Tuesday, March 17, 2020

TO FORGIVE, DIVINE - Melissa Lea Leedom - One Free Book

Welcome, Melissa. Tell us how much of yourself you write into your characters.
My main characters have the most “me” in them—they act and feel in ways I think I would if I were in situations similar to theirs. For others, usually the “bad guys,” I sometimes have to dig deep to imagine why some people behave the way they do. Evil always puzzles me. I once read a writer who said that there are no thoroughly bad people, that even the worst among us have some redeeming qualities. I disagree—I think some people are bad to the bone and that the best you can do is avoid them at all costs.

I agree with you that some people are totally toxic to us. What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
I used to own a parrot (an Amazon Yellow Nape), one that had escaped from its original owner. Well, Harry and I were instant best buds (I was single at the time). Each night, I would return Harry to his cage, but I would leave the door open—not even sure how this ritual got started. I’d turn off the lights and head upstairs to my bedroom. At some point—perhaps immediately, I don’t know—Harry would climb out of his cage, walk across the room and up the stairs. Using the bedspread, he would beak-climb up to the top of the bed. And each morning, there he would be—not next to me, but quietly perched on the outermost left corner, patiently waiting for me to wake up. Why didn’t I close his cage? I don’t know. Why didn’t I just bring him upstairs with me if I knew he was going to climb up anyway? Don’t know that either. Maybe I felt I was only being partially complicit if I made the pretense of putting him in his cage each night. Oh, the little lies we sometimes tell ourselves…

When did you first discover that you were a writer?
Would you believe fifth grade? That was the first year I was ever asked to write something not school-subject related. I realized later that we were being given writing prompts, but at the time, I was having a ball! I was writing stories with characters and descriptions and little plots! And the best part of all, I was getting high praise from my teacher, Miss Clasen. She would write things like, “This is so funny!” or “You have a real talent for this!” I found myself walking home on a little cloud. I started making up my own “what-ifs” and writing my evenings away. To Forgive, Divine started out as a series of “what-ifs.” (It also started out as a short story, but “famous last words”!)

Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I actually like reading non-fiction as much as I do fiction. I like biographies—Bonhoeffer was excellent (Eric Metaxas)! And, of course, I like reading Bonhoeffer’s works, as well. A former professor of mine (Helen Jean Burn) wrote a wonderful book called Betsy Bonaparte that reads like a novel. For all you aspiring mystery writers, there’s a great book on the father of forensic investigation called The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (Deborah Blum). I love reading C.S. Lewis—Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity are my favorites, but everything he wrote is outstanding. Also, I am a huge Dave Barry fan! If you ever need a good laugh, read anything by Dave Barry. I like reading Christian apologetics (What If Jesus Had Never Been Born?, Who Moved the  Stone?, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist). And my favorite way to read and study the New Testament is to read the commentaries of William Barclay (a Scottish theologian and NT Greek scholar who wrote in the 50s and 60s). I actually collect copies of his Second Edition volumes (I don’t think the first edition ever appeared in the U.S.). I find them on eBay occasionally.

As for fiction, I read everything from Jane Austen (the woman was a genius), Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie to Lisa Wingate, Lori Wick and Jan Karon (someone once compared To Forgive, Divine to a Mitford book—how about that??), Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham and Scott Turow, James Patterson, Tom Clancy (Sum of All Fears is scary stuff!) and Richard North Patterson. I used to read Michael Connelly’s Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer books, but his stuff can be so dark—the real underbelly of humankind. I must say, I have always admired John Grisham because he was a Christian writer before being a Christian writer was cool. He could compete with the Big Boys and publish with mainstream houses, still writing books that did not compromise his witness. I have often thought of him as a sort of modern-day prophet, calling attention to the many injustices in our legal system.

Ahh…so many books, so little time.

I admire John Grisham, too, and I love every book of his that I’ve read. How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I read. As a writer, I think one of the most important things one can do is be well-read (e.g., as I read, I ask: how does this writer construct his/her plots, build characters, create settings?). It is especially important to read books in your own genre to keep up with what publishers are looking for (and, therefore, what readers are looking for). And with the advent of e-books, it’s possible to read standing in line at the grocery or post office—virtually anywhere, but I draw the line at the movies!

And, of course, I write. Writing centers me, helping me to keep at bay life’s distractions and pulls. It keeps me mindful of the role that God is asking me to fulfill through my writing. I feel God’s presence when I write.

I’m with you on that point. So often, He directs me a direction I didn’t know a story was going to take. One time, I finished a scene where what He gave me took me to a “How are we going to get out of this impossible situation” time. He showed me a way that brought glory to Him. How do you choose your characters’ names?
I sometimes give them the names of people I admire or have been friends with, at the least the characters I admire, as a kind of tribute. If you read To Forgive, Divine, you’ll meet a guy named Preston. He is not a nice guy—and I named him after someone I actually knew by that name, who was also not a very nice guy. I also try to name them with names that are appropriate to the era in which they were born. So two of my characters are Clara and Mertis—names that would have been popular for the age they are in the story (you wouldn’t expect someone from the 1930s to have a name like Madison or Chloe, right?). On the other hand, unless a character’s ethnicity is integral to their role in the story, I avoid surnames that might be distracting or stereotyping. For instance, I probably wouldn’t give someone the name O’Hara unless that person’s Irish heritage were a part of what he or she contributed to the story. If a character owned an Italian or Greek restaurant, I probably would name them Fontana or Spiros, respectively.

What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
This will probably sound weird because I majored in English twice, but I am proudest of the 11 years I spent as a math instructor at community colleges. One of the skeletons in my closet is that I failed algebra in the ninth grade and so went on to take the fewest math courses I could get away with. My college career took some wrong turns until it hit a dead end. When I returned to school in my late 20s, all the rules had changed and even us dumb ol’ English majors had to take a certain level of math. Whether my brain had grown in the intervening years or whether I had just matured enough to discipline myself to doing lots of homework, I found myself doing very well in my math classes! I even kind of enjoyed them! So just to see how far I could take it, I wound up with a minor in math when I got my B.S. Fast forward to a move to Maryland, where my work as a math tutor landed me another gig as a math instructor, and you have one proud English major. As a once-failed algebra student, I had gone from being someone who had cried over her homework to someone who gave homework! Almost daily I looked out over my students and stood in amazement at where God had placed me. And that feeling you get when you have said something that makes the light of understanding shine on someone’s face—believe me, it never got old.

I understand that. I’m a former schoolteacher myself. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I would be some kind of bird—perhaps an eagle soaring over the Grand Canyon. I have always looked up in awe at birds floating on the wind currents, wondering about the vistas they see daily and how close to God they must feel (probably not scriptural, but I think animals must have some sense of God). My being a high-flying bird of prey like an eagle would be ironic for two reasons: one, I am horribly afraid of heights and two, birds of prey have to be very aggressive—and I am one of the least confrontational people that ever was!

What is your favorite food?
Mmm. As a child, I would have said it was my mother’s crawfish bisque (I grew up in New Orleans). These days, I love a good chicken piccata or a well-cooked piece of salmon. And I would NEVER turn down a serving of chocolate mousse! (Bonnie, the heroine of To Forgive, Divine, makes a chocolate mousse pie in the story—but I’ll let you decide if that turns out to be a good or a bad thing.)

What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Time. For me, writing requires large chunks of uninterrupted time. If I think I’m going to be interrupted, it’s hard for me to get motivated even to start. So, please don’t tell anybody this, but there were a number of times I skipped church because I could then count on having about three uninterrupted hours to dive in and engross myself in my story without having to come up for air. Now that my children are grown and away from home, it’s a little easier finding those blocks of time. And thanks to Caller ID and Smart Call-Blocker, the phone is more manageable, too. But mum’s the word on that church thing, okay?

Tell us about the featured book.
As I said earlier, To Forgive, Divine is the result of some “what-if” daydreaming. It’s always been my observation that church pastors have to be sort of political creatures: everyone has something to say about the job they’re doing, they have to be careful who they befriend lest they be accused of showing favoritism, and even though they didn’t choose that life for themselves, their families come to be part of that criticism and scrutiny.

So, then I thought, “What if a pastor were single? And he found someone he wanted to date? How would he deal with the ensuing buzz it would almost certainly create? How would she deal with it? What if they decided it was totally not worth it?

But what if they attend the same church? What if they can’t stop running into each other, even when it becomes terribly uncomfortable? And what if neither can forget that one first kiss?

Oh, did I mention that they kissed? How did I forget that part?

Their friends want them together. Some of them need them to be together. The lady across the street most definitely does not want them together—why on earth not?

In To Forgive, Divine, you’ll see lots of folks struggling with different aspects of forgiveness (it’s not just a romance), especially Bonnie and Jeff, who can’t exactly go around recommending forgiveness to everyone else but deny it to each other, right? You’ll want to see who wins, the lady across the street or the pastor with—wait, how many girlfriends?

Please give us the first page of the book.
Bonnie Callaway glanced uneasily at the thunderous, dark navy clouds hovering on the horizon of the April evening sky as she entered the Coffee Shoppe. She wondered whether she should go home and just skip her once-a-month dinner with the other members of the Benevolent Board; it looked like a monsoon was brewing. She might miss getting caught in a deluge later, but then she would also miss her chance to have the gang buy her dinner. With one last, uneasy look at the spindly fingers of lightning flittering down to earth in the distance, she let the restaurant door close behind her. As things would turn out, Bonnie would still miss the dinner with her friends that she’d been looking forward to, and she would still get caught in the pouring rain. And she would certainly wish she had gone straight home.
First to join her in the large booth with its round table was Father Norman Blake, rector of St. Alban's Catholic Church. An imposing figure in his mid-fifties, he put one in mind of Orson Welles. Father Blake was also jokingly known as “Doctor Father.” In addition to his duties as a parish priest, Father Blake, who held a doctorate in religious studies, also taught courses in world religion and philosophy at Chandler City Community College.
“Wouldn’t be surprised if the power goes out,” he told Bonnie with a nod toward the window.
“I’m afraid you might be right,” Bonnie agreed, following his glance.

Not far behind Doctor Father were John Reeves, the young pastor of Chandler A.M.E., and Carolyn Perkins, an attorney in her mid-thirties who attended Franklin Unitarian. John and Carolyn had parked next to each other and dashed in together. Their clothes were dotted with raindrops.

“It is not looking good out there, folks,” Carolyn informed them, scrunching her hair to rid it of the water.

Last to arrive was Dr. Jeff Wells, a forty-ish widower who pastored Foster Road Baptist Church, where Bonnie Callaway was a member. “Anybody ever hear of an umbrella?” he asked, brandishing his before the group with a smile.

(Author’s Note: wish I could give you two pages later so you could find out where everyone has gone and who the most unwelcome visitors are…)

And I’m sure my blog readers will be eager to read the book to find out for themselves. How can readers find you on the Internet?
Web site: www.forgive490.com 
To Forgive, Divine—available on

To Forgive, Divine is also available from the publisher, iUniverse at https://www.iuniverse.com/en/bookstore/bookdetails/137779-To-Forgive-Divine

Also, for the months of March and April, all proceeds from the sale of To Forgive, Divine (paperback or Kindle) will go to the following fundraiser: https://www.gofundme.com/f/let039s-get-jason-some-wheels/donate

Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your book with us. I’m eager to read it, too.

Readers, here are links to the book.
To Forgive, Divine: A Novel - Paperback
To Forgive, Divine - Kindle

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free copy of the book. You must follow these instructions to be in the drawing. Please tell us where you live, at least the state or territory or country if outside North America. (Comments containing links may be subject to removal by blog owner.)

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The only notification you’ll receive is the winner post on this blog. So be sure to check back a week from Saturday to see if you won. You will have 4 weeks from the posting of the winners to claim your book.

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Anonymous said...

I enjoyed getting to know Author Melissa Leedom. This is my first time to meet her and I found her writing so interesting. I would love to read her book and learn more. Thank you for this special opportunity bringing in new authors.

Barbara Thompson (LA)


Robin in NC said...

Melissa, you're a new to me author & your first page already has me hooked. Thanks for sharing.

Robin in NC

rubynreba said...

Loved the first page and I want to read the rest of the book! Thanks for the chance to win!
Beth from IA

Bonnie Engstrom said...

This sounds like a fun book! I would love to read it and find out what happens to the pastor and Bonnie.

Bonnie in AZ

Lucy Reynolds said...

I enjoyed the interview. Blessings from WV.

Sharon Bryant said...

Enter me in your awesome giveaway!!
Conway SC.

Connie Porter Saunders said...

Thanks for sharing this book and giveaway!
Connie from Kentucky