Happy Monday, diverse reader friends!
I’m so excited to share an interview with Melissa Wardwell. She’s stopped by to talk about her story, Hope Beyond Savannah, one of the two novelettes in A Spring of Weddings. When I read her story, I knew it was perfect for our blog. Let’s get started!
About the Book
Hope Beyond Savannah Blurb: Lily Allman and Nikotemo (Nik) Lagatuo were the poster children for the term “opposites attract.” He was an evangelist and CEO for a non-profit from Samoa who grew up in a large loving family. She was a blond bombshell with a funky style and no family to call her own. Two of the most unlikely people meet in the most unlikely of places, but God had a plan when He brought them together. They never let their differences deter them from the love they had for each other, but when Nik’s mother comes to the States for the wedding, the idea of wedded bliss is shaken. Can prejudices be over looked, insecurities overcome, and hope for a better future be restored so that these two can have all that was promised?
Toni: Welcome, Melissa! I’m so excited to talk about your latest release, Hope Beyond Savannah, one of the two stories in A Spring of Weddings. I was so excited that your book deals with an interracial relationship between a Caucasian and a Samoan! How did you decide to make Nik a Samoan?
Melissa: Honestly, I wish I could say it was some kind of brilliant creativity but really it was while I was doing an image search of bi-racial men. I kept coming across images of Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) and Jason Mamoa (Aqua Man), both of them are of Samoan heritage. In fact, Mr. Johnson won the award for become the muse for my “Nik” but I tell you what, I might use Mr. Mamoa later 😉
Toni: I’m still in shock that Jason Mamoa is going to be Aquaman. Did you find that writing a Samoan character had many traps to stereotype Nik’s character? And if so, how did you navigate the writing waters?
Melissa: I probably gave in a bit to those stereotypes. All you have to do is look the two guys mentioned above to see it. During my research though I found that they were kind and jovial people. I did my best to show that part of the culture. At the same time, I wrote Nik like any other man in active service for God should behave. I’m not sure it matters where your from when you head the Call. If you are living your life as a man (or woman) of God should, the tone of your skin shouldn’t effect that.
Toni: Yes! I love how the body of Christ has differences but our love for God unites us. You had so many interesting facts about the Samoan culture. How did you research all the information to make it so authentic?
Melissa: I spent a whole day absorbing all I could on the people, customs and language. If I was writing a full length novel, it probably would have been more in depth. Someone shared with me a translator online that spoke the word for you, not just typed out the translation. It was so beautiful. Google became a friend of mine this time around for sure as I researched wedding attire (they wear tree bark native to the island – yeah, not including that) and other traditions. I was surprised to find that even though their ancient history is riddled with gods and lore, their main religion is Christianity.
I also had to do research on the Maori people to get an accurate portrayal of the hakka. Look it up on YouTube. It is powerful and mesmerizing.
Toni: I’ll do that! Did you find it difficult to write Nik’s character considering your ethnic background?
Melissa: Oh heavens, yes. I was worried that things I wrote or stated would cause an offense with some one. I am from an area that has not seen any one of a different color or ethnicity for decades (our area has a past of not being very friendly with folks of African origin). It has only been in the last five or so years that you see more diversity on our streets. I wish I could say that the transition has been easy, but there are always going to be individuals who make poor choices – no matter what your skin color is.
Having friends who are different than I am and taking care of their little boy almost daily is what inspired me to try something different than the run of the mill Christian Fiction. I have always looked over color lines. I struggle to see why we should be treating people differently based on the color of their skin. That might be naïve of me, but I believe that is how God sees us. We all look different on the outside, but we were all made by the same Creator. We all have similar struggles. We all are just trying to make it in this crazy world.
Toni: I’m glad you took a step to write something different. It was beautifully done. How about some fun fact questions?
New Year’s or Valentine’s Day?
Melissa: New Year’s Because my hubby is always home for that holiday and our kids are old enough that they go in other directions and we can spend it together.
Toni: That’s awesome! Reading or Writing?
Melissa: Oh, that’s not fair. Depends on the mood. Right now, I am reading when I would rather be writing.
Toni: lol, that was a hard question. I think w (writers) all waffle between the two. Heels or Flats?
Melissa: There was a time when I would have said heels. Now it is leather riding boots or flats.
Toni: Flats all the way! Pineapples or Oranges?
Melissa: Both – together!
Toni: Yum! And of course, readers want to know, what’s next in the book world for you? Will you dive into diverse characters again?
Melissa: I am currently working on another novella in my Brides of Promise series and the next novel in my Promises from Above series. I would like to touch on this again but it might be a while. I may even be compelled to expand on Nik and Lily’s story. I know there was a lot that left some of my readers wanting to know more. (I did it on purpose) Really, it all depends on what story lines God gives me. I am open to it though.
Toni: Praying you many blessings on your writing endeavors! Readers, do you have any questions for Melissa?
About the Author
Melissa resides in a small mid-Michigan farm community with her husband, three children, two cats, and three dogs. Besides writing, she enjoys reading, taking photos, and motorcycle rides with her husband. Her hope is that each story touches your heart, gives you hope, or just gives you a moment away from the chaos of life.
Interview conducted by Toni Shiloh