Author Interview: Melissa Storm

Today, we’re featuring Melissa Storm. She’s an author with a passion for creating characters about people who are underrepresented in the book world and real-world society. Her newest release, Love’s Promise, is the focus of today’s interview feature.

About the book:

Kristina Rose Maher wants to know why fairytales never happen for fat girls. Certain that diner cook Jeff, handsome and fit, will never want her as more than a friend, she stuffs down her attraction to him. But when she finds herself facing a life-altering weight loss surgery, she discovers she’s willing to do whatever it takes to embrace life—and love—to the fullest.

Jeffrey Berkley can’t bear the thought of losing the friend he’s only just beginning to realize matters so much to him… no matter what size she is. But he is also terrified that helping her reach for her dreams will also mean finally reaching for his own—and letting down his family’s legacy in the process.

Both Kristina Rose and Jeffrey must learn to love themselves before they can find a way to make a promise to each other. Will they finally be able to lay their heavy burdens at the Lord’s feet, and trust him to bring the happily-ever-after they both crave?

Don’t miss this sweet tale of faith, love, and gastric bypass–get your copy of Love’s Promise today!

Purchase the book: Amazon, B&N, Kobo

Author bio: Melissa Storm is a mother first, and everything else second. Her fiction is highly personal and often based on true stories. Writing is Melissa’s way of showing her daughter just how beautiful life can be, when you pay attention to the everyday wonders that surround us.

Melissa loves books so much, she married fellow author Falcon Storm. Between the two of them, there are always plenty of imaginative, awe-inspiring stories to share. When she’s not reading, writing, or child-rearing, Melissa spends time relaxing at home in the company of her four dogs, four parrots, and rescue cat. She never misses an episode of The Bachelor or her nightly lavender-infused soak in the tub. Because priorities.

The Interview:

Alexis: Why did you write this book?

Melissa: Love’s Promise is deeply personal for me. I don’t think I’ve ever written as much of myself into a character as I did Kristina Rose. As a former gastric bypass patient and someone who has struggled with body image issues my whole life (and still does), I wanted to write a romance that was every bit as much about self-love as romantic love.

Alexis: What’s the special meaning behind your title, Love’s Promise?

Melissa: Love’s Promise is about the promise we must make to ourselves, and how when you start respecting your commitments to your own life you can truly unlock a better and happier world!

Alexis: The heroine in your story, Kristina Rose Maher, desires to know “why fairytales never happen for fat girls.” Talk about the reasons why she believes that to be true. Share her personal journey.

Melissa: Kristina Rose lives in the same small Texas town she grew up in. All her friends are thin and fair. As the only overweight woman in her friend group and one of the few racial minorities in the town, she’s kind of written off the chances of ever having her own love story. She develops feelings for a long-time friend but thinks he would never, could never want her in return.

Alexis: Jeffrey Berkley is the hero of your story. Describe his looks, personality, character flaws and passion for his work as a diner cook.

Melissa: Jeffrey is handsome and fit. He likes to take long runs with his Newfie, Toto, and loves preparing healthy, creative meals. His main flaw is that he never considers what he wants and lives his life by trying to please others. In this way, despite their physical differences, Kristina Rose and Jeffrey face the same struggles of not really loving themselves. They take the journey toward self-acceptance together even though they start at very different points.

Alexis: Why does Kristina think that her being fat equates to the “fact” that Jeffrey will never love her more than a friend?

Melissa: Like so many women, Kristina Rose can’t see her own beauty and therefore assumes others can’t see it either. I think that’s a problem most of us face whether we find ourselves too fat, too thin, too anything. It’s like we reject ourselves before others have the chance to do it for us.

Alexis: What is the turning point for Kristina?

Melissa: She has her first bout of dumping syndrome following her bypass surgery—imagine the most nausea you’ve ever felt and multiply it by 100. She blames herself even though it’s extremely common after surgery. Jeffrey comforts her and makes her promise that she’ll start treating herself the way she treats others, since she is on the same team as her body. It’s a struggle, but now that she realizes how unfair she so often is to herself, she begins to make progress in turning that attitude around.

Alexis: What does Jeffrey think of Kristina when he first meets her? What does Kristina think of Jeffrey?

Melissa: This is a friends-to-lovers story. Jeffrey and Kristina Rose have known each other since high school and been great friends ever since they both began working at the local diner. They’ve just always been there for each other, but don’t realize their friendship has turned to love until the prospect of possibly losing Kristina on the eve of her surgery makes Jeffrey realize how much he cares for her—and that’s much more than as a friend.

Alexis: What role does faith in God play in this story?

Melissa: The role of faith is huge, and the message really comes out when Kristina Rose attends the sermon of her best friend who is also the youth pastor of their church. Self-doubt is a form of fear, and ultimately both Kristina Rose and Jeffrey must learn to trust in God in order to also trust in themselves.

Alexis: As a White author, was it challenging for you to write about a hero and heroine who are both African-American? If so, describe the challenges. If no, explain why.

No, it really wasn’t. It gave me a chance to think about how the characters’ lens might differ from my own. But that’s what authors do with every single character they write. We have to become a different age, gender, personality, set of experiences each and every time—especially for deep point of view books like I write.

Alexis: Why are you passionate about telling Kristina and Jeffrey’s story?

Melissa: Because it’s one so many of us can relate to and hopefully find hope in. All my stories are about finding light in dark times, and the world needs that now just as much as ever.

Alexis: What advice do you have for White authors who want to write about characters of color (African American, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, etc.), but are not quite sure how to tell their story?

Melissa: Be authentic, period. Remember that no matter the background, each character is more defined by their unique personality and experiences than just their race, just their gender, just their creed. Develop the whole character. Be open to learning, and don’t resort to stereotypes. A character should be a three-dimensional being living in your two-dimensional world. Give your character life.

Alexis: You’re passionate about telling the stories of everyone, regardless of their race. Have you always been this way? If not, what was the inciting incident that set you on this hero’s journey?

Melissa: Yes, I have always been drawn to multicultural fiction both as a writer and a reader. I grew up in a poor, mostly non-White area, and for years was the only White girl around. I was bullied, teased, and didn’t have any friends until late in elementary school. I know how it feels to be outcast simply based on appearances and prejudices, and it sucks.

At the same time, all that time by myself and with my books in those formative years was amazing for my self growth and creativity. I don’t regret it as an adult, but I was an incredibly lonely child—and that’s still having been a member of America’s dominant society. I still saw myself represented on TV, in magazines and books. I can’t imagine how isolating it must be to feel alone on all levels, especially for a child.

More recently in life… My first husband came from India. We were together for eight years, and for eight years I lived and breathed that culture. As such, Hindu culture makes it into my stories most often, but I also enjoy exploring characters from other walks of like too.

Currently, my wonderful soulmate (second) husband and I are in the process of adopting a child—or possibly children—from Bulgaria. They are of Romani descent, a culture which has been discriminated against widely throughout history. The Romani children are frequently adopted to America, because the rampant racism in Europe makes it difficult to find homes there. We are enjoying learning about their beautiful culture and their shared history with the Jewish people of Europe, and we are also teaching our three-year-old daughter as we learn.

I simply cannot image a life without full color. Our differences make us unique, and they make life exciting!

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Melissa! Would you like to share any closing thoughts?

Melissa: Thank you for the thoughtful interview questions, Alexis. I am so pleased that I am able to bring this story into the world and hopefully help others who struggle with the same self-esteem issues I faced growing up and even as an adult. Fiction entertains, yes, but I also hope mine means something special to those who read it.

~*~

Connect with Melissa:

Website ~ www.MelStorm.com

Facebook ~ www.Facebook.com/MeetTheStorms

Instagram ~ www.Instagram.com/MeetTheStorms

Pinterest ~ www.Pinterest.com/MelStormAuthor

Twitter ~ www.Twitter.com/MelStormAuthor

YouTube ~ www.MelStorm.com/YouTube

~*~

Links for Love’s Promise:

Book Trailer ~ https://youtu.be/qBLm9Im_vsk

Read the First 3 Chapters ~ http://www.melstorm.com/SpecialPreview

Author Interview with Terri J. Haynes

Welcome to Monday’s author interview. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing one of our very own contributors: Terri J. Haynes!


~ About the Author ~

Terri HaynesTerri J. Haynes, a native Baltimorean, is a homeschool mom, writer, prolific knitter, freelance graphic artist and former Army wife (left the Army, not the husband). She loves to read, so much that when she was in elementary school, she masterminded a plan to be locked in a public library armed with only a flashlight to read all the books and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As she grew, her love for writing grew as she tried her hand at poetry, articles, speeches and fiction. She is storyteller at heart. Her passion is to draw readers in the story world she has created and to bring laughter and joy to their lives.

Terri is a 2010 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest finalist, and a 2012 semi-finalist. She is also a 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist. Her publishing credits include Cup of Comfort for Military Families, Crosswalk.com, the Secret Place Devotional, Vista Devotional, Urbanfaith.com and Publisher’s Weekly.

Terri holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Theology, a Master’s degree in Theological Studies and a certificate in creative writing and graphic design, meeting the minimal requirements of being a geek. She and her husband pastor a church where she serves as executive pastor and worship leader. Terri lives in Maryland with her three wonderful children and her husband, who often beg her not to kill of their favorite characters.

Connect with Terri:  Website  //  Facebook  //  Twitter


~ About the Book ~

Special Agent Will Anderson is counting the days before he transfers from the D.C. Human Rights squad of the FBI, but he’s leaving behind everyone he loves. He is asked to interview a victim of suspected human trafficking, a simple task, but finds himself deeply involved in the case. Social rights activist, Savannah Elliott, has made a fresh start in Washington, D.C., but a routine consultation on a D.C. Human Rights case brings her face to face with a terror from her past. As Will and Savannah struggle to solve the case, they are forced to face choices, some they’ve buried for years. Will their decisions, past and present, bring them love and safety or will they lose everything, including their lives?

Amazon  //  Goodreads


~ Interview ~

KATIE:  Well, I suppose I can’t really say ‘Welcome to the blog’, since you’re one of our contributors, but thanks for letting me interview you, Terri. If I can just go back to your bio for a moment, homeschool mum (sorry—mom!), executive pastor, worship leader, freelance graphic designer, prolific knitter… That’s a lot of balls to juggle! How do you carve out writing time in the midst of all that?

TERRI: My secret is scheduling writing time. Because I am so busy, there is no carving out time. If I waited until I was free to write, it would never get done. My prime writing time is 9-10 pm and sometimes later. I also strive to make the most of every minute of my time. For instance, I live in DC metro, the land of traffic. So instead of just sitting in my car for an hour or more, I go to my local Panera and use that time to write until the traffic dies down. I also work in spurts. I have plotted two story ideas in one weekend. When I get into the zone like that, I find that I can get quite a bit done.

KATIE: Sounds like a smart move! I hate rush hour, and I’m sure my little home city has nothing like the traffic in DC metro. Your first full-length novel, Love Simplified, features a professional matchmaker who ends up with on a reality TV show, while Captured delves into human rights and trafficking. They’re pretty divergent topics! Where do you get your inspiration for your stories?

TERRI: My ideas come from all over the place. The world is full of ideas. Captured was inspired by a news story. I got the idea for Love Simplified from a television show about a relationship specialist. I have an extremely active imagination, and I think I could turn anything into a story. I have notebooks full of ideas, some of them sparked from the littlest things. I guess that means I will never be without book ideas.

KATIE: Lucky you! Unless they’re all clamouring to be written at once, I suppose! So is there a particular genre that you feel most at home in, either reading or writing?

TERRI: I am all over the place in both areas. I work in a bookstore, so I try to read broadly. My personal goal is to have a book recommendation in every genre. But if I had to narrow it down, I read more YA and historical. I’ve recently added culturally diverse sci-fi. I read a great Middle Eastern dystopian novel and a sci-fi short story by a Nigerian author. As far as writing, I lean towards romantic suspense and contemporary romance, but I have several historical, YA, and sci-fi ideas floating around in my head.

KATIE: I’m a bit of a genre-hopper myself, and I love your aim of having a book recommendation in every genre! Talking specifically about Captured for a moment, both of the main characters in this novel come from non-Caucasian backgrounds. What is their ethnicity, and how did that shape your characters?

TERRI: Both of my characters are black (it is my personal preference to be referred to as black). (KATIE: Good to know! I don’t know about others, but I’m never 100% sure of the best term to use.) It’s hard for me to think about how their ethnicity shaped them because they just are. In the past, I had editors, other writers, and readers tell me that the characters in Captured weren’t black enough. I still don’t understand what that means. There are many shades of brown in the world. I do believe that when there are black characters in a book, there is an expectation for them to be urban. Will and Savannah are professionals, just like I am and many other black people are. Yes, there some urban characters in the book, but race wasn’t the driving factor. I wanted to tell a story where anyone from any racial background could identify with the story. I wanted them to identify with Will’s desire to have something he couldn’t and Savannah’s desire to be free from her past. Those things happen to every culture, every race, and all people. It is a universal story. Captured isn’t a race story. It’s a people story.

KATIE: Great answer! And isn’t that the aim of all good literature? To find those elements that are universal to humankind and explore them in unique settings and situations? So, aside from an enjoyable reading experience, what do you hope readers will take away from Captured?

TERRI: The core message of Captured is to pay attention. Human trafficking is a serious problem in the US. But one has to wonder how traffickers can operate in the world unseen. I believe that, culturally, our focus is on ourselves. Very often, people are hurting and heartbroken all around us, but we are so self-centred that we don’t see it. And when we do see it, we don’t do anything about it. This behaviour is especially disturbing when it involves believers. There are many needs in this world that only Christ can fix. But how will that happen if Christ followers don’t have the awareness or the compassion to change the world? And I’m not only talking about the starving children halfway across the world. I’m talking about the hungry children right in our neighbourhoods and churches. Not only the marginalized and oppressed around the world but what about the people in our workplaces, our classmates or fellow church members? Do we see them? We should, because they are all around us. The scriptures say Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw Israel scattered, hopeless, and without a shepherd. We, His people, should also be so moved.

KATIE: So true! It’s so easy to get caught up in the busyness of our own lives, but imagine what an impact we could have if we all committed to being more aware of those in need around us. That’s a great message.

Let’s lighten thing up a little to finish: If you could visit any place in the world, where would you go?

TERRI: I’ve travelled a bit in my life, so I’ve seen some great places in the world like the Caribbean and Western Europe. I really loved Germany and St. Thomas.  But I would love to go to Italy, rent a villa, and eat as much great Italian food as I could handle.

KATIE: Oh yes! Pretty much anywhere in Europe would be A-okay with me! If you could assign one household task to the fairies forever, which one would it be?

TERRI: Cooking! I can cook but dislike cooking with a passion. I would rather clean bathrooms than cook. Besides, bleach and I are great friends.

KATIE: Hmm. Well, I’ll certainly let you keep the bleach. I’d definitely take the cooking! If you were a musical instrument, what would you be?

TERRI: As a singer, I consider myself an instrument. And I don’t think I would want to be another because my instrument, my voice, is always with me. I don’t have to lug around equipment. As long as I have a song in my heart, I have music.

KATIE: Beautiful! Isn’t singing a wonderful gift from our Creator? (And as a singer myself, I really should have thought of that! Lol!) What’s next for Terri J. Haynes, fiction author?

TERRI: Taking over the world. Just kidding. I’m not even sure I would want it once I took it over. My goal is to finish two manuscripts this year. I’ve finished one and am currently plotting another. I am also planning to another Brea Sutton novella to release later this year.

KATIE: Hahahaha! I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t want the responsibility of this world on my shoulders either. But it sounds like you’re on track with your writing goals! Thanks for chatting with me today, and God bless. 🙂


Interview by Katie Donovan

Author Interview: April W. Gardner

Happy Monday, y’all! Wait to you see who’s chatting with us today! That’s right, April W. Gardner, historical romance author. She’s going to be talking about her novel, The Red Feather. Be sure to check out her other books on the Diverse Books recommendation page AND Beth Erin will be sharing her review of The Red Feather, later this week. Let’s get started!


About the Book

theredfeatherOn a moonless night in 1813, Adela McGirth encounters a set of wolves and the steely eyed warrior who slays them, searing himself on her heart. When he returns, it’s with a brand of a different sort—the flaming arrow that destroys her life.

In the copper-haired captive, Totka Lawe finds the other half of his spirit. He vows he would die ten deaths to protect her, and he would kill any who tried to steal her away. With bluecoat soldiers pursuing him, a jealous cousin pursuing her, and the woman herself pursuing home, that vow stands a serious chance of being called into action.

In the first of this three-part, inspirational story, award-winning author April W Gardner brings to vibrant life an obscure event and the noble people who once dominated the Southeast but are now forgotten.

Purchase at: Amazon    Add to: Goodreads


About the Author

aprilwgardnerAPRIL W GARDNER writes history with a Christian perspective and a little imagination.

She is a copyeditor, military wife, and homeschooling mother of two who lives in Texas. She writes Christian historical romance with a focus on our Southeastern Native tribes. In no particular order, April dreams of owning a horse, learning a third language, and visiting all the national parks.

Connect and follow: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads


Interview

Toni: Thank you so much for joining us to talk about The Red Feather, part 1 in the Beneath the Blackberry Moon saga. I’m tickled pink that you’ve chosen to focus on Native Americans in this book. Care to share a little about the tribe Totka Lawe is part of?

April: Sure! But before I dive into that, thank you for having me, and thank you for this blog. It’s more needful today than ever before, and I’m honored both to have been invited and to write diverse characters.

Totka is Muscogee, or Creek as his people were first called by the British. For over a hundred years, the Muscogees were the dominate people group in our Southeast. They ruled from the East Coast to present-day Alabama and beyond. When they migrated into the area, they were smart conquerors and incorporated the tribes they overtook into themselves and, over time, created the Creek Confederacy. It was so mighty that President George Washington treated it with the same respect he did the European nations.

This history is taught in few American schools today. The Creeks and their history have been systematically swept under the rug since 1813 when the nation raged over the massacre at Fort Mims (the setting of The Red Feather). It was the largest massacre of whites by Natives in our history (some estimate 500 dead). The event was horrific, no denying, but I take special care to show both sides of the story. I tell it through the eyes a Muscogee warrior named Totka who simply wants to preserve his land and his culture from encroaching whites. Their method of warfare was a more violent one than Americans were (and are) accustomed to, but they were behaving in accordance with their culture and traditions. However, from that day on, Americans associated the Creek Nation with disgust and began to wipe them from the history books. It’s their forgotten story I long to tell.

Toni: Wow! Now you’ve got me wanting to do a search to learn more! Such an interesting story to tell. And your other character,  Adela McGirth, is Totka Lawe’s captive. Man, oh man, did that get my attention in the blurb. There’s a struggle that appears between one’s past life, present circumstances, and the future. How does Adela handle the pressure?

April: Adela is the other half of the equation, and her story is based on the actual McGirth family. They were rescued from the fort in the heat of the battle and protected by a Muscogee warrior for the duration of the war. The romance is my own invention, which wasn’t easy to do, considering Totka is partly to blame for Adela’s grief. How does she handle it? The only way any person can handle such a thing and come out the stronger for it is through the power of Christ. Apart from His grace and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, I don’t know if it’s possible to survive such a thing emotionally, much less come away loving the enemy. Adela is a strong character to begin with, and though she does emerge from the ordeal bearing emotional scars, she relies heavily on God, staying true to Him and her faith.

Toni: God is amazing! I love to see how His presences changes a person. Now, since we’re all about diversity, I have to ask, how did you develop Totka Lawe’s character without falling into racial stereotypes?

April: With lots of help! My dear expert, Ghost Dancer, is Muscogee. He is passionate about preserving his heritage and has dedicated countless hours to helping me get it right. Without his guidance and the careful eye of another expert and friend, Edna, I probably would have stumbled into more than one racial stereotype.

Toni: How awesome! I love to hear who authors have spoken to in their research. What is it about this time in history that captivates you so?

April: Good question! I grew up hearing that my great-great-something grandfather was Billy (Red Eagle) Weatherford, one of the attacking Creeks who later leapt from a bluff to save his people from the pursuit of General Andrew Jackson. As a young adult, I dug into that story, wished it were told in novel form, and decided to do it myself. My research became an addiction and a love that continues to this day.

Toni: Ah, that makes sense. Family history has a way of weaving into our present. How about some easier questions?
What do you do for fun in your spare time?

April: Um, write? LOL. Other things I enjoy doing are walking my fur-babies (two German Shepherds), visiting historical sites, and reading.

Toni: German Shepherds are such gorgeous animals. How about favorite meal?

April: Anything I don’t have to cook. Ha! But if you’re looking for something specific… I’m a big rice girl. If it has rice, I’m a fan!

Toni: Kindred spirits! I say the same thing and rice is wonderful. Especially with butter and sugar. But I digress. Favorite Christian song?

April: There are a ton of contemporary songs that I adore, but my favorite hymn is “The Love of God” by Frederick Lehman. The third verse is my favorite:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Toni: Beautiful! Last but not least, what’s next for you on your writing journey?

April: Glad you asked! Bitter Eyes No More released February 7. Its tagline is, “A man of abiding honor, tested by a woman of ruinous passion. A woman of unspeakable sins, pursued by a God of unquenchable mercy.” It takes place during the last days of Spanish Florida and depicts the upheaval between the Spanish, Natives, and Bluecoats (American soldiers).

It’s such a new release that my “what’s next” is still at least six months away, but I’m already working on it. The fifth book in the Creek Country Saga is entitled Love the War Woman. Its female lead is a Muscogee woman who is, you guessed it, a warrior. She is bodyguard to Chief Tall Bull who is far too handsome and prestigious to consider loving a roughened woman such as herself. It’s set during the inciting event of the First Seminole War, and because of the rare setting and characterization, it promises to be quite unique!

Toni: It sounds great! I’m looking forward to it and definitely adding your books to my TBR pile. Thank you so much for talking with me today.  I’ve enjoyed it. 🙂 What about you, reader friends? Care to ask April some questions?


Interview conducted by Toni Shiloh

Author Interview: Deborah Raney

Happy Monday, Reader Friends! Today, Deborah Raney has stopped by to talk about her novel, Home at Last. It sounds like it’s going to be an awesome read. Let’s get started!


About the Book

homeatlastLink Whitman has settled into the role of bachelor without ever intending to. Now he’s stuck in a dead-end job and, as the next Whitman wedding fast approaches, he is the last one standing. The pressure from his sisters’ efforts to play matchmaker is getting hard to bear as Link pulls extra shifts at work, and helps his parents at the Chicory Inn.

All her life, Shayla Michaels has felt as if she straddled two worlds. Her mother’s white family labeled her African American father with names Shayla didn’t repeat in polite––well, in any company. Her father’s family disapproved as well, though they eventually embraced Shayla as their own. After the death of her mother, and her brother Jerry’s incarceration, life has left Shayla’s father bitter, her niece, Portia, an orphan, and Shayla responsible for them all. She knows God loves them all, but why couldn’t people accept each other for what was on the inside? For their hearts?

Everything changes one icy morning when a child runs into the street and Link nearly hits her with his pickup. Soon he is falling in love with the little girl’s aunt, Shayla, the beautiful woman who runs Coffee’s On, the bakery in Langhorne. Can Shayla and Link overcome society’s view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?

Purchase at: Amazon, Abingdon, CBD, Goodreads 


About the Author

deborahraneyDEBORAH RANEY’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title and launched Deb’s writing career. Twenty years and thirty books later, she’s still writing. She and her husband traded small-town life in Kansas––the setting of many of Deb’s novels––for life in the city of Wichita. They love traveling to visit four grown children and seven grandchildren who all live much too far away.

Connect and follow at: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Blog, Amazon, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads


Interview

Toni: Thank you so much for joining us to talk about Home at Last. I can’t tell you how excited I was to see your novel will be dealing with the subject of interracial relationships. What made you decide to write this book?

Deborah:  I grew up on a farm in Kansas, attended country school, then married and raised our kids in a small town where racial issues were almost non-existent, partly because there were few people of any color except white. Still, no one I knew was racist, or if they were, they pretended not to be. We studied the civil rights movement and celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. in school, but I thought the things he fought about were ancient history. Perhaps I was too sheltered from the way things were in other parts of the country, even though my parents taught me to love unconditionally.

I first witnessed subtle racism when we traveled in the South, nearly always from older people, and I remember thinking “this will take care of itself in another generation because young people aren’t so prejudiced.” But then I learned of a young white girl who was dating a wonderful black Christian man, and her parents were devastated. We’d met the young man and loved him. We were shocked that such blatant racism still existed in this enlightened 21st Century. That incident opened my eyes to the fact that until Jesus returns, there will always be sinners, and sadly racism will likely still be one of the sins we must deal with. Unfortunately, after many years of making great strides, the problem seems to have grown worse in the last decade. The divide along racial lines in this country breaks my heart. As do the divides along religious lines, economic lines, and any other lines that cause one group of people to believe they are superior to another group.

Four years ago, my husband and I moved to Wichita, Kansas, into a very wonderfully diverse neighborhood. We have invited each of our neighbors over for dinner and have gotten to know some of the most wonderful people—African American, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Lutheran, Catholic, non-believers—people who don’t look like we do, or have the same background we do. But sitting around a table, sharing a meal, we suddenly begin to find the ways we can see eye-to-eye—and to celebrate the ways we are different. I truly believe that so much could be solved if people would just sit down to a meal with those they think they have nothing in common with. How often they would discover that exactly the opposite is true! Fear of one another would be replaced by respect for one another. Stereotypes would fall by the wayside. And God’s love would break down any remaining barriers. I want my writing to be part of that wave of His love.

Toni: That is wonderful! I’m glad you’re working towards harmony. Others will definitely see Christ in your actions. Which brings me to your character, Shayla Michaels , who is biracial. Given your own ethnic background, did you find it difficult to write Shayla’s?

Deborah: Just as it is when I write ANY character who is different from me—whether in gender, age, occupation, economic status, religion, or race—it is a challenge to assume the point of view of someone different from yourself, and I know that I’d better do my homework. When I write from a male character’s point of view, I often holler down to my husband, “Is this something you would say? How would you feel if…?” Or if I’m writing a character who’s closer in age to my kids than to me, I’ll shoot them an e-mail and ask, “How would you say this? What word would you use?” Of course, knowing a wide variety of people, having watched a ton of movies and read a ton of books, I’ve learned a lot about people who are different from me. But I admit I’m surprised by how often I guess the answer wrong to those questions!

Writing a biracial character was no different. I’ve never experienced being biracial, and I’ve never been in an interracial relationship. So I did what I do with every novel: I found real people who HAVE experienced those things, and asked them to read my manuscript and to be very honest about whether I was writing realistically or if I’d gone off track. I asked them to tell me if they found any of my characters’ words offensive. (Of course, I had some villains whose job in my novel was to BE offensive. I’m surprised how often readers “blame” me, the author, as if I agreed with the bad things my villains think!)

But even if I interview 100 people, and read dozens of books from the perspective of my character, I will never write “truth” for every person who reads my book. One interracial couple I interviewed experienced almost no opposition to their marriage; another couple, nearly disowned by their parents. And if we are ever going to get past the racial divide in this country, we must acknowledge BOTH truths. We must rejoice that there has been some progress, but we must also mourn that we’re not there yet and there is still work to do.

My writing critique partner, Tamera Alexander, and I laugh because I was raised on a farm in the Midwest, and she’s a city girl from Atlanta. We are closest of friends, but WOW do we ever see things differently! And those differences are a wonderful thing! They make us unique and interesting to each other, and they help us realize that not everyone thinks and feels exactly like we do! But those very differences—whether race, economics, religion, life experience, etc.—can be what make us fascinating and inspiring and educational to each other, IF we are willing to view our differences that way.

Toni: I’m so thankful for those who are genuinely interested in having an open discussion about differences. Kind of fits one of the themes of Home at Last: racial reconciliation. As a Christian, why do you feel this subject is so important?

Deborah: God sees and loves His children all equally. And He has called us to love one another the way He loves us. Right now, we’re not doing a very good job of it in this country [U.S.] and in this world. And that breaks my heart. If my writing can be one drop of water in a flood of love that brings healing, then I will feel my work was worthwhile.

Toni: Amen! How did you make Shayla believable without falling into racial stereotypes?

Deborah: I think there are several things that helped me flesh out Shayla’s character. First, I tried to look at her character and her personality apart from how she appears physically. I tried to get to know HER. The essence of her. Every normal human being has the same wealth of emotions, the same balance of positive and negative qualities. I tried to make Shayla unique, even though she was very much a product of her parents’ rocky interracial marriage. Another thing I did was to purposefully make Shayla’s brother fall into the stereotype, which angers her, because she’s worked so hard to overcome the stereotypes. Sometimes, pretending stereotypes don’t exist only draws attention to them, so I tried to face that head-on, yet in a way that shone a light on the wrongfulness of perpetuating stereotypes and judging people by them.

Toni: Love that! I imagine there are many great scenes from that alone. Is there a Bible verse that speaks to Shayla and Link’s story?

Deborah: The whole Bible! Because the entire story of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation is a story of reconciliation! Ephesians 2:14-22 speaks of the “ethnic” difference between Jews and Gentiles, and sets the example for how we should look at breaking down the walls that divide any diverse groups:

“For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”

Toni: Love God’s Word. Thanks for sharing that.
How about some easier questions?
Do you listen to music while writing or require silence?

Deborah: I listen to movie soundtracks while I write, trying to match the music to the mood of the scene I’m writing. Soundtracks are intended to be background for a scene, so they are perfect for writing. I always wish my readers could listen to the same playlist while they read my novels.

Toni: Have you checked out Spotify? You can make a playlist and share it with your readers.
Favorite season?

Deborah: Spring or Fall, usually whichever we’re currently in. Living in Kansas we have a wonderful range of seasons and I do love the ever changing seasons and weather. But the relief Spring and Fall each offer from the more brutal seasons of cold and heat make them my favorite.

Toni: I hear that! Favorite candy?

Deborah: I love Heath Bars and other toffee-based candy, Coffee Nips, and jawbreakers. Sadly, I’ve never met a piece of candy I didn’t like.

Toni: I love toffee covered peanuts. Last but not least, how can readers support you on your writing journey?

Deborah: I don’t think readers realize the power they have to encourage and inspire writers. We appreciate our readers so much! When you write to an author telling them you enjoyed their book, or when you write a glowing review, that is like fuel to our writers’ engines. Probably most tangibly important is that you buy our books. Authors make ZERO money on free books, books borrowed from the library, or books bought used. Many readers don’t realize that authors spend out-of-pocket money on books and shipping when they do giveaways. But if a book doesn’t make money, publishers won’t sign that author for another contract. So, a huge THANK YOU to the readers who have purchased their favorite authors’ books.

Thanks so much for hosting me, Toni! I love the work you are doing toward reconciliation and to promote Christian fiction!

Toni: Thanks so much for being here! Readers, do you have any questions for Deborah?


Interview conducted by Toni Shiloh.

Author Interview: Grace Ibitamuno Obienu

I originally ran this interview with Grace Ibitamuno Obienu a couple of weeks ago on my own review blog, but I went back and talked with her some more about her characters in preparation for posting the interview here on Diversity Between The Pages.


About the Author:

Grace Ibitamuno Obienu has been a storyteller all her life, completing her first novel at the age of twelve, which thankfully went unpublished. She has worked as a technical writer in Biotechnology but has recently embarked on a journey toward dual doctoral degrees in Medicine and Public Health. With roots in Nigeria, she calls Central New Jersey home, where she lives with her husband and son.

You can connect with Grace on Facebook.


About the Book:

Burdened by the shame of her past and by the pain in her body, hope for a better tomorrow is a heavy chain to wear for Lola, a nineteen-year-old survivor of years of trafficking and exploitation.

Jaisen, a police officer, is drawn to Lola, both for the fire in her eyes and the hesitation in her step.

For Deja, Jaisen’s cousin, marriage to her fiancé is the greatest prize—a prize for which she would forsake all else.

As the story unfolds, vivid flashbacks of lurid moments past, lurking former owners, long buried secrets, and the search for a murderer threaten each of their quests, testing their mettle and their faith.

Could hope possibly flourish in the face of such painful obstacles? Is love truly a worthy pursuit, or a consolation prize for unwitting fools?

Not Yet Beautiful, a debut novel set in the Northeast corridor, is grippingly raw in its portrayal of love, loss, and restoration.

Purchase at: Amazon, B&N


Carrie: Hi Grace! Welcome to the blog! Thank you so much for chatting with me!

Grace: Thanks for having me. It’s great to chat with you!

Carrie: Let’s start with a ‘fast four’. Apples or oranges?

Grace: Oranges for on the go. Apples if I have time. I really don’t like the feel of apple skin against my teeth so I have to peel them before I can eat them. And oranges are so refreshing.

Carrie: Winter or Summer?

Grace: Winter… but only because it is closer to Fall temperature-wise. I like cooler weather, running in the 50s and 60s… cool enough for a light jacket and boots kind of weather.

Carrie: Dogs or Cats?

Grace: Haha, I’d unfortunately have to say neither at the risk of offending all the wonderful cat and dog people. But I hear pets are great, so who knows maybe one day…

Carrie: Coffee or Tea?

Grace: Coffee if I need the caffeine. Tea if it feels like a put-my-feet-up-I-have-time-to-relax kind of day. So coffee 🙂

Carrie: On my blog I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?

Grace: I like to think that is the power of imagination. I always have stories running around in my head.

Carrie: That’s an awesome superpower for a writer to have! When you walk into a bookstore, where do you head first?

Grace: The Inspirational Romance aisle. I like to see what’s new in the genre. Or the section with books on leadership.

Carrie: Inspy romance is the first place I go too! Do you have any strange writing habits/quirks?

Grace: I like to outline my stories in as much detail as possible both before I begin and as I write. Usually before bed is my time to imagine scenes in my story down to the details of the dialogue. So, as I lie in bed waiting to fall asleep, I imagine scenes in my story, complete with dialogue, visualizing the characters moving, talking, walking, whatever the case may be. I have even been known to hug myself when my characters do :-). Night after night, I can work on the same scene till it feels perfect then I either add it to my outline or flesh out the one I have with details I gathered from my bed time brainstorming 🙂

Carrie: Oh gosh! I think remembering these scenes is another superpower you have! I would forget by the time i woke up lol 🙂

Not Yet Beautiful addresses the issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Describe your main characters for us and – without giving spoilers, of course – explain how they’ve been touched by human trafficking.

Grace: There are three main characters – Lola, Jaisen and Deja. Lola is a survivor of sex trafficking trying to find her way, searching for hope and love in the midst of the pain of her past wounds. Jaisen is a police officer and Lola’s love interest. Equal parts fervent, equal parts impulsive, he pursues Lola passionately, drawn by her. Deja, Jaisen’s cousin, befriends Lola, though her vision is clouded by her own troubled relationship with her fiancé.

Carrie: These three main characters – Lola, Deja, and Jaisen – are all of Nigerian descent. How did your own heritage influence your development of these characters?

Grace: As a Nigerian American who lived in Nigeria for 10 years, I drew on my own experience in creating these characters – their mannerisms, the things that mattered to them (for Deja, feeling the pressure from her mother to marry for instance), the native food, the colloquial Pidgin English used in one scene. The name “Lola” is native to one of the many Nigerian languages in fact. It means “wealth.”

Carrie: They all sound like very powerful and intriguing characters!  I think a lot of us don’t realize how prevalent human trafficking is, even in our own cities. What inspired you to write Not Yet Beautiful?

Grace: I was at a Writer’s Conference a few years ago sharing about how badly I wanted to write a novel and how I wanted it to be about something compelling when I got to talking with a faculty member. She brought up the topic of human trafficking. Inspired, I started my research when I returned home and it wasn’t long before I grew infuriated with the heinousness of the crime as well as the fact that it happens under our noses. So, I chose to write about it, looking at the group of people forced into the trade and held by debt bondage. However, I wanted the story to be hopeful and to focus on the aftermath of the experience, looking at the recovery process from trauma. I wanted to attempt to humanize the choices – good, bad or otherwise – people (in this case my characters) make in trying to confront or overcome painful pasts, while still highlighting the God factor, the work He does in us when we ask.

Carrie: The process of recovery is so inspiring, from the accounts I’ve read. And God is THE ultimate Rescuer, isn’t He? What do you most want readers to take away from Not Yet Beautiful?

Grace: I tried to cover a lot of grounds – looking at trauma and recovering from trauma, how hardships affect what we believe in or think we believe, how they force us to look inward and examine ourselves. And where we end up when all is said and done, whether that be where we thought we would or not. And perchance if it is, if that be for reasons we ordinarily would have thought would lead us there. I tried to look at people as consummate, influenced by our own psychology, our social lives, our faith, our fears and hopes and mostly by our dreams. But still imperfect because none of us are.

I’m really glad you asked this question as it gives me a chance to reflect. I hope everyone takes something from the book about the power of hope and love, something that makes their lives a little richer.

Carrie: Grace, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me twice! LOL. What’s coming up next for you?

Grace: I have a lot of things in the works, though they are all mostly in my head at this point. The first order of the day is the sequel to Not Yet Beautiful – spotlighting Deja’s story a little more and continuing Jaisen and Lola’s journey.

Carrie: We will be praying for you as you continue to breathe your heritage and God’s grace into their stories!


Interview conducted by Carrie Schmidt

Author Interview (+ Giveaway): Jerusha Agen

Y’all, I’m super excited to share our first author interview on Diversity Between the Pages. Today, author Jerusha Agen has stopped by to talk about her novel, This Redeemer. Let’s get started!


About the Book

ThisRedeemerNot all prisons have bars.

Charlotte Davis should know—she’s lived in one for years. She can handle getting slapped around by her boyfriend, Tommy, and even being forced to do things she would never choose, but when Tommy turns on her 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte must try to escape. With nowhere else to turn, Charlotte runs to the stranger her dying mother believed would help her.

Looking only for shelter or cash, Charlotte finds a family she longs to call her own and a gentle man she could learn to love. But if Tommy catches up with Charlotte, these strangers could discover the truth about her. Will they send her back to Tommy? Or can a Father’s love set her free?

Purchase at: Amazon, B&N, CBD


About the Author

jerusha-agenJerusha Agen imagines danger around every corner, but knows God is there, too. So naturally, she writes romantic suspense infused with the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. With a B.A. in English and a background in screenwriting, Jerusha is the author of The Sisters Redeemed Series. Jerusha writes about fighting against fear in our everyday lives at The Fear Warrior Blog. Visit Jerusha at Website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Interview

Toni: This Redeemer deals with a difficult subject matter of abuse. How did you decide to write a book about it?

Jerusha: Domestic abuse has long been a topic close to my heart. While I was still in college, writing short stories for creative writing classes, God laid this issue on my heart and I explored abuse and its ramifications in a series of pieces about a family imprisoned by abuse.  Whenever possible, I continue to write about this topic in an effort to raise awareness concerning the divisiveness of domestic abuse and the reasons behind why it happens.

I was blessed to have a beautiful, near-idyllic childhood with no abuse of any kind. I think that because of my childhood, I’m deeply impacted by the tragedy of domestic abuse—how it destroys what should be the place of safety and love in people’s lives.

Most often, I’ve written about domestic abuse from the perspective of its most vulnerable victims—children. But in This Redeemer, I wanted to write about a woman, a mother, who is trapped in the prison of domestic abuse.

When volunteering at a domestic abuse shelter, I was struck by how crucial the woman’s role is in the cycle of abuse. Often, she’s in a position to protect children and herself or to end her children’s abuse (whether she’s the abuser or knows the person who is). But just as often, there are a myriad of reasons why she cannot break free from the cycle or free her children. In so many cases, the redemption of Jesus Christ is the only way she can truly be set free.

Toni: I love the saving power of Jesus! It truly does set us free. Now, one of your characters is African American. Why did you decide to write the character that way?

Jerusha: I’m a very visual thinker and writer, so when I imagine a new character for a story, my first thought of that person is always accompanied by an image of what he or she looks like. I can modify this initial image if I need to, but usually I stick with my original picture of the person.

In the case of Gabe, the hero of This Redeemer, my immediate imagined image of him showed him to be African American. Gabe actually appears first in a supporting role in This Shadow, Book Two in the Sisters Redeemed Series. In that book, he blossomed into a character I loved so much that I just knew he had to be the hero of the next installment.

I wouldn’t intentionally write a character into any of my stories to be a sort of “representative” of an ethnicity. Gabe, like people of various ethnicities who appear in my stories, came out of a realistic vision of the fictional world, which is intended to be an accurate representation of the real world we live in. Diversity should be natural in our stories, since diversity is a natural part of our world!

The fact that Gabe is African American, though, did add some enriching complexities to the story of This Redeemer. Charlotte, the heroine, was raised in an impoverished and abusive home in which her mother taught her little of truth or value. Among the baggage that Charlotte carries with her is prejudice and mistrust of police officers and African Americans. But, guess what, Gabe is both!

Gabe, however, is not without his own prejudices. As a recently jaded police officer, he’s developed a cynical and judgmental view of criminals. He doesn’t think that his attitude will affect his relationship with Charlotte, until he discovers the secret she’s been hiding from him.

I just loved writing this story of a romance that seems impossible at first, but through the changing love and grace of Jesus, becomes not only possible, but extraordinary.

Toni: Considering the events of today, I’m beyond intrigued that Gabe is African American and a police officer. I can’t wait to read this story! Did you find it hard to write an African American character given your own ethnic background?

Jerusha: No, not at all! Writing an African American character is no different to me than writing about any other character of any ethnic background. At the risk of sounding naïve, I’ll admit that I don’t actually like the term “race” to describe people, nor am I fond of dividing people according to ethnicities. The Bible tells us that we are all one race—the human race. We are one people, all created in the image of God. So people of different ethnic backgrounds are all part of the same race and people that I am, and that gives me a significant common ground from which to create a character.

I believe that too much emphasis is put on differences between ethnicities, as if those differences are insurmountable or enough to keep groups of people separated from each other. Such a perspective only creates divisions and prejudices in our society, rather than bringing people together.

That said, I recognize that there are cultural and environmental factors which accompany ethnicities. So, as with all of my characters who have a different personal history than myself, I had to draw on research, knowledge, and imagination to write a realistic character.

Toni: Society does like their labels. I’m glad you’re embracing diversity in your fiction, but not letting it separate us. As a Christian writer, how has your faith integrated into your writing?

Jerusha: My faith and identity as a Christian inspires and pervades every aspect of my writing. I write because of God, for God, and through His enabling. For me, there’s no purpose in spending my time writing stories unless I am doing so for His glory.

That foundation translates into a deep presence of Christianity in all my stories. As a writer of contemporary romantic suspense, realism is always a primary goal, so I write about realistic people in the real world where God actively works.

My stories focus on the core journey of the main characters, which necessarily is always spiritual at its root. That focus enables me to realistically infuse my stories with the message of the Gospel and other aspects of Christianity that bring redemption and hope to those in dark places.

Toni: *sigh* God is awesome! What is the message you hope readers will take away after reading This Redeemer?

Jerusha: I hope and pray that anyone who is caught in a sinful cycle—whether it be abuse, addiction, or any other type—will walk away from reading this story with the conviction and reminder that there is hope. You CAN end that cycle, you CAN be free, but not on your own strength, which has probably failed you many times before.

You can have freedom through the forgiveness and power of Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for everything you’ve done wrong and offers you the gift of eternal life and forgiveness through Him. If you repent of your sins and ask God to forgive you and come into your life, He will change you, breaking you free from whatever prison holds your soul captive.

For readers who are not caught in such a cycle and are already believers in Christ, I pray that This Redeemer will give them a greater empathy and understanding for people caught in domestic abuse. I also hope that such readers will gain a conviction of areas in which they are harboring hidden prejudices.

Toni: Empathy is so important! Praying for the reader who picks up your novel. May God reign in their heart. How about some easier questions?

Whew! Thanks for the break—you’re a tough interviewer! 🙂

Toni: lol, but what an interesting topic! But these next few will be easier, promise. What is your favorite fruit?

Jerusha: My favorite fruit…hmm. That’s actually tough to pick! I guess I’d have to say strawberries, but pineapple is a very close second.

Toni: Both are great! Favorite drink?

Jerusha: Water! Love it, as long as it’s not the bottled variety that includes additives “for flavor.” Ruins the flavor every time! Can you tell I’m a bit of water snob? 🙂

 Toni: I’m the complete opposite! 😉 Favorite meal?

Jerusha: If we’re talking something special, then probably our traditional Thanksgiving dinner, because it includes so many of my favorite dishes. But if you mean more of an everyday choice, it’s hard to beat a classic, fabulous peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Strawberry jelly, of course!)

Toni: Of course! Last but not least, what’s next in your writing journey?

Jerusha: When you find out, let me know! 😉 Seriously, I’m in a period of waiting on God at the moment (and praying a lot) to see what is next in my writing career. In the meantime, I’m working on a romantic suspense novel that I hope will be the first in a series of books about five siblings who live in the Chicago area. It’s a story about fear and the power of God to bring hope when all hope seems gone.

Toni: You have our prayers! Thank you so much for stopping by and talking with us. Readers, Jerusha is offering a Kindle or print copy. You can enter the Rafflecopter giveaway by answering the question: Why do you read Christian fiction?


Giveaway

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Interview conducted by Toni Shiloh