Interview with Susan Valles about her book “Zimrah, Dream Singer”

Happy Monday, reader friends!

Let’s welcome Susan Valles to our blog! She’s a talented writer and musician. Today, she’s here to talk about her novel “Zimrah, Dream Singer.” Susan has a heart for God and a love for people. Her faith in God informs her writing too.

I hope that you will enjoy her author interview!


About the Author:

 For the past fourteen years, Susan Valles has been using her gifts to lead others into the presence of God through worship. Touched by this presence in a profound way at the age of ten, Susan developed a deep hunger to help others experience the love of God and the majesty of His presence. Writing, singing, playing the guitar and songwriting became extensions of this hunger, an outlet for the passion Holy Spirit stirs inside her to bring the lost and hurting into the healing embrace of the loving Father.

Susan is married and the mother of four children. She currently lives in the beautiful state of North Carolina.

Connect with Susan on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.


Interview with Susan Valles about her book Zimrah, Dream Singer:

What inspired you to write this book?

Zimrah, Dream Singer was divinely inspired! I woke up one morning with a picture in my mind. I saw the Father, sitting on an easy chair by a window with a scroll in his hands. He was reading the scroll and singing into existence what was written there. (Like the picture portrayed in Psalm 139:16) I grabbed my laptop and wrote down what I saw. What I wrote is now the prologue of the book.

How did you decide on the title? What is its significance?

The title of my first draft was actually Scroll of Remembrance. My editor had me keep giving her options until I came up with Zimrah, Dream Singer. We both liked it much better. Zimrah is the name of my main character. She sings songs she hears in her dreams, so Zimrah, Dream Singer fit the book very well. Funny story, I was recently talking to some Jewish friends, and they told me in passing that the director of music in their synagogue is called Zimrah Mary. Mary is her first name and Zimrah is the Hebrew word for her function! I did not know that the minister of music is called Zimrah at the time when I decided on the book title. That’s the fun of walking with God! There is always more to be discovered.

Would you say that this is Biblical fiction? Why or why not?

It is Biblical fiction in the sense that the events and timelines are true to the Bible and historical records. For example, Zimrah grows up in a city of Refuge, in the house of a Hebrew man from the tribe of Asher. She learns to read and write from the Hebrew scrolls. In this first book though, there are no characters from the Bible mentioned. My characters are completely fictional. Although, Dream Singer definitely sets the stage for the second two books where my character does meet a few significant Biblical personalities.

Who was your favorite character to write in this book? Why?

I have to say, my favorite character to write was Theophilus, a Roman soldier who is Zimrah’s love interest. I didn’t do this consciously – much of what I write is unconscious. I realize things later – but he is very much like my husband. He is patient, funny, kind, and good at breaking stereotypical norms. Theophilus sees things in Zimrah that she can’t see in herself. She would not be who she becomes without his influence in her life.

Give us a glimpse into the research that you did for this story. Did you go on a research trip to the Middle East? What kind of resources did you use?

The research I did came mostly from the Bible. Zimrah is a slave in a Hebrew house, so Jewish history comes into play a great deal in the story. I also studied historical maps, rivers, and mountains. I wanted to know what Zimrah saw when she looked out of her windows. What was life like at that time? What did they eat? What was the furniture like? All these little things were fascinating to me. I did a lot of research online, read way too many articles on archeological discoveries. It was fun though. For this first book, I didn’t get to go on a research trip, but for book two, (which is currently in the editing process) I did! I took a trip to Israel this past February 2018. It was amazing seeing the places I’d written about and researched come to life!

Why did you choose Israel as the setting for this story?

Again, I don’t know if I consciously thought about it. The story kind of emerged as I was writing. You could say Israel chose me. I think as Bible reading believers in Jesus, we all have a secret love affair with Israel. The Holy Land is in our DNA. It is part of all of our origin stories.

Talk about your story’s heroine Zimrah. What does she look like? What does her name mean? What is her primary motivation in this story? Explain.

My college English professor always said to write what you know. Zimrah is such a representation of me, of my life experiences and journey with God. She is tall, brown-skinned with curly hair and grey eyes. She looks very different from the people in her city (no one knows who her people are or where she comes from) and they treat her pretty badly. Her motivation and greatest longing is just to be loved. Zimrah is one of the Hebrew words for praise, more specifically, “to play upon an instrument in praise”. She learns just how significant her name is the destiny she was born for.

How does being an orphan affect Zimrah’s worldview and persona?

Not knowing who she is or where she comes from definitely affects what Zimrah thinks about herself. She sees the world as a frightening place where she is not accepted and can’t imagine anyone loving her or seeing her for more than a slave. She is alone and wears that persona as a badge, afraid to let anyone into her heart.

Why did you as the author decide to make Zimrah a slave?

I did not realize it’s how I felt until I wrote this book. Like Zimrah, I was a slave to my fears, my past, and my false opinion of myself. Freedom came only after learning the truth of who I was, from the One who made me. Zimrah being a slave is a representation of the bondage that comes when we believe the Tormentor’s lies.

What role does faith in God play with your characters in this story?

Faith is everything. My character’s faith or lack of faith shapes their reality and their destiny. I believe one of the miracles of this story, and our lives, is the journey of faith. Some of my characters in Dream Singer are angels, so that was an exciting aspect of faith to explore as well.

As a woman of faith, how does your belief in God affect your storytelling?

I love how telling a story can change the way we think. Everyone has a backstory. There is a reason we become who we are, good or bad. The human story is that, history…His-story. As a woman of faith, my greatest joy is being able to tell a story that has the potential to change my reader’s life. I believe that God gave me this story (which is really my testimony), that can be like that answer in the dark, that comes when all other hope is gone.

What was the most difficult part of writing this book? Why?

It was probably how long it is. I am a songwriter and had never written anything as long as a novel before. I didn’t even tell anyone that I was writing it until I was almost done because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish. It took a lot of prayers like, “Lord, this is Your story. You started this! You have to help me finish it!” I was also homeschooling two of my four children at the same time, so that made finding time to write a challenge. (God gave me like, supernatural sleep! I would stay up all night, sleep an hour or two and feel completely rested!)

What was the most rewarding aspect of telling Zimrah’s story? Why?

It was very rewarding being able to incorporate songs into the story. Music has been such a huge part of my language with God. When the story touches my readers, and they can sing the same songs that God used to speak to Zimrah, and Zimrah used to speak to God, it’s beyond joy for me.

The cover of your book shows Zimrah as a woman of color. What is her heritage?

Zimrah’s heritage is a bit of a mystery in this first book. She doesn’t know what she is. In a time when not many traveled very far, no one can tell her what people group her features resemble. She is a woman of color, and I could tell you what she is, but it would be a spoiler for book two!

Would you like to see more books featuring women of color who lived in Bible times, published by CBA? Why or why not?

Absolutely! I think because of our western culture, in the media and in paintings for generations, we have a mental picture of what people in the Bible looked like. The truth is, there was much more diversity than we have been led to believe, across gender and racial lines. Exploring culture in a broader view encourages us to see that God has created us with great purpose. We all have a role to play in history, past, present, and future. CBA’s have an important voice in every genre.

How does your own worldview as a woman of color affect your character creation and writing career as an author?

Like Zimrah, I was raised far away from people who looked like me. I didn’t seem to fit people’s boxes. This comes out in my writing. The longing to fit in and belong somewhere, I felt this very acutely in my younger years. I think it’s a common human desire and struggle. Most people feel different in some way or another, so I think my characters are relatable. As a woman of color, I know what it feels like to be ignored or overlooked. But my characters overcome the boxes their society has for them and discover the calling of the great Author. I hope in my career, and in my life, I can do the same.

Thanks for the interview, Susan! Do you have any closing thoughts?

Thank you for interviewing me! Writing this book was a turning point for me. I feel like it helped me have a greater understanding of who I am and what my purpose is. My prayer would be that it does the same for others as well. No matter what our past is like, like Zimrah, we have a loving Father who has an amazing future for us. There is so much joy in the journey of figuring out who He is and what adventures He has in store for us!

*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor


About the book:

In the land of ancient Israel, in the days just before the miracles of Jesus the Christ began, there lived an orphan girl named Zimrah. A foreigner and a slave with no knowledge of who she is or where she came from, except that she was rescued barely alive and only a week old from a caravan of slavers, Zimrah has many demons to overcome. Living among people that despise her for being different, she finds shelter in the last Jewish house in a City of Refuge, only to find that her master has demons of his own. She learns that these dark spirits who have tormented her all her life can not only be battled, but can be defeated when she begins to heed the gentle Voice that speaks to her in her dreams.

Her obedience to the Voice leads her not only to freedom from the fear that stalks her in the night, but to the arms of a loving father who has been there all along. Following the Voice, Zimrah finds a lyre and the songs that have been hidden for her in her dreams. Singing these dream songs – an inheritance passed on through the bloodline of which she does not yet know- will determine the path to her heart’s desires, her future, and her destiny. Assisted by Rebecca and Garbar, the Warrior Angels that guard and protect her, and the love of a Roman officer who she must learn to trust, Zimrah discovers that her life has much more significance than she could have ever imagined. Her obedience and courage will shake the heavens and stir the hearts of all who touch Zimrah, Dream Singer.

Buy Susan’s book on Amazon

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Book Review: Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse

Hi, reader friends! This book is a must-read for vanilla folks (like me). If y’all remember our discussion on vanilla confessions, many white people honestly don’t know what they don’t know about diversity!

About the Book

Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser LuesseThere was another South in the 1960s, one far removed from the marches and bombings and turmoil in the streets that were broadcast on the evening news. It was a place of inner turmoil, where ordinary people struggled to right themselves on a social landscape that was dramatically shifting beneath their feet. This is the world of Valerie Fraser Luesse’s stunning debut, Missing Isaac.

It is 1965 when black field hand Isaac Reynolds goes missing from the tiny, unassuming town of Glory, Alabama. The townspeople’s reactions range from concern to indifference, but one boy will stop at nothing to find out what happened to his unlikely friend. White, wealthy, and fatherless, young Pete McLean has nothing to gain and everything to lose in his relentless search for Isaac. In the process, he will discover much more than he bargained for.

Before it’s all over, Pete–and the people he loves most–will have to blur the hard lines of race, class, and religion. And what they discover about themselves may change some of them forever.

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My Thoughts

Southern rural community culture plays an essential role in Missing Isaac, the setting is more than a simple canvas for this story to be painted on. It is the South and the collective pride and prejudices of her people that form the foundation and framework of this immersive experience. 

I like Pete McLean. He is just a nice young man and I’m sure his mama is over the moon proud of him. Isaac Reynolds might be employed by the McLean family but Pete is unconcerned by age, social class, and skin color. As far as Pete is concerned, Isaac is simply his father’s friend and now his friend, too. The grief and desperation Pete must have experienced when Isaac goes missing tugs at my heartstrings.

If the culture of our setting is the foundation and framework, Isaac’s disappearance is the hallway that flows right down the middle of the story. Readers don’t necessarily spend a lot of time in the hallway but it’s a constant guiding factor. Picture, if you will, many doors on either side of this hall, these rooms are filled with people but few of them leave their own room and fewer still give a care about the simple hallway.

Except for Pete. He wants to experience it all and take those he cares about along with him. Pete encounters resistance yet inspires those around him to see with their hearts instead of their eyes, listen to the Spirit instead of the crowds. I cried no less than three times during this book yet there were also moments bursting with joy, full of hope, and some light-hearted mischief as well. I highly recommend this story and look forward to future works of fiction from this author!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher and was under no obligation to post a review. The opinions expressed are my own. This review was originally posted on FAithfully Bookish.

 

About the Author

Valerie Fraser LuesseValerie Fraser Luesse is an award-winning magazine writer best known for her feature stories and essays in Southern Living, where she is currently a senior travel editor. Her work has been anthologized in the audio collection Southern Voices and in A Glimpse of Heaven, an essay collection featuring works by C. S. Lewis, Randy Alcorn, John Wesley, and others.

As a freelance writer and editor, she was the lead writer for Southern Living 50 Years: A Celebration of People, Places, and Culture. Specializing in stories about unique pockets of Southern culture, Luesse has published major pieces on the Gulf Coast, the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana’s Acadian Prairie, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her editorial section on Hurricane Katrina recovery in Mississippi and Louisiana won the 2009 Writer of the Year award from the Southeast Tourism Society.

Luesse earned her bachelor’s degree in English at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and her master’s degree in English at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She grew up in Harpersville, Alabama, a rural community in Shelby County, and now lives in Birmingham.

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Missing Isaac by Valerie Fraser Luesse quote

“…you think there’s just one world we all live in, but there’s not. There’s a bunch of ’em.
…the only people that don’t seem to know that are the ones that come from yours.”

 

Share your thoughts about this book or the quote, reader friends!

 

 Review by Beth Erin

Book Review: Reunited at Christmas

Happy Friday, reader friends!

Are you ready for the weekend?

Today, we’re sharing a review of Belle Calhoune’s book, “Reunited at Christmas”. It’s the perfect holiday/weekend story to read! 🙂

Enjoy!

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About the book:

 A Season to Remember 

Two years after the avalanche everyone thought had claimed her life, Ruby Prescott returns to the remote Alaskan town of Love. And no one is more ecstatic than her husband, Liam, and their young son. Even if amnesia has robbed Ruby of her memories, she’s soon woven back into the fabric of their lives. As they celebrate the holiday season, Ruby is falling head over heels for the man she’s told was the love of her life. But she can’t escape the feeling that there’s something Liam is keeping a secret. Will the return of her memories tear them apart for good—or will this be a Christmas she’ll never forget?

Book purchase link: Amazon

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Book Review: Reunited at Christmas

If there would be one song that perfectly summarizes this story, it would be the song “After All” performed by Peter Cetera and Cher!

Much like the lyrics in the song “After All”, the relationships in this story “Reunited at Christmas”, are true to real-life. Ruby and Liam were to their friends and most of their family members, “the perfect couple”. But even perfect marriages have rocky moments and the author didn’t shy away from portraying a very real love story between Ruby and Liam.

When the reader meets Ruby, they see that she’s experiencing amnesia. But even with a lapse in memory, certain instances in this story tug at her heart and make her feel like the small Alaskan town called “Love” is her home.

When the reader meets Liam, they know this from the start: he is devastated by his wife’s death—or so he thought, because within the first few pages, he receives a call from the town sheriff with surprising news that he couldn’t quite get because he cannot hear him. But judging by the tone in the sheriff’s voice, Liam knows this is an urgent matter. So Liam rushes to the sheriff’s office and discovers that his wife Ruby survived the avalanche that they thought had killed her and when he sees her, he is shocked but also overwhelmed with the love they shared.

Only problem is, Ruby isn’t sure she knows him or still loves him because the amnesia has blocked out her memory of her life as a wife to Liam and a mother to their son Aidan. As a reader, I liked how Liam was the perfect gentleman and support for Ruby. He didn’t pressure her to do anything beyond her comfort zone but he did gently coax her into remembering their life together. I also liked how the conflict in this story was perfectly layered.

The pacing of this story was perfect. The dialogue was delightful. The characters were captivating and the author’s storytelling skills are excellent!

“Reunited at Christmas” is a book that I will recommend to every book lover I know to read at Christmastime this year and the next because just like this holiday season, this story is heartwarming, inviting and sweet. Bravo to Belle Calhoune for creating this amazing masterpiece of a story!

*Review written by Alexis A. Goring, contributor

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About the author:

 Belle Calhoune grew up in a small town in Massachusetts as one of five children. Although her mother was a doctor and her father a biologist, Belle never gravitated toward science. Growing up across the street from a public library was a huge influence on her life and fueled her love of romance novels.

Belle is the author of nine Harlequin Love Inspired novels with a tenth hitting the shelves in March of 2018. She has Indie published the popular and best-selling inspirational romance series, Seven Brides, Seven Brothers. The Secrets of Savannah and Pelican Bay are both spin-offs of her debut series.

Belle loves writing romance and crafting happily-ever-afters. When she’s not wrangling her two high maintenance dogs or spending time with her husband and two daughters, Belle enjoys travel and exploring new places.

Follow Sandra on Twitter

Book Spotlight: Love’s Second Chance by Cindy Flores Martinez

Happy Wednesday, Diverse Reader Friends!

We’re featuring a new book today. Love’s Second Chance is a book that was written by accomplished author/screenwriter Cindy Flores Martinez.

Enjoy her book spotlight!

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About the book: 

Can two broken hearts find healing together?

Brad McIntyre is much too young to feel so disillusioned with his life as a deputy sheriff. Esperanza De La Cruz has left the only home she has ever known to work at Sweet Grove’s daycare. When someone steals her car, Deputy McIntyre comes to the rescue.

There’s an instant attraction between them, but they’re both broken on the inside. Her father is in prison for intoxicated manslaughter and she’s afraid that Brad won’t want to be with her because of it.

He’s thinking of leaving the only career he’s ever known but pretends that everything is fine. His desperate prayers seem to go unanswered.

When they start spending time together and their feelings for each other begin to grow stronger, things become even more complicated. When the truth comes out, will it pull them apart or will they find a second chance at love and in life together?

Buy the book on Amazon

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About the Author: Cindy Flores Martinez is a USA Today bestselling author. She writes Christian romance. She has an MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Screenwriting. Her debut novel, Mail-Order Groom, started as a screenplay and movie project, which she shopped around Hollywood, New York, and other parts of the world. You can learn more about her at www.cindyfloresmartinez.com.

Follow Cindy: Facebook ~ Twitter

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Author Interview: Vanessa Riley

Today, we’re featuring Vanessa Riley.

She’s the author of Regency-era novels with gorgeous book covers, captivating characters, and intriguing storylines!

Vanessa visits with us today to talk about her story, Unmasked Heart.

About the book: 
Shy, nearsighted caregiver, Gaia Telfair always wondered why her father treated her a little differently than her siblings. She never guessed she couldn’t claim his love because of a family secret, her illicit birth. With everything she knows to be true evaporating before her spectacles, can the mulatto passing for white survive being exposed and shunned by the powerful duke who has taken an interest in her?

Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children learn to speak. If only he could do a better job at shielding his heart from the young lady whose honest hazel eyes see through his jests as her tender lips challenge his desire to remain a single man.

Unmasked Heart is the first Challenge of the Soul Regency Romance novel.

Purchase the book: Amazon, BAM!B&N

Author bio: Vanessa Riley worked as an engineer before allowing her passion for historical romance to shine. A Regency era (early 1800s) and Jane Austen enthusiast, she brings the flavor of diverse peoples to her stories. Since she was seventeen, Vanessa has won awards for her writing and is currently working on two series. She lives in Atlanta with her military man hubby and precocious child. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Interview: 

Alexis: Unmasked Heart is the first book in your Challenge of the Soul Regency series. Tell us about it. How did you create the concept for this story?

Vanessa: Unmasked Heart is a story in which I kept pushing the envelope. I didn’t want to tell a normal tale. Every novel in the series will focus on a challenge of faith from someone who has been rocked to his/her core by life circumstances. The hero or heroine or both must answer, “Who am I in Christ?” Am I conqueror, a temple, no longer a slave, an heir?

When we meet Gaia, we see she is a nice young woman from a modest family. She’s the kind sister and the caregiver in her family. She is doing good things and takes primary care of her stepbrother. Gaia is a believer and her faith is evident from the beginning. When she is alone, she prays to God, mentioning all her frustrations. At first, these problems seem to be nothing more than what a young woman of the 1800s would face.

Yet, what would make Gaia challenge everything that she knows including her bedrock of faith? It wasn’t enough to have her requited in love. It wasn’t enough to have her doubt her father’s love. What if she doubted who she was? That is where her story begins. Who am I in Christ? Am I who He says I am or the lies I’ve grown up believing?

Alexis: What are Gaia’s greatest hopes and deepest fears? Why?

Vanessa: Like all of us, Gaia wants to be loved. She has spent her life in want of it. She wants deep and abiding, love-all-of-me love. Fear of never possessing it or not being brave enough to say she deserves it, this is Gaia’s problem. If she can overcome the fear of asking and failing, she will never have everything God wants her to have. How can she be all that God wants her to be if she does not have the strength to try?

Alexis: Gaia grew up believing that her natural tan is a result of her mother’s Spanish ancestry. But then she learns the truth. How does her father’s confession rock her world?

Vanessa: The day Gaia learns that her mother had an affair and that Gaia is the product of a liaison with an African man, her world is turned upside down. She is ashamed of her mother’s sins. She knows little of the African race. In her isolated village away from London, she may have not seen that many. She has heard the jokes about that race being slow-witted or happy slaves. She must come to terms with who she is as a biracial woman. She has to accept that the past does not matter. It is who she in in Christ, how she makes her life a willing sacrifice to Him—that is what matters. My hope is all who read Unmasked Heart, will sense her heartache of learning the truth and the weight of her dilemma. Some will never value her humanity because of the sins of the past, but she must come to understand that Gaia is not defined by it. Her present counts more. She is wonderfully made molded in the image of the Creator.

Alexis: A mulatto “passing” for White was an act that is not limited to the Regency era but still happens in modern times. What is your definition of a mulatto?

Vanessa: A mulatto is a person of mix ancestry with typically one white parent and one black parent. Gaia is a mulatto. A Blackamoor is a person of darker colored skin. Had she been darker skinned, unable to pass for White, she could have also been labeled as a Blackamoor.

Alexis: William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, is the hero of your story. Describe his looks, mannerisms, and heart.

Vanessa: William is a handsome, older hero. He’s in his mid-thirties, which was older for the shorter Regency life spans. William is a military man. Rigor and discipline are his norms. It’s what he is used to, but now he finds himself widowed and raising a daughter who is mute. Can you imagine if you are accustomed to shouting commands to your men who do as they are told but you can’t command this little girl? She won’t say “Yes, Sir” and do his bidding. He is frustrated and desperate. So, when he meets Gaia and finds out that she is a caregiver who has taught her mentally disabled brother to speak, he has hope. He must meet Gaia and find a way to convince her to help.

Alexis: What is it about Gaia that draws William to her, making him reconsider his desire to remain single?

Vanessa: William is a widower, but his marriage was difficult. His wife married him for his title and his wealth. He meets Gaia who doesn’t care about either. In a truly Darcy-kind-of-way, he’s taken by her because she’s not running after him or fawning all over him. In fact, she believes herself in love with someone else. He feels he can be himself around her without worrying about her trying to attach herself to him. The problem with spending more time with Gaia is that he sees her heart, begins to covet it then wants it for himself.

Gaia is love with her neighbor, Elliot. Unfortunately, he has begun to court her sister, Julia. Gaia is heartbroken to see her sister’s treachery for who else would know of her love for Elliot better than the sister she with which she was close? Gaia’s happily-ever-after won’t come until she is able to repair relationships with her family and learning to live without bitterness if her efforts fail. Not everyone will be able to accept who you are, but you must love yourself enough to not crumble. Gaia should accept the challenge to love herself more than sorrow, more than loss. If God loves us so much that He sacrificed his only Son for our sakes, why can’t we love ourselves beyond our own failures or the poor labels given to us by those who are not working for our good?

If Gaia and William, can both learn to love to love in the light, beyond the shadows of the past, they will earn their happily-ever-after.

Alexis: What were the challenges of writing this book?

Vanessa: There wasn’t a challenge per se. The problem lies more in the attitudes one confronts during and after publication, centering on the lie that this story could never happen. Dido Belle, the mulatto niece raised by Lord Mansfield is not known by many but there is a lovely movie called Belle if one needs cliff notes to this history. One may not care to know that Jane Austen wrote about a mulatto heiress in Sandition (1817). One probably doesn’t know of the scandal of Prince William, the brother of the Regent who was caught in an affair with a mulatto woman from Jamaica (1778).

I was on a panel and a very, very popular bestselling author, tried to make a joke about it being “impossible to put African Americans in her Regency novels because it was England.” She thought it was cute to indicate, “that you people have no seat at the table.”

She forgot about the American-born slave women brought to London post the Revolutionary War, technically African-Americans. She forgot about the free Blackamoor and mulatto women present in London at the time Pride and Prejudice was written. Bless her heart. She did have her hands full marginalizing other populations in her books as her answer to the growing call to add diversity to her stories.

Alexis: What would you like to see change in CBA when it comes to authors of color who write about characters of color and how that impacts their journey to publication?

Vanessa: I would love for there to be more opportunity, but opportunity is only part of the battle. The systemic marketing issues are huge. Stories centered on characters of color are often packaged as exotic like it’s the same as an alien futuristic novel. Other marketing tactics are to put a house on the cover as if the reader should be tricked into buying the book. Or lastly, the guilt-ridden complex which equates to buy this book of color because it’s Black History Month, etc. as if the story would not make a good read in March. The CBA is not alone in this struggle, but it seems that with the data available about buying patterns and habits, newer fresher ways to market diverse books should also exist.

Alexis: You’ve said that ABA wants your historical romance stories that feature characters of color but CBA does not. What did they say was the reason? How do you feel about that? Explain.

Vanessa: I can’t speak for the ABA (American Booksellers Association) or CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) but ABA seems to be more successful in getting different types of books to the market. They take more risks, which paid off with more unexpected hits.

With the ABA or CBA, you still face challenges in marketing diverse stories. If the sales numbers are not there, you’ve now doomed the slots for your future books and or books like yours. Yes, this is the extra weight of every diverse narrative that is traditionally published. Can you stand the rain?

I have an umbrella, and I decided to go with a publisher who has had success in publishing different books to a wider market and has the distribution to land New York Times bestsellers. For my 2018 releases, I am being published by Entangled in their single title historical select imprint. I am very happy for the opportunity to tell my story to a broader audience.

Alexis: What advice do you have for authors of color who want to share their stories but are afraid to write what they know?

Vanessa: Tell the story you are given. Don’t chase the market for it always moving. Write what is on your heart. When I gave up trying to fit my square peg Regency tales into a round market that didn’t necessarily think a market for diverse Regencies existed, I found my lane, my audience. I am ever grateful for my traditionally published CBA debut and every one of my independently published titles that have found homes around the world on readers’ shelves or Kindles.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Vanessa!

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Connect with Vanessa:

Website – www.vanessariley.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/VanessaRileyAuthor

www.facebook.com/ChristianRegency

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/VanessaRiley

Pinterest – http://pinterest.com/regencymaid

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/govanessariley

Purchase Vanessa’s book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WDR6C7S

Sign up for Vanessa’s newsletter: http://christianregency.com/subscribe.html

Book Review: Unmasked Heart

Book title: Unmasked Heart

Author: Vanessa Riley

Number of pages: 412

Book blurb: Shy, nearsighted caregiver, Gaia Telfair always wondered why her father treated her a little differently than her siblings, but she never guessed she couldn’t claim his love because of a family secret, her illicit birth. With everything she knows to be true evaporating before her spectacles, can the mulatto passing for white survive being exposed and shunned by the powerful duke who has taken an interest in her?Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children learn to speak.

Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children learn to speak.

If only he could do a better job at shielding his heart from the young lady, whose honest hazel eyes see through his jests as her tender lips challenge his desire to remain a single man. Unmasked Heart is the first Challenge of the Soul Regency novel.

Book purchase links: AmazonBAM!B&N

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My Thoughts:

Sadness, sweetness and true beauty were poetically woven throughout this story with the perfect title for its content.

The story is called Unmasked Heart and the author Vanessa Riley is a true authority on all things regency romance. She skillfully and flawlessly paints vivid pictures in every scene featuring characters of color.

The heroine Gaia Telfair is what people back then (and now) would call a “mulatto” which means that she is a mix of White and Black blood/heritage/lineage. Due to her mixed blood, her skin is a bit darker than her White family members and she’s very self-conscious about it. She even stays out of the sun for a month prior to a fancy masquerade ball so that she appears paler and closer to the skin color that was accepted by society at that time which was a milky white complexion.

Gaia’s father spun the story about her skin color from her birth to be socially acceptable. He said that she had Spanish ancestry and for a while, that lie worked…until Gaia discovered the truth.

The author knows how to peel back the layers in this story like a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef would expertly peel back the layers of an onion. Every layer reveals something new about the hero and heroine of this story. It’s so well done and intriguing that the reader will keep turning the page until they reach the end. The reader’s journey through this book is an experience of a myriad of emotions as the plot twists and the tension builds.

Highlights from this book include the scene where William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, advises Gaia that she give her love interest “something to chase” because “every man wants to win love and know that it’s his alone.” It ups the ante on the love triangle that’s happening in this story. It’s the classic case of the heroine wants the object of her affection but he does not want her (at first) and meanwhile, the true hero (William) wants the heroine. The difference, however, is that William is a hero worth his weight in gold who makes Elliot (Gaia’s love interest/first hero of choice) pale in comparison.

Another highlight in this book was when Gaia confesses her feelings to a man that she thinks is Elliot. But his face is hidden behind a mask because they’re attending a masquerade ball. It was compelling to hear Gaia pour out her “unmasked heart” to “Elliot” only to find out that it is not he. The reaction of the man who is not Elliot was swoon-worthy.

A sad part of this story was the fact that Gaia believed the Black side of her heritage prevented the only father that she knew from loving her as one of his biological daughters. Even sadder was the scene where Gaia learned the circumstances of her conception and the tragic results of the affair that her mother had with Gaia’s biological father. Worse yet is her belief that her Blackness will prevent the man she loves from loving her back.

However, the reader may be surprised by Gaia’s unique marriage proposal. It was a scene that made me laugh out loud. The interaction between Gaia and her suitor was heartwarming.

One of the most clever lines in this story was when a Black man named Albert talks about his mixed-race niece whose hair like Gaia’s which he describes as “feathers in the fog”. It was a very clever way for this author to reveal that Albert knew that Gaia was part Black and it rings true even in the year 2017 when quite often a Black person in America can easily point out another Black person no matter what percentage of Black blood they have just by details that most people who are not Black may miss.

It made me sad that a character advised Gaia to not tell William that she is Black because it would “ruin everything”. But that’s a reality that Black women of mixed heritage still sometimes face in 2017 which is centuries after the era this book was written to reflect.

Most powerful was the point in this story where Gaia realizes that it doesn’t matter how her biological father’s background or status in society ranked. What matters is that she’s a Child of the King (GOD) so God made her somebody and she deserves happiness.

I loved reading this story! The author’s storytelling style is historically accurate, enthralling, and smooth. The storyline is strong and so well told that it was hard to take a break from reading it.

Unmasked Heart is worth every bit of a 5-star rating!

*The book reviewer (Alexis A. Goring) received a complimentary copy of Unmasked Heart from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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About the Author: Vanessa Riley worked as an engineer before allowing her passion for historical romance to shine. A Regency era (early 1800s) and Jane Austen enthusiast, she brings the flavor of diverse peoples to her stories. Since she was seventeen, Vanessa has won awards for her writing and is currently working on two series. She lives in Atlanta with her military man hubby and precocious child. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

 Follow Vanessa:  WebsiteFacebookTwitterPinterestInstagramGoodreads

Book Spotlight: Unmasked Heart by Vanessa Riley

Happy Wednesday, Reader Friends!

Thanks for stopping by Diversity Between the Pages.

Today, I’m bringing you a book spotlight of Vanessa Riley’s Unmasked Heart

Enjoy!

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About the book: 

 Shy, nearsighted caregiver, Gaia Telfair always wondered why her father treated her a little differently than her siblings. She never guessed she couldn’t claim his love because of a family secret, her illicit birth. With everything she knows to be true evaporating before her spectacles, can the mulatto passing for white survive being exposed and shunned by the powerful duke who has taken an interest in her?

Ex-warrior, William St. Landon, the Duke of Cheshire, will do anything to protect his mute daughter from his late wife’s scandals. With a blackmailer at large, hiding in a small village near the cliffs of Devonshire seems the best option, particularly since he can gain help from the talented Miss Telfair, who has the ability to help children learn to speak. If only he could do a better job at shielding his heart from the young lady whose honest hazel eyes see through his jests as her tender lips challenge his desire to remain a single man.

Unmasked Heart is the first Challenge of the Soul Regency Romance novel.

Book purchase links: Amazon, BAM!, B&N

~*~

About the Author: 

Vanessa Riley worked as an engineer before allowing her passion for historical romance to shine. A Regency era (early 1800s) and Jane Austen enthusiast, she brings the flavor of diverse peoples to her stories. Since she was seventeen, Vanessa has won awards for her writing and is currently working on two series. She lives in Atlanta with her military man hubby and precocious child. You can catch her writing from the comfort of her southern porch with a cup of Earl Grey tea.

Follow Vanessa: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Goodreads