For Lexington-based author Victoria Bylin, creating stories with a mix of faith and romance comes naturally.
"I can't imagine writing a book that doesn't combine them," she said.
In May, Bylin's her first contemporary faith-based romance novel, Until I Found You (Bethany House Publishers, $13.99), was released. Another novel, Together With You (Bethany House, $11.70) will be the second in the thematic trilogy and is scheduled to hit stores in April.
Bylin, a California native, moved to Lexington in 2009 to be closer to her in-laws and her youngest son, who was attending the University of Kentucky at the time.
Writing about present-day culture is a new undertaking for Bylin, who has a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Berkeley. Her previous eight books were love-inspired historical westerns. She also has written six Harlequin Historicals, which are meant for mature audiences.
"I really enjoyed writing westerns, but I felt limited in a way," Bylin said. "I wanted to write a more complex story where I could really address the character's spiritual journey."
Her own spiritual journey has had its ups and downs. She remembers feeling lonely and lost during the late 1970s.
"I just really became aware of the difficult world situation," she said. "I'm looking around and thinking, 'Oh, my goodness. Is this all there is?'"
She skeptically turned to God for help. Like a true romantic, she thinks God responded when a man on a motorcycle, who shared her newfound love for the Bible, appeared in her life.
Bylin and the man who later became her husband dated six weeks before getting married and have been together for more than 30 years.
Her views about dating are fairly conservative.
"Today we've got people always partying, dating, breaking up and getting their hearts broken," she said. "I wanted to explore some of the consequences of this modern dating culture. I want to encourage faith-based relationships with my writing."
Bylin thinks she saw some of those consequences firsthand when she was working in the office of a gynecologist. She said she watched countless women deeply affected by news of an unwanted pregnancy.
"I'm not trying to wave any flags or stand on any soapboxes," she said. "I just want my writing to explore what happens when a 'for now' kind of relationship has a 'forever' consequence."
Along with romance and God, all of Bylin's books have at least one of what she calls the three R's: redemption, restoration and rebirth. Until I Found You, she said, is very much a story of redemption.
It's the story of the intertwined journeys of Kate Darby and Nick Sheridan. Kate, a career-driven woman taking care of her sick grandmother, is skeptical of God's existence. When she finds herself teetering on the edge of a cliff after swerving to avoid a bird, Nick comes to her rescue.
Nick, a man with a wild past full of some questionable choices, is a new Christian and has a habit of making spontaneous decisions, including a vow to not date for a year. It becomes more and more difficult to keep that vow as he and Kate fall in love and grow together in faith.
Bylin finds inspiration for her writing in many places. Her imagination is often sparked on Sundays when she attends CenterPointe Christian Church, to which she was drawn because of its book club, which reads all genres of Christian fiction.
"For me, writing is an opportunity to kind of put flesh and blood on the Bible," Bylin said. "I can take ideas from the Bible and put the characters in different situations so that they're really living out these spiritual concepts."
Her books have been recognized by several organizations. She was a finalist for the 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Carol Award (for the best Christian fiction published by traditional publishing houses in the previous calendar year) for historical novella, for her book Home Again. The Maverick Preacher was a finalist for the 2009 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award.
"Writers tend to bleed on the page. You put your heart and soul into something and you face rejection, so it's a risky thing to do," she said. "It takes an element of faith to just say, 'God, here it is.''
Though most of Bylin's characters are culminations of characteristics she sees in different people, there is one person in her life who continues to make an appearance in all of her books.
"I have to say that my husband is my hero," she said, "and these wonderful men I write about who work so hard and love their children; they're all based on him."