Writer's Corner for June, 2006
Inspirational Romantic Suspense Roundtable
Romantic suspense has been a very hot section of the secular romance
market for several years now, and it is likewise a very popular subgenre in
the inspirational market. As the inspirational romance market has grown and
attracted many new readers, entire lines of romantic suspense such as
Steeple Hill's Love Inspired Romantic Suspense have launched.
I recently started reading some of these new books and have enjoyed what
I've read. Recently I was fortunate enough to participate in a Writers'
Corner discussion with Beth White and Hannah Alexander. Beth White has
written both romantic suspense and straight inspirational romance for a
variety of publishers, most recently Zondervan and Steeple Hill. Hannah
Alexander is the pseudonym for the husband and wife team of Mel and Cheryl
Hodde. The two have written a variety of romantic suspense novels and they
have used Mel Hodde's background as a doctor and Cheryl Hodde's writing
experience to create medical thrillers for Bethany House and Steeple Hill.
We chatted about the inspirational market, their interests as writers and
the projects they have on the horizon - projects which show just how
flexible the inspirational market can be for authors.
I'm glad you all could join
AAR's Writers' Corner this month. The inspirational market has
really taken off in recent years and I know our readers will be curious
to hear more about it.
Hannah Alexander: Yes, it's been changing, growing, and maturing for
quite some time.
Beth White: I'm amazed at the breadth of subject matter a Christian novel
can take in.
Hannah: I feel we've all been incubating in CBA until the
time was right to share more of the Truth with the rest of the
Romantic suspense, in particular, has been a hot section of
the inspirational market. There are more inspirational romantic
suspense books out there now than I remember seeing in years past,
and Harlequin/Silhouette's Steeple Hill divison has even launched a
line devoted to the subgenre. What do you think is fueling this
Hannah: I think Dee Henderson's great best sellers helped
a lot. My favorite genre has always been romantic
Beth: I was just going to say that. Dee hit a nerve - I know I loved
her O'Malley series, and it made me more interested in writing that
type of book.
Hannah: Exactly. I'm curious, Beth, do you ever think some other
genre would be easier? Sometimes I struggle with the intricacies of
suspense and mystery.
Beth: Well, I've written more "straight" romance, and it has its
difficulties...pacing It's a challenge to keep the plot moving when
suspense or mystery element to drive it!
Do you find it difficult to balance the suspense and romantic
portions of your plots?
Hannah: Oh, yes, all the time. I've found romance is
sometimes easier, but it's tricky to keep the suspense tight enough
to be interesting, yet keep the romance believable with that fast a
pace. I see what you mean, Beth. I need the suspense to weave with
the romance to keep it interesting for me!
Before we go too much further, I just wanted to go back to
something that Cheryl and Mel said before. When you stated that you
felt like you had all been incubating in the CBA, I wondered what
you meant by that.
Hannah: Well, we're perceived as being protected in CBA.
Our books sell to Christians, for the most part, who already want to
read about our convictions. But I feel that nonChristians
desperately need to read about the hope that comes with Christ. I
believe the world is reaching out to CBA books for that
reason...plus the fact that CBA books are high quality. ABA readers are
beginning to realize that CBA
books are high quality. That's wonderful!
For those of our readers who are not familiar with the
term, by CBA, you mean Christian Booksellers Association?
Hannah: Yes. The Christian market.
I have noticed more Christian fiction being carried in
stores such as Borders and Books a Million. Has this helped increase
Beth: There are still two fairly disctinct markets, though the
are blurring. I sell lots of books in BAM and Barnes & Noble.
Hannah: Most definitely, with our books being carried in
secular bookstores, there are a lot more shoppers finding out about
them. Steeple Hill is especially good at getting our books
everywhere, as I think Beth can attest to.
Beth: My books for Steeple Hill get me readers for my Zondervan
books and vice versa.
So, what brought the three of you to writing inspirational
Beth: I didn't sit down one day and decide to write a romantic
suspense. I wanted to tell a story about a landscape architect who
struggled with ministering to her illegal alien workers. Then I
thought, wouldn't it be cool to have an undercover Border Patrol
agent on her crew pretending to be an illegal alien?
Hannah: I've always written romantic suspense. Even my
first little romances had suspense in them. Our medical ER novels
with Bethany House had suspense and mystery along with the romance.
And our first women's fiction book with Steeple Hill had a mystery,
even though we hadn't planned it to be so suspenseful.
I read the book Beth is talking about. Very good
Beth: Hmmm. Now that I think about it, I had some suspense in my
very first novella with Tyndale, too. I forgot about that.
I read that one too. I enjoyed the Border Patrol books and
I had wondered what made you decide, Beth, to do a series on Border
Patrol. It sounds like the suspense grew out of the stories you were
Beth: Serendipity, I guess.
But after I started the research, I
realized there was a hole in the market I could fill.
Hannah: As far as the spiritual element in the romances, I
think Beth probably has the same experience as we do - there has to
be the spiritual story going on as well as the romance and suspense.
Beth: I wonder if Cheryl and Mel's first book for Steeple Hill is
what gave them the idea of launching the whole line.
Hannah: Oh, yes... Hideaway was the inspiration for the
charm of the whole series. Difference romances and people, but same
Do find any special challenges to bringing a Christian
message to books which in some ways center on criminal (and very
Beth: On the contrary, I think it lends itself particularly
Hannah: So far, we don't have a problem with that. We
agree with Beth. The contrast between darkness and light is very
effective in showing the light.
Beth: You put a Christian character in the crucible of such a
dramatic situation, and they're forced to grow in their faith.
Hannah: And they're forced to depend on that faith, and
God's power, to keep them going.
But as far as ugly scenes, non-Christian behavior,
I think it's more difficult to show the characters as whole people,
and not just one-dimensional.
Beth: You might think that the criminal element wouldn't go over
well with "churchy" readers, but they understand that the enemy is
at work in our world.
Hannah: Oh, yes.
Mel and Cheryl mentioned earlier that there has to be a
spiritual story as well as the romance and suspense. Is there
something that you hope your readers will bring away from your
Hannah: Hope is what we want them to take away.
Forgiveness in some books, reconciliation in others. Real characters
need to connect with real readers to show how God loves them.
Beth: You know, that's pretty much what I'd say, too. That there is
hope in Christ. That yes, there's bad stuff out there, but God cares
and He has a way out for us.
Hannah: And if we've strayed, we can always come back. We
also have to show that God's people are fallible. Not perfect.
Beth: Well, not always a way out in the sense that things work out
rosy--but that He's walking through difficulties with us.
Hannah: Yes, that's it, Beth. He's walking with us!
One thing I have noticed in all of your books is that your
characters often inspire by example rather than with preaching. Do
you find that a more effective way to reach readers?
Beth: Way better.
Hannah: Definitely. Actions speak louder than words.
Preachiness is boring to the reader.
Beth: Thank you for saying that, Lynn, that's a high
Hannah: Example is the essence of inspiration.
I had a question for Mel and Cheryl. I'm primarily familiar
with your work through the Hideaway books, though I did manage to
find some of your mysteries published by Bethany House. How do you
divide up the writing? Do you both write or do you split the writing
and medical research?
Hannah: I, Cheryl, am the main writer. When we need
medical, especially in our medical ER series, Mel did most of the
medical scenes and I rewrote to incorporate them into the story. He
also edits and helps inspire me when I think this wip is the worst
I've ever done LOL!! Mel also tries to make sure that the medical
characters show the medical life accurately through their eyes.
Since I know that Mel is a doctor, I do have a question
that I'm sure you hear a lot. Are any of your medical situations
based on actual cases?
Hannah: One reason our writing works so well is that Mel
realizes I'm the writer, and I realize he's the doctor. We defer to
one another. Yes, many of our situations are based on actual cases,
but they are changed to the point that no one would recognize
themselves...except maybe the man who got bitten by his pet lion.
Pet lion? Well, I imagine that definitely does not happen
Hannah: LOL. No, only once in Mel's experience, I think.
So, do you have any more Hideaway books planned or is
something new on the horizon?
we have several more Hideaway books on board.
So what can we expect from the next one?
Hannah: We're working on an historical next, which
will also be romantic suspense. What have we gotten ourselves
Beth: Wow, what period?
Hannah: 1945, WWII, and it'll be a Hideaway, with Red and
Bertie. Release in 2007 late, I think.
That sounds very promising. Would you like to share any
plot information with us or is it still too early?
Hannah: Well, it will involve the Bald Knobbers
resurrection from Branson, which is a vigilante group from the
1800s. I think.
Murder, and stuff, of course.
Beth, I know that you write for both Zondervan and for
Steeple Hill, who publishes your Border Patrol books. What do you
have coming up that readers can look forward to?
Beth: The October Z book is a romance set in South
Mississippi, about a wildlife veterinarian and a professional
bowhunter. Fair Game is the title.
Now that sounds like quite an attraction of opposites.
Hannah: Sparks will fly! Mel is curious about how you're
going to build conflict in the romance. LOL
I guess we'll have to read the book to see how they work
things out. Is this one suspense as well?
Beth: Very southern and comedic in tone. No suspense really.
I would like to do more suspense for Steeple Hill, just
don't have the right story yet.
Really? I'm more familiar with your suspense stories, but
southern comedy sounds like fun.
Hannah: Do you have trouble writing the humor, Beth? That just sounds so hard for me.
Beth: No, that actually comes easier for me than the murder and
Hannah: Oh, wow, how the time has flown. Lynn, thanks so
much! This has been great!
Beth: Oops, yeah gotta go. Thanks for having us!
I'm glad. I enjoyed getting a chance to "meet" you all.
Hannah: Same here.
||ATBF: Focus on Inspirational Romance