02 Aug #romanceclass: Praying for Romance
BY ANA TEJANO
Sometime around high school, a friend of mine raved about this book she read over the summer that she just had to lend it to me so we could talk about it. It was Frank E. Perretti’s This Present Darkness, a book about a reporter and a pastor investigating some shady happenings in their town, where angels stand guard against demons who want to enslave the people. It was my first taste of Christian fiction. I didn’t know much about it back then, because I was still reading Sweet Valley and Harry Potter, but I felt like I found the kind of books I would really want to read.
It wasn’t until I was about to graduate from college I found more Christian fiction. Before that, all the religious books I read were non-fiction and self-help, which were okay when you’re going through things, but hardly entertaining. I stumbled upon Dreaming in Black and White by Laura Jensen Walker, a charming novel about Phoebe Grant, a writer and movie geek who lost her job and moved back home to take care of her mom, only to find that the guy responsible for her unemployment took over the newspaper at her hometown—and he had asked her out on a date. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Christian romance (or chicklit, which I called it back then) actually exists! Hallelujah!
I searched for similar books after that, gobbling book after book of different Christian romance authors—Kristin Billerbeck, Denise Hildreth, Ray Blackston, Camy Tang. Later, I discovered some Christian historical romance authors, which I read and liked, but not as much as I did the contemporary romance ones. Then I had a contemporary YA phase with Shelley Adina, Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt and Jenny B. Jones. Every new author I discovered made me giddy in knowing that there are books that speak of my faith.
I found kindred spirits in these books, because I was also like one of those main characters. I was a church kid, too. Specifically, a Catholic church kid. Catholic family, knew the basic prayers as early as Grade 1, the rosary memorized by Grade 3. Sunday mass was a strict requirement, and after my parents joined Couples for Christ, I was also required to join their family ministries: Kids for Christ, Youth for Christ and Singles for Christ. Not that I minded, really—it was fun, and I still meet lots of interesting people in the community. And because my faith and religion are deeply ingrained in me, it obviously comes out in my writing.
One advice I got and gave away back when I was still writing with and heading the local National Novel Writing Month group is to write what you know. It was easy, and for someone pounding out a 50,000-word draft in 30 days, writing what you know can really get you to the goal. This is also why the manuscripts I’ve written and the books I’ve published always had an element related to faith—because that’s what I know.
But more than writing what I know, it was also a dream: to write romances rooted in faith. It only occurred to me sometime after I had published my first book, Fall Like Rain. That one wasn’t overtly Catholic, but friends who’ve read it picked up on the family aspect. That was purely unintentional when I wrote it, but families are big in Catholicism and it was something that I had lived with all my life, so it just fed into the story. Later, I realized that I haven’t actually read Filipino Christian/Catholic contemporary romance—or if it’s available somewhere, then I’m probably not aware of it. Normally, that realization would make me sad, but because I’m actually writing things, I just thought, “If it’s not yet out there, then I’ll write it.”
There’s really not too much difference with writing these kinds of romances. Yes, by default, these books are clean with practically no heat levels because of the faith aspect. But the main characters and the lead interests are also people who have rough relationships with their families, crazy days at work and good set of friends to keep them grounded. They have hobbies, they sometimes indulge in gossip, and they get their hearts broken, too.
On top of all of that, they have their faith to guide them and influence their decisions. They pray, go to church, consult their church friends and leaders and their ideal partner would be someone who shared the same belief. They would hold hands and kiss, and struggle with chastity. Would they give in? Maybe, if the plot needed to go there, and the consequences of that decision may be shown. (Best example: Camy Tang’s Only Uni.)
Just like any kind of writing, this isn’t an easy path that I decided to take. For one thing, I’m not a complete expert on this—like I said, I’m really just writing what I know. There’s always the risk of being too preachy, and no one ever wants that.
There’s also that crippling doubt of wondering if people will want to read this, or if I’m doing the Church a disservice for what I’m writing. But at the end of the day, I had the choice if I would stop this madness, or if I would plow on and embrace the struggle, which also isn’t too different from all the other writers out there. If anything, I’m learning not just how to craft stories better, but also more about my faith as I do the necessary research, which eventually deepens my own spiritual life. (Best resource material for Catholic romance: The Theology of the Body by St. John Paul II.)
There’s a balance in writing a believable romance story and trying to deliver a message, and in the first three books I’ve written, I learned that I don’t need to fill the book with Bible verses, or write a conversion story inside a romance novel. Other people are already writing about that. The books I want to write are the love stories of people with everyday struggles who seek Divine guidance. These books will have prayers, verses, church and Charismatic communities, saints and all the craziness that comes with living a life of faith.
But there will still be kissing. ☁