Francine Rivers talks to FamilyFiction.com about the legacy of her groundbreaking biblical romance novel
Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is a favorite Christian romance classic featuring a tragically wounded soul, the man called to marry her, and the only love that heals all. A perennial best-seller since it was originally published in 1991, the novel has sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 30 languages.
A powerful and contemporary retelling of the biblical book of Hosea, Redeeming Love takes place against the romantic backdrop of the California Gold Rush of 1850. The story centers on Angel, who was sold into prostitution as a child. She has survived through hatred and self-loathing, until she meets Michael Hosea (Lewis) and discovers there is no brokenness that love can’t heal. The story reflects the redemptive power of unconditional and sacrificial love with characters and circumstances relevant to the contemporary world.
With the novel hitting its 30th anniversary—and a film adaptation headed to screens this spring—FamilyFiction talked with Francine about the origins of the novel, how her faith impacts her fiction, and what the message means for the world today.
FF Staff: We have a really good mix of longtime fans and authors who are fans and actually a big chunk of brand-new readers who are discovering romance novels written from a Christian worldview and what that all means.
I’d love to especially help our new listeners orient themselves to who you are and your work, and how your faith impacts your work. While there’s room for all of it, I’d love to primarily talk about Redeeming Love, The Masterpiece, and your next novel, The Disinherited.
FRANCINE: I started actually in the general market, so I can look at it from two points of view. In the general market, the emphasis in romance is really between just the man and the woman.
When I became a Christian in my late 30s, I couldn’t write for quite a while. And I started reading the Bible, and I realized that God was saying, ‘You want to be My child, but you don’t really know Me.’ So, as I was reading the Bible over and over again, we were doing a home Bible study and we came to the minor prophets. And Hosea was really the story of Redeeming Love.
So, I placed that story in the same time period I’d been working in the general market for a number of years—from 1840s up to the 1880s in California history—and it was really my statement of faith. But the difference really between general market fiction romance and Christian fiction romance is that you have a triangle in Christian fiction because God is always in the center of it.
And especially in Redeeming Love, it’s really an allegory to show what God’s love is like. In the book of Hosea, the prophet was showing Israel how Israel was behaving toward God.
For me, when I read Hosea, I could see myself as Angel, going in every other place to find answers. You go to your friends, you read how-to books, you’re listening to psychologists online, all this other stuff rather than going to God—the One that created you and has a plan for your life. The story is to show how much God loves us through the character of Michael.
And then I’m like Angel. We start out where we’re children of darkness. And then we are defiant, we don’t want anybody controlling our lives. And then we are often fearful because God isn’t asking for little bits and pieces of us, He wants everything we are—from the past, present, and future. And then when you have that relationship with God, you begin to see yourself in a more humble way. And then there’s tremendous joy in being a child of God and following in God’s ways. So, that’s sort of it in a nutshell.
That’s a very good nutshell. I’m really curious, because you started out as an English and journalism writer. How did you jump from journalism to fiction?
FRANCINE: I always knew I wanted to be a writer, from the time I was a little girl. But I didn’t like to read, so I didn’t have a vast body of having read a number of books.
My parents were non-fiction readers. My dad literally built our house from the foundations. My mother was a nurse. So, they were doing a lot of non-fiction reading.
I thought, well, if I’m going to be a writer, I need to learn how to write. So I majored in English with an emphasis in literary writing, and minored in journalism, because I had no idea what kind of writing I was going to be doing. Just that I knew I would be a writer.
It was actually when Rick and I got married, he’s an avid reader and so were his parents. His mom and dad started handing me books like gothics and romances and westerns and historicals, and I loved it. I loved the fiction, because you could learn a lot about history by reading a historical romance or a historical novel.
So, I thought, well, that’s the kind of writing I’d like to do. But the first book I wrote was actually a combination of genres that I liked, so I wrote a western gothic romance—I didn’t know you were supposed to kind of stick in one genre—and I had so much fun with it, I just kept going with it. So, I’d written I think about nine books when I was in the general market and then you become a Christian and it just begins to change everything from the inside out, and that changed my whole direction of writing.
Actually, I thought that Redeeming Love would probably be the only book I’d write as a kind of a statement of faith. Then I had so many questions because I came to faith.
I had grown up in the church, but just because you’re in church doesn’t mean you’re a Christian. I didn’t have the heart knowledge. I had some head knowledge, but I thought, I had so many questions; like how do you share your faith with unsaved family and friends who don’t want to read the Bible and they don’t want to hear about Jesus?
That’s where the story of A Voice In The Wind came from and Hadassah. The characters just were playing out the different points of view about the question I had, and then I would have one strong Christian struggling trying to find their God’s perspective. And it was a quest for me because I didn’t have the answer to start with.
It’s in the process of writing and studying the word of God and playing out all the different ways of looking at that question and then finding what God’s answer is to that. So that’s kind of been the direction of my writing ever since.
You were talking about The Masterpiece. Really the question in that one is, can two broken people from tremendous, horrendous childhood events, can they find wholeness together? And, of course, the answer is in Christ yes, we can find wholeness.
In The Disinherited, the question I had in that one is, can one person impact an entire community? And yeah, one person can.
So, really writing has become a quest for me. It’s a way of worshiping God, because I have to stay focused on the Lord. I have to stay focused on the Word to find the answer that I’m going for in the novel.
That’s really fascinating, because you mentioned earlier that you actually had writer’s block when you first became a Christian—
How did that feel when—
FRANCINE: Terrible! I remember going on a walk with my husband and he said, If you had a choice between me and the three children—we had three children at the time—and your writing, you’d take your writing. It really stopped me for a minute, because I thought, ‘I think that’s true!’ It was the one area of my life where I thought that I had some control, and I could make things happen. With the writing you can create any kind of story you want. But it’s an illusion, it’s not the truth.
When we moved to northern California and I became a Christian, I think God removed it. He just took the ability away. Nothing I wrote made any sense. I think He was saying, ‘You need to come to Me, and get to know Me. You need to know if you want Me to be the Master of your life. You need to let me be the Master of your life.’ And so that three years was really taking away the idol of writing and replacing it with the love of the Lord and the love of His Word.
Of course, when I came to Hosea, it was like God’s saying ‘This is the love story I want you to write. It’s all about Me, it’s about how I love you, and how I love everyone else that is seeking love.’
I needed to learn to put the idol of writing down. Since then, I don’t tend to write more than four pages a day. If I finish that by noon, the rest of the day is, you know, do something else. I always start my morning in Scripture and reading before I start to write.
I’m not a writer—that’s not who I am. I’m a child of God. That has to stay the priority.
How was that—I’m going to say ‘struggle,’ although that’s not necessarily what it was—when you were going through that period where you had to wait to access your ability to write and the Lord was working on you and how to see Him in a new way? What was that like? Because as a creative person, I would imagine that would be just be so upsetting to put it calmly!
FRANCINE: Oh, oh yeah, I was very upset! I didn’t understand what was happening. Because I think you tend to think that well, you come to Christ and you become a Christian, everything’s going to be wonderful.
FRANCINE: And no, that’s not what happened. It was like all the flotsam and all the stuff from my past everything was coming up and God was there, kind of walking me through it, And also I’ve been walking through all of it all along the way in writing books.
For example, The Atonement Child had to do with an abortion I had in college. So I needed to deal with that issue and I used that in my writing. That was probably the hardest book I’ve ever had to write, but it was also the most healing.
So I think I struggled with it because I thought, ‘I’m a writer—why can’t I write?’ It was quite a while before I understood that when it ceased to matter to me—when I didn’t care if I ever wrote another word—that’s when He gave it back to me.
That’s when the story of Redeeming Love came. It was like, ‘OK, now you have your priorities straight. Now I’m Number One in your life. Now let’s work together and because you still have lots of growing to do.’
I’ll be growing until I die. He’s constantly teaching us. I think writing is the medium that He uses for me. He gave me the gift of writing, so it’s for His use. It’s not for me to selfishly do whatever I please with it.
But it was not easy. It took three years. The first year and a half was like ‘Why is this happening?’ I thought my life was supposed to be better becoming a Christian, and it was just chaos.
I love that you are bold to say that. So often, we’re taught that “everything’s magically wonderful after you’re a Christian.” But it’s really, “You’ve got to actually do some work.” And it’s worth it.
FRANCINE: Definitely. It’s an inner transformation, and I think any kind of transformation is not easy.
A seed has to break open in order to grow, and I think that’s part of it. You’re being, in a sense, broken down and rebuilt, too, because your priorities are completely different. You’re the temple of the Holy Spirit now. The Holy Spirit is inside of you and the Holy Spirit is contrary to what your fleshly nature is.
If you’ve lived over 30 years, 35 years doing your own thing the way you want to do it, and all of a sudden you have the Holy Spirit in you saying that ‘Nuh-uh, it’s not going to be like that,’ it is kind of an educational process, too.
But at the other end of it, it’s so fulfilling and so joyful that it’s nothing the world can give you. The world can’t give you what God gives you.
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