or only a clean read without any spiritual themes at all.

Our books may fit into one or all of these categories (which I just made up, so I may have missed some).

Christian faith as a major plot element.

Sometimes, the plot of a novel is driven by a crisis of belief. For example, in some of Beverly Lewis’s tales, a character wrestles with Amish beliefs about salvation or community, comparing them to the Bible. Or, in Angela Hunt’s Risen, a centurion investigates the supposed resurrection of Jesus. There is a lot of outright discussion about Christianity because it fits the story. It would be impossible to tell the same story without the faith element being front and center.

Christian faith as a character motivation.

Almost all Bethany House books fit into this category. They feature one or more characters who are Christians, and that comes out in their speech, words, and actions (although imperfectly) because it’s part of who they are. If you make a character a workaholic, that will influence that person’s choices. If you make a character a first-generation immigrant, that character will come from a certain perspective and react in particular ways. If you make a character a Texan…I don’t even know how many aspects of their life that will affect, but I’m guessing a lot. Same thing with Christian characters—including them makes faith a necessary and organic element of the story. (Note that the Christian in the book may not be the main character—for example, Ronie Kendig’s Conspiracy of Silence features a male lead who wouldn’t claim the label Christian, though several supporting characters are people of faith, and his spiritual seeking is one of the themes of the series.)

Christian faith as an underlying truth.

By this I mean that we live in a moral universe. God created the world to reflect truth about him. It’s why even unbelievers consider betrayal in fiction wrong and recognize sacrifice as something deeply beautiful. Our stories—the places we cheer and boo, the emotions we have as we turn pages, whether we feel that the “good guys” have won at the end and what makes us consider them good—work because they’re set in this framework.

Here, I’m especially thinking of our fantasy titles. They might not take place in worlds where the historical Jesus Christ died on a cross for our sins. They might not even be direct allegories of the gospel. Does that mean they’re not Christian fiction, even if they teach us, using a different world, the truths of our faith?

I get a little frustrated with reviewers of our first-in-a-series fantasy novels who critique the imperfect view of religion the novels portray. “Many of the people in Jill Williamson’s King’s Folly worship multiple gods. How can this be Christian fiction?” they ask. Well, I want to explain, because those gods are leading people to pursue empty, hopeless, selfish lives. Because Jill has several more books to bring you to the correct conclusions, but you can already and obviously tell that the series isn’t endorsing sacrificing your son to idols. Because maybe, just maybe, you can see the sin in your own heart more clearly as you read about the wrong pursuit and priorities of a pagan people group.

Christian faith as a reason for hope.

Some novels give you the “moral to the story,” others leave you only with profound, soul-searching questions. Some are testimonies of God’s power to change lives, others remind you what a broken world we live in. But all contain some element of hope. That, to me, would be the biggest difference between Christian fiction and anything else. Our faith has hope, and the best Christian storytellers showcase it well.

What are your thoughts on this question? If you had to describe Christian fiction as a genre, how would you do so? If you’re a writer, what role has faith played in your stories?

Guest Post: Elizabeth Camden!

Today on the blog, Elizabeth Camden is joining us to talk about the theme of her newest novel, From This Moment…and a subject that many romance readers and writers are interested in: true love.

FromMoment

Do you agree with the quote above?

While it may not be the most romantic of sentiments, I think most happily married people will affirm it. As people go through life their needs deepen and change. A good marriage requires the strength and flexibility to adapt to these changes… and to keep falling in love anew as life unfolds over the years.

Romance novels typically celebrate the triumph of early-stage, idealistic love, but in From this Moment I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to explore the qualities of an enduring relationship, with all the exuberant hope and heart-rending choices that sometimes come into play. Is the joyous infatuation of first love enough to sustain a lifelong commitment?

SummerofDreams_novella.inddFrom this Moment features two distinct love stories: Romulus White is a charming womanizer who is secretly terrified of marriage, and for good reason. Then there is Evelyn and Clyde, whose early courtship was shown in the free novella Summer of Dreams. The main novel picks up ten years later with these three lifelong friends at a turning point in their lives. Clyde and Evelyn’s marriage is unraveling, and Romulus is about to meet his match in Stella West.

The two romances couldn’t be more different. While Evelyn and Clyde got married very young on an impulsive rush of infatuation, Romulus believes such feelings are dangerous, and avoids any woman who might rock his carefully won equilibrium. He and Stella ignite in a combustible mix of shared intellect, high-flying flirtation, and overwhelming attraction…precisely the sort of dazzling chemistry that terrifies Romulus. Meanwhile, Evelyn and Clyde are confronted with changes neither saw heading their way. It will either draw them closer together, or split them apart for good.

From This MomentI loved the chance to explore the meaning of love, marriage, and enduring friendship in this novel. Sometimes we have to fight hard to keep falling in love with our spouse, and sometimes it seems to come effortlessly. I hope you will see plenty of both in From this Moment.

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! You can follow her on Facebook or visit her website for more. Now a question for you, readers: what is the best advice you’d give to a couple approaching marriage about relationships that last?

Pros and Cons to Being a Fictional Character

If you’re like me, you sometimes finish a great book, sigh, and say, “I wish I could live in this world.” That sounds great…until you really think about what being a main character in a novel might involve. (Or maybe you still think it sounds great even after all that.) Here are some of the reasons for and against wanting to be a fictional character.

Pros:

You’d get to meet and interact with some delightful characters, from outrageously quirky to lovably charming. (Although she loves her Porter family, Becky Wade has covered fictional heroes in a way that might put this toward the “con” side of things…)

Fictional-Characters

Your life would never be boring. Conversations would lack the normal lulls of small talk, and your daily routine would be quickly interrupted by some kind of conflict or chaos. Mundane details like sorting laundry or vacuuming crushed Cheerios from the van would be replaced by confrontations, acts of heroism, and dramatic chase scenes, possibly on horseback. What’s not to like?

You could be reasonably sure that you were working toward a happy (or at least hopeful) ending, one with some clear resolution to it. That might not always look like what you expected it to at the beginning (Delilah and A Haven on Orchard Lane, I’m looking at you), but sometimes real life doesn’t have the same sense of conclusion as novels do.

As a fictional character, chances are you’d have a few details of your life that set you apart from everyone else, whether that’s a sudden inherited fortune, an incredible talent for delivering witty one-liners, or actual magical abilities.

Cons:

Besides the general not-being-real thing…you’d be under the complete control of an author. And authors can be a little sadistic sometimes. (No offense to all you writers out there. You know it’s true.) The kind of trauma they’d put you through on the way to a happy ending might not be worth it.

Even if you’re the star of the book, there’s at least a 25% chance your head will be lopped off on the cover. (For those who wonder why some covers feature partially-decapitated women, part of it is an artistic/style choice for a particular look, and part of it is because readers are divided on whether they want to see a character’s face or visualize it in their own imaginations. Although I like Regina Jennings’s explanation too.)

HeadlessCovers

But at least you’d be in good company!

If you accidentally stumbled into the plot of, say, a Dani Pettrey or Dee Henderson novel, chances are good you’ll be running for your life for the next several weeks. Or if your world is suddenly a Julianna-Deering-esque mystery, chances are one or more people around you will drop dead, and who wants to deal with that?

Assuming your setting forces you to go back in time, on the plus side, the dresses are prettier. On the minus side, you’d face a significantly lower life expectancy and no Internet, indoor plumbing, or iced caramel lattes, among other downsides. Makes the modern world look pretty good, doesn’t it?

Your turn! Can you think of any pros or cons to being a fictional character in your favorite novel?

Prayer for Authors: June 2016

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Authors with Books Releasing in June:

Lawana Blackwell
Elizabeth Camden
Angela Hunt
Karen Witemeyer

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”– Romans 12:17-18, ESV

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For the ability and desire to live at peace with everyone (even unfair critics or difficult associates or family members).
  • For a renewed sense of purpose in all they do, but especially in their writing.
  • For encouragement for those who sell and recommend books, that they would know that their work makes a difference in many lives.

Again, I so appreciate having a team of prayer warriors around our authors. Thanks for joining us, and I’ll see you next month!

First Lines: June 2016 Bethany House Books

We’ve talked about first lines on the blog before, especially focusing on how they can get the reader’s attention and establish the setting and tone of the novel right away. All of that is still true, but as I was thinking through our June releases, I realized the opening lines and chapter of a novel can also be critical for helping the reader connect and sympathize with the main character.

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Sometimes that task is easier than other times. Want to see what I mean? Below are examples from this month’s Bethany House releases, along with a little commentary from me on why the opening lines worked well. (As usual, you can click on a cover for a longer excerpt of the novels to get a better sense of their openings.)

Delilah by Angela Hunt

“No woman sets out to be wicked. I’m not sure I can say the same thing about men.”

Delilah

Those first two lines, besides being punchy and attention-getting, establish the premise that everyone has motivation for what they do. Knowing you’re coming to a book about Delilah, with half of the chapters narrated from her point-of-view, that’s pretty important. The first chapter and the events that follow shortly thereafter make you see that Delilah wasn’t a generic bad girl of the Bible, but a real person.

From This Moment by Elizabeth Camden

“Romulus White stood motionless in the crowded ballroom, staring at a woman he’d once longed for more than his next breath of air. It was not a pleasant experience, especially since Laura stood alongside her doting husband.”

From This Moment

Fancy-dressing, slightly arrogant Romulus could have come off as irritating, but starting with the very sharp, familiar emotion of “what-ifs” and “could-have-beens” was a great technique that gave us a way to relate with Romulus. And when we relate to a character, we care and want to read more.

No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer

“Malachi Shaw made the arduous climb back into consciousness with great effort. But everything Mal had accomplished so far in his thirteen years of life had required great effort. Not that he had achieved anything worth bragging about. Orphaned. Starving. And…cold.”

13985 NoOtherWillDo_mck.indd

Malachi could be just a generic poor orphan character, but because of his response to his rescuing “angel” in this early scene, you care intently about both him and the young heroine who helps him. This sets up the characters of both and makes you want to see them grow up and fall in love…but, the story being over 300 pages long, you know it won’t be quite as easy as that!

A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell

“If one would drown one’s sorrows with music, the music must be loud. On the seventeenth of February, 1880, if Charlotte’s fingers had not pounded out Haydn’s Andante with Variations in F Minor so forcefully, the score would not have slipped from its stand. She would not have heard the hoofbeats.”

Haven on Orchard Lane

A mother who has virtually ignored her daughter for years sounds like a difficult protagonist to root for. But the unexpected visitor who follows, bearing exciting—and dangerous—news shows us the odds that are stacked against Charlotte and helps us understand why Charlotte broke off contact with her daughter. From the very start, I was rooting for Charlotte and Rosalind to reconnect and escape the threat posed in the first chapter.

Just for fun, pick a book near you and write the first sentence or two in the comments!