December 31, 2007

Survey Comments: Dee Stewart

Today, on the last day of 2007, I'm featuring Dee Stewart's survey comments. The last for in my series on race in mainline Christian publishing. It's been an interesting month with this quasi-controversial series. But I'll get into that later.

Dee is the owner of Christian Fiction Blog. Her blog posts regular Christian publishing news, movie previews, updates, author interviews, call to writers, contests, gospel play fixes and everything about African-American christian novels. She also blogs at The Master's Artist.

This is what Dee shared on the survey:

Linda, I am glad that you are doing this [survey on race in Christian publishing]. Christian Fiction Blog has touched on this topic since 2005. Two years...three years later it seems that the problem has increased, which is ironic since there are more African-American (AA) author than there were five years ago when I first began reviewing AA Christian fiction.

For those of us authors who are members of American Christian Fiction Writers I think we should pool together to start an extension or group inside the organization. There are quite a few authors who aren't getting any publicity for their books. As I read them and I read them often they aren't any different than the piles of books written by non-authors of color that I review.

Unfortunately we have been unjustly pigeonholed. As our mothers and fathers did before us we have to unbox ourselves. I believe 2008 is that year.

Linda, your discussion is the catalyst to get things going.*
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Thanks, Dee, for your comments and for your voice in AA Christian fiction.

*edited for clarity

December 29, 2007

Survey Comments: Author Claudia Mair Burney

Today, I have the Claudia Mair Burney, the last of CBA author comments for this series on race in CBA publishing. She's the author of The Amanda Bell Brown Mysteries, Howard/Simon & Schuster. Murder, Mayhem, and Fine Man coming again in February 2008. Death, Deceit, and Some Smooth Jazz coming in April of 2008. And from David C. Cook: Zora and Nicky: A Novel in Black and White coming in March of 2008. Claudia can be found regularly over at ragamuffin diva.

Here are her comments:

"I think it's sad--downright TRAGIC that we, largely, still have a Jim Crow mentality when it comes to Christian fiction. The African-American writers are at the Colored drinking fountain, and the Whites are at the White's only drinking fountain, but the same water of Life quenches all our thirst.

I am a minority in CBA, but I also write Christian fiction for ABA, as most African American Christian writers do. I know the difficulties that come with writing for CBA--I learned them the hard way. And it was some education. Decisions must be made for people of color--no, let me clarify, for *African-Americans* in the CBA market that white people do not have to deal with: whether or not to put black people on the covers, whether or not the books should be placed with African-American books
or Christian fiction, whether or not "African-American" is a niche market and if White readers will buy the books.

I had a book review (a good one!), but the author constantly referred to my being black as if the idea of an African American CBA book was ASTOUNDING. I almost felt like her review served as an advisory to White people saying, "Hey, this is a "black" book with "black" characters! Just wanted you to be clear on that. Buyer beware." It took me weeks to get over the sting.

It's rough out here. And I speak from my experience.

Very recently some White authors I know have been *surprised* that CBA publishers have shown an interest in African-American writers and our fiction. One publisher told me he got manuscripts from African-Americans, but they "just weren't good." In 2004 as I wrote my first novel I read an article about African-American fiction in the CBA in which a senior editor of a major CBA house was quoted as saying something to the effect of, "It won't work if it doesn't have a strong, multicultural cast," (read that as lots of White people in it).

I got so discouraged at one point I decided to go to the Colored drinking fountain where I belong! Only God insisted that I drink at the *other* fountain, and shut those doors for me. So I wrote where God called me. I think it was to show me we really haven't come as far as we should have. Lord, have mercy. I also think I was there to let some people still in the fifties (or even further back) in their minds that YES, WE ARE HERE! WE *CAN* READ AND WE LIKE TO! WE CAN WRITE COMPELLING STORIES!!! That anybody will want to read.

I have been blessed to have *more* readers, including many, many, White readers, who have been blessed by my novel Murder, Mayhem, and a Fine Man. They entered the story world in the same way I do when I read a well written novel featuring White characters.

A good story is universal. It taps into our shared humanity. I would be ashamed to say I had no interest in "White" novels or "Asian" novels or "Latino" because the people are not like me. Reading about other people opened the world to me. Made me a better citizen of the incredibly diverse Kingdom of God, even the books that weren't well written.

May God grant us peace, forgive us our trespasses--we have NO excuse, and give us unity in our wondrous diversity."

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Thanks, Claudia for taking part in the survey. God's best to you and your writing in 2008.

December 28, 2007

Separate and Unequal

Here's my response to the discussion started by Dave Long's December 21 interview.

If you’ll bear with me for just a little bit, I need to get a little academic. There’s a little teacher in me ;-) Please don’t skip to the end and see what I say there before you read the academic parts. I feel it’s necessary to get where we have to go together. Thanks for your patience.

So here goes.

GOING BACK TO SCHOOL
Firstly, a definition of racism. Most scholars agree that racism is prejudice + power. That is to say, racism is having a prejudice or discrimination based on race, plus the power to enforce it. There are three main types of racism that we rub up against in America—active, passive, and institutional. Please note, these definitions are not mine. These are some that I’ve found and synthesized over more than a decade of study and exposure.

Active racism is conscious racial actions perpetrated by the majority race on a racial minority. We see this in racial hate group activity, using racial epithets, and telling racist jokes.

Passive racism includes the unconscious racial responses like laughing at racial jokes or believing in the inherit superiority of the majority race, which is white in this country, and making choices that benefit your race based on that belief/assumption. We could talk about white flight or the now-popular urban renewal efforts (or gentrification).

Institutional racism can be seen in makeup of the systems, policies, or power structures of institutions. If these systems, policies, and power structures benefit the majority race, they are considered racist. Today in American, we don’t see the more blatant institutional racist practices of separate water fountains but we do see holes that still exist in history books about the contributions of black inventors and innovators in America.

Both passive and institutional racism are invisible really, and might not seem racist at all since they are not accompanied by burning crossing as such. No one was left dangling from a tree at the end of a rope and no one was left out in the cold because they were denied housing. But they are harmful all the same.

Dr. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College Centers for Women calls bundles passive and institutional racism into a term she calls ‘white privilege.’ You can read more about it in a 1990 publication here.

Here are some of the points she raises in her white privilege article:
1. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
2. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
3. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
4. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.


A colleague of mine and fellow author, Chris Rice, writes about both white privilege and white blinders in his joint work with the late Spencer Perkins. About white blinders he says:
"Some of us close our eyes and pretend there’s no problem. Others stand by and watch as people are treated unjustly. But most of us lack the peripheral vision to see what’s going on around us. ... Four hundred years of slavery, forced segregation and discrimination have left a stubborn residue within us all. For blacks, the residue is anger, bitterness, and blame. For whites, the residue is racial blinders. If you drink polluted water you’ll catch hepatitis; if you were born in America, as I was, chances are you’re wearing those blinders."


Many books are available. I’ve listed a few links to nonfiction authors on my site. If you only read one nonfiction book on racial reconciliation this year, I’d suggest you read More than Equals by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice.

Okay, I did all that academic stuff to make sure we were all on the same page (or at least a little closer to it) before I say what I really have to say in response to the comments on Dave Long’s interview.

CALLING IT WHAT IT IS
When we look at what is going on in Christian publishing, what I see, from a pure definition standpoint, is racism. Whether you want to call it that or not. That’s what it is. It’s a strong word and nobody wants to say it. I don’t know any white person in America that will raise their hand and say, call me a racist, please.

I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad, or beat anybody up or feel good about myself ‘cause yeah I called a white person racist today. That's not my style.

There is talk around these days in evangelical America to change the labels we use. I say let them stay. If we’re going spend energy meeting and discussing to change anything let’s change the world through the way we relate. Changing the labels of racism will do as much good calling me an African America (a title I think is a just a bandaid on the wound for meaning in America; in other words, it's okay to call me black).

Yes, what we're dealing with is racism. And those who are in power in the American racism scheme of things, by definition, are racist. White brother/sister, I implore you, grow a thicker skin or something so we can move past the whole label thing and move to the real work. And believe me there real work to be done.


TEARING IT DOWN. BUILDING IT UP

We’ve got some major walls to tear down. Satan wants the walls to stay up. We can say, well that’s the way it’s been for so long. It’s too late to change things now. Or even worse, it’s beyond us. If it was beyond us, then why did Jesus pray for our oneness in John 17.

We’ve got to be about the business of recognizing the walls in publishing, in urban ministry, in foreign missions (how many black missionaries do you know), in adoption services, etc. etc. etc. We’ve got to tear them down by God’s grace and power.

Christ’s followers have got to start talking frankly and in a concerted, educated fashion about race. Knee-jerk, emotional responses are yesterday’s response. I’m talking to black AND white brothers here. No more platitudes and niceties. No more 'well you know how they are.' Some deep sharing has got to take place. Some major repenting and forgiveness has got to take place. Yes, there may be some screaming, crying, shouting, hand-wringing, whatever, but mostly I truly hope there will be some honest dialog.

This dialog has got to be free of malice and done out of a love that brings us closer together even though we are so very different. We’ve got to commit to continue to dialog, commit to keep talking even when you make me angry, even when you make me ‘wanna holler.’

This dialog is got to be peppered (yes, highly seasoned) with a sincerity and sensitivity that can only come out of being close together in a committed interdependent sometimes-sacrificial but always empowering relationship.

SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL
The truth of the matter is we are separate and unequal. We Christ followers have been for a long time. And I'm not just talking about the separate Sunday worship thing. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 didn’t change people’s hearts, it only changed the laws.

Truth is, I don’t have any answers. And I don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer. Prayer is key. Maybe there should be some fasting involved too. And while we pray and fast, we can talk.

Talking gets us closer to an answer to whatever our problem is. Now, what can we do to get us closer to a fix for our problem of separation in Christian publishing? One tool we can use online is a forum or bulletin board system. Something that we can use online to give us the ability to thread conversations. Judging from the responses to Dave’s post, that kind of online tool would be helpful. So in January I will be making a switch to a new platform for 17seeds.com. It will include a forum, my blog, and maybe a few more resources on biblical racial reconciliation.

Thanks once again for your input. May God’s grace and peace guide us toward healing in The Answer.

December 24, 2007

The Morning After

Three kings from the Orient far had come with gold and frankincense and myrrh. Scores of dazed shepherds had come running from the hills, following a star. There were angelic hosts. And animals galore. And legend tells us that there was even a drummer boy that
night.

They had all followed the star and found a Savior, a King to defeat all kings, a Healer, a Counselor, a Burden Bearer, and a peaceful Prince in the form of a helpless baby. That's what they found that night under that star.

But what about the morning after? I'm thinking the star was gone. Was the excitement? In their cases, I doubt it was. They could see their hope and deliverance, their source of great joy. Even in the light of the morning sun, the Babe-King Jesus
was still there, the embodiment of the greatest promise ever given.

But us, what about us? What do we do on Christmas after the gifts are
unwrapped? Is your joy full? Is your excitement flowing over? Well, maybe you haven't found the child yet? Maybe you didn't follow the star for the right reason. And now in the light of the desert sun, the morning after, all you see if a baby in the straw. All you see is a bunch of wrapping paper to be thrown away.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you see the baby for Who He is. And that you see Christ-mas for what it really was meant to be, a celebration of the
first day of endless life, peace, wholeness, and reconciliation. Will you receive the child?


For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.
~Isaiah 9:6,7

December 21, 2007

Interview with Dave Long

Please pardon the interruption, folks, but we've got a minor change in the lineup. I will feature Marilynn Griffith's survey comments next week. Today we have an interview with Dave Long.

Dave Long is a fiction acquisitions editor at Bethany House Publishers and a 2002 Christy Award winner for Ezekiel's Shadow.

Here's my interview with him:

LH: It's been said that books with people of color on their covers limit their audience or reach. What is your opinion on that?

DL: I'd love to be able to say that there's no impact, but I think that's naive. I think if you look at the demographic of the core of the CBA readership, it's a largely white readership. And that makes an impact as you look at targeting audience. I don't want to go so far as to say it automatically limits the audience though. But I think the overall design of the book and packaging of the book becomes important. A book like Abraham's Well, which BHP published, is aimed widely at that general readership and we feel has a cover that will appeal widely.


LH: Do publishing houses use African American (AA) marketing firms to help them market the book? If not, are there any efforts underway to consult with AA marketing professionals?

DL: This isn't an area in which I'm terribly knowledgeable. I'm sure some do as a number of houses have imprints targeted at the AA market. I wasn't part of the Sharon Foster books in-house, so I don't know what went on here specifically. But when you're talking marketing firms, etc, you're talking about pretty significant campaigns aimed at the heart of your audience... And so the question for any publisher would be: Do we think this book is best aimed at the widest possible audience or best targeted at a niche? BHP to this point has not decided to pursue publishing AA Christian fiction. Though we're be happy and honored to publish fiction by AA Christians. Any and all races, in fact. Or nationalities. Or age demographic. It's the work that counts.


LH: To the best of your knowledge, are there any African Americans working in marketing for Christian publishing houses?

DL: We don't at BHP. I don't know the make-up of other marketing departments to speak more broadly. You could likely ask a pretty provocative question about the make-up of the entire staffs of most CBA publishers. And, frankly, the congregations of many, many many churches. It's an issue that seems beyond us as a Church right now.

==========================================

That's all for now. Have a great weekend.

December 20, 2007

Survey Comments: Part V

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your comments have been great. I really appreciate your points of view. Here are a few more.

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topanga says:
I learn about most new Christian Fiction on blogs or through book sellers (amazon.com, black expressions, etc).

Although I support African American Christian fiction because I can relate to the stories and because of the redeeming Gospel message in the novels, most of them are not well-written or well-edited. Let me stress that I do read these novels and admire the dedication of the authors. Within the writing itself, however, I find many plot holes, examples of stiff dialog, and instances of telling not showing --things that are a big no-no in fiction writing.*


Patricia Woodside says:
The blogosphere is my primary source for finding out about new AA Christian fiction and fiction titles in general.

I find that CBA stores do not favor the AA reader or author. Occasionally a particular book will get attention but AA Christian fiction as a whole does not from these outlets.

To be fair, I think a lot of Christian fiction written by majority (White) authors is snubbed in mainstream retail outlets, like Borders or B&N, beyond the biggest selling or most well-known names like Karen Kingsbury or Janette Oke, despite the continued growth of the genre. It's as if there is still a "wait and see" attitude about Christian fiction.

The vast majority of Christian fiction that I've purchased as been through an online retailer, which again rarely carries AA Christian fiction.

I use my library frequently but I find that Christian fiction as a whole is not widely carried by my library system. It's the same "wait and see" phenomenon as with the retailers. It's frustrating when they have only one or two books in a longer series. However, the library does tend to be responsive when books are requested, maybe moreso than a retailer who will place a special order but will not necessarily changing the store's buying habits.


Nicole Petrino-Salter says:
First of all, the story is what matters. If the topic interests me, I really don't care who wrote it or what ethnicity the characters are. I don't read historicals, lits, sci-fi, or fantasy. And I don't read all kinds of romance.

Although I buy a lot of books, I spread the purchases of them out over online, WalMart, and Christian bookstores.

I want a contemporary story, and I don't want to struggle through cultural issues, meaning that I don't want to feel ignorant or excluded by the characters or story lines.

I am an author of seven contemporary Christian novels, and my second book will be available with online distributors but not in bookstores. My first novel is only available from me. Both novels are self-published.

Visit Nicole at www.hopeofglory.typepad.com/into_the_fire.**


* edited for clarity
** edited for length

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Thanks, everyone for weighing in today. Tomorrow, I'll have comments from Marilynn Griffith, author of the Shades of Style series.

December 19, 2007

Survey Comments: Part IV

More survey comments today. Here we go:

Sally Apokedek says:
I've never paid any attention to AA Christian fiction at all. Never looked for it, never thought about whether I'd like it or not.

I will say this, though. I bought a couple of books on the recommendation of a black friend. They were YA books written by am AA Christian author. I read the back of the books and didn't read the books. It didn't matter to me that the kids were black. It mattered to me that I thought the books were too culturally loaded to interest me. I don't buy white contemporary novels for the same reason. I don't like contemporary culture much.

I don't watch black culture movies. Whereas I love Will Smith in Enemy of the State and I Robot, I never watched some of the AA TV shows that seemed to be about the characters being black more than about some other topic with people who happened to be black.

It's the same with Christian books. I love Christians. But I don't want to read a book about Christians struggling with persecution so much as I'd like to read a novel about something else and the characters just happen to be Christian.

So if you write a novel with black or Christian characters I sure do hope to see them dealing with the novel conflict from their perspective. I want the black boy from the inner-city to act like the black boy from the inner-city, not like the white boy from the burbs. I want the Christian to act like a Christian and not like an atheist. But I don't want to read stories that are wholly about the black experience or the Christian experience.

I don't discount that AA people have had a tough time in this country in the past and still do, often. I don't discount the fact that it's a relevant struggle for them to deal with in novels. It's just not a struggle that I can relate to much.

That's kind of odd because I can relate to the Jewish struggle in Nazi Germany. Maybe that's the key--I would like to read books about slaves or about persecution--I loved Something the Lord Made, for instance--but I don't want to read books that are full of black humor and black inside jokes that I can't relate to, maybe. I feel excluded.

Hmmm I'm not sure. It's an interesting question. I have black friends and white friends and I married a Alaskan Native and have Native kids so I don't generally care about the color of someone's skin. But I do have a cultural comfort zone. I am not engaged in the conversation when my in-laws speak Yupik and I'm not engaged in books and movies that have a lot of black or Hispanic culture that I don't understand. *


slev says:
Not sure what Christian literature is seeking to accomplish. Any story in any genre can offer moral guidance and advice along the guidelines of what the historical Jesus sought to accomplish.

Perhaps, the major publishers are pandering to writers and readers who will support anything by simply adding the word "Christian" to it.

In my humble opinion,there may be little no value to apply labels such as "Christian Lit" or "Muslin Lit" or "Jewish Lit" or "Hindu Lit" to our stories. People are people regardless of the faith they choose to follow. And, take away a few rituals and social aspects, most of the major religions are exactly same.

Let's be writers willing to open our minds and explore our basic humanness and not limit our literary creativity by tags or dogma.


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That's all for now. More tomorrow.
*edited for length

December 18, 2007

Survey Comments: Part III

Today we have more comments from the Fiction Readers Survey (see the right sidebar for details). The responses from the survey have been quite interesting.

Here are some from earlier this month:

Mark says:
I wasn't sure how to answer some of these questions, since I don't really seek out African-American Christian fiction by itself. I'm more interested in finding a captivating story...if the lead is black, white, Chinese, whatever, so be it.


Todd Michael Greene says:
The ethnicity of neither the characters nor the author plays in role in my decision to purchase a novel or not. I'm only interested in the story and the telling of it. (Visit Todd online at http://anewnovelistsjourney.blogspot.com


Norm MacDonald says:
Obviously could not answer a couple since I, nor my wife has ever purchased African American Christian fiction. Not by design, I suppose, but nonetheless, we have not.

I am 56 years old. Where I grew up, in the Pacific Northwest, African Americans were not allowed to live in our town. They lived across the river. It was an "unwritten law". I did not go to school with a person of any color until I was in college.

I still struggle with the issue of race. Diversity is hard for me. But I am learning.*


Katie Hart says:
I do read some African American Christian fiction, but for me they're a step into another culture. Also, much of it seems to be romance or women's fiction, while I prefer suspense and fantasy. (visit aspiring author Katie Hart at http://www.katiehart.net/)

==========================================

That's all for now. More tomorrow.
*[edited for length]

December 17, 2007

Interview with Cynthia Ballenger

Cynthia Ballenger is the Acquisitions Manager for Lift Every Voice, a division arm of Moody Publishers where we publish books for/by African Americans. As the acquisitions editor she makes contract agreements for authors, designers, editors, illustrators, etc. on behalf of the partnership of Moody Publishers and the Institute for Black Family Development.

==========================================
LH: It's been said that books with people of color on their covers limit their audience or reach. What is your opinion on that?
CB: I believe that rings true with people of color on the cover or with people of European decent on the cover. However, if your book is targeted to a specific audience you should show your audience that you are sensitive to their wants and needs by keeping up with current events/issues that pertain to people of color and creating a cover that speaks to that audience. The subject matter and the way the book is marketed can then cross over to other ethnicities due to the appeal of the subject matter.

LH: Do publishing houses use African American (AA) marketing firms to help them market the book? If not, are there any efforts underway to consult with AA marketing professionals?
CB: From what I know of, most companies do not get African American marketing firms to market their African American titles. I believe that there may be efforts underway, but not enough measures are taken to partner with African American marketing firms.

LH: To the best of your knowledge, are there any African Americans working in marketing for Christian publishing houses?
CB: Most African American marketing firms I am familiar with are not Christian based. However, there are more and more Christian African American publicity/marketing firms making themselves known on a regular basis.

LH: Does CBA's relations with CAABA (Christian African American Booksellers Association) have any reach?
CB: I believe the reach that CAABA has is fair and getting stronger each year bringing awareness to the CBA marketplace.

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Thanks, Cynthia for your involvement in this month's series. Your viewpoint is invaluable.

December 14, 2007

Survey Comments: Author Pat Simmons

Today we have Pat Simmons's survey comments on 17seeds. Pat is nosy by nature. She’s known for making friends where ever she goes.

She praises God for the inspiration to write, and the “village people” for helping her get the job done. Her novels include Guilty of Love (September 2007) and Talk To Me (November 2008).

==========================================

Here are her survey comments:
I think most white agents/publishers/bookstores don't understand the black experience so they can't relate to the issues and lifestyles we write about.

As a new Christian Fiction author, a large percentage of my readers/buyers are white women, and I get positive feedback from them. This tells me that if African-American books were available in CBA [Christian Booksellers Association] or Family Bookstores, customers would buy them.


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Read more about Pat and her books at www.patsimmons.net

December 13, 2007

Interview with Cecelia Dowdy

Today we have an interview with Cecelia Dowdy. Cecelia is a world traveler who has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember. When she first read Christian fiction, she felt called to write for the genre.

She loves to read, write, and bake desserts in her spare time. She also loves spending time with her husband and her toddler son. Currently she resides with her family in Maryland. You can visit Cecelia on her websites: www.ceceliadowdy.com and www.ceceliadowdy.blogspot.com

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LLH: You've been writing for quite a while. You've got quite a few titles in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). What is your biggest achievement as a writer in the CBA?

CD: I consider getting published my greatest accomplishment in the CBA. It took me five and a half years to sell my first novel.

LLH: Writing is a business. Capturing your audience is key to the success of an author. Do you feel pressured to write to a certain audience? Are there things you are told not to write about?

CD: So far, I have not felt pressured to write to a certain audience. I haven’t been told that I, specifically, can’t write about certain things. However, depending upon the guidelines of the publisher, it is generally understood when submitting a manuscript that there are certain taboo subjects that an author is not allowed to write about for a particular line. These taboo subjects are made known to the author before submitting, therefore, if you feel your book would not be a good fit, due to the subject matter, then it’s possible to seek publication with another house.

LLH: Do you ever feel like you must write about people of color? How does your audience respond when you don't?

CD: I don’t really feel that I must write about people of color, however, being African-American, I feel more comfortable writing about people of color. Since I’ve never had a story published with characters of another race, it’s hard to know how my audience would respond if I published a story with non-African-American characters.

LLH: I've been told that AA (African American) Christian fiction is 'so different.' Someone even told me that since I'm black I could 'get away' with so much more. What are your thoughts on that?

CD: That has not been my experience so far. Then, again, my novels are category-type romances and they usually fit a certain mold to begin with. However, on a few occasions, when I’ve already turned in my manuscripts, sometimes, I’ve been told to “tone down the passion” in a certain scene. I merely edit the scene accordingly. However, this has not happened frequently enough to cause a problem.

LLH: What do you feel Christian African American audiences want to read or don't want to read?

CD: I feel they want to read good, Christ-centered stories with characters they can relate to. I’m assuming they don’t want characters who are too perfect. They want somebody with flaws, somebody who has been through a lot of drama and heartache, and they want to see that person come to Christ.

LLH: In your opinion, does labeling and shelving practices in bookstores and catalogs listings limit books written by AA authors?

CD: Sometimes. Sometimes not.
Since we’re AA authors, we fit into a unique niche. For example, my second novel, which was published by Harlequin’s Love Inspired line, was shelved with the category romances. So, if somebody were to want an AA book, and they went to the AA section of the store, mine wouldn’t have been an option for them to choose since my book was shelved with the category romances.

HOWEVER, being shelved with the non-AA books can have its advantages, too. When a customer is browsing through the non-AA titles, they might come across an AA title, like mine, and buy it. You might end up gaining a reader that you might not have gained if shelved with the AA titles. It’s a double-edged sword and I believe the only way to solve this dilemma is to shelve AA books in both categories: AA section and the regular fiction/romance section. However, I don’t believe bookstores will shelve one book in two places, so it’s hard to know what to do. I’ve blogged about this topic before, and I’ve seen other authors blog about it. It’s a hot subject.

LLH: I've only been around CBA fiction a short while but it seems there's a bit of a divide between what's considered mainline CBA and AA CBA fiction. Should the divide exist? If not, where should we go from here to address the separation?

CD: I think mainline CBA fiction is guaranteeing the customer a certain product. If a customer purchases a book by a certain publisher or line, then he/she will know the quality of story they’re likely to get. Sometimes when a publisher publishes a book that greatly goes against their traditional mold, that publisher is taking a risk, and that may be why the divide exists? Who knows? I know there are some AA authors out there who I see advertised, somewhat, as Christian fiction novelists, however, I consider their content and their storylines to be more ABA. I’ve noticed I’m also less apt to see some of these ABA-styled authors’ books in Christian bookstores. I usually see them in secular stores shelved in the AA section or the fiction section.

I think I was in a workshop once and another AA Christian fiction author said that there are stories out there by AA authors that are advertised as Christian fiction, but, actually, they’re not the traditional Christian fiction. She called it Christian Friction? These stories center around the church, but it’s about characters living their lives, but the faith element isn’t NECESSARILY as strong as in the traditional Christian fiction novels. I suppose this is where the separation comes into play at times? It’s hard to address this separation since a lot of it depends upon the publisher and the sales figures involved. I sense that a secular publisher, who publishes Christian fiction/friction, would take more of a risk with a non-traditional story than a Christian publisher would. I’m no expert, but these are just my speculations.


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Thanks, Cecelia for taking part in this interview. Find out more about Cecelia's newest release at Heartsong Presents:

John’s Quest
Publisher: Barbour – Heartsong Presents
Release date: March 2008
ISBN: 978-1-60260-006-5

December 11, 2007

Blue-eyed Black

LOVE THE SKIN YOU'RE IN
My five-year-old son drew a picture of himself the other day. He talks quietly to himself while he draws. It's a cute little habit. I guess I do the same thing so I didn't mind it one bit. Just gave him a piece of paper and some crayons and let him draw on the floor while I worked on the computer.

"Now, I'm going to need brown for my face," he whispers. Scribble. Scribble. Scribble. "And I'll need blue for my eyes. So I'll look happy."

Whoa, wait a minute! My fingers froze in midair over the keyboard. Blue? When did he get blue eyes? I looked down at his self-portrait (which was looking pretty good, except for the eyes) and I said, "You have brown eyes, remember. Nice brown eyes."

Didn't matter, he was going to have blue eyes if it was the last thing he did. Having blue eyes was going to make him happy. That was a wake-up call for me. I made a mental note to be more intentional about giving my three 'brown-eyed' little Negro children a reason to be happy about how they look.

STIRRING THINGS UP
About a year ago, while shopping for high resolution stock photography online, I found a picture of a young black man with very fair skin and coffee brown eyes. I remember thinking instantly, "Here's my Isaac." As in Isaac Hunt, the main character in The Making of Isaac Hunt, of course.

That image fit the bill almost perfectly. This young model is handsome and fair-skinned. Real manly looking. Trouble was, he had brown eyes. So after a little editing magic, I made them blue. Yep. On purpose.

About a couple months after the book came out I had a signing. One black woman came up to the table and loudly proclaimed, without so much as a hello, 'You got problems.' She pointed at Isaac's blue eye. It disturbed her. A blue-eyed black.

I shrugged it off and made a mental note to be more disturbing. On purpose.

Interview with Sharon Ewell Foster: Part 2

Abraham's Well, a novel by Sharon Ewell Foster, is a 'is the rare historical novel that both entertains and educates.' [Publisher's Weekly]

Today we have the second and last part of Ms. Foster's interview. Here's the first part.

==========================================

LLH: I've been told that AA (African American) Christian fiction is 'so different.' Someone even told me that since I'm black I could 'get away' with so much more. What are your thoughts on that?


SEF: Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. You know, I guess I don't get it. What's the payoff for keeping this kind of false separation in place? I don't get it. It's so unnatural.

One church. One faith. One baptism. We all read God's word and we are able to relate to it, across all kinds of barriers. Jesus prayed that we would be one. I don't get it.

Certainly, there might be some cultural differences, but at the heart of it, we all struggle with the same things, don't we? We want to be loved and respected. We all suffer, we all get disappointed. We all know what heartbreak feels like. We all know betrayal; it has no color. We all fluctuate between hope and despair. We've all experienced some kind of rejection or oppression. We may have different forms of worship, but we worship the same King.

Hopefully, all of us are writing in ways that honor God. Hopefully, all of us are writing the best we can and stretching ourselves. If someone, despite color, feels caged in by man's rules, then he or she needs to stretch. If someone, despite color, is writing under God's name, but is producing material that dishonors God, then I would hope he or she would do a heart check. I don't think it has anything to do with race. There are lots of writers pushing boundaries.

Actually, I enjoy reading all kinds of writers. I think it's a benefit. It's a blessing. It's God's intentional blessing. He didn't make us different by mistake; it is part of His divine plan, and we miss blessings He has for us if we are too foolish to move beyond color. Again, we don't just grow pink flowers and we don't just eat oranges. I'm not about to miss out on some wonderful literature, or a word that can bless my life, because the author is white or brown or yellow or red! My goodness, I would never want to miss To Kill a Mockingbird, or the Old Man and the Sea, or Of Mice and Men! I'm like the Canaanite woman, I want my blessing! (Matthew 15:21-28) I'm not about to give up a blessing--not a good book, or a flower, or a piece of fruit, or a word that might make my day brighter--because I'm offended by someone's color! I hope my readers, whatever their color, are proudly flashing my book covers whatever their color! We are too mature in Christ's love to let color stop us!

LLH: What do you feel Christian African American audiences want to read or don't want to read?


SEF: People, no matter their color, want great, exciting stories that are well-written. They want stories that make them think, that are relevant, and that are passionate. They want stories that deal with universal themes. They want unique stories that are honest. It has nothing to do with color.

LLH: In your opinion, does labeling and shelving practices in bookstores and catalogs listings limit books written by AA authors?


SEF: You know what? I don't understand the practice. It seems archaic to me. No one's ever explained it to me in a way that makes sense. It seems like a vestige of a bygone era, but we still have many of old things in place.

LLH: I've only been around CBA fiction a short while but it seems there's a bit of a divide between what's considered mainline CBA and AA CBA fiction. Should the divide exist? If not, where should we go from here to address the separation?


SEF: I don't know, Linda. Perhaps, it's time for us to begin to make it uncomfortable for these divides to continue. We've sat in separate churches for so long, and it seems to be the same in publishing. We seem to be so far behind the secular publishers. I think it requires that we get out of our comfort zones. We have to remember that Christ didn't call us to be comfortable. Most of what the Lord preached makes us uncomfortable when we initially put it into practice, it's the same with breaking down racial barriers.

For example, there are often CBA author panels at booksellers conventions. I don't remember seeing an African American authors on any panel. It may just be that people haven't thought about it. It may be time time to bring it to someone's attention. We are called to love one another, to be one, not to live in separate houses; I would like to believe that we will respond, if the truth is spoken with love, and remove some of these barriers.

============================================

Thanks once again, to Sharon for answering my questions. Visit Sharon online at http://www.sharonewellfoster.com/

December 10, 2007

Interview with Sharon Ewell Foster: Part 1

Sharon Ewell Foster is a double-RITA finalist and the author of seven multicultural novels. Her first, Passing by Samaria, won the Christy Award for best first novel. Her latest, Abraham’s Well, a historical novel that earned her her third starred review, won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Inspirational Fiction. The former Pentagon staffer is a beloved speaker on topics from history to reconciliation to purpose to virtue to education, she is a favorite of reading groups, also teaches writing workshops, and has just inked a three book deal with Simon and Schuster.

You can find out more about Sharon and her books at www.sharonewellfoster.com

=========================================

Here's Part 1 of our interview:
LLH: You've been writing for quite a while. You've got quite a few titles in the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA). What is your biggest achievement as a writer in the CBA?

SEF: First, Linda, thanks for this opportunity. So many wonderful things have happened to me since I began writing, so it's difficult to pinpoint one or two. But if I have to choose two things:

a. My first book, Passing by Samaria, won the Christy Award for Best First Novel and was also a RITA Award (Romance Writers of America) double-finalist, as well as a Golden Pen Award Finalist (Black Writers Alliance) and CBA bestseller. That was really wonderful for a first book ... or for any book for that matter.

b. My second book, Ain't No River, appeared on the CBA bestsellers list and the Essence bestsellers lists simultaneously, which says that one can write in a way that honors God while appealing to the masses. Ain't No River also won the Golden Pen Award and was a Christy Award finalist.

LLH: Writing is a business. Capturing your audience is key to the success of an author. Do you feel pressured to write to a certain audience? Are there things you are told not to write about?

SEF: See, I disagree with the premise. Writing is not a business, it is an art. The marketing, promotion, distribution, and sale of writing is business. But writing itself is art. As artists, we get in trouble when we forget that truth. I began writing to serve God, it's a form of worship for me. It is to this day. God is the source of my creativity, not man. He's my lead, it's His word and spirit that I follow, though sometimes I've had to be pretty assertive about it.

My job is to tell the best stories that I can, to pour as much love, creativity, insight, wisdom, and truth as I can into each piece that I write. I'm the vessel into which the Lord breathes and pours the stories that I'm supposed to tell, just as you are the vessel into which He pours your stories. I'm responsible for delivering the truth and the love. It is a sacred communion, like the communication between a pastor and the Lord. I believe that as writers we have to be careful about that and about not giving or forsaking the truth God gives to us just for money or simply so that we can be published.

The word of God prevails; if I stay connected to the vine, my writing will bear fruit. I know this doesn't jibe with a lot of advice that others might give, but it is what I know to be true. We only touch people, heal people, deliver people, or give them hope and joy when we stay connected to what God says. Our promotion comes from God. It's the spirit of the Lord which draws faithful readers. My writing, the marketing, the publicity, the distribution, all of those are seeds. We are responsible for doing all we can to plant good seeds in good ground. But the increase and the promotion come from God Almighty's hand.

LLH: Do you ever feel like you must write about people of color? How does your audience respond when you don't?

SEF: Funny, I just finished a series of articles on this topic for Romantic Times Magazine (Jan and Feb editions). I've never considered myself a writer who only wrote for or about people of a particular complexion. So, I write about all kinds of people. We live in a world full of color. It would seem odd to people if I only wrote about the color blue, or only painted with the color blue. My books are multicultural, my audience is multicultural. No reader has ever expressed a problem with it. I think it's sometimes challenging for some publishers because they've been a monochromatic mode for so long. In fact, I had a publisher that didn't want a story I was writing about Mary and Martha, because it wasn't "ethnic". Really, that was just blindness, you know--even historical blindness.

But most people are used to living in a world with people of all complexions. My readers embrace it. It's natural.

=========================================

That's it for now. Visit tomorrow for the rest of Sharon's interview.

December 7, 2007

Survey Comments: Part II

This is what Lisa Nuchell shared, "Until I started writing, I didn't hear much about African-American Christian fiction. Most A-A fiction is categorized as A-A or mainstream fiction. I had a hard time finding A-A Christian authors on the web. I still get excited when I discover that a particular Christian author is African-American."

Read more about Lisa Nuchell (aka L. Nuchell) and her novel Everything Her Heart Desires at http://lnuchellbooks.com/


=================================================

Barbara Ogwu says, "Truthfully, I am a non-fiction lover. I love biographies, history, true survivor stories, self help, KJV or NIV bible and other biblical writings, etc.

I will never choose a book...just because...it has black characters. I will not rule it out for that same reason. My interests are in characters and situations that are true and real."

Barbara's MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/barbaraannjelksogwu


================================================

Allison Wilson's comments: "I'm not a person of color, but I have reviewed and critiqued several books by African-American authors which I enjoyed, thoroughly. I tend to lean much more toward the suspense/mystery genre and haven't looked for specific books by AA authors in this genre.

I, honestly, don't care how deeply tanned the characters are ( :-) ) as long as the story is well written and the characters are real."

Allison's blog: http://hearthitting.blogspot.com/


================================================

Well, that's all for now. More results/comments next week alongside my interviews with Sharon Ewell Foster and Cecilia Dowdy.

Thanks Lisa, Barbara, and Allison for taking the survey and for agreeing to have your comments posted. I really appreciate your input.

December 6, 2007

Dreaming in Color

IN LIVING COLOR
Do you dream in color? Or do you only think you do? Do you really dream in black and white and the memory of that Technicolor pony in a red sports car is just that -- only a memory. Evaporated like an ice cube on a warm plate.

Many mornings, as I lie in bed listening to the warm air rattling through the vents overhead, struggling to remember the colors in my dreams, I worry that I've only imagined them. And I'm just wasting my time trying to remember. And that no matter how good it was, it was only a dream. Only a collection of my crazy, giddy, mournful pasts colliding with unrealized events of the next moment. But still I lie there and wish in vain that the dream will linger. That the good things will last a little longer.

And that maybe by some happy accident, I can make the good dreams happen. Again. And That maybe, by sheer will and imagination, I can, like some magician or clown with a million bright scarves up my sleeve, make up a colorful dream. One with the right plot. With exceptional characterization and superb pacing. If I could just get it right ... just like last time. Revise. Rewrite. Repeat.

WRITE THE DREAM
I think we writer types do this with fiction to some degree. We strain to construct the fictive dream, a trap of sorts intended to snare our readers in emotion, in a sensational journey that will resonate with the entire cosmos, change the course of history, or at least bend time and space long enough for a housewife to escape and relax.

We want to create the perfect fictive dream. Vivid. Unique. Better. The BEST. But it is all just a stab in the dark. Considering that out of the 6 billion or so people on the globe, not one is like me (or you). 6 billion people with countless emotional buttons. No one of us exactly the same. Sure we share commonalities, from person to person, and sometimes even across cultures. But as it's been said, 'My blues ain't like yours.'

So we writers hone our craft. We subject ourselves to sleepless nights and endless rejection. And for what? To have a reader say, 'that was a good book.'

A GOOD BOOK. The highest compliment, indeed.

A DEEPER SHADE OF BLUE
But what makes a good book? One with the right plot? With exceptional characterization and superb pacing? One that resonates on the deepest emotional level? One that has the widest, most endearing compelling appeal? But what emotions and what endearments would propel our reader into the dream and leave them there indefinitely, comparing us to Morrison or Plath or Mosley as the Holy Spirit draws them ever closer to the Truth?

So to manage our pursuit of the good fictive dream, we define an audience. And we narrow down to our target reader. Our Becky. We find a niche. And we stick to it. We plot for it. We characterize for it. We get deep in the dream. 10,000 Leagues into it. The journey to THE GOOD BOOK.

But I wonder now, like I do many mornings as I lie there listening, if I've lost touch with reality. If I will ever find that emotionally resonating place, humming like a tuning fork with brilliant color, with deep meaningful wide appeal. Because I don't just want to write for black folks. I don't like it that I'm expected to only be able to write church dramas or be sassy or gritty. I want to write about all people, for all people; not an imprint of people.

GOOD ENOUGH
At the risk of being dis-invited from the party, I want to say that I don't like being pigeonholed into the 'black' box. I looked and I couldn't find the 'yellow' box or the 'red' box. But there is a black one. It's there and I think it's gonna stay. It works for the industry, I won't mess with it but I don't have to like it. That box is the reality of marketing, even in the Christian ain't-we-all-reconciled-yet marketplace. (Is my book in print saying, it's a good book or good enough for this box?)

Truth be told, the dream has evaporated a little and the colors have faded. But I'm not sure they were there in the first place.

===============================================

Enough I'm-not-an-angry-black-female reflection for now. Tomorrow, I'll post more survey responses. If you'd like to take my survey, visit 17seeds.com. Be sure to visit your email box after you click submit for an important message. Thanks.

December 5, 2007

Survey Comments: Author, Tia McCollors

National bestselling author Tia McCollors secured her spot in the publishing industry with the release of her debut novel and the Essence bestseller, A Heart of Devotion, followed by her second release, Zora’s Cry. She continues to pen inspirational works and is also writing a series of children’s early reader chapter books targeted towards girls, ages 7-9. After leaving a 10-year career in the corporate arena as a public relations professional, Tia is emerging as a steadfast author of faith-based novels.* Tia is a North Carolina native and an active member of ACFW. Her next book, The Truth About Love, is due on shelves March 2008.

Here are the comments Tia left on the Fiction Reader's Survey on LLHargrove.com. Thanks, Tia.
(If you take the survey please visit your email box afterward for an important message.)

"As an author, I usually hear about Christian African American fiction releases through the author of the releases (via an email or their monthly newsletter), or from other fellow authors as we promote each others works.

Unfortunately, I've rarely seen my books on the shelves of CBA outlet bookstores. When I've asked the bookstore managers about it, they suggest that I have readers come in the store and order it. Most of the time, that's not an option since a reader usually wants to purchase and read a book immediately. The only time I've seen my books at a CBA outlet store is when I arranged for a book signing there.

I've been told several times by CBA stores that they don't have the "demand" for Af-Am Christian fiction. But I say, if the supply and visibility of the books on the shelves would increase, so would the demand!"


*[From TiaMcCollors.com]
NOTE: CBA stands for Christian Booksellers Association

December 4, 2007

Kissing, Killing, and Cussing

SEX, LIES, AND SOME OTHER STUFF
Why do people buy novels? That's what I've been wondering for quite a while. More to the point, why do people of color buy books? Is it because there's a 'colored' face on the cover? Is it because the main character is not Caucasian?

Since I'm black and I write, people freely give me their take on African American fiction (whether I ask for it or not). Most of the comments go a little like this: Black fiction is so edgy. It's so gritty. It's raw.

I'm left thinking, 'are we talking about a book or a piece of dirty meat?'

The truth is readers are people. They come to the bookstore with their own agenda. They want a book they can enjoy. But enjoy is so subjective. It's like chocolate ice cream (sort of). You'd think everybody would like the stuff. Right? Some people don't.

Sometimes I get questions like 'why don't you like such-and-such's book.' She's a black author, you're black. Her book's got all the things black folks are supposed to like in books. A lot of other blacks like the book. Why don't you?

Or there's this one: Folks really like that-famous-black-Christian-author's book. Why don't you write like that? She's black. You're black. You can write like her.

Like African American author Nathan McCall, I just wanna holler.

MULTI-WHAMMY!
Multiethnic. Multicultural. Multiracial. Biracial. Interracial.

It all makes my head spin. I'm beginning to see how labels in publishing work. Or rather, how they are supposed to work. But the truth is they don't. They confuse people -- readers and authors alike.

Case in point, two months after the release of my book, I went into a major bookstore chain in my city. We were shopping for a gift. Just milling around, see, looking for other types of books when my oldest child says, 'Mommy, let's go see if we can find your book.' So off we go to the small inspirational (read:Christian) fiction section. Nope, not anywhere there near Rachel Hauck's Diva NashVegas or Dee Henderson's O'Malley crew.

My husband says we should try the 'African American Literature' section. We trudge on over to the area (two long rows of books) and find my book there, sure enough amidst a sea of covers with heavily oiled and barely covered breasts and thighs. I quickly usher my children away. That was more meat than we'd seen in quite a while.

So what are readers looking for? Don't know for sure yet. But in the Multi-ethnic, African American Literature section, it must be much more than I'm unwilling or unable to reveal.

December 1, 2007

Do black folk read enough?

The following paragraphs are from Angela, the blackromancereader's blog, where I found myself a few days ago while searching for why black's don't read. I know what you're thinking, 'Linda sure does some crazy Web searches.' That's just how I think about (too much maybe). This is what Angela was thinking ...

"African-American imprints were borne from publishers’ sudden realization that yes, black folks do read, and further exploded with the success of Terry MacMillan, Eric Jerome Dickey, Zane, et al, but what about other non-white and non-black ethnicities? With an apology for making a blanket statement, I theorize that the lack of desire or clamor for imprints, or even just a larger slice of the pie, from non-black and non-white Americans is because for the most part, they’ve “assimilated”, or assimilation is the goal.

Because of slavery and Jim Crow, blacks formed a separate culture that existed within American culture, and as a result, we’re more adamant about having our “own” things because to be honest, a lot of black Americans view white Americans with suspicion and mistrust. However, with a growing Hispanic population (16% compared to 13% for African-Americans), will this soon change? Will Hispanics/Latinos want their “own” imprints etc that reflect themselves and their culture within the context of mainstream society? What of Asians? Or even Muslims of all ethnicities? Or will black Americans continue to have their “own” things because of past hurts and resentments? I think I’m rambling here, but I do wonder whether using every opportunity to separate has more cons than pros, or is it a somewhat “wise” move in the wake of Jena Six, nooses and Buckwheat? For non-blacks, who view assimilation as the key to being “American”, being immigrants, does it have more pros than cons in the scheme of just going to the romance section and not having a separate imprint for your own ethnicity? Or is there a bit of resentment that your voice is “smaller” than the African-American voice?"


So what are your thoughts?

(Note: btw, I don't know this Angela, self-proclaimed blackromancereader. I don't even read so-called black romance. I just happened into her world and wanted to hear your thoughts).

Reading While Black

IT'S ALL GINGER'S FAULT
I read and I'm black. That didn't seem like such a strange thing until I hit high school and realized that I read more than most blacks I knew. I read YA novels, Popular Mechanics, biographies, classic medieval tomes, newspapers. I read while walking, while knitting, during slow moments in Health class. Truth was, I probably read more than most white folks I knew (okay, maybe not as much as my best friend Ginger who was a short sassy white girl).

Trouble became my middle name when I not only read lots of stuff but I started writing. Then I went from just a nerdy black girl to meddlesome. It didn't help that I heard somebody say (a black person, I think) that if you want to hide something from a (insert N-word here) you need to put it in a book. There were a lot of other not so nice things I'd heard about black folks and intelligence but that one struck a chord.

WRITING WHILE BLACK
I started writing about biblical racial reconciliation (RRECON) in the early nineties shortly after becoming a co-leader of a RRECON discussion group made of whites and blacks from different churches. We'd get together once a month and discuss some RRECON nonfiction book or racially-charged current event and I'd write up these essays and email them out to everyone between meetings.

Pretty soon I got a reputation for being an angry black female. Truth is, I'm anything but 'angry black female.' Intense about race and faith? Yes. But not angry. Okay, my hairstyle (down my back and locked in dreds now for more than 12 years) does lend itself to the angry persona but that's not why I wear my hair this way. (I'll save that one for another blog).

TAKE A SURVEY
So, now that I hope I've established that I'm not angry at anyone (and not out to get anyone angry at me with my nonconfrontational self), I would like to invite you take a survey. If you are a person of color and read Christian fiction, I'd love for you to have you fill out the survey.

I'm not profiling anyone or trying to exclude any of our brothers and sisters of the lighter hue. They are certainly free to take the survey as well. It's just that I'm curious about some things. And someone once told me that if you want answers you've got to ask a few questions. So here I am asking questions. I want to understand what it is that makes you, as a person of color, want to read fiction.

With your conscent, I'll be posting your responses on this blog. And later this month, I'll have interviews from two Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) authors and two CBA acquisitions editors. The purpose of having those voices here with your comments will be to help answer some other questions I've had for some time about racism in Christian fiction. (Yeah, you read that right, I pulled the race card.)

PLANTING SEEDS
Race is hard to talk about and hardly talked about, especially in the house of God. That shouldn't be so. Sometimes I may come across too strong or even angry. If I do, call me on that. I promise you I'll try my best to come back honest, and loving. You're my sister (or brother). If we're in Christ; we're family. Let's treat each other that way. For real, Matthew 17 style.

Okay, this post has rambled on long enough. I'm black and I read; and I also write. I am a little crazy but I ain't mad.

November 30, 2007

Celebrating Adoption: Special Music

Adoptive Music brings you the best in Adoption themed music & songs specifically related to the adoptive family experience, created by artists whose lives have been touched by the miracle of adoption.

Thanks, Chuck and Lynette Giacinto.
http://www.adoptivemusic.com/

November 26, 2007

Celebrating Adoption: Literary Artist

Colleen D. C. Marquez is a literary artist. She creates 'You in the Word.' Here's more about it from her Web site:

"YOU IN THE WORD™ offers unique, personalized Literary Art that highlights your name within a Scripture verse in contemporary acrostic design, on your choice of available backdrops and professionally matted and framed in a 14 x 16 inch frame with cherry finish."

Visit Colleen and find out more about You in the Word at http://www.youintheword.com/

Celebrating Adoption: Author/Speaker Spotlight

"A safe haven for exploring adoption.
Thinking about exploring adoption? Whether you're exploring the possibility or you're already an adoptive parent or adopted person, you've come to the right place. At LauraChristianson.com, you'll find a wealth of information and encouragement to assist you through your adoption journey."

That's the introduction from Laura Christianson's Web site. Cruise on over and check out her books (she's a writer too) and speaking schedule.

Laura and I are part of AdoptionWriters.ning.com, a network she created. Thanks, Laura, for all you do. May God continue to bless your work.

Laura's Web Site
Laura's Blog
Laura's Amazon Store

Celebrating Adoption: AdoptionShop.com



Here's another online adoption source: Adoptionshop.com. It offers books and so much more. You can find greeting cards, apparel, artwork, jewelry, software.

Looks like your quintessential one-stop-adoption-shop!

Celebrating Adoption: Books

With just one week left in National Adoption Month, I'd like to feature Web sites with great adoption information and resources. I'm not endorsing them per se, just presenting them for your consideration.

The first Web site this week is Tapestry Books. It's an online bookstore with books (mostly nonfiction) on domestic and international adoption. They have books for kids, teens, and adults.

Here's the link: http://www.tapestrybooks.com/default.asp

Giving Thanks. Making Memories.

Last week was Thanksgiving Week. The kids were out most of the week AND I had a writing deadline (which I met, thank you). So you can imagine how thankful I am to be sitting at the keyboard this morning knowing that I will finally have a one day of leisure and quiet. Can you hear my heels clicking?

But seriously, I am thankful to be a mom and a writer. It's always a tricky balancing act trying to pull both off successfully. I find I have to redefine success. And I have to depend on others to pitch in. Some things have to go undone (at least for a while). And some things might not need to be done at all. I sometimes wonder what my kids will remember.

Last Thursday, the kids helped me make cookies. We usually do a good deal of baking this time of year. Muffins. Cookies. Nut breads. So getting all covered with flour and licking sugar crystals off the table is normal for me and my boys. My oldest (9 yo) helped out the most. I let him roll the dough and use cookie cutters. He's got a long way to go in the gentle department, though. *grin*

After Thanksgiving dinner we decorated our cookies with frosting, sprinkles, and little candies. My four-year-old looked up and said 'this is the best Thanksgiving ever.' I smiled and gave him a hug. It well worth the mess we made. We made a memory together. That's what holidays together is all about.

November 17, 2007

Happy Adoption Day

Today is National Adoption Day. In many town halls, court rooms, homes, and libraries around the U.S., you'll find adoption celebrations.

My home will be one of those that pause for a moment to celebrate 'forever family' with adopted children (three little boys, in fact). Since my kids are young (the oldest is nine; the youngest is four), I'll be doing some hands adoption celebrating (See below). And some celebrating that tastes good too.

Adoption Activities
Reading the book Forever Fingerprints (by Sherrie Eldridge)
This picture book 'deftly guides children to two essential concepts: sadness over missing birthparents is normal, and adoptive parents can be sensitive supporters for their children's grief.'


Braided Ribbons Coloring Project (by Sherrie Eldridge)
This activity was inspired by Psalm 139:16b. In Ms. Eldridge's words, “Every single day of my life was planned before any one of them ever came to be.”


Have a good day of adoption discovery, acceptance, healing, and CELEBRATION.

Sherrie Eldridge, Adoption Speaker and Author with an amazing story
Adoption Lifebooks
National Adoption Day

November 14, 2007

Fostering Hope

Today, as guest blogger for National Adoption Month, we have Cynthia Hickey. Here's her story.

"The book of Deuteronomy tells us to train up a child in the way they should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. My husband and I hold this truth as God’s promise to us.

In 1992, my husband and I felt led to open our home to foster children. Our four biological children opened their arms and hearts wholeheartedly to the idea. One week after we completed our certification, we received a call from the foster agency asking whether we had a problem with fostering black children. We emphatically stated no and they went on to inform us they were bringing us a six-week old baby girl. Imagine our surprise when they showed up with a three-week old baby boy! It was love at first sight.

Over the nine years we fostered children, we adopted three of the twenty-three children who passed through our doors. One Caucasian girl we received at the age of six years old and two African/American boys both received as infants.

The years since have been filled with joy and sorrow. The first time our adopted daughter decided she couldn’t live by our rules, she was sixteen. She moved out only to be brought home three weeks later. Before she turned eighteen, she was gone again, having turned her back on the entire family. She is in God’s hands now and my husband and I have faith He will draw her back into the fold someday.

We have raised our sons to be proud of their heritage, letting them know the world would be a boring place if God had created everyone to look the same. They are very comfortable in their multi-cultural families. We could not have done this without God’s grace.

Both boys struggle some with learning and attention deficit due to circumstances surrounding their birth mothers, but both have overcome insurmountable obstacles. The oldest is in high school now and star of the football team. The youngest is the joy of our hearts.

God is good. As we struggle with the challenges of raising adoptive children who have questions about why their birth parents gave them up, my husband and I are comfortable with the knowledge that God will see our family through. Our teenager is a trial at this point in his life, but as an infant someone spoke a word over him saying that God was going to use him as a bridge between the white man and the black.

God keeps his promises whether this side or the other of heaven."

Cynthia Hickey
www.cynthiahickey.com
www.cynthiahickey.blogspot.com




Thanks, Cynthia for helping me celebrate National Adoption month with your story.

November 12, 2007

Soldiers with Shoulders

In celebration of National Adoption Month (and Veteran's Day) ...

Yesterday, my two youngest boys came to me with their shoulders squared and their hands pressed firmly against the sides of their legs.

"We're shoulders," the five-year-old announced.

I knew what he meant to say ('we're soldiers') but what he said ('shoulders') made me think.

As adoptive mom, I have felt like a soldier and a shoulder over the past nine years. For the better part of the first two years of our youngest son's life, my husband and I (and our lawyer) were in court, seeking the termination of rights of a 16 year old high school drop out father. In that sense we were fighting for him. We were soldiers--quiet and steadfast, always hopeful for peace but ready for battle.

We have also been shoulders, of course. In the same sense that all parents find themselves. Shoulders to cry on. Shoulders to break down the barriers in life. Shoulders to stand on to see what lies ahead. But event beyond that, I think adoptive and foster parents are shoulders for our children in that we offer them a chance that they would not have had otherwise.

I'll be honest. The phrase, 'giving them a better life' disturbs me. Particularly when it is spoken in the context of a trans-racial or trans-cultural adoption. Who's to say what a 'better life' is? Does a better life only involve private schools, swimming pools in the backyard, and trips abroad?

Can a better life mean having a father with a GED, being on foodstamps for a few years, or having to work your way through college? That was my experience. And I deep down, I can't imagine how being given nicer things could have made my life light years better. That sounds too much like handouts. (Handouts can come in many forms, you know.) But don't get me going on the subject of handouts.

So in reference to adoption and foster care, I rather prefer the phrase 'a chance to a better life.' Because that's all we offer them: A CHANCE. There's no guarantee that the adoptive or fostered child will succeed because he came into our home, because we gave them our best.

We can only hope and pray that our shoulders were quiet and steadfast, always hopeful for peace but ready for right battle.

November 9, 2007

A Path to God

Today, as guest blogger for National Adoption Month, we have Ane Mulligan. Here's her story.

"God blessed me with an adoptive father who pointed me to the Lord by showing me what a loving father was like. I’ve never really struggled with faith; Daddy set an example before my brother and me. He was a father who disciplined yet loved unconditionally.

He was slightly indulgent but firm. And we never once doubted that we were loved and wanted. I was able to understand and trust God as my Heavenly Father through Daddy, living his faith out in actions and not just words.

Mama believed in me from day one. She encouraged me in all that I did, and she taught me by her life what a being a Christian wife is all about. She and Daddy never raised their voices to one another in all their 62 years of marriage.

When Mama went to be with Jesus, Daddy followed her within 4 months. Both were 89. They set before me a path to God that was easy to follow. I’ve been married to my beloved husband for 37 years and trusting God all my life."



Thanks, Ane for your story.

Ane Mulligan
American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Zone Officer
http://www.anemulligan.com
http://www.noveljourney.blogspot.com
http://www.anemulligan.blogspot.com
May you be covered in the dust of the Rabbi

November 8, 2007

An atypical family

Today, as guest blogger for National Adoption Month, we have Nicole Baart. Here's her story.

November is a special month for my family because it marks both the birthday of my biological son and the homecoming of my adopted son. Sometimes I feel like I could write forever on the nuances of our life and why we believe God chose to weave our family together as He did. But mostly I just love watching everything unfold and learning more about what it means to be a godly mother every day.

Often, I learn more from my children than from the numerous books I devour on the topic of adoption. My favorite “lesson” came from my three-year-old only weeks before we brought our new baby home from Africa.

My husband and I are both Caucasian and our youngest son is Ethiopian. When we received his referral, we ecstatically printed off copies of his picture and hung them all over our house. Our three-year-old fell immediately in love with his baby brother and took to carrying around a picture that quickly became dog-eared and tattered; he’d proudly whip out his precious photo and introduce total strangers to his new brother.

One woman saw our son’s beloved photo and commented, “What a beautiful brother you have! Look how handsome he is.”

It was a perfectly innocent and loving comment, but it made me wonder how much my oldest son understood about the complexities of our soon to be biracial family. Later, when we were alone, I probed a little bit.

“Honey, your baby brother is different from you, isn’t he? What’s different about him?”

“He came from ‘opia (our son’s toddler version of Ethiopia) and I came from mommy’s tummy.”

“You’re right,” I smiled. “What else is different?”

“He’s little and I’m big.”

Right again. “Anything else?”

“Ummm… he has curly hair and I don’t.”

At this point I was laughing out loud. “Is there anything else that’s different between you and your brother?”

My son screwed up his face for a moment and then grabbed the nearest toy. “Nope!” he yelled. Conversation over.

Nowadays, our baby is a fun-loving and energetic sixteen-month-old, and his very best friend is a four-year-old that still doesn’t get that the rest of the world thinks they’re different. My husband and I are so proud of both of our sons (and their respective Dutch and Ethiopian heritages), and we do everything we can think of to encourage them to embrace their diverse roots while developing a profound respect for each other. But they’re kids. And the bottom line for them is: they’re brothers. That’s all that matters to them.

I love the fact that in this crazy world of sharply drawn lines and distinct colors, my boys just plain don’t care. It’s not that they’re color blind--in fact, my oldest son is downright crazy about his brother’s gorgeous chocolate skin--nor do I want them to be; their diversity is one of the many things that makes them so beautiful. But I do think that they intrinsically accept something that we could all stand to learn: we are one in Christ. Forget black and white, biological or adopted, we are one just as “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). I love what my kids are teaching me about unity in the wonderfully distinctive and extraordinarily atypical family of God!


Thanks, Nicole for your wonderful adoption story.
Nicole Baart, author of After the Leaves Fall
www.nicolebaart.com

November 7, 2007

Just Like My Daddy

Today, as guest blogger for National Adoption Month, we have Linda Rondeau.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father (Romans 8:15 NIV).

Not able to have children of their own, my son and daughter-in-law have adopted several children through the foster care system. Each addition to the family has been considered a blessing—especially so with Joshua. Nearly a year before, Joshua, who had been in foster care since early infancy, was free to be adopted. When the agency called my son and daughter-in-law who already had one adopted son and another whom they hoped to adopt, they opened their hearts to welcome the youngster into their burgeoning nest. It was love at first sight when the affectionate youngster moved in. Finally, all the legal work was over, and the family accompanied Joshua for his day in court.

The courtroom was silent, waiting for the judge to make a decision—a decision to determine not only where little Joshua would live, but also what his name would be. The judge motioned Joshua to approach the bench. From his austere heights, the magistrate pointed to someone in the room. Each time, Joshua was asked, “Who is this?”

“Those are my brothers,” Joshua said, referring to the other adopted children. “That’s Mommy,” he explained as he pointed to my daughter-in-law.

Then the judge’s attention focused on my son who positioned Joshua in his arms, allowing the child to see the judge at eye level. “And who is this man holding you?”
Joshua’s eyes widened. He took his little hand and touched his father’s face as he squealed in delight, “THAT’S MY DADDY!”

The judge, assured of Joshua’s placement in a loving family, told John and Melissa that Joshua was now their legal son. Then the judge asked Joshua, “Do you know what your new name is?”

Joshua blurted out in excitement as he hugged his new father, “Joshua John Barringer, just like my daddy!”

Joshua takes great pleasure in imitating his father in just about everything. But, his greatest thrill is to bear his father’s name. For months after the adoption, Joshua said his name in a complete phrase: “I’m Joshua John Barringer, just like my Daddy!”

Joshua’s unabashed enthusiasm to become one with the family he loved, made me think of my spiritual relationship to God. He holds me in His arms so that I can touch His face. He has given me the privilege to call him “Daddy, God.”

He asks me to be holy as He is holy. He wants me to emulate His example. Joshua’s delight at his new name, made my heart say to God, “I want to be just like You.”

Thanks, Linda R., for sending me your adoption story.
Linda Rondeau's Critique Services