Author Spotlight: Janine Rosche

You all are in for a real treat today, because our guest is Janine Rosche, one of the most genuine (and genuinely funny) humans I have ever had the privilege to meet. She’s also super-generous and has an AMAZING giveaway planned for one of you lucky ducks. Details at the end of the post!

Welcome, Janine! It’s great to have you as our guest today!

Thanks for having me!

What inspired you to start writing?

Have you ever felt like you needed to say something and if you didn’t, you were either going to explode or lose your mind? Well, I decided to start writing as a way to get the Holy Spirit to simmer down inside me. I’d had a story playing on repeat in my head for eight years. EIGHT YEARS. Finally, I started jotting it down. With every chapter, I felt lighter. I know it sounds cliché, but six weeks later, I had a complete manuscript, all thanks to the Holy Spirit. Too bad the Holy Spirit needed to work on his self-editing skills. Don’t tell him that though.

What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What obstacles or challenges do you face in making time to write?

Sadly, most of my “writing time” is spent not writing. I’m either editing, surfing Thesaurus.com (yeah, I admit it), or building my website or social media platform. When I am writing a new manuscript, my routine typically starts with me waking up way before my alarm. And though I beg my characters to go back to sleep, they are morning people with the patience of three-year-olds with a bellyful of cotton candy. So I relent. With a mug of flavored creamer with a splash of coffee, I write obsessively for hours, stopping occasionally to make my kids food or brush my teeth.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

 I teach Human Development and Family Studies classes for the University of Colorado, Denver in my other career. I’m fairly passionate about research into what helps individuals and families thrive despite terrible circumstances. I incorporate these concepts into my stories, making sure to focus on hope, redemption, and strong relationships.

 I also like to eat nachos. I don’t mean to brag but I’m kind of a connoisseur.

What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you in your writing life?

I’m horrible at naming characters. When I finished editing my first novel for the fourth time, I came to a realization. Almost all of characters’ names rhymed. There was Shane Olson and Jonah Tolson. Vann, Ryann, and Tristan. Then, there were the near duplicates Joe, Josie and Jodie, and Rick, Nick, and Nicky. Those made it through FOUR self-edits.

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author(s), living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you talk about?

 I’m the creepiest fangirl. Like, heaven help you if I like your book, because my obsession knows no bounds. But when I meet someone face to face, I become someone you’d think has never had a face-to-face conversation in their life. I already embarrassed myself at a lunch with Denise Hunter when I told her how much I liked the pickup truck makeout scene of my favorite hero of hers (Riley from Just a Kiss). Yep.

So, to spare her further torture, I’ll choose Francine Rivers. Sure, I’d probably just sit there catatonic like Ralphie from A Christmas Story when he sits on Santa’s lap, but maybe the nearness of her would somehow elevate my writing. And maybe, just maybe, she’d be willing to endorse my future book, Redeeming Love 2: Soccer and Suburbia.

How has God changed you during your writing journey?

My first heroine was based off the part of me that tends to be very melancholy and victimized. By the end of the book, I was tired of feeling so sorry for her. So in my next book, I focused my next heroine on the independent, faith-filled, and passionate part of me. The Lord taught me a lot about strength in hardship through her story.That girl has courage and a furious love for God, her family, and her friends. I admire her.

What advice would you give to your Younger Writer Self?

I’d say, “Janine, you’re a terrible writer. Like abominably bad. Like if the phrase “fiction novel” and a gerund had a baby, it would look like your manuscript. But that’s okay, because one day you won’t be, as long as you stay teachable and don’t give up. And Denise Hunter is a human, just like you. She puts her pants on one leg at a time, but then she writes fabulous makeouts in pickup trucks. No big whoop. And finally, stop trying to make Redeeming Love 2 happen; it’s notgonna happen.”

How can we pray for you?          

I’m currently shopping my manuscript to editors. It’s a lovely story about finding both love and your God-given purpose in life after you’ve royally messed it up the first time around. I pray that it will minister to people, even if they only read enough of it to reject it. I hope that some truth or a measure of hope will stick with them as a result.

And my health. As a writer and online lecturer, I spend a good deal of time sitting and it has wreaked havoc on my health. Plus, the nacho-thing. So pray for nachos to start tasting like carrots, or for carrots to start tasting like nachos. Either would probably work.

Carrot nachos. It’s gonna be a thing.

And now for the giveaway! Janine is offering a $15 Amazon gift card AND a copy of Denise Hunter’s “Just A Kiss,” featuring the aforementioned Truck Makeout Scene, to one lucky commenter to this post! Just leave a comment to enter, and we’ll notify the winner next Wednesday!

Meet Janine:

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After living all over the United States, Janine Rosche has settled in Northwestern Ohio with her husband and four children. With a master's degree in Family and Consumer Sciences, she is a certified family life educator and online lecturer at the University of Colorado-Denver. She has taught courses in human development, love and marriage, psychology, and family relations. She infuses this experience into her contemporary romance novels by creating strong characters and relatable conflict, all within rustic settings.

Janine loves to connect with readers and fellow devotees of Denise Hunter and/or nachos. Stalk her online at her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Author Spotlight: Robyn Hook

The online writing community is fabulous and supportive, but there’s just no substitute for knowing someone in person! Today’s guest is one of those precious writer-pals who’s become an in-person friend as well, thanks to being my roomie last year at ACFW. It gives me great joy to welcome today’s guest, Robyn Hook!

Hi, Robyn! Thanks for hanging with us!

Thank you so much! It’s wonderful to be here!

What inspired you to start writing? What are you working on now?

 I started writing after my husband’s cousin was in a bus accident. A beautiful, joyful, young woman on her way to a mission trip with other college students from the same Christian University where I had earned my master’s degree. The bus driver fell asleep and the bus veered off the road and flipped. Many were injured, but she was killed. I questioned how God could allow it and wondered how the bus driver felt, dealing with that level of guilt. Out of those questions, my first character was born— a young woman responsible for the death of her sister in a car accident. The hero of the story is also dealing with guilt over his past choices,and together they find true forgiveness in grace. My second novel was much lighter and now I’m working on several more.

 What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What obstacles or challenges frequently crop up when making time to write?

 This is the first year all my kids are in school, so I’m excited to be able to treat writing like a job. In the mornings I pound out as much as I can while the house is quiet. I try to protect that time because it’s easy to let other activities get in the way. I may also write during the evenings after the boys are in bed.Also, to repay all the help I’ve received from so many experienced authors, I try to give back by doing critiques for new writers. And of course, I love assisting my critique partners with their work—mostly because I love to read their stories.

 What do you do when you’re not writing?

 I have a never-ending list of mom duties for my boys, ages 5, 7 and 10. Thankfully my husband does his own laundry— probably because I don’t keep up! I’m also working on getting an exercise routine going. And I love to draw.

 What is the best book you’ve read recently, and why?

I’m targeting the Love Inspired line for my Christmas novel, so I’ve been reading their contemporary line. And I love Arlene James. Her romances feel authentic and her spiritual threads are so relatable.

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author(s), living or dead, who would you choose? What would you talk about?

 I’d love to sit down with Francine Rivers. Her Mark of the Lion series is one of my all-time favorites. At the beginning of my writing journey, I read new-writer advice from her that went something like,“your relationship with God is the most important thing. Work on maturing as a Christian.” It was so different than the majority of the instruction I’d read,which focused on learning craft, improving grammar etc… I’d like to talk about that, about her writing journey from a mainstream romance writer to the inspirational market, and spirituality in general.

How has God changed you during your writing journey?

 About two years into my writing journey, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I managed to keep writing through chemo, surgery and radiation treatments, but it was hard. Now I feel blessed to have experienced it. I understand what it means in James 1:2… consider it all joy when you face trials of many kinds.

Wow! What a beautiful testimony!

 Last question, Robyn. How can we pray for you?

 Focus. I have novels started in different genres: mystery, contemporary, historical, even a YA fairy tale. I could use help in identifying which one to pour my energy into. Which would serve the Kingdom well, and hopefully also sell in a book market I’m just starting to comprehend.

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Done and done! Thanks so much for being here today, Robyn!

Meet Robyn

Robyn Hook writes inspirational romance. She earned a Master’s in Clinical Psychology and has worked as a counselor and university administrator before answering the call to be a work-at-home writer-mom.She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and is currently preparing her novel for publication. She and her husband live in Northwest Arkansas with their three young boys and a two rescue dogs. Find her at www.robynhook.com and on Twitter.

Author Spotlight: Laura Conner Kestner

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I’ll admit, I’m not super crazy about Halloween, but I LOVE October. Cooler temperatures, playoff baseball, football in full swing, beautiful leaves…and some AWESOME new releases to keep me turning pages in front of a fireplace that’s finally getting some use!

This October, I’m thrilled to introduce you to debut novelist Laura Conner Kestner and her awesome historical romance, “Remember Texas.” I’ve not had the privilege of meeting Laura personally, but I’ve seen her name atop the finalist and winner’s lists for practically every contest for unpublished writers. After reading “Remember Texas,” I have no doubt those accolades will continue, this time in the published realm! Here’s the blurb:

Abigail Horton’s life is turned upside down during the last night of a week-long revival when her father—believed dead—shows up in the custody of a Texas Ranger. Abby is thrilled to see him, and equally devastated to learn he’s been living the life of an outlaw.

Texas Ranger Caleb Calhoun stops in Moccasin Rock to let his prisoner, Bob Horton, visit briefly with family before transporting him to Austin for trial. Caleb takes a room at the family’s boarding house, planning to be in and out of the small town by morning. But within hours he’s kissed Abby Horton, made an enemy of her naïve suitor, and let his prisoner escape.

As Caleb searches for the missing outlaw, and Abby struggles to keep the man’s whereabouts a secret, they also battle a growing attraction to each other.

Throw in a Calhoun family mystery, an elderly preacher on a mission, an old flame of Caleb’s, a secretive spinster, a team of surveyors, and Abby’s mother and brother—and you have a compelling story of faith, family and forgiveness.



Howdy, Laura! Welcome to the blog!

Thank you! I’m thrilled to be here!

What was your inspiration for Remember Texas?

For many years I wrote for small-town newspapers. My favorite stories to research were the historical features—the stories of an area’s earliest settlers. Gun-toting preachers who presented the gospel in brush arbors and tabernacles, train-robbing outlaws, once-thriving towns where there’s nothing left but a cemetery.  I didn’t want to use those specific stories, of course, (and most of the time there wasn’t much information available, anyway). So I asked myself two questions when I read something interesting: What if? and What Now? Then I let my imagination run wild.

What did God teach you during the writing/publishing of Remember Texas?  

That I work better when I keep my eyes on Him. And that prayer, specifically for my writing, makes a huge difference in my daily work.

 

What does your writing routine look like?

I write every day, but because I’m a panster (I’m trying to retrain myself to be a plotter) and I have a short attention span, that doesn’t always equal usable words. Some of my best dialogue comes when I’m washing dishes. Or driving. I’ve been known to pull over to a safe spot and jot down whole scenes.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I most enjoy spending time with my family. My husband and I have two daughters, two wonderful sons-in-laws, and five grandchildren. No matter what we’re doing, even if it’s just having dinner together, there’s so much laughter. They are truly the lights of my life. I also enjoy photography, researching and writing non-fiction articles about Texas history, watching old black-and-white movies, and doing genealogy research.

 

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author, living or dead, who would you choose? What would you talk about?

Wow. This is so hard. But I’ll narrow it down to two.  First, author Tina Radcliffe, who reaches out to beginning writers with advice, encouragement, prayer and virtual coffee. I’ve not yet had the privilege of meeting Tina in person, but I would love to sit down over a real cup of coffee and just visit. My other choice would be the late Harper Lee. I’m not sure what we would talk about. Not sure it would even matter—I’d just listen to her talk. Perhaps I would ask her to recite some of my favorite lines from To Kill a Mockingbird.  

Thanks so much for being here today, Laura. One last question: How can we pray for you?

Please pray that I never confuse my wishes with His will.  

I think that’s something we all need prayer for!

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As I mentioned earlier, one randomly selected reader will receive a free ebook copy of Laura’s debut, “Remember Texas.” To enter, just leave a comment on the post telling me your favorite thing about October, or your favorite thing you learned from Laura’s interview. Winner will be selected and notified one week from today, October 25, and we’ll post it in the comments!

Meet Laura

Laura Conner Kestner is a seventh-generation Texan who spent 25 years in community journalism before deciding to pursue a career in fiction. She’s a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. Laura’s won several writing awards, including the 2016 ACFW Genesis Award for contemporary romance, the 2017 Daphne du Maurier award for excellence in mystery/suspense, and the 2016 RWA SARA Emma Merritt award for inspirational romance (for Remember Texas). She was a 2017 RWA GOLDEN HEART® finalist, and a double GOLDEN HEART® finalist in 2018. Laura loves to connect with readers on Facebook, Twitter, and her website.

Author Spotlight: Alexis A. Goring

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Hello again, everyone! The weather has been surprisingly fall-like in my neck of the woods, so I'm ALL IN with fall. Decorations, football, pumpkin-flavored baked goods...although I have to say, I am not a pumpkin spice latte person. What about you all? Is it still summer where you live, or are you starting to experience the wondrousness that is autumn?

Today's guest is the fabulous Alexis A. Goring, whose latest contemporary romance, Love in Pictures, is available now! Here's the blurb: 

Wedding photographer Michelle Hadley has a passion for diversity and believes that love comes in all colors. So, she’s working hard to convince editors to feature her clients’ images on the covers of the mainstream bridal and wedding magazines.

Despite having a career that focuses on celebrating forever love, Michelle has never actually been in a romantic relationship, and she’s not looking for love, until she meets the one man she cannot forget. 

Since his fiancée broke his heart, Logan Emerson’s focus has been on his career. He’s won awards for his work as a print journalist and dreams of greater success on television as a broadcast journalist. But his personal struggle presents many challenges that might prevent his dreams from coming true.

Michelle doesn’t date often, and since his heartbreak, Logan has shied away from the dating scene. But something about Michelle awakens Logan’s desire to love again.

Welcome to the blog, Alexis! Thanks for being here!

Thank you so much for having me!

Which character in Love in Pictures was easiest for you to write, and why? Which one presented the greatest challenge, and why?

They were all easy to write. Lol. Logan was a bit of a challenge only because I needed to really do my homework in researching his stuttering problem and the methods of speech-language pathology that help him cope.

My husband and I are different races, so I love seeing interracial couples represented in fiction! What challenges did this premise present for you as a writer?

There weren’t any major challenges apart from finding the balance between being real about race-related issues that happen in the real world and trying to not offend anyone through how my characters deal with injustice. Honestly, I watered down the race related issues in my book. Real-world realities that affect people of color can be a lot worse and oftentimes are not easily resolved or resolved at all. I didn’t want to make this story a heavy, depressing read. But I also wanted to do justice to the race-related issues that many people of color—especially interracial couples—face in the real world.

What do you hope your readers take away from Love in Pictures?

I hope that my readers take away several lessons from this fiction but true-to-life story:

Lesson #1: We all deserve to be treated with genuine kindness, regardless of our different races and physical features.

Lesson #2: Race related injustices are real and still take place today in 2018. So we should again, try to be kind to everyone because we’re all dealing with an issue, race-related or not.

Lesson #3: True love should always win! Fight for it.

Looking back on your journey to publication, what event or connection that may have seemed insignificant at the time turned out to be enormously important?

No event in my life or connection made has ever seemed insignificant to me because everything and everyone has a purpose. But one of my online writer friends and I connected at the first writers conference that I attended and years later, that connection led me to working with my publisher who gave me my first writing contract in January 2017. It was a blessing from God! Looking back, I know that He orchestrated those connections and opened the door for me to become a traditionally published author. God is good!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on another standalone story that focuses on a bakery in the heart of a major city, and the characters that love it. The plot involves a formerly fat pastry chef who is now every woman’s dream catch. But he cannot commit because his heart is still set the one girl from high school who he loved form afar. What he doesn’t know is that she grew up to be a food writer and works for a magazine that’s located down the street from his bakery!

That sounds great, especially the bakery part! I can't wait to drool over/read it!

What do you do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I’m making/eating good food, watching movies, spending time with loved ones and thinking about my next book!

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author(s), living or dead, who would you choose? What would you discuss?

I’d love to visit Vanessa Riley at one of her famous dinner parties because she has a Regency kitchen and cooks food that looks like it tastes so good (as seen on her Facebook posts)! Either before the guests arrive or after they leave, I’d like to talk about food recipes and fiction stories because not only can she make delicious food like a seasoned chef/baker, she can write. I’m not usually a fan of Regency Romance stories but if Vanessa Riley wrote it, I’ll read it because her writing is that good!

Meet Alexis

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Alexis A. Goring is a passionate writer with a degree in Print Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing. She loves the art of storytelling and hopes that her stories will connect readers with the enduring, forever love of Jesus Christ. She loves to connect with readers on Facebook, TwitterGoodreads, Pinterest, her website, or at the "God Is Love" blog.

 

Author Spotlight: Hannah Joy Wilkinson

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Greetings, readers! With Labor Day in our rear view mirror and college football season under way, I am in full-on fall mode (although if someone could tell that to the weather around here, that'd be outstanding; we probably won't get real fall weather for another six weeks or so, at the very least. Bah humbug). 

eLectio Publisher’s online bookstore links:

http://www.electiopublishing.com/bookstore/The-Moor-and-the-Maiden-Paperback-p92538018

http://www.electiopublishing.com/bookstore/The-Moor-and-the-Maiden-eBook-p92538021

 

Today's guest is the delightful Hannah Joy Wilkinson, whose debut, The Moor and The Maiden, is now available for purchase at eLectio and Amazon! Plus, one lucky commenter on this post will win a copy! Here's the blurb: 

Asim never should have returned to France. In AD 1150, too many people believe the dark-skinned Moor is an infidel sorcerer. The Christians who persecute him further harden his heart against God. Only Bishop Lisieux welcomes him back after years of estrangement.

During their journey to the de Montfort castle, a threat emerges. Stephan, a young Templar Knight, will stop at nothing to kill the Moor. If he finds the Bishop’s heretical secret, Asim and the Bishop will burn together.

Will Asim ever be reconciled to God amid the fear and hatred that surrounds him? Or will he be cut down before he is given the chance?

Welcome to the blog, Hannah! We're so glad to have you here!

Thanks for having me!

What was your inspiration for The Moor and The Maiden? How did you research and immerse yourself in twelfth-century France while writing this book?

I was initially inspired by the interracial love story in Shakespeare’s Othello, and then I was intrigued by the Crusades and why Christians believed in fighting to reclaim the Holy Land. I read many books about the Crusades, researched as many online primary sources as possible such as bishop’s letters, pope speeches, and the Templar code of conduct, to understand the Crusader mindset especially as it related to the “infidel”. I wanted to know in the words of twelfth-century people what they believed and how they were treating each other.

(Note from Amanda: You had me at "interracial love story." I've been living my own for almost fifteen years, and now I'm writing one!)

Which character from The Moor and The Maiden was the easiest for you to write, and why? Which one proved the greatest challenge? Why?

Leala, the eldest de Montfort daughter, was the easiest to write because her personality was the most like mine. She is focused, dutiful, task-oriented, and reserved. The youngest de Montfort daughter, Vianne, was the most challenging because she is talkative, impulsive, and passionate with energy I don’t personally possess. My own sister’s vivacious personality gave me the inspiration I needed to write the character!

How did God change you during the writing of The Moor and The Maiden? What do you hope your readers take away from the book?

At first, I enjoyed writing the romance parts of this novel more than the spiritual aspects. I was also unable to truly write a scene of salvation or repentance until my trust in God deepened. The words sounded shallow and artificial until I spent time in the Scriptures and in prayer. Only after drawing closer to God and asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance did I write with more of a genuine focus on a character’s daily walk with the Lord, because I could add lessons I learned in my own walk.

I pray that readers would see that self-righteousness, pride, and sin keeps us from following our humble Savior Jesus Christ in loving obedience. Surrendering to God’s grace can open our eyes to reaching people with His love in ways that we never thought possible.

Looking back on your journey to publication, what event or connection that may have seemed insignificant at the time turned out to be enormously important?

I sent my manuscript to the Writer’s Edge, thinking it was so good and hoping for their help in connecting with a big publisher. Instead the Writer’s Edge sent me what seemed like the longest list of edits and improvements for my story. I was devastated and set the letter as well as my writing aside for a while. Later, when I got over my wounded pride, I actually went back to the list of suggested improvements and spent a year working through each one. I believe that event is what truly gave me the confidence to send a newly edited work to other publishers, and I was finally offered a contract!

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on the sequel to the Moor and the Maiden. It’s a continuation of the novel featuring the characters Stephan and Leala. Their lives have become intertwined around the life of a child in a way they never could have imagined.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love baking sweet things, finding new Pinterest crafts to make, gardening, cross-stitching, reading, volunteering at a local women’s shelter, and spending time with my husband!

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author(s), living or dead, who would you choose, and what would you want to talk about?

I would love to sit down to coffee with Francine Rivers and hear about her personal testimony and how she writes with such conviction and passion! I would want to know all about her writing process for the favorite books she has written, how she studies the Word, and her thoughts on marriage and kids.

How can we pray for you?

I would appreciate prayers for my first child who will be born in a few short months, as well as prayers for writing this sequel for God’s glory. I know it will be a wonderful challenge to keep writing while caring for a newborn!

If you'd like a chance to win your own copy of The Moor and The Maiden, leave a comment on this post! We will randomly select the winner and post in the comment section one week from today, September 13.

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Meet Hannah

Hannah Joy Wilkinson lives in McAlester, Oklahoma with her husband Stan and their two ornery cats. She enjoys spending time with God in His Word with a good cup of coffee, discovering the joys of growing things out in the garden, and reading too many books at one time. The Moor and the Maiden is her first novel.

Hannah would love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, or her blog.

 

 

Author Spotlight: Deborah Clack (with giveaway!)

Hello, readers! It's been a minute, hasn't it? I've been on a bit of a break for summer, which included an amazing trip to Alaska with my husband's side of the family, immediately followed by Back-to-School-Palooza, during which, for the first time, I sent ALL THREE WENLETS to school. It is definitely an adjustment!

Okay, enough about me. Today's blog guest is the fabulous and funny Deborah Clack, who writes contemporary inspirational romance. I know you'll enjoy getting to know her, and she's offering a giveaway! Details for that are at the end of the post. 

Welcome, Deborah!

Hello to Amanda and Amanda's readers! Thank you so much for having me today!

What inspired you to start writing?

Five years ago, I whispered to an author friend, “I think I want to write a book.” She offered advice to get me started. I made her Pinky Swear she would never tell anyone what I was doing. (My husband made the same promise, though he refused to Pinky Swear.) This happened during a difficult time in my life, and writing became a safe haven for me. For three years I wrote without telling anyone else and one day looked up and realized I had completed three books. They were terribly written! But I was doing it! I started to research the craft, emailed a few authors for advice, and attended my first writers conference. From there, everything has snowballed into this amazing, sometimes arduous profession. I am so grateful.

What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What obstacles or challenges do you face in making time to write?

I sit down at the computer, open up Scrivener to see what scene I’m working on for that day.

Then I get up, walk to the kitchen to make my special hot cocoa drink.

Sit down again.

Get up and walk to my bedroom to get my comfy socks.

Sit down at the computer.

Fight hard to not respond to an email during my designated writing time.

Get up and turn down the thermostat so I can write like I’m in Iceland.

Sit down and put my headphones on and choose the mood music for the scene.

Stare at the words from the previous scene.

Take off the headphones.

Get up and do five other things … sitting down at my computer in between each of them.

Lament the thirty minutes I’ve wasted.

Put my headphones on again.

Choose a different song.

Then…I start writing. I know it sounds a little crazy, but with each time I get up to do something, the scene and characters are swirling in my head. It’s like they’re warming up and they’ll come running onto the page when they’re good and ready.

Hahahaha!! I know this routine well. But you're right, it is like the characters need some warmup time, and they do come running onto the page when they're ready. Unfortunately, it's nearly always about fifteen minutes before I have to leave to do something else...

You recently signed with awesome literary agent Tamela Hancock Murray! Congratulations! How did you two get connected?

Thank you so much! I followed Tamela on social media for a few years before I met her. (The Steve Laube Agency blog is a wealth of information!) Everything she said resonated with me, whether it be her professional encouragement, her personal musings, or her spiritual wisdom. When my first manuscript was ready, I pitched it to her at an ACFW conference. I had to tamp down my fan-girl tendencies! I am so grateful to be working with Tamela and cannot wait to see what God has in store.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

My Kindle is attached to my hip. In fact, if I lose my phone, I’m relieved. But if I lose my Kindle, I’m in an all-out panic! Star Wars and romcoms fill my DVR. I make admirable efforts at healthy-food cooking, as well as admirable efforts at eating copious amounts of chocolate. Swimming laps is a great time to let my introverted-self relax in the quiet of the water. My husband excels at planning adventures for the family, and we have a wonderful church community we enjoy.

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author(s), living or dead, who would you choose? What would you discuss?

Susan May Warren. At last year’s ACFW conference, I ran right into her (literally!) at the gala. Out of my mouth came the words, “Oh my gosh, I just knocked over my idol, Susan May Warren!” We had a good laugh. If I could have a do-over, and knew I had time to really connect, I think I would just want to get to know her. She weaves heavy life experiences, deep emotion, and struggles with God into a beautiful tapestry of novels. It’s the craft at its finest, but I think it also derives from her journey. I would love to hear how God works in her while she sews each story together.

How has God changed you during your writing journey? 

Courage breeds courage. With each fabulous part of the writing journey, there are about seventeen steps to take that are scary, vulnerable, or awkward. But God places in front of me exactly what I need, showing me who I am, but more importantly, who He is. I gain confidence with each step…even if I fail, or something doesn’t go well. It’s this fascinating domino effect of personal growth.

If there is something you have always wanted to try niggling at the back of your head, take that first step! It’s okay to try something new. It’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to not know exactly what comes next. What you can be sure of is that God is trustworthy. Faithful. Loving.

Amen to all of that!!! 

 How can we pray for you?

Thank you for asking! Balance. At the end of the day, I want to be able to say that I honored God, loved those around me well, took care of myself, and wrote the words God had for me to write. This requires me to spend time with Him, hear Him, take care of my family, release my expectations, and cling to the dreams He has for me.

Meet Deborah:

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Deborah Clack is a native Texan, non-recovering chocolate addict, and contemporary romance author.

A high school AP history teacher for 10 years, Deborah earned a Masters Degree in Education, and was awarded Teacher of the Year for Arts in Education. Now she creates stories of her own with endearing and broken characters who are full of humor and grit.

She is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and DFW Ready-Writers. Her work received First and Second Place in the Foundations Contest at the 2017 and 2018 BRMCWC. She was also a finalist in the 2017 ACFW Genesis Contest, and won Second Place in the 2018 Touched by Love Award through the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter of RWA.

Never achieving her dream of becoming a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, she settles for being a fan while living in The Lone Star State with her family.

You can find her on The Social Media, where she pretends to be an extrovert. Visit her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the world wide web

Deborah is graciously offering a $20 Amazon gift card to one randomly-selected new subscriber to her newsletter! Click here to fill out the subscription form, and you'll automatically be entered! I'll announce the winner in the comments section of this post next Thursday, August 30.  

Author Spotlight: Rachel McMillan

Hello, and welcome to the latest installment in my "Authors Named Rachel" series (you can check out previous Rachels here and here)! I am super-excited to introduce you to my awesome, hilarious friend Rachel McMillan, whose latest book, Murder at the Flamingo, released this week!  Check out the blurb: 

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Hamish DeLuca has spent most of his life trying to hide the anxiety that appears at the most inopportune times -- including during his first real court case as a new lawyer. Determined to rise above his father’s expectations, Hamish runs away to Boston where his cousin, Luca Valari, is opening a fashionable nightclub in Scollay Square.  When he meets his cousin's “right hand man,” Reggie, Hamish wonders if his dreams for a more normal life might be at hand. 

Regina “Reggie” Van Buren, heir to a New Haven fortune, has fled fine china, small talk, and the man her parents expect her to marry. Determined to make a life as the self-sufficient city girl she’s seen in her favorite Jean Arthur and Katharine Hepburn pictures, Reggie runs away to Boston, where she finds an easy secretarial job with the suave Luca Valari. But as she and Hamish work together in Luca’s glittering world, they discover a darker side to the smashing Flamingo nightclub.

When a corpse is discovered at the Flamingo, Reggie and Hamish quickly learn there is a vast chasm between the haves and the have-nots in 1937 Boston—and that there’s an underworld that feeds on them both. As Hamish is forced to choose between his conscience and loyalty to his beloved cousin, the unlikely sleuthing duo work to expose a murder before the darkness destroys everything they’ve worked to build. 

Doesn't that sound great?? I'm particularly excited for this book because of Hamish's anxiety issues; that's something I struggle with on a daily, and I'm so glad to see it represented in fiction!

Welcome to the blog, Rachel! So glad you're with us today!

Thanks for having me!

How did God change you during the writing of Murder at the Flamingo? What do you hope your readers take away from it?

I do not know if I can say I was changed at all while writing this story. What did change was the level of empowerment I felt at finally addressing something deeply personal to me: a lifelong anxiety and panic disorder.  I have always felt that if God wanted me to be someone else, He would have made me so and I have never been more settled in owning what I perceived my greatest weakness as I did in finally suffusing a character with it: hurdles and challenges and physical symptoms and all. I think that I sensed that this entire idea and the amazing way in which I was able to seamlessly move to a new publisher and tell this story was orchestrated by God. And very much, I hope, for the purpose of empowering conversation among believers and non-believers about their limitations.  At one point in Murder at the Flamingo, Hamish DeLuca recognizes that what he always thought was his greatest weakness—the limitations of his mental illness—is actually a great strength: it loans him an ability to sense inauthenticity (a great trait for a detective), and it gives him an added sense of empathy.

I hope that readers take away the ability to change their perception of a struggle or weakness they deal with.  What have they always thought was something lacking in themselves that may actually be a hidden power for good? Empathy, as Hamish’s father tells him, is the greatest gift: it transcends gender and race and class.  Is there something you struggle from that might actually give you an added ability to emphathize? If so, how powerful is that.

 

You frequently visit Boston while researching your stories. What are your favorite places there? Is there a must-see, “no trip to Boston is complete without it” spot for you?

I ADORE ALL OF BOSTON! I know, I know! So many things.  A lot of the series takes place in the North End of Boston which is very much the Italian quarter of the city. And it is by far the first place I head after I get the train downtown from Logan Airport.   The North End has a history that is this wonderful tapestry: it is where Paul Revere lived, of course, so it has the American Revolutionary history to it (a huge flavour of the Van Buren and DeLuca series). It is also home to the Old North Church---where the famous lantern hung signaling One if by Land, Two if By Sea.

As well as its Revolutionary history, the North End has long been home to immigrants. Hamish DeLuca calls it The Court of Miracles (speaking to where the Romany people congregated in his favourite book, The Hunchback of Notre Dame). We meet Nathaniel Reis, a young Jewish man whose people have populated the neighbourhood and, of course, half-Italian Hamish immediately finds a home amidst residents who speak his second language. Primarily Italian to this day, you can eat at restaurants ---such as Cantina Italiana and Café Vittoria (which have been around since Hamish DeLuca’s time) and find the best cannoli in the world atMike’s Pastry. I do encourage readers who are planning a trip to Boston to reach out to me on social media. I get the question so often and spend so much time there I have created a document of my must-sees by neighbourhood J

Hamish DeLuca not only has one of the best names EVER but also struggles with anxiety. As someone who shares in that struggle, I love seeing it represented in fiction! What was your inspiration to include that element in Hamish’s character? What has been the most important thing you learned while researching that aspect?

Like you, I am a lifelong sufferer. But I have been lucky. I have a psychiatrist who has helped my quality of life, access to the medicine I need to keep from the constant hand tremor and stutter that are two personal symptoms that result from my illness (the symptoms, of course, vary from sufferer to sufferer) and enough cognitive therapy to lessen (though not completely eliminate) panic attacks.  I really felt it was time to write my history into a book to help empower the conversation in the fictional sphere but also to normalize it. This series is not an “issue” series. Hamish still solves crime and goes on adventures with Reggie and falls in love.  But I wanted to show how someone lived with it day-to-day in a time period where it was glaringly misunderstood and heavily stigmatized.  Of course, the symptoms haven’t changed over the years, but our medical perception has. I read dozens of medical studies from the time period as well as books on the history of psychology to understand how Hamish would be treated and viewed in that time period. What that research determined was how he was at very great risk of being fed with mercury pills, locked in a sanatorium or even exposed to shock treatment. 

Hamish’s greatest hurdle at the beginning of the book is hiding his symptoms: something his father taught him from a young age. At first Hamish assumes this is due to his father’s embarrassment, but eventually recognizes it is for self-preservation.

As you look back on your journey to publication, how did God open those doors for you? What event or connection that seemed insignificant at the time ended up being enormously important?

This book series story is an enormously important study in connection and God’s timing.  In traditional publishing there is a typical process in finding a publishing home. It involves an entire manuscript completed and your agent shopping to editors.  My first publisher (with whom I was very fond of working) informed me that they were closing their fiction line and while they would publish through my contract, they wouldn’t be pursuing anything else. I didn’t know what to do next.  My agent advised me  to get a few other things going (always have something in your back pocket) but I wasn’t sure what step to take. I am a writer who has so many ideas in numerous genres.  But I had sketched this idea of Hamish DeLuca and Reggie Van Buren in 1930s Boston as a follow up(which it is) to my Edwardian-set Herringford and Watts series.

This became very easy when the then-VP of Fiction at Harper Collins Christian reached out to my agent (usually it is the other way around) and started a conversation about my finding a home there. We told her about this project. Honestly, pre-pubbed writers, things rarely happen this way so I recognize how fortunate and blessed I am.  It is really one of those wonderful publishing stories. They ended up signing this series on three sample chapters and a proposal.  Of course, the final Flamingo looks nothing like the three sample chapters did lol. But, it is a great reminder for all writers that you are being watched: on social media, in your blogs, at conferences. There is so much more to writing than just one manuscript or contract.  Build yourself as a brand. You might be recognized or memorable. Your agent might get a call when there is a market need. So my connections in the industry definitely led to this amazing opportunity with a dream publisher.  

I also include this story because when I was a pre-published writer, I loved reading stories about the magic moments in publishing. The “See, it could happen” stories. They are rare; but they do happen! So be encouraged.

 

What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What obstacles or challenges crop up when making time to write?

When employed full time, writing is something you do around work. So I have never truly been able to view it as a full time job.  It is an evening and weekend job that, if I am lucky, I can pursue through some weeks and holidays uninterrupted.  I try to write something every day. Whether it is for a contracted series or to work on a novella I will self- publish (I published my first contemporary romance, Love in Three-Quarter Time, this past winter, and I am doing more).

I never write chronologically. This is because time is of the utmost. I cannot afford to have “Writer’s Block” so if I am stuck on a scene, I move ahead and then loop back. I hold myself more accountable to the amount of hours I sit in a chair than to word count. Some word count days are better than others, but if I have the accountability of working through the chunk of time I set for myself, that is helpful!

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author(s), living or dead, who would you choose? What would you want to discuss?

This is super fun! Because this question always had the same response: Lynn Austin, who is probably my favourite living writer.  I had so many questions as a reader and writer and someone who has been so influenced in her faith journey by Austin’s work and heart and life.  I was at a bookish event in Grand Rapids in May called the Fiction Reader’s Summit and I ended up being able to spend one on one time with Lynn Austin and we talked about everything from books to the process to her research. It was incredible; but it does mean I have to come up with another author. 

Right now, because she is very much a part of a work in progress, I would say Charlotte Bronte. I am fascinated by her time in Brussels as a teacher and was there a few months ago researching her time there and because I have been so involved in that research wise, I would want the real story.

What is one question you’ve been dying for someone to ask you—either about yourself or your books—but nobody has? Go ahead and ask yourself that question, and give us the answer.

This is such a good question.  What is the book you most want to write, Rachel?  Well, Rachel, you have two: the first is the historical split time you have been working on for fifteen years long before split time was the thing, set entirely in Nova Scotia partly during the Napoleonic wars and featuring that amazing shipwreck and partly featuring the story of a remarkable young man in contemporary Halifax.   Next, your idea to write a female musketeer: someone who chops off her hair and joins the regiment to find her missing romantic interest. You have already done a lot of research about swordfighting :-)

How can we pray for you?

While I write (both series I have done so far) from a Christian Worldview, neither is blatantly Christian. Meaning: the gospel is sewn thematically. Indeed, the only mention of God in Van Buren and DeLuca (other than through the lens of The Hunchback of Notre Dame which I very much use to infuse a sense of morality) is from a Jewish character.  Christ is not mentioned overtly at all. But that doesn’t mean He is not there.

This is the first conversation I have had with both of my publishers now. We all approach God in different ways at church: by denomination, by how we engage with others and how loud or quiet we are in the pew. There are multiple ways to approach the Throne and I believe that to be the same for fiction. No two ministries look the same.  I pursue Christianity through character’s interactions and symbols. There are many times throughout Flamingo, for example, where Hamish DeLuca is the catalyst for acts of Grace: specifically in relation to his cousin Luca Valari.  His loyalty to Luca without expecting anything in return, is my way of exercising the theme of Grace in the book.  To add, Notre Dame from the Hugo book and the Old North Church are both symbols of an omniscient God. When Hamish is at the top of the Old North, he can look down and see humanity in a different way. I love using symbols like that to deftly drive a point home.

That being said, I know several readers of Christian Fiction who are upset or confused when they don’t perceive a blatant Gospel message in books published by Christian fiction publishers. I would hope that they recognize that sometimes in the pursuit of accessibility and to reach the widest readership, it is intentional to tell a story that infuses gospel truths in a different way. The right book will find the right reader at the right time. That is what God does! And it is miraculous!  In this vein, I hope you will pray that this book will find the reader who needs to see the power of Grace in a complicated relationship. I hope you will pray that this book will find the person who struggles with mental illness and finds through its pages a safe space where they are not alone.

You got it, Rachel! Thanks again for being with us!

Meet Rachel

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Rachel McMillan is a history enthusiast, lifelong bibliophile, and author of the Herringford and Watts series. When not reading (or writing), Rachel can be found at the theater, traveling near and far, and watching far too many British miniseries. Rachel lives in Toronto where she works in educational publishing and is always planning her next trip to Boston. She'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  

Author Spotlight: Rachel Schmoyer

Today's blog guest is my sweet friend Rachel Schmoyer, who has a heart for helping women read and understand the "hard parts" of Scripture. I love this idea, because there's for every comforting, easy-to-understand, Instagrammable Bible verse, there are at least three that aren't quite so pretty or easy...but those are God's words, too, and we need to give them as much respect and attention as we do the easy parts. That's why I'm so grateful for Rachel and her ministry!

Welcome to the blog, Rachel!

Thanks so much for having me!

What inspired your passion for helping Christ followers read and understand the hard parts of Scripture?

A couple of years ago, I studied Revelation with my Bible Study Fellowship group. Heading into the study I was excited to dive into the hard parts about the end times and dissect the timeline, but that’s not what we ended up doing. We found simple truths for today in the complex book of Revelation. I was amazed at the heartfelt applications we found in a Bible book that we often avoid because it sounds scary or confusing. This study launched me to find simple truths in other complex passages. Hence, Read the Hard Parts was born!

What is the hardest "hard part" you’ve ever studied, and how did your faith grow as a result?

I think the hardest hard part is always the one I am studying at the moment! I just finished reading Leviticus and I jotted down a list of hard parts while reading. There is the story of a man who blasphemes and he must be stoned to death. That’s tough. What about forgiveness? Soon I will go back and really study this passage and what we can learn from it for today.

One hard part I studied that helped my faith grow was the book of Malachi. Twice in the book of Malachi God says He hates something. I normally think of God as love, so that rubbed me the wrong way. When I dug into the passages, I saw a God who lovingly rescues His people and a God who desires us to love each other. I wrote about the hard parts of Malachi here

What is the best book you’ve read recently and why?

I recently finished listening to The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald for the second time. I’m not sure why the book captivates me so. I do like how he can paint the picture of a scene in a few words. I’m intrigued by the mystery of figuring out whether Gatsby is a good guy or a bad guy and I’m still not sure if I have an answer there. I’m going to hit some used book stories during my summer vacation and I hope to find a vintage copy of the book so that I read it next year. Then I can go through it slowly to figure out why I am drawn to this book.

What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What obstacles present themselves in making time to write?

Most days I check in on Twitter’s #5amwritersclub. I get in some words before the rest of the household wakes up which gives me a jump start to my writing day. I am very blessed to have a husband who supports my writing so during the school year when my four kids are in school I have the whole day to work on my writing.

The summer is where I find the most obstacles to my writing between the kids being home and there being no true “normal” summer day. Every day is so different I have to reinvent the wheel each day to find time to write. Yesterday was my husband’s day off and he let me sneak off to the public library for two hours so I could write. It was glorious.

I always have a variety of writing going on. In addition to blogging at Read the Hard Parts, I’ve been busy sending out book proposals and queries to literary agents. My goal is to publish devotional books for women on the hard parts of Scripture. I write a monthly Family Life column for Pandora’s Box Gazette, an online magazine. I am also do copywriting for business clients, and wrote about that for Almost An Author. I am also a copywriter so I write for business clients. I also write about copywriting for Almost an Author. 

What do you do when you are not writing?

When I am not writing I do a lot of family stuff: dishes, laundry, cooking, playing games with the kids, answering questions like, “Mom, can I play with candles and fire?” (Editor's Note: You are not alone in this). 

I also read a lot. I always have several Bible or spiritual life books going which I keep sprinkled throughout the house so one is always nearby. I read a lot of history and biography, too. For the past several years I have been reading through biographies of the First Ladies of the United States in chronological order. I am in the middle of Lou Hoover right now so I am in the Great Depression. It’s interesting to reread about each major time period since the lives of the First Ladies overlap one another. I read about the Civil War 17 times since it is prominent in the lives of the First Ladies from all the way from Julia Tyler to Edith Roosevelt. The biographies give me a multitude of perspectives on our nation’s history.

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author, living or dead, who would you choose? What would you want to talk about with him or her?

Well, as long as we are having tea, it may as well be a party! I would invite Carl Anthony, who is a First Ladies biographer and historian. I would also invite Elisabeth Elliot, who was a missionary, linguist, writer, and speaker who often spoke about women and their God-given roles. And I would invite Jane Austen. We would have a lively discussion about how women influence society and what makes one woman stand out more than another in both God’s eyes and in society’s eyes as a force for good.

How can we pray for you?

Thank you for praying! That is so kind of you. Please pray that I would be patient and focus on one step at a time in my writing life. I am so eager to write and publish a book, but I need to trust that God will bring a literary agent at the right time.

Meet Rachel

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Rachel Schmoyer is a pastor’s wife and mom of four from the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. She is a writer at Read the Hard Parts.Her goal is to encourage and equip Christians to find simple truths in the complex parts of Scripture. You can connect with Rachel on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also subscribe to her weekly newsletter with Bible reading tips and insights about the hard parts of Scripture. 

 

Author Spotlight: Jessica Nelson

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We're welcoming Jessica Nelson to the blog today! Jessica's latest release from Love Inspired Historical, "The Unconventional Governess," is a delightful Regency-era story with one of my favorite heroines EVER. Here's the blurb...

Henrietta Gordon has one dream: to practice medicine alongside the uncle who raised her. But when he insists she stay in London and find a husband, she must figure out a way to earn money toward her goal. Could handsome earl Dominic, Lord St. Raven, be the answer?

Desperate to find a governess for his niece after his brother’s death, Dominic hires Henrietta—and is soon taken by her smarts and determination. But as Henrietta comes to care deeply for Dominic and his charge, the thought of inevitably leaving them feels impossible, forcing her to decide what’s more important—following her dreams or her heart.

The Unconventional Governess is available at Harlequin and Amazon.

Welcome, Jessica! We're so glad you could stop by!

Thanks for having me! 

Henrietta Gordon is one of the most fascinating, spunky, and just plain awesome heroines I’ve ever encountered. What was your inspiration for her?

I don't know that I had an inspiration...she just kind of showed up in my head one day, already formed and demanding a story.

Was there a character in The Unconventional Governess that presented more of a challenge?

Dominic was challenging. I had to discover who he was, what he wanted. He was very laissez-faire about his life, and that made him a challenge because every hero needs a goal. And he had none at first.

How did God change you during the writing of The Unconventional Governess? What spiritual lessons do you hope your readers take away from the book?

I feel like I'm always trying to let God change me, and in every book, I feel like I "see" a new facet of life, like I learn something new. I think that God was trying to teach me to be brave. Not just in the way Henrietta is with her pursuit of an unconventional life, but in the way she feared being vulnerable, risking her heart. It takes bravery to do that, and both Henrietta and I struggle with it. I'd like readers to understand that it's okay to be different than what society might say is correct. It's important to hear God, to follow the dreams He's given you, even if there's a cost involved. 

What does your writing routine look like? What obstacles do you face in finding time to write?

Writing routine? Ha! I used to have one. I don't anymore. My obstacles include an obsession with sweeping, trying to cook for eight children (and let's just say my cooking leaves a lot to be desired), and a body that won't keep up with my dreams. All that to say...there are many stories in my head, and obstacles won't stop me for long.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Read, eat, play. I like to have fun, and I'm not picky about how it happens, and I'm never bored. ;-)

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author, living or dead, who would you choose? What would you want to talk about with him or her?

Oooh, well, I think Ted Dekker is extremely interesting. I'd love to have lunch with him and talk about good and evil, dark and light, and the amazing love of Jesus.

Thanks so much for being with us today, Jessica! Last question: how can we pray for you?

I am always in need of wisdom. Thank you!

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Jessica Nelson began writing her first historical romance after quitting her day job to stay home with her children. Many years and manuscripts later, Love On The Range was bought and released by Love Inspired Historical in 2012. Her most recent release is The Matchmaker's Match, a Romantic Times nominated Top Pick for 2015.

Jessica writes historical and contemporary inspirational romances. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. Her work has finaled in several RWA contests, as well as double-finaling in the esteemed American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest.

Jessica believes the greatest, most intense romance comes from a God who woos people to himself with passionate tenderness. When she is not chasing her three beautiful, wild little boys around the living room, she can be found staring into space as she plots her next story. Or she might be daydreaming about a raspberry mocha from Starbucks. Or thinking about what kind of chocolate she should have for dinner that night. She has been blessed with an amazing life and hopes to continue publishing for years to come.

Author Spotlight: Heidi Chiavaroli (with giveaway!)

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It gives me great joy to welcome one of my very favorite authors to the blog today!! Heidi Chiavaroli's debut, Freedom’s Ring, was easily one of the best books I read last year, and her new release, The Hidden Side, is already one of my faves for 2018! Here’s the blurb:

New York, 2016
Natalie Abbott offers answers for hurting listeners on her popular radio program. But she struggles to connect with her teenagers, with her daughter in an unhealthy relationship and her son uncommunicative and isolated. When one member of the family commits an unspeakable act, Natalie is forced to uncover who she truly is under the façade of her radio persona.

New York, 1776
Mercy Howard is shocked when her fiancé, Nathan Hale, is arrested and hanged as a spy. When she’s asked to join the revolutionary spy ring in Manhattan, she sees an opportunity to avenge Nathan’s death. But keeping her true loyalties hidden grows increasingly harder as the charming Major John Andre of the King’s Army becomes more to her than a target for intelligence.

Mercy’s journals comfort Natalie from across the centuries as both women struggle with their own secrets and shame, wondering how deep God’s mercy extends.

Doesn't that sound fantastic? Click here to purchase The Hidden Side, OR read to the end of this post to see how you can WIN a FREE COPY!!!

Welcome to the blog, Heidi! It's such an honor to have you!

Thank you so much for having me, Amanda!

Which character in The Hidden Side was easiest for you to write, and why? Which character was the most difficult, and why?

None of these characters were easy to write, yet Maelynn’s character did seem to flow for me. When I started writing this story, I expected to write in two viewpoints—Natalie, my contemporary character, and Mercy, my historical character. But as I began the story, another character, sixteen-year-old Maelynn, begged to have her story told, and even though I hadn’t planned for her, I couldn’t ignore her either.

I’ve never written in the point-of-view of a contemporary teenager and I can’t believe how much I enjoyed it. Sure, there was a lot to tackle in this book with Maelynn, but she came alive to me in a very unique way. I absolutely felt her. I was her. Though I craft many characters, they don’t all speak to me in the same way. To me, Maelynn’s character was especially powerful.

I love Mercy’s story, but she was the one who gave me more trouble as far as plot. Maybe because there was just so much in the contemporary story (which I wrote first). I think I was a bit brain-dead before the juices started flowing with Mercy. She was a little stubborn in that regard. 

The Hidden Side discusses some incredibly heavy and painful topics. How did you stay sane while living in the world of this story?

I’m not certain I would have called myself sane…I remember fixing supper one night with my husband in the kitchen during the writing of this story when I broke down a little. I hugged him, spoke through my tears, saying, “I just can’t wait for it to be over.”

I think that’s why I wrote the story so fast (about three months). These characters inhabited my mind, night and day. They became a part of me in a powerful way. I felt I had a responsibility to them to see them through this story, to give them hope, and give them a realistic yet satisfying ending.

But I’m not certain I would have called myself sane while doing it.  :)

How did God change you during the writing of The Hidden Side?

This story will always have a special place in my heart because it completely opened my eyes. Before the writing of it, I had never really bothered to consider a family’s perspective when dealing not only with tragedy, but with severe criminal acts within one’s immediate family. So often, when I saw a young person on the news who’d committed a terrible crime, I’d automatically judge, and think I had them pegged. I assumed they came from a broken home, that they didn’t know love, that no one had taught them right from wrong. And while that may often be the case, it isn’t always the case. Sometimes, there is simply more to it. And what right, really, do I have in presuming I know someone’s story?

This novel grew my humanity, my empathy, and my faith. It helped me to not be so quick to judge others, to perhaps peel back those hidden layers—the hidden side—of things unseen. Or at least realize that they are there.

What spiritual lesson do you hope your readers take away from this book?

That no matter what we try to conceal, even from ourselves, there is nothing that God can’t free. That the only place worth hiding is in Jesus. There, we don’t have to have it all together or pretend to be something we’re not. We don’t have to be afraid of rejection. He loves us perfectly and enough to do a good work in us—a real work that will draw us closer to Him, and make us more like Him. That’s where our true identity resides.

What does a typical writing day look like for you, if there is such a thing? What obstacles present themselves in making time to write?

While I don’t write every day, I work almost every day (either researching, writing, or promoting). I work while my children are in school, though I often take time for a run or a walk to get some quiet time and brainstorm.

There are certainly seasons of craziness (like now!) where I have to be in front of the computer at night, but I try not to let that be the norm.

I think my biggest obstacle is procrastination. I just finished writing my eighth manuscript (fourth scheduled for publication) and I can’t believe how easily distracted I was with social media, other obligations, etc. I’m about to start edits, and I’m thinking I’ll need a new strategy—like finding a place with no Wi-Fi!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m on deadline for my third book with Tyndale, scheduled to release in 2020. We’ll be back in Revolutionary/Contemporary Boston for that, so I’m excited!

I’m also busy preparing some speaking engagements, as well as revising another time-slip story set to release next year. A lot to work on, but I’m loving every minute of it!

 What do you do when you’re not writing?

I love to run and take hikes. I also love to work on various home improvement projects (we always have something going!), read, visit historical places in New England, and play board games with my family.

How can we pray for you?

Thank you so much for asking this question, Amanda! So…it’s tempting for me to put too much stock in reviews, and how a book is received. While all these things are important, I need to remember that—good or bad—the success (or failure) of this book, or any other, does not define my worth or my “usefulness” in God’s eyes. My worth is in Him alone. I always appreciate prayers that I would keep this truth close to my heart.

Thank you so much for this interview, Amanda!

And thank you for being here, Heidi! It's an honor to have you here!

Heidi is graciously offering a free copy to one lucky US resident! To enter, leave a comment on this post! Winner will be notified next Thursday, May 24. 

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Meet Heidi

Heidi Chiavaroli began writing eleven years ago, just after Jesus had grabbed hold of her heart. She used her two small boys’ nap times to pursue what she thought at the time was a foolish dream. Despite a long road to publication, she hasn’t stopped writing since! Heidi won the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest in the historical category. Both her debut novel,Freedom’s Ring, and her sophomore novel, The Hidden Side, are 4½-star Romantic Times Top Picks.Freedom's Ring was also a Booklist Top Ten Romance Debut. Heidi loves exploring places that whisper of historical secrets, especially with her family. She loves running, hiking, baking, and dates with her high-school sweetheart and husband of fourteen years. Heidi makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband, two sons, and Howie, her standard poodle.

Heidi loves to connect with readers! You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, Instagram, and BookBub, or visit her website. 

Author Spotlight: Janette Foreman (with giveaway!)

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Hey, everybody! My guest this week is my friend and agent-mate, Janette Foreman, whose debut, Last Chance Wife, just released on Tuesday! Here's the blurb...

When six-time mail-order bride Winifred Sattler is stranded in Deadwood, Dakota Territory, she’s grateful to find a temporary position at Mr. Ewan Burke’s business until she can return home. Ewan is handsome, but stuffy and serious—her complete opposite. Unlike her new anonymous correspondent, Mr. Businessman, who appreciates her bubbly optimism.

To keep his mining company afloat, Ewan can’t be distracted by Winifred’s vivacious beauty. He needs a no-nonsense wife. Someone like Miss Thoroughly Disgruntled, the only respondent to his recent ad with whom he truly connected. In person, Winifred and Ewan don’t get along, but in their letters they’re falling in love. Will they discover a perfect match in each other?

Janette is graciously giving away an electronic copy of Last Chance Wife to one lucky commenter on this post! Full instructions are at the end.

Welcome to the blog, Janette! It's great to have you here!

Thanks for having me!

First question for you...what was the inspiration for Last Chance Wife?

I wanted to write a story about people falling in love through letters. I’d brainstormed a few ideas but never could quite come up with the right concept. Then, Love Inspired had their Manuscript Match contest, and one of the categories was Mail Order Bride. Perfect! The premise for Last Chance Wife stemmed from that.

Which character was easiest for you to understand while writing? Which character presented more of a challenge?

Well, a mixture of both the hero and heroine! Certain aspects of Ewan and Winifred were easy, while other aspects were a struggle.

For example, Ewan analyzes everything. He wants to do his work by the book, which sometimes traps him into thinking ‘inside the box’. I have been guilty of this! However, I don’t identify with his strained relationship with his father and twin brother, as I’m very close with my parents and siblings. So that took some digging.

Winifred’s desire for meaningful romance and worries of self-worth are things that I personally have felt. Plus, she has good intentions that somehow land her in comical fiascos. (I think many of us can identify with that to some extent.) Also, I share her love of drawing! But we’re different in that she’s vivacious and longs to be with people. I’m an introvert. :) 

As am I! Introvert power!

What does your writing routine look like? What obstacles do you face in finding time to write? (I bet I can think of two… ;) )

Ha!! Yes, raising twin toddlers takes a bit of my time. So, right now, my writing time basically happens during naps, or on an evening where my husband watches the kids while I sneak off to a restaurant to write alone.

I, too, am a member of the Write During Naptime Club, although all my kids have outgrown their naps (WOE). 

How did God change you during the writing of Last Chance Wife? What spiritual lessons do you hope your readers take away from the book?

The theme of Last Chance Wife is all about worth—how our worth is tied to Who created us, not to our accomplishments (or failures). It’s a lesson I’d been learning for a while before writing the book, and I wanted to infuse it into the characters’ growth as well.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Play with my kids! As far as personal hobbies go, though, I love to read; quilt with my mom, grandmas, aunt, and friends; draw; and garden.

Last question! If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author, living or dead, who would you choose? What would you want to talk about with him or her?

Melissa Tagg! I would really love to sit down with her and talk about writing romance, finding God in the writing space, and fictional heroes that really shine (Logan Walker, anyone?).

Thanks so much for being here, Janette! I can't wait to read Ewan and Winifred's story! 

GIVEAWAY INSTRUCTIONS: One commenter to this post will be randomly selected and the results posted in the comment section. Janette will be in touch with you to deliver your prize!

Last Chance Wife can be found at some Walmart stores, as well as Amazon, Christianbook.com, and Barnes and Noble

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A former high school English teacher turned stay-at-home mom, Janette Foreman is passionate about inspirational, God-centered romances and teaching people to see themselves as having worth in God's eyes. Janette is a proud member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), secretary of the ACFW Dakotas Chapter, and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray at the Steve Laube Agency. When she sneaks in time for her extra hobbies, Janette loves to read, quilt, make cloth dolls, and draw. A graduate of York College and Black Hills State University, Janette makes her home in the northern Midwest with her amazing husband, polydactyl cat, bird-hunting dog, and the most adorable baby twin boys on the planet. 

Janette would love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or at her website

Author Spotlight: Rachel Scott McDaniel

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It brings me great joy to welcome another dear writing friend, Rachel Scott McDaniel, to the blog today! Although I've never met her in person, I sure feel like I have, because when Rachel was unable to attend last year's ACFW conference, our mutual friend Rebekah taped Rachel's pic to a Wonder Woman figurine. So I may not have met Real Rachel yet, but I've definitely met her superhero doppelganger, Wonder Rachel. (That's Wonder Rachel with her Genesis trophy over there).

Anyway, Rachel, welcome to the blog! 

Thank you for having me! This is my first interview and I’m feeling all authorly and fabulous, as well as completely honored to be here.

How did you start writing? At what point did you realize you were hopelessly bitten by the writing bug and that all hopes of life as a Normal Human were pretty much gone?

I’ve always had a love for words. In fact, I procured my very first writing award in fourth grade when I penned a short story called Mary Had A Little Elephant. Original, huh? I remember being ridiculously nerves because I had to read the piece in front of the entire community women’s club.

But I never really became serious in the pursuit of writing until I was named a finalist in a national contest. I only entered to receive feedback and was floored when I received notice that my story had advanced to the last round. Then my next thought was- Wow, I’m not as horrible at this writing thing as I thought. I may even be decent. From then on, I was hooked. I learned so much on this journey and gained valuable friends.

What does your writing routine look like, if you have one? What challenges pop up when scheduling time to write?

I write when my kids are at school or at night time when all is quiet. My main challenge is keeping focused. Haha. It seems so many thing nowadays pull for my attention.

I can definitely relate to that, as you and your Lisa Simpson "Concentrate" gif can attest.

What is one thing you know now that, looking back, you wish you could tell your younger Writer Self?

Oh brother. When I first started writing, I did EVERYTHING wrong. No joke. My first novel was plagued with head-hopping, backstory, info dumps, and an embarrassing amount of melodrama. I didn’t even know what telling was. So what did I do after I finished the first draft? Go back and revise? No, I sent that baby off to all my family, friends, and even my boss! I cringe when I think about it!

My advice to my younger writer self would be the words from the first book of James-  Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Over the years, I’ve had the tendency to rush—the idea that I need to barrel forward at full speed. That kind of attitude depletes you. Instead of focusing on the the destination, enjoy the journey.

That is such wonderful advice, and boy, did I need to hear that today!

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of carbs with any author, living or dead, who would you choose? What would you ask him or her?

Haha. It would most definitely be coffee and maybe some chocolate, too. ;) I would probably choose Rachel Hauck and not for a question but to say thank you. Years back, I started writing but then my daughter was diagnosed autistic, and I quit. Over the years following, the whispers of writing faded. On a whim, I picked up a Rachel Hauck novel and while reading, felt God’s gentle nudge. I opened my laptop and began again. It’s amazing how fiction can touch a person’s heart. I want my stories to encourage others like hers had for me. 

How has God changed you during the writing process? What spiritual lesson has God taught you that’s found its way into your fiction?

It seems that every one of my manuscripts reflect a different growth challenge in my personal life. For The Red Canary, the spiritual theme is trusting God above the shouts of fear. There’d been times when doubt and worry tried to overwhelm me, but God had proved faithful, giving me scripture to cling to, and words of encouragement through various people. And so, I try to subtly sprinkle hope into my stories. Faith fused into fiction can be a very powerful thing. 

Amen to that!

 I always admire writers of historical fiction for all the research they do. What are some of the key ways you immerse yourself in the era you’re writing?

My grandpa was a fighter pilot ace in WWII, and so that era had always been fascinating to me. When I researched the 40s for my story, The Red Canary, I surrounded myself with the culture. I watched movies from that time period, listened to big band music, browsed fashion articles, etc. I never really considered it work, because it was so enjoyable.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

My family tends to keeps me busy, but when I get the chance I LOVE to read.

Thanks again for being here today, Rachel! Last question:  How can we pray for you?

What a beautiful question! Mostly, I would love for God’s words – His message – to flow through me.  Not only in my writing, but in my day-to-day interactions with those around me.

Rachel is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one random new subscriber to her newsletter! Click here to subscribe, and you'll automatically be entered! We'll announce the winner in the comments on this post here next Friday, April 27.

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Rachel McDaniel is an award-winning writer of Christian historical romance. Her passion is to weave the truth of God’s Word into entertaining and thought-provoking stories.

Rachel’s been published in the WNY Family Magazine and Natural Awakenings Magazine. She is a writer and editorial traffic manager fora healthy living magazine. You can find Rachel on her blog, rachelscottmcdaniel.com, where she posts regularly about faith, family, and fiction. She is also on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Her work is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency. Rachel resides in Ohio with her husband and two children.

 



 

Author Spotlight: Georgiana Daniels

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I hope you're all enjoying these Author Spotlight features! I'm having a blast with them. It's so fun to get to know my fellow authors better, and this week's guest, my friend Georgiana Daniels, is no exception! Georgiana just released Shadows of Hope, her first work of women's fiction. Here's the blurb:

Crisis pregnancy worker Marissa Moreau suspects her husband is cheating, but little does she know how close to home her husband’s infidelity hits. College student Kaitlyn Farrows is floundering after a relationship with her professor leaves her pregnant. Soon she lands a job and a support system at the local pregnancy resource center and things seem to be turning around. But when Marissa and Kaitlyn become friends, neither one knows they share a connection—Colin, Marissa’s husband and Kaitlyn’s former professor. When their private lives collide, the two women must face the ultimate test of their faith and choose how to move forward as they live in the shadows of hope.

Shadows of Hope is available now at Christianbook.comAmazon, and Barnes and Noble!

Congratulations on your new release, Georgiana, and welcome to the blog!

Thank you so much! I'm excited to be here!

Which character in Shadows of Hope was the easiest for you to write, and why? Which one was the most difficult and why?

When I first started writing Shadows, the characters were just about equally easy/hard, but as time went on I bonded with Marissa. That’s probably why her POV is in first person, because I really felt like I was in her head. Though my life and marriage look nothing like hers, she has some characteristics that are similar to mine. OCD, anyone? And panic attacks—I’m all too familiar with those. But I loved how she continued to give, even when her life started spinning out of control. What I really wanted was a faith journey for her that others could relate to.

Kaitlyn is such a sweetheart that I enjoyed writing her character. Like Kaitlyn, I was a single mom in college, but unlike her, I had a solid support system. Even with that, being an unwed mother is scary! My heart went out to her the whole time, and I wanted to point her to the future and tell her that things really would work out someday.

The most difficult, of course, was Colin. He’s horrible! There were times I’d be writing and was like, I can’t believe he thought that! Or I can’t believe he’d do something so awful! And yet you know there are people who actually would. In his own mind, he thinks he’s doing all the right things, but without God it’s nearly impossible to know what the right things are in such a hard situation.

One of the most compelling conflicts in Shadows is Marissa’s continuing to work at a crisis pregnancy center when she herself struggles with infertility. Have you ever been in a situation where you were around the one thing you wanted and couldn’t have?

 

I can’t imagine a situation harder than Marissa’s, which is what compelled me to write the story. So while I have experienced being around something but not having it myself, it wasn’t to the same degree as Marissa.In fact, it seems minor compared to her situation.

 

For years I worked with other writers who were getting published and celebrating and moving ahead, while I couldn’t get a contract to save my life. Sometimes when we’re “denied” something, it becomes bigger in our minds than it actually is. Being published was my One Big Thing. It was an idol. God had to smash it, and smash it, He did!

What message do you hope readers take away from reading Shadows?

My greatest hope is that readers who are struggling because life has kicked them in the teeth will see that it’s possible to come out on the other side with a faith that is stronger and more refined. There is hope on the other side of every tragedy.

I think we’ve all been in situations where our lives have taken a serious turn and our worst fears come true. The question is, do we find our faith or lose it? If readers come away seeing a woman who faced the worst thing she could imagine and came out stronger, and if it resonates maybe even years down the road, it will have been worth it.

Also, if there’s someone out there who reads this book and is pregnant and in a rough situation, I pray they realize that there’s help and hope. It really can end beautifully and with great joy! Just ask my amazing 26-year-old daughter who loves God and lives to spread His love to others 😊

How did God change you during the writing of Shadows?

Without giving too much away, as Marissa faced the end of the road on certain dreams she had, I wondered if God was trying to tell me something. I thought perhaps I was writing Shadows of Hope just for me and that it was the end of my writing journey. And I began to make peace with that!

Because the writing of the book took so long—I’m not fast, whatsoever—I changed a lot. God brought me to the point of being at peace with Him and with life even if it doesn’t look like what I thought it would. “God’s got this” started to mean something wholly different from my previous understanding, and oddly enough it brings more peace than I thought possible.

You write, you homeschool, and you’re the Genesis contest coordinator for ACFW. What does a typical writing day look like for you (if there is such a thing)? How do you squeeze in the time around all the other things you do?

Some seasons of life are easier than others, that’s for sure! Part of the reason I write so slowly is because the season we’re in requires so much time. I just can’t seem to teach the Pythagorean Theorem on the fly!

In any case, our day is often structured down to 15-30 minute increments. At any given point, there’s something specific we’re trying to accomplish. We have to prioritize what really matters. I’m happy to say that right now, cleaning is not a priority 😉

Since we moved to a new town a few months ago—and by town I mean out in the country where the deer and the antelope play—I do a lot more driving than ever before. That means we’re making all kinds of new adjustments to try to squeeze everything in.

And I do mean squeeze.

Your previous works are romance. What inspired you to take a new direction and write contemporary women’s fiction?

I love the unpredictability of women’s fiction. While I love getting swept away in a good romance, we know how those are going to end. Exploring gray areas where the answers aren’t clear cut is intense, and moral dilemmas are interesting—in fiction only, because I like my life without those, thank you very much. Anyhoo, I guess it was just time to take that into my writing.

When I started Shadows of Hope, I had no idea how it was going to end. I tried figuring out what I’d do as each character, and it was hard! And when you’re trying to move through life without God, like Colin, it gets even murkier. You might think you’re doing the right thing, and it just isn’t. That’s what intrigued me about writing this story.

What question are you dying for someone to ask you about Shadows, but no one has asked that? Go ahead and ask yourself the question, then give us the answer.

Will there be a sequel?

Just kidding! I’ve actually been asked this several times, but I’d like to put the answer out there. At this point there is not a sequel planned by my publisher, but there has always been one in my head. In my mind, the characters live on!

From our lips to your publisher's ear: We'd love to read that sequel!

I can’t listen to music while I write (too distracting), but I usually have a few songs that help keep the ideas flowing and keep me connected to Story World when I’m away from my computer. Do you have a soundtrack or playlist to Shadows? If it had a theme song, what would it be?

Like you, I can’t really listen to music while writing, unless it doesn’t have words. So I found the karaoke version of a few Evanescence songs on the few occasions I did play music, but for the most part I prefer quiet. I’m a nerd like that.

Finally, how can we pray for you?

Please pray for God’s direction with my writing. While I have a project I’m working on, I don’t actually feel equipped to write it! God either needs to help me get equipped, or I need to find a new project. Thank you for the prayers—it really means a lot!

And thank you so much for inviting me into your corner of cyberspace! It’s been a pleasure, my friend!

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Georgiana Daniels resides in the beautiful mountains of Arizona with her super-generous husband and three talented daughters. She graduated from Northern Arizona University with a bachelor's degree in public relations and now has the privilege of homeschooling by day and wrestling with the keyboard by night. She enjoys sharing God's love through fiction and is exceedingly thankful for her own happily ever after. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and be sure to check out her website, where you can read the first chapter of Shadows of Hope for free!

Author Spotlight (and giveaway!): Rebekah Millet

Today’s blog guest is Rebekah Millet, one of my fellow contemporary romance authors and member of my fantastic writing tribe. Rebekah and I met through a couple of ACFW contests, and were able to meet in person at the ACFW Conference last fall, where we shared what may have been the most awkward hug ever (I had my cello on my back).

Welcome, Rebekah! Thanks so much for being here and letting us get to know you a little better!

Thank you so much for having me! I’m super excited to be here!

You are a native of New Orleans, which is a place I’ve never been but would love to visit. What was your favorite part of growing up there? If you have a least favorite thing about it, what would that be?

My favorite part of growing up down here (and this won’t be a shock to you), is the FOOD. In particular, there’s nothing like fresh beignets from Café du Monde. I have many a memory of my mom raising that deep-fried pastry to her mouth and then “fake sneezing” the powdered sugar all over me. Of course that tradition continued on with my kiddos.

(Note: Rebekah was kind enough to send me a box of Café du Monde beignet mix, and they are as delectable as described.)

My least favorite thing, hands down, is the humidity and what it does to my hair. For those Friends fans out there, just imagine the episode where Monica went to Barbados. That’s me.

Bwahaha. Summer in Kansas can be like that, too.

What does your writing routine look like? What are the biggest challenges that crop up when making time to write?

Well, I do accounting work four days a week (with my husband no less, and we actually love it). That leaves me with one full weekday dedicated to writing. I squeeze extra hours in on the other days and the weekends. The biggest challenge in making time to write is the unpredictability of my kids. But as they’ve grown, that’s gotten easier.

What was the inspiration for Under Southern Stars, your award-winning contemporary romance? What was the most significant thing you learned during the writing process?

I wish I had some profound answer, but honestly, I was in my kitchen, snapping green beans and my mind started wandering. I’ve always adored books and movies based in the south (Hello Steel Magnolias), and knew I wanted the setting based on my surroundings and culture. What’s most surprising is that I originally wrote Under Southern Stars as a secular romance. There were some early readers who’d told me it needed to be steamier, and for that genre, they were correct. But doing that never sat right with me (Looking back now, I know I was being convicted). I actually stopped writing for a while because I’d lost all taste for it. And then one day it hit me like BAM! Christian romance! From that instant, my zeal for writing took off and I rewrote the book.

If you could have coffee/tea/gratuitous amounts of bad-for-you food with any author, living or dead, who would you pig out with? What would you ask him or her?

It would have to be coffee. I reason with myself that tea is healthier, but when it comes down to it, I pour the coffee. And this is a hard question because there are so many to choose from! But I think I’d go with getting our own little writing tribe (Hey Robyn & Rachel!) together for a Pop-tart feeding frenzy. I’d love to have some uninterrupted time just to catch up.

Awwwww!!!! That is SO SWEET. And yes, I would love that! We’ve got to make it happen sometime. I’ll bring the Pop-Tarts, you bring the beignets. (The picture below is our tribe at the 2017 ACFW Gala. Rachel McDaniel couldn't make it in person, so Rebekah put her author photo on a Wonder Woman figurine!)

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What is the highlight of your writing career so far?

Being a finalist for the 2017 Genesis award is probably the best thing to happen. And not just for the recognition. I had been on the fence about attending the ACFW conference, and through several ways, God opened my eyes to His will. I obeyed and went. Numerous true and wonderful connections were made during that time, and I think that’s why He sent me.

And I’m so glad He did!

What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you during your writing career so far?

I should’ve expected this question from you ;-) Every time I think about this story I chuckle. During a meeting with a local Christian writers group, we were reading one page from our WIP’s aloud. That day a surprise pastor was there, sitting right across from me. I’d wanted to switch the page I’d brought, but it was all I’d had on me. It was my heroine’s POV. . .“His plain white undershirt slightly stretched across his muscled chest and his faded jeans fit just right. Not too tight, not too loose.” . . . I was the only one at the time who wrote Christian romance, so we all had a good laugh. But the pastor blessedly had a great sense of humor and even complimented my work.

How can we pray for you?

Now you’ve made me tear up. This is such a sweet thing to ask, and a reason why I LOVE the Christian writing community. I’d ask that you pray for my husband’s heart condition, and for me to know and do what God wants me to do.

You got it!

Rebekah is offering a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky soul who signs up for her author newsletter during the next week. The winner will be posted here and on my social media pages the following Wednesday, April 4. Click here to subscribe!

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About Rebekah: Rebekah Millet is an award-winning author of contemporary Christian romance novels. Although she considers herself a plot-driven writer, her characters have a tendency to hijack her plans. A New Orleans native, she loves injecting her colorful culture into her stories. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where she frequently interacts with followers and fangirls over her own favorite authors. You can also check out her website.

Author Spotlight: Melissa Jagears

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My first Author Spotlight was so much fun, I’ve decided to make it a regular feature on this blog! Our guest for this spotlight is Melissa Jagears, whose latest historical novel, A Chance at Forever, just released (and it’s fantastic)!

Here’s the blurb:

In early 1900s Kansas, Mercy McClain, determined to protect Teaville's children from the bullying she experienced as a child, finds fulfillment working at the local orphanage and serving on the school board. When Aaron Firebrook, the classmate who bothered her more than any other, petitions the board for a teaching position, she's dead set against him getting the job.

Aaron knows he deserves every bit of Mercy's mistrust, but he's returned to his hometown a changed man and is seeking to earn forgiveness of those he wronged. He doesn't expect Mercy to like him, but surely he can prove he now has the best interests of the children at heart.

Will resentment and old wounds hold them back, or can Mercy and Aaron put the past behind them in time to face the unexpected threats to everything they're working for?

It’s extra fun having Melissa here because I have actually met her in person, thanks to us living in the same city! Without further ado, let’s welcome Melissa Jagears! Thanks for being with us today, Melissa.

As I’ve already stated, I loved A Chance at Forever! Which of the characters was the easiest for you to write? Why? Which character was the most difficult to get to know? Why?

I didn’t really have any problems writing Aaron. I think I understood how haunted he was by his past mistakes and how he let them plague him. I have a hard time moving past berating myself for failures. As for who was most difficult, Mercy. Trying to keep a balance between her knowing about her brother’s secrets and her responsibility to her boss was hard to get right.

 

I always love it when Christian fiction delves into tough issues, and doubly so when historical fiction can mirror contemporary issues. What inspired you to address bullying in A Chance at Forever?

I’m afraid this answer isn’t that inspiring because I don’t remember! This was a premise I had filed away in my story ideas folder where I write random ideas down so I don’t forget. When it’s time to start writing a new book or come up with a series idea, I scrounge around in there. I thought a bully redeeming himself fit pretty well with my series and so while writing A Love So True I made sure to add in a heroine who could be easily bullied, and so Mercy came into existence.

What message do you hope readers take away from A Chance at Forever?

That those who have failed worse than you need forgiveness just as much as you.

What question are you dying for someone to ask you about A Chance at Forever, but no one has asked yet? Go ahead and ask yourself the question, then give us the answer.

“I’ve heard this series’ spines are gorgeous; don’t you want to show them off now that A Chance at Forever is out?”

Yes, yes I do!

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Those spines are indeed gorgeous! I plan to replicate that exact image on my bookshelves soon

You are a homeschooling mother as well as an author. What does a typical writing day look like for you?

Absolute chaos? I sneak in all the marketing and editing sort of stuff that goes with publishing that I can between spelling lessons and “snuggle school” (my son insists we do all his read-aloud stuff cuddled under a blanket) and during lunch. After we’re finished with school, I might be able to do some more of that kind of work in between other household activities. Then once I tuck everyone into bed, I do the actual writing books thing for a few hours in the quiet.

 

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Marketing, Editing, Plotting….oh, not writing related stuff? Goodness, I don’t know what I do anymore. It’s homeschool, household stuff, and writing. I really am not that interesting anymore, so I make my characters do the fun things for me. :) 

Thanks again for being with us, Melissa. One last question: how can we pray for you?

My husband has been unemployed for a year now and we’ve given up on getting him a job before the money runs out, so he’s going to start a window cleaning business. I’d love for him to be successful enough that I don’t have to go back to work and can continue homeschooling.

We will definitely pray for that, Melissa. I have been through the “unemployed husband” thing myself, and it is so stressful. Praying God’s best for you and your family, and that the Lord will continue to provide for you!

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About Melissa:

MELISSA JAGEARS is the Carol Award-winning author of the UNEXPECTED BRIDES series and the TEAVILLE MORAL SOCIETY series, a homeschooling mother to three, and an extreme night owl. Find her online at www.melissajagears.com, and follow her on Facebook,PinterestBookbubAmazon, and Goodreads.

Author Spotlight: Emily Conrad

We’ve got an exciting new feature on the blog today: my first-ever author interview! My sweet friend Emily Conrad is getting ready to release her debut novel, Justice (which is amazing, by the way!), and she agreed to be my guinea pig.

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 Justice is a work of contemporary romantic women’s fiction, with inspiration taken from the Biblical account of Mary and Joseph. Here’s the blurb…

 Jake thought he was meant to marry Brooklyn, but now she's pregnant, and he had nothing to do with it. Brooklyn can’t bring herself to name the father as she wrestles with questions about what her pregnancy means and how it will affect her relationship with Jake. If Harold Keen, the man who owns the bookstore across from Jake's coffee shop, has anything to do with it, the baby will ruin them both.

Doesn’t that sound great? Justice releases March 9 and is available for pre-order and purchase in e-book format from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

 

Welcome, Emily, and congratulations on your debut!

Thank you! It’s great to be here.

Jesus doesn’t shy away from facing the ugliness of life head-on, so I always rejoice when Christian novels are willing to confront it in a similar manner. What inspired you to address the issue of sexual assault in the pages of Justice?

I don’t remember what inspired me to write about sexual assault—I started my first draft of the story that would become Justice seventeen years ago—but that’s really just the inciting incident, and from there, the story goes on to focus on things we all have to deal with: revenge versus forgiveness, people failing us, and conflict in the church. These show up in my fiction because they’re in my life, too. Believers are forgiven, but still flawed, and I think it’s important for fiction to reflect that.

Which character was the easiest for you to write, and why? Which character’s head was most difficult for you to get into, and why?

I had an easier time writing Jake. Parts of Justice were inspired by the biblical account of Mary and Joseph. One thing that’s said of Joseph is he’s a just man, so naturally, Jake is committed to justice. However, if he did everything right all the time, there would be no story. Jake’s struggle is when a desire for justice in the name of protecting what’s most important to him inches toward a quest for revenge.

As for difficulties, it was pretty late in the drafting process that one of my critique partners brought up weaknesses in Brooklyn’s character arc. What was her internal struggle? When (and how) did she overcome it? Up until my critique partner raised those questions, I’d written the book thinking Brooklyn had enough on her hands healing from a rape. With that prompt, however, I reconsidered and realized she had a flaw that had been interfering with her life long before the attack and complicated her healing process afterward: perfectionism. Once I pinpointed that, her story came together in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

Justice is your debut novel. Could you tell us briefly about your journey to publication?

In brief, it was long. I have been writing fiction for about twenty years. I started querying agents in high school. In college, when one of my professors praised another student by saying she thought he’d be published by age twenty-five. Jealous, I thought, Why aren’t you saying that about me?

I must’ve internalized publication by age twenty-five  as a goal, because my twenty-fifth birthday was depressing for me, largely because I was unhappy with where I was on the path to publication.

I turn thirty-five later this month, and looking back, that publication-by-twenty-five kick sounds immature, but I confess that I can still relate. I still tend toward having my own timeframe and wishing God would stick to it, but of course, that’s not how He operates.God’s ways are not my ways—they’re better. Life experiences and connections built in the writing world over the last twenty years have helped prepare me to launch my first novel. Whatever further delays, frustrations, or setbacks I face, He will use for good.

What lessons do you hope readers will take away from Justice?

That God is in the midst of our trials, even when things are at their blackest. He is in control, He is present, and He is good. Zephaniah 3:5 is the verse that probably best sums it up.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I walk my two dogs every day. On is a black and tan hound mix, and the other is a pit bull mix. Also, we have an international student living with us this year, and I’ve been enjoying learning to cook Chinese.

What question are you dying for someone to ask you about Justice, but no one has? Go ahead and ask yourself that question, and then give us the answer.

One question I’ve never been asked is this one:  “You’ve said you borrowed some inspiration from the account of Mary and Joseph. How closely does Justice mirror their story and what did you learn writing the story this way?”

I think it’s important to first point out the differences: Justice is a contemporary novel, so the setting and time are different. Also, Justice deals with the aftermath of a rape, which is of course a completely different circumstance than what Mary and Joseph faced.

However, both couples do face the scandal an out-of-wedlock pregnancy they didn’t cause.Running with that, the book is full of nods to Mary and Joseph. For example, many of the names of characters were inspired by the Biblical account, including the main characters’ names: Jake Davidson and Brooklyn Merrill. (Davidson/son of David and Merrill/Mary.)

Some of the plot elements, location names, and character traits were also inspired by what we read in the Bible, and I hope it’s fun for readers to keep an eye out for those, taking note of similarities and differences (as I said before, there are plenty of differences!).

Throughout the process of writing Justice, I learned some trivia. For example, Nazareth is on a hill, and that’s how I came to name Jake’s coffeeshop Hillside. But on a more serious note, borrowing inspiration from Mary and Joseph’s lives reminded me that we serve the same God today. God is present and active in our lives, He provides for us and gave His son in order to redeem us. With Him, all things are possible, and we are never alone in any trial we face.

Wow! I totally missed the Davidson/David and Merrill/Mary when I read it. I’m going to have to reread and see how many more of those hints I can pick up on!

One last question, Emily. How can we pray for you?

Oh, wow! I haven't gotten that question in an interview yet! I would appreciate prayer for discernment regarding my writing career. There are decisions at every turn, and I want God's wisdom and not my own impatience or worry or ambition at the helm. I would love to hear readers' prayer requests in the comments so I can lift them up, too!

Thank you so much for being here today, Emily! I hope you are as blessed as we are to have you!!

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Emily Conrad lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two rescue dogs. She loves Jesus and enjoys road trips to the mountains, crafting stories, and drinking coffee. (It’s no coincidence her debut novel is set mostly in a coffee shop!) She offers free short stories on her website and loves to connect with readers on her website, Facebook, Twitter,and Instagram. 

 

 

My Favorite Things

My life is full of unanswerable questions. Some are deep and philosophical, some are not. This one is decidedly in the latter category, but it does pop up every December, when I hear Julie Andrews singing about raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, and that question is this: Why on earth is My Favorite Things a Christmas song?

I may never know the answer to that one. But thanks to a couple of my favorite authors (Deb Raney and Becky Wade), from whose blogs I stole/got inspiration for this idea, I present to you a few of MY favorite things. Most of these are not life-changing, but they definitely lift my spirits. And in the dead of winter, when the holidays are past and football season is almost over and my Sooners have lost in the college football playoffs—AGAIN—I think we could all use a little pick-me-up. (Click on the title of the item for a purchase link).

Paula’s Choice Earth Sourced Perfectly Natural Cleansing Gel

This has been my go-to cleanser for over twenty YEARS. I am not kidding. It’s undergone a couple name changes, but the basic formulation is the same. It is a simple, basic cleanser without fragrance or irritants; it gets the makeup off without drying the skin. Seems like a simple thing, but apparently it’s pretty hard to get this just right, because this cleanser is the only one I’ve ever found that does its job with this level of excellence. If they ever discontinue this, I will CRY.

Soylar Candles

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Soylar Candles is an online candle/soap company owned and operated by Irene Guoz, who seems like one of the sweetest people imaginable. Her products are made with natural, non-toxic ingredients using earth-friendly processes; her candles mostly come in reused baby food jars and aluminum cans. Her list of scents is long, and everything I’ve tried is utterly drool-worthy, plus she includes samples, extras, and a lovely hand-written note with every order. You can customize the intensity of the scent (important for me, since I’m actually not huge on scented candles; I just like to burn one after dinner to eliminate cooking odors and set the tone for a relaxing evening), and even order little free extras like glitter or candy sprinkles on top. Plus, right now, they're offering free shipping on any size order!

I vary my scents with the season, but since two out of three Wenlets were born in January, Birthday Cake seemed very apropos.

 

Fuzzy blanket

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I picked up this luxurious faux fur blanket on impulse at Target the day after Christmas, and it has quickly risen to the top of my favorite things list. Since I bought it, I’ve spent many hours on the couch in The Fuzzy Blanket’s cuddly embrace, snuggling Wenlets (the thing is a Wenlet magnet), watching the fire, reading books, listening to football, and seeing just how much parenting I can accomplish while still Under The Blanket (answer: more than I thought!). Cream is the color that followed me home, but the blanket does come in a variety of colors. Grab one. I promise your feelings about winter will be more positive.

 

Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty

I am a fidgeter. I have to have something to do with my hands pretty much all the time. When I was a kid, I was a devotee of Silly Putty (why my mother let us have it, I have no idea). A couple years ago while Christmas shopping for the kids, I discovered this stuff at a local toy store and have been pretty addicted to it ever since. It’s the perfect texture and comes in a lot of different colors and finishes. There’s even a kit where you can combine colors and special effects to create your own custom putty, although I personally have not gone that far yet (Middle Wenlet has; it was one of his Christmas presents). Putty isn’t for everyone, but if you need something pretty and satisfying to play with while you dream up your next novel, I highly recommend this.

 

Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend K-Cups

I love coffee. And while I adore the idea of having a fresh cup from a French press every morning, two things stop me from doing this: Limited time and the cruel paradox that I must consume coffee to be awake enough to make coffee. When my sister-in-law introduced me to the Keurig a few years ago, a solution was born.

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However—and this is a pretty big however—most K-cups taste pretty nasty, at least to me. The only K-cup I have found that I really, really like is this one: Major Dickason’s Blend from Peet’s Coffee. It’s a delicious dark roast, not bitter, just yum, and very effective at getting me from the “Go Away” to the “Now You May Speak” phase of morning. It’s the only K-cup that doesn’t taste like a K-cup to me. Creature of habit that I am, I always drink it out of the same mug, this gorgeous handmade ceramic one I picked up at the College of the Ozarks in Branson, Missouri two summers ago.

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it. A few of my favorite things. But I’m always up for trying something new, so now it’s your turn! What are a few of your favorite things?

"...and they shall call his name Emmanuel..."

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“The story of the Bible is Emmanuel.”

One of our pastors said this in a sermon a few weeks back, and I’ve been rolling it over in my head ever since. As a result, I’ve seen the overarching story of the Bible in a whole new way. Though during Advent our focus is the child promised in Isaiah, the one who was born of a virgin and whose name was called Emmanuel, I have seen how each person of the Trinity fulfills the concept of God with us in a unique way.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So begins the story. God meticulously crafted perfection in Eden, then created Adam and Eve to live there and care for it, and, more importantly, to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him.  Genesis tells us God would walk with Adam and Eve in the garden in the cool of the evening. All was perfect and right and exactly the way God intended.

But then sin entered the world. Adam and Eve disobeyed God. As a result, that beautiful unbroken fellowship with God was lost, not just for themselves, but for all mankind.

However—and what a glorious ‘however’ this is—God didn’t give up on his people. Through blessing a couple of barren ninety-somethings with a miracle child, he created his chosen nation, Israel, not just to exist, but to illustrate the concept of God with us. He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, guided them through the desert, and led them to a land he had created for them. He was with them.

But this fellowship was not free and unbroken as it had been in Eden. There were strict rules and stipulations that the Israelites were required to follow. And God was not present as he had been in Eden; he dwelled in a specific place, the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest could enter this chamber, and then only once a year and bearing a blood sacrifice to cover the sin of the nation. This place, in the center of the Temple, was marked by a thick curtain, separating the Holy God from sinful man.

However, the blood of sacrificial animals was a mere foreshadowing of God’s ultimate plan. Paul phrases this beautifully in Romans 8:3. “For what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man, as an offering for sin.”

It is this iteration of Emmanuel, Jesus, that we focus on most at this time of year. As Jesus, God himself grew in Mary’s womb and suckled at her breast. God Himself was a toddler, a child, a teenager, an ordinary small-town carpenter. God himself came to dwell with us, to walk with us, to experience the struggles of the human experience…and to show us exactly what it looked like to fulfill the law perfectly. God himself, the Word-made-flesh, then gave His life on a Roman cross to cover, once and for all, every sinful thought, word, and deed, committed by every person on earth. “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in him we could become the righteousness of God.” (1 Corinthians 5:21).  

After Jesus defeated sin and death through his crucifixion and resurrection, he ascended into Heaven to assume his rightful place with the Father. But he never intended to leave us alone. In John 16:7, he told his disciples, “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go I will send him to you.” That Advocate—the Holy Spirit—is Emmanuel, God with us, now. Rather than being limited by geography, as Jesus was, the Holy Spirit can indwell every believer, all at once. The Spirit of God convicts us of sin, guides us along God’s path, and enables us to do his will. The Spirit changes our hearts, gives us the desire and the ability to please God, and is a deposit guaranteeing our glorious inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of God.

And one day, Emmanuel will come again. He will return to earth, wipe it clean of all sin, and set up the new heaven and the new earth. Revelation tells us we will reign with him in this new earth, and once more we will have the unbroken fellowship with the Lord that we were always intended to have. Our existence will be defined by the most complete and perfect iteration of Emmanuel.

So this Christmas, as we let our gaze linger on the baby in the manger, as we marvel at the miracle that is Emmanuel, I pray that we will grasp a larger perspective of God with us and be grateful not only for Jesus in human form, but for the God who didn’t give up on his people and for the Spirit that marks us as his children and shapes us to be more like Him. And may we look forward to the true coming of Emmanuel.

May the peace and joy of Emmanuel truly be yours this Christmas and always.