Nicole Santana ~ Women of Faith and Fiction

Good morning! I’m excited to have a book reviewer with me this morning. For years, I’ve enjoyed reading Nicole Santana’s thoughts on the books. Let’s show Nicole some love and appreciation for all she does for readers and authors alike. Good morning, Nicole!

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Who is Nicole?

I wear a lot of hats: I am a wife, a mother,  a sister to four brothers and one sister, a daughter, an aunt, a high-school English teacher, an avid reader, and a reviewer.  Reading is one way to center me so all these hats don’t weigh heavily on me. While it can get overwhelming, I do love all that God has put into my life!  I am a very blessed lady.

I teach AP English Literature and Composition, English 9 Honors Medical, and AVID 10 at Palmdale High School in Palmdale, CA. I currently finished my 15th year at PHS. It feels like only yesterday that I was a scared, brand-new teacher.  My how time flies.

Naturally, being an English teacher, I am teaching my 8-year-old a love for books! So far, so good.  She is my blessing and my miracle. She brings such joy to my days. God blessed me when He put Bella into my life!

You are one busy lady, my friend. 🙂 I know this next question has to be a tough one for you, but I’m going to ask because I want to know. Who is your all-time favorite character?

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My all-time favorite character is Jane Eyre. When I was a senior in high school, my AP Lit and Comp teacher, Ms. Achiani, recommended that I read Jane Eyre. I devoured that book in days! I’ve since read the book about 10 more times. Jane’s character speaks to my soul. I have always been the odd one out. The black sheep so to speak. I’ve never really fit into any category, and I’ve never felt pretty. On personality tests, I’ve always tested HIGH as an introvert (my last personality test showed a 97% introvert rating), so I’m super uncomfortable around others. But, I feel deeply just as Jane does. And, I can be a little clueless about the feelings of others as Jane is towards Rochester. When I first read Jane Eyre all those years ago, I felt like finally someone got me. If Charlotte Bronte and I had been born the same time period, and we lived near each other, I think we would have been great friends.

Introverts are often misunderstood as aloof. Like you, I feel deeply. I just struggle with how to express that sometimes, so I say nothing at all. Tell me about your latest read.

I just finished reading More Than We Remember by Christina Suzann Nelson. Oh, my word is this an excellent novel. It’s a story that got under my skin, pierced my heart, and left me cheering. It made me talk; I may have bugged my husband every couple of hours with random thoughts and questions: what is forgiveness? What does grace actually look like? What if…? I absolutely adore when a book gets me thinking and makes stop in my reader tracks to have an immediate conversation. I truly loved everything about this book — the superb writing style, the endearing, multi-faceted characters, the conflicts, and the thought-provoking themes. I didn’t know who Christina Suzann Nelson was before reading More Than We Remember, but now I want to read everything she’s written and everything she will write!

READER: You can read Nicole’s review of More Than We Remember here.

The books that get me thinking are books I will read again and again. Moving on . . . What do you like or don’t like in a book?

What do I like in a book? I love it when books get me thinking. My most favorite genre is Historical romance because I love learning new and interesting things, and I love it when stories end happily. I know that life is hard and not all real-life stories end well, but that is why I love fiction. Fiction allows me to escape. When a novel is so well written and so captivating I’m transported to another time and place, that is one of the best experiences ever. I love novels filled with witty banter and timely themes. Books should make a reader wrestle with real-life issues, but they should also make you chuckle a little. The very best novels change the reader a little for the better. 

What do I dislike in a book? I can’t stand when an author doesn’t trust me to be smart enough to read his or her book and therefore explains everything to me. I feel offended. I’m more a show, don’t tell kind of reader. I also HATE when authors try to tell a Biblical story, but make it fit a modern agenda. God’s Word is sacred and we are commanded not to add or subtract from the Word of God in Deuteronomy 4:2. I get poetic license — creating dialogues and the such because we don’t have that information today — but to change the intent and context of the Bible is just wrong! I recently read a novel that tried to tell the story of Barabbas that made Biblical characters homosexual, put characters in places they clearly were not in, and changed up various parables that Jesus told. The author told me he was going for allegory, but he wasn’t. He completely changed up God’s Word to fit his agenda, and that is 100% wrong. Allegory is good, but not at the expense of God’s Word.

I agree with you, Nicole. We must be careful when writing Biblical fiction. Thank you for sharing your heart. Have you always wanted to be a reviewer? Where does your inspiration come from?

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I have always wanted to work in the publishing world, but God had other plans for me. I have always loved reading and I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I never really knew how to express this love of mine. I’m not a creative writer. I don’t have any aspirations to be a novelist. In fact, that idea bores me to tears. But I love analysis writing. I love to sift through the creative writing of others and show the world how amazing their talents are. I started my blog, https://christianfictiongirl.blog/, three years ago because I realized that my talent for writing analytical pieces could be used to uplift and support Christian authors, and to encourage other readers. You see, I truly believe that God uses Christian fiction to plant seeds into people’s souls that get them questioning, searching, and eventually finding a relationship with Him. I believe that Christian fiction is more important now than it’s ever been. People are desperate to believe in something. I want that something to be God. I believe with my whole being that God whispered to my soul to begin my blog so I would use my talents to showcase novels in a way that would get people to pick them up and read. Perhaps there is something in the novel that gets people thinking and questioning and searching. Perhaps that novel gets people to pick up their Bibles. And, in all of this, God works on their hearts. I believe that God puts a call-to-action on Christian authors’ hearts, they write their novels, I read their works and then tell others how amazing their works are. Those who read my reviews then read these Christian novels and God works on them. It’s a beautiful ministry that means so much to me. And through it all, God is working on me, too! This is why I am inspired to write my reviews on my blog. When God calls, we have to answer even if the answer is a simple blog post!

I am so glad you answered that call, my friend! You do an excellent job. Last question . . . I believe it’s important to encourage each other in our daily walk.Would you share a word of encouragement with our readers?

The most encouraging thing to me about God is that He sees us. He is a God of love. He created us all specifically and on purpose, and He put us on this earth for very unique purposes. God did not put us here for trials and tribulations and then runs away from us so that we have to figure things out for ourselves. No! God is a God of relationships. He is constantly there for us. He knows what we are going through. When we cry, He cries. When we laugh, He laughs. This world tells us we are nothing — a mere number. But God, He tells us we are His kids and He puts His Name on us. I think that is amazing! The God who created the known and unknown universes loves us so much He wants a relationship with us. All we have to do is accept that relationship. 

Blessed be God, because He has not rejected my prayer or removed His steadfast love from me! (Psalm 66:20)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Thank you so much for joining me, Nicole. And thank you for your dedication to your readers and authors! ❤

You see, I truly believe that God uses Christian fiction to plant seeds into people’s souls that get them questioning, searching, and eventually finding a relationship with Him. ~ Nicole Santana @bellesmoma16 @GailJohnson87 #Christianfiction #amreading

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Women of Faith and Fiction ~ Diana Derringer

I am grateful for the opportunity to work with my next guest. Diana Derringer is one of the sweetest ladies, you’ll ever meet. Let’s get started.

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Who is Diana Derringer?

I grew up in the middle of nowhere in south central Kentucky. Our home was the gathering place, whether for a few hours, a few months, or, after my parents became foster parents, a few years.

My father filled our home with books, led us on long walks in the country, and challenged us to become the best we could be. My mother read to us, chauffeured us to school events, and taught me my first memory verse, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21 KJV).

While still in college, I married my high school sweetheart. Shortly after graduation, I became a social worker on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I also taught occasional classes at Campbellsville University. Other life passions have included serving on mission trips and as a friendship family for international university students, teaching youth Sunday school, traveling with my husband, and singing in our church choir.

My devotions, articles, poetry, drama, planning guides, and Bible studies have appeared more than 900 times in 40-plus publications, including several anthologies. My blog, Words, Wit, and Wisdom: Life Lessons from English Expressions, explains the meaning of English idioms and other unusual sayings. Although originally intended for English as a Second Language students, readers with English as their first language have gradually become my primary audience and now suggest most of the topics for my posts. I also write radio drama for Christ to the World Ministries, which has an outreach to more than 50 countries, many closed to or with severe restrictions on Christian ministry and missions.

Professional     

I enjoyed your “Another Think Coming” post. 😊 Who is your all-time favorite character? This can be one of your own or another author’s character.

I find it hard to choose only one character. However, I have probably quoted from Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place more than any other book. Every year, youth in my Sunday school class hear Corrie’s story. We also role-play her struggle to forgive one of her concentration camp guards. I conclude with Corrie’s words, “I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives along with the command, the love itself.”

I love Corrie ten Boom’s story. What is your latest book about?

The title of Beyond Bethlehem and Calvary: 12 Dramas for Christmas, Easter, and More! reveals its content. The story behind the book is not so obvious. I originally sent these short dramas for a large collection CSS Publishing planned. When their big book idea fell through, they asked if I wanted my dramas back or to leave with them for future consideration. Rather than reformat for another publisher, I left them with CSS for smaller collections. To my surprise, about a year later, they sent a book contract.

Flexibility, ease of production, and themes that meet us where we live make Beyond Bethlehem and Calvary suitable for large or small groups, whether in a church setting or on the most rugged mission trip.

Thank you for sharing the story behind the book, Diana! Now, what is your latest read about?

Betty Thomason Owens’s Annabelle’s Joy, the last in her Kinsman Redeemer series, offers a nostalgic but realistic look at southern life in the 1950s. From the moment I stepped into Annabelle’s world of loss, struggle, uncertainty, humor, and faith, I felt welcomed and gradually grew to love the people and places she loved. With all their issues, quirks, and failings, I found myself cheering for them and celebrating with them. When Annabelle finally embraced her new life and love, I closed the book, satisfied that, for a moment, all felt right in the world.

Annabelle’s Joy is a keeper. Please, tell us about your writing/reading process.

I am a list maker. I keep lists of books to read, tasks to accomplish, writing plans, and assignments. I hope a windstorm never hits the inside of my house. Unfortunately, my lists outpace my time, so I must prioritize their contents, praying for guidance in choosing each day’s focus. Yet, once I get into writing mode, my thoughts grow freer and I go with the flow. The finished product often looks far different from my original plan.

Isn’t it amazing what we end up with when we leave it in the hands of God?What is your best marketing tip?

Build strong relationships. Whether in person, on social media, in workshops, or any other setting, offer something of value and offer it in a way that says, “I care about you. I hope this meets your need.”

I love that! Do you choose a word or a scripture for each year or each story? Please share.

I don’t choose a word or scripture for each year or story. However, I do have several scriptures that offer daily guidance. A favorite, Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) reminds me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” I also begin most days with a prayer for God to work through me in everything I say, do, and write.

Perhaps I should choose the word still. Many times I must remind myself to slow down and be still in God’s presence. When that happens, I usually quote Psalm 46:10 or sing Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Be Still and Know.” 

Steven Curtis Chapman is a great artist. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Read, learn, and write faithfully. Read what you want to write, read to sharpen your skills, but also read for fun. Attend conferences; subscribe to blogs, podcasts, and other online resources; and take advantage of one-on-one opportunities with experienced writers and authors. Write, edit several times, let your writing simmer, and edit again before you submit. Establish yourself and hone your skills with articles and other smaller pieces before tackling a book.

I believe it’s important to encourage each other in our daily walk. Would you share a word of encouragement with our readers?

Learn from every experience and remember the hardest times often offer the greatest lessons. That applies personally as well as professionally. Our family has experienced multiple health crises since 2004. I offer a snapshot of those events in my blog post “Tough Cookie.” As in the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities, so also in life, the best and worst of times often coexist.

As a writer, enjoy acceptance notices and the opportunity to share, but also learn from rejections. Explore new publishers, rework submissions, refine skills, and seek God’s guidance every step of the way. I am so thankful several of my early submissions were rejected, as they were definitely not ready for publication.

Remember to rejoice always,pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Great advice, Diana! We must learn from rejections or we lose the ability to grow. Moving on… Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Yes and no. As I mention in my website “About” page, I loved books before I could read and scribbled thoughts before I could write. However, other than a Christmas story in the local newspaper when I was a high school senior and a couple of articles shortly after my college graduation, I never published anything else or seriously thought about it until 2005. The most significant turning point came when I attended the 2008 Kentucky Christian Writers Conference. My writing changed from hobby to profession, and I have not looked back.

Inspirational

I believe connecting with other Christian authors will change your life. Final question, Diana. From where does your inspiration come?

Inspiration comes from anything and everything: people, billboards, sermons, travel, troubles, nature, the Bible, memories, random thoughts that pop into my head after I go to bed … I keep pen and paper or my phone with me most of the time to record thoughts before they escape. Rather than writer’s block, I suffer from writer’s overload. Every day offers new surprises and new opportunities to share a bit of good news with a hurting world.

Diana, thank you so much for joining me and sharing with our readers. Readers, you can learn more about Diana here:

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Build strong relationships. Whether in person, on social media, in workshops, or any other setting, offer something of value and offer it in a way that says, “I care about you. I hope this meets your need.” ~ @DianaDerringer via Women of Faith and Fiction @GailJohnson87 #marketing #interview #amwriting

Women of Faith and Fiction ~ Denise Weimer

Welcome to a new edition of Women of Faith and Fiction. Thank you for joining me. I’m so glad you’re here! My first guest of the New Year is Denise Weimer!

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Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance and romantic suspense set in her home state of Georgia. She’s authored eleven novels and a number of novellas. As a managing editor at Smitten Historical Romance and Heritage Beacon Fiction, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, she also helps others reach their publishing dreams. A wife and mother of two daughters, Denise always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.

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Denise, who is your all-time favorite character? This can be one of your own or another author’s character.

Probably whichever one I’m currently writing about. LOL. I’m not big on favorites, but one I respected was Jenny White in my Across Three Autumns novella in The Backcountry Brides Collection (2018). She was inspired by a real woman from Revolutionary War Georgia, Nancy Hart, a six-foot-tall, red-haired, cross-eyed frontierswoman who spied on the British and held Loyalists and natives at bay with her crack shot. Jenny isn’t cross-eyed, but she is “ginger pated” and “raw boned” and utterly convinced no man could ever love her … especially compared to her dainty younger sister. Until she meets Caylan McIntosh, an impossibly persistent Scottish scout for Colonel Elijah Clark. Oh, what an action-packed love story. And I believe most women can relate to Jenny’s struggle to appreciate her own attributes.

I agree. My favorite character is the one I’m currently writing or reading about. Now, please share what your latest book is about?

I have two releasing in March. They’re quite a departure from my previous historicals. Spring Splash came about after fifteen years as a swim mom, so it captures all the heartache and comebacks that happen both in romance and sports. Traces was inspired by a TV show filmed in nearby Atlanta and actual military technology.

Spring Splash: When an injury sidelines college swimmer Anna Callaway, her dreams are crushed. She pours herself into her sports marketing practicum, helping a local special needs organization promote their athletic event. What she doesn’t expect is a swim team ripe for the Special Olympics—and their handsome but stubborn coach.

Craig Holt has dealt with eager and ignorant volunteers before. No matter how determined or persuasive uptight Anna might be about coaching his team to the Special Olympics, he has no intention of allowing her to raise the hopes of his swimmers, his sister, or his guarded heart.

Then Anna herself gets a second chance at becoming a champion. Will she pursue her lifelong goals or make room for a new dream?

Traces: When a failed romance and a $500,000 prize lure Kate Carson into participating in the reality TV show, Traces, the least she expects is to pick her partner. After all, she’s the PR spokeswoman of the company that derived a thirteen-lens, rotating camera from military use and installed it atop Atlanta’s tallest skyscraper. But she never would have chosen to evade techno hunters for twenty days with “G.I. Joe.”

Stoic, ex-military Alex Mitchell is the sort of man she always vowed to avoid, while the shadows of Alex’s past cause him to spurn emotional involvement. When Kate’s insider knowledge makes her a target of someone more threatening than game show hunters, Alex offers her only hope to reveal the dark plans of proponents of The Eye.

Love your covers! I’ll have to add this to my reading list! Please, tell us about your writing process.

I always start with research, typing everything I glean into a Word document where I also paste location and character images, maps, and timelines. I add the main plot points to make sure I don’t have any sagging spots in the story. Then I start to write, pausing to edit each chapter before going on to the next. My editing training has helped me to write tighter and cleaner up front, but I still call on several beta readers before sending any novel to my agent.

Thank you for those great writing tips! What is your best marketing tip?

Be prepared to invest time and money to get a return, especially as a new author. Plan a balance of online promotions and in-person signings. Invest your resources where your target audience is. And block time off from writing when your books release, because for about three months after your novel hits the shelves, marketing will become almost a full-time job. It requires a totally different side of your brain, and for most introverted authors, it can be draining. So consider focusing any writing during that window to guest blogging that will help promote your new novel.

Great plan! Moving on . . . What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Prepare yourself before starting your novel by attending classes or reading books on the craft. Keep up to date on trends in publishing (i.e. deep POV, active voice). What would’ve sold ten years ago won’t necessarily sell now. Lean on a critique partner, beta readers, or a professional to edit your work before submitting. Meanwhile, build your social media connections. If you’ve previously published, promote those works to beef up sales numbers and reviews. Weakness in those areas are the main reasons we have to turn away submissions as managing editors with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas—not lack of talent.

Thank you for that nugget of wisdom! My next question is . . . do you choose a word or a scripture for each year or each story? If so, please share.

I tend to choose a theme for each story. Some of the themes I’ve incorporated into past books include second chances (Fall Flip), God using what seems to be a failure/surrendering our gifts to God (The Witness Tree), self-worth (Across Three Autumns), and faithfulness and forgiveness (The Restoration Trilogy). My heroines in Spring Splash and Traces both struggle with perfectionism, while the men are challenged to let down walls they’ve put up through past hurt. I incorporate Scriptures as needed to support those themes as the characters go through their developmental arcs.

Along those same lines, I don’t like to write static primary characters, those who seem perfect and sweet the whole way through the story. I prefer to write about people struggling with a weakness or a past failure or loss who learn to overcome through God’s strength. If you see rough edges on my characters at the beginning of the story, those rough edges are covering up insecurity of some sort. Hopefully, this makes them relatable, and the reader will see God’s redemptive power at work in the changes that take place by the end of the story.

I agree. Readers relate to imperfect characters. Next question . . . Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Since about age 11, when I started scribbling in my notebooks after my parents took me to visit historic sites throughout the Southeast. My active imagination birthed stories about the places we’d been and the people who lived there.

From where does your inspiration come for your stories?

I believe it comes from God, as penning stories that share His truths is an inborn calling. Secondarily, I often find inspiration in the little-known events and places in the history of my home state of Georgia. I love to explore local legend and lore in story form.

Inspirational

Final question . . . I believe it’s important to encourage each other in our daily walk. Would you share a word of encouragement with our readers?

Please know you are invaluable to authors. A note from you on how a book has blessed your life may be the very word an author needs to keep going. On the flip side, a careless word could crush her spirit. There is just as much power in our words whether we are writers or readers. “The tongue has the power of life and death.” (Proverbs 18:21)

“Secondarily, I often find inspiration in the little-known events and places in the history of my home state of Georgia. I love to explore local legend and lore in story form.” ~ @denise_weimer via Women of Faith and Fiction @GailJohnson87

Denise, thank you for joining me. It was fun learning more about you. Readers, you can connect with Denise here:

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