Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christian fiction author Angela Benson's latest tackles the tough issue of church abuse

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. I had the pleasure of working with Angela to set up her virtual book tour this month and the response has been tremendous. I knew I had to have Angela stop by The Book Connection and tell you about her latest novel.

Welcome to The Book Connection Angela. I’m thrilled you could stop by, though finding space in your tour was difficult because of the response.

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 timeframe. 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 backburner 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-fiancé), 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 amazon.com, bn.com and christianbook.com

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 http://www.angelabenson.com/and http://www.theamensisters.com/ at any time. The doors are always open.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today, Angela. Best of luck with the rest of your virtual book tour. It’s been great working with you. I wish you all the success in the world.

This virtual book tour has been brought to you by:


Angela Benson said...

Cheryl, thanks for hosting me today at The Book Connection. It's been a great ride so far. It's also been tiring. Just because it's virtual doesn't mean it's not exhausting.

Cheryl said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed yourself. The response to your tour has been amazing. Of course, now you'll probably need to go on another cruise to rest up. LOL!


Anonymous said...

Hi Angela,

Great interview. I really enjoyed the book when I purchased it in 2005. I'm looking forward to your next novel, it sounds very interesting.

Rhonda Nain

Angela Benson said...

Cheryl, I'm going to do a post or series of posts about what I've learned on this tour. It has been an amazing ride.

Rhonda, thanks for joining us. I'm pretty excited about Up Pops the Devil, too. I'll probably have a contest and give readers some early copies. I'll keep you posted on the blog.