“Cell memory is really true,” says Colleen Coble, whose new book, Seagrass Pier (Thomas Nelson, July), features Elin Summerall, a heart transplant recipient who has violent flashbacks she soon realizes are memories of her donor’s murder. Coble has experience with the phenomenon: “A friend had a transplant and aspects of her personality changed from that moment.”
Seagrass Pier, the second book in her Hope Beach series, pits Elin against a stalker who wants to put a permanent end to her flashbacks. Though others discount her story, Marc Everton, an FBI agent on leave who doesn’t know he’s the father of Elin’s daughter, believes her.
The book is a return for Coble to contemporary Christian fiction, which she says is her real love, and a sign of how much Christian fiction has evolved in the past five years. The early days of prairie stories and perfect characters are over, Coble says. “There is a huge ability [now] in Christian fiction to write imperfect characters, to write about all of us. There really is no forbidden topic; we don’t have to shy away from anything.”
In fact, anything readers see in general market publishing they’ll also see in Christian publishing. “Christian fiction is well written, but the books have a hopeful feeling instead of a dark feeling,” she says. “I get letters all the time from people who say they didn’t know there were such good stories out there that are also clean reads.” She adds, “My books aren’t preachy, but as a fiction writer I can bring in spiritual elements when characters deal with events as followers of Jesus.”
Publishing also has evolved in the past few years, Coble says, citing a big push toward custom publishing, even for established authors. “If you had told me a year ago that there would be so many Christian authors moving toward custom publishing, I wouldn’t have believed you. But now so many are.”
American Christian Fiction Writers, of which Coble is president, is teaching more about custom publishing—which they define as a step up from self-publishing, for books with a professional cover, page design, editing, distribution, and a marketing plan--at its yearly conference and through smaller gatherings of ACFW members. Says Coble, “We can’t ignore the elephant in the room.”
Of the Hope Beach series, she says, “I love exploring family dynamics, and I go deeper and deeper in the series. There is no perfect family, but we grow together and family dictates who you are. I love secrets, and when secrets come out it’s fun to see how the characters react.”
Now she is finishing The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, the first book in the Shadow Bay series, set in Maine. “This has probably been the most fun to write because the family secrets coming out are shocking,” she says. “I find that one thing that gives me a little shiver and put it in the book [at a different point], which I learned from James Scott Bell’s book Write from the Middle.” This time Coble makes the “big reveals” midway through the story. “Here I am with over 50 books under my belt and I’m trying something new and wild,” she says.
Coble is also well known for her popular historical fiction (the Under Texas Stars series, Mercy Falls series, Butterfly Palace), and it is a genre she may yet return to. “I’m not saying I won’t write historical fiction ever again, because I may come across a story that must be told.”