Stories that Matter

Heiress – Let's Discuss…

I just finished Heiress, (Daughters of Fortune Series #1) by Susan May Warren. If you have not yet read the book, you may want to skip this post, but I’ll try not to give too much away. This isn’t really a review so much as it is a reaction. (And I will try very hard not to make this a rant, but no promises).

Heiress. Wow. I loved the book. I was shocked by the book. I wanted to stand up and applaud after reading the book.

Honestly? My first thought was this: “This is not your grandmother’s Christian Fiction!”

A caveat: I have yet to read a book written by Susan May Warren that I did not enjoy. Susie could write out The Constitution verbatim and I think she’d find a way to give it a new twist and make it interesting. Another caveat: I read the reviews before I read the book. Yeah, I’m one of those people. I do actually find it interesting to see what people think about a book before I read it. I don’t let their thoughts influence me, but when I’m done I usually go back and read the reviews again, if only to agree or disagree inside my head. As it was, most of the reviews for this book were positive.

I’ve been a fan of the big story ever since reading Gone With The WInd. You know the kind I mean – lots of characters, lots of wealth, intrigue, lies andΒ  lots of sex. Well…you know… I do read mainstream fiction and I have to say unfortunately, that comes with the territory. In a Christian novel of course you won’t find the same descriptions, but I venture to say that with the likes of Susan May Warren, Julie Lessman and perhaps other CBA authors I haven’t yet discovered, Christian fiction is taking a bold step forward in giving readers a glimpse into the real world. And yes, if you were a fan of Dynasty, Dallas or any of the old night time soaps, you’ll love Heiress. There is wealth, a ton of it, intrigue, deception and yes, sex, (without getting graphic). Infidelity. Betrayal. It’s all there, penned in such a fashion that you’re sucked into the world of The Gilded Age from the first page.

I’ve visited those Newport Mansions and I can tell you that Susan did an amazing job with her descriptions. The lives and attitudes of the rich and famous were completely believable. As one who has rubbed shoulders with some super snotty fabulously wealthy individuals, I related to these characters. I understood them. Money is their God. End of story.

So here comes the question. How is this Christian fiction? Should it be?

In light of Richard’s thoughts on Friday, I mulled over all this as I read the book. In Yesterday’s Tomorrow, my two main characters sleep together. They’re not married. They even have a child together. Does this mean I can’t call my book Christian fiction? Indeed, I have had at least one reader say so. Does God show up in Yesterday’s Tomorrow? Undoubtedly. Does God show up in Heiress? I believe He does. And keeping in mind that this is Book One in a series, I venture to say that the characters’ spiritual journeys are only just beginning.

Do we honestly believe that sin is an invention of the last century?

If we are going to decry books that dare to throw back the curtain and show readers the real world in all it’s glory, books that give us a taste of the grit and the grime and the complete depravation of the human condition, then I am drawn to conclude that you’d better put your Bible away under lock and key.

Sin has been in existence for as long as man has. Why is a book written today that deals with these things any different than the stories of sin, infidelity, immorality in the Bible? Is God not present in the Bible? Of course He is. Is God present in Christian fiction? If that author is a professed child of God, then yes, I believe He is, whether the author chooses to present Him up close and personal or not. He’s still there.

If we have no sin, we have no need of a Saviour. I’ve said this from the moment I started writing for the inspirational market. Yes, you can savor your sweet little romance all wrapped up neat and tidy in a big pink bow with nary so much as a chaste kiss between characters. Those books exist and they sell well. To Christians. Perhaps I’m generalizing, but I think a book that deals with reality has a far greater chance of speaking to the non-believer than a book where the characters are so good that Jesus doesn’t need to show up.

As an author who also happens to be a Christian, I’m continually faced with the question of why I write. Do I write to merely to entertain my readers, the majority of those being people of like-mindedness in faith or do I write with a hidden agenda, making sure every chapter whacks the reader over the head with the gospel message so that if that person who doesn’t happen to believe in God somehow picks up a copy of my book, they’re darn sure gonna be saved by the end of it.


I think what we’re seeing in books like Heiress is a creative balance between entertainment and faith. We’re seeing a new brand of fiction with a faith message. Fiction you can share with your friend who wants nothing to do with God for whatever reason. These books won’t appeal to everyone. There will be some who say it’s too much. Too much reality. And perhaps it is. But personally, I’d rather deal in reality than walk through the world with blinders on, stepping over the things that make me cringe along the way.

So yes, this isn’t your grandmother’s Christian fiction. But maybe it is. Because between you and me, I think our grandmothers knew a lot more than we gave them credit for.

What do you think? Should Christian authors embrace reality in our writing or shy away from it?

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  1. Koala Bear Writer on December 12, 2011 at 1:06 am

    YES! I haven’t read any Susan May Warren’s books yet, but she sounds similar to some of the authors I love – Francine Rivers and Angela Hunt and Bonnie Grove and Mary DeMuth, among others. They’re all Christian writers who write fiction about real people. And I think that’s what we need. I’ve read some of those “happily ever after because I found Jesus” stories and just put them down feeling like I’d eaten a Scotch mint when I craved a good hearty beef stew. I want fiction that challenges me, makes me think, and gives me hope because its characters are as sinful and snotty and silly and super as I am. If the character is too good to be true, or her story is too good to be true, I won’t keep reading. I won’t keep the book. I want a book like Heiress. πŸ™‚

    • Cathy West on December 12, 2011 at 9:23 am

      Oh, I think you’ll enjoy it then! I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. :0)

  2. Michelle Sutton on December 12, 2011 at 1:38 am

    This book made my top fiction list. I’m all for reality based stories and I loved how honest this story was. It makes me crazy when reviewers who think they are above sin cut down stories that are at least honest and not pie-in-the-sky when it deals with pain in life. I applaud that. This story had some gut wrenching conflict and some broken hearts, but it was healing as well. Loved it.

    • Cathy West on December 12, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Yeah, I am sure there will be a few comments along the way from people who don’t think we should be writing about such things!! Oh well. You can’t please everyone and personally, I want reality!!

  3. Casey on December 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I really loved this book. I read it on the drive to ACFW in September and it’s one of those titles that makes me want to go “don’t bother me, I’m reading!” I told Susie at the conference that just when I thought I had the story figured out and was ready to breathe easy she made it worse! I really didn’t have a chance to breathe with this novel.

    I know what you’re saying Cathy. I’m one of those readers that doesn’t like explicit content, however, I’m also a writer who explores the down and gritty of the human condition, because in the worst situations, God’s hope has the strongest light to shine.

    One thing I don’t want Christian fiction to become is an excuse. I don’t want authors to think “we have to show real life, so let’s have the explicit sex and bad language, because that’s how real people talk/live.” We are Christian fiction for a reason. We have higher standards. YES people have foul mouths. Do we need to show that? No. YES people make really bad choices, can we show that? Sure. BUT only if we make it clear that there are consequences to one’s poor choices. Your characters suffered that, Cathy.

    Christian fiction shouldn’t be preachy, no, it should be the opportunity to uplift the forgiven and show the hurting God’s love. And how you do that is individual to each author.

    Okay, my dime’s worth of thoughts. Sorry for the soapbox! πŸ˜‰ Great post, I enjoyed it. πŸ™‚

  4. Cathy West on December 12, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks, Casey! I agree – if we get to the point where we assume ‘anything goes’ because we need to keep up with the real world, then I think we’ve crossed the line. There has to be a balance, and above all, a sense the characters need for God, thus the consequences that lead to redemption through His grace. At least that’s how I want to write!

    • Casey on December 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      Agreed! And I’m looking forward to what you do with this next book. πŸ˜‰

  5. Karen Baney on December 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I prefer realistic stories that include imperfect and sinful people who are changed by God. In my way of thinking, it’s not much of a story to take a perfect person who reacts perfectly in every situation. If there is no sin, no temptation, no heart struggle, then why would God even be necessary. That’s why I prefer to read (and write) imperfect characters who face real life temptations and challenges. There are consequences for sin and most of the edgier stories I’ve always deal with that. These are the characters I can relate to because they mirror my own struggles.

  6. bethkvogt on December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    I read anything and everything Susan May Warren writes — and by that I mean, I read her fiction and her non-fiction. Susan is an amazing writer and she knows her craft. She also strives to get better and better and better with every book she writers. I would hand any of her books of to my friends–where ever they are on their faith journey.
    I’ve also read Yesterday’s Tomorrow. It’s not an easy read — but it’s well-worth reading. it’s real life — and it’s messy. No contradiction there. And is God in the story? Absolutely!
    Thank God that God doesn’t avoid our messy, messy lives!

    • Cathy West on December 12, 2011 at 11:49 pm

      Thanks, Beth! I couldn’t agree more!

  7. Susan on December 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    Thank you Cathy for this post! I have long believed that true christian fiction pulls back the curtain, reveals lies and then heals with the truth. I know there are readers out there who want G-rated movies, but the truth is, we live in an increasingly R rated world. Now, I don’t like cursing, crude talk, violence, and graphic sex. I don’t write that. You won’t find any anatomy lessons in my books, even if there is a “bedroom” scene. I do write about sin, however, as I reveal the broken and lost hearts of my characters. And, I take careful pains to write it in a way that doesn’t offend, but some people are simply offended by the fact it is included in the book. (to which, I agree with Cathy, you might need to leave your Bible under lock and key!) I had one reader say, because I included a scene where my heroine commits adultry (although, in her defense, she doesn’t realize it…you’ll have to read it to understand πŸ™‚ …). Did I get graphic? No. It’s about the most chaste adultry scene you’ll find, in terms of description. But, this reader decided, because there is sin in the book, ‘it’s not a Chrsitian book!” What, Christians don’t sin? More than that, a novel is about a journey – the hero has to start someplace “bad” as they start their journey so they can change and grow. Is a Christian testimony not a Christian testimony if it includes the reality of a sinful past? What about books like the Cross and the Switchblade? Are they less Christian because they reveal the character’s sins? I submit to you that they are MORE Christian! We don’t win people to Christ by offering them cookies and making them feel good. We win people to Christ by helping them admit they are sinners and need a Savior. That is true Christian fiction, IMHO. The other, nice clean stuff, well, that’s G-rated fiction, and that’s fine too. I think they call it “Sweet” ficition ABA. Nothing about sin, or salvation for that matter, is sweet. It’s ugly It’s costly and frankly, it’s something we as Christians have a responsilbity to say. Am I preaching in my books? No. I am telling a story – one that I hope people might see themsevles in, even just a little, and hopefully by the truth revealed, they are set free, too. Christian fiction should be about truth, and should contain meat for people to grapple with. It should change lives. It should tell the truth. Thanks, Cathy, for your kind review of Heiress. Baroness comes out in February. It’s about the Roaring Twenties. You can bet there are some interesting choices the heroines make. πŸ˜‰ Merry Christmas to you all!! Susie

    • Cathy West on December 12, 2011 at 11:48 pm

      All I can say is DITTO DITTO DITTO!!! Great thoughts, Susie, thanks for stopping by and sharing your heart!! So great to know authors like you! πŸ™‚

  8. Anne Payne on December 13, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I’m probably going to regret making a comment but I’m a glutton for punishment, I suppose. I’ve read almost all of Susan’s books and I can honestly say I have loved them all. Heiress was no different for me. I participated in the LitFuse blog tour (my first and only one with them). I posted my review on Amazon and…wham! I got slammed by another reviewer for one line at the end. I know not everyone wants to read reality, past or present. I wanted those that I know that look to reviews to know that there were certain subjects covered, albeit tastefully. Maybe I could have reworded that line, but I didn’t. Some people read to escape and they don’t want to be reminded of what may have been a similar experience in their own lives. They LIKE reading the “sweet” books. Sometimes I like a sweet book. I enjoy Susan’s books because she covers the hard stuff but is tasteful about it. I would even categorize some of her books as sweet. But not Heiress πŸ™‚ I can’t wait until the next book comes out!

  9. Renee C. on December 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    I loved this book and as you know I loved yours! My feeling is Christian books that feature more “edgy” content are more likely to reach people who aren’t Christians. To reiterate what the others mentioned above, nobody on Earth is sinless so why make the characters in a book “sinless” and completely unrelatable? No matter what I read I HAVE to be able to connect with a character in some way and if all they ever do is good it get’s tiring.

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