O Me of Little Faith

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:

Breast (except for breast cancer if necessary)
Buttocks or butt (alternatively, you can say derriere or backside)
Damn (try “blast” instead)
Devil (except in the religious sense, but the circumstances would be rare)
Dang or Dagnabbit
Father (when used to describe a religious official)
For heaven’s sake (can use “for goodness’ sake” instead)
For the love of Mike
For Pete’s sake
Geez/jeez (but “sheesh” is acceptable)
Heat (when used to describe kisses)
Hell (except in the religious sense, but this would be rare)
Holy cow
Need/hunger (when used to describe non-food-focused state of being)
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

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.


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.