Religion In Secular Fiction vs. The Inspirational Romance

Several years ago, after writing at least 50 secular historical romances, I decided I wanted to try writing (historical) inspirational romance. I have always had a desire to write faith-based books and I hinted at faith and Christianity in many of my books up to that point but never wrote straight inspiration. I sold FOLLOW YOUR HEART, WALK BY FAITH and WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS to Harlequin’s Love Inspired line, and they all sold well. WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS even won second place for the prestigious WILLA Award from Women Writing the West … but I was wrong to think I could stick with a genre that didn’t (in my opinion) involve “real life.” In a lawless land where people have to struggle to survive, sometimes what’s right and wrong gets all mixed up in the name of life and death. And in the Old West, which is almost all I write about, there was not much law, and there were few churches, and in many places none at all.
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Devastated by the droughts and plagues that have ravaged her family's homestead on the Nebraska Plains in the 1870s, settler Ingrid Svensson regards wealthy Jude Kingman as her sworn enemy. But Ingrid gradually sees that Jude shares her commitment to seeing justice served, and when personal tragedy strikes at everything she holds most dear, this strong, independent woman must reconsider her previous assumptions and open her heart to forgiveness…and love.

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To provide a better life for her young daughter, Clarissa Graham joins a wagon train headed west. But as the trail turns increasingly dangerous, Clarissa fears her decision could cost them their lives. Help comes in the unlikely form of a jaded ex-soldier—Dawson Clements—who knows nothing of grace, forgiveness or even love. Now Clarissa is about to face an even greater challenge. Can she convince Dawson to remain by her side for a journey that will last a lifetime?

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With rough miners for shipmates, Elizabeth Breckenridge sets sail to search for her brother in Alaska, wild with the 1890s gold rush. When she falls overboard midjourney, she is rescued by a man very unlike her minister brother—Clint Brady, a cynical bounty hunter who shoots to kill.
Together, this unlikely couple struggles to survive the rugged dangers of the beautiful Alaskan frontier. Unexpectedly, Clint comes to love her, and proposes. Elizabeth returns his love, but unless she can help Clint see that heaven is no abstraction in the sky, the grip of the past could cost them a future together….

I’ve lived with a dilemma during all my 35 or so years of writing, and that dilemma is to write “reality” (which means not-so-perfect characters and not-so-perfect situations)  while struggling with my own deep Christian faith and how to incorporate some of that faith into my stories, even though they often include war, bar fights, gunfights, prostitutes, smoking, drinking, outlaws, bad language, gambling, murder, brutality, sex . . . you name the problems with an untamed land and I’ve written about it. I am a firm believer in writing reality that includes the faith it took for some people to bear up to the challenges they faced in settling the West. As I re-read many of my backlist titles for reissues, I find that I did weave faith into many of my stories. I am really surprised at how often I hinted at (mostly the heroine’s) Christian faith.

There is, of course, a need and a huge market for inspirational novels, and I know many writers who write beautiful inspirational stories and are very successful at it. My congratulations and respect and admiration go out to them because I know the struggle writing can be in any genre and I am definitely all for spreading the Word of Christ in any avenue that works. It’s just that in writing the three inspirational stories above, I found it very difficult to stick with the rules I was given when writing these stories. I would have written more, but I am not one to follow specific rules or write “formula” books. Not long after I wrote those stories for Harlequin, the rules for writing them began to change to the point that my heroes couldn’t even say “gosh darn,” because it meant something else; and even a kiss was sinful. In the end of WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS the hero carries his wife to their bedroom and (of course) the door closes behind them. Yet even though they are MARRIED, that scene was NIXED when the book was reprinted because it hinted at sex!!! That did it for me. That’s just not reality, and it certainly isn’t very romantic. A man can’t even carry his WIFE to their bed?

If you have read my hard-hitting westerns, you know my heroes are pretty fierce, sometimes ruthless “take no crap” men who are far from angels. It’s difficult for me to write any other kind of hero, and I realized I’m not cut out for straight inspirational stories; HOWEVER, I decided I can keep sneaking inspirational messages into the books I do write. If an inspirational story means only writing about people ALREADY “saved” who only face challenges to the faith they ALREADY have – then to me it’s not inspirational. I believe that “inspirational” should mean saving someone who is lost and alone and who has taken the wrong path in life (like the bounty hunter in WHERE HEAVEN BEGINS) – someone who has lost whatever faith they might have had because of a tragedy in his or her life that destroyed their faith – or someone who has never had any religious training and knows nothing about God or the Bible – and bringing that person into God’s light – and teaching them about faith and Christ – whatever it takes to change their lives. If a life isn’t being changed, where is the inspiration? And if sinful ways aren’t used in the story, where is the reality? Love Inspired wanted me to write stories wherein the characters were totally devout, practically sinless people. Is there anyone reading this who hasn’t sinned?

I hope to bring new meaning to the “inspirational” story that doesn’t prohibit sex and rough living. With the kind of heroes I write, you can’t leave those things out. My hero in my Outlaw series, Jake Harkner, is just such a man. I have loved writing Jake because he is so tortured and so complicated but so loveable in spite of being an ex-outlaw who even as a lawman is still sometimes ruthless. I have really enjoyed the psychology of this man who inside is just a little boy wanting the love he never knew in his horribly abused childhood. He can be so mean and fast to take revenge and deal his own form of justice, but on the inside he’s such a kid. Jake really struggles with his faith because his mother was Catholic and he got a small taste of going to Mass and prayer before his father murdered his mother and little brother before his eyes and forced Jake (only 8 years old) to help bury them. His father was a brutal alcoholic and Jake never knew love after losing his mother, but he always kept her prayer beads and Crucifix and wore them his whole life. He secretly prayed but would not step foot into a church because he felt unworthy because of his VERY sinful past – and also because for the first fifteen years of his life his father beat it into him that he was no good.

Then comes Miranda, the woman Jake unwittingly falls in love with and who changes his life. She cures him of his outlaw ways, but dealing his own form of justice is in Jake’s blood and he can still be ruthless when it comes to going after the “bad guys,” especially where criminal acts against innocent people are involved, so that ruthless element about him keeps showing itself because he was raised by a ruthless man and things he experienced leave him unable to tolerate brutality toward innocent people, especially women. Jake can kill at the drop of a hat, yet he’s a very devoted, loving man toward his family. He’d rather shoot himself than raise a hand or even his voice to his wife and children. He loves Miranda with every fiber of his being and is true to her – and their lovemaking is hot but beautiful and so fulfilling. Jake takes strength from Miranda and being a part of this woman physically and emotionally helps keep him on the right track. He is fiercely defensive of everyone in his family because that’s where he finds the love he always yearned for as a child. That love is all-important to him, and it’s his family, especially his wife and daughter, who slowly teach Jake about faith and that it’s okay to forgive himself for his worst crime … killing his own brutal father.

DO NOT FORSAKE ME is sometimes hard to read and has everything you’d never find in the “inspirational” section on the book shelves. Yet in reading it you will find the story is truly “inspirational.” Jake longs to be forgiven, longs to love and be loved, longs to know Christ and know how to pray. In one scene he sits outside of a church listening to the hymns, but he won’t go inside. It’s a scene that highlights the pitiful loneliness this man suffers in spite of having a loving family. He’s still that unloved, unwelcome little boy. As his own son once states in the story – “There is a war going on inside my father.” And it’s a war between good and evil, right and wrong. Jake is a man who walks on the thin edge of light and darkness. In another scene he even asks for help from a preacher. Jake’s sanity relies on the strength he gets from Miranda – and deep inside he knows her own strength comes from her faith. If Jake lived today, he would need counseling; but he lived in a time when such things were not available. His tortured childhood would have been enough to send anyone over the edge. His “counselor” is his wife, and the love of his family, who refuse to see anything but the good in their husband and father.

I very subtly weave Christianity into DO NOT FORSAKE ME, a very gritty, realistic western, showing how even the worst of mankind sometimes wants a relationship with Christ. In the end Jake loses a bet with his wife and has to keep a promise to her – to GO TO CHURCH! Of all the dangers Jake has faced in his life, stepping foot into a church is the most difficult, even frightening thing he’s ever done. A few amusing things happen leading up to this and – well – you just have to read that last chapter. It’s both funny and yet touchingly poignant and really tugs the heartstrings.

That’s my idea of an inspirational story. I find no satisfaction in writing about people already “saved” and supposedly “perfect” who might stray or face some challenge to the faith they already possess. I much prefer writing about someone who desperately needs to learn about love and forgiveness and redemption, and there is plenty of all of that in DO NOT FORSAKE ME and again in my third “Jake” book coming in September, 2016, LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE.

In my very popular SAVAGE DESTINY series, written 32 years ago, I again weave Christianity into a story about a wild half-breed who lives torn between two worlds, white and Indian – and how the love of his very Christian white wife, Abbie, keeps him strong and helps him make very serious choices in life. These books are filled with “real life” situations – and there are hot and fairly explicit sex scenes between these two, but they are beautiful and fulfilling and they remain that way even as the main characters age throughout the series. In the end of this very long family saga (7 books) Abbie dies in a rocking chair in the little cabin she shared with Zeke most of their lives … and she dies with a Bible in her lap.

I have had many comments from readers about how refreshing it is to read about an older couple, two people who still have good sex. Hey – older doesn’t mean out of commission. I beg to differ! Some people age very well and still are healthy and look good. Jake Harkner in my Outlaw series is one hell of a man in all ways, and he absolutely adores women and adores his wife and he knows exactly how to handle her sexually, which makes for some very provocative love scenes. He senses her every emotion and desire and respects her body as something owned only by Jake Harkner. He considers himself unworthy of this good, good woman, and so he practically worships her – but he’s a man in every sense of the word and he truly enjoys sex. Here again, I see nothing wrong with having sex in an inspirational story. Sex is natural between two people in love and why God made us with all the right body parts. I enjoy writing “between the lines” religion and faith into my stories, right along with “real life” sex and the rugged living and the gunfights and lawlessness and all kinds of “wild west” action. Such things only make a story more memorable and more real. And I can “inspire” my readers without them realizing I’m actually writing my own form of an inspirational story.

Don’t be afraid to “mix it up” in your writing. Just because you write a particular genre doesn’t mean you can’t sneak in something that is normally never used in that genre. That’s what makes for a more memorable story. So let your imagination … and your heart … guide you in your writing.

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Miranda Hayes has lost everything-her family, her husband, her home. Orphaned and then widowed, desperate to find a safe haven, she sets out to cross a savage land alone...until chance brings her face-to-face with notorious gunslinger Jake Harkner.
Hunted by the law and haunted by a brutal past, Jake has spent a lifetime fighting for everything he has. He's never known a moment's kindness...until fate brings him to the one woman willing to reach past his harsh exterior to the man inside. He would die for her. He would kill for her. He will do whatever it takes to keep her his.
Spanning the dazzling West with its blazing deserts and booming gold towns, Jake and Miranda must struggle to endure every hardship that threatens to tear them apart. But the love of an outlaw comes with a price...and even their passion may not burn bright enough to conquer the coming darkness.

Miranda Hayes' life was changed the day she faced down infamous gunslinger Jake Harkner...and walked away with his heart. Their fates have been intertwined ever since. Hunted by the law, fleeing across a savage land, their desperate love flourished despite countless sorrows. Now, twenty-six years later, their family has finally found some measure of peace...balanced on the knife's edge of danger.
Jake has spent his years as a U.S. Marshal atoning for sins, bringing law to the land he once terrorized. But no matter how hard he fights the demons of his brutal past, the old darkness still threatens to consume him. Only Miranda keeps the shadows at bay. But when outlaws looking for revenge strike a fatal blow, Jake risks losing the one woman who saw past his hard exterior and to the man inside.
He always knew there'd be the devil to pay. He just never realized he might not be the one to bear the ultimate price.

The Lost Summer

(or) How Writing And Our Characters Can Take Over Our Lives …

It’s been a while since I blogged about anything other than contests I ran for the publication of my 60th book, DO NOT FORSAKE ME; and for the reissue of all seven of my SAVAGE DESTINY books by Amazon. I just finished the third book about gunfighter Jake Harkner, LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE, and the manuscript is over 600 pages!

What’s In A Hero?

I have recently needed to re-read several of my older titles for conversion to e-books. After 60 titles and 32 years of writing, I can’t always remember exactly what happened in every book I wrote or who the hero and heroine were. So far I have been pleasantly surprised at how good the stories are and how “hot” the heroes and the love scenes are. Somehow I had the idea that “way back then” I was hesitant to get too racy with my love scenes, but gosh, they ain’t bad!

Savage Destiny Series - New Covers and Now Available in Kindle and Print! {with #Giveaway}

After over thirty years of being in print, my SAVAGE DESTINY books are still selling. I consider this such a blessing, because I poured so much research and hard work into those books, and the hero and heroine will live forever in my heart – and from the feedback I get from my readers, they live in a special place in their hearts too. The seven books in this classic series cover about 45 years in the lives of Zeke and Abigail Monroe, beginning when they meet on a wagon train west when Abbie is only 16 and Zeke, half Cheyenne, is 25. From this union comes seven children and a herd of grandchildren, stories about many of them wound into the main story about the hero and heroine - all the tragedies and triumphs any family faces over the years. In this case the challenges are especially difficult because of Zeke’s Indian blood. He has three full-blood Cheyenne brothers in Colorado and three full-blood white brothers (in Tennessee), and Zeke lives torn between two worlds, as do his children, some of whom deny their Indian blood.

Blog Tour: The Outlaw Hearts Series - This is the Last Week!

The Giveaway

Grand Prize - One (1) Set of Autographed 11.7 x 16.5 Framed Prints & $50 Amazon Gift Card

Two (2) Sets of Autographed 8.5 x 11 Framed Prints & Two (2) $25 Amazon Gift Card

3 Signed Copies (US Only) - Outlaw Hearts & Do Not Forsake Me

3 e-Book (International) - Outlaw Hearts & Do Not Forsake Me


Do Not Forsake Me - Teaser #12

Available July 7, 2015

Jake has been in a fight and has a bad cut on his face. He and Lloyd are hunting outlaws and have stopped at a saloon for information. Jake is talking to men at a card table. I love this because it shows Jake’s subtle sense of humor, which comes through in several places in this book.
“Just a game of cards,” Jake answered. “I’ve been on the trail a while and need some down time. I’m tired of all the bullshit of this job. Had to come through Hell’s Nest on my way to my next stop, so figured we’d get in a little card game.”

“Is that your name for this place?” another asked.

“Can you think of a better one?”

“Guess not. It’s just as good as any.” He looked Jake over. “What happened to your face?”

Jake lit a cigarette. “A little run-in with a shovel.”

“Did you fight back?”

“Beat it near to death,” Jake joked.

“More like whoever owned the shovel, I expect.”

“Something like that.”

All the while Jake is very alert to every single man in the room and who might have the information he needs. Something happens next that shakes up everybody in the saloon and reminds all of them that, joking or not, nobody crosses Jake Harkner!

Do Not Forsake Me - Teaser #11

Available July 7, 2015

Jake, ruthless as he can be, is completely, totally in love with his wife and completely melts when it comes to her. Something has happened to force them apart, and while apart a family crisis has turned Jake into the old, ruthless outlaw who is out for revenge … but he stops at his house before going after men who have kidnapped his daughter. He needs Randy more than ever, because she is the only person who keeps him sane. He’s always lived on the thin edge between light and darkness. Worse, his wife could be dying from cancer.

He walked over to the bed and picked up a pillow, breathing deeply of the rose scent. He remembered how passionately they’d made love before he left. …

He squeezed the pillow tight, burying his face in it “Randy … Randy,” he groaned. He sat down on the edge of the bed and rocked with the pillow in his arms.

Sometimes all I need is your arms around me. He could hear her saying it, feel her in his arms right now, smell her on the pillow.


He looked up to see Preacher Zilke standing in the doorway. 

“You sent for me?”

Jake rose, laying the pillow on the bed. “Sometimes all you need is to breathe in someone’s scent to feel close to them.” … He turned away. “And right now I’m not sure there is a God after all. Why would He let this happen?”

Do Not Forsake Me - Teaser #10

Available July 7, 2015

This is a little clip to show you that Jake’s son, Lloyd, is just a chip off the old block. Reporter Jeff Truebridge is with Jake and Lloyd as they hunt down a gang of outlaws, stopping at the home of a woman who was mother to one of them and wife to another. A very angry and formidable Lloyd, who is tall and dark and built just like his father, has ridden to the out-buildings, kicking open doors and looking for culprits.

Lloyd rode around from the other side of the house and up to Jake then. “I didn’t’ find anything, but I saw two men back there in the woods.”

“I saw them, too,” Jake said quietly.

Jessie gritted her teeth. “How in hell can you sit there on that horse, Jake Harkner, and tell me so casually about my son and my man bein’ dead – and you bein’ the one who killed them!”

Jake lit a cigarette and waved out the match before dropping it. “I can sit here and tell you casually because Lloyd and I saw what they did to an innocent girl. So – no – it didn’t bother me at all to shoot them both down and it doesn’t’ bother me to talk about it.”

Jessie finally set the gun aside. “They was still my husband and my son. Ain’t you got no feelin’s about that? You’ve got a son.”

“And my son knows that if he ever did something like what we found, I’d damn well shoot him myself for it! Are you saying it’s okay what they did? They raped a young girl and shot an innocent man in a bank robbery.”

Jessie looked away, blinking back tears. “Get the hell off my property, Harkner.”

“Well, right now you’re still basically a squatter in this part of Oklahoma, Jessie, and I’m a U.S. Marshal, so I have every right to be here. And before you claim I have no feelings I could easily have shot Brad all those weeks ago, but I didn’t. I thought about you losing Bo, so I took Brad down a different way so you’d have one son left.”

“Well, ain’t that just real decent of you!” The words were shouted from near the doorway, and a moment later Brad appeared, looking much thinner than the day Jeff watched Jake throw the kid off the board-walk in Guthrie. He walked outside, bent over like an old man. “I still can’t stand up straight, Harkner!”

“At least you’re alive,” Lloyd told him. “Consider yourself lucky, seeing as how it was Jake Harkner who took you down.”

“Yeah, well, your old man took me by surprise, else I’d have beat the shit out of him.”

“Well, when you’re all healed up, you come on into town and I’ll take you on myself,” Lloyd answered.

“There’s other ways of getting revenge,” Brad told him with a sneer.

“Yeah? What’s that?”

Brad grinned. “Just ways, that’s all. Family is family, Lloyd.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Ole’ Jake here has a family of his own, that’s all. He ought to find out what it’s like to lose a loved one.”

As though sensing its rider’s fury, Lloyd’s horse whinnied and jerked backwards.

“You filthy sonofabitch!” Lloyd spat back. He reined his horse to a stand-still and started to dismount.

“Stay on your horse, Lloyd!” Jake warned, eyeing Jessie.

“He threatened the family!” Lloyd growled.

“Killing him won’t help!”

“Maybe not, but it would feel real good!” Lloyd glowered at Brad. “I’m real close to coming over there and breaking every rib in your body, you bastard! How does it feel having the shit kicked out of you by a fifty-six-year-old man? Kind of humiliating, isn’t it? Next time it will be somebody your own age, and you’ll spend a long time getting on your feet again, if ever!”

“You might not live long enough to try!”

Just then a movement came from Jake’s right. In an instant his gun was out and fired. Jeff’s horse skittered sideways, and a man at the far end of the porch fell with a hole in his chest.

The moment Jake fired the gun, Lloyd was off his horse, his gun drawn. He charged past Brad and into the house. … Jeff could hear him charging around inside the house, searching for anyone else who might be there. 

(Jake questions Jessie and Brad, then gets into a confrontation with Brad as Lloyd exits the house)

Jessie started to reach for her rifle.

“Don’t do it, ma’am,” Lloyd told her, coming around the side of the house, his six-gun trained in her direction. “That’s my father, and woman or not, I’ll pull this trigger.”

Blog Tour: Mystic Indian Series {+ $50 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway}

AWhy I Wrote This SeriesA
Many years ago I read an article in a flyer I receive from the Wind River Indian Reservation that was about a stone medicine wheel on the top of Medicine Mountain in the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming. The article fascinated me because no one is certain which Native Americans built this medicine wheel, or even when. At the top of a nearby mountain peak is a stone arrow pointing to the medicine wheel, which I found even more fascinating, because at the time someone created these places out of stones, there were no airplanes. There would be no way to see the arrow pointing to the medicine wheel except from above. Native Americans consider the medicine wheel sacred, believing only spirits from above would see it. There is a central cairn, with spokes coming out to join in a circle of stones so that the entire site looks just like a wagon wheel. 

Do Not Forsake Me - Teaser #9

Available July 7, 2015

“You’re a low-down, murderin’ bastard, Harkner! Everybody knows it. They smile to your face, but they know you’ve got no right wearin’ a badge. Wasn’t long ago you was on the other side of that badge, rottin’ in prison for robbery, rape and murder.”

“Everyone froze. Jeff had no idea why, but he felt compelled to reach over and take Randy’s hand. He was surprised at how hard she gripped his hand when he did so.

Jake remained casual and chewed on a toothpick as he spoke. “Hash, there are other people in this restaurant, including women and children, who don’t need to hear your trash talk. Why don’t you just go home?”

Hash Bryant raised the shotgun.

Jake rested his right hand on his gun. “Don’t even think about it, Hash,” he warned. “Not in here. I don’t intend to make a mess of Sadie’s restaurant. She’s a nice lady.”

The restaurant became so silent Jeff could hear water boiling somewhere. He noticed Randy close her eyes. Her grip on his hand was beginning to hurt.

“I’m thinkin’ that when I beat you within an inch of your life, Harkner, I want it to be when you’re healed up. A man can’t brag about beatin’ on somebody who’s wounded.”

Jake folded his arms. “Well, that’s very gentlemanly of you, Hash. I didn’t know the Bryants had a sense of honor, considering what your sons did to that fifteen-year-old girl they holed up with after robbing that bank. I’ve done pretty much everything people say I’ve done, but I’ve never abused a woman. After what I saw out there when I arrested your boys, I have no problem with my son abusing your son, as you put it.”

Hash squinted his eyes, never moving from Jake’s gaze. “A man can’t always be responsible for what his son does, now, can he? I hear yours is no angel … followed in his pa’s footsteps for a while, or so I’m told … a murderin’, theivin’, whorein’ outlaw … so don’t be tellin’ me about sons, Harkner. And you ain’t one to be talkin’ about honor. I’ve lost two sons on account of you! Two! Ted and Gordy both, and both by your gun! I’d say that requires some pay-back. Your son is still alive!

Jake just glared at Bryant, keeping his arms folded. Jeff had a feeling that if it weren’t for his leg, Jake would launch into Hash Bryant right now and drag him out into the street.

“I’d suggest that once you leave town with Brad, you stay out of town, Hash. It would be best if I didn’t see your face again, understand? If I see you in town any time soon, I’ll throw you in jail just for being here!”

The water kept boiling, and Jeff could hear a clock ticking on the wall behind him.

“This ain’t over, Harkner.”

“Maybe not. But your wife has lost two sons because they were thieves and rapists. I’m sure she mourns them anyway, but don’t add losing her husband to the picture. Go home Hash. Make any more trouble and I’ll come after every damn one of you. And if anyone in my family gets hurt, I’ll kill every last Buckley and Bryant who are left!”

Hash Bryant looked around at others in the restaurant. “You hear that? A lawman who executes his prisoners!” He turned to Jake. “Maybe that’s somethin’ my Marty is willin’ to risk.”

Jake stiffened even more. “Where is he, Hash? Where’s Marty?”

“I got no idea.”

“The hell you don’t! I’ll find him, and if I find you with him, you’ll die right along with your son! It would go easier on you if you owned up right now where I can find Marty!”

“Find him yourself, Harkner,” Hash sneered. He glanced sidelong at Randy. “And keep your family in town where it’s safer while you’re at it.”

Jake stormed toward him and ripped the shotgun right out of his hand. “Get out, Hash! You are truly pushing your luck. I am real tempted to change my mind about not leaving body parts all over this restaurant!”