by Justine Johnston Hemmestad
Christina Sinisi is a Christian Romance author with roots deep in the South. Her stories revolve around the families who live over there. Ever since she started writing poetry in third grade, there was no looking back. A psychology professor by profession, she eventually found her passion in writing Christian romance novels. Her debut Christmas novella, The Christmas Confusion, was published in 2019, followed by Chirstmas on Ocrocoke in the same year.
Her most recent book, Sweet Summer, was released this July and revolves around “families, both broken and blessed.” The next in the series, Why They Call it Falling, is expected May 2022. In a conversation with our Interviews Editor, Justine Johnston Hemmestad, Christina opens up about her extraordinary career so far.
How and when did you start writing?
First, thank you for the interview! These questions are excellent and different from most—interesting and challenging!
I began writing in third grade—short poems and stories. In fifth grade, I wrote a play that the gifted and talented program acted out as part of class. Looking back at middle school, I actually should have been paying attention in class, but I wrote poems all the time in class. I wrote my first novel in the eighth grade. So, I pretty much started writing as early as I knew how.
Do you have a designated space and time for writing?
I now have a home office—but for most of my life, I have just written where and whenever I could. I am not tied to one spot. I don’t have a set time of day. I have a demanding day job as a professor and department chair and sometimes really can’t find time to write. If someone reading this finds themselves in the same predicament, please be kind to yourself. So many times, there is a pressure to write every day and maybe even judgment that you’re not serious about your craft if you don’t. The truth is, we need to take care of ourselves and our families first. Then, in the summer and on breaks, write like crazy.
You describe God’s voice as ‘warm.’ Please elaborate for your readers how this may come through in your own writing.
I feel as if I’m in constant conversation with the Lord. He’s a constant companion, not in an intrusive way, but as a loving Father and friend. My characters reach for that same strength when they are at their lowest—it’s a journey and a process to get there, but the spiritual journey is the most important path we’ll ever be on.
Will you explain the role of your mentor in your writing?
I met my mentor, Eloisa James (whose real name is Mary Bly), when I served as Vice-President for the LowCountry Romance Writers of America, and she was our annual luncheon speaker. I picked her up at the airport and we saw each other and both startled. We look alike physically and are similar in many other ways besides. On the way back to the airport after a great weekend, she asked to read my work. She said the was impressed that I didn’t ask. We’ve been friends ever since.
I started off writing fantasy novels. I would get close to publication, work with an editor, final in a contest, but never reached the goal. At one point, Eloisa asked me why I wasn’t writing Christian fiction since my faith was so important to me. I didn’t have a good answer and switched focus very much for the better. She has critiqued my writing, hand-delivered a manuscript to an editor, and supported me in every way. I can’t express my appreciation for her friendship.
Has being a psychology professor played a significant role in your writing, besides helping you to write fully rounded characters?
I will say that having a full-time job makes it very hard to write sometimes. I’m blessed to have a lighter schedule in the summer, but I don’t feel like I ever have as much time as I’d like. On the other hand, I chose a major in psychology because I wanted to learn as much as possible about people so I could write better characters. I also had a need for a secure job—growing up poor made it scary to be a full-time writer.
Being a psychology professor means I have learned about the many issues and challenges people can face mentally and emotionally. So far, my characters have experienced grief in normal and unusual ways, depression and eating disorders. These are not that rare, and I was drawn to exploring what life would be like with those challenges.
How does writing coincide with being a psychology professor?
I have to really balance my time. In the summers, I write intensively. I also have Spring break and a big Christmas break. During the regular semester, I may only write or edit a page a day. Some days, I give myself permission to not write just for my sanity. Throughout this journey, kindness is a theme.
What has writing, and especially writing from a Christian perspective, taught you and how do you feel enlightened by it?
Writing has taught me patience and a trust in God like no other area of my life. I am in my fifties and only became published two years ago. In every other area of my life, I won’t say that everything came easily, but certainly a whole lot easier than this process. So, that is what the pursuit of publication taught me. Writing has taught me so much about the human condition—that of general humanity and of my own. I don’t like to write. I need to write. It is my outlet and my refuge.
What drew you to write clean Christian romance?
I was writing fantasy and not getting published. My mentor asked me why I wasn’t writing Inspirational romance since my faith is so important to me. I had no good answer. I switched and immediately felt more at ease. This is who I am, and the writing feels more authentic.
You’ve said your stories are about “the intersections between people’s daily lives, loves, and faith.” How so, and do you feel this intersection in your own life?
To be honest, I can’t envision a life where my day-to-day living isn’t entangled with the love of my husband and family and God. I teach at a Christian university and couldn’t imagine working at a state school where I would be required to keep my beliefs to myself. How does one cut off a part of oneself like that? My characters and stories are the same, or at least become the same through their journey if they aren’t there at the beginning.
You enjoy giving a platform to fellow writers on your blog, do you hope to bring more to them than exposure?
Yes, I hope I bring them readers. I always follow my guests on their social media platforms and read their books as I am able. I also pray for them because we are all, so far, sisters in Christ. I am very open to guy guest bloggers and am always looking for new authors.
Who is your favorite Christian author and what have you learned from reading them?
I have a problem with favorites—I can rarely pick just one. My favorites are Rachel Hauck and Karen Kingsbury… from the latter I have learned about some deeply emotional topics—for example, seeing homelessness in a different way than ever before—and laying those all out on the page. I tend to shy away from the hard stuff, but that’s what engages the reader and those tough topics are what really matter. So, I’m getting there. Rachel Hauck takes fairy tale stories to a level where the reader is challenged in her faith. I want people to enjoy my stories and grow closer to God all at one time.
How do you divide the time between being a professor and being an author?
I do my best. I encourage readers to be kind to themselves. In the summer, when I’m not teaching, I double down and write as much as possible. During the school year, I write less and during exams weeks and other crunch times, maybe not at all. If I forced myself to keep to a rigid schedule (some say you must write every day), I think I would be stressed and maybe learn to hate the writing I love.
Is there a connection between your calling and place, or even between your calling and profession?
Answering this question was a challenge. I believe there is a connection between your calling and everything… but yes, your place and hopefully your profession. I grew up in the mountains of Virginia where the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny meet. There’s something in those hills that has you lifting your eyes and seeing the possibilities. For the last several decades (wow), I’ve lived outside Charleston and not that far from the beach—another place where it’s easy to glimpse the eternal.
Is your family supportive in your writing journey?
Yes. All of them have left reviews, read and proofread, commented on blogs, and celebrated my successes so far. That includes my husband and children, sisters and mother and stepmother. My brothers-in-law may not care, but I haven’t pushed.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I am editing a manuscript set in my hometown of Buchanan, Virginia in the Blue Ridge mountains. It’s a different setting than the beach, but just as beautiful. My next book after thatis another story that started off a short story I shared on my blog and the comments said I should make it into a book—the story is “Sassy” if anyone is interested. I love the little nudges people and God send my way. Those are the ones I’m working on—the next to be published comes out in May and is titled, Why They Call It Falling. Falling is the third book in the Summer Creek series, the follow-up to Christmas Confusion and Sweet Summer.
What’s your advice to aspiring writers in the Christian fiction genre?
Pray first. If you remember… sometimes I get so busy that I forget the first thing. Then, I ask forgiveness. After you’ve gotten yourself in the right place, start writing. At the same time, I believe Christian fiction needs to be as well-written as any other genre so that readers come back. Study your craft. Read books about writing. Take classes and attend workshops and never stop. And enjoy yourself in the writing.
As a writer, where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Wow. This is a tough question—I see the cracks in my faith when I doubt. So, I’m going to step out in faith. I want to be publishing two books a year, with an agent. I’d like to also write a devotional about virtues—combining positive psychology and my faith.
Would you like to share a quote that’s close to your heart?
“And as to God, we must remember that the soul is but a hollow which God fills.” C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 156, 1940.