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Friday, November 29, 2019

Celebrate Lit: The Melody of the Mulberries

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Author interview

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 by the Ashby sibling’s lives in Appalachia, but they also stand alone. They are set in the West Virginia mountains in 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. A previous love interest enters the picture. Ernest is challenged in his faith walk to make good choices and to stand firm in his beliefs. He is not sure whether what suits him best is God’s will for him. 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. Including these elements into my story makes it more amazing than what my imagination alone might have dreamed up. The Appalachian folk sayings placed at the beginning of each chapter come from research and from personally hearing some of them. I enjoyed placing these in juxtaposition against so many comforting hymn lyrics.

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. Thankfully, I can write quickly enough so as not to lose the names of characters and places, the season they’re in, and where they’re going. 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. It’s in writing the accents of West Virginia. I often use “was’ and “had” because it fits the cultural dialogue and just the way they think. My editors had a hay day trying to decide what was backstory jargon and what was needin’ to be included as Appalachian jargon. I guess, I’m also one of those who likes to reset the stage with a line of backstory from time to time.

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 train women for living. My book, Soothing Rain, is a mentoring book for believers to use in this way with another woman or group of women.

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 times 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 season 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.

About the Book

Book: The Melody of the Mulberries
Author: Tonya Jewel Blessing
Genre:  Historic Southern Romance
Release Date: September 16, 2019

This sequel is set in the late 1920s Appalachia, where granny witches and spiritualism often show the path for wanderers to take, especially in matters of the heart.
Coral sat in contemplation under a mulberry tree. It was spring, and the fragrant female blossoms promised the mid-summer arrival of first white, then pink, then crimson, and finally deep purple berries. The white berries were hard and tart and enjoyed by the quail, wild turkeys, mocking birds, and blue jays. The blackish purple berries were soft and sweet – perfect for pies and jams.
When the berries turned white, Coral would thank the good Lord for providing food for the birds, and when the berries ripened she would thank the good Lord for the sweetness savored in her mouth and curse the birds for wanting more than their share.

Where Emerald Ashby’s story leaves us in the last pages of The Whispering of the Willows, pure and innocent sixteen-year-old Coral Ashby’s story begins. Like the changing mulberries, Appalachian siblings Coral and Ernest Ashby, navigate their lives and loves through the Spanish Flu epidemic, poverty, and various as sundry prejudices. Coral is determined to visit the family nemesis, Charlie, who now stews in prison.When Ernest’s previous love interest, Mercy, returns to the holler of Big Creek, she discovers that Ernest has a new romantic attraction. He is singing a melody for Charlotte, the older Ashby brother’s widow. No matter, Mercy has brought along her own spiritual tools to circumvent the inconvenience and a special friend who guides her way.

Accompanied by friends and foes, matters of the heart complicate life for Coral and Ernest. Relationships must be journeyed carefully.

Click here to get your copy!

About the Author

More about Tonya Jewel Blessing: Growing up Tonya spent numerous vacations and holidays in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Most of her adult life has been spent in full time ministry with a focus on helping women. She has traveled nationally and internationally as a conference speaker. For a number of years, Tonya and her husband operated a retreat facility in Colorado for pastors and missionaries. She and her husband currently live in South Africa. They are the founders and directors of Strong Cross Ministries, a non-profit organization that assists local churches, pastors, cross-cultural workers, and others in Christian leadership in providing spiritual reconciliation and humanitarian relief to the poorest in the world. Tonya writes monthly devotionals for women in ministry. She is the award-winning novelist of The Whispering of the Willows, which is Book 1 of the Big Creek Series. She is the co-author of Soothing Rain, a discussion starter handbook/devotional that provides women with important tools for sharing biblical truth.

More from Tonya

Greetings From Author Tonya Jewel Blessing
The Melody of the Mulberries is book two in the Big Creek Series. Both books are set during the late 1920s in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia. The Appalachian Mountains were untamed in the 1920s and remain so in part today. The wonder of the hills is breathtaking, magnificent, and glorious. The term “wild wonderful West Virginia” was used as early as 1969 before being adapted in the 1970s as the state slogan. In 1937, my mother, Virginia Ashby, was born in the rural hills of West Virginia. She spent several of her formative years in an area known as Big Creek. I have borrowed my mother’s maiden name, several names from her past, and the name Big Creek. The morning mist hanging in the lowlands, the dew on the ground, along with the green of spring and the deep red, sparkling gold, and brilliant oranges of fall draw me visually, emotionally, and on some level spiritually to its feral fascination. John Denver recorded in his tribute to West Virginia, “Take me home country roads to the place I belong…” Certainly, there are seasons in my life where I long for the steep, curvy country roads of my youth. This is one deeply satisfying reason for writing about hope with connections to West Virginia, a life held close to my heart. It is a pleasure and an honor to share this story with the Celebrate Lit family. My southern story is an authentically derived historical romance for young adults and for women of all ages who love Appalachian lore and West Virginia history. It contains some depictions of spiritualism and traditional Christianity during the 1920s in West Virginia. It continues with the inter-racial dealings between two communities, where, some are friends and some are foes. If anyone would enjoy a free sample of the first audiobook, The Whispering of the Willows, please go to the link and click “play sample”.  This amazing voice actress, Courtney Patterson, will start reading you my story so that you will feel like you are eavesdropping on the Ashby family. Enjoy! Enjoy an excerpt from Tonya’s first book in the series, The Whispering of the Willows, here.

Blog Stops


To celebrate her tour, Tonya is giving away the grand prize package of a special pillow and reader’s choice of an eBook or Audiobook of The Whispering of the Willows!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.


  1. This is such an interesting interview! Thank you.

  2. Between living in Ohio, Colorado, and now South Africa, what would you say were your biggest culture shocks or things that you found most different between the three locations?


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