Say Amen to The Amen Sisters!

I've got a great guest today at The Writer's Life! Her name is Angela Benson and she is the author of the christian fiction novel, THE AMEN SISTERS, and sistah, this is no ordinary christian fiction! It's full of taboos - from an adulterous husband to things happening in the church you just don't talk about!

I'm very pleased to not only have her as our client at Pump Up Your Book Promotion, but host her today at The Writer's Life. Without further ado...I give you the one and only...Ms. Angela Benson....

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Angela! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I'm an author with a full-time job as a university professor. Kensington Books published my first novel, Bands of Gold, back in 1994 during the launch year of Arabesque Books, their ground-breaking line of romances featuring African-American heroes and heroines.

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

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

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

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

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

The Amen Sisters is a story of recovery from an abusive church situation. The main character, Francine Amen, left her home and her family to follow a ministry that she believed was doing the work of God, only to find that the pastor and the church had secrets that would lead to the death of one of her closest friends. In her recovery, Francine has to return home and mend fences with her sister, Dawn (who’s now married to Francine’s ex-fiancé), the church family she left behind, and the family of her dead friend. Francine finds the world she left behind in a bit of turmoil and she can’t help but blame herself for some of the problems. As she tries to make things right in the present, she finds she must first make peace with what happened in the past.
While the story deals with the sensational topic of sexual predators in the church, I didn't want to write a story that focused on the bad acts of some preacher. I wanted to write a story that honored those who were, and are, preyed upon. So The Amen Sisters does not take the reader into the bad acts of pastors and ministry leaders; it shows the far-reaching impact of those acts on the parishioners who sit in the pews and the struggle those parishioners face as to recover from the blow.

What kind of research was involved in writing “The Amen Sisters”?

My main characters own a funeral home so I spent a good amount of time researching how the mortuary business works. Not much of this information made it to the pages of the book, but it helped me write realistically about the operation of funeral homes.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

Now that’s an easy one – none. But that’s the way it’s been with all my books. I typically get a copy of the early cover design but I have little to no influence over what how the final cover looks.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been smooth sailing?

Bumpy and I have a stack of revision letters from publishing houses and agent to prove it! Seriously, I began writing romance fiction with African-American characters in 1992 before those stories gained the interest of mainstream publishers. Fortunately, I finished my first book around the time that Kensington Books began Pinnacle Arabesque, their line of romances featuring African-American characters. My first five books found a home there.

African-American romance has since joined the mainstream and I’ve been published by several mainstream publishing houses, including Harlequin/Silhouette, Tyndale House Publishers, and Warner Books/Grand Central Publishing. My next book, Up Pops the Devil, will be published by HarperCollins in September 2008.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

The Amen Sisters took the long road to publication. I signed the contract with Walk Worthy Press in 2002 and the book was published in 2005. The time from contract to publication was so long because, after about a year of revisions, I finally realized that the publisher and I were miles apart in our visions for the book. At the end of my rope, I made a fateful call to the publisher, fully prepared to terminate the contract and re-pay the advance. Imagine my surprise when my publisher said, “Write your book, Angela,” or some words to that effect. Those words freed me up, and seven months later, I turned in The Amen Sisters. A year after that, The Amen Sisters was in bookstores.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Natasha Kern is my agent.

Do you plan subsequent books?

My next book, Up Pops the Devil, will be published by HarperCollins in September 2008.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

Night. I tend to get started around midnight and write until 7 or 8 in the morning.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

What a great question! I was just talking about this with Lynn Emery, a writer friend of mine. She came up with idea of showing book trailers in movie theaters. Of course, the key would be picking movies with the same target demographic as your book and repeatedly putting the book trailer in front of them. I think that would be a great way to reach readers.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

This is a tough question. After 10+ years in the business, I still don’t have good answers when it comes to promotion. With the trade paperback edition of The Amen Sisters, I wanted to reach new readers so I chose promo activities that would likely get me in front of people who have never read me. I think the virtual blog tour is a great way of doing this.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Keep writing. I have a stack of revision letters from publishing houses and agents. Every time I’d get a rejection, I’d sent out another proposal or query letter. Remember, “the race doesn’t go to the swiftest, but to him who endures to the end.”

Thank you for coming, Angela! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

You can find The Amen Sisters at most online bookstores, including Amazon.com, BN.com, and ChristianBook.com. Your local bookstore should also have copies. If it’s out of stock, they can easily re-order it.

You can reach my blog and website on the web at http://www.angelabenson.com/ and http://www.theamensisters.com/

I also have pages at MySpace (www.myspace.com/angelabenson), Shelfari (www.shelfari.com/angelabenson) and Shoutlife (www.shoutlife.com/angelabenson)

ALERT!!! ALERT!!! ALERT!!!

Angela is on a virtual book tour and is giving away a copy of her book, THE AMEN SISTERS! Woohoo! All you have to do to win is leave a comment below. That's all there is to it! At the end of the month, she'll pick a winner and we'll announce it at http://www.virtualbooktoursforauthors.blogspot.com/! How's that for making your Christmas bright? Leave a comment...tell her hi...tell her she's the best thing since the invention of Cheez Whiz...we don't care! Just comment and win, win, win!!!!

Oh...blogger is being a big PITA, so if go here and comment!

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