Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joy and Serena's Best Inspy Romances of 2011!

I love the reading wrap ups bloggers post at the end of the year. I keep those posts bookmarked and refer back to them when I'm looking for something good to read next.

If you're looking for some inspirational romance recommendations, you've come to the right place. Of the 59 books I read in 2011, 30 were inspy romance. Instead of choosing a third of them and doing a top 10 list, I decided to whittle the pile down to five (Serena read way more romance than me, so her list is longer).

In no particular order, the top five inspirational romances I read this year are:

1. Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones.

Snarky humor and a hot hero, wish all my books came this way.

2. Waterfall by Lisa Bergren.

Props for originality! And I'm a sucker for teen-aged angst.

3. Lilly's Wedding Quilt by Kelly Long

An edgy Amish. Who knew?

4. Yesterday's Tomorrow by Catherine West

Completely unlike anything I've seen in Christian romance before. Gritty, powerful, and oh-so-romantic. It's easy to see why this one took the 2011 INSPY award for romance.

5. The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz

Really good kissing (and the story's well done too).









Serena's Top 10 List: Fave Inspy Romances of 2011
okay, I cheated a little. I had a "tie" -- but, hey, I read a lot.
(click on the book title to link to my review!)

10. Kiss of Night by Debbie Viguie -- I thought I was done with sexy vampires. I was wrong.

9. TIE! Protection for Hire by Camy Tang AND The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson -- PFH is a new romantic suspense series with the flavor of chick lit that I love so much. Looking forward to the next books in the series! And TMD is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is fresh and lovely.
8. A Billion Reasons Why by Kristin Billerbeck -- a killer soundtrack and a "my book boyfriend" who wears a fedora on a regular basis? I'm in.

7. A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander -- "Belmont, hail my alma mater..." It was so much fun to see the history of Belmont Mansion & its lady come to life!

6. To Die For by Sandra Byrd -- The writing in this book was just. so. GOOD. Sandra drew my heart into the story of Meg and her friend, Anne Boleyn. Can't wait for the next book in the series (June 2012!)

5. Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones -- still snorting. Ex-football hero turned politician needs a fiancee to up his rating in the polls? Pick me! Pick me!

4. Cascade by Lisa T. Bergren -- ahhhhhhhh. The sequel to Waterfall. The prequel to Torrent. I cannot believe how much I adore this series. I ahhh-dore it. BTW: Marcello, Luca: call me. I miss you.

3. There You'll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones --- It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me want to go to Ireland with a vampire (actor)

2. Torrent by Lisa T. Bergren -- I've got two words for you, ladies: LORD GRECO.

1. Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren -- This is the book that started me on a mild (some could argue the "mild" part) obsession with Italian knights. I could gush about this book for hours. Hours. Or I could just stare off into space and imagine my hand fitting the impression inside an Etruscan tomb and then traveling through time where I -- ahhhh -- land in Marcello's arms....

Oh, you're still here? Seriously? When you could be downloading these books?


I hope your reading adventures were as wonderful as mine were in 2011 -- and Joy and I wish you the very best in 2012!!!!


Monday, December 26, 2011

Interview with CAMY TANG

Camy Tang, a Stanford-educated biologist researcher-turned-novelist, writes "romance with a kick of wasabi." Her novels feature Asian-American characters, dysfunctional families and plenty of sarcastic humor. Camy's latest book, Protection for Hire, is the first installment of a new romantic suspense series starring an ex-Japanese Mob enforcer and a transplanted Louisiana lawyer. (SEE: MY REVIEW)


Born and raised on the island of Oahu, Camy Tang now lives in San Francisco, where many of her novels are based. I recently got together with Camy to discuss ninja skills, her new novel and why Mendocino, California is so special to her this time of year.

Serena: Romance with a kick of wasabi, eh? Care to elaborate?

Camy: Wasabi is a very hot (sinus-clearing) Japanese radish condiment used to give a clean-tasting little spice or kick when eating sushi or any raw seafood (my dad LOVES this stuff). Most of my stories have romance in them, and wasabi, with its Asian origin, refers to my Asian characters, that "kick" of sass in my contemporary romance, and that "kick" of danger in my romantic suspense.

Serena: What made you decide to tackle the Japanese Mafia? (Oh, wait … if you tell me, do you have to kill me?)

Camy: LOL! I've always been fascinated with the Japanese Mafia because I grew up watching Japanese movies (subtitled!) with my father. A friend of mine, Danica Favorite, mentioned Mafia to me as a story idea and it seemed the perfect opportunity to write about the yakuza. I've also enjoyed the TV series The Sopranos (well, I enjoyed the humorous family scenes, not the violent ones) and wanted to write my own take on a crime family.

Serena: What kind of research did you do in preparation for writing Tessa's fight scenes? That girl's got some mad ninja skills.

Camy: My husband is a huge mixed martial arts fan, so I grilled him on some of the fighting moves, watched mixed martial arts training videos, and also watched a lot of live fights to see the rhythm and flow of an actual fight. Most movie fights are scripted, but they also tend to have better flow and so my fight scenes are somewhat scripted to give them better pacing on the page.

Serena: You have Mob characters named Fred and Itchy (short for Ichiro). Fred, while seemingly odd and dull for a Japanese mobster, suits the character so very well and Itchy definitely puts a level of swanky smarm in that character's persona. Do your characters "name themselves" as the story develops or do you go through a specific process to pick their names?

Camy: Itchy and Fred were names that grew out of the characters. I think originally I named them character A and B, to be honest! Then later, after I'd written a few of their scenes, they were changed to Itchy and Fred.


Serena: Most of your books feature strong female leads who come from backgrounds with dysfunctional (and often quite hilarious) family dynamics. Do you ever worry that your family and friends will see themselves in the pages of your books — and be offended?

Camy: I deliberately do not write any of my family members in my books. All my characters are personalities I come up with on my own or perhaps an idea suggested by a newspaper clipping or magazine article. I'm rather lucky because my own family is not that dysfunctional — quite boring, actually.

Serena: Before you began writing full time you were a biologist researcher. Do any of those research skills come into play when creating a new novel?

Camy: I have a scientific mind-set so when I'm plotting the mystery thread, I tend to go about it like a scientific study and bring my logic to the table. I've had two biologist heroines, Trish from Only Uni and Rachel from Formula for Danger, but I don't intend to make a habit of writing biologist heroines. I can write about pharmaceutical espionage only so many times before it gets old.

Serena: In your new novel, the romantic lead, Charles, refers to a wife-beater using a word that is not frequently found in inspirational fiction — some readers might even consider it mildly profane. How hard did you have to fight to include that word in your final draft?

Camy: While I and my publishers don't condone swearing, I do try to make my characters realistic, and because of Charles' abusive father and the scars from his past, he wasn't going to refer to another wife-beater as a "bad man." I think my editors understood that. I don't intend to offend anyone, I simply wanted to show Charles' intense emotion at the time.

(**Note to readers: see comments section of the review for more info!)

Serena: If Hollywood snatched up Protection for Hire and asked you to cast any three characters, which three would you pick — and who would play those characters in a feature film?

Camy: I've always visualized Jessica Alba as Tessa because I think she's gorgeous and because I loved her independent, kick-butt character in the TV show Dark Angel. Bradley Cooper would be a good match for how I envisioned Charles to look like, if Bradley had a syrupy Southern accent. And Charles' Mama is most like Betty White in The Golden Girls, sweet and a little dingy sometimes.

Serena: What is your favorite scene in Protection for Hire?

Camy: Hands down, the Fat Boy scene. I remember hooting and laughing to myself as I wrote it. My husband looked in on me in my office with that strange, "I'm not sure what's wrong with you, but let's hope it's not contagious" look on his face.

Serena: That was a good one! Do you intend to continue this new series straight away, or will you begin something new in between titles?

Camy: My next title for Zondervan will be the second book in the Protection for Hire series, and I just got the title: A Dangerous Stage. It'll release in late 2012.

Serena: When you receive a manuscript back from your editor (the first time) your knee-jerk reaction is to …

Camy: Eat chocolate. LOTS of chocolate. I'm serious. I don't even open the file for a couple days after I get it. I have to work up to the challenge of edits, get into the right mind-set, which is usually more logical and less creative.

Serena: If Tessa Lancaster (the lead character in Protection for Hire) met you, she would describe you as …

Camy: Cheerful and a little clueless. LOL

Serena: But Charles, the romantic lead, might say you are …

Camy: Intelligent but a little clueless.

Serena: Which of your characters from your past work is the most like you?

Camy: To be honest, a little bit of me is in all of them. I have the slightly manic character of Lex from Sushi for One?, the ditziness of Trish fromOnly Uni, and the organizational freakazoid-ness of Venus from Single Sashimi. Tessa is probably the least like me — she's the kind of capable woman I would like to be.

Serena: I've never been to San Francisco, but I've always wondered: Is the trolley an efficient way to get around town — or just cute?

Camy: Just cute. I actually got sick on the trolley. There, I have confessed my big embarrassing secret.

Serena: You work with teens at your church. Any plans to write a YA novel or series?

Camy: I've thrown around some ideas and I've prayed about it, but so far, I haven't gotten anything I'd really want to work seriously on. But who knows what might happen in a few years?

Serena: You seem pretty passionate about helping aspiring authors to hone their craft. Who helped you to develop as a writer?

Camy: Sharon Hinck (The Restorer series) befriended me at Mount Hermon Christian Writers conference and became my unofficial mentor for several years. She and I were both unpublished when we became friends, but she was a few years ahead of me in terms of craft and knowledge of the publishing industry. I also have to credit Randy Ingermanson, Brandilyn Collins and Meredith Efken for giving me guidance in terms of what books to read, how to perfect my craft, and how to learn about the market.

Serena: What are you reading this month?

Camy: I'm re-reading an oldie but goodie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Serena: Do you have any unique holiday traditions you'd like to share with our readers?

Camy: My wedding was in December, and my wedding cake was artfully crafted as a Christmas tree. Around the cake, my mom put Hawaiian-themed ornaments to decorate the cake table, and I took those ornaments home with me. For Christmas the following year, I got a (fake) wreath and put all my wedding ornaments on it, along with a short string of lights, and I hang this up in my window every year. It makes me happy because it reminds me of my wedding and also my family.

Serena: Besides your wedding, what is your most romantic holiday memory?

Camy: For Thanksgiving the year after we got married, my husband and I took a trip to Mendocino, Calif., to celebrate our first wedding anniversary a few weeks early. It was an amazing trip. We stayed at the Albion River Inn with a glorious view of the ocean and had fantastic food from award-winning restaurants in the area. We had a terrific time and since then, Mendocino has always had a special place in my heart.

Serena: Thanks, Camy! To find out more about Camy Tang, you can visit her website, CamyTang.com.


(This interview originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Friday, December 23, 2011

REVIEW: PROTECTION FOR HIRE by Camy Tang

In Protection for Hire, author Camy Tang injects dry humor into an inspirational tale of romantic suspense, dysfunctional families and … the Japanese Mob.

HERE'S THE SITCH:

In the world of organized crime, loyalty is everything. Tessa Lancaster's loyalty to her uncle, the head of the San Francisco Yakuza, is fierce. Seven years ago she went to prison for a crime she didn't commit in order to protect him. When Tessa finally exits her incarceration she is a changed woman and, despite her uncle's generous offers, she refuses to go back to her lucrative life as an enforcer for the Yakuza.

Uncle Teruo can't understand why Tessa's newfound faith should keep her from returning to her duties, but Tessa is determined to find a way to support herself without help from the Japanese Mob. As an ex-con and an ex-Yakuza, however, it's awfully hard to find a job. Volunteering at a local battered women's shelter helps her to pass the time as the rejected job applications stack up, and it is there that Tessa meets Elizabeth, a wealthy Southern belle who is hiding from an abusive husband.

Elizabeth doesn't share the other residents' fear of Tessa. In fact, not only does she befriend the former Mob enforcer, she hires Tessa to be her bodyguard. Elizabeth believes her husband wants her dead and that Tessa can keep her safe until her money and freedom are secured. But Tessa can only do so much. To truly get Elizabeth free from her husband, they need legal help.

Charles Britton is an up-and-coming lawyer. When his mother, Elizabeth's godmother, calls to enlist him in helping in Elizabeth's plight, Charles thinks it will be a quick and easy pro bono case to pad his portfolio and push him closer toward partnership. When he discovers that Elizabeth has hired not only a convicted killer, but notoriously violent Tessa Lancaster to be her bodyguard, however, he is more than a little disturbed. Aware of the details of Tessa's trial, as well as her violent past, Charles can't help but doubt that Tessa has really changed. Has she really left the Yakuza? Is that even possible?

As danger encroaches, Tessa and Charles are drawn together not only by their common goal to protect Elizabeth and her young son, but by an attraction that defies their every attempt to remain aloof.

Elizabeth's case isn't as simple as it first appears and her ex-husband, while a true danger to his family, might turn out to be the least of Tessa's worries.

HITS & MISSES:

Charles is a handsome, success-driven guy who doesn't want to rock the boat. In fact, there are times he seems so uptight that you almost wish someone would prescribe that boy an enema. Be that as it may, however, he is a perfect foil for Tessa.

A volatile personality with the skills to back up her anger issues, Tessa is beautiful, smart, and an expert at mixed martial arts. Since opposites do tend to attract, the chemistry between Tessa and Charles is practically combustible. As they fight against their own natures and learn to respond to challenges in healthier ways, a sweet humanity and depth are realized that make the attraction spark to life.

I would have liked to have seen the violent Yakuza underbelly exposed a little more directly, but I must admit that Tessa's fight scenes, though brief, were pretty awesome. Even though this novel is not afraid to plant its fist in gritty girl power, it still allows Tessa to discover the allure of her own long-hidden femininity. Tessa Lancaster is a heroine who, even at her most vulnerable, stays true to character.

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ:

Protection for Hire has a colorful cast, a lot of action, and enough sarcasm to keep the author's chick-lit audience in the palm of her hand. Ending the novel with a satisfyingly bow-free lead into the next book, Camy Tang has built a strong foundation for a kick-butt new series.


(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After.)

Serena's Rating
PS: don't you just love the cover of this book??? -- it's creating quite a buzz!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

Whether found on TV shows such as Grimm and Once Upon a Time or in movie theaters, where 2012 will see two new versions of Snow White, fairy tales are showing up everywhere. Regardless of how trendy classic fairy tales may or may not be in a given year in Hollywood, however, they never stray too far from our bookshelves.

In her latest novel, author Melanie Dickerson puts an inspirational spin on the classic story of Beauty and the Beast, creating a medieval tale in which the power of love overcomes the prejudice of outward appearance.

HERE'S THE SITCH:

Once wealthy merchants, the Chapman family lost their fleet in a storm and their patriarch to illness. Now, because of her mother's and brothers' unwillingness to work alongside those they see as inferior, Annabel and her family have become reviled within the village and must stand trial to repay their debts.

Annabel's older brother wants her to marry the town bailiff, a vile, older man who has promised to pay the Chapmans' debt in exchange for her hand. But Annabel has long dreamed of becoming a nun. Serving a life sentence as wife to the lecherous bailiff is too high a price to pay for her family's neglect of their duty. She refuses, which angers both her family and the bailiff, a man prone to violence.

Unable to pay their debt, the Chapmans are sentenced to send one member of their family to serve three years of indentured servitude to Lord Ranulf le Wyse. It is rumored that the new lord is a terrifying beast of a man who wanders the woods at night, howling like the wolf who scarred his face, took his eye and left one of his hands disabled. Everyone fears Lord Ranulf, but faced with the choice between the unknown lord and the evil bailiff, Annabel sees servitude as the lesser sentence.

The more Annabel interacts with Lord Ranulf, however, the more she sees the gentle, wounded man beneath his fierce facade. When her dream of reading a real Bible — the main reason she longs to be a nun — is realized through him, Annabel is torn between her long-cherished plans and the growing feelings she has for Lord Ranulf.

When a violent interaction with the bailiff throws Annabel, a dear friend, and Lord Ranulf under suspicion, her dreams could protect her — or they could be what breaks her heart.

HITS & MISSES:

Annabel is young and vulnerable. Scarred by circumstance, religion and a family who devalues her, Annabel's greatest need is to feel secure and protected. Taught by the village priest that all women are temptresses and that her very feminine existence is responsible for the lustful advances of Bailiff Tom, she believes safety and security can only be found cloistered away from men.

Ranulf is older, but his heart was trampled by his late wife. Although he hides it with heavily bearded scowls, her betrayal left him even more vulnerable than Annabel. Ranulf believes that he can protect himself from hurt only by avoiding beautiful women, and he does his best to guard his heart. After all, a beautiful woman like Annabel could never love a beast like him.

Of course, these two are made for each other.

The romance is restrained on both sides, but the author injects just the right balance of insecurity and desire to keep the reader engaged. Rather than driven by lust, these two are moved toward love by righteous indignation and the desire to protect the other from danger. Theirs is a sweet romance and feels true from its inception.

There were several occasions the author could have given her characters a Scripture-induced "easy out" to a conflict — but she didn't. Avoiding a straight-line plot, Dickerson inserts unexpected twists that keep the story — and the romance within it — both original and compelling.

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ:

Dickerson gives subtle nods to other Beauty and the Beast retellings (including the popular Disney movie) without damaging the originality of this more "historical novel" take on the classic romance. Unlike most other retellings, however, The Merchant's Daughter has no fantasy element or sorcery (and, lest the cover deceive you, there is no magic mirror). The historical detail of the time period's superstitions are portrayed in such a way that they give the tale an otherworldly and truly magical feel without including a spell-caster at the heart of the story.

This novel is being marketed as an inspirational novel for teens and, although there are passages of Scripture included, this is not a "preachy" book that only Christians — or teens — will enjoy. Some readers may, in fact, be bothered that the heretical priest, with his antagonism toward women, does not reap his just reward; but keeping within a more historically accurate retelling, Dickerson does not attempt to change the priest's message — she simply ensures that Annabel's self-image is no longer imprisoned by it.

This book will find a ready audience among the Christian teens at which it is aimed, but it should be expected to comfortably move beyond that limited demographic. Like the classic on which it is based, this romance should appeal to anyone — of any age — who loves a good fairy tale.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

Serena's Rating

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stalking Melanie Dickerson

Melanie Dickerson is the author of The Healer's Apprentice, an award-winning retelling of the classic fairy tale, The Sleeping Beauty. Her latest novel is also a fairy tale, retold. The Merchant's Daughter is Melanie's inspirational interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. Released at the beginning of December, it is getting rave reviews from teens and adults alike. (Stay tuned! My review will post soon!)

I recently caught up with Melanie to ask her a whole lot of silly (and a few mildly serious) questions so you can get to know this fairy tale lover -- and writer -- a little bit better.

Serena: I hate to get serious right off the bat, but there is a very pressing matter I must get to the bottom of (and I'm craving me something yummy) so: which ice cream flavor is your favorite?

Melanie: Vanilla with cherries and chocolate chips.

Serena: Yum! That sounds both delicious and pretty. Before we move to the lighter fare, our readers must know: do you eat that lovely ice cream -- even in the wintertime?

Melanie: Yes, ice cream is too good and life is too short to only eat it in the summer!

Serena: You know that's right! So while we're on the subject of treats, let's say you've just come in from a walk in the falling snow. Coffee, tea, or cocoa?

Melanie: I usually go for hot tea when I'm cold, but cocoa is great on a snowy day.

Serena: I'm a cocoa girl, all the way!-- with whipped cream and sprinkled nutmeg on top. It's so easy to do with instant cocoa and Cool Whip, but it makes me feel like I've just been pampered by the staff of a luxury ski resort. *tangent alert*(I've never actually been to a luxury ski resort -- and the thought of skiing conjures visions of snapping femurs to mind, so... I'll stick to dreaming of Greek Isle sunsets during my cold Iowa winters -- and drinking my instant cocoa when I come in from the cold!)
So, Melanie: what's the top destination on your dream vacation list?

Melanie: Germany, especially the Rhine region, because I've always wanted to visit the castles and castle ruins along the Rhine River.

Serena: Oooh. That sounds awesome -- and the perfect place for a fairy tale girl to spend some quality time! Whether traveling to Rhine castles or just to White Castle for a burger (sorry, it was there.), is there one item you insist must be present in your car (or purse) at all times?

Melanie: Lipstick. I really don't wear a lot of makeup, but I don't feel right without lipstick when I go somewhere.

Serena: I usually have clear lip balm in my pocket, but never go anywhere without hand sanitizer in my purse. I also keep a squirt bottle of it in my cup holder. But before I go all germophobe on you, I'll move to safer, less-bacteria infected ground: What are you reading these days?

Melanie: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, research for my new book!

Serena: Sounds interesting! While I'm reading, I like to have soft music playing in the background. Lately I've had Christmas music playing 24/7. What is your favorite Christmas carol?

Melanie: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Serena: If you could live in one fairy tale for a month and be any character within it, which tale and character would you pick?

Melanie: I love fairy tales! But most of them are rather grisly, in their original form! My favorite is Beauty and the Beast, so I suppose I'd like to be Beauty, falling in love with a gentle, though tortured soul in a magical castle.


















Serena: That sounds good, but I think I'd prefer the Beast after his magical-makeover! LOL. I don't mind kissing my goateed husband (I rather prefer the goatee to the sandpaper burn alternative, actually!) but I draw the line at slobbering fangs. (reader please note: the beastly character in The Merchant's Daughter has none of that Disney-esque animal appearance, so he fits the hero bill just fine! -- he's quite a looker under that beard and eye patch.)
So I have to ask: What is your definition of "beauty"?

Melanie: Beauty is fleeting and charm is deceptive, the Bible says, and I love the saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." (The Beholder was the original title I gave to The Merchant's Daughter.) Inner beauty is what really matters, really draws people in and makes them fall in love. Outward beauty is rather meaningless when you think about it. It doesn't last, and if a person has no inner beauty, we cease to think of them as beautiful anyway. But the truth is, humans are attracted by a pleasing appearance. What is beauty? That's a good question!

Thanks, Melanie for letting me stalk you and for answering even my silliest questions with flair!

For more information about Melanie and her books, visit her website -- and make sure you stay tuned to Edgy Inspirational Romance! I'll be posting my review of The Merchant's Daughter, as well as a more in-depth interview with Melanie, later this month!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meet Fozzy (waka, waka, waka)!



I am now the proud owner of an elderly poodle named Fozzy.

The boys have been begging for a dog for more than five years and I promised when the youngest started kindergarten we'd get one. But Kindergarten came and went, and so did 1st and 2nd grades. And the boys have reminded me in increasingly less subtle ways that I'm waaaay overdue on my promise.

So I scoured Petfinder, Craigslist, and the local newspaper for a month looking for just the right animal to fit our family's lifestyle (that's code for house-broken and hypoallergenic). Since three out of five of us have pet allergies, each candidate needed to pass the sniff test. Not unlike checking the armpits of the tween-sized shirts I find lying on the floor, the sniff test involved burying my nose in the dog's fur to see if my eyes swell up like golf balls.

I met a cockapoo. Fail.

I met a shih-tzu. Double fail.

(The only excuse I can think of for allowing my husband to take this photo is I must have sensed a blog post in the making).

Then last week, the local animal shelter listed this little guy online and I ran down Saturday to check him out.



He's 9 years old but I'm pretty lucky I found him. Purebreds are rare at the animal shelter, and this one has such a great personality. I rubbed my face in his neck for an hour without so much as a sniffle.

So the boys have a dog and Fozzy has a home just in time for Christmas. And judging from the holiday outfits I'm collecting for this animal, I see lots of frou-frou poodle photos in your future.

You've been warned.



Monday, December 12, 2011

How Much is Too Much? by Pamela S. Thibodeaux

For many avid romance readers, Christian romance is an oxymoron due to the conservative guidelines set forth by CBA industry. True, these publishers adhere to the requests of their readership, and that’s a good thing. I’ve said numerous times and I’ll say again: Anything that gives God glory deserves to be praised!

On the other hand, inspirational fiction – especially the edgy sort – seems to be gaining more and more popularity with a large portion of the Christian audience as well as Christians who read secular romance because they are dissatisfied with CBA books.

As a reader I love a good romance novel, but there are also times when I crave a sweet read that simply makes my heart sigh.

When I began writing nearly thirty years ago I wrote romance…plain and simple, flat-out romance. The type of romance I read – steamy and satisfying with fully developed love scenes. Nearly ten years after penning my stories in five-subject notebooks, I recommitted my life to Christ and committed my writing to Him but I still wrote steamy, sensual, fully developed love scenes. At that time I had no idea there was a CBA market much less what they required or didn’t allow in their books. I simply expounded on the characters’ faith as a natural part of their lives. And then came the guidelines...Although I did my best to adhere to the rules of writing Christian romance, I couldn’t seem to tone down my novels enough to fit in the conservative box and thus my writing was tagged, “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™

For instance – CBA publishers want the emotional side of love not the physical – Excuse me, but personally I can’t have one without the other! I have male friends whom I love dearly but the lack of sparks between us makes it impossible to think of them as anything but friends. On the other hand, I know men who make my pulse race and blood pound but to whom I would never entrust my heart unless I wanted it back in shreds.

And then there are topics which are taboo in Christian books….divorce – uh, excuse me again but the divorce rates among Christians are higher than that of secular couples. And what about domestic violence and child abuse? These things happen as often, if not more often in Christian homes.

Here’s a news flash for you: Christians are human with the same wants, needs, and temptations as non-believers!

So why are so many afraid to accept this and allow authors of Christian fiction to explore not only the pitfalls of our human nature – but the awesome power of God’s love, grace and mercy to heal and save, guard and guide?

True, reader demands have encouraged publishers to allow edgier writing and that too, is a good thing, but how much is too much? When do we cross the line or close the door on the issues plaguing the entire human race? Do we show domestic violence and child abuse in all its ugliness or hint at it but gloss over the sordid truth with pretty words?

Which would be more effective in reaching those closed off to God as a result of their mistreatment?

Wouldn’t a more realistic picture of the dark side of life also portray the reality of God’s grace and power?

I think so, which is why I write “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ Romantic Women’s Fiction that is “steamier and grittier than the typical Christian novel without decreasing the message.”

My latest novel, The Visionary deals with just such issues. Twins, Taylor and Trevor Forrestier share more than a successful business. The two share a childhood wrought with lies and deceit and the kind of abuse that’s disgustingly prevalent in today’s society. Can the love of God and the awesome healing power of His grace and mercy free the twins from their past and open their hearts to the good plan and the future He has for their lives? Find out in…The Visionary ~ Where the awesome power of God’s love heals the most wounded of souls. Available now through your local bookstore or online @ Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com

*This post is part of a month-long virtual book tour where 4 autographed copies of The Visionary will be given away. Follow the entire tour (list of stops on my blog http://pamswildroseblog.blogspot.com/) and leave a comment on each one because the more times your name goes in the hat, the more chances you have to win!

Award-winning author, Pamela S. Thibodeaux is the Co-Founder and a lifetime member of Bayou Writers Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Website: http://pamelathibodeaux.com/
Blog: http://pamswildroseblog.blogspot.com/

Here's an excerpt from The Visionary:
“Thank you for taking such good care of me.”

“I’m not through yet,” he mumbled, then slid off the couch and swung her up in his arms.

Fear snuck in, darkening her eyes. She stiffened and opened her mouth to protest. He brushed his lips over hers and silenced her objections.

“I just want to hold you,” he whispered and laid his forehead against hers. “That’s all. I promise,” he added, unable to camouflage the need in his voice.

***

He’d offered her another step to relinquish her fear and trust him. Triumph lit his expressive eyes when she wrapped her arm around his neck, smiled, and whispered, “Okay,” then snuggled her face against his shoulder and let him carry her to the bedroom.

With exquisite tenderness, he laid her on the bed, crawled up beside her, and took her in his arms. Taylor felt the strength of his need in the heat and tensed against the hardness of his body. He eased his grip and propped up on one elbow beside her. His eyes pleaded for grace when he stroked the hair off her face and said in a soft, husky voice, “Please don’t be afraid of me; please trust me. I will never force or even persuade you to give more than you’re ready to.”

They gazed at each other for a long, tender moment. She cupped his cheek in her hand, brushed her thumb over his mouth, then curled her fingers in his hair and urged his head down to fasten her lips to his. A low moan escaped his throat, yet he held himself taut.

Taylor ran her hand over his shoulder and back in a soft caress then wrapped her arms around his waist. “Hold me, Alex, I trust you.”

The emotions reflected in his tone caressed her heart when he thanked her in that beautiful velvety-rough voice. He rolled onto his back, pulled the covers over her, and held her while she slept.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Author Interview: TAMERA ALEXANDER


A mother of two grown children, award-winning inspirational romance author Tamera Alexander navigated the corporate world before she began writing full time. Tamera is the author of eight novels, and her home near Nashville gives her great access to the history surrounding Belmont Mansion, the setting of her current series. A Lasting Impression, her eighth book and the first in this new series, came out in November.

Serena: Welcome, Tamera! Your novels are consistently nominated for awards in the inspirational market. Do you have any plans to cross over into the general market?

Tamera: I'd love for my novels to "cross over" into the general market, so to speak, and to be placed alongside other general market historical fiction on the shelves, but that's really the call of the individual bookseller. And going "general market" wouldn't change what I write. I write historical fiction/romance novels from a Christian worldview because I'm a writer who's a believer in Christ. Reader's consistently tell me that they appreciate the "subtle" faith thread in my novels, and I appreciate the same in what I read as well.

People read novels to be swept away into another world and to take journeys vicariously through the characters in those stories, not to hear a sermon. Authentic spiritual growth must stem from the character's choices and mistakes, from their character arc and journey. It must be organic. In the end, I always take steps closer to Christ as I write, and my greatest hope is that readers will do the same as they read.

Serena: What does a typical writing day look like for Tamera Alexander?

Tamera: I typically check e-mail and work on the administrative and marketing side of writing for the first couple of hours then dive into writing. I'm definitely writing no later than 10a.m. But my most productive hours to write tend to be 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., so my schedule varies, which is a great thing about writing. But it also demands discipline, too. Deadlines sneak up faster than Christmas!

Serena: Your favorite activity to indulge in on a day off is ...

Tamera: I love, love, love going to movies, and I don't mind going by myself either. I typically skip the popcorn but always grab a drink. And sometimes I indulge in DOTS. (I know … but I love them.) Something else I love doing, but don't do often enough, is antique shopping. Finding those neat little off-the-beaten-path antique shops and scouting out something old (but new to me) to treasure.

Serena: When you're on a deadline or stuck in your writing what helps push you through "the wall"? Music? Snacks?

Tamera: I love Adele, Mandisa, Alison Krauss, The Band Perry, Taylor Swift, Brad Paisley, Downhere, etc. … so my music tastes vary, but when I'm stuck I usually go for a walk or head upstairs to the elliptical. I used to make myself sit there at my desk and stare at the blinking cursor until something came to mind, but I've learned how self-defeating that is for me. So, like the Sundance Kid (in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) who said, "I'm better when I move," I've found that I am, too. Movement tends to break the bottleneck and feed the muse.

About snacks: I rarely eat at my desk and if I do, then it's a controlled portion. No "whole bags" of anything because the bag will be gone and I'll be thinking, "Who ate all those Peanut M&Ms?"

Serena: You've written two other trilogy series, but since your protagonists in A Lasting Impression got their Happy Ever After, it makes me wonder if the next books will move us forward (or backward) in time to introduce new characters. Any details you can share without risking a spoiler?


Tamera: The three novels in the Belmont Mansion series – A Lasting Impression being the first – will be far more "stand-alone" in nature than my previous series in order to capture more of the real history surrounding the mansion. We'll see glimpses of characters from previous books, of course, but each novel will have a new male and female protagonist. And, of course, Adelicia Acklen will be in all of them. She wouldn't have it any other way.

Serena: From reading the novel it is clear that you have a fondness for Belmont's history, as well as its famously controversial Lady Adelicia Acklen. What was the most surprising thing you learned in the course of your research for this novel?

Tamera: Two things immediately come to mind. Though, being a student of history, I can't say the issues were "surprising" to me. The first pertains to the inequality between the sexes. As a widow, Mrs. Adelicia Acklen (mistress of Belmont) could sign her own legal documents. But once she remarried, she had to have her husband sign her court papers for her, even though she had a marriage contract stating that all the property she brought into the marriage would remain hers.

The second issue is much graver – that of slavery and the recently emancipated slaves. Writing about this topic always brings a deep sense of unrest. As well it should. And that unrest only escalates when one realizes that global slave trading is even more prevalent today than it was back then. To quote Not for Sale by David Batstone (2010), "More slaves live in bondage today than were bartered during the four centuries of trans-Atlantic slave trade." And the majority of these today are children. It's heartbreaking.

Serena: If Adelicia Acklen stepped out onto her balcony to survey the modern landscape, what do you think her impression of what Belmont has become, and of Nashville in general, would be?

Tamera: Adelicia was a forward-thinking woman, but she was also a woman of the Victorian era who worked to "color within the lines" of propriety while also working to get what she wanted and to keep what was hers. She was fiercely loyal to family, appreciated her privacy, and most definitely enjoyed the finer things of life. I think she would be amazed at the growth of the city of Nashville since her passing in 1887, but I also think she'd be quite disapproving of the manner in which society as a whole has declined in relation to morality and ethics. Of course, you have to balance this with the fact that she owned slaves. Social norms often blind us to our own inequities and injustices, don't they?

Serena: How do you think she would react when she saw the modern skyline of downtown Nashville (especially the "BAT TOWER" – LOL)?

Tamera: Great question! Understanding how much Adelicia loved the centuries-old cathedrals and castles of Europe, I have a feeling she might be slightly less impressed with Nashville's infamous Bat Tower. However, understanding how she loved to shop (and she did!), I think she'd highlyapprove of Nashville's new Nordstrom.

Serena: I've heard it rumored that at one time there were tunnels beneath the gardens at Belmont – and some that may still be in use by the university's maintenance staff. Did you "unearth" any truth to these rumors?

Tamera: I'm actually working to "unearth" those rumors now, for the second Belmont novel. So let's just say that where there's smoke, there's fire. And I'll also add: I definitely do NOT like cramped, dark spaces!

Serena: Claire, the protagonist in A Lasting Impression, is an artist who can identify certain artists' work on sight. Are you also an artist or art aficionado?

Tamera: I wish. I love art, always have. But winning at Pictionary is my greatest claim to fame in the drawing sense. And that's being generous.

Serena: Have you developed any new artistic interests or hobbies as a result of research you've done for this (or any other) novel?

Tamera: I fell in love with the five statues Adelicia purchased on her Grand Tour of Europe in 1866, along with the artists of that period as I researched the history of the Belmont Mansion. I had a similar experience with the history of photography as I wrote From a Distance (part of the Timber Ridge Reflections series), which chronicles the journey of the first female photojournalist in America and how she set west with her glass plates and chemicals to capture the beauty of the Rocky Mountains in 1870s Colorado – something unheard of for a woman at that time. The story in From a Distance is based largely in the early history of women who served as pioneers in the field of photography in America.

Each book in the three-book Timber Ridge Reflections series all deal with "women firsts" in America (first female photojournalist, first female college professor, and first female rancher in Colorado).

Serena: Would you care to share a favorite line or scene that didn't make the cut for your final draft?

Tamera: Understanding that I cut almost 20,000 words from the final manuscript, you'd think something would immediately come to mind. But it doesn't. I can tell you that I usually don't lose "whole scenes" in a rewrite. But I DO pare them down considerably.

Serena: In the Author's Notes at the end of the novel, you mention a kinship with Claire's hard-won conviction that she would continue to paint even if God were the only one for whom she would ever paint. Are there any specific practices (or people) you include in your writing life to help keep pride at bay?

Tamera: In September, I co-taught at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (ACFW.com) with my writing critique partner Deborah Raney, and I was asked a similar question. Oddly enough, "pride in writing" is not an issue for me. On the contrary, the stories that finally make it to the printed page of my books don't ever seem to be as good as the story that was "inside of me," if that makes any sense. Which always leaves me wanting to do better the next time and to make the next book better than the last.

I've written eight novels so far and, while they've garnered industry acclaim, I realize I'm still very much an apprentice at this craft and have a lot yet to learn. But that's part of the joy of writing. AND the frustration (smile).

Serena: Who are the contemporary authors whom you most esteem? And why?

Tamera: I'd rather not name specific authors I esteem most since there are too many to list. That said, I greatly appreciate the talent of Francine Rivers (especially her Redeeming Love) and I adored Kathryn Stockett'sThe Help. Incidentally, The Help audio book is the best audio book I've ever listened to. It's fabulous! I found Randy Alcorn's Safely Home to be a life-changing novel, and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis is an annual read for me and has been since college days.

Serena: How do you feel about the future of the print book and traditional publishing?

Tamera: The only thing I'm certain about is that nothing in today's publishing world is certain, and that challenges (and thereforeopportunities) abound. I believe readers will continue to want to read and that there will be plenty of choices out there for them, but the venues through which we buy books (and find the authors we like – which is huge) has changed. And continues to, daily, it seems. It's definitely an exciting time to be in publishing!

Serena: What are you most thankful for this year?

Tamera: For the hope found only in Christ. And for family and friends. Always, always.

Serena: The holidays are approaching – does your family have any literary-inspired or unique traditions?

Tamera: I love the holiday season and the opportunities it brings to spend extra time with family and friends. I always look forward to Christmas Eve; even as a child that was a favorite time. On Christmas Eve we'll attend one of the candlelight services at church, which is always meaningful. Then we'll head home to enjoy a pot of chili and a pan of cinnamon rolls warm from the oven before diving in to play cards and then maybe watch a movie. We just enjoy being together. Oh! And we'll open gifts. We traditionally do that on Christmas Eve.

Serena: Anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Tamera: I enjoy keeping in touch with readers so if you've read A Lasting Impression or another of my books, I'd l love to hear from you (tameraalexander@gmail.com). We can also stay connected via my website (http://www.tameraalexander.com/), Twitter (@tameraalexander), and Facebook. I also host monthly giveaways on my website. No catch. Just enter for a chance to win free autographed books. It's my way of saying thanks!

(this interview originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

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