Inspirationals: Where faith isn’t preachy; it’s just not hidden

by Libby Sternberg

I have to admit that I cringe a bit when I see/hear the word “Inspirational,” the name given to a specific genre of fiction. These books include faith elements but leave out any cursing or sex or anything else that might offend a faith-filled reader.

And for this, they’re put in a special category, often shelved away from regular fiction, sometimes with religious nonfiction books.

What a shame if readers miss out on finding these novels because of this categorization! And what a shame if readers skip over this category if they think inspirationals are preachy, filled with evangelizing and proselytizing. They’re not. They’re usually just good stories whose characters don’t keep their spiritual sides under wraps. They might talk about their belief in God. They might even quote scriptures or pray. What they don’t do is offer up a “Believe or you’re going to hell” kind of message. They don’t even suggest that their characters’ way is the only way.

In fact, I think characters in these books are much closer to the reality of most Americans’ lives. Gallup, the well-known polling organization, regularly measures how important religion is in our lives. Its 2010 survey found these numbers holding steady throughout the years, with 54 percent expressing the view that religion was very important in their lives, and 26 percent saying it was “fairly important.” While the same poll shows that many Americans see religion losing influence in the country, it still clearly plays a large role in individual lives.

Despite the importance of religion in Americans’ lives, faith issues are usually not front and center in most fiction. In fact, if you’ve ever written a book with faith issues in it, you might find it difficult at times to convince an editor it’s not necessarily an “inspirational”–as that genre is understood today– and you might also find your book reviewed as an “inspirational” when it’s not. Both experiences have happened to me.

That said, I am the happy author of two bona fide inspirational novels, books that fall within the genre’s parameters. Both are historicals and both deal with the same family. Kit Austen’s Journey, the tale of a woman on the Oregon trail running away from secrets and toward a new life, was released through Istoria several years ago, hitting Amazon best seller lists for a time. Mending Ruth’s Heart,just released, tells the tale of Kit’s granddaughter, on the mend after a tragedy in which her fiance was lost, and finding herself in San Francisco right before the fateful earthquake hits the city in 1906.

In both books, the heroines go to church (or church services, in the case of Kit) and both wrestle with their own behavior and outlook on life in the context of what God expects of them. Kit has to learn to forgive herself for past decisions. Ruth has to learn to set aside a judgmental attitude if she wants others not to unfairly judge her.

In Mending Ruth’s Heart, the faith elements are whispers on a breeze, not a dominant part of the story but not hidden. And I think that’s what I enjoy about writing inspirationals. You don’t need to hide the fact that ordinary people do think about God and their relationships with God. In that way, characters in inspirationals are much more like ordinarily Americans than characters in other books where scant–if any–notice of God or prayer or church is mentioned.

Here’s hoping more readers discover the world of inspirationals. No matter what your personal faith level is, these are good stories, well-told about real people confronting moral and spiritual issues in their lives.

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