Ellen Gable Hrkach's success proves romance novels need not be smutty

By 
  • September 21, 2009
{mosimage}In the beginning, she just wanted to tell her story. But now, writing has become something of a vocation for Ellen Gable Hrkach — secondary to her marriage and motherhood of course — as she weaves fictional romance with church teachings on sexuality.

“Fiction is a wonderful way to evangelize and I don’t think it’s used enough,” Hrkach said.

The Ottawa Valley mother of five boys first set out with the mindset that if she touched one person’s life, that would be enough. But more than one person has been moved by Emily’s Hope, published in 2006, and have gone on to devour her second novel, In Name Only, released this year. The self-published author has sold 1,700 copies of her first book and continues to get a passionate response from readers.

“Some of the amazing e-mails I’ve gotten really assures me that I did the right thing in sharing my story,” Hrkach said.

Emily’s Hope was heavily based on her own life, mirrored in the struggles of Emily, a 19-year-old American living in New Jersey who enters the dating scene for the first time and finds herself changing from a pro-choice, cafeteria Catholic, to a strong advocate for the truth after she meets her prince charming — a Canadian who lives near Ottawa. Hrkach parallels the tale with stories of Emily’s great-grandmother, based partly on Hrkach’s own great-grandmother.

As she wrote the first draft years ago, Hrkach wondered if she should be sharing such an intimate part of herself, from awkward details about her first kiss and what she learned about the importance of saving sexuality for marriage, to the trauma of losing children in unsuccessful pregnancies.

Emily discovers the negativity of pre-marital sex and abortion, and experiences the challenges and the beauty of using Natural Family Planning. Because Emily’s Hope is a work of fiction, church teaching gets wrapped up in a compelling story.

Hrkach admits that some readers found the book preachy but said others claimed it changed their view on sexuality and church teachings for the better — even teen readers. For this reason, Hrkach recommends the book for readers ages 16-30. But she advises that parents should read Emily’s Hope and In Name Only before passing along copies to their teenage children, so they can discuss some of the “edgier” topics with them.

“Some parents would think it’s inappropriate,” she said. “I would not just go into a homeschooling group and give it to them to read.”

An inner city Catholic school in Philadelphia has been using Hrkach’s first book as a supplement and has welcomed her as a speaker in its senior theology classes. Students find the book relevant to their age group.

With her writing, Hrkach hopes readers — Christian and secular alike — will first see a good story and be drawn in, then find the material surprisingly free of lurid details and end up dipping into the truth about sexuality.

“I wrote it for the person who would already be drawn to romance fiction, who might be reading sexually explicit novels, because I want them to grow spiritually as they read my books.”

Hrkach’s second novel is entirely fictional and is set in Philadelphia in the 1800s. The main character, Caroline, heads to live with her uncle and cousin in Philadelphia after her father dies. She begins to court Liam, their neighbour, but unexpectedly finds her life closely intertwined with that of Liam’s brother David. While Hrkach is not graphic in her descriptions, some scenes are suggestive enough to make some readers uncomfortable.

“I wanted to write a Rhett Butler who was faithful (in the end),” Hrkach said. “When I created David, I wanted to create a 19th-century sex addict, so it does deal with some edgy things. He has some falls and I wanted to show some falls because none of us are perfect in our journey.”

The book deals with spiritual conversion and the characters’ eventual understanding of the beauty of sex and leads the reader through a much less “preachy” delivery of church teachings.

Hrkach said she prays for the purity of her readers and does her best to avoid creating imagery that would lead them into sin.

She is currently working on her next novel, with plans to set it in a fictional Ontario town.

To find out more about the Ontario-based author, visit www.fullquiverpublishing.com .

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