Christian Fiction for Christmas

Good Christian fiction provides hours of pleasure and feeds the soul at the same time. E-reader versions make great last minute gifts because you can select them at home and deliver them to the recipient immediately and postage-free, even if they live halfway around the world.  Today I’m following the advice of another writer and promoting books by other Christian authors.

I’m always especially interested in fiction by conservative Christians. In my opinion, much of Christian fiction today treats romance in an unwise way. Also, sometimes Christian characters take shortcuts on integrity and get by with it. I like to read fiction written from a similar perspective to mine, which is fairly conservative. Unfortunately, I don’t know many truly conservative writers who write novels. So I’m going to begin with adult fiction by three conservative authors.

The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry

 

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I started reading Rick Barry’s work when his articles appeared in the same publications as mine. In recent years I’ve communicated a bit with him. This year he has published an intriguing new novel which my husband and I both read and enjoyed. This is a great read for the man in your life, but women can enjoy it too.

Find out more about Rick here: www.rickcbarry.com/

The Methuselah Project

Nazi scientists started many experiments. One never ended.
Roger Greene is a war hero. Raised in an orphanage, the only birthright he knows is the feeling that he was born to fly. Flying against the German Luftwaffe in World War II is everything he always dreamed–until the day he’s shot down and lands in the hands of the enemy. There he becomes an unwilling guinea pig in a hush-hush experiment intended to outlast the war. An old Bible provides the only reliable anchor for Roger’s sanity and his soul. When Katherine Mueller offers to help him, can he trust her when she works for the very organization he’s trying to flee?
Thrown right into pulse-pounding action from the first page, readers will find themselves transported back in time to a believable, full-colored past, and then catapulted into the present once more. The historical back-and-forth adds a constantly moving element of suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

You can order The Methuselah Project here:  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=methuselah+project+rick+barry

River Rest by Susan Page Davis

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Susan Davis is the prolific writer of over fifty Christian fiction books including romance, mystery, romantic suspense, historical and children’s fiction. I’ve met Susan by email in the last couple of years. She considers herself conservative, and always uses high standards of conduct in her romance. (Sorry, in my original blog I identified her as a graduate of Bob Jones University. This is incorrect. My mistake.)

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels. Her newest books include Seven Brides for Seven Texans, Mountain Christmas Brides, and River Rest. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky with her husband Jim.

Find out more about Susan here: http://susanpagedavis.com/

River Rest

This year Susan has released River Rest,  an historical novel which is inspired by her great aunt’s journal.

1918, Rural Maine. Judith Chadbourne gave up her teaching job after her mother’s death to help her father with her five siblings. But when her brother Joel is drafted, the household chores and farm work may overwhelm her. Their neighbor, Ben Thayer, seems rich and mysterious, but his heart aches from his own loss. Judith accidentally breaks the antique ornament her mother loved. The splintering star echoes her family’s shattering. Joel falls ill at the army camp, and Ben’s concern may bring the beginnings of trust. Can love take Judith beyond the frozen Maine winter?

You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/River-Rest-Susan-Page-Davis/dp/0997230835

Déjà Who? by Deb Brammer

Of course, I’ve released book two in my Keyhole Mysteries this year.

Déjà Who?

Jordan Axtell, a talented young artist, and Zophie Zobel, his girlfriend, move to Minneapolis to help with a ministry to international students. On their first outing, Jordan is confronted by a painting he’s sure is a forgery. Jordan does what he can to right this one wrong and move on, but his decision backfires when a stranger steals his identity. Zaxx, the ghost of Boise past, haunts him with a promise he cannot break.  Jordan’s ironclad promise makes him look guilty, and Jordan is forced to prove who he is or lose his reputation.

While Jordan is facing an identity crisis, Pastor Scott asks him to do the unthinkable. Z.Z., his Chinese host son, does the unforgivable. Zophie plots the inconceivable. And when things fall apart, everyone looks to Jordan for answers.

When the FBI brushes him off, will Jordan and his friends be able to figure out who the real fake is before it’s too late? Or will Jordan’s innocence become the victim of his good intentions?

You can order it here:  www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Deja+who+deb+brammer&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3ADeja+who+deb+brammer

Other Great Christian Fiction

In recent years I have grown increasingly thankful for Goodreads. All apart from sharing books and promoting my books, I find it very convenient to record the books I’ve read and what I think of them.  For my blog today I’ve scanned books I’ve read and chosen some I gave a 5-star rating to. I don’t give five stars to many books, so these are books I really enjoyed. I’m also including my personal review of the book.

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray

This book has a very interesting situation and shows people locked into their social class in Chicago in the late 1900’s. Rich girl Eloisa hates being in a position where class defines her and expectations dictate who she can marry. Class expectations sentence her to a life of triviality. On the other hand, Sean tries to rise above his poor background and become more than his circumstances dictate. He educates himself and becomes a cop. He dares to love Elisa and sees he can make her feel safe. He introduces her to Hope House, a place where she can make a positive contribution in spite of her class. I enjoyed this lightly Christian book for the insight given into limitations placed on people by their social class in this time period.

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Deception-Sable-Chicago-Worlds-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00N10ZHIQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970752&sr=1-1&keywords=Deception+on+Sable+Hill

Lonestar Sanctuary by Colleen Coble

This romance was well-written and had me wanting to keep reading. The thing that impressed me the most was the romance was not based mostly on physical attraction. I’m not sure that God would allow Christians to be forced into the kind of relationship they had, but given the circumstances, the author handled it very well. At first they loved more from choice than from emotion, and worked to make their relationship better. They admired and then loved each other because of strength of character, not because of the color of their eyes or sexual attraction.

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Lonestar-Sanctuary-Book-1-ebook/dp/B005LXZ4J8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970796&sr=1-1&keywords=Lonestar+Sanctuary

Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry

Truman Wiley is a successful journalist, but a dismal failure as a dad. His son Aiden will die unless he gets a heart transplant and Aiden is offered the heart of a condemned prisoner on death row. The prisoner is innocent, but no one believes him and he decides, when he is executed, to donate his heart to Aiden. Truman has been hired to write the prisoner’s story, but the more he hears, the more he realizes the prisoner may be innocent. Truman has to choose between rescuing an innocent man from death row and losing his son.
This book is exceptionally well written. The plot is perfectly structured, suspenseful, and unpredictable. The writing is witty and transparent. It is distinctively Christian but the message comes through the viewpoint of a hostile protagonist which makes it all the more effective.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it is also a great book for men. Highly recommended!

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Not-Heart-Chris-Fabry-ebook/dp/B00724BVPU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970848&sr=1-1&keywords=Not+in+the+Heart

Truth Stained Lies by Terri Blackstock

This is a well-written mystery about brothers and sisters who come together to find out who killed their sister-in-law. They need to clear their brother’s name and reunite him with a 5-year-old son he has lost in a custody battle. The stakes are high and the resolution is satisfying. It’s a great mystery in its own right, but I especially like it because it deals with forgiveness and serving others. It has a strong Christian message without being preachy.
Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Truth-Stained-Lies-Moonlighters-Book-ebook/dp/B008EGRFWI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970906&sr=1-1&keywords=Truth+Stained+Lies

Before I found Goodreads

When I found Goodreads I rated some books I remember enjoying, but because I read them before Goodreads, I didn’t review them. This doesn’t mean I agree with absolutely everything in them, but these are ones I enjoyed:

Healing Touch Series by Hannah Alexander

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Second-Opinion-Book-Healing-Touch-ebook/dp/B018YCCVYS/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970976&sr=1-4&keywords=Healing+Touch+Hannah+Alexander

Sins of the Father by James Scott Bell

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-James-Scott-Bell-ebook/dp/B000SHBLKS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971046&sr=1-1&keywords=Sins+of+the+Father+james+scott+bell

Presumed Guilty by James Scott Bell

Buy hre: https://www.amazon.com/Presumed-Guilty-James-Scott-Bell-ebook/dp/B000SF3KFO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971092&sr=1-1&keywords=presumed+guilty+james+scott+bell

Cape Refuge Series by Terri Blackstock

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Refuge-Book-ebook/dp/B000FC2NXK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971137&sr=1-1&keywords=cape+refuge+series+by+terri+blackstock

Southern Storm Series by Terri Blackstock

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Refuge-Book-ebook/dp/B000FC2NXK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971325&sr=1-1&keywords=cape+refuge+by+terri+blackstock+book+1

The Bug Man Collection, especially Less Than Dead by Tim Downs

(very funny, but not very Christian)

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Less-than-Dead-Bug-Novel-ebook/dp/B007V91ANY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970655&sr=1-1&keywords=Less+than+dead+tim+downs

 

Ghost Writer by Rene Gutteridge

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Writer-Rene-Gutteridge-ebook/dp/B008B719X6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971373&sr=1-1&keywords=ghost+writer+rene

Occupational Hazards Series by Rene Gutteridge

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Scoop-Occupational-Hazards-Rene-Gutteridge-ebook/dp/B003FCVDTW/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971588&sr=1-2&keywords=occupational+hazards+rene+gutteridge

Storm Series by Rene Gutteridge

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=splitting+storm+rene+gutteridge

Fairlawn Series by Angela Elwell Hunt

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Doesnt-She-Look-Natural-Fairlawn/dp/141432605X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971706&sr=1-1&keywords=doesn%27t+she+look+natural+fairlawn+angela+elwell+hunt

 

 

5 Marks of Healthy Romance in Christian Novels

 

Since I write Christian fiction, I also read a lot of Christian fiction. While I read few novels that are primarily romance, I like to experience a little romance in the fiction I do read. I believe a Christian novel that uses romance well can be inspiring and helpful for the Christian reader. Sadly, however, I note some very unhealthy romantic elements in many Christian romances. Perhaps this is why many Christians shy away from the romance genre.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Bible stories include healthy romances, as well as unhealthy ones we can learn from. Christian romances can be more than just “clean reads.” I believe Christian romances should be distinctively Christian, not just Hollywood without the sex scenes.

Part of the problem, I think, is that some story elements make for exciting fiction, though they are contrary to healthy Christian relationships. Thank the Lord, my dating relationship with my husband would make a boring biography. Many writers quote something close to this: “Fiction is real life with the boring parts taken out.” Face it: Commitment, faithfulness, appreciation, and stability are less exciting in fiction than jealousy, misunderstanding, fighting, and hurt feelings. To build suspense, romance authors try to keep a couple apart when they want to be together, or keep them together when they want to be apart. Conflict builds suspense. No conflict, no story.

Sometimes authors work so hard at building suspense that they fail to spot the unhealthy romance in their novels. As readers, however, we need to be discerning. We need to support Christian writers who handle romance in a healthy way.

Here are five things I look for in healthy Christian romance:

  1. It reflects godly standards for choosing who to love and pursue in a committed relationship. (2 Corinthians 6:14)

A godly protagonist won’t date an unbeliever or a believer who is distant in his relationship to God. Many times I see a protagonist fall in love with an unbeliever or someone who is far from God. At the end of the book that person suddenly gets saved or comes back to the Lord. Then, a very short time later, they marry. That is portrayed as a perfectly acceptable model of romance.

The problem is the protagonist , who seems to be godly, set her heart on someone who doesn’t love God like she does. A godly character sets her heart on godly things.

This also sets a dangerous example. It’s easy for a believer to fall in love with an unbeliever, hoping that person may get saved. But that unbeliever may never get saved, or may not get saved for many years. Sometimes an unbeliever professes salvation just to please a believer they love.

Christians need to set a high standard for people they marry or form a relationship with. Salvation is a bare minimum. Believers need to look for other believers who are growing in their relationship to Christ.

  1. The romantic attraction should be based on more than purely physical attraction.

Some Christian romances go on for so long about the color of a person’s eyes, his muscles, or her figure, that the romance seems more hormonal than anything else. Godly characters need to be attracted to each other because of friendship, common goals, concern for each other, and godly character traits. We’re all imperfect and need forgiveness at times. But a reader should be able to pick out positive character traits that draw the characters to each other.

  1. It shows a healthy dating relationship or the dangers of an unhealthy one.

“Dating” is not the only way for a Christian couple to get to know each other. Some use more of a courtship model or group date or simply get to know each other by being in situations where they are together. When I talk about a “dating relationship” I use the term broadly, as whatever means a couple uses to go from point A, where they meet, to point B, where they marry.

Here are some dangerous dating practices I’ve seen in Christian fiction:

Whirlwind Romance: Add up the passage of time in a novel and sometimes the couple is ready to commit to marriage in a matter of a few weeks. They may have solved the story problem, but do they really know each other well enough to make that kind of commitment?

Moving too fast: Some characters move into kissing and commitment very early in their relationship, clouding their emotions before they have time to think clearly.

Dangerous situations: Recently I read a Christian novel about a vulnerable, hurting protagonist who spent many hours with the guy she grew to love, alone, in a motel room with a bed/living room/kitchenette. Not smart, but the author portrayed this as a normal, healthy, place to talk. So normal, in fact, that the protagonist felt no one had a right to question the situation.

Surprise kiss: How many Christian romances have the main characters suddenly thrown together and kissing without either realizing it was going to happen. This is almost always depicted as a lovely surprise with no question asked about if they should be kissing someone they don’t even know how they feel about.

Inappropriate touch: Writers always struggle to bring more action into their scenes to show what the character is feeling. In a clean Christian romance, a guy often shows restraint as well as care by stroking a girl’s face, squeezing her hand, or kissing her forehead. He uses these means to show he cares about her before he is ready to declare his feelings. But think about it. If an employer strokes the face of an employee, what do we call that? Sexual harassment. Touching a person’s face is a very personal gesture. When these gestures are used in a casual relationship, in which a couple isn’t even dating yet and are undecided if they want to, this seems inappropriate to me.

Ungodly responses: All couples experience conflict, but Christian characters should model ways to work through their problems in a godly way. They may learn by their mistakes, but ungodly responses should not be shown in a favorable light.

  1. It leads my mind down spiritually healthy paths. (Philippians 4:8)

Recently I read a Christian romance that was really well written. In fact, she described the physical responses to the character’s feelings in so much detail that, even as a married woman, I felt the physical attraction a bit too clearly.

Other Christian writers write about immorality and homosexuality in ways that, though they stop short of the bedroom door, can lead your mind down paths that aren’t spiritually healthy. Immorality starts in the mind and even Christian books can cause us to think beyond what is stated to things that may be sinful. When dealing with immorality, Christian novels should show the consequences of sin without too much detail. Stirring the curiosity about immorality isn’t spiritually healthy.

Some content might be perfectly healthy for a married reader, but might draw a younger person or single into sinful thoughts.

A well-balanced Christian novel, on the other hand, will encourage readers to think clean thoughts and make them want to live by a high standard of behavior which pleases God.

  1. It encourages contentment in my present relationship or season of life.

Romances should not only warm us, but also uplift us. Some singles find that reading romances makes them desire a relationship that isn’t right for them at this time. Romances may make some married women feel discontent with their own marriage that may be less romantic than what they read in books.

This is something the reader has to determine for herself, but authors can sometimes help by exercising a little extra restraint.

Is it impossible?

Finding a healthy Christian romance novel can be hard, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes it’s easier to find healthy romance in a genre that isn’t primarily romance. Light romance mixed with mystery, historical, or a general genre often places the focus more sharply on other aspects than the physical attraction. I like to put a little romance into my adult novels, and pair them with ministry. Actually, participating in Christian ministry is a good way for a committed Christian to find a marriage partner.

It’s often hard to judge a romance novel before you’ve read it, but when you find one, tell your friends or write an on-line review to help other readers find it too.

My Art Spotlight Mysteries combine light romance with light-hearted mystery that deals with relationship issues.  You can buy the print version of them or buy the ebook in various formats.

 

Buy Broken Windows:

Print Book & Kindle

Other Online Stores

 

Buy Déjà Who?:

Print Book & Kindle

Other Online Stores

 

Buy I Scream:

Print Book

Kindle

Other Online Stores

 

 

Why I Joined ACFW

 

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If you’re a Christian fiction writer, perhaps you’ve wondered if you should join American Christian Fiction Writers. Maybe you don’t know much about ACFW or wonder if the benefit would justify the membership fee. If so, perhaps my experience in this article can help you decide whether or not ACFW is a good fit for you.

I began writing for Christian publication just before the Christian fiction market exploded in the early 1980’s. I’ve seen great changes in the Christian publishing industry and attended some very helpful conferences for Christian writers such as Write to Publish, other ACW conferences, and the Writing for the Soul conference (which is no longer active.) In recent years I’ve taken note of American Christian Fiction Writers, their conference and their membership.

For several years I hesitated to join ACFW because I can only attend writers’ conferences during occasional furlough years to the States, and only if the conferences fall at the right time in a reasonable location for me. Without the conference discount in my favor, I questioned whether or not the initial fee would be worth it if I couldn’t attend a conference. (It costs $65 to join for your first year, and $45 to renew your subscription each year thereafter.) I heard good things about ACFW, but never had a clear understanding of how it could help me.

In December 2015 I finally joined ACFW. I have gained considerable benefit from a few things and I continue to discover more benefits all the time.  You might be helped in different areas, but I’ll share the ways ACFW has helped me.

{Don’t miss the one helpful hint I share with you at the end that will make the whole ACFW communication easier.}

Critique Group

All members can participate in the Scribes Critique Group whenever they want. Since I have moved from traditional publishing to self-publishing, I wanted input from other writers to make my book as strong as it could be. I wrestled with self-doubt and wondered if certain parts of my book were working. This group gave me objective opinions by Christian writers who were on my side, but honest about changes that needed to be made. It was this benefit which finally convinced me to join ACFW.

How does it work?

To join the critique group you need to join an orientation class that teaches you how to submit and receive critiques. This takes about an hour a day for five days.  If you have already learned to use track changes, that will make this process easier. When you have completed the course, you can submit and receive critiques.

(Don’t miss my helpful hint at the bottom.)

You have to critique two chapters from other writers in the group for every one critique you receive. Some “critters” are more experienced or thorough than others, but you get at least 3 critiques for each chapter you submit. Comparing critiques gives you a good idea of what is working and what isn’t.

You aren’t obligated to make any changes, but if several critters note the same problem in your chapter, you’ll probably want to make a change.

I submitted the first 5 chapters from Broken Windows, which I had already published in 2015. I felt  these chapters needed to be tighter and get into the action faster. Since I had self-published, I could easily change these chapters, which I did once it was critiqued. I also submitted the first five chapters for Deja Who?, the sequel. Since the first chapters of any book are especially important, I decided to have these early chapters critiqued.

I feel the critique process gave me many good responses that helped improve my books, but I didn’t choose to have the whole books critiqued. You are  only allowed to submit 2 chapters a week (or 2500-word portions.) I didn’t want to wait long enough for the whole books to be critiqued, but appreciated the help for the chapters I submitted.

If you’re worried about flooding your inbox with emails, don’t miss the helpful hint at the bottom.

Email Loop

This allows you to ask questions and make comments on the email loop, as well as read other questions and comments. You don’t have to read or comment on anything if you don’t want. The subject headings help you scan the topics quickly and read the helpful entries.

The loop covers topics like punctuation tips, where to find valuable research, information about writing topics and contests, when authors are looking for blogs from other writers, and all kinds writing subjects.

I’ve found many of these entries helpful, but don’t miss the helpful hint at the end that helps you keep your sanity.

Joining Groups

You can also join groups with ACFW. Most, if not all, of these groups use Facebook to interact.

Since I don’t live in America, I belong to ACFW Beyond the Borders. This allows me to interact with other authors who live outside of the US. I’ve even “met” a few who live in New Zealand.

I also belong to two review groups that allow me to post my books for review by readers who agree to give an honest review in exchange for a book. I can also ask for beta readers from one of these groups. I have no obligations to this group, but I can ask or give reviews or comments when I want.

I’m also tiptoeing into a couple of others groups. Though not all of these groups are exclusive to ACFW, I wouldn’t have found them without it.

Other Benefits

You can also take online writing courses with ACFW, attend the national conference, meet other Christian writers, and find places to promote your own books.

Check out more information about membership benefits here.

You can find me on Fiction Finder here.

It takes a while to find your way around the extensive members only section of the ACFW website, but you can find help when you’re stuck. The spirit of ACFW is not competitive, but cooperative. You meet  a community of Christian authors there who understand people like you and want to help.

I can’t say if ACFW is a good fit for you. You can join and get nothing out of it. But membership does offer many benefits if you choose to use them. I have found my membership more helpful than I thought it would be, and plan to continue with it.

I did find out very quickly, however, that one helpful hint really helps you get started on a better foot. This is the tip I’ve been saving until last.

ACFW will work better for you if you have a separate email address for it. If you join a critique group, while you are giving and receiving critiques, you will be receiving many emails every day and it will drive you crazy if your ordinary email is bombarded with these. This separate address works well for the email loop too, so the email loop messages don’t get mixed up with your personal mail. Once you choose a separate address, you can sort the loop messages from the critique group messages. (They’ll tell you how.) That way, when you want to look at them they’re there, but otherwise they aren’t in your way.

I chose a gmail address for my ACFW mail, and that works well. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle, however, if I had used this separate address as soon as I registered.