What’s so Christian about the stories of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters? For Julie Klassen, author of The Girl in the Gatehouse (Bethany House, 2011) and The Silent Governess (Bethany House, 2010), it wasn’t that the books that drew her to write Regency-era Christian romances were overtly religious, but that they were Christian in worldview.
“I think this period is a great fit for Christian fiction because it was a time when people, by and large, revered God and church, valued virtue, and endeavored to follow the rules of polite society,” Klassen says. “It was also a time when chivalry was alive and well, and physical contact between unmarried ladies and gentlemen was limited to the chaste touching of hands during a courtly dance at a grand ball. I find it a very romantic time.”
Along the way, Klassen, a Minnesota resident, has racked up not only top sales, but also top honors, including three Christy Awards for historical romance. In early January, Bethany House released The Tutor’s Daughter, Klassen’s sixth book.
The story—about a love triangle between a schoolmaster’s daughter and two nobly born brothers—is set in Cornwall, on the Celtic coast of southwest England. Klassen was inspired by a visit to the area. “We’ve only been [to England] twice, but both times I’ve come home with story ideas as well as all those delicious accents still echoing in my ears, and lovely landscapes lingering in my mind,” Klassen says. “During both trips, we attended church services, and worshipping with fellow believers in those beautiful, ancient churches cannot help but inspire anyone, especially this American who still gapes to think of celebrating Easter in a church from the 1100s.”
But what most influences her writing is the 16 years she spent in the publishing industry, much of it as a Bethany House editor. “I learned a great deal about crafting a full-length novel,” she says. “I learned that no one writes a perfect first draft, and since it’s nearly impossible to be objective about your own work, everybody needs an editor. Fortunately, I already knew from working as an editor, that all authors—from the debut to the bestseller—receive editorial feedback. I have learned to value my editor’s input. I know she is only trying to help make my books the best they can be.”
Noelle Buss, fiction publicist at Bethany House, says Klassen’s dedication to the Regency romance makes her a pioneer in Christian fiction, where most stories are set in the U.S., and is among the reasons she ranks as one of the house’s top five Christian fiction authors. “She has had great sales growth and done that rapidly and is holding strong and continuing to grow,” Buss says. “We see her as a long-term investment, someone who could be a core author for this market and someone who people will think of then they think of Christian fiction.”
Klassen remains committed to the category. “I think readers enjoy a chance to ‘travel’ to another world, a romantic time and place where women were ladylike and men strove to be gentlemen in every dashing, chivalrous sense of the word,” she says. “They also like that the books affirm their faith and are ‘clean,’ without explicit content to worry about so they can relax and enjoy reading them.”
Klassen’s next book—a Regency-era romance—is due from Bethany in December.