Open Discussion: Christmas Traditions

DBTP - letstalk

Happy Saturday, Reader Friends!

I love learning about how different cultures celebrate holidays. I think it show how much creativity and wonder there is in the world. I love when I’m in a good book, and I get wrapped up into the story so much that I want to be sitting next to the main character, experiencing the music, tasting the food, smelling the aromas.

This recently happened to me when I was reading Cynthia Marcano’s story (“Have Yourself a Merry Little Cocoa”) in our new boxed set, A Merry Navidad. I was really getting into the pastelitos de guayaba and the pernil, so I decided to badger her to add the recipes at the end of her story. Now I have a great recipe for pernil! And reading the whole set, reeeeeeally got me in the mood to make tamales this Christmas.

I love how books can transport us and how we take feelings and ideas back home with us. I’d like to hear what Christmas books filled you with the Christmas spirit and led you to do something.

I grew up in NJ with an Italian background, so we have often had lasagna or stuffed shells for Christmas Eve and usually a ham for Christmas day. In Mexico, where my husband’s from, some traditional foods at Christmas are: tamales, romeritos, champarrado, buñuelos, ponche, pozole. The list goes on. Also in Mexico, they do Las Posadas, where they parade around town as pregnant Mary and Joseph, knocking on neighbor’s doors, until they find their manger. They also have fireworks and celebrating January 6th (Three Kings’ Day) is a big deal, even bigger than Christmas.

Also what are your family’s and your culture’s Christmas traditions? Please tell us in the comments below about.

*Post written by Allison K García, contributor

tamales, pupusas, and tacos - oh my!


 

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Interview with Cathe Swanson about her book “Hope for the Holidays”

Happy Monday, reader friends!

Last November, we did a spotlight on Cathe Swanson’s Christmas story Hope for the Holidays. Today, Cathe is back and this time, we’re asking questions about her same book.

Enjoy our interview with Cathe Swanson, author of Hope for the Holidays!


Interview with Cathe Swanson about her book,  Hope for the Holidays (Great Lakes Collection):

Alexis: What about the holiday season inspired you to write this book?

Cathe: Christmas brings out the best and worst in communities, so there are always stories to tell. The first Unity Plenkiss book, Snow Angels, was too short to include all of the characters’ Christmas stories. I especially wanted to talk about Tally, a homeless vet with PTSD, because she is so real to me – vulnerable but trying to get and maintain control of her life.

 Alexis: What is does your book title, “Hope for the Holidays,” mean?

Cathe: Christmas can be an emotional season, with pressures and sad memories as well as great joy, fun, and peace. In Chicago, the short winter days are cold. Maly Park is an aging Chicago neighborhood with a diverse population. There are elderly people who’ve lived in the same house through blessings and losses, peace and wars, left behind when their children grew up and left home. There are veterans, women in crisis, children in unstable homes, and other people facing challenges. It’s not just a matter of money – like us, they need love. They need community. The Unity Plenkiss and the church – The Blessed Church of the Sacred Lion and Holy Lamb – provide warmth and encouragement for everyone. Hope!

Alexis: I love the cover art for your book! It is beautiful and captivating! Was it challenging to find a cover photo that featured your hero who is Black and your heroine who is White together sipping what looks like a latte or hot chocolate? Share your cover design story with details like who created it and if it was expensive.

Cathe: Yes, it was hard! There aren’t enough stock photo options for people of color, and finding the right search terms was complicated. I spent an entire day looking at all the major stock photography websites for the right people. In the end, my cover designer, Chautona Havig, had to patch together the image, bringing the couple closer together across the table and fading out the crowded background. This would be a great business opportunity for a professional photographer!

Alexis: As a White author, did you find it difficult to write a hero of color? Why or why not?

Cathe: I didn’t find it difficult to write about Micah, because he just seemed to be “Micah” – a man conflicted over his spiritual gifts vs. his current responsibilities. He came from a suburban Christian home.

I am aware of the limitations of my experience and understanding, and I do worry about “doing it wrong” when I write about characters of markedly different cultures, so I follow the age-old advice and “write what I know.” The adult people of color I know lead lives similar to my own, so that’s how I envision Micah. I live on campus at a treatment center for boys who’ve been in trouble with the law, so my teenage characters might – in a very general way – reflect some of the attitudes and history of the boys here. I realize that Micah’s racial heritage is part of who he is, and he must have experienced racial conflict in his life, but my Christmas novella has a limited scope and setting, and I didn’t explore all of that.

Alexis: Did you do any research when writing this interracial romance between Carrie and Micah? Share details and advice on how you made it work.

Cathe: There are a few interracial relationships in my family and more among our friends and in our church, so I just portrayed it as naturally as I could. In real life, it’s challenging for some people, but it wasn’t really a problem for Carrie and Micah because of her upbringing as a missionary kid in a Black family.

Alexis: What advice do you have to other White authors who may want to write about characters of color in their fiction stories for CBA but are hesitant or scared to do so?

Cathe: If you are going to write a story with significant cultural conflict or issues, get advice from people who have a real understanding of those things. I have found that when I say, “I’m an author writing a book about…”, people are usually happy to share information and help me understand things.I use the Tumblr blog “Writing with Color” for research and advice. It’s a great, helpful website, but it’s also very intense. When I read about all of the mistakes that I can make, I get paralyzed – too scared to write anything at all!

Whatever their skin color, just write about people – real human beings with realistic backstories. If you are worried about something, pray about it. My first goal is to glorify God in my writing, so I write from my own experience, ask for help when I have questions, and just do the best I can.

Alexis: Would you like to see more stories that feature interracial romances, published by CBA? Why or why not?

Cathe: Certainly. I like to read stories with characters who reasonably represent the demographics of their environment, and interracial romances aren’t at all uncommon anymore.

Alexis: Let’s talk more about the romance elements in your story. What is it about Carrie that makes Micah want to pursue a romantic relationship with her?

Cathe: Carrie is energetic and overflowing with good ideas. She can be bossy, but her good intentions shine through. Her childhood, growing up as a missionary kid in the Congo, made her both savvy and naïve. She listens to people. Micah was able to tell her how he felt without being afraid she would judge him.

Alexis: What is it about Micah that tugs on Carrie’s heartstrings and inspires her to give him a chance?

Cathe: Micah – besides being charming and handsome – wants to take care of his people. His congregation may exasperate him, but he feels a great sense of responsibility for them. He won’t leave them to pursue his own dreams until he has provided for their future leadership.

Alexis: Your story’s opening scene is hilarious and your couple’s meet cute is sweet! What were Carrie and Micah’s first impressions of each other?

Cathe: Carrie is startled by the theft of her long-awaited treat and Micah’s intervention. She’s embarrassed by her reaction, and he’s embarrassed by the behavior of his parishioner, but they find each other fascinating.

Alexis: Why is Carrie eager to organize and improve the Unity Plenkiss Community Center?

Cathe: She’s a capable girl and doesn’t like to see resources wasted. She sees great possibilities for the Unity Plenkiss and knows she can make a real difference, but she’s also eager to prove that she’s an intelligent adult – not Roy’s little sister, who only got the job because he recommended her.

Alexis: What kind of pastor is Micah? Describe his leadership style.

Cathe: Micah is very, very conscientious and feels responsibility for everyone in his church. At the same time, he feels like they manage just find on their own.

Alexis: Has Micah always had a big heart for people and has Carrie always had a passion for organization? Explain.

Cathe: Micah’s faith is solid and transparent, and he’s a lively preacher, but his heart is in teaching, not pastoring. He wants to help people but believes he lacks the skills to connect and help them one-on-one.

Carrie has always been sensible and worked hard, as a missionary kid in a poverty-stricken region. Learning to work efficiently made it easier. She gets frustrated now with disorganization.

Alexis: Did you self-publish this book or was it traditionally published? Explain why you chose that publication path for this book and give advice for aspiring authors.

Cathe: I think an author’s personality is the biggest factor when choosing which publication route to take. All my books are independently published. I like the control this gives me over my work and marketing, but it’s a lot of work.

If you like group projects and working with a team, conventional publishing might be a better choice.

Alexis: What do you want readers to remember most about this book?

Cathe: I want them to remember the humanity of the individual characters, and how each one of them needed dignity.

Alexis: Thanks for the interview, Cathe! Do you have closing comments?

Cathe: Thank you for letting me talk about my book. Hope for the Holidays is one of my favorites.

*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor


About the Book:

Newly arrived from her home in the Congo and armed with a brand-new degree in nonprofit management, Carrie Strough is eager to organize and improve the Unity Plenkiss Community Center. Unfortunately, no one wants to be organized, and only Micah Neresen, the charming and handsome pastor of the local church, is interested in her plans. Or is he just interested in her?

With a cast of lively and eccentric characters including a homeless vet with PTSD, a con man, an elderly couple with an over-the-top Christmas display, a feisty committeewoman with a past of her own, and a police investigation, Micah and Carrie wonder if there is any hope for the holidays this year!

Book Purchase Link: Amazon


About the Author:

Cathe Swanson lives in Wisconsin with her husband of 32 years. They enjoy spending time with their family and being outdoors, kayaking, hiking, birdwatching and fishing, but summer is short in Wisconsin, so it’s important to have indoor hobbies, too. Cathe has been a quilter and teacher of quiltmaking for over 25 years, and she enjoys just about any kind of creative work, especially those involving fiber or paper.

Her family is growing steadily; she and her husband had three sons, and those boys all grew up and married delightful women and started producing grandchildren: four boys and three girls so far!

The long Wisconsin winters are perfect for writing and reading books! Cathe enjoys writing stories with eccentric characters of all ages. Her books will make you laugh and make you cry – and then make you laugh again.

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Book Review: Deck the Shelves

Happy Friday, reader friends!

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is NEXT WEEK?!? Before we know it, Christmas will be here… which is a great segue into our book review for this week 😉

ABOUT THE BOOK

dtsKendall Jackson is the proud owner of Heartfalls’ bookstore, The Cozy Shelf. Her life is one straight out of the pages, except she’s missing that leading man. Although she has a crush on the handsome auto mechanic, Quinton Hendricks, Kendall wants an old-fashioned type of romance—the stuff swoon-worthy romance books are made of. But Quinton seems to need a little prodding.

Something about Kendall sparks hope in Quinton Hendricks that love could be his again. Only being abandoned by his ex-wife has made him cautious to the point of non-moving.

Can two people hesitant on second chances find love as they Deck the Shelves?

Right now you can find Deck the Shelves in the Comfort and Joy novella collection!

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MY THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a sweet Christmas romance that celebrates books, this is the novella for you!

Kendall and “Q” are a cute match, and their secret ‘bookish’ notes that they leave each other throughout The Cozy Shelf bookstore simply delighted me. In fact, bookworms will find much to love about Deck the Shelves. From the charming bookstore setting to the literary quotes gracing each chapter – and the secret admirer notes – to the shout outs to various fave authors … this is a book for book nerds 🙂

Shiloh always writes wonderfully diverse and layered characters, and she has done so again in Deck the Shelves. While this is a lighter read with plenty of chuckles and grins, there is nonetheless a deeper spiritual theme woven into the fabric of the plot as well. In order to trust each other’s hearts (based on their past painful relationships), they each will first need to learn to trust God with the relationship.

A cute Christmas romance perfect for Hallmark movie fans and bookworms alike!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tonishilohToni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian contemporary romance author. Once she understood the powerful saving grace, thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

You can find her at http://tonishiloh.wordpress.com.

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posted by contributor Carrie Schmidt

Interview with Alexa Verde, author of Season of Joy (+Giveaway)

Good morning, readers!

Thank you for joining me as I talk to Alexa Verde about her Christmas book, Season of Joy.

Phyllis: Tell me something about Season of Joy that is  not in the blurb.

Alexa: First of all, thank you so much for interviewing me, Phyllis, and for all your support of Christian authors. I can probably talk forever about this book.

I loved writing Season of Joy because it had so much love, faith, humor, and light. I also enjoyed creating a plus-size heroine because it helped me leave my insecurities in the past. Season of Joy is a friends to true love and second chances romance, which are two of my favorite romance tropes!

Phyllis: Rios Azules. You use this setting for many of your books. What is it like?

Alexa: It’s a small town in south Texas with a caring community and quirky characters whom I’d be happy to have as friends in real time. It also has some great restaurants where I wouldn’t mind to eat myself. Rios Azules is “Blue Rivers” in Spanish, and the town is situated near a river while surrounded by forests and fields, and it’s about forty-minutes drive to the ocean. This small town is a place where people make you feel welcome whether you come for a visit or to stay. I enjoy tremendously returning there again and again, and I hope so do my readers.

Phyllis: Tell me more about the characters.

Alexa: Joy Avila is fun, down-to-earth, and caring, and Dylan McGregor thinks she’s absolutely gorgeous, though it takes him some disastrous dates with other women (set up by Joy!) to realize his soulmate is actually his childhood friend. Her profession, a travel reporter, is close to my heart. Once upon a time, I loved traveling and writing about my trips. Due to being belittled and teased as a teen, Joy has commitment issues. Dylan is a single father who works in construction and home repair. After a heartbreaking marriage to a drug addict, he’s afraid to fall in love, too. The characters of Dylan’s sons, Travis and Junior, were a lot of fun to write!

Phyllis: What were the challenges you faced creating them?

Alexa: While sweet and heartwarming, Season of Joy deals with difficult issues, for example, child abandonment and drug use by a secondary character. While I loved creating the character of Dylan’s son, Junior, it wasn’t easy writing the scenes were the boy feared for his father’s life or when he blamed himself for his mother’s abandoning him. I did love Junior’s honesty and pure faith!

Phyllis: What do you love about them and what do you hate?

Alexa: I get attached to my characters, so I love everything about them. Even when they make mistakes or behave in the way I personally wouldn’t want for them to behave, I realize they need to learn from their errors and cheer them on their difficult journey to their happily-ever-after. The only thing I hate about my characters is saying good-bye to them. That’s why they often “visit” my new books. And Joy’s best friend, Samantha, became the main character in a different book, Rapsodia.

Phyllis: What was your inspiration for writing this particular story?

Alexa: First, I wanted to write another Christmas romance, Book 2 in the Rios Azules Christmas series, because I enjoyed writing a Christmas story so much. We should remember about God’s gift to us, about His amazing love, about grace and salvation. We should turn to Jesus in every moment of our lives. Of course, we should do this always, not only during Christmas, but there’s something amazing about this most wonderful time of the year.

Second, I used to have self-image issues because I considered myself overweight in high school, so writing about a plus-size heroine who found her happiness and was adored by people around her was in a way liberating. I’m an avid reader, and I read about many romance heroines who were slim, gorgeous, and just perfect, and I thought that I didn’t look like that. Many women I know don’t look like that! I also felt it would be great to write about a man who became an everyday hero to me by raising his son alone and adopting a teenage boy, Travis, whom nobody wanted to adopt. And so Season of Joy was born.

Phyllis: What do you want your readers to learn from it?

Alexa: Society puts a lot of pressure on us to look a certain way, and sometimes we feel we don’t measure up and forget that we’re all beautiful in God’s eyes. And like Joy and Dylan, we need to let go of the past and open ourselves to new possibilities again.

Phyllis: What do you love most about writing about diverse cultures? What is most challenging about it?

Alexa: Writing about diverse cultures teaches me about acceptance of other people, and I just enjoy learning new things, one of the reasons I used to love traveling so much. And isn’t it fun trying new dishes or returning to the personal favorites? How about eating pizza for research? The challenging part about writing about diverse cultures is probably avoiding stereotypes. There are certain things associated with some nationalities, and one could subconsciously write them into a book.

Phyllis: Your bio tells me that you speak 5 languages and mentions English, Spanish and Russian. What are the other two? And what inspired you to learn them all?

Alexa: Belarusian and German, but I’m forgetting German by now. Two of five are my native languages. I learned Spanish because I love learning new languages and because many people in Texas speak Spanish. So I decided to get a B.A. in Spanish. I learned German because I wanted to travel to Germany and was fascinated by their culture.

Thank you so much for the interview, Phyllis! I loved talking to you.

Phyllis: And thank you, Alexa. It has been a pleasure to learn more about you and your books. I’m looking forward to reading Season of Joy!

*Interview conducted by Phyllis Helton, contributor


About the Author:

Alexa Verde Author-PhotoAlexa Verde writes sweet, wholesome books about faith, love, and murder. She has had 200 short stories, articles, and poems published in the five languages that she speaks. She has bachelor’s degrees in English and Spanish, a master’s in Russian, and enjoys writing about characters with diverse cultures. She’s worn the hats of reporter, teacher, translator, model (even one day counts!), caretaker, and secretary, but thinks that the writer’s hat suits her the best. After traveling the world and living in both hemispheres, she calls a small town in south Texas home. The latter is an inspiration for the fictional setting of her series Rios Azules Christmas and Secrets of Rios Azules.

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About the Book:

Season of Joy by Alexa VerdeSecond chance or second heartache?Single dad Dylan McGregor wants to give his two sons the best life possible in the small town where he’d grown up. When his youngest son writes a letter to God asking for a Mom for Christmas, Dylan reluctantly starts dating again. His lifelong friend, Joy Avila, agrees to help him find the right woman. Then Dylan begins to see Joy in a new light and believes she’s the right woman for him and his family.

Overweight and teased in school, Joy never hoped her first crush, Dylan McGregor, would return her feelings. Confident and successful now, she’s found her passion in writing about international travels. The trip of a lifetime awaits her after the holidays. Instead, will she find her dreams right there in Rios Azules?

Season of Joy is available on Amazon in eBook format and paperback and is also on Kindle Unlimited.


Giveaway

Alexa is kindly giving away one eBook copy of her entire Rio Azules Christmas series collection (In Love by Christmas) to one random commenter.  If you are interested in winning, comment below. If you aren’t sure what to say, tell us what you enjoy about reading diverse fiction.

Giveaway ends at midnight November 12, 2018

Diverse Holiday Books (and Movies!)

DBTP - letstalk

Happy Sunday, folks!

Thanksgiving and Christmas is upon us, and for me, I love, love, love watching holiday movies, whether it’s about Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Year’s, or a combo of the two. I know we usually focus on books, but movies are like books come to life (if they’re done well!).

As I was planning this blog in my mind, I was trying to think about what my favorite holiday movie and book that features diverse principal characters. And nothing came in my mind, except for the movie, “The Holiday” with Queen Latifah. So either I have a sheltered shelf of books and DVDs, or we need more diverse holiday books and movies out there in the world (or perhaps a bit of both).

My son does have a Spanish language book about too many tamales (¡Qué Montón de Tamales!), which talks about Christmas with a Mexican family and working together to make tamales. The premise is that a little girl helps her aunt make tamales but later realizes she has lost her mother’s ring inside the giant mountain of tamales, and she and her cousins have to eat them to find the ring. Pretty cute!

But, seriously, as I think about all the holiday books and movies I love: “A Christmas Carol,” “Home Alone,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “Elf,” etc. there are almost zero people of color in those movies. I am literally realizing this as I am writing this. Wow, that is sad.

Please tell me good movies and books with diversity so I can expand my horizons and get in the holiday spirit! Thanks!!!