I am writing today about the Christian romance novels written by my wife of 41 years.
She already has published a number of inspirational books, starting with her daily devotional Listening For His Voice (available in paperback and e-book). When she decided she was going to try her hand at romance novels, she adopted a pen name to make it clear these were in a different category. She used her first and middle names which I think sound lovely for a romance author.
When we moved to Illinois to build a Christian radio station in the 1980s, Melanie discovered a series of George MacDonald novels that were being reissued then. She enjoyed these and began to explore other (contemporary) Christian romance novels. It wasn’t long before I heard her whispering those famous last words, “I could do this…”
And she sat down and wrote four Christian romance novels – in longhand. Then she filed them away, not thinking about them again until we both began exploring the new world of indy publishing a couple of years ago. When she went to look for her old romance novel manuscripts she was only able to find a couple of them. These she took and rewrote, partly to reflect changes that had come along since the 80’s – things like cell phones and email.
I encouraged her to prepare at least three novels so we could release them together for Christmas. In part, this plan was based on the experience of other writers who noticed that if a reader enjoyed one book by an author, they quickly went looking for more. I wanted Melanie to be able to take advantage of that natural interest.
The stroke I suffered at Halloween interrupted those plans. My slow recovery also erased a plan to publish in time for Valentine’s. I had not even finished editing and formatting the first two novels. And I was not satisfied with the cover art I had come up with for them.
Enter the first clue that perhaps the Lord was not ready for us to abandon publishing the novels just yet. We noticed some artwork by an old friend, Denise Johnson, that she was posting on Facebook. I wrote to Denise asking if she would be interested in helping us?
Bless her, she was excited about the idea and remained so even after we sent her the two unedited novels in manuscript to read. (She reported to us that she began putting off other work because she wanted to find out what happened next in the stories.) Denise ended up creating the cover art for these two romance novels and we’re delighted with them.
Meanwhile, I was having my own experience that was delaying me from getting back to editing them so we would have something to put the covers on.
We had been encouraging Melanie’s sister, Renee, to finish and publish her first book. Renee came to our rescue during my stroke recovery, moving down here from Michigan for six months. She helped Melanie with medical paperwork and disability applications for me and, as a trained nurse practitioner, was able to help oversee my daily recovery exercises.
At night she worked on finishing her book. And one day she handed me the completed file. I was honored and overjoyed to be able to begin to pay back our debt to her by getting her book formatted for distribution in paper and as an e-book. I highly recommend her book of lessons and reflections on the serious Christian’s daily walk.
Finally, after I had helped Renee get published last month, I knew it was time to get back to Melanie’s romance novels.
My fingers are still unruly on my computer keyboard so editing, to say nothing of blogging, is a challenge. But (and here starts the enthusiastic raving about the books) Melanie’s romance novels cast their spell on me. No, I have never read romance novels in the past. I’m not saying other fellows would like them. But I think the women who make romance novels such a popular genre – I think you will enjoy this new writer to the field!
Of course, I do have a special viewpoint on the stories, especially the first one.
Melanie met me when she moved to Springfield, Missouri, to take a new job. In her debut novel, Could You Love Me Enough?, the heroine also moves to Springfield to take a new job. It was fascinating to read how Melanie was describing and remembering my home town. She put one scene at, and told the background for, Elfindale, a unique property across the street from the home where I grew up. Melanie also sent her romance couple on a date to Silver Dollar City in Branson, just like a date that I took her on. The book title comes from a very personal sorrow that Melanie herself had to face.
And it’s good. The narrative flows. The characters imagined by my wife to fill out the plot came alive for me. I was surprised by how the storyline absorbed me. I wanted to know how it would turn out and, as I noted earlier, it’s not my usual choice of reading!
I also want to point out that Melanie has deliberately framed it as a Christian romance novel. The heroine faces her challenges with prayer and faith in a loving Savior. She talks to others about Jesus in simple, unforced ways. The story illustrates how a believer can face adversities and disappointments without losing heart. The story really has two romances: the heroine and her new boyfriend, and Jesus’ love for one of His faithful children as they face dashed hopes and dreams.
Can a romance story be romantic while keeping everyone fully clothed? I think Melanie has done it.
When I finished editing the first book I was eager to start the next one. Melanie set this one down in Naples, Florida. She also knew this city, having taken a job there about a year before we met in Missouri. She lived in walking distance from the landmark in the book title, Dawn at Naples Pier.
In this book Melanie is already stretching her wings beyond a simple romance storyline. One of the early plot twists involves a young girl who shows up claiming that the book’s heroine is her mother. The search for the young girl’s real mother leads them both on a cross-country trek. There is also a mystery to be solved at the country club where the heroine has taken a job and where expensive wine is disappearing from the cellar. And there is the matter of that handsome young lawyer she sees jogging by the Pier each morning…
I couldn’t stop meeting my other obligations and visiting with therapists while I was working my way through the manuscript. But I was soon aware that this story had also taken root in my imagination and I was looking forward to getting back to it each day, to see where Melanie would take it next. One of my rewards was the quiet but emotionally charged scene that takes place near the close of the story at the far end of the Pier. It was realistic, very human, and riveting. I feel blessed to be married to the woman with such a romantic imagination who wrote it out for all to enjoy!
Once again, Melanie tells her story as one filled with serious Christians who place Jesus first in their lives without apology or hesitation. It is refreshing to share time, even in the imagination, with such role models.
I was enjoying reading the stories so much I found myself almost ready to repeat those famous last words myself. But I bit my tongue.
One of the delights of these stories is in the details Melanie adds in her scenes describing meals and clothing. Here is one very simple food example:
Brenda had been there several times and was welcomed in the kitchen by Sam and Trina. Sam was finishing chopping some tomatoes. He tossed them in the salad with a big handful of croutons. Trina had just pulled a casserole out of the oven.
Brenda took a deep breath. “Oh my that smells good and I am starving.”
Sam chuckled and responded, “Then let’s eat.”
They ate at the kitchen table again. It made for a comfortable family feeling. Sam asked David to bless the meal and the fellowship. As he said ‘Amen,’ Brenda chimed in.
“Amen and let’s eat. I forgot lunch today. What is this amazing smelling dish?”
Scott described the entrē.
“Broccoli chicken curry. It’s a family favorite and tastes as good as it smells.”
Soon they were all satisfied with casserole, croissants and salad, and cheesecake with cherries. It was a simple but pleasant meal with very compatible company.
Melanie is a great cook and I have had this meal. I just don’t think I observed it well enough to think about writing it down.
Melanie is also a professional seamstress. She describes various clothing selections for her characters with an eye for detail that I lack. Such little things anchor the stories vividly in the mind. And, no, I don’t think I could do that so well if I were trying to write these stories. So I’m glad she has done them. I was surprised at how much I found myself enjoying them.
In spite of my special interest in her work, I do think these are very good reads. If you’re a fan of modern romance novels, I encourage you to give them a try. The E-book editions are available from Smashwords and they will be distributed shortly to other websites. The paperback editions can be ordered from Lulu. That’s my first request. The next one is this.
Please help me spread the word! If you read the books and like them, please go back and leave a note at the web pages where the books are on sale. Or mention them to friends, or on Facebook or wherever. I look forward to reading your reviews and reactions.
Also pray that our lives will recover enough normality that Melanie can find time to write another romance novel soon. I want to see what she does next!