Monday, December 24, 2007

Interview with Angela Benson, Author of The Amen Sisters

Today’s guest is not only a talented author; she is also a full-time associate professor of educational technology at the University of Alabama. Angela Benson is the author or nine novels. Her first hardcover title, The Amen Sisters, was released in 2005. The trade paperback of The Amen Sisters was released this November.

Welcome to my blog, Angela. I’m thrilled you could stop by. Before we starting talking about The Amen Sisters, can you tell us a bit about yourself? How long have you been writing? Do you concentrate on a certain genre? What do you do in your spare time?

I'm an author with a full-time job as a university professor so I don't have much experience with the concept of spare time. Kensington Books published my first novel, Bands of Gold, back in 1994 during the launch year of Arabesque Books, their ground-breaking line of romances featuring African-American heroes and heroines.

I published five romance novels and one romance novella with Arabeseque during the 1994-1997 time frame. BET Books (now Harlequin’s Kimani Books) released a collection of three of those early books (Bands of Gold, For All Time and Between the Lines) in April 2006. I also published two novels with Silhouette Books, both in 1997, which were recently re-issued.

My first Christian fiction titles were Christian romances published by Tyndale House Publishers. Awakening Mercy hit bookshelves in 2000. It was a finalist for both the RITA Award for Excellence in Romance Fiction and the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction. Abiding Hope, winner of the EMMA Award for Excellence in Inspirational Romance Fiction, followed in 2001.

My third and most recent Christian fiction title, The Amen Sisters (Walk Worthy Press, 2005/2007) marked my entry into what is considered mainstream Christian fiction. The hard cover edition of The Amen Sisters reached #10 on Essence Magazine’s list of bestselling books in February 2006.

My tenth novel, Up Pops the Devil, will be published by HarperCollins in September 2008.

How do you balance your writing career, a full-time job, and personal time?

Balance is another interesting concept, right up there with spare time. I believe in taking breaks. It's Christmas break now and I'm taking two weeks off from both writing and my full-time job. Well, I'm not really getting away from writing since I'm doing this blog tour, but you get my drift.

Sometime during the break, I'll work on the proposal for my book that's due in September 2008. I'll also find some time to work on an academic article for a peer-reviewed journal.

After school starts back in mid-January, I'll put the fiction writing on the back burner and focus on my academic endeavors. Then when summer rolls around, I'll finish my book that I started during Christmas break.

I'll also take a couple of vacations this summer. I spend a week each summer with girlfriends from college so I'll do that. I'll also attend an academic conference and a writing conference and take a few personal days before or after each..

I recently moved in closer proximity to my family so seeing them doesn't take as much effort as it once did.

What types of research have you done for your novels? What is the most interesting fact you’ve found out while performing research for a story?

I guess it was with Between the Lines, a story set in a newspaper room. I spent a couple of days at a small paper in an Atlanta suburb. I just sat and observed the people and their interactions. I don't remember any particular fact that I learned other than I developed a new respect for Sports reporters.

Let’s move on to The Amen Sisters. What is this book about?

The Amen Sisters is a story of recovery from an abusive church situation. The main character, Francine Amen, left her home and her family to follow a ministry that she believed was doing the work of God, only to find that the pastor and the church had secrets that would lead to the death of one of her closest friends. In her recovery, Francine has to return home and mend fences with her sister, Dawn (who’s now married to Francine’s ex-fiancĂ©), the church family she left behind, and the family of her dead friend. Francine finds the world she left behind in a bit of turmoil and she can’t help but blame herself for some of the problems. As she tries to make things right in the present, she finds she must first make peace with what happened in the past.

While the story deals with the sensational topic of sexual predators in the church, I didn't want to write a story that focused on the bad acts of some preacher. I wanted to write a story that honored those who were, and are, preyed upon. So The Amen Sisters does not take the reader into the bad acts of pastors and ministry leaders; it shows the far-reaching impact of those acts on the parishioners who sit in the pews and the struggle those parishioners face as to recover from the blow.

How did you write a book which is about two sisters trying to reclaim their lives and faith, without having it come off as being preachy?

I think to the key is that my book is about the people, the sisters, not the issue of church abuse. That's a fine distinction but a clear one for me. If I tried to make a point about church abuse, the book might become preachy but since I wrote a book about two women going through a traumatic time due to church abuse, I was forced to focus on them and their emotions. As a writer, you have to give the story to the characters. It's their story, not mine.

Tell us about the Amen Sisters. Who are they? Why will readers care about them?

How can readers not care about estranged twin sisters who find their way back to each other?

I think readers will find parts of themselves in Francine and Dawn Amen.
Francine Amen, the older twin, was a ministry leader with an up-and-coming church who believed she had found her true calling. She publicly renounced her family, friends and church because she felt they didn’t believe “enough” and left her hometown. But, when Francine turned against a dear friend who accused the church pastor of sexually abusing her, the woman killed herself. Guilt ridden and ashamed, Francine turns to the one person who should always be there – her sister.

Dawn Amen-Ray sticks by her sister, Francine, because she feels it is the right thing to do. Still, Dawn has her own problems. She recently found out that her husband (Francine’s ex-boyfriend) cheated on her and Dawn is NOT in a forgiving mood. Besides, Francine hurt so many people Dawn cannot see how her sister can possibly ever make it all up to them or convince them to trust her again.

A lot of readers don’t read the prologue of a book, but if they don’t read the one in The Amen Sisters they will miss a life-changing event. Why did you choose to start the book off this way?

I had no idea that some readers didn't read prologues. I may have to re-think including one in future books. That said, I chose a prologue because I had a critical event in the past that I wanted the readers to experience. I could have made the prologue the first scene in chapter one, but because it occurs three months before chapter one it seemed to need its own space.

In this prologue, we get a glimpse of Francine Amen’s best friend Toni. What can you tell us about her?

Toni could be any one of us. She came from a loving family and had a strong cadre of friends. Unfortunately, she was deceived by her pastor into doing something she knew was wrong.

Up until the start of the book did Francine and her sister, Dawn have a good relationship? Is there any part of their past you can share without giving away too much?

Dawn and Francine were not the Doublemint chewing gum type of twins. Francine was always held up as the “good” sister that the unruly Dawn should emulate. Of course, this made Dawn even more rebellious. The tables turned after the grandparents died. Dawn decided she wanted to become the responsible woman her grandparents wanted her to be, while Francine decided the values she'd learned from her grandparents were no longer good enough for her.

Bahiyah Magazine called The Amen Sisters a “juicy novel.” I don’t believe people always think of Christian fiction that way. If you were trying to convince a reader to give your book try, what would you say to her?

Interesting question. I'd ask her who her favorite authors were and what she likes to read. Then I'd draw comparisons between The Amen Sisters and those authors and types of books.

Where can readers purchase a copy of The Amen Sisters?

It should be in local bookstores everywhere. If your bookstore doesn't have it, please have them order it. You can also get it from any of the online bookstores like, and

What is up next for you? Are you working on any projects you would like to share with us?

My tenth novel, Up Pops the Devil, will be published by HarperCollins in September 2008. It's a fun story about an ex-convict who finds living the straight life complicated by the four women in his life, each with a different goal for him.

Is there anything you would like to add?

Thanks so much for hosting me. I've enjoyed spending time with you. You and your readers are welcome to visit with me at at any time. The doors are always open.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today, Angela. I wish you all the success in the world.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Book Review: While Shepherds Watched by Steven Roberts

Heart-warming, charming, and full of nostalgia, While Shepherds Watched: Stories of Christmas Miracles and Mysteries will touch your heart. This short story collection by Steven Roberts is full of stories that remind the reader of the true meaning of Christmas.

Gabriel’s Trumpet opens this collection. It is the story of a young aspiring musician who wishes to play the trumpet, but finds himself saddled with a Model 2353 Hohnica Keyboard Accordion, which he loathes. But to please his mother--who bought him the darn thing in the first place--Georgie takes his music lessons and learns to play.

Broadway Baptist church puts on its annual Christmas program and their guest is Lonnie Latimore, a talented trumpeter who Georgie idolizes. Georgie and his friends accompany Mr. Latimore in a rendition of “Silent Night”. But when Mr. Latimore unexpectedly cannot perform the grand finale, it is up to Georgie to save the day, playing the one instrument he always wanted.

Another of my favorites from this collection is The Madam and the Paperboy. Miss Maybelle Boudreaux owns a large house at the end of Third Avenue. Sonny Suffrage delivers the newspaper to Miss Maybelle’s house, but when she suddenly stops paying for her paper, Sonny must pay her a visit, even though he is wary of approaching a woman who is talked about all over town.

Sonny gets to meet Miss Maybelle and a budding friendship blossoms between them. Miss Maybelle tells Sonny wonderful stories and he is always amazed at how much she knows about everything happening in town. When Sonny invites Miss Maybelle to Christmas dinner at his house, no one--Miss Maybelle, Sonny, or his family--is ever the same.

While Shepherds Watched will make you laugh and cry and hold your family close. Steven Roberts weaves a variety of memorable characters into unforgettable stories which you will cherish like a gift from a special friend. Every once in a while the back story threatened to take over the present day action, but none of it was wasted. Each person and story was fully developed to provide the reader with an enjoyable conclusion.

If your family tradition includes the reading of heart-warming tales of the season, then you must buy While Shepherds Watched by Steven Roberts. It will be a book you reach for year after year.

Title: While Shepherds Watched: Stories of Christmas Miracles and Mysteries
Author: Steven Roberts
Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-4327-1401-7
SRP: $15.95

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Book Review: Infinite Space, Infinite God edited by Karina & Robert Fabian

To travel where no one else has gone before might be the appeal to regular readers of science-fiction. I'm not one of those. I prefer to focus on all the drama that resides right here on earth. So, when I decided to purchase a copy of Infinite Space, Infinite God, the 2007 EPPIE award-winning Catholic science-fiction anthology edited by Karina and Robert Fabian, it had more to do with my curiosity over how they would mesh the Catholic Church into science fiction than with my burning desire to read it. And I have to admit, I approached the task of reading it with a hint of trepidation. What if I got to Page 3 and couldn't go any further? Could a book of this nature appeal to a reader whose only experience with science-fiction is the television shows Star Trek and Star Trek the Next Generation?

The answer is a resounding, YES!

Never before have I regretted the end of a story as much as I did after I finished each of the fifteen stories included in Infinite Space, Infinite God. Each story drew me in with the depth of its characters, uniqueness of its plot, and its powerful endings. I never knew what to expect in the next story, but I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.

Infinite Space, Infinite God opens up with The Harvest by Lori Z. Scott. A smart choice since it is one of the most thought-provoking stories. Dr. Barry Martinez joins the Moon Project Base, living amongst a mix of humans and HuNomes--genetically altered people stemming from the Human Genome project. While HuNome #17 longs to be free of her oppressors, the Catholic Church debates whether the HuNomes have souls--making the harvesting of their organs and birthing of new HuNomes unethical. Dr. Martinez's exposure to the HuNomes he does his best to avoid leave him with some questions too. It is those questions that put him in danger and the answers which allow him to find his true calling.

Our Daily Bread by Robert and Karina Fabian finds Deacon Ray McHenry struggling to decide if he will continue his work at the Blair Mining Station or return to earth and his wife, Connie. When the supply of Eucharistic hosts is lost, Deacon Ray must do everything in is power to help his congregation accept the loss of the most important symbol of the Last Supper. Attempts to secure a new supply are unsuccessful, but suddenly new hosts keep appearing. Is it a miracle? Is it the work of a good Samaritan? And will Deacon Ray ever be able to leave the Blair Mining Station after the curiosity over the duplicating hosts increases the size of the congregation?

Ken Pick and Alan Loewen collaborate on an intriguing tale filled with mystery and suspense. Mask of the Ferret brings together a variety of humans and lifeforms on the Free Trader Coventry--a freight runner bound for Alorya. Its passengers include Father Eric Heidler, a human woman and her daughter, a Selkie, and a construct named Jill Noir. Unbeknownest to the Captain and her crew, someone has snuck an ancient artifact on board Coventry and he/she/it is being tracked by an agent of the Order of St. Dismas, who is posing as a passenger. As the artifact slowly destroys the minds of the Coventry's crew and passengers, it is up to Father Eric to find a way to help all of them, including the one passenger who has put them all at risk.

In August, when I interviewed at The Book Connection, Karina during the Infinite Space, Infinite God Virtual Book Tour, I asked her why such diverse stories worked in this anthology. She sited the talented writers, their different approaches to science-fiction, and their varied science-fiction styles.

While I have to agree, I would also say that another reason Infinite Space, Infinite God is winning awards and garnering fabulous reviews, is that all the stories are about more than the Catholic Church and outer space. When broken down to their barest bones, these stories are all about people--their relationships with one another, how their beliefs affect their personal and professional relationships, and the impact that faith has on believers and non-believers alike.

I highly recommend Infinite Space, Infinite God to all my readers. You don't have to be a Catholic or a lover of science-fiction to enjoy these stories; you just have to be a living, breathing person who struggles and appreciates their place in the world.

Title:  Infinite Space, Infinite God
Edited by:  Karina and Robert Fabian
Published by Twilight Times Books
ISBN 13-978-1-933353-62-3
ISBN 10-1-933353-62-7
SRP: $18.95