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Don't smirk -- Amish love stories inspire me

By Shelley Shepard Gray, Special to CNN
The author likes the slower lifestyle that she writes about in "bonnet romances."
The author likes the slower lifestyle that she writes about in "bonnet romances."
  • Shelley Shepard Gray writes Amish romances, also known as bonnet romances
  • She says she writes because "It gives me joy and enriches my readers' lives"
  • In her books, the pace is slower, and family and faith are integral to every decision

Editor's note: Shelley Shepard Gray is the author of the "Seasons of Sugarcreek" series, which concluded with "Autumn's Promise" this month. Her Christmas-themed "Sisters of the Heart" novel "Grace" goes on sale in November.

(CNN) -- It was the kind of experience I couldn't make up. A few weeks ago, my husband and I were invited to a large dinner party.

After we arrived, we were seated at a round table with four other couples. Introductions were made, and glasses of wine were poured. Kids and sports were discussed.

Then, out of the blue, one of the men at the table made an announcement. "Tom's wife writes Amish romances," he said while smiling, almost as if I should be embarrassed that he divulged my secret.

My husband squeezed my hand, told how I write inspirational romances and said he was proud of me. The conversation moved on.

I picked up my fork, ready to dig into my salad and listen to everyone else talk. Really, that's what I do best. But then I realized everyone was staring at me. "You write religious books?" one of the women asked. "About people in buggies?"

I nodded.

And then came the million-dollar question: "Why?"

Of all the answers brewing inside of me, only one came to mind; the one answer that still feels the best: It gives me joy and enriches my readers' lives.

Well, that's it in a nutshell, as one of my characters would say. I feel lucky to spend much of my days writing about people loving the Lord and falling in love at the same time.

I don't feel those two things are mutually exclusive. Being a Christian is part of who I am, just like me being left-handed. It would be impossible to park my faith on the sidelines, pulling it out only on Sundays when it's time for church.

I don't think I'm alone in this. Several articles have appeared lately in the media about the popularity of inspirational romances. The Wall Street Journal, Business Week and USA Today have noticed the popularity of inspirational fiction -- "bonnet romances" in particular. It's become one of the most profitable industries in publishing.

Since I'm a working writer, I'm glad of that. But in my heart, I also see the need for this genre. In today's society, it's hard not to be blindsided by swearing, violence or suggestive language. Things that used to be thought of as unmentionable are now on television and in movies, and of course, in books. There's a large market for entertainment that pushes the envelope. I certainly don't shield myself against all of this.

But sometimes, it's nice to know that there's a haven for people who don't necessarily want to spend their time around those elements. And that's where the inspirational market comes in. My readers know if they pick up one of my novels, they won't be shocked by anything in its pages. Furthermore, I work very hard to ensure that my characters will be spiritually challenged and lifted. I want my readers to believe in love and romance and maybe even God's grace by the time they read the last page.

I enjoy Amish inspirational novels because they depict a lifestyle that is vastly different from mine. Like a lot of other women my age, I'm busy working, running to my children's sporting events and doing a hundred other activities that seem to take up too much time and leave me exhausted.

However, in my Amish-themed novels, the pace is slower. Driving to town in a buggy means there's time to look at the flowers on the side of the road, or to actually talk to the person you're sitting next to.

There's a quiet appeal to a way of life that doesn't involve computers, cell phones, traffic, radios or GPS systems. In the Amish community, family and faith are integral to every decision -- and with that comes comfort.

When I write about my characters spending the morning in prayer, passing an afternoon canning with friends or piecing a quilt for a charity auction, I wish I were doing those things, too. And when my characters speak with absolute certainty that the Lord is with them, I also yearn to feel that way.

I feel fortunate to be able to spend my days writing inspirational fiction, and even talking about it to people at a dinner party. And though people were still smirking at me at the end of the dinner, I'm hopeful that maybe one or two of them will pick up an inspirational novel from the shelves and give it a try.

They might be pleasantly surprised.

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