Robin Lee Hatcher is the author of more than 30 novels and is a past president of Romance Writers of America. For her efforts on behalf of literacy, Laubach Literacy International named their romance award "The Robin." Her Christian novels include The Forgiving Hour and Whispers from Yesterday. She took time recently to talk with us about her writing.

How did you get started writing?  I was a voracious reader and a compulsive writer. I kept journals and wrote bad lovesick teenage poetry and all those sorts of things. One day the two just kind of combined and I knew that I wanted to write a book of my own. I was 29 when I began my first novel.

How have you seen the romance fiction genre changing since you began writing? The romance market changes as society changes. It's a genre written primarily by women for women and so whatever is most important to women, that's what is going to show up in the books. I think they tackle many more difficult issues now than they did in the beginning. Women are better educated and are becoming more a part of society in terms of government and what causes our nation to go the way it goes. Therefore I think you see that played out in romance novels.

How would you respond to the person who says that romance novels are nothing but fluff, that they have no real literary value?  Romance fiction is about hope. It's about hope that one man and one woman can form a lasting, permanent bond. That's a desire of people's hearts. We want a lasting love relationship. Romance fiction is also about women winning. In the real world women often don't win. And so I think that is the enduring appeal of romance novels. Of course, popular fiction—and that's any genre—always gets hit with comments such as "it's just fluff." But the enduring great literature is usually popular fiction and not what we would term literary fiction. Shakespeare was a romance writer, Charles Dickens was a popular fiction writer, Mark Twain wrote pop fiction. They would not have been considered great literary giants in their time. They wrote for the masses. People who write popular fiction are usually the people who understand the needs of the common man and write to that need.

Why did you decide to move into the Christian romance market? The only way I can answer that is to say that the Lord drew me there.  It began in the fall of 1991 when I read Francine River's book Redeeming Love. I've been a Christian throughout my writing career but when I read that book it showed me what Christian fiction could really do.  When I first became a Christian back in the '70s there wasn't a lot of options in the fiction market. Fiction at that time was generally thought to be of no importance because if it wasn't real it couldn't be good. Most of the fiction, other than Peretti, was peri-fiction, and too often so sweet with all the people too perfect. It didn't apply to my life. I don't know any perfect Christians, those who don't have struggles. So I didn't really have a vision of what really could be accomplished. Of course, fiction has changed tremendously in the '90s in the Christian market. Redeeming Love was the book that first showed me what it could be and began to plant the desire in my heart to be able to write for the Lord in such a way. To be real honest, I thought it was so incredibly wonderful that I didn't think I had enough talent to ever do it myself. But the Lord is good and he just kept working on my heart in many little ways.

In 95 or 96 I wrote a novel—I really wrote it for the Lord even though it was secular fiction—and I had the hero fall to his knees in prayer when his wife is apparently about to die in childbirth. He prayed and asked God to save his wife and child. It was a simple prayer of just "God save them." The editor removed the scene because she didn't want to offend any of their readers. I'll never forget those words. Yet at the same time a book was published by the same publisher that had a character who was an Irish boxer in the late 1800s. Everytime he opened his mouth he said "Jesus Christ" in a derogatory way. It wounded me so terribly. That was probably the beginning of the end for me because I thought how is a simple heartfelt prayer begging for a loved one's life offensive to people but the other is not. The Lord really began to open doors for me. I began meeting the editors at different Christian publishing houses like Karen Ball who at the time was at Tyndale and then later at Multnomah and Lisa Bergren at Waterbrook, and He just gently drew me in that direction. In 1997 he gave me a word that said, "Now's the time," and that's when I made the change.

The Forgiving Hour is an incredible story of how God's forgiveness can transform people's lives and situations.  What theme have you concentrated on in Whispers from Yesterday In Whispers from Yesterday I really had two things in mind. 1) The theme that we were born—each of us—for such a time as this. Whenever we were born, that's our time. God has a plan for us and he has a plan for us wherever we are, no matter how important or how lowly we think we are. God has a plan and this is our time. It's not an accident. The other thing was I really wanted to show through Esther and the book of Esther in the Bible what do you have to give up for Christ. What are you willing to give up for Christ? It should be everything.

Explain how the idea for incorporating Esther's World War II diaries into the story developed.  You know the creative process is such a mystery to me I'm not sure that I can, other than to say that one day I just woke up with the idea. I'm not a real analytical person with my creativity. I just allow God to use it as he sees fit. I know that doesn't really answer your question. I would describe myself as a "writing from the gut" writer. I don't do a lot of synopsis or outlining, I sort of write from the seat of my pants and see where the Lord takes me. That's what happened with both Whispers from Yesterday and The Forgiving Hour.

Your novels powerfully illustrate God's promises and character. Have you heard from readers regarding how your stories have impacted their lives or their walk with the Lord?Oh, yes. The Forgiving Hour has been out the longest so I've gotten the most mail about it. I've gotten some very heart-wrenching stories. That has been a book that has caused readers to write me their own personal stories in ways that has never happened before. I've often received letters from people who have said my book has restored their faith in God. I've had to go back and look because these were secular books, so I realized that God can use anything. Of course my own personal beliefs work their way into my books, although they were not as overt as they can be in the Christian market. The Lord has really been using The Forgiving Hour to heal people who then write me with their stories. I immediately at the beginning, because I could see what was going to happen with this book, started a practice of putting the letters I received into a prayer basket which I keep in my office. I pray over these letters every Friday. When I get an envelope that is thick, that has 3 or 4 pages, I just reach for my box of tissues because I know it's going to be a heartbreaking experience.

It must be really gratifying to know that your work is really touching and impacting people's lives.  It's awesome! Very early in February after the book first came out, I got an e-mail from a woman who is a reviewer for an internet site. She had read the book and she said that she'd been a Christian for many years but had not read her Bible or been to church for a long time. She said that this book caused her to realize that she needed to start living for God and not for man and, number two, that it had caused her to open her Bible for the first time in many years. I sat at the computer and I just wept. I kept thinking, "he's using me, he's using me." I still can't grasp it because when I'm writing the book, I'm just writing the book. It's the talent God gave me but I guess I don't see the forest for the trees. So the process for writing Whispers from Yesterday and The Forgiving Hour is no different than when I've written any of my novels. It's just the creative ability that God gave me. I saw the miracle of how he can take this imperfect person—me—and use my writing to touch lives.

Do you have any new books in the works?  I'm working right now on my third book from Waterbrook called The Shepherd's Voice. It's set in the Depression era. The focus—which seems to be a recurring theme in all my books—is forgiveness. I'm exploring two themes in this book. Number one, I think it is very easy to forgive yourself for the sins you committed before you came to Christ, but not the sins you've committed after you became a Christian.  Many of us—myself included—have gone through a time of rebellion, whether we recognized it or not. I think when we return to a closer relationship with the Lord, it may even be easy to accept his forgiveness, but forgiving ourselves for making such a poor choice is harder. I came to realize that to not forgive myself was to give the enemy the victory instead of giving Christ the victory. So I'm exploring that issue. Then the other is I think there are Christians who go through most of their Christian lives and never really recognize God speaking to them. The Word says that the sheep know the Shepherd's voice. I think the church is full of people who trust everyone else to hear God and tell them rather than learning to hear him for themselves. So that's the second issue I'm exploring in this book. 

You are very active on behalf of literacy. Can you share with us about some of your involvement in this area?  My involvement began back in 1989 when I organized the first fund raiser within RWA (Romance Writers of America) to raise money for literacy. The first year was sort of a year of discovery, finding what we wanted to do and how we wanted to do it. The next year I researched the different literacy groups in America and came to really believe that Laubach Literacy International was just a really superior organization because so much of the money they raise goes directly to literacy and not to running the organization. I made it my point to involve Laubach Literacy with RWA. Then I became RWA's first national literacy chairperson. My main involvement has been on the speaking side, but also to help be the fundraiser because so many funds are needed. People don't realize what a horrible problem it is in America. I grew up loving to read and I grew up in a reading home. I went off to the very first day of 1st grade expecting to learn to read and when they didn't teach me to read that day I told my mother there was no point in continuing, because all I wanted to do was read. I've always had a love for the written word. The idea that I couldn't read a book for enjoyment or couldn't read instructions on a medicine bottle or warnings on a street sign is really a horrible thing in my mind. We don't realize how many give their children wrong medication or drive seemingly recklessly, but it's because they cannot read. What was really an eye opener for me was discovering that there are people who cannot read who are executives in major corporations. They are so intelligent that they learn other ways to cover up their illiteracy. These are not stupid people; they just have not learned to read.

What do you hope to accomplish through your writing? When the Lord gave me a word, he used Ephesians 2:10. That yes, I was to make a drastic and complete change and write for him. His final word to me, what he asked of me, was to be sold out. That's what I want to be for the rest of my life—sold out for him. So my goal for every one of my books from now on would be to always point to him. Life on earth is not about us it's about him. That's what I want ultimately to have in my writing.

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