Several authors, including Janette Oke and Frank Peretti, were fundamental to the development of Christian fiction as a literary genre in the 1980s, but none more so than Francine Rivers. Considered one of the founding mothers of the form, Rivers wrote Redeeming Love, a reworking of the biblical story of Esther, as her “statement of faith” in 1986. Almost 30 years and millions of best-selling copies later, she is still at it. The author’s latest title, Bridge to Haven (see starred review, LJ 4/15/14), is for all readers who have ever left home to chase a dream only to realize that the real treasures are the ones they left behind.
Your first inspirational book, Redeeming Love, is considered a classic work of Christian fiction. How has the reading public/market for Christian fiction changed since you first started writing in the genre?
When I first came into the Christian market, most of the books being published were nonfiction. The few fiction books available came in series or were innocent love stories that touched little on the sins of man. Fiction as a whole was considered questionable. Redeeming Love was originally published by Bantam for the general market. When it went out of print, my agent arranged for the reversion of rights. By then, I had begun writing for Tyndale House. We offered the book (with revisions), but it was too edgy for Tyndale at the time. What I call the “redeemed version” of Redeeming Love was published by Multnomah. Over the years, publishers have begun to understand what a powerful tool Christian fiction is in spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The doors have opened, and Christian writers have come through with wonderful, well-written stories. The choices now are many and varied and the quality continues to rise.
Christian fiction is a hidden gem in the library stacks. Do you feel that readers have a greater need for these books now as opposed to 30 years ago?
The boom in Christian fiction makes me believe there is a deepening hunger and thirst in our nation for the faith message. The genre is more realistic now than it was decades ago. It seemed to me the conflict in early romances was being tempted to be tempted but never slipping into sin. Now, writers acknowledge the brokenness in people, the anguish sin brings, the longing for answers and meaning to life. These stories resonate with people.
As a new reader to this genre, I was amazed at the breadth of topics and story lines covered. Do you have any advice you would like to share with librarians about how to describe the genre and its merits to a reluctant reader?
Try it, you’ll like it! I say that with a smile. What I find sad is that Christian fiction is shelved in the religious section rather than with other literature. Was The Robe by Lloyd Douglas on the shelf with the Bibles? Was Quo Vadis? What about Ben Hur? Sometimes it is a simple matter of book placement and letting readers decide. My hope is that librarians will begin to shelve [Christian] fiction with all other fiction. And if they like a particular book, they will give it a place of prominence where new readers might pick it up and give it a try. A good story and quality writing will give them a hunger for more.
What authors do you like to read? Are there any in particular you would recommend? Any who have helped in the development of your own career?
There are so many wonderful writers: Randy Alcorn, Jerry Jenkins, Robin Lee Hatcher, Angela Hunt, Liz Curtis Higgs, Karen Kingsbury, Brandilyn Collins, Tammy Alexander, Frank Peretti, Nicole Baart, and, of course, the classic writers like C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle. The list goes on. Whatever book I’m reading at the moment is my favorite. Each book is as unique as the author writing it.
What motivated you to write Bridge to Haven, and why did you choose to set it in 1950s Hollywood?
The inspiration comes from Ezekiel 16, in which God tells the story of a baby girl abandoned at birth and left to die along the side of the road. He picks her up and loves her. He provides for her and gives her gifts fit for a princess, with the intent of someday making her his bride. It is an allegory about Israel, but also the story of every child born, each of whom has the potential to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
The Hollywood of the 1950s was a place of glitz and glamour. Young people flocked there to be discovered and made into stars. As a castaway child passed from one family to another, Abra feels the burn of rejection and longs for love. Hollywood in the 1950s seemed the right setting for a lost and rebellious girl who wants to be somebody. It takes God to open her eyes to the fact that she has always been precious and what seemed such a mess was all part of His master plan.