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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Sunday, March 08, 2009

A matter of faith



Several months ago, I lurked through a back-and-forth between romance readers about speech that offended them in romance novels. Many of them felt it was offensive and therefore wrong for a writer to include phrases like "Jesus Christ" and "goddamn" in novels because these words constitute "blasphemy." I lurked and said nothing...

A few weeks ago, I got a letter from a reader thanking me for making my characters' religions a real part of my historicals. She said that most historicals reflect modern biases either by creating characters that have no religion or by putting it in the background. This bothers her because it's historically inaccurate. (I think I posted her letter as a Letter of the Week.) I really appreciated what she said because religion did play a major role in people lives historically speaking, killing, dying, emigrating to new lands. One can't downplay the importance religion had in people's lives throughout history. I was happy that she noticed the effort I put into being true to that fact.

I found these two topics to be very interesting because they illustrate for me what place I believe religion ought to hold in novels. Let's see if I can explain.

For me, characters rule everything. If I have a character who is a devout Catholic, then I want to portray a heartfelt Catholicism in that character, which means that I as a non-Catholic have a lot of research to do. I've had a lot of Catholic characters — in Carnal Gift and then again in the MacKinnon's Rangers series — and have gone so far as to burn votive candles and buy rosaries for Morgan and Amalie, which two of my Catholic friends used to say the Rosary once to "break them in."

(Writing Catholic characters from historical times also means I get to put Latin in the story, and I like that. It's my inner Latin geek coming out to play.)


Morgan's plain wooden rosary that he wore around his neck.


Obviously, when I write about any faith from the point of view of characters who practice that faith, I try to be very true to the faith and respectful of it. It's conceivable that I might have a character who would be very at odds with his/her faith, and in those cases I would portray that tension realistically. Kat in Naked Edge will be my first non-Christian character, though I suppose a great many of my I-Team characters probably fall into the category of agnostic, reflecting the times we live in now.

In short, I respect the religion of my characters and I make it a part of the story because it's part of who they are.


Mitakuye Oyasin! We are all one.


But when it comes to offending people with language, that's something very different. Again, it's my characters that rule. If I have a character to says "Jesus Christ!" I put it in the story. If it offends readers, there's really nothing I can do about it. I don't write inspirationals and so I don't feel compelled to constrain the language in my stories or the behavior of my characters to the external ideals and beliefs of readers.

Though I would certainly stand behind every person's right to the free exercise of her religion (within certain bounds -- I don't believe in forced teen marriage, honor killing or polygamy), I don't feel that it's my job to reflect other people's faiths in my writing or to write in such a way that doesn't offend their sensibilities. I don't set out to offend people, however.

Does that make sense?

I guess the easiest way to summarize my view on this is that my characters' religion (if they have one) is the only one that matters to me in my writing. For me, blasphemy means not being true to my characters and that's it.

Now, for the results of my last poll....

Some 12 percent of you are fans of the Man Slut. You want the hero to have as much experience in bed as possible.

The vast majority of you — a whopping 55 percent — want the hero to have enough sexual experience to know his way around a woman's body.

A solid 25 percent say it's okay if the hero has has a few partners, but you don't want him to be a Lothario.

And 7 percent of you would like to see romance authors try harder to incorporate virgin heroes into their stories.

Very interesting!

Check for my new poll and vote!

This is going to be an extraordinarily busy month at the paper. I'll try to keep up with my blog, but I make no guarantees. Benjy is home for spring break. The two of us spent today at Denver Botanic Gardens looking at orchids, tulips and other pretty things (including a very lazy squirrel napping on a pine bough). I doubt I'll make much progress on my story until after Benjy goes back to school. I just hate to take time when he's home to write, especially when I'm not getting any time off from work to be with him.

Have a great week everyone!

11 comments:

Barbara said...

Hey, Pamela! I'm glad you're enjoying time with your son.

About the post...I really never thought too much about it. I know that your characters had their specific faiths and beliefs, but for me as a reader it was part of what made the character who they were. It gave me a better history of them so that I could understand why they did the things they did and made the choices they made.

Debbie H said...

Say "hi" to Benji!!!! I love his pic with his friends. Looks like he's having fun!

I love to learn about different religions through reading or going to their prospective churches. I love to watch how they practice their particular religion.

Religion or lack of, is part of a person.

haleigh said...

Yay for Benjy being home!

I agree entirely - characters rule all in novels, and their faith should be the one highlighted, not the author's or the reader's. I personally loved how you handled faith in "Untamed" - it was clearly something vital to the characters, and at no point did it feel like you were trying to convert me (thanks, by the way! :) It was simply a deep, honest portrayal of that character.

And besides, people get offended over the most bizarre things - no way to stop it. I read a review of an older novel yesterday, where the reviewer said "this could have been a raw, powerful novel, but instead, the author was so careful to keep it PG that it felt like it'd been edited for Lifetime TV." That's just as bad as offending people with language (or sex or violence, or whatever, in my opinion)

Lori said...

How interesting. I have no problem with either incorporating faith into a novel, or with characters using the types of language you describe. In fact, they often use far worse, LOL! I don't read inspirational, simply because I'm Jewish, and it's not my thing (and I like a bit of spice in my books - I admit it!). But, I don't have a problem with the fact that people write them and that people read them. It's simply a matter of choice.

Having said that, I also don't have a problem reading a novel where the characters have a deep faith, such as in your books. I certainly don't consider them to be inspirationals. I just don't want to feel like I'm being converted or preached to because that isn't why I read romance, and that's definitely not the case in yours. As you said, it's simply part of who the characters are.

Debbie H said...

Sorry, Pamela. I spelled Benjy with an i. Jeez, I need to wake up before I type anything!

Linda A. said...

Hi Pamela, hope you and Benjy are having a great time. As for your post, I agree with you completely. I'm always annoyed when I read a historical where faith is ignored - it was such an integral part of life then. And if people choose to be offended, that's too bad.

HI, Barbara — I'm glad that's how it worked for you, because my characters' religious beliefs should just be a part of the story and should feel very natural to both their personalities and the time period. :-)

Hi, Debbie H — Benjy says "hi!" back. He's upstairs chatting with a friend right now, catching up. And you're so right — whatever spiritual choice a person makes, that's part of his or her life. I found the research interesting, actually. Last week, as I was looking for nunneries to escape my crazy life for a while, I read some very interesting things. For example, I didn't know that there were still Catholic hermits. Who knew???? And no worries about the spelling. I rarely call him by his name anyway. The poor guy has a list of nicknames longer than the Great Wall of China.

Hi, Haleigh — "Characters rule." Someone should turn that into a bumper sticker. LOL! And you're welcome! I would never, ever use fiction proselytize. I haven't even mentioned what my faith is, but you're right that the story isn't about the author's faith either. It IS impossible to keep from offending everyone. Both as a journalist and as an author, I've seen people get upset about things I'd never imagine in 100 years would matter to anyone.

Hi, Lori — I'm glad you find it an interesting topic. I've thought about it for weeks. Cool that you're Jewish. I was wondering what it must be like to read historicals, as so few (I think I've read one) contain a Jewish hero or heroine in a historical context. Yes, my books are not intended to be inspirationals or to be marketed for faith or any of that. It's just who the characters are. :-)

Hi, Linda — Thanks! I think those of us who live today cannot fathom the role that religion played in the past. So, yes, leaving it out would be to diminish the historical authenticity of the story. So far, I haven't taken any heat for having characters who are true to their own times and own faith. I have had readers feel upset by the profanity and violence in my books, however. No big deal. :-)

Debbie_D said...

I usually don't look for religion in a story but when it's there, I like it to be accurate. Like you said, if it's part of the character, the author should show it and not ignore it.

Kaye Manro said...

What a great post, Pamela! I love the Celtic cross, as well as the other photos. I think being true to a character is the only way to go, religious or otherwise.

I don't know why exactly, but it does seem that readers like their heroes with some experience.

Heather said...

I consider myself Christian and yet I say those "bad" words myself. Yes...I know I shouldn't...but hey...it's real life out there...and sometimes you just blurt it out. It doesn't bother me when characters in my books do it either...because for me...it shows they're "human" (okay, I know they're not really, but you get what I'm saying, right?), imperfect. Quiet honestly, for me, it's the way God made us. Imperfect, but always striving for perfection?!?!?! Also, I don't mind reading about someone's religion, no matter what it is...I find religion fascinating, and in college, Theology was my favorite class. However, I'm first and foremost a romance reader...so that's where I want the focus...on the relationship and the building of it.

Hi, Debbie D — You know what's funny? I don't think about putting religion INTO my stories. It comes with the characters. I just realize that my heroine is from a Catholic convent, and there it is. I never "pre-conceive" who the characters are, either. I let them come either in dreams, in spurts of inspiration or from the research. They kind of form in my mind until — poof! — they take on shape and personality. Sometimes they fall into my head fully formed like Nicholas or Julian or Marc.

Hi, Kaye — I love Celtic stone crosses, too. I love Celtic art in general. I was looking for some kind of iconic image of religion and gave up images of churches when the Celtic cross popped into my head. :-)

Heather — I totally get what you're saying. For characters to feel real to readers, they must have human flaws and believable personalities. That's one reason I never read contemporaries. I couldn't relate to modern virgin heroines who never drank, cussed or did anything thoughtless. I don't even know those women. LOL!

What's very interesting to me is how many people are reading this post as compared to how few are posting.

So, for the record, I just want everyone to know that you can feel free to disagree with me about anything and everything. I am a journalist, after all. I support your right to believe what you believe, even if it's not what I believe. That's part of what freedom of speech means — being able to disagree with one another. :-)

Besides, after 16 years of journalism I am almost impossible to offend.

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