When I was writing Afton, I pulled no punches and was quite . . . out there. Afton was brutalized, her cruel husband was really cruel, and I got so into the story that I remember actually quivering as I wrote one scene where Afton’s husband is humiliating her. Now I know what will fly in the CBA market, but in those days, I was clueless. Most people were, because Christian fiction was still in its infancy. (I sound like I’m in my dotage, don’t I?) LOL!
(Now I would probably cringe at some of the writing–I know I write a lot tighter now, as I’ve gone back and edited my early work for re-publication, and I usually end up chopping out THOUSANDS of completely unnecessary words.)
Anyway–I handed the book in, Karen Ball edited it, and the book was published.
And then . . . I heard that the book was a little too graphic for many people’s tastes. Way too graphic for some folks, in fact. My editors were quick to assure me that they still believed in me, but I remember weeping on my desk one afternoon, asking God why he gave me that story if it was going to upset so many people.
Needless to say, it didn’t get much in the way of marketing or promotion. And Karen and I put our heads together and tried to change our approach for books two and three. I needed to have a more evangelical slant, I needed to keep the sensitivities of the Christian reader in mind (which startled me because I’m a Christian reader, and obviously, nothing in the book was too much for me), and I quickly learned that there are limits to what the market will bear.
And I had to struggle with how to portray an “evangelical” Christian in the Dark Ages. After praying about it for a long time, I decided that the essence of the Christian life is surrender. We may know about God, we may go through a form of worship, but until we surrender our lives to Christ, we are still living for ourselves.
So, regardless of what church was attended or not, I decided that my characters would come to a place of surrender to God–and that would be the point of their salvation–not if they prayed, confessed, did penance, or whatever.
And so in the second book, THE TROUBADOUR’S QUEST, I played with the theme of courtly love in France . . . and in the third book, INGRAM OF THE IRISH, I explored Irish history. In both books, I had characters who grappled with following their own wills, or surrendering to the will of God.
About Afton–I believe I’ve blogged before about this, but I’ll repeat it. I actually came to think of that book with a sense of shame, as if I had missed the mark somehow, until a few years ago when a young woman came up to me at a Woman of Faith conference where I was signing books. I was sitting there at the table with another book in front of me, and she said, “You’re Angela Hunt. You wrote AFTON OF MARGATE CASTLE.”
I wondered if I should duck, but I nodded.
She leaned closer. “I was raped,” she said, “And I thought no one would ever understand how I felt until I read that book. And when Afton found peace, I was able to see how I could find peace, too.”
If only for that young woman, I’m glad God gave me that story.