Bonnie S. Calhoun

Bonnie S. Calhoun is the Founder and Publisher of Christian Fiction Online Magazine . She is also the Owner and Director of the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance which is the parent organization for the magazine.

In addition to her passion for spreading the word about Christian fiction, Bonnie is also an author of snarky suspense. Her novel Cooking The Books (A Sloane Templeton Novel) will release from Abingdon Press in April 2012. It is presently available for digital e-reader download if you are a book reviewer. Go to, Abingdon Press as the publisher.

Exploring Christian Fiction with Special Needs Characters

Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Jennifer Hudson TaylorAuthors write from their imaginations, but sometimes real-life experiences sneak into our stories. That’s what happened when I began plotting my newest novel, Highland Sanctuary. It doesn’t matter that my characters are living in fifteenth-century Scotland, human nature is still the same and so are their challenges.

My heroine has a seizure disorder just like my daughter. The opening scene is much like my daughter’s birth experience. I wept as I wrote it, originally seven pages longer. Writing it was a healing balm for me, but then I had to cut the personal things that didn’t belong in the story to truly make it my character’s story. Highland Sanctuary is unique in that it not only has my heroine with her seizure disorder but a whole Village of Outcasts with a variety of special needs.

Highland SanctuaryWhen I discovered that Highland Sanctuary would release in October, also National Sensory Awareness Month and Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight other Christian fiction titles that have characters with special needs. Also in October, I’ll be hosting several parents on my blog who will share their personal stories of challenge and triumph to encourage others. Authors Maureen Lang and Liz Curtis Higgs were kind enough to let me interview them about two great novels they have written.

Interview with Author Maureen Lang

When I read your book On Sparrow Hill, I was intrigued by how you wove a contemporary plot with an historical plot, showing the difficulty of running a school for special needs children in the 1800s. What were some of your most startling discoveries in your research for this novel?

I was intrigued to learn that such words as lunatic and imbecile were legal terms. Nowadays they’re so obviously used as insults, but it’s a good example of how changeable the English language is. A word begins with one meaning but gradually drifts into a whole new arena, simply by the way it’s used. It’s happening today as well with retardation. Too many people started using retard as an insult, so now that word, too, has been hijacked. I was also surprised to learn that before this age of Victorian philanthropy that “poor farms” were institutions where most social undesirables were sent. The mentally handicapped were thrown right alongside those who were put away for nonpayment of bills.

How did you get the idea for this story? I’ve read hundreds of books, but I don’t remember them all. This one I won’t forget.

On Sparrow HillThe original idea from this story came from one of the characters in The Oak Leaves, which is the novel that precedes On Sparrow Hill. Berri, my historical heroine, was one of those characters I just didn’t want to let go, and she had the right kind of heart—and the opportunity—to want to help the “gentle feebleminded” of her day. Once I started researching how some of the schools for handicapped children were developed during that era, the book seemed to take off on its own.

Tell us about your son and the unique challenges you’ve faced as a parent of a special needs child and how it has impacted your writing.

He’s opened my eyes to a whole new community filled with many wonderful people who have survived so much. My son was diagnosed with Fragile X syndrome when he was seventeen months old. It’s a spectrum disorder because many Fragile Xers are quite high-functioning. My son is low-functioning, on the profoundly disabled end. He’ll be sixteen in a couple of months but has basically plateaued at around age two developmentally—he has limited language, is not potty trained, has trouble on stairs, and has balance issues just like many two-year-olds.

He smiles more than anyone I know. If he’s tired while we’re shopping, he’ll just sit down—anywhere. But eventually after much coaxing he’ll get up again and we can be on our way. He doesn’t get upset; he just sits. It’s a lesson in patience for me and just a little self-imposed time-out for him. If the disability community has taught me anything, it’s to learn how to be flexible! I like to think that being the mom to a special needs child has deepened my general experience in life, given me a slightly broader perspective, perhaps (at least at times) given me more compassion and patience. I hope this shows in some of my characters, because I’ve always believed writers who have personal challenges are better writers because of those challenges.

Interview with Author Liz Curtis Higgs

How did you come up with the story idea of Grace in Thine Eyes?

My first three Scottish historical novels—Thorn in My Heart, Fair Is the Rose, and Whence Came a Prince—were based on the biblical stories of Jacob, Leah, and Rachel, drawn from Genesis 25—35. Because I truncated twenty years of history into a two-year time span, I omitted Genesis 34, the account of Jacob and Leah’s daughter, Dinah—a dramatic story of lost innocence, violent revenge, and a desperate search for redemption. In the biblical story, Dinah never speaks, nor do we see things from her viewpoint. So in my Scottish version, Davina McKie has no voice because of a childhood accident involving her brothers.

In writing an historical novel with a mute heroine, what were your unique challenges?

Grace In Thine EyesGrace in Thine Eyes is set in 1808, the same year the Abbé Sicard at the National Institution for Deaf-Mutes in France compiled a two-volume dictionary of hand signs. For Davina, living in the wilds of the Scottish Lowlands, I created a language of her own. Among her many gestures, touching her forehead meant “I know, I understand.” Touching her heart indicated “I care, I feel.” Both palms up said “Tell me more. What do you mean?” And a hand over her eyes meant “I am sorry.” These and many other hand signs helped Davina’s family and friends understand her. As a talented musician, she communicated her feelings through her music, and as an amateur artist, she used her sketchbook to either write words or draw pictures to show what was on her mind. Of course, some of the major conflicts in the story come when others do not interpret her gestures correctly or choose to ignore them.

Did you ever worry it wouldn’t be believable or seem authentic?

Every moment of every writing day! I wanted her muteness to be part of who Davina was, but not the whole of her. How her family behaved around her was critical to the development of her character. Some relatives were overprotective, others less so. And I wanted Davina to be strong and courageous, an independent young woman of seventeen who didn’t feel sorry for herself and pressed on with life. At one point I considered bringing a physician into the story who could reverse the damage to Davina’s vocal cords and restore her voice. But Davina was adamant that I not do so (you know how characters can be!), assuring me she was a whole person who was perfectly capable of expressing herself.

Authors have hopes and messages for our novels. What is one unexpected blessing as a result of Grace in Thine Eyes?

The biblical parallel is meant to be fairly subtle. It’s not announced on the book cover or in the front matter of the book, since my hope is that readers who don’t know the Lord or His Word might be drawn to Him while reading my novels. So the unexpected (but prayed for!) blessings come when readers move forward in their faith. Among the encouraging comments I received for Grace in Thine Eyes were: “Thank you for challenging me to dig deeper in His Word”; “I got a clearer picture of what unconditional love looks like–lived out”; “The thing that I did not expect to get from reading this book was a softened heart.” The Lord is so kind to give us these glimpses of his Spirit at work in the lives of our readers!

More Christian fiction with special needs characters:

A Touch of Grace by Lauraine Snelling (Deafness)
Grace in Thine Eyes by Liz Curtis Higgs (Deafness)
On Sparrow Hill by Maureen Lang (many types of special needs)
Unlocked by Karen Kingsbury (Autism)
When the Snow Flies by Laurie Alice Eakes (Blindness)
The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund (Blindness)
Double Vision by Randy Ingermanson (Asperger)
Another Dawn, Kathryn Cushman (Autism)
Sadie’s Hero by Margaret Daly (Down Syndrome)
Second Chance Family by Margaret Daly (Autism)
The Power of Love by Margaret Daly (Down Syndrome)
So Dark the Night by Margaret Daly (Blindness)
Light in the Storm by Margaret Daly (Learning Disability)
Tidings of Joy by Margaret Daly (Physical Disability, Bipolar)
What the Heart Knows by Margaret Daly (Schizophrenia)
A Daughter for Christmas by Margaret Daly (ADD)
The Curse of Captain LaFoote by Eddie Jones (Epilepsy)
Courting the Doctor’s Daughter by Janet Dean (Learning Disability)
Love Finds You in Bridal Veil, Oregon by Miralee Ferrell (Learning Disability)
John’s Quest by Cecelia Dowdy (Blindness)
Rain Song by Alice J. Wisler (Autism)
How Sweet It Is by Alice J. Wisler (Mentally Disadvantaged)
Redeeming the Rogue by Cynthia Chase (Down Syndrome)
Beyond the Night by Marlo Shalesky (Blindness)
Shades of Morning by Marlo Shalesky (Down Syndrome)
Finding Alice by Melody Carson (Schizophrenia)
White Doves by Shannon Vannetter (Paraplegic)
The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson (Cerebral Palsy)
A Month of Summer by Lisa Wingate (Mentally Challenged)
The Summer Kitchen by Lisa Wingate (Mentally Challenged)
Highland Blessings by Jennifer Hudson Taylor (Deafness)
Highland Sanctuary by Jennifer Hudson Taylor (Seizure and a village of outcasts because of their various special needs.)


Jennifer Hudson Taylor is an award winning author of historical Christian fiction set in Europe and the Carolinas and a speaker on topics of faith, writing and publishing. Her work has appeared in national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, Romantic Times Book Reviews, and The Military Trader. She serves as the in-house Publicist at Hartline Literary Agency. Jennifer graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Journalism. When she isn't writing, she enjoys spending time with family, long walks, traveling, touring historical sites, hanging out at bookstores with coffee shops, genealogy, and reading.