When I was first introduced to the book Arms of Love by Carmen Marcoux, I’m embarrassed to admit that my initial reaction was, “A Catholic novel about modern day courtship? What a cheesy idea! Who would read this?”
Carmen’s novel sat on my bookshelf for over a year before I picked it up on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Several hours and a few hundred pages later, I put down a book that had revolutionized my perspective on dating and relationships. Rarely have I been so wrong in judging a book by its cover and title. And rarely have I been so inspired by a novel.
Arms of Love, the debut novel from Canadian author Carmen Marcoux, chronicles the relationship and spiritual journeys of Joanie Collins and Brandon Vaughn, a young couple from drastically different backgrounds who discover, with God’s grace, the happiness and joy that comes from conducting a romantic relationship according to God’s standards. Sure, this book is part romance novel and part fairy tale. But ultimately it is a story filled with hope, healing, and the life-changing message that true love and happiness — in a relationship and in marriage — are found down a much different path than the one our society lays out for us.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with novelist Carmen Marcoux and talk to her about the message and impact of her book, Arms of Love:
Carmen, thank you for taking the time to talk with me about your book. First tell me a little bit about yourself and your family.
Sure, I’m from Saskatoon, Canada, and I’ve been married to my husband Jim for 19 years. We have seven children and are now expecting our eighth child. We also homeschool our children, so there’s never a dull moment around the Marcoux household.
I know you’ve been writing and speaking on the topics of purity and relationships for many years. How did you first get involved in spreading this message to Catholic singles?
Well, our ministry really grew out of my book Arms of Love, which is a Catholic romance novel about courtship. Once the book was released, people started inviting me to come and speak on courtship and chastity, and we also started an annual Purity Rally here in Canada where we spread the message of chastity and courtship with teens and young adults.
You mentioned the word “courtship” and to some of our readers that term is going to be a foreign concept, so explain what you mean by “courtship.”
Courtship is “dating with a purpose.” It is entering into a romantic relationship to discern whether or not God is calling you to marriage with this person. So it’s putting direction and boundaries into what the world calls a dating relationship.
Explain what you mean by “direction” and “boundaries.”
By “direction” I mean having a purpose for the relationship, which is to discern marriage. I think a lot of times a guy and a girl like each other and enter a dating relationship without any direction or thought-out plan of where they are headed. They are in the relationship to have fun or because they enjoy each other’s company, but they are mainly enjoying the moment and are unfortunately investing themselves emotionally, if not also physically, without a long term goal. Sadly that often leads to a lot of heartache and emotional baggage.
With courtship the relationship — from the start — includes an honest assessment of whether or not this relationship could lead to marriage, so it therefore has a direction and a thought-out purpose.
By “boundaries” I’m referring to setting limitations on the physical relationship — how you spend time together, where you spend time together, and how much time you spend alone together.
I think many singles get off the right path in their romantic relationship. They may start out with good intentions for themselves in the relationship, but they can kind of inch their way towards an impure relationship because they haven’t clearly defined prudent boundaries for themselves. So I look at courtship as the roadmap to living out chastity. And that’s physical chastity, but I also encourage setting emotional boundaries for ourselves in a relationship, because that’s an important part of who we are.
What inspired you to write your novel, Arms of Love?
Actually the original inspiration came from a very vivid dream I had. Over the course of the week the dream was constantly on my mind and the story grew, and by the end of the week I knew I had to tell the story. I originally started out to write it down as a short story to submit to a magazine or publication. In the end I realized I was writing a novel. I really felt called to write a Catholic novel promoting courtship for Catholics — within the fullness of the Catholic faith and all that the Faith has to offer.
Give us a brief overview of what the novel is about.
The novel is the story of a young couple who enter a courtship relationship. She is from a very solid Catholic background, and he has been living a very worldly lifestyle. So as he converts and comes into the Catholic faith there is this whole opportunity to see what the Church is teaching us — as the Church’s teachings are opened up before his eyes. So there is that element to the story. And then the novel tells this couple’s courtship story and we follow them as they go through the different stages of their courtship relationship, and see the struggles and ups and downs of living out chastity in a relationship in our modern day and age.
What kind of reactions and feedback are you receiving to Arms of Love?
I initially expected that single young women would really find a lot of appeal in the story, because it is a romance novel. But what I found right away is that the book is appealing to both girls and guys, and that men were really responding to the message in this book.
What I’m seeing in the response a lot of times is, first, the positive impact of an example and role model — in a modern setting — of a couple living out a pure relationship. And we don’t find that — we don’t turn on the TV and pick up books and magazines or go to the movies and see examples of a pure, holy, romantic relationship. So I think it’s so refreshing for singles — men and women alike — they’re really drawn to that.
I think there’s also this whole awareness that to live out a chaste relationship it must really be founded on a Christ-centered relationship. A lot of singles tell me that my book has transformed their relationship with Christ and opened them up to making Jesus the “number one” in their lives.
I also hear a lot of feedback with a really positive response to the whole idea of a courtship relationship. I think many singles have no idea what a courtship relationship would look like in a real-life setting, or maybe they have negative ideas about it, and when they see courtship played out in the lives of these characters, it has an appeal because it is romantic, and fun, and exciting, and they see all those dynamics in a real romantic relationship and realize that courtship isn’t just some old-fashioned idea, but it is really exciting and fresh and new.
How have your readers reacted to the idea of “courtship” after reading Arms of Love? Do you hear of couples deciding to practice courtship in their relationship after reading your book or hearing you speak?
Absolutely. Men and women alike. An 18-year-old girl recently told me that before she read the book she always had to have a boyfriend in her life. She told me that after she read the book she realized the only man she must have in her life right now is Jesus Christ, and that when the time is right, He will bring the right man to her. A 20-year-old young man was given a copy of Arms of Love and read it on a dare. He was a little hesitant at first, but he told me later that by the time he got part way into the book he was so caught up in the story that he was turning down invitations to go out with the guys, so he could stay home and finish the book! He wrote to me and shared how the story had totally transformed his view of relationships between guys and girls, especially the need to treat women with respect and dignity in a relationship. And time and time again I hear similar stories. Many of my readers have responded so enthusiastically to the idea of courtship and have written to me and described their desire to take the idea of courtship all the way in their own lives.
I also have a lot of people write and tell me “Carmen, I wasn’t leading a pure life in my relationships, but this book gave me the courage to know that I can start fresh and new again in Christ.” I have also received several wedding invitations from couples who tell me that they would never have met each other or gotten married if it wasn’t for how Arms of Love had transformed their idea of relationships and introduced them to courtship.
What are your plans for the future in terms of your writing? Is a sequel to Arms of Love in the works?
Yes, I’m in the early stages of writing the sequel. It will pick up on the lives of Brandon and Joanie, the main characters in Arms of Love, but it’s also going to pick up on the lives of Joanie’s younger siblings as they begin to discern their own vocations and God’s call on their lives. I think it’s going to be a really exciting sequel.
Stephanie is the coordinator of NextWave FaithfulTM, a youth and young adult division of Family Life Center International. She has been a frequent guest on several Catholic programs, including EWTN Radio's Faith & Family, which she currently co-hosts with her father, Steve Wood, and EWTN Television's Life on the Rock and The Journey Home.
Stephanie hosts the first worldwide radio show for Catholic youth, NextWave Live, which airs weekly on the EWTN Radio Network. She also writes a monthly e-Newsletter for teens and young adults. She can be reached at Stephanie@catholicmatch.com.
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