O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


The Christian Romance Novel Naughty List

posted by Jason Boyett

Steeple Hill is a line of Christian women’s novels published by Harlequin, the great-granddaddy (or grandmother?) of the romance novel industry. When you think of romance novels, you probably think of a buff, hairless, massively pectoral man clutching a lovestruck maiden with a bosom nearly heaving from her corset. Right? You probably don’t think that fits very well within the Christian reading market.

You’re correct. (Right: Guess which cover is the Christian one?)

Thanks to a thoughtful email from Bryan Allain, I now have proof how difficult it must be to write a legitimate romance novel–or any novel, for that matter–for Christian readers. He pointed me to this list on the Harlequin/Steeple Hill website. It contains a list of terms that cannot be used in a Steeple Hill novel. You might think it’s a joke, but I’m pretty sure it’s not.

So I’m just going to reproduce the list verbatim, along with the hilariously clarifying explanations or suggestions accompanying these forbidden phrases. Enjoy.

————-

Terms that cannot be used in a Steeple Hill novel:

Arousal
Bastard
Bet/betting
Bishop
Bra
Breast (except for breast cancer if necessary)
Buttocks or butt (alternatively, you can say derriere or backside)
Crap
Damn (try “blast” instead)
Darn
Dern/durn
Devil (except in the religious sense, but the circumstances would be rare)
Dang or Dagnabbit
Doody
Father (when used to describe a religious official)
Fiend
For heaven’s sake (can use “for goodness’ sake” instead)
For the love of Mike
For Pete’s sake
Gee
Geez/jeez (but “sheesh” is acceptable)
Gosh
Golly
Halloween
Harlot
Heat (when used to describe kisses)
Heck
Hell (except in the religious sense, but this would be rare)
Holy cow
Hot/hottie
Hunk
Need/hunger (when used to describe non-food-focused state of being)
Pee
Poop
Panties
Passion
Priest
Sexy
Sex
Sexual attraction
Tempting (as applied to the opposite sex)
St. [name of saint]
Swear, as in “I swear…” – Christian characters are not supposed to swear.
Undergarments – of any kind
Whore

The following are allowed only in the context mentioned:
Angel – only when used in a Biblical context
Miracle – only when used in a Biblical context
Oh my God/Oh, God – ONLY allowed when it’s clearly part of a prayer
Heavenly – only when used in a Biblical context
Although you can say “He cursed” or mention cursing, do not overuse. Furthermore, only non-Christian characters can curse.

Situations to be avoided:
Kissing below the neck
Visible signs or discussions of arousal or sexual attraction or being out of control
Double entendre
Nudity – people changing clothes “on screen” or any character clad only in a towel
Hero and heroine sleeping in the same house without a third party, even if they’re not sleeping together or in the same room
Also, Christian characters should not smoke, drink, gamble, play cards or dance (except in historical novels they may dance but please limit to square dances and balls, no “sexy” dancing like waltzing cheek to cheek), and terms associated with these activities should only be used in connection with bad guys or disapproving of them or such.
Bodily functions, like going to the bathroom, should be mentioned as little as possible and some euphemism may be necessary but we don’t want to sound quaint or absurd.

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Brief and pretty much unnecessary commentary:

1) I’m not surprised that such a list exists, though to be honest I’m surprised at the prudish detail of this one. Sure, I guess you don’t want a Christian character saying damn (try “blast” instead!) but darn? Durn? Dang? Piety can be so constrictive!

2) The prohibition against “doody” is a good call. Any book for people over the age of 5 should not use the word “doody.”

3) Why can’t a religious official be referred to as Father? I understand we don’t want anyone to say “Golly!” but what do they do when a priest walks by? Do Catholics, Anglicans, or Episcopalians not exist in Steeple Hill? Are these books only to be read by crazed fundamentalists who think Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon? Oops. Sorry. I shouldn’t have used the word “whore.” Sigh. For Pete’s–or, rather, Jerry’s–sake.

4) Maybe it’s because I live with a six year-old and a nine year-old, but the pee/poop/panties combination made me giggle. And I don’t care who knows.

5) “Furthermore, only non-Christians can curse.” That’s so true. When we Christians try to do it, strange replacement words come out. Like “dagnabbit.”

6) “…some euphemism may be necessary but we don’t want to sound quaint or absurd.” Too late.



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posted November 2, 2009 at 9:44 am


For the love of Mike? What if there is a character named Mike, and his wife makes him pancakes or something, out of love, in her bra, while swearing?



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The Collier Clan

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:47 am


"we don't want to sound quaint or absurd"of course not.this simply can't be true. this could be printed – without any editorial changes – on the Onion.



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Spike

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:50 am


Inspirational. Now I have an overwhelming desire to write a Christian romance novel.



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Anonymous

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:50 am


You said "doody" tee hee



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Kevin D. Hendricks

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:51 am


We can't say 'gee,' but no mention of an f-bomb. Sweet.



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Jen

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:51 am


I like this one: except in historical novels they may dance but please limit to square dances and balls, no “sexy” dancing like waltzing cheek to cheekGood to know. I'm pretty sure God likes to square dance.And I don't think I've EVER seen "dagnabbit" used in any novel. Probably a good thing.Hysterical. The fact that it comes from Harlequin is even better. :)



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Lauren

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:51 am


My mom's friend Janet Dean (whose Web site I made a few years ago) published a couple books with Steeple Hill. I read her excerpts as I add them to her site … and I chuckle as I do.Of course, her books are historical fiction so she can get away with the cheesy alternative phrases. But still. What's wrong with saying "darn" anyway? What are you SUPPOSED to say then?



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Abraham

posted November 2, 2009 at 10:00 am


dirn and dorn are still available.



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radosh

posted November 2, 2009 at 10:05 am


I can vouch for the list. I excerpted it as part of a broader discussion of Christian romance novels in my book Rapture Ready! OK with everyone if I plug my book? Awesome, thanks. GetRaptureReady.com.



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Jason Boyett

posted November 2, 2009 at 10:13 am


Daniel, always feel free to plug your book here. Everyone, buy Rapture Ready! as Radosh was kind enough to endorse the Pocket Guides. That we both enjoy these types of lists should be plenty of reason to read further…



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Danny Bixby

posted November 2, 2009 at 10:50 am


If I wasn't fairly convinced this was legit, I'd swear that this was straight from the Onion.But I have little doubt that this is a serious list.My head hurts now.



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Brett Barner

posted November 2, 2009 at 11:01 am


haha wow. No "sexy" dancing? But I love to sexy dance!



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Scott

posted November 2, 2009 at 12:49 pm


Acknowledging that this list was presented as factual, if tongue-in-cheek, and romance novels being what they are (to put it nicely), this list is a maddening example of the sad reality of "Christian entertainment".I laughed but then I got angry at how pathetic this contrivance is.In context, sure, it's humorous in a very Monty Python way*. But it represents the requirement for that vast disconnect from real life that so often makes even the most basic story a work of wild fantasy. (Which is why I generally can't read the stuff.)*This is an especially good parallel for the Christian subculture: Ask a Monty Python-era Brit to explain how odd it is for Yanks to get anything out of those films, which we could never truly appreciate. It's much like middle class white boys dressing and acting "gangsta".



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the J in PJs Til Noon

posted November 2, 2009 at 1:27 pm


OMG-hey they left that one off. My childhood was a Steeple Hill Novel. I couldn't say pee, but pee-pee was acceptable. This is just too funny, and a little too close to home. Maybe that's why I laugh when my kids say crap in front of my mom.



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VanderbiltWife

posted November 2, 2009 at 1:54 pm


Wow. There really IS no room to be authentic in Christianity, is there? And definitely no room for all those heathen Catholic priests.



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Ken

posted November 2, 2009 at 3:41 pm


Wow – so, if we were to apply this list to the Bible – well, um, most of Genesis would have to go (especially chapter 38) – Judges wouldn't be any fun, Ruth and Esther wouldn't work – Song of Solomon – Paul's wish that certain men castrate themselves in Galatians – yea, I don't think they can publish the bible.



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Tess Mallory

posted November 2, 2009 at 5:36 pm


As a romance author who is also a Christian, let me tell you that the restrictions the CBA (Christian Book Association)puts on their 'Christian fiction' is the reason there is very little good Christian fiction, and even less readable Christian romances of a contemporary nature. And just to educate everyone a little — * Tons of romance authors are Christians. * Romances have changed since the 70s and are no longer 'bodice rippers' despite what some publishers still put on their covers. * Romances are usually about love and relationships, not sex. One of my romances has the hero and heroine both virgins, both married before sex, and the hero talking about the relationship of Christ and the church as it relates to husband and wife. I wonder how many people that may have reached who have never been inside a church?* The same Christians who judge romance novels usually watch the same level of sex/senuality on TV and in movies.* Romances are genre fiction, just like SF, Fantasy, Thriller, etc. * There are good romance writers and bad romance writers, just like in any other genre fiction. You have to find the ones you like. * Sex is a very realistic part of life, no matter how much we, as Christians, may strive to deny it exists. *smile* At least romance novels support a loyal, monogamous relationship between man and woman.* A lot of romance authors slip in some great philosophy, morals, and yes, even FAITH IN GOD into their books. Okay, so having said all of that, I would still love to write a Christian romance novel. I learned to write primarily from reading Grace Livingston Hill novels, which is probably where the CBA got their criteria, because they were written in the 30s. I have written nine romances, and when I submitted three proposals for Christian romances, all were turned down because they didn't line up with the strict fundamentalist guidelines of the CBA. (Notice I didn't say the publisher. The publisher could care less. The CBA is the outlet for all the Christian bookstores.) In one of my submissions, a woman who lost her memory ended up staying in a cowboy's home with him and his daughter. In another, a popular evangelist has to come to terms with the way his ministry has turned into a dog and pony show making his wife leave him. I promise — there were no naughty words involved and no sex! :)) Anyway, as usual, it is the CHRISTIANS who keep Christianity from being able to be shared in a real and earnest way, in a way that can truly touch people where they live. And yes, I have covers with bare chested guys, and low cut dresses on the women. Let the stoning commence! ;)



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Sherrie Lord

posted November 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm


As a Christian romance novelist, I can assure you — the list is for real. AND quaint. AND absurd.Please pray for us.



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Tess Mallory

posted November 2, 2009 at 5:46 pm


Wanted to clarify — when I said the CBA is at fault for authors not being able to produce many readable Christian romances, I am in no way criticizing the authors of those romances. How can you write a really good book, when you can't inject even a semblance of the real world into your novels? But of course, there are Christian romance authors who work very hard to write a good book, in spite of the CBA, but their talent and their ability to reach people in a REAL way is very limited, because their hands are tied behind their backs! Hard to write a book when that's the case. Kudos to the ones who manage to do it anyway!



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dalespage

posted November 2, 2009 at 6:35 pm


My sister wrote about such things too. Cracks me up. Oh– can I say "crack"?



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Dromedary Hump

posted November 2, 2009 at 8:46 pm


Tess said: "One of my romances has the hero and heroine both virgins, both married before sex, and the hero talking about the relationship of Christ and the church as it relates to husband and wife."I find myself strangely aroused.Can I say "strangely"? How about "aroused"?



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Dromedary Hump

posted November 2, 2009 at 8:50 pm


Jason said: "Daniel, always feel free to plug your book here. Everyone, buy Rapture Ready! as Radosh was kind enough to endorse the Pocket Guides."Hey, Jason!! I endorsed your pocket guides too!! Can I plug my The Atheist Camel Chronicles book? [Glances at the comments ]Uh… nevermind [shrugs] :)



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Jason Boyett

posted November 2, 2009 at 9:50 pm


Hump: A few distinguishing comments…Radosh endorsed the Pocket Guides pre-publication, for publicity purposes. Point for him.I have publicized you in two actual blog posts/interviews. No interviews (yet) with Radosh. Point for you.I have read parts (but not all) of Radosh's book. I have read most (but not all) of your book.Let's call it even. :)



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Dromedary Hump

posted November 2, 2009 at 10:16 pm


Even? Heck, I owe you!Besides … as I was implying above this isn't exactly my target audience ;)



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Tess Mallory

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:12 am


#dalespage — read your sister's blog and it is AWESOME! Everyone should go to http://edenpage.blogspot.com/2009/01/newspaper-clipping-christian-romance.html#dromedary hump Hey, Camel Boy – rein it in! :)) and no, you can't say 'aroused'! This is a Christian website. Good grief. Oops! I can't say that either! My bad.



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Tess Mallory

posted November 3, 2009 at 1:18 am


@jasonboyett Your question:Do Catholics, Anglicans, or Episcopalians not exist in Steeple Hill?Answer: No. And neither does underwear. Now, talk about Naughty!!



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Danny Clayton

posted November 3, 2009 at 6:06 am


I am writing an amazing Christian novel set in modern times that adheres to nearly all of these durned guidelines by using a clever loophole–a lot of the shenanigans (can I use that word) take place before my main character is saved. What uncomplicates my problem is the fact that the story is stalled at 33,000 words. For a year. Forsooth!



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Joanna

posted November 3, 2009 at 8:43 am


I tried to read a christian romance novel but the terrible writing, predictable plot and forced God references in the one i tried left me unable to finish it



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joshhatcher

posted November 3, 2009 at 9:07 am


I'm a manly man, and don't read romance novels…though I read some Francine Rivers, and found her writing to be pretty good….It's not all "romance"… but there's some romance in it.Somehow she can actually present a good story without breaking the rules… or she breaks them and no one complains. Not sure on that one.



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FaithBarista Bonnie

posted November 3, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Wow. I've never read one of these. Looks like I didn't miss out on any juicy stuff.I wonder why the cover artwork didn't fall under the same sort of censorship. I guess it's okay to look wanton but not sound wanton. What a tease…



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Angelia Sparrow

posted November 3, 2009 at 2:08 pm


I figure romance novelists mirror the general population in faith breakdown: 75% Christian 25% other or none. (I fall into the Other, myself)The list is proof that there is no way to satirize extremism that the extremists aren't already using and taking seriously.It really looks a lot like the system I grew up under. No kissing. No touching. No swearing (quite a pain for my soldier-grandfather). No booze. No cards. No dancing. Dress in your room and never appear in common areas of the house with anything–including your feet–bare.I'm a writer who believes faith is a huge part of 90% of people's lives. And that romance novels should reflect this reality. I write Jews and Christians, Muslims and Wiccans, Zen Buddhists and Shintoists, as appropriate to the story. Not all of them are paragons or even true to most aspects of the religion they claim/practice. Eliminationist Ghost Dancers keep company with fundamentalist theocrats, lesbian Episcopalian priests and Jewish gigolos.I saw this list some time ago and was inspired by it. Because of it, I may have just published the first pagan inspirational romance. (correct me if I'm wrong)



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Tess Mallory

posted November 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm


@DannyClaytonThe problem with writing a Christian romance or fiction, is that they don't want the main character to be unsaved during any part of the journey! You can't show someone's journey to salvation (as far as I know, based on the romance guidelines). You also can't have one main character leading the other main character to Christ. ????? This is crazy to me!! Good luck with your book!! I hope you finish it and find a publisher!



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Jason Boyett

posted November 3, 2009 at 2:31 pm


I just want to state for the record, Angelia, that this — "Eliminationist Ghost Dancers keep company with fundamentalist theocrats, lesbian Episcopalian priests and Jewish gigolos." — is the most awesome sentence that has ever appeared in the comments section of my blog. So…thank you.



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Anonymous

posted November 3, 2009 at 7:13 pm


The really sad thing about this is it leaves ordinary, everyday Christians (the ones who struggle, who aren't perfect, who sometimes swear, drink and dance) are seriously under represented in contemporary romance books. In the overwhelming majority of mainstream contemporary romances I've read lately, Christians are either totally non-existent or are caricatures. Apparently, they're caricatures in inspirational romances as well.(I haven't read enough historical romances lately to comment on those.)



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Anonymous

posted November 3, 2009 at 9:53 pm


This list is in keeping with the isolationist xtian movement. I actually watched a man being interviewed on the news last year who really, honestly, truly believed that he, a white male christian in north america, was being discriminated against because of his religion.He and his movement seem to believe that, if they are forced to be aware that any religion or way of life other than theirs exists, they are being discriminated against.Mind-boggling.



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Matt Mikalatos

posted November 13, 2009 at 1:33 pm


I notice that Steeple Hill will still allow you to say "balls"… that's gutsy.I was asked to consider changing several things in my book that's coming out this spring… a bit of cursing and a few words like "sucks"… but my editor and publisher (Tyndale) both agreed to let me keep them all after I defended why they were necessary and intentional. The closest thing I came to losing was someone "flipping the bird" but since the book takes place in Portland, OR, I assured them that was all about realism. All that to say… I think there's hope out there that we might be allowed to portray things about the real world in CBA fiction…



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Kaye Dacus

posted November 17, 2009 at 2:42 pm


I cannot believe that no one has pointed out the one most obvious flaw with this being used as an indictment against Christian fiction in general and Christian romance in specific:THESE ARE ONLY ONE PUBLISHER'S GUIDELINES!Steeple Hill's guidelines have always been the strictest of all "Christian" publishing houses because, as a branch of Harlequin, they were always held to more scrutiny than any other publisher of Inspirational/Christian fiction. Now that the majority of the CBA publishing houses are owned by major New York ABA publishing houses, this may or may not still hold true. But the reason why their guidelines are so strict, so narrow, is because of that holdover from their connection to evil, sex-crazed Harlequin. (Yes, I'm being sarcastic.)While there are some restrictions throughout the Christian publishing industry that many of us find annoying and antiquated, I have to wonder if anyone commenting on this blog has actually read a wide spectrum of books being published by the CBA publishing houses in the last couple of years—such as John Olson's and Eric Wilson's and Tracey Bateman's vampire novels. Yes, vampire novels published by CBA publishing houses!No, I don't write anything that pushes any envelopes when it comes to what's "acceptable" in inspirational romance . . . and there are certain things I wish I could include that I know would never fly. But my purpose in writing inspirational romance is not to push any envelopes or try to see if I can titillate my readers. There are other authors out there who do that just fine. My purpose in writing inspirational romance is to write about life, about the things that Christians go through on a daily basis. My characters aren't perfect because I'm not perfect and they're reflections of my own doubts, fears, and spiritual shortcomings.So don't dismiss an entire genre based on ONE HOUSE'S narrow guidelines. Get out there and actually read what's being published.



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Jason Boyett

posted November 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm


Kaye:That's a very good point and one I'm glad you reminded us of…Thank you.



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Anonymous

posted December 14, 2009 at 1:18 pm


I know I'm late in commenting about this topic, but I thought I would post anyway. My sister is a Christian Romance novelist who has been published by Love Inspired and she can tell you firsthand that when Ted Dekker made fun of this list it was a big deal. It got to the point that Ted ended up apologizing to the authors. Anyway, I'm of the opinion that you have to think about the audience and that genre. Also, too, romance novels in general aren't exactly respected though they make up about 50% of the paperback market (this statistic may have changed not sure). I find it all very interesting. Especially when the literary agent Chip MacGregor threw in his two cents and had a few choice words for Ted Dekker about his comments regarding the list. BTW, I like your blog.



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Kristian

posted January 6, 2010 at 8:26 pm


This makes me want to see a book with at least one of these banned words in every paragraph.



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Cecelia Dowdy

posted February 18, 2010 at 5:45 am


Jason, I'm a Christian romance author (several novels published) – even had one pubbed by Steeple Hill. When I sold to them, I didn't even know this list existed! Most authors don't pay attention to that list. We just write the book and if the editor has a problem with a term or euphemism, they'll reign us in – tell us to change something or reword something!



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Fiona

posted January 17, 2012 at 6:48 am


I followed this list through to the Steeple Hill website and couldn’t actually find it. Here’s what I did find http://www.harlequin.com/articlepage.html?articleId=699&chapter=0

In some ways this is just a cultural issue. I’m British but spent my teen years in South Africa. I would be considered by most people who know me a ‘good’ Christian (whatever that is). I assume though that you are American. You seem to agree that ‘golly’ and ‘damn’ are not appropriate for Christian characters but I say golly and damn all the time – (well not golly, but that’s because it sounds like dialogue from an Enid Blyton novel, not because it’s ‘unChristian’ :) Thanks for posting the list though – I had a good laugh!



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Jim

posted April 17, 2012 at 2:38 pm


As an ordained minister, I find this list pretty objectionable.

Yes, there should be some “guidelines” for books written for a targeted Christian (i.e “fundamentalist” in this case) audience, but this is too much.

By their standards, the Bible would need to be censored.



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Janet Aldrich

posted September 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm


I find this really depressing. I have a novella-length romance where the main character (the heroine) is Christian and the hero isn’t (well, not at the beginning of the book, anyway). The more I read about the state of Christian-oriented romance fiction, the more I think I’ll self-publish and do the best I can … Not to mention that novella-length means it will be hard to place anyway.



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