December 19, 2010

Not Your Ordinary Amish Novel . . .

While I am not Amish fiction’s #1 fan, I have read a few Amish titles which I’ve liked, and most particularly, Levi’s Will by Dale Cramer. I’ve waited a long time to get my hands on a new book by Cramer, and I was not disappointed. The saga of the Daughters of Caleb Bender begins with Paradise Valley, a fascinating introduction to the Bender family in the early 1900s. Knowing that Paradise Valley is based on actual events with added details from the author’s own family history made this story especially interesting to me. This book is a heart-tugging look at the life of one Amish family, their faith and unwavering devotion to family, hard work and God. I was drawn into this story and left wanting more.

Caleb Bender is a man of faith, steadfast in his beliefs until the law forces him to make a choice that means uprooting his family and beginning again in a strange new land. Though he is undaunted by a world that challenges his beliefs, he finds himself questioning those beliefs when the lives of his loved ones are on the line and he is forced to choose between love and unwavering obedience.

Caleb’s daughters each possess strengths, hopes, and fears; all of which are realized as they face many dangers and possibilities that come with starting over in a new place far from familiar friends. Cramer weaves the sisters’ stories together in a way that tugs at your heart. In this story, we are introduced to Rachel, Miriam, Emma and others whose disrupted lives will never be the same. Rachel’s story is one of coming of age, but more importantly, of coming into her own. These are strong, well drawn characters who feel like family. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and loved learning about Amish culture. I can’t wait for the second story in the Daughter’s of Caleb Bender saga.

September 24, 2010

Serving Him in Word and Deed: American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference, 2010

On My First ACFW Conference

After being a member of ACFW for 3 ½ years, I finally attended my first ACFW annual conference. What an amazing, intense five days of learning, panic, laughter, and hanging with rarely seen friends. And what a crowd! More than 620 people which—especially at mealtimes—pushed my crowd-o-meter a hair past the Zanex-zone a couple times.

Attending this conference came as a gift from the ACFW Scholarship Committee, to whom I am deeply grateful. I went with the hope of learning some things that would strengthen me as a writer, of gaining new skills and improving on the skills I’ve worked to acquire. I also hoped to connect with writers who have mentored me and who have inspired, entertained or befriended me via email, blogs or their books. There are so many!

I got the connecting with writers thing down about 47 seconds after arriving at the hotel, to the dismay of a couple respected writers. I realize now that letting my enthusiasm bust out all over the first two writers I saw was a mistake. While waiting at the elevator, I saw one of my favorite authors whose books nearly kill me with her wit and style, and another writer with whom I’ve corresponded with for years but have never met. Like a true groupie, I screamed their names as I ran over and attacked them with a hug. Naturally. This is what you do when your dream of meeting people you’ve grown to appreciate becomes a reality. At least, in MY dream. Judging from the freaked out looks on both ladies’ faces, I’m guessing the dream for them was more of a nightmare. I think I even said something about being her biggest fan. This would be short for FANATIC, also known as a person to be avoided regardless the cost to handbag, life and limb. Sorry, girls. I really am. If it makes you feel better, I do learn quickly. At their less than enthusiastic response to my joyful greeting, I reminded myself I would be here for several days and that as a passably intelligent woman, I could pace myself and not frighten anyone further. The fact that both ladies were unable to make eye-contact with me for the remainder of the conference reinforced my first lesson:

1. DON’T attack people you admire upon first encounter, no matter how normal and sincere you truly believe yourself to be. Any hope of reciprocating love WILL be aborted.

Another great lesson I learned from this conference was that although you MUST prepare yourself, your pitch, and your plan as perfectly as possible (& always be alliterative), God has a pretty good plan for you and has a few thoughts of his own on how to best steer your life and career. This is by no means an excuse to hide in your hotel room and wait for your career to come knocking like room service. Which is ridiculously expensive, by the way. Do your homework on the conference and the industry reps attending. Make a plan and follow through, but remember: God is in control and truly knows best. Seek moments of quiet to recognize his leading. Remember that those Spirit-nudges may move you to sit somewhere or speak to someone or (GASP) hug someone you might not have planned on. (Yes. I now know that some hugs should be carefully considered for value vs. risk.)

One of the truly high points of my conference experience came by a ‘chance’ meeting at one of the lunch tables. By Sunday, I had met with editors and spoken to everyone I’d hoped to meet. At lunch, a couple of my friends still wanted to sit at a particular editor or agent’s table. This is in a room of about 100 tables with 620 people ALL trying to sit with someone particular, at tables with teeny name signs you had to be within 4 feet of to be able to read. With about 36 seconds to find it. Since I didn’t need to find a particular table, I took half of the room while my friends took the other half and we scoured the tables until we found the ones they wanted. By then, most of the tables were full. I looked around for a spare seat for myself, anywhere. Right beside me was a table with one seat left. It was the table hosted by an editor I have met and who has spent some time looking at my book for a contest I entered last year. I had hoped to at least say hello to this editor but had not seen her yet, even after 4 days. When she joined us and saw me at her table, she said she was hoping to see me here too, and after lunch, she pulled me aside for a great little chat before she had to run to her appointments. I so enjoyed the time at her table amongst a group of writers to whom she showed genuine interest, and was so blessed by our conversation afterward, that this unexpected meeting made my day. Made my conference, actually.

Another one of the many highlights for me was finally meeting my agent in person. Even if only for a few short moments, I think that kind of face time adds an extra touch of personal connection in a good working relationship. And lemme get one thing straight: I did hug her, but she made the first move. She even gave me chocolate. Dark chocolate.

A special treat for me was taking part in the conference choir. I am still amazed that our choir director, Rachael Phillips, was able to take people with varying abilities from all corners of the nation, pull us together with only a couple of practices, and direct a song that moved and inspired us all. This was a rare and beautiful treat! I praise the Lord for orchestrating something far greater than the sum of our numbers—a sweet collective of the gifts he gave us—and gathering our voices in a way that left us unable to do anything but stand in awe of him.

On How ACFW compares to other Christian writing conferences:
I’ve twice attended another large scale Christian writing conference that encompasses all forms of writing, not just fiction. I loved it! But while I am interested in many types of writing, my primary focus as a writer is Christian fiction. ACFW offers what no other conference does: a smorgasbord of instruction for writers at every level, and a rare opportunity to meet and learn from fellow Christian writers, editors and experts who know the fiction industry. ACFW conferences offer more tools unique to a developing career in Christian fiction than any other conference can, and definitely more than a writer could ever acquire on their own.

I came to this conference with a standing set of personal goals: to become a skillful wordsmith and storyteller, to grow as a communicator, artist and professional, and most of all, to remain true to the specific calling the Lord has placed on me. I was not disappointed. The choices of classes and workshops offered provided a variety of valuable resources for writers at every level, published and not, seasoned and new. I gleaned from every class, even on topics I’ve studied before.

I may never fully recognize the all the benefits I received from attending this conference. And that’s okay. I’ve been given so many opportunities to learn and grow as a writer that I no longer doubt God’s call on me to write or question his lead. He keeps flinging open doors before me, pushing me ahead, making the way clear. Why? And what does he want to say through me? I pray for the courage to dig down deep and let the words flow. I pray that I will hear his voice and sense his nudges, that I will understand what pains and truths, what victories and failures, what fears and joys and longings dwell in my heart that he can use to display his amazing grace. After all . . . 'tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.

Q: Have you ever attended an ACFW Conference? What did you take away from it?

September 10, 2010

Book Two and Why NOT Blog Monthly?

Woo hoo - last post was a month ago, looks like I'm on a roll. Watch out now.

I've got a few things going on, and being the patient, gracious enabler that you are, you'll forgive me for not writing sooner. We dropped our youngest off at college out of state a few weeks ago, and I've been scrambling ever since to get ready to attend the American Christian Fiction Writer's annual conference in Indianapolis. My first ACFW conference, and yeah, I'm excited. And I'm also shedding hair and bleeding internally trying to get ready. There is so much to do. You have to shave, print out snappy looking one-sheets, get banquet heels (eeeek), research the publishing houses attending (again), load your suitcase with chocolate for bribing editors, decide on an Editor Appointment Outfit that says "Look, I'm professional, but I don't take myself too seriously," and is stylish enough to say "Um, yeah, I can be Hip when I need to be," yet is bohemian enough to say "And yet ever the Artist." Piece o cake.

And then there's practicing your Pitch. That's code for Selling Your Baby to Nice But Scary People In Suits. I happen to know that some writers go through the motions of practicing their pitch, yet all the while a little voice inside screams YOU'VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME I JUST WANT TO WRITE ALL DAY IN MY PJS AND NOT WORRY ABOUT HAIRY LEGS. Okay, guys, those days are over. If you want some help honing that pitch, check out Susie May Warren's My Book Therapy. There's help.

I decided I should practice my pitch like a cold call. I could go out and strike up a conversation with total strangers and then tell them about my story. See what piques their interest (alarm), where the pitch is clear or not, see if I can be succinct enough to get it out before they blink or duck over to the Tom Clancy aisle. Maybe I could see what kind of interest there would be from a buying audience. I'm sure it's legal. The Public Library in my small town would be a good place to start, don't you think? If I do that, maybe I'll get someone to video it, and maybe add classical music and some cool FX and stick it on YouTube. Or not.

In other news...

With Book One* looking for a publishing home (*Like There's No Tomorrow - a contemporary occasionally humorous love story about a youth counselor and her hunky Scottish pen-pal who fall in love even though her dark secret may destroy him), I've resumed work on my second novel, temporarily titled My Father's House. It's about a tough social worker turned surrogate mom to a messed up bunch of outcast teens who fights to save the group home she's worked so hard to build. Her only hope lies with the last person she'd want help from: A beefy handyman with a guitar, a questionable past and a God he keeps calling Father.


If that sounds interesting and you're hoping to get a little sample of how the book begins, you are so in luck. Read on.

* * * * * *

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
Psalm 68:5-6


The Escalade’s brake lights didn’t even blink.

As the SUV disappeared from sight, Sue Quinn stuffed shaking fists into the pockets of her jeans and bit back a string of words that could have torched every clump of sagebrush in the entire Oregon outback. Drawing a calming breath, she turned her attention to the dark-skinned girl rooted to the bottom step. Sue had no idea what was going through the kid’s mind, but one thing she did know: Juniper Ranch’s newest resident didn’t need to hear what Sue thought of the occupants of the retreating vehicle, the couple who had so proudly signed on as parents and eight months later changed their minds. Like the way people change their minds about a box of cereal in their grocery cart at checkout. Oh, sorry, they’d say to the checker, I guess I don’t want this. Could you put it back?

Sue exhaled and looked the girl over. Cambodian, maybe Vietnamese, about eleven or twelve. She would have to rely on her best guess since the girl’s intake paperwork was probably a maze of lies and inconsistencies.

“Hey, Jasmine, you hungry? Need to use the bathroom?”

The girl stared at the long, empty driveway leading away from Juniper Ranch. The ribbon of dust stirred by the departing Escalade continued to rise and spread slowly, drifting in the noonday sun, bound to settle, eventually, in another place. A matching pair of Barbie-pink suitcases flanked Jasmine’s feet on either side like bookends, gem-shaped price tags still attached. A couple of bags that held everything. And nothing. Much like the beat-up green Samsonite that had once accompanied Sue to more foster homes than she could count.

Sue forced a smile. “All right. Let’s get your stuff inside. We’ll get you all set up in your new room.”

Jasmine turned then, eyes almost level with Sue’s. No shocker there. At five foot two, Sue was long accustomed to meeting pre-teens eye to eye. She studied the lanky girl’s face. Nothing remarkable, a face some would call plain. Wide nose, small eyes. But no abnormalities, no cleft palate, no physical handicap that Sue could perceive. None of the deformities that usually gave Mr. and Mrs. Disenchanted an excuse to terminate an adoption, which further fueled Sue’s suspicions. Once she had a chance to go through Jasmine’s paperwork, she would no doubt find the photo sent by the orphanage to the parents. A photo of a much younger, lighter-skinned, prettier child. The photo they showed off to family, the one that invoked the admiration of friends because they were doing such a charitable thing, bringing an underprivileged child to the US for a better life.

“I no need room.” A frown creased the girl’s brow. “I no . . . I not staying here.”

Sue nodded. How many times had she heard that one? “Well, we can discuss that. Just not here on the front porch. Okay?” She let the question rest on a raised brow.

Jasmine’s frown deepened. Then thick tears pooled, turning her dark eyes glittery.

Oh, little friend, don’t . . . A quiet ache squeezed Sue’s heart. She bent and reached for one of the suitcases. It wasn’t the first time Sue had stood here, a silent witness to the aftermath of a failed adoption. But no matter how many times she’d done it, she couldn’t get used to watching a young heart break on the weathered steps of her front porch.

Sue hoisted the bag and motioned toward the house with a toss of her head. “C’mon in. This way.” She opened the door wide, went inside and kept going. If she hesitated or looked back, it wouldn’t work. Holding her breath, she headed up the staircase, straining to hear. Fourth step. Sixth. Ninth.

The sooner you stop needing them, the sooner you’ll be strong enough to stand on your own.

As the temptation to look back reached a cresting point, she heard light, shuffling footsteps and the soft click of the front door. Sue let out her breath, turned, and gave the rigid girl with the pink suitcase a half-smile.

“C’mon, slowpoke. Follow me.”

* * *

August 12, 2010

What Do You Mean My Hero Isn't Sexy Enough?

WordServe Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner hosted me on her blog today. The topic: the Dreaded Revision Letter & the 5 stages of grief. A humorous look at a SO not funny topic.

Check out What Do You Mean My Hero Isn't Sexy Enough? Surviving the Editorial Letter here.

And thanks for stopping by. I'll be back!

June 20, 2010

CHASING LILACS by Carla Stewart


That June, right after I finished sixth grade, Norm MacLemore's nephew came to Texas for a visit. Benny Ray Johnson brought home a new Edsel. And Mama tried to take her life for the first time.

This is the beginning of CHASING LILACS, a debut novel by CARLA STEWART. I just finished this last night, I'd read it in a day - couldn't put it down. This is just a powerfully well-written story - it pulled me in immediately. Who doesn't remember being twelve and experiencing the joys and sorrows of that time of life when you felt caught between being a kid and becoming an adult?

The story is set in 1958 Texas. It's not a time or place I've been, but the story paints a sweet picture of simple times past and is full of things I remember as a kid growing up. Carla does an amazing job of keeping the suspense and questions and anticipation mounting. Sweet and poignant with touches of humor. The prose is rhythmic and slightly literary with a lot of truth and wisdom. I loved this story!

Carla tackles a number of issues with grace and dignity, like mental illness and puberty. Though the story is told through the eyes of Sammie, a twelve year old girl, it doesn't feel juvenile at all. Sammie's view of her world is mature and yet realistic for a girl her age and I was drawn immediately to her. As she struggled with the need for answers and reassurance and just to have her normal mama back, Sammie had to come to grips with her needs, who she was, and eventually, when to take a stand for herself. I bonded with the character immediately. These aren't just a kid's struggles, but everyone's. Sammie is truly a hero in every sense. I know she inspired me in ways I never expected.

This story is very beautifully written. With a slightly literary feel and full of nostalgia, CL begins in a quiet sort of introspection and then unfolds smoothly, yet it constantly numbs you with anticipation.

I can't wait for Carla's second book, releasing next year. Keep your eyes open for it! For more information about Carla and her books, visit Carla's Writing Cafe.



I've published three novels and a novella (more about those on my website.) I've been writing all my life, but decided in 2007 to get serious about being published.

I love action movies and Jane Austen. (she’s dead, I know. I found that out when I tried to get her to endorse my novel)

They let me play Bass guitar and sing in a worship band.

I can produce 4 dozen homemade cinnamon rolls in a flash for a crowd of drooling young adults. Or publishing house editors.

I used to have a Harley. Now we have twenty-something kids. Decent trade, really. The window-rattling grumble isn't quite the same, but we are still enjoying the ride.

I am a proud Grammy. Don't even think about taking candy from my babies.

I hate shopping (Yes, I'm aware that I'm a girl)

I've lived in Oregon all my life, spent time in Eugene (Go DUCKS!), Springfield, Reedsport, and Smith River. Which is not really a town, but a river, about 70 miles long, a tributary of the Umpqua River in southwest Oregon.

Although it's not a town, it is a community with a strong sense of pioneer history. It's cool to say you've lived there, especially if you lived there during the days when you had to take a boat to school. No joke! The old farmhouse my grandfather and my mother grew up in still stands, nestled into a narrow, pasture carpeted valley, complete with a swimmin' hole and its own 'crick'. It may turn up in one of my novels.

There's a rumor that my ancestors had a connection with the Mafia back in Sicily. I used to fantasize as a kid about a big black limo with tinted windows pulling up and whisking me away from school. Ahhh. So THAT'S why I'm having so much trouble conjugating my dangling participles now.

NOT RANDOM: I am challenged by the truth and amazed by the grace of God. And it's either in spite of or because of that grace that I hold a PhD in Learning Stuff the Hard Way.