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: 

FlamingoCover.jpg

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

RachelMcMillan2.jpg

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

square pic Rachel Schmoyer.png

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

UnconventionalGovernessCover.jpg

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!

JessicaNelsonPhoto.jpg

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!)

The Hidden Side Cover.jpeg

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. 

HeidiChiavaroli.jpg

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!)

9781335369697.jpg

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

1 BACK OF BOOK PHOTO.jpg

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

WonderRachel.jpg

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.

Rachel McDaniel Profile copy.jpeg

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

ShadowHope2 (1) (1)-page-001.jpg

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!

g_daniels_hires.jpg

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!)

21768998_10108681089997870_3285200017706278412_o.jpg

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!

AuthorPic.jpg

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

ACAFcoversmall.jpg

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!

0301182319.jpg

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!

jagearsheadshotcompressed.jpg

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.

Justice_w12338_750.jpg

 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!!

Conrad_Headshot2 (1).jpg

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

20180108_201027.jpg

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

20180108_201253.jpg

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.

20180108_211537.jpg

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..."

pexels-photo-236306.jpeg

“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.

Hello! Agent Calling!

Signing The Agreement

As many of you know, I recently (and gleefully) signed with my dream agent, Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. God's hand was in every aspect of this, and I am floored by all the minute details He worked out so that Tamela and I could connect and click.

The process of finding an agent is often nerve-wracking. The author usually sends out a query to the prospective agent (a very formalized version of, "Hey, Awesome Agent! I wrote Splendiferous Manuscript. It looks like it'd be right up your alley, won a couple of contests, and my mom loves it*! Care to take a look?"). If the query piques the agent's interest, they ask to see some or all of your manuscript. If they love it and believe they can sell it to a publisher, they will offer representation. Usually, they call first, mostly to talk about your project, feel out whether the working relationship will be a good one, and reassure themselves that you're not totally nuts (at least, not in a bad way). Among authors, this is sometimes known as The Call.

From the moment an author hits 'send' on that first query, they start dreaming about The Call. Hoping for it. Drooling with anticipation over it. Jumping out of their skin every time the phone rings, especially if it’s an unfamiliar area code. (Or maybe a familiar one, because they memorized their Dream Agent’s phone number. Ahem. Not that I know anyone who did this. *looks around furtively*).

Although sometimes The Call comes out of the blue and is a total surprise, in some cases (like mine) the agent schedules it beforehand. So when Tamela's (totally not memorized) number flashed on my caller ID, it was not a surprise...but I still took a moment before I answered to sear that moment into my memory. My Dream Agent was finally calling me. This was it. The Call.

Lots of information is out there dealing with how authors can prepare for The Call, what questions they should ask of the agent, what information to cover, and the like. There’s also a lot of advice on how to inform other agents who may have your query or manuscript that you’ve received an offer, how to handle multiple offers, etc. But what I wasn’t prepared for—and didn’t find a lot of information about—was the utter emotional roller-coaster I went on in the days following The Call.

We’ve all heard about the five stages of grief, and I found after The Call that I went through about five different (more fun) stages as well. So I now present to you, without further ado and with an appropriate amount of fanfare, the five stages of After The Call.

Stage 1: Elation.

I GOT THE CALL!!!!!!!!!!!!! AWESOME AGENT LIKES ME!!!!!!!! Finally, after all the queries and rejections and revisions and research, AWESOME AGENT WANTS TO WORK WITH ME!!!!!! This is the BEST DAY EVER!!!!!!!!!! I have to call EVERYONE I KNOW! No. Wait. I have to SAVOR IT. No. Wait. I have to plan a clever WAY to tell everyone I know. No. Wait…oh, screw it. AWESOME AGENT JUST OFFERED REPRESENTATION!!!!!!!!!

Stage 2: Disbelief.

 Awesome Agent. Likes me.

Awesome Agent. Wants to represent…me.

Wait. She does know who I am, right? Did she mean to dial my number? Spendiferous Manuscript…that’s the one she’s in love with? Wait, did she read it? She did, right? She wouldn’t be offering if she didn’t. Did she see the part in Chapter Sixteen where I'm all redundant and ridiculous and go on too long about my hero's mommy issues? She did? And she still wants to represent me?

Maybe I dreamed The Call. Maybe she didn’t really call me and it’s all in my head. *checks phone log* No, she really did call me.

She’s serious, right? She’s not going to call me back tomorrow and go, ‘LOL, just kidding, I thought you were someone else, I don’t really want to represent you.’ Right? Right????

Stage 3: Second Guessing

Awesome Agent wants to represent me!!!! But but but but a couple of other Awesome Agents also have my manuscript.  What if one of them offers? I mean, that’d be great and all, but what do I do then? How do I decide? What if I pick the wrong Awesome Agent?

Or what if they don’t offer? What if Awesome Agent is the only one who offers? That means she’s The One, right? By default, she’s The One. Of course she is. But what if she somehow isn’t? Will I know?

What if I screw it up somehow? What if I take too long to get back to Awesome Agent and she changes her mind? What if I inadvertently offend her somehow? What if she decides she doesn’t actually want to take me on? What if I really do get that 'LOL, just kidding' call or email? 

 

Stage 4: Panic

Holy falafel, I’m really gonna do this.

I’m really gonna sign an agreement with Awesome Agent.

And she is going to have my book. My book. My baby. And I barely know her. I mean, yeah, we clicked on the phone, but that was just one call and my head was in the clouds and I barely even registered the first half of the conversation because I WAS TALKING TO AWESOME AGENT, but now I’m going to put my baby in this person’s hands, and she’s going to show it to publishers and maybe get me a contract and possibly even a career and AIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

 

Stage 5: Readiness

Okay. I’m ready. I’m at peace.  I’ve prayed about it, thought about it, and slept on it. She really is The One, and I’m really going to do this. I’m going to call her back and share the good news, I'm going to scribble my name on that agency agreement, I’m going to post the pic to Facebook I’m going to celebrate with all my loved ones…

And then I’m going to get to work. Because Awesome Agent and I…we’re a team now. She loves my book. She believes in my book.

And together, we are going to get it out into the world.

 

So these are the stages I went through when Tamela called me. You may not go through all of these. Or any of these. Your five stages may look different from mine. Or you might have more than five. Or fewer. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this process, it’s that the process looks slightly different for everyone…and that it’s all normal.

Normal for writers, anyway.

For those of you who may have queries or manuscripts out with agents and are anxiously awaiting The Call, know that I’m praying for you! I pray you’ll have peace in knowing that God has your career completely under His control, and He will guide you to just the right person at just the right time.

For those of you who have received The Call, I would love to hear your story! Did you go through any of these stages? All of them? None of them? Let me know in the comments!

*Note to people who are querying: Don't actually tell the agent your mom loves the book. 

Sick, Sick, Sick

Sick Kid

We have recently made it through a round of The Creeping Crud here at the House of Wen, one that has attacked all five of us in turn and given me a renewed sense of gratitude for the good health our family usually enjoys.

When my kids were babies, they had one mode during sickness: Pathetic. Seriously. There is nothing more pathetic than a sick baby. But as they’ve gotten older, they’ve developed Modes of Illness that correspond with their individual personalities. Sort of like the three kids in PJ Masks transform at night to become their superhero alter egos, my kids each transform into a modified version of themselves: Picky, Clingy, and Zonked.

Yakko becomes…Picky!

A caveat here: Yakko does not BECOME picky when he is sick, as though the rest of the time he is not picky at all. Hahahahaha. Far from it. From the moment Yakko was born, he’s been on the lookout for Things Which Do Not Meet His Standards, of which there are many, as his standards are high and exacting.  When he is sick, he becomes exponentially more so. Last week, during the throes of his illness, he requested a Popsicle. We have some, even in the one flavor he likes, but these Popsicles once melted and refroze during a fit of temper from our freezer, and he now refuses to eat them because “they taste funny.” He expressed extreme displeasure with my pronouncement that no, I would not drop everything and run to the grocery store to purchase new Popsicles when we had some in—this bears repeating, HIS FAVORITE FLAVOR—that might have been a little misshapen. Similarly, he refused oyster crackers a few days ago because “they tasted stale.” Fair enough; the box had been open a while and they may very well have been stale. But he ALSO refused to eat the apple slices that briefly TOUCHED the oyster crackers because, in his words, “The apples taste stale now, too.”

Meanwhile, Dot becomes…Clingy!

Dot is normally pretty independent, but when she is sick, she wants to be physically attached to me at all times. ALL times. Day, night, it makes no difference whatsoever. She wants to be in my lap, snuggled up next to me, climbing on me, laying on me…it makes no particular difference to her, as long as we are basically glued together. When she was younger and easier to haul around, this was less of an issue. But now that she’s half as tall as I am and no longer a featherweight, getting around has become exceedingly more difficult. Last time I checked, they didn’t make Baby Bjorns to fit an almost-five-year-old (but even if they did, there is no way I would be able to figure out how to use it. Baby carriers always, always, ALWAYS confounded me).

And last, but not least, Wakko becomes…Zonked!

Wakko is my highest-energy kid, my child who, if he is not actively engaged in an Approved Activity, he will FIND an activity on his own that may or not fall under the umbrella of “Approved.” Over the years, Wakko has committed various shenanigans including, but not limited to: decorating the basement walls with Sharpie, coloring himself with marker, painting himself, putting Play-Doh in various kitchen implements, cutting his sister’s hair, cutting his own hair, cutting his sister’s hair AGAIN, etc. etc. etc.. If you follow me on Facebook, pretty much any adventure I relate containing an “unnamed Wenlet” can be traced back to Wakko.

HOWEVER. When Wakko is sick, he completely shuts down. Seriously. All that kid does is sleep. He will occasionally wake up long enough to take medication or nourishment, and then he’s out again. There are times when I have very nearly forgotten that Wakko is even HOME when he’s sick, which is why I’ve taken to putting him on the living room couch. Much more difficult to walk off and forget about him.

The caveat with this, of course, is that when he does wake up, nine times out of ten he is 100% well and back to his usual shenanigan-y self. I’m always glad to see him up and around and feeling better…but I do have to remember to lock up the Sharpies.

YOUR TURN: What are your kids like when they’re sick? Any fun sick kid stories to share?

You Nimrod!

Last weekend, I dived back into Orchestra World for a performance of British orchestral music, the centerpiece of which was Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Even if you’ve never heard of Elgar, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ve heard one of his pieces, especially if you’ve ever been to a high school graduation ceremony. That stately, quasi-repetitive piece the band always plows its way through while the graduates file in is his “Pomp and Circumstance” march. That is not necessarily my favorite of Elgar’s works, but his cello concerto and his Enigma Variations most certainly are.

Edward_Elgar.jpg

The story of the Enigma Variations is a fun one. Tired after a long day of teaching violin lessons, Elgar sat down at the piano and started fooling around with a melody. His wife, Alice, liked the tune and asked what it was. “Nothing,” he replied. “But something might be made of it.” He began then trying to characterize various of their friends by playing the tune in different ways, and before long, the Enigma Variations were born, a set of fourteen variations on this tune that portray people important or memorable to Elgar: fellow musicians, his wife, and even a friend’s bulldog.

But the most famous, most beautiful, and most stirring of these variations is the ninth one. In fact, even if you’ve never heard of Elgar or the Enigma Variations, you’ve likely heard this one. Performed frequently at British state funerals and other occasions, and having appeared in films and TV shows such as Homeland, Elizabeth,and Dunkirk, it bears the seemingly unelegant nickname of “Nimrod.”

Now when I was a kid, “nimrod” was a slang term for someone who was nerdy, geeky, or socially awkward, but as a teenager I was surprised to learn that Nimrod was a real person. A Biblical one, in fact. The great-grandson of Noah, Nimrod is described in Genesis 10:9 as “a mighty hunter before the Lord.” The title of the movement is a play on the last name of Augustus Jaeger, Elgar’s close friend and the subject of this variation, which, in German, means “hunter.”

As Elgar’s editor, Jaeger sometimes delivered severe critiques of his work, but as his friend, Jaeger was a stalwart encourager. The variation centers around a night when Elgar was in his forties. He’d been composing for a while, with modest success, but he’d yet to truly establish himself as a composer. He’d hit a low point, depressed about his lack of progress, despairing over the future of his compositional career, and debating quitting composing altogether.  I can picture Jaeger sitting quietly by Elgar’s side while his friend poured his heart out, nodding and sympathizing, and then crossing to the piano and playing the opening of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” piano sonata. Jaeger reminded Elgar that Beethoven had his share of problems and setbacks—his deafness being but one of those—and yet he kept on composing, gracing the world with stunning works such as the famous Ninth Symphony. “And that is what you must do,” Jaeger told his friend.

The variation itself, its soaring melody and deep emotion, the fact that it brings pretty much everyone who listens to it to tears, is a testament to the importance of this moment in Elgar’s life, and the finale, which quotes both the variation potraying Elgar’s wife and the Nimrod variation, cements Jaeger’s importance, both personally and professionally, to the composer.

The story of “Nimrod” is of the necessity of enduring creative setbacks and dry spells, but it also speaks clearly of how crucial it is for us creative types to have stalwarts in our corner. People who endure our mood swings and our threats to quit, calmly listen to our rants, and then tell us, “Okay. Now keep going. Don’t quit.”

Who is that person for you? Is it a friend? Your spouse? Your critique partner? Your agent? Your editor? Who has refused to let you quit when every other voice was shrieking for you to do exactly that? Perhaps you can’t write a gorgeous symphonic movement for that person, but there might be some way to express your appreciation. At the very least, listen to this gorgeous wor and take a moment to thank God for how He used that person in your life.

A little postscript: The Enigma Variations premiered in 1899 and proved to be Elgar’s big break. This piece established his career as a composer. In the ensuing years, Elgar would receive countless awards and honorary degrees. He would be knighted in 1904, named Master of the King’s Musick in 1924, and appointed a Baronet in 1931. His music is regularly performed all over the world, and he remains one of Britain’s best known composers.

All because of the encouragement of a friend.

So who is your Nimrod?

Who would consider you theirs?

ACFW Mix and Mingle

Sorry I've neglected this space for a few weeks. With school and fall activities starting, I'd have been insane enough, but throw in a whole bunch of unexpected events (most fantastic, and one of which I will be posting about in the coming days) and it's been completely crazy here at the House of Wen.

A big part of the crazy is that I'm getting ready to go to my very first writers' conference, the ACFW Conference in Grapevine, Texas! Not only have I never been to a writers' conference before, I've never been away from home since I had my kids (except stays in the hospital resulting from making more kids), so this will be quite the growing experience for all involved.

My awesome friend Laurie Tomlinson started this on her blog to help all of us ACFW conference attendees get to know each other. If you want to get to know some other writer-types who are heading to Texas, head on over to Laurie's blog! Here are my answers...

Name: Amanda Wen

Location: Wichita, KS

What you write/tagline/trademark: Contemporary inspirational romance (To my non-writer friends, I explain it as "no smut, but no bonnets, either.") 

Place in the book world: Pre-published author.

On a scale of hugger to 10-foot-pole, please rate your personal space: I'm cool either way, honestly. I love hugs, and will freely give them out, but if that's not something you're comfortable with, I won't be offended.

Something VERY serious: How do you take your Starbucks? I love coffee...but not from Starbucks. (Although if it's Starbucks or no coffee at all, I will cheerfully order a flat white and be super-grateful for it!)

The unique talking points that will get you going for hours: Music (I'm a professional cellist), my kids (they're hilarious), football (I love my Oklahoma Sooners and my New England Patriots), TV (Cold Case is my all time favorite show ever; current addiction is This Is Us), and what my husband has engraved inside his wedding ring.

Loved ones at home you’ll be missing: The aforementioned husband and three Wenlets (boys, 8 and 7, and a girl, 4).

Conference goals we can pray for? That I make the personal connections I need to make and learn what I need to learn.

Anything we can celebrate with you? I just signed with an agent last week!!! 

One or two ways we can help you build your platform? Follow me on Twitter or friend me on  Facebook. (I have an author page on Facebook, too, but my personal page is definitely the more entertaining of the two). 

 

How God Led Me To My Husband (With a Little Help from Tom Brady)

My husband and I recently celebrated our first dozen years of wedded bliss (well, okay, mostly bliss), and as often happens in mid-August, I’ve been reflecting on us and all God has brought us through. In the twelve years of our marriage and the fourteen years we’ve known each other, we’ve mourned the loss of three grandparents, celebrated the birth of our three kids, moved twice, bought a house, endured health scares and hospitalizations, and weathered untold job changes and two massive shifts in career focus (one for each of us). God has been faithful to us, and I am blessed. Not cheap, plastic hashtag-blessed, but truly, deeply blessed. God knew us both before we were even born, and He knew just how right we were for each other.

As a romance writer, I love cooking up stories of how couples meet and how relationships bloom. I love hearing real-life stories just as much. So, on the occasion of our anniversary, I thought I'd share ours.

A little bit of back story: Despite the fact that I grew up in Kansas, I’m a die-hard New England Patriots fan. For this, I blame/thank my mother. She started rooting for the Pats back in the 1970s, when a guy named Steve Grogan was their quarterback. Grogan played college ball at Kansas State, and although K-State routinely pumps out NFL-caliber players now, back in the ‘70s, they were a laughingstock. For someone from a Kansas school to make the NFL was practically unheard of, so when Steve Grogan actually did it, my mom became a lifelong Patriots fan. She tells me that the day I was born, she held snuggly newborn me and watched the Patriots play on TV. They lost, of course, as was to be expected back then. (No one under the age of thirty believes me, but the Pats used to be terrible).

In college, my brother helped me expand my rooting interests to include another equally hapless New England area sports team: the Boston Red Sox. I didn’t know then that I was joining one of the most cursed fan bases in all of sports. I just knew that the Yankees were evil, and therefore, I must root for the Sox.

This all became very important in October, 2003, when I, six weeks into my Master’s degree at the University of Illinois, decided to skip a College of Fine Arts prayer meeting in favor of meeting a fellow Red Sox fan friend of mine at a local sports bar for a playoff watch party. This was not without guilt; I distinctly remember thinking that the fine arts prayer group was where Single, Desperate Me was most likely to come across Husband Candidates. But the husband search could wait, I decided. For that night, there was baseball.

I remember walking into O’Charley’s and spying a table full of guys, to whom my friend Eric hastily introduced me during commercial breaks. The only one that really made an impression was a guy he introduced as Cheech, who wore a Hawaiian shirt and a great smile. That impression was this: Huh. I’ve never met a real person with that name before.

During the course of the game, I chatted with most of the guys at the table, and during the conversation Cheech happened to mention that he rooted for the Pats. “Hey, me, too,” I said.

He stopped and looked at me. “Wait, you like the Pats?”

“Of course.”

“How’d you like to go to a game in November?”

I blinked. “A game? Like a real live Patriots game?”

“Yeah,” he said, with elaborate casualness. “A bunch of us are going to Indy on November 30th to see the Patriots-Colts game. I’ve got an extra ticket if you’re interested.” (I later found out this ticket was promised to a guy friend of his, who was a touch miffed when it was suddenly no longer available).

“Are you kidding?" I said. "I’d love to.”

Game day arrived, and it was a blast. The six of us (Eric, his girlfriend, another Pats fan, and a friend of Cheech's who just wanted to see the game) all went out to lunch beforehand, and I was stunned when Cheech made the meal his treat. He also refused to let me pay him for the ticket. “Yesterday was your birthday, right?”

“Yeah…”

“Okay. Happy birthday.”

More stunned blinking. 

The game was an instant classic. The Patriots had what seemed like a comfortable lead going into the fourth quarter, but as we soon found out, a comfortable lead when Peyton Manning is the opposing quarterback turns out to not be all that comfortable. The Pats held off the Colts, 38-34, thanks to a huge defensive stop on the goal line, directly below where we were sitting. I couldn’t have pictured a more perfect way to see my first Patriots game.

On the way home, Eric’s incredibly subtle girlfriend, Bethany, turned around in her seat and asked me what I was looking for in a guy. I was a little stunned at the question; while I did have three Big Huge Important Non-Negotiables for my future husband, I didn’t feel like sharing them with virtual strangers. Bethany seemed to need an answer, though, so I picked three random things I wouldn’t mind having in an eventual mate, but were definitely not dealbreakers.

“Well, I dunno…somebody who’ll bring me flowers, someone who can give a good back rub, and maybe somebody who speaks a foreign language or has an accent or something.”

Cheech grinned, shrugged, and said, “Well, I’m three for three.”

I remember sitting in the back seat thinking, No way. It cannot be this easy. I’ve been looking for The One for several years now, and there is no way he is sitting in the back seat next to me right now. No way.

But he was. And THREE FOR THREE is engraved on the inside of his wedding ring. 

As an interesting aside, since Cheech and I got together, the Patriots have won four Super Bowls, and the Red Sox broke an 86-year title drought in 2004, the first World Series for which Cheech and I were a couple. For good measure, they added additional titles in 2007 and 2013.

I’m not necessarily saying that our couple-ness was the missing piece of the puzzle for two longsuffering franchises.

But it definitely doesn't hurt.

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

Nearly four years ago, my husband got a phone call from his younger brother, who was thrilled to announce he was getting married. Now, of course, weddings are a big deal to most families, but to my husband’s family, they are Very Big Deals. As in, far-flung friends and relatives from Taiwan, people I had never met, people my husband had never even met, came to the middle of Illinois in August 2005 for our wedding. Weddings and funerals are the two occasions for which his family reliably gathers. So of course we would come. So where's the wedding, my husband asked.

The answer? New York City.

Now, NYC is probably not intimidating to normal people. But to someone from Kansas, a decided introvert who grew up vacationing in places like Bean Blossom, Indiana, NYC is very intimidating. Especially since our children were, at the time, five, three, and fifteen months.

I looked at my husband with abject terror. You expect me to FLY. With THREE KIDS. To NEW YORK CITY.

He gave me one of those married-person answers, an equivocal do whatever you think is best, dear that of course does not mean that. And after I got over the shock, I realized I really did want to be there for this Important Family Moment. This huge bunch of warm, affectionate people is my family now, too. Our kids are their niece, their nephews, their grandkids.

So we went. The trip was not without its difficulties, of course, but name me one thing involving a five-year-old, a three-year-old, and a fifteen-month-old that is. All things considered, the children were amazing, our experience was unforgettable, and I deepened our bond with my husband’s wonderful parents, his two awesome brothers, and my incredibly sweet sisters-in-law. We visited iconic places like Times Square, Carnegie Hall, and Central Park. We got to eat Peking Duck in Chinatown and real NYC bagels and pizza slices bigger than our heads. We made memories to last a lifetime. 

And I almost missed out on all that because I was afraid.

Flying back to Kansas, feeling like I’d conquered the world, I made a resolution: if the only thing keeping me from doing A Thing is fear, I will bite the bullet and do that Thing anyway.

That resolution has had some pretty far-reaching impacts. Here are three things I’ve done since that trip to New York that I might not have done if I hadn’t decided not to let fear call the shots.

Thing The First: I became a runner.

This seems like a weird thing to be afraid of, but I was, for the longest time. I was one of the least athletic children who ever lived, in part because of my asthma and in part because I preferred being inside with a good book to being outside running around. When we had to run a mile in gym class, I walked at least half of it and always came in toward the back of the pack.

With this checkered history, it may come as a surprise to you—it does to me—that I tried running several different times in college and beyond. I’d always go full-bore, get hurt or burnt out, and quit a couple weeks later. It was a victory to run more than half a mile or so without taking a break to walk. For several years afterward, I was an avowed Non-Runner, probably out of fear that I’d just quit again.

But after New York, I decided to give it one last try. I downloaded a 5K training app onto my phone and promised I would complete the program, sign up for a 5K race, and finish it. After that, if I still hated running, I would know that I’d given it a real, honest-to-goodness shot, declare myself a non-runner, and be done with it once and for all.

I didn’t plan on falling in love with it, but I did. Running is my me time, my get away from the kids and actually have a complete thought time, my brain chemistry is out of whack and I need some endorphins so I can think clearly time. I am quite slow, I will never win a race, I will never plaster my car with marathon stickers, or even half-marathon stickers...and I don’t care. I get out of running what I need to get out of it, and I would never have done it if I’d kept on being afraid of failing.

Thing the Second: I sent my children to public school.

Before I begin, a bit of disclaimer: I have nothing against homeschooling. I think it’s great, and for many kids and parents, it’s clearly the best choice and everyone thrives. If that’s you, if that’s what God has called you to do, then hallelujah! I wholeheartedly support your decision, and wish you nothing but the best.

Homeschooling was my plan in the spring of 2014, when Yakko, my oldest, was getting ready to start kindergarten. However, after a lot of prayer and soul-searching and never really having peace about the idea, I realized my main motivation for homeschooling would not be because God called me to do that, but because I was afraid. Afraid of bullying and school shootings. Afraid of teachers not challenging him or not respecting his needs. Afraid of him not making friends or learning things that run contrary to our beliefs and a whole host of other things.

But God made it very, very clear, in a variety of ways, that I was to send Yakko to our local public schools, and guess what? My son is thriving. He has had amazing teachers and made wonderful friends and gotten some experiences and opportunities that I would never have been able to provide him at home. Is it perfect? No, of course not. Are there things I don't like about our public schools? Of course there are. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we are right were God wants us.

I’m still afraid of bullying and school violence and whatnot, but I’m putting my fears in the hands of a God who controls it all, and I pray for Yakko and Wakko far more than I probably would if I were teaching them myself. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds as I see how God meets their needs, both large and small, in our local schools. If God calls us to homeschool at any point, of course we will, but for now, it is working, and working well.

Thing the Third: I started pursuing publication.

I’ve written for fun for a long time, but I was terrified of letting anyone see it, let alone a Real Writer or Agent or Editor. My critique partner, herself an award-winning, multi-published historical romance author, has known me since age eleven, when we were middle school besties. Anyone who has known me since the days of orthodontic appliances, Mariah Carey, Doc Martens, brick-wall bangs, and chokers when they were popular the first time has already seen me at my very worst and most outstandingly awkward, so showing her a story I had written would be cake, right?

Wrong. It took me months to get up the guts to show her my work, and I was utterly terrified of her response. But she told me I had promise, showed me all the beginning-writer craft mistakes I was making, and proceeded to take me under her wing.

Post-New York, I grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns and started writing novels. I wrote a couple that were okay, but when I finished my third one, my critique partner said, “Y’know, you really should start thinking about entering some contests.”

Contests. Contests? Like, where people I don’t know, who don’t unconditionally love me will read my work?? No. I can’t do that. That’s far too terrifying.

And yet, because I had stopped letting fear drive the car, I sucked it up, paid the fee, and entered my first contest last October. I had no expectations other than getting some helpful feedback from people who didn’t know me and who hadn’t been my BFF since middle school.

I got far more than feedback from that contest. I won it. And that encouragement plunged me headfirst into this crazy writing world and into a pursuit of publication.

A few months ago, I went to a meet-and-greet with three area authors at a local bookstore. While standing there in the shelves, hiding from them until I was sure I could speak Coherent English and not Squeeing Fangirl, I found myself face-to-face with a sign that read, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” How like God is that, to send me a literal sign when I needed it most, a sign that summed up a conclusion I’d reached nearly three years before?

I bought that sign that day, and it serves as a gentle reminder that God gives us not a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power and love (2 Timothy 1:7).  I am dependent every day on Him to give me the courage to do what He’s called me to do.

Your turn: What have you been afraid to do, yet have done anyway? What are you not doing solely because you’re afraid?

 Me at Lincoln Center, thrilled to have survived the trip!

Me at Lincoln Center, thrilled to have survived the trip!