Tonya Jewel Blessing
I recently completed a virtual book tour with Celebrate Lit. Although I was a little intimidated by the process, the experience was amazing. As part of the tour, I was also interviewed. My first time in seeing a personal interview in written print. Life can be daunting but also exhilarating.
1.Will you tell us a little about yourself?
I grew up in a small community in Ohio. My parents were both West Virginia born, so I spent a great deal of time in the Appalachians. When I met my husband, he was finishing college in Colorado, so, after getting married, I relocated to Cowboy Country. Most of my career has been spent in various ministry positions. I also taught school for a brief time in Colorado, which I loved. Sometimes I still have dreams about teaching school, and, in those dreams, I am almost always laughing. Before moving to South Africa, nine years ago, my husband and I operated a retreat facility for missionaries. Living in South Africa is amazing. Each day is an adventure. We mostly work in rural areas partnering with local pastors and facilitating feeding and educational programs.
2. What is your latest book about?
The Melody of the Mulberries is the second book in The Big Creek Series. The books are connected, but they are also standalone reads. They are set in the West Virginia mountains during the late 1920s. The Melody of the Mulberries centers around two siblings: Ernest and Coral Ashby. Ernest is a schoolteacher in a rural area. He has fallen in love with his brother’s widow, but complications come into play when a previous love interest enters the picture. Coral is sixteen years old. She feels like God is directing her to visit the family nemesis who is currently stewing in prison in Charleston. Charlie has committed several grievous crimes against family members, so her desire to extend forgiveness to him causes her siblings grief and consternation.
3. Did you have to do a lot of research for the book?
If so, what was the most interesting thing you learned?Research is an important part of my writing. I want the historical facts to be correct, and I also want to incorporate intriguing information especially about nature. One of the most interesting things I learned is that male snakes have two penises. I also learned that a mother bear will use flatulence to direct her cubs. It was amazing to learn about the rich ginger root farms and the once dense population of parrots in the area. The Appalachian folk sayings placed at the beginning of each chapter come from research and from personally hearing some of them. I also enjoy using hymn passages in my writing which also takes research.
4. Where do you like to write?
I mostly like to write late in the evenings in bed. I prop myself up with two or three pillows, sip on slightly sweetened Rooibos tea, and create characters and their stories to entertain myself.
5. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Okay, I don’t pre-plan my writing. When I taught school, I stressed repeatedly to the students that a planning piece was essential to good writing, yet I create as I go. Another quirk may be that I mention nature, body parts, and functions in the course of spiritual decisions and humor as they may be appropriate to the story. And I may have another quirk, just one, if you’ll indulge me - writing the Appalachian accents .
6. What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I am passionate about reading. I also like horseback riding. My husband I take weekly riding lessons. I enjoy cooking, entertaining, and sharing ideas with other women. I speak at events during the year where I encourage and, hopefully, equip women for healthy living.
7. Is there a place you'd like to visit but haven’t yet?
I’d like to go to Madagascar and see the lemurs.
8. Do you have a favorite Bible verse?
My favorite verses change all the time. Currently I’m studying an unusual verse, “And seven women shall take hold of one man.” (Isaiah 4:1) A number of rural pastors in South Africa believe that it’s okay for one man to have seven wives. The Bible is full of surprises, and I love the interplay of God’s Word with seasons of life and culture wherever I go.
9. Do you have a favorite song and/or movie?
My favorite song is It’s a Wonderful World. I have two favorite movies: Simon Birch and Secondhand Lions. I also like Slum Dog Millionaire.
10. What are some nonfiction books you found impactful?I
am constantly reading books on Christian leadership and biblical commentaries. I am also very moved by books on the Viet Nam conflict.
11. What is your favorite holiday?
My favorite holiday is South African Women’s Day. Women and young girls are often oppressed in the South African culture. Women’s Day is the perfect time to teach women about God’s great love for them.
12. What is your favorite season and why is it your fav?
Fall in America. The mid-west foliage is breathtaking. Pumpkin patches bring out the child in me, and roadside stands selling the last of the season vegetables remind me of my mom harvesting her final garden crop of the year and tilling the soil under in preparation for spring.
13. Are you currently working on any new novels?
If so, could you give us a hint?There might be a third book in The Big Creek Series, featuring one of the older Ashby siblings.
14. Thank you so much for being here! Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers and where can we find you on the web?
I believe that the foundation of life is a spiritual one, and I have built my foundation on the Lord of the Bible. On that foundation, big dreams and giant adventures should be launched and enjoyed. My web page is www.tonyajewelblessing.com.