Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

I know I sound like my parents, but good grief is time flying! Y2K seems like just a few years ago, and here we are a decade later, still alive and living outside of bomb shelters. I was told once that as soon as we hit 21 time starts to go so quickly we can't keep up, and I've found it to be eerily true.

So what's ahead for 2010? I have absolutely no idea! But one thing I've learned in the past couple of years in particular is that I don't have to know. And I don't have to worry. Because my life, present and future, is in the Lord's hands, and those hands are more capable than any I'll ever know.

I'm quite sure it won't be a year of all sunshine and roses. I'm sure there will be plenty of bumps along the way. But as long as I know He's there with me, leading me by the hand and providing me with the strength and grace I need to travel down the path He's chosen for me, I'm good.

So as we enter this new year, step into it with faith. If you know Jesus Christ as your Savior you have the assurance of His perfect guidance, and no matter what comes your way, He will work it all out to the good of those who love Him.

And if you don't know Him, there's no better time than the fresh start of a new year to consider it. And there's no better way to spend a year than getting acquainted with the One who knows you better than you know yourself.

Wishing all of you a wonderful, blessed new year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Christmas Eve...

...the perfect time to take a break from the busyness of life and remember what this day signifies. Tonight we celebrate the evening just before the world changed forever. All those years ago, the sun set on a world that hung on the hope of the coming Messiah, but when the sun rose that hope had changed into reality. He was here!

Tonight I'm celebrating the reality of Christ's birth, that He humbled Himself to become human and walk in our footsteps. I'm celebrating the love and mercy that brought Him here.

And I'm celebrating the gift that He offers all of us if we'll only believe - salvation from our sin. That most astounding and beautiful of all gifts is available for everyone this Christmas and always. Just open it up!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Release

Don't forget to check out Thicker Than Blood by CJ Darlington, the latest winner of the Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest! It's sure to be a good one!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

She Reads Interview

Hop on over to to read my interview with them! Fireflies in December is one of their Winter picks, so stop by and take a peek!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Book Signing

I have a book signing this Saturday, December 12! I'll be at Books-A-Million at 8093 West Broad St. in Richmond, VA from noon to 2pm. Come by and see me!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Today, I'm thankful for many things. I'm thankful for my God who loved me so much He sacrificed His son for me. I'm thankful for Jesus Christ who left paradise to come and walk this earth in order to give up His life for mine and provide me a release from the power of sin and death. I'm thankful that through the Word of God and the guidance of His Holy Spirit, I am never alone. And I'm thankful that God loved this world so much He made these wonders available to all who are willing to kneel before Him. "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord', and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved" (Romans 10:9,10).

I'm thankful for family, friends, and blessings galore.

And today, I'm thankful for all of you who take the time to read my books, to write letters of encouragement and make my job so fulfilling.

Wishing all of you a wonderful, worshipful thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

2009 Operation First Novel Finalists Announced!

The Christian Writers Guild has chosen it's four finalists for their annual Operation First Novel Contest, something very close to my heart as winner of their 2007 installment for Fireflies in December.

The finalists are:

Jon Wakefield for Fatal Reality
Mark Sylvester for Coming Up Short
Deb Harper for Misstep
Sara Richardson for New Every Morning

Congratulations to each one! They have put in a ton of time and effort to be where they are, and I wish them all the best with their writing careers.

Reputable contests such as this one are fantastic ways for writers to get inside that narrow crack in the publishing door. Have a work-in-progress you're toying with? Maybe next years' First Novel contest would be a great goal for you.

Who knows? You could be listed here in 2010!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Anvils, Coyotes and Editors... Oh My!

Remember Wile E. Coyote and his never-ending ACME-equipped attacks against the poor (yet rather pompous) roadrunner? Why, you might ask, would anyone who had once been tagged by an anvil dropped from a cliff decide it wise to try and rig up said anvil again? One would think he'd have caught on eventually, given up his quest to destroy the roadrunner and retired to a nice oasis-side villa somewhere. And anyway, seeing as how he always managed to come out of each accident alive, albeit shaped like an accordion, you'd think he would have realized that none of his tricks would ever truly take the roadrunner out of commission. Why keep trying even when he had to figure he was in for a world of hurt?

The answer? Because he was compelled to. It was his mission in his animated life.

Just like writing is for some of us. It's something we feel we're meant to do. And so, even when one more anvil (read: rejection letter) compacts us into a cube, we know deep down that after a day or two of overeating and a box or two of tissues, we'll be right back at it. We'll dig our heels in, rewrite and edit, research some ideas, and get that proposal back out to another editor.

And wait for the anvil.

But the hope that keeps us going is that sometime, someday, we've got to get by without being clobbered. One day someone will notice the merit in our work and decide to take a chance on us. We just keep on plugging away, day after day, proposal after proposal, query letter after query letter.

Because we have hope.

If you're out there knowing this is what you're called to do, and you just don't think you can take the pain of it anymore, remember that you're not alone. We've all been there. And, above all, remember that anything the Lord calls you to do, He will equip you for. He never sends us on a journey without a constant supply of all we need to accomplish it.

So, next time you see that rejection letter in the stack of mail, remember that.

And remember to wear your hard hat.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

'Tis the Season

Maybe it's the nauseating amount of toy commercials or the ornamented trees that are popping up in departments stores. Or maybe it's the sale ads and catalogs that are crowding my mailbox. I don't know.

But something tells me Christmas is right around the corner.

I used to love Christmas... back when it was simple and exciting, and the only things I had to think about were which cookies to lay out for Santa and whether or not that blinking red light in the sky was a plane or Rudolph's nose.

But now, in my adulthood, Christmas is a month-and-a-half-long marathon of Christmas shopping, decorating, list-checking, and baking. It's long lines, spilled flour, traffic jams, budget shortfalls, and run-ins with shoppers who have NOT been filled with Christmas cheer.

It's such a hectic, stressful season that by the end of it I sometimes find myself bah-humbuggin' it right along with Ebenezer Scrooge, figuring I'll be happy if I never, ever see another Christmas ornament, taste another Christmas cookie or hear another version of The Little Drummer Boy for as long as I live.

Such a shame!

This is, in its very essence, a beautiful season. It's a time for celebrating the birth of the Savior; for being thankful that the Son of God deigned to leave paradise to become human, to walk in our footsteps, to be persecuted.

To die for our sin.

So this year, amidst the chaos of early-bird sales, burnt-out Christmas tree lights and and angry drivers with wreaths on their trailer hitches I'm determined to see things from a different perspective. Sure, I'll shop and bake and wrap, but this time around I won't make it a priority. My priority for this year is Christ, the only reason we celebrate this time of year in the first place.

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Luke 2:10-14

Nothing under the Christmas tree could ever compare to that!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Signing Saturday!

I'll be signing books at Lifeway Christian store on West Broad St. in Richmond, VA this Saturday, November 7, from noon to 3pm. Stop by and see me!!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Fireflies in December Free Preview!

For the month of November, Amazon and Sony will offer Fireflies in December as a free preview. Check it out!

She Reads Book Club Pick

Today marks the official announcement by Proverbs 31 Ministries that they have chosen my debut novel, Fireflies in December, as one of the Winter picks for their fiction book club, She Reads. This club is a great way to support Christian fiction, and I hope you'll check it out! Click here to find out more. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Counting Blessings...And Making It Count

Yes, I know, it's been ages since I've posted! But I was on vacation, and I made a strict rule for myself this year that I wouldn't do a thing for those two weeks but relax and rejuvenate. The beach is an incredible place to do that!

But I'm back to reality... and back to the blog.

Something that struck me while I was away is how cliche the phrase "Count your blessings" has become. It tends to be something someone says just after you've complained about a frustration, right? For instance, you tell a co-worker that your boss is driving you crazy, and she clucks her tongue and replies, "Well, count your blessings."

It's then that you realize your mind isn't counting your blessings, but rather counting the ways you might be able to "accidentally" spill your coffee over said co-worker's blouse.

When good phrases are used improperly, they get all mashed up in the cliche mill and lose all real meaning. But this one should be pulled out and recycled. It's not a term to be used to chastise someone who is just letting off some steam or to avoid having to listen to someone's problems. It's a phrase that we should consider in our own minds with complete sincerity, because if we don't take the time to notice our blessings we'll never know they even exist.

God tells us clearly in His Word that He wants to bless us, and yet we very often don't feel blessed. Mostly, we feel overwhelmed, overworked, and taken for granted. We don't notice all the little blessings the Lord showers down on us each day. But when we do notice them, we see that they're not so little after all because those blessings show how much we are loved, how much we are cared for, and how little all the other stuff that occupies our mind really matters.

So while I was at the beach these last two weeks, I made a point of going over my blessings at the end of the day. Beautiful weather, good books to read, spotting dolphins, a lightning storm over the ocean, the best fudge I've ever tasted, finding just the right souvenir for someone, laughing, great memories, good restaurants - anything that blessed me in any way, I made note of.

In the grand scheme of things, I deserve nothing. I really haven't done anything for Him but make it necessary that He sacrifice everything to pay the penalty of my sin, and yet He just keeps giving and giving.

And I keep missing it.

So I'm determined to train my mind to see; to stop letting the world and its weight pull my eyes away from what's happening around me everyday. I'm determined to recycle that much-used phrase and make it worthwhile again. I challenge you to do the same.

I just counted about a dozen blessings already today and I've only been up for three hours. Who knows what the rest of the day will bring?!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Books and Cheesecake

Ever look at your work-in-progress and think, "This is all wrong! I need to scrap it and start over"? Been there. In fact, my latest, Catching Moondrops, has made me think that once or twice.

This weekend has been all about writing, trying to firm up the timeline for Catching Moondrops. It's been a crazy ride so far with this book. There are so many things to sew up for the series, and yet I still need to have a strong stand-alone plot. Trying to get things lined up in the right order at the right tempo has been tough!

I've gotten worked up, binged on chocolate, stared at the blinking cursor until my eyes cross - but I've always known deep down it would work out. Each time I rearrange, cut or add to the story I know I'm getting closer to the right formula.

So if you're struggling, take some time to think it over, pray it over. Maybe you do need to scrap it, but the likelihood is... you don't. Maybe all you need is a break, a little change in perspective, another set of eyes, a slice of cheesecake. Whatever. Just take a couple steps back and breathe. Then tinker with it a bit, whether in your head or on the page, and see if the pieces start to fall into the right places. I'll bet they do. And then, I'll bet you find yourself pounding away at the keyboard before you know it.

But if you do, pass that cheesecake over here.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

CWG Contest Deadline!

All right, unpublished authors, it's time to head toward the finish line with that work in progress!

October 1st marks the deadline for the Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest, and you won't want to miss it! I speak from personal experience... it's a HUGE opportunity. As I'm sure you're well aware, there's a very small crack in that publishing door these days, and slipping your foot in there can be excruciatingly difficult. Operation First Novel gives you the chance to have your novel considered for publication by Tyndale House publishers. It's how I got my shot, and it may be how you get yours, too.

So what are you waiting for? Get that book out by October 1st... and let me know how it goes!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

ACFW Conference

If you're a writer looking for a way to learn about the industry, make contacts or polish your craft, writer's conferences are a great place to do all three... and more! The American Christian Fiction Writer's conference is coming up lickety-split (as Jessilyn would say)! Learn more below.

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 15:58 (KJV)
SEPTEMBER 17 - 20, 2009

Bestselling authors, publishing industry representatives, and newcomers to Christian fiction writing will gather in Denver at the American Christian Fiction Writer’s annual conference September 17-20 to compare notes, learn from each other, and encourage one another in the pursuit of publishing goals.
This year’s conference theme , Standing Firm…Moving Forward, will especially inspire the full range of talent and dreams in the ever-changing publishing world today.
This amazing conference will feature representatives from major publishing houses like B & H, Guideposts, Zondervan, Harvest House, Barbour, Steeple Hill, Summerside Press, Bethany House, Waterbrook Multnomah, Marcher Lord Press, Tyndale House, and Thomas Nelson, and top literary agents who will meet with writers and identify promising proposals from both new and veteran novelists. Conferees will have access to publishing panels, professional critiques, and customized workshops based on skills and interests.
The keynote speaker is New York Times bestselling author, Debbie Macomber, who has more than 100 million copies of her books in print worldwide.
Learn more about the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference by visiting Click on the left sidebar on Annual Conference.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cottonwood Whispers Release

Cottonwood Whispers is officially available so grab your copy today!

Here's what people are saying -

Romantic Times 4-star review:
Strong character development strengthens the storyline and leaves the reader anticipating more novels, hopefully a sequel. Valent is a gifted author with a promising future...
In the four years since the events of Fireflies in December, Jessilyn Lassiter has grown into a young woman of seventeen. She’s still the feisty, head-strong character we remember, but almost killing a man and facing an angry KKK mob has a way of forcing a girl to grow up fast.

Dallas Christian Fiction Examiner:
Cottonwood Whispers is the latest offering from Jennifer Erin Valent and the sequel to her first novel, Fireflies in December.It’s 1936 and Jessilyn Lassiter is seventeen years old. While the last four years since her family’s encounter with the Ku Klux Klan have been relatively peaceful, this summer brings changes that threaten to tear her world apart.

Lori's Book Reviews:
Jennifer Erin Valent, winner of the Christian Writers Guild’s 2007 Operation First novel award winner, does it again. Cottonwood Whispers, the sequel to Fireflies in December, continues the friendship between Jessilyn Lassiter and Gemma Teague. The summer of 1936 brings with it tragedy and heartache that threatens to tear their friendship apart.

Armchair Interviews:
Cottonwood Whispers, Jennifer Valent’s second book, is a sequel to Fireflies in December. While this book is a sequel, it easily stands alone, without having read the first book. Author Valent has a wonderful storytelling ability that shines through the pages of this book.

Baker Book House:
Cottonwood Whispers by Jennifer Erin Valent is the sequel to Fireflies in December. I am never sure about a sequel by a new author, with great delight I can tell you this is a good one.Our favorite nosy 13 year old is now turning 17 and getting ready for her last year of school. Jessilyn is facing many strange and different things.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Monkey Magic

Chimp Relaxing
I like monkeys.

I like new shoes and chocolate, too, but that's beside the point. The point is monkeys fascinate me. (And I'm well aware of the fact that I'm using the term "monkey" for animals that may not technically be referred to as such. Let me post my disclaimer here that by virtue of my lack of primate knowledge, I will hereby refer to all monkey-type individuals by said generic term.)

I'm sure up close they smell unpleasant and have things crawling on them that I'd rather not know about, but from my seat at the zoo yesterday, eating my Cheez-its, I was amazed by them. The way they swing around on their apparatus with such incredible ease is a feat that would undoubtedly leave me in traction for six months. Which makes me confident in saying that playground monkey bars are poorly named. There is no human being on this planet that can swing around like those babies.

And the noises they make! We seriously have no right telling kids, "A monkey says, 'Ooh, ooh, aah, aah'". They without doubt do not sound like that. What I heard yesterday was far more phenomenal, and I can assure you I have never heard pipes like that in my life. They could be heard all over the park, hollering back and forth like a primate version of the Jerry Springer Show.

Combined with an occasional cry from a myriad of other animals, I could close my eyes and picture myself in the jungle. There was a slight breeze, water lapping in the moat around the monkey island, and enough bird cries for me to envision Tarzan swinging past me on vines. If it hadn't been for the kids crunching their peanut butter crackers, I would have been sold.

So why do I tell you about my monkey-happy trip to an imaginary jungle? Because that's just what it takes sometimes to get a scene right. When I'm stumped, there's no better way for me to shake off the writer's block than to find myself a good setting and just listen. That way, I can picture myself somewhere other than at my desk in the same place I've worked from a zillion times before.

You should give it a try sometime. Writing about a busy city street? Sit outside a Starbucks in the city. Quiet countryside? Find a nice park. A stormy day? A little more difficult, but it can be done. Get yourself one of those noise machines or a CD of thunderstorms. (Yes, they have those!) Whatever works. But sound is so useful for stimulating an imagination. Just think about how hungry you can get when you hear someone opening a candy bar wrapper.

Or is that just me?

Anyway, the idea is that finding some inspiration in our daily lives can sometimes be difficult so every now and again we have to manufacture our own inspiration. If we're already using said imagination to manufacture a setting in a book, why not use it to manufacture the setting we need to get into the right mood in the first place?

In writing Catching Moondrops, I'm back in Southern Virginia with Jessilyn, right smack in the middle of a long hot summer, and I was recently stumped on a scene that had to take place at night. So I went outside at dusk, closed my eyes and - with the help of some accommodating cicadas, crickets and frogs - pictured that entire scene in my head from start to finish. Then once I had a handle on it, I went inside to my desk, left the light off and wrote the scene in the dark just to keep me in that mode.

And voila! Scene accomplished, just like that. It's amazing what a little of nature's night music can do to a writer's imagination. Makes sense, really, when we think about the fact that the Creator of the universe is also the Creator of creativity. And what a masterpiece of ingenuity this universe is. There's so much out there to spur us on!

Now if only I was writing about monkeys...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Picture Worth 80,000 Words

When I was young, there was a tree in our front yard that was fully encompassed by a Wisteria vine. The vine was huge, like a tree itself really, and formed a perfect seat up in the tree where I could sit and watch the purple petals fall around me. I loved it!

Which is why the cover of Cottonwood Whispers particularly hit home for me when I first saw it. I could have been that girl sitting under that tree with those cottony tufts floating around me, perfectly happy to sit there and enjoy it. But when I received my first copy of the finished product last week, the cover blew me away all over again.

When I write, I try to make it the best book I can, and it's a wonderful feeling to be confident that those I'm working with are doing the same thing on my behalf. So thanks to Dean Renninger for creating the perfect cover! And thanks to everyone at Tyndale (Stephanie Broene, Sarah Mason, Maggie Rowe and Babette Rea, just to name a few) who worked so hard to make Cottonwood Whispers the best it could be!

Cottonwood Whispers releases September 1st! Check it out online at,, etc. And watch for it in stores next month.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Novel To Look Forward To

Now available for preorder from - Thicker Than Blood
by CJ Darlington, the latest winner of the Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest.

Christy Williams finally has her life on track.
She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged, younger sister, May, who she abandoned in their childhood after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. May’s Triple Cross ranch could be the safe haven she’s searching for, but will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?

Here's what people are saying...

“C. J. Darlington is the kind of new novelist that makes us at the Christian Writers Guild proud. With careful attention to detail, emotion, and scene-setting, C.J. Darlington scores with her debut effort. Here is a special writer you won’t want to miss.”
Jerry B. Jenkins, New York Times best-selling author and owner of the Christian Writers Guild

“If you love a good read filled with adventure and ultimately redemption, I encourage you to brew the tea, settle into your favorite chair and pick up the page turner that is C.J. Darlington’s imaginative new novel of a modern day sisterhood that triumphs over separation and the raw challenges of life to find the real endurance of both family ties and God’s amazing grace.”
Rebecca St. James, Grammy Award-winning recording artist

Sounds like a great read, so pop on over and reserve your copy!

Monday, August 10, 2009

An engaging sequel

An engaging sequel

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Monday, August 3, 2009

A Couple Of Book Recommendations...

I recently had the week off which meant, aside from eating chocolate and taking naps, plenty of reading time on the front porch! And I was fortunate to have a couple good books on hand.

First, I finished up Things Left Unspoken by Eva Marie Everson. If you like a good Southern drama (and you know I do!), you'll enjoy this one. Set in the thick of the South, the novel follows Jo-Lynn Hunter back to her hometown of Cottonwood, Georgia for her uncle's funeral, where she snags a job remodeling the family home into a museum. But a crumbling marriage, family secrets, and violent attacks threaten to keep her from seeing the project through. It's an entertaining read with a great cast of characters and a lot of Southern charm.

Then I slipped on over to a crime drama, The Stones Cry Out by Sibella Giorello. If you're okay with the grittiness that comes with the genre, you should check this one out. FBI agent Raleigh Harmon is called in to conduct a civil rights investigation and is quickly drawn into a web of questionable politicians, angry citizens and witnesses who won't talk. But, knowing the sting of violent crime for herself, Raleigh is determined to discover the truth at all costs. Snappy writing and a quickly-paced plot make this one a lot of fun. And it's set in my hometown of Richmond, VA so it was particularly enjoyable for me to see the many landmarks I'm so familiar with!

So run out and grab some new books. Summer's almost over. Read 'em while you can!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trash Or Treasure?

One of the great things about being a writer are those days when I sit at the computer and write, write, write for hours without even thinking twice. It's like the words just flow out, and then when I look back I can't even remember writing some of it... and the best part? Every word works perfectly!

And then there are days like Tuesday.

Days when I sit there and muddle my way through, thinking I'm maybe... sort of on the right track. And then I finish up, reread it and think, "Who am I kidding? This is all wrong."

But even if I'm unhappy with it, I have no plans on scrapping the whole thing without thinking it through first. Before I do anything, I need to filter through what I wrote and decide if it feels "all wrong" because the writing is bad, or because it's just not the right way to develop the story. Because unless that particular section is wrong on both counts, it's possible I can edit in such a way to make it work.

When this happens, I end up with different ideas running through my head. Maybe I keep the general idea of the scene but change the characters who experience it. Maybe I cut out some of the exposition and focus on action and character interaction. Or maybe I move the scene to a different section of the novel.

Or maybe I highlight the entire section and happily press delete.

The point is, if you're writing something and you have that moment where you want to be like the frazzled writer you see depicted on television who yanks the sheet of paper from his typewriter, crumples it angrily and sends it flying across the room into the wastebasket... don't! Give yourself time. Think it through. See what you can salvage. Because what you may initially think is all junk might just turn up a tidbit that could develop into a treasure.

If, after thinking it through and taking your time, you decide it's just not going to work anywhere, try cutting it and pasting it into a separate document for safekeeping. That's what I do whenever I cut a significant portion that I think might have any merit. For instance, right now I'm working on the third book in the Calloway Summers series. So I have a file named "Catching Moondrops cuts". That way, if I ever hit a part of the story where I think a former throwaway section might work, I can dig it up and use whatever is suitable. Anyway, anything that really does belong in the recycle bin will end up there eventually.

So take your time and think about editing before deleting. And save what you think may be mistakes. You never know when they might come in handy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I Have Book Updates...

...and there's something for everybody!

If you're anything like my mother, always losing those reading glasses no matter how many pairs you buy, take heart - Fireflies In December is now available in large print!

Or if you're always on the go, preferring to let your CD player do your reading for you, keep an eye out for the audio version of Fireflies In December, releasing in November '09.

And if you're stewing over Jessilyn and Luke and can't wait to find out what happens in their lives next, reserve your copy of Cottonwood Whispers, the sequel to Fireflies In December. You may be able to get your hands on it as early as late-August if you order online, and it should be in stores near you by mid-September. Or, better yet, enter my latest contest where you'll be eligible to win a signed copy (as well as a signed copy of Fireflies In December) hot off the presses!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Book Review: Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent
A strong-minded thirteen-year-old knows her summer won't be good when the class bully arrives at her birthday party. When the kids visit the local swimming hole, minus any adult supervision, the bully holds her under the water. (Click above to read more)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

2009 Christy Awards Announced

Congratulations to the recipients of the 2009 Christy awards! Here are the winners in each category-

Contemporary Romance: Marlo Schalesky for Beyond The Night

Contemporary Series: Tracey Bateman for You Had Me At Good-bye

Contemporary Standalone: Chris Fabry for Dogwood

First Novel: Joy Jordan-Lake for Blue Hole Back Home

Historical: Lynn Austin for Until We Reach Home

Historical Romance: Tamera Alexander for From A Distance

Suspense: Steven James for The Rook

Visionary: Tom Pawlik for Vanish (2006 Operation First Novel winner)

Young Adult: Cathy Gohlke for I Have Seen Him In The Watchfires

Thanks to all of them for providing us with great Christian fiction!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Selective Hearing

"You're stupid, ugly, untalented, clumsy, annoying, and, frankly, you can't write a coherent sentence to save your life."

No, I'm not talking about you! I'm talking about me. I'm quoting some of the things that have floated through my brain any number of times on any matter of occasions. I can be going about my business on a very normal day, without a worry, and then, out of the blue, a little voice floats up out of hell and sneaks its way into my brain to rap on it like a woodpecker on steroids.

Like those times when I look back at a days' work on the computer and feel like every paragraph I wrote could have been composed by a drunken chimpanzee. When I am convinced that this whole writing career was a crazy fluke, and I am so far in over my head I'll never surface before running out of air.

Or other times when I feel as though I'm a social misfit, that every time I open my mouth another piece of my brain falls out. That I'm forever doomed to walk the earth as an outcast who does nothing but stick my strappy-sandaled foot in my mouth.

It's a great tool of Satan to make us feel helpless, hopeless and unpalatable to society. Sometimes it seems there's nothing but critical thoughts beating against my skull, and there's all too often that part of me that gives into them... the irrational part of me. Because, seriously, I know better. I'm well aware that the only voice I'm supposed to listen to is the Lord's, and His voice, without doubt, does not sound like a bitter, unhappy teacher disparaging a child in front of the whole class.

On the contrary, His is that still, small voice. The one that's colored with love and grace, even when admonishing and instructing. When He speaks, He blesses. He may discipline, but His words never leave us feeling worthless. They are always for our betterment. He's in the business of breaking the will not the spirit. Spirit-breaking is what Satan's all about.

So the next time I hear that voice in my ear telling me I can't do it, that I'm hopeless, I'll remember the truths of John 10:3-5... "The Gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize His voice and come to Him. He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. After He has gathered His own flock, He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice. They won't follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don't know his voice."

I know the voice I need to listen to, the voice of my Father who only wants what's best for me. He may chastise, but He won't ever disparage, and it's my job to remember that. It's my job to recognize the voice of a stranger and run away.

Even if I'm in my strappy sandals.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Award-Winning Talent

I recently finished Valley Of The Shadow by Tom Pawlik, 2006 winner of the Operation First Novel contest, and I really enjoyed it! The novel is the sequel to his contest-winning Vanish, and it doesn't disappoint. So if you like suspense, take a look at Tom's novels.

And coming soon is Thicker Than Blood by C.J. Darlington, winner of the 2008 Operation First Novel contest. I just read her first chapter, and it has definitely whet my appetite. Can't wait till it releases in January!

So while I'm on the subject of these wonderfully talented authors, let me encourage you to consider entering your novel in the contest that won them (and me!) publication with Tyndale House Publishers. Just pop on over to the Christian Writers Guild's website to find all the rules and information. If you've got a manuscript ready, or mostly ready, why not give it a shot?

But don't drag your feet. The contest deadline is October 1st!

Saturday, June 27, 2009


If writing were only writing, I'd probably have penned fifteen novels by now. But then, it's not. It's research, observation and editing as well. And that research in particular can be a real time-eater. All it takes is for me to think, "Hmm... would they have needed a key to start their car in 1932?" And then there I am for the next hour, getting to know Google better than my next door neighbor, overloading my brain with all sorts of information that's interesting, yes, but does not in any way answer my question.

This may be the information age, but it's amazing how difficult it can be to hunt down one small, but very specific, piece of information.

Over my short time in writing I've scoured the internet for things such as when lemonade became popular, what an early-1900's jailhouse window would look like, how people felt about the war before America became involved, whether or not women in the 1930's wore slips, and what time of year green beans are in season.

It's amazing how little I really know!

Thankfully, other people know stuff. And I depend on them to write the books and articles that help me write more books. So I'm actually rather grateful that I can get lost in a land of search engines and discover things like whether or not women commonly wore taffeta in 1939.

Which reminds me... time to take another spin on Google.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

In Comes The Heat...

... out come the good old summer-reading books. You know, the ones I can read without thinking too much. When I was a kid it was Nancy Drew, books I'd already read and wanted to read again, and Archie comics. (And just for the record, Archie should never have proposed to Veronica!) Toss in some bare feet, a seat on the porch, and a Fla-Vor-Ice, and life was good.

Now that I'm well into adulthood, I tend to do something similar. I'll re-read my Victoria Holt's or scan the library shelves for anything clad in old sixties or seventies library binding. And my Fla-Vor-Ice is replaced by something chocolate.

So I'm not entirely sure how I ended up reading freaky, nightmare-inducing novels this summer, but I have, and I've got the strange dreams to go along with them. I've been spending a lot of time with books by Ted Dekker, king of Christian creep-me-out fiction. And now I'm just making my way into Valley Of The Shadow, Tom Pawlik's sequel to Vanish. Great reads, but definitely not soft and fluffy.

Which makes it necessary for me to throw in something to lighten up my summer relaxing. Next on my shelf is a change of pace in Eva Marie Everson's Things Left Unspoken and Rene Gutteridge's Scoop. And I hope to discover a few new gems this season out of the deepening pool of Christian authors.

Beach books, however, are a different breed entirely. For me, great seaside reading has to have some suspense to it along with a mysterious setting. If there are unusual locations, stormy days and thick mists, we're getting somewhere. Think Mary Stewart or Phyllis Whitney. The problem is finding some I haven't read. There's nothing worse than carting a stack of library books to the beach only to realize I've read all but two of them.

So any suggestions you have, pass them on. I'm desperately seeking new material... and looking forward to enjoying some happy summer reading.

I hope you do the same!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Believing Is Seeing

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a ridiculous hockey fan, and now that my Pittsburgh Penguins have won the prized Stanley Cup, you'll have to excuse me for using this space to celebrate. I'm just a little excited.

But what makes it even more fantastic is the dramatic way the Penguins made it to the top this year, like one of those sports-themed movies with the high-powered soundtrack and Kleenex moments.

Just last year, they suffered a hugely disappointing loss in the Stanley Cup finals against the Detroit Red Wings and were relegated to watching their opponents celebrate on Pittsburgh ice. That was followed up with the off-season departure of some of their key players for other teams and the fact that many in the hockey world had written them off before the season even began.

By mid-season, it seemed the naysayers knew what they were talking about. The Penguins were several points out of playoff contention, struggling to string together even two wins in a row. Injuries had forced them to shuffle the lineup, and the forecast for failure seemed all too real.

But that all started to change with the arrival of a rookie coach - a lower leaguer who sported a completely different approach to hockey and a ton of optimism - and a few, highly undervalued players acquired from other teams. And suddenly the tide began to turn. Disappointment and doubt were replaced by increasing belief, and the team eventually found themselves not only in the playoffs but moving deeper and deeper into them on the back of solid teamwork and plenty of fight.

By the last round, they were showing incredible resilience and confidence, and they soared into the finals to be matched up with the same team they'd faced - and lost to - the year before. They quickly went down in the series 2-0, a situation that could have easily riddled them with doubt, but they never quit or counted themselves out. And finally, after gutting it out through seven games, they victoriously skated the coveted Stanley Cup around opposition ice.

Sports fan or not, if you're a writer you should be able to relate to this idea of needing to face a challenge in your life with belief and determination. It's never been a simple feat to make it past an editors desk, and in these economic times with magazines and newspapers slipping into history, it seems an almost impossible task.

But is it what you're meant to do? Because if it is, you may have to confront the idea that a long, grinding road to publication lies ahead. The likelihood is there are going to be difficult losses, seemingly insurmountable challenges, and the need for hours of training and hard work. There will likely be naysayers and times when you'll see other people triumph in front of you while you feel the heartbreak of just missing out. Sometimes it may seem like you're just wasting your time and will never be able to overcome the odds.

But belief is key to completing any task the Lord has called you to. Belief in the fact that what the Lord wills, He brings to pass. Belief that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. And belief that He never fails to honor a heart committed to His plan.

So if you're frustrated right now, spend some time in prayer openly seeking His will. And if you soundly believe writing is the path He has you on, just believe. Trust that you have the support of the Creator of the universe, and take it one day at a time. Don't try to figure out His timetable or His reasoning. Don't second guess or focus on human opinion. After all, we aren't talking about a God who is limited to human reasoning.

Our God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us" (Ephesians 5:20).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bridging The Gap

There's always been a generation gap, I suppose, and these days it's no easier for mothers and daughters to find things in common. Music tastes, television viewing, movie picks - they all vary with age. But a good book? A good book can oftentimes be a perfect bridge for that gap.

Think Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Wizard of Oz - all books that can be enjoyed by women and girls alike. It doesn't matter if you're fifteen, forty-five or seventy. You'll still cry over Beth March, fall in love with Gilbert Blythe and enjoy a stroll down the yellow brick road. Great ways to nurture conversation!

When I wrote Fireflies In December, I wrote it for adults. The main character may have been thirteen, but the experiences she went through were decidedly frightening at times, and I never even considered that it would be aimed towards teenagers. Which was something of a problem for me when trying to get it published. For many publishing professionals it fell somewhere in between Adult and Young Adult, and it seemed after a while that I'd never find the perfect spot for it.

But I did, and despite the fact that I've heard wonderful things from women of all ages, some of my most excited readers are teenage girls. In fact, one of my young readers traveled 140 miles with her grandmother to come to my latest book signing. It was truly a highlight of my short career, and the minute I glanced down at her well-read copy of Fireflies In December, I was overjoyed. There's nothing better for an author than seeing their book all dog-eared and wrinkled. Those books are the ones that have been devoured. I've dog-eared and wrinkled up quite a few in my time.

And I remember discussing many of these books with my mother when I was a teenager. We didn't always have the same favorite parts or have the same opinion about the ending, but that was what kept the conversation interesting and made for some great memories.

I truly hope Fireflies In December joins the lineup of novels like those, the ones that light up the imaginations of mothers, daughters and granddaughters alike. And I hope there are many wonderful writers out there who will continue to add to the list.

How about you? Are there any books you share/shared with your family?

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Roadblock Or Opportunity?

This weekend was supposed to be my big writing weekend. I had planned to get a ton of book #3 accomplished, and I was looking forward to being able to make great strides in the story. It was a well-planned, much anticipated few days... and then I injured my back.

I have no idea how. There was no moment of, "Oh, now I've done it." There was no slip or fall or over-long shopping trip in too-high heels. But that didn't matter because I was limited to two relatively comfortable positions, nonetheless. So instead of hours of productivity, I ended up with hours in bed, dependent on a heating pad and Advil.

It took me a while, but after a little quiet time before the Lord it hit me... maybe I do know what caused it. After all, there's something to be said about a weekend of forced relaxation. Sometimes we're just so busy, so focused on our goals, that we don't listen to what the Lord is trying to tell us. We don't take the time to sit still and listen, to read His word, to pray over our problems and concerns, to worship.

So sometimes He takes us out of commission. Physically, our goals become out of our reach, and all our well-intentioned plans fall by the wayside. That was my weekend. I got absolutely no work done at all. And the way my back is hollering at me right now, I'm sure I won't get more than this blog done today, as well.

But this is no slump. The Lord blessed me with His presence in wonderful ways this weekend, and I'm incredibly grateful that He chose to force me there. I only wish that wasn't necessary; that I could remove myself from the hectic pace of life voluntarily and sit before Him willingly.

So if you find yourself struggling physically today, maybe you're being called to rest, too. Try not to look at your circumstances as roadblocks but as opportunities. Anytime we can take a vacation from life to bask in the renewed life only God can give, we start to see the world differently. God's perspective seeps into the picture and the daily tasks don't seem so daunting.

I probably won't be able to get back at the computer for a day or two more, but you know what? The story will still be there for me when I get back. And the likelihood is, it'll go from my head to my keyboard a lot more effectively. Because God is the master of perspective and ability, and the more time I spend in His presence, the more they're bound to rub off on me.

And I figure I could use all the help I can get.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Writing Worth Reading

I put a lot of thought into what I write. Is it personal enough? Is it witty enough? Is it going to keep people from nodding off mid-paragraph?

But really all of that is secondary to the core of what I'm trying to communicate. The main question is, am I writing what is worthwhile? Because as someone whose written words will land before the eyes of others, I'm solely and soundly responsible for what I say. It's an important responsibility to make sure that what I say in public, whether out loud or on paper, is accurate and morally sound. After all, being able to speak out and be heard is an incredible privilege.

In today's newspaper, I found a great example of using a public voice in an excellent way to say excellent things. The article by Paul Greenberg was incredibly well-written and immensely inspiring; a reminder of what can be communicated with wise words and sound thinking.

When I read something like that, it spurs me on in my endeavors, gives me that little extra spark to not only write and speak diligently, but to live diligently as well.

So to all of you writers who sit at your keyboards every day looking for inspiration, I pray you realize how blessed you are to have the opportunity to be heard. Write carefully. Make what you say worth hearing, and, above all, pleasing to the God who gave you your talent in the first place.

And pray I'm able to do the same.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Little Healthy Competition

So, I'm watching the American Idol finale results show as I write (Go Kris!), and it makes me think what a shame it is they can't have an American Idol for writers. Clearly it would be way too boring! But when you're unpublished and trying to get that break, the idea of having a forum to catch the attention of the right people can make you so envious.

Which is why legitimate writing contests are such a gift to writers who daily attempt to get their foot in that very small crack in the publishing door. I should know. That's how I got both of my high-heels into the publishing industry, and I'm incredibly grateful for the hard work of those who organize, judge and reward efforts in these contests.

Personally, I can only recommend the two I've entered: The Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest and the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest. The latter gave me valuable feedback from the judges, and the former catapulted my writing from an endeavor to a career.

Fortunately, I didn't have to sing onstage, fend off paparazzi or listen to criticism from Simon Cowell. I just had to write - which is what we writers do best anyway - and meet the deadline and criteria of the contest.

So if you can write and you remember what it's like to get your homework turned in on time, you can enter writing contests too. Why not use your summer to give it a try? Pull out those partial manuscripts and finish them up, polish up the complete ones, and take the leap.

You never know where you might land!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

National Fiction Day

Lifeway Christian store's National Fiction Day on Saturday turned out to be a great way to celebrate Christian fiction, and I was so glad to be a part of it! Thanks to everyone at the Glen Allen, VA store for giving me such a warm welcome, and a special thanks to everyone who dropped by my signing table. I had a terrific time and look forward to visiting there again in the fall to sign Cottonwood Whispers.

And if I didn't get to see you there, I hope to see you at a signing table somewhere soon!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Writing For Readers

I met with a local book club this week to discuss Fireflies In December. I love talking with book clubs. It's not only a great chance to meet readers, but it's also a great way to find out how other people see my stories and characters. As a writer I spend hours immersed in a novel from my own perspective, but we all see things differently, and hearing the questions and observations of a group of women who love books can only help me improve as an author.

One of the most interesting comments I heard after we finished our discussion was from one woman who told me I talked about writing like an author, but I talked about the characters like a reader. I'd never heard that before, but it really is true. Even though I'm creating these people, I still see them in my mind like I'm watching them on a movie screen.

Not long ago someone asked me about a character in the book, and my answer began with, "Well, I think he was probably just..." Someone who heard the answer looked at me strangely and said, "You did write the book, you know." But for those hours that I sit with the characters -figuring out their motives, their words, their reactions - it almost seems like they're developing right before my eyes rather than being fleshed out by my fingers on the keyboard.

Which is probably a great thing for the writing process. After all, we write for the readers, don't we? Obviously we want to give them our stories with our own style and creativity, but ultimately the goal is to give the readers something that entertains, encourages, and stirs their emotions. If we're thinking like a reader, we're bound to connect with them.

So if you're working on your own novel - grinding away at plot lines, stumbling over some writer's block - fall back on those characters. Look at them like you would look at the characters in your favorite books. What would you want to see them do? How would you like their relationships to progress? Try seeing them through the eyes of a reader and let them walk you through their story.

You never know where they might lead you.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

This Isn't Child's Play

My job as a nanny is important to me. After all, kids grow up to be adults who will someday make decisions that affect the world. They can end up being anything from doctors to store owners to congressmen to teachers. And many of them will end up raising a new generation of kids who will one day become adults to raise their own children... and so on, and so on. The time and attention we put into the children in our lives will help to form how they make their mark on this world for decades.

Which only makes me realize how vitally important my job, and the job of every parent and child caregiver, is to our lives as a whole. Taking care of kids isn't easy, but it is worthwhile. There's so much importance attached to teaching them how to think before acting, speak with discipline, behave in a mannerly way, and live responsibly.

A positive upbringing helps boys and girls grow into responsible workers, caring friends, nurturing spouses, loving parents. And when Christ is involved in the process, it helps them grow up to be positive influences and bright lights in an increasingly dim world.

Life in this country today is busy and costly. It makes spending valuable time with kids so tough when work and finances eat away at our thoughts and priorities. After all, while kids are fabulous blessings they're also expensive. They eat a lot, grow out of clothes a lot, run through diapers a lot and go to colleges that cost a lot.

But the value of a dollar can't compare to the value of character, and I'm hoping the small time I spend with the kids in my life will render great dividends. There's just no better investment.

So thanks to all you moms (and caregivers) out there who take your job so seriously; who bless the kids in your lives with time, energy, creativity, selflessness, and love.

By blessing them, you bless us all.

Special thanks to my own mom who taught me the truly important things in life... and who still teaches me today.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Go To The Head Of The Class

Remember when you were in school and you thought, "I can't wait until I graduate and I don't have to be responsible for learning new stuff all the time"? I do. In fact, it feels like it wasn't so long ago. (It really was long ago, but let's not go there.)

The thing is... I was wrong. You never stop learning. In fact, life is one loooooong lesson. The Christian life in particular. Why? Because we're imperfect people on a journey to become like the perfect God who saved us. That sort of goal requires constant learning, incessant improvement. We truly define the term "work in progress", and it's when we find ourselves standing still rather than moving forward that we need to reassess who we are and what we do.

One of my nephews recently complained to me about having to learn things in school that he'll never actually use in life. Sound familiar? I think every kid who ever lived has said that at one time or another. I vividly recall saying that about Geometry. And truth be told I've never once had to know how to figure out the dimensions of a triangle to function in life.

But if we hope to someday reach a point when the learning process will cease to be of importance, we're sadly mistaken. It's a very real, and often frustrating, fact that we will always be learning; learning wisdom, new skills, better forms of communication, patience - the list goes on and on.

"So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better" (Colossians 1:9-10).

Clearly, we are meant to be in school all of our lives. If we ever think we've learned everything, all we have to do is look at Christ's life. That's when we realize we have such a long way to go.

But what a thrill it is to know we're not alone in this! God - through His Word, His example in Christ, and His Holy Spirit - gives, to those of us who have accepted His forgiveness and Lordship, access to everything we need to continually mature.

Yes, we're busy people. We're not capable of focusing primarily on learning as we were able to in school. Now we have jobs, family, homes... we're swamped. At times it feels that there's no way we can fit in time to learn anything new. But thankfully He uses life itself to teach us. Life is the classroom.

And if life is the classroom, then time in His Word and in prayer is homework. Wiktionary lists one definition of homework as "preliminary or preparatory work, such as research." The time we spend directly on learning about the Lord and basking in His presence is what prepares us for the classroom learning of life. If we don't spend the time in spiritual "research" we won't be prepared to survive the schooling we get as we live out our days.

So I'm resigned to the realization that I will never fully know it all until I step into the presence of God, but I can continue to learn more everyday. "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go" (Psalm 32:8). Those words are straight from the Teacher's mouth. All I need to do is pay attention.

If I get to the other end of this journey and look back on my "school" career and realize I only passed by the skin of my teeth, I'll be devastated. Not because of pride or arrogance but because it's the least I can do for the One who gave me new life. I don't want to just barely miss out on flunking His class, I want to excel in it.

After all, there is no reward that can compare to hearing Him say, "Well done, My good and faithful servant."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Books-A-Million Signing

Thanks to everyone who stopped by my book signing at Books-A-Million Tuesday evening. It was a fun time of meeting new people and seeing old friends. And thanks to everyone at Books-A-Million for making my visit so special. I look forward to doing it again soon!

If you missed it, come on by the Lifeway Christian Store at 9840-A West Broad St. in Richmond, VA. on Saturday, May 16th. I'll be there from 11am-2pm to sign Fireflies In December and help celebrate Lifeway's "National Fiction Day". It sounds like a great time, so join us for this celebration of the wide array of Christian fiction we're blessed to have available to us.

I hope to see you there!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Proper Perspective

There should be some sort of alarm system when it comes to keeping perspective. But then, I guess there is. At least for me. For me, it's when I start to feel like an outsider looking in, living my life but not really in the moment. A little bit like watching myself as a character in a movie. It looks like me, talks like me, but doesn't really feel like me.

My descriptions are easy to relay here because I'm feeling this way right now. Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had a very clear list of priorities. Front and center on that list was my relationship with the Lord and that colored everything else with a nice shiny coat of plain old sense. And when everything makes sense, it's easy to keep a proper perspective.

There's no obsessing over things that don't matter, worrying about the future, or being afraid of failure. There's no sensitive feelings, holding on to bitterness, or worrying about my appearance. I'm tellin' you, there is absolutely nothing like letting the Lord interpret the world around us. It's a state of bliss, really. Not a state of perfection, but a state of bliss. Even the difficulties don't seem so bad, life doesn't seem overwhelming, people don't seem so frustrating. The Lord has a wonderful way of softening rough edges and reassuring us that everything will work out to the good.

When I finally obtained the title of published author, I warned myself to NOT fall into the trap of changing my focus. I knew all too well the joys of putting Christ first, and I'd also known very well the sadness of life without it. But I knew without hesitation that this new adventure would threaten my focus.

And it did. At first I really determined to let the Lord guide my steps when it came to promotion and publicity for my book. I asked Him to tell me what to do, where to go, who to speak to, and then I trusted Him to help me do it. But after a while, I got worried. What if it doesn't get out there enough? What if I don't measure up to my publisher's expectations? What if, what if, what if?

And suddenly the computer became an extension of my hands. We all know how many opportunities the internet holds, and I started searching through many of them, trying to figure out - without consulting the Lord, mind you - what might get my book noticed.

Now do I really think that's wrong, publicizing my work? No. But do I think it's wrong when I'm spending time on it that the Lord wanted me to spend doing other things? Yes! And is it wrong when that time spent mindlessly searching for new promotional outlets causes my relationship with the Lord to suffer? Most definitely!

So that's where I am now. I'm in realignment mode. It's time for me to get my priorities straight and remember that the Lord is in control. That every moment He blesses me with is meant for His glory, not my own. It's time for me to sit back, relax, and turn my gaze back on Him because when He does call me to do something I need to be ready. And I need to be listening.

After all, I don't think he'll be contacting me via Facebook!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Who Says It's Junk?

Once when I was young my mother allowed me to walk to a yard sale down the road with a small amount of money and the instructions to not buy any junk. And of course I didn't! Who did she think I was? I brought back a very tasteful, very useful item that consisted of colorful plastic butterflies bobbing about on wire. So not junk!

I think that's where my yard sale obsession took root, and so, now that spring seems to finally have graced our doorsteps here in Virginia, my Saturday writing will suffer. Not because I'm out getting some much-needed exercise or because I'm sleeping in, but because it's YARD SALE SEASON!! YAY!!

Yes, I'm a yard-sale-aholic which means I stop on a dime when I see homemade signs decorated with arrows and eat breakfast in the car. I carry a lot of one dollar bills and walk really, REALLY fast when I spot something I like that someone else is headed for. And I bring home a lot of stuff I hope I end up using someday.

But though I tease about it, it really is a great way to cut costs, and we all know what cutting costs is about these days. Just last weekend I came across a woman with salesman's samples, all new things that would make great gifts. And she had fantastic prices. Gift-giving just became a little easier! Those sorts of sales are rare, but most yard sales have some new items whether they're unused wedding gifts or just wayward purchases the owner didn't feel like returning.

Buying for kids at yard sales is another fantastic way to pinch pennies. Kids' clothes, toys, books... you name it. Those are things you can find in abundance, and since the little ones grow out of things so quickly, it's a huge boost to the pocketbook to find bargains on them.

You can also dress up a boring room with some second-hand pictures, frames, candle holders and other little touches. And if you've finished Fireflies In December and need a new read, you can find plenty of books. :)

The trick in all of it is to think before buying or else before you know it you'll have a house full of yard sale items you'll end up selling... at a yard sale. I usually plan ahead by taking only a certain amount of money I've allotted for the trip and then making a mental list of things I'd like to have. That keeps the wild spending at bay.

Have I enticed you yet? If you've never tried it, check out your local newspaper for sales. But if you're anywhere near me, don't follow my car too closely. I brake for yard sales!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Location Change For Books-A-Million Signing

Sorry to switch things around on everyone last-minute, but there's been a location mix-up with my April 28th Books-A-Million signing. I had originally posted it as being at the West Broad St. location in Richmond, VA. However, it's actually going to be at the store located at 9131 Midlothian Tnpk. So sorry for the inconvenience. Still hope to see you there at 7pm!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Just Along For The Ride

Amazingly, the first nice sunny day we had around here ushered in a cure for my writers block. Hopefully the cure is permanent... or at the very least lasts for more than a week. There really is something about surrounding and circumstance that affects creativity. But I'm learning that they impact more than just my creativity; they oftentimes determine my outlook on life in general.

Not such a great thing.

Life is so uncertain, like the fair ride with the crazy operator who just keeps letting it roll. Just when you think one topsy turvy loop is over, another one starts. Those loops aren't always life-threatening or world-altering. Much of the time they're just inconveniences, annoying little bumps in the road. (We've certainly talked about these things here before!)

The real test of it is, how do I handle them? Do I let them rule me or do I rule them? Discipline comes in handy in life in so many ways, so why not here? As a nanny I teach kids how to curb their reactions, to see the positives when the negatives are most obvious. If they fall, I try to make them smile. If they mess up, I try to make them laugh over it. Why cry over spilled milk? And trust me, I've seen a lot of spilled milk in my day. My goal with them is to train them to react thoughtfully not instinctively. Because instinctively, well, we humans tend to be a mess!

But do I follow my own advice in my life? Not always. Sadly, many times when life throws me a curveball I do just what I teach against - I react instinctively. I grit my teeth and mutter, walk around with a frown, pout, snip at someone, kick a shoe across the room... whatever.

So basically... I'm a hypocrite. In the nicest sort of way, of course! :) I make a living out of telling kids to do things I don't always do myself. So I suppose it's time for me to live the example I set at work, learning to be content in whatever circumstances I am (See Phillipians 4:11). Life may not be all I want it to be, but it's not about what I want it to be. It's about what the Lord wants it to be.

Whether it's writer's block, bad weather, illness, injury, low funds, rocky relationships, car troubles - you name it. It's time I started learning to be submissive enough before the Lord to accept what He brings into my life with a bit more grace and a lot more faith; to trust that He knows what He's doing and that "in all things God works for the good of those who love Him" (Romans 8:28).

Sometimes I may feel like I'm on that wild fair ride, but I'm not at the mercy of a nutty operator. I'm under the close watch of the Creator of the universe. Every bit of my life is seen and understood, and all I have to do is trust in His control, follow His lead and see what happens.

It's that perspective that makes the lemonade out of the lemons.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Where Have All The Plot Lines Gone?

There should be a store for plot lines. Or at the very least a rental place. If only I could get story ideas in the mail like my Netflix DVD's. Right now I'm working on the third book in my series (now called the "Calloway Summers" series, BTW), and I'm starting to have mild panic attacks that I'll never come up with the full plot line. I sat down with the computer for almost two hours today, and I think I managed about two usable pages. Not good.

That's been a trend the last few times I've focused on the book. (If you're from my publisher, you probably shouldn't be reading this!) I know I've mentioned that infernal blinking cursor here before, and I'm getting to know it well right now. Very well. We're on a first-name basis, me and the cursor. In fact I'm beginning to curse the invention of the cursor.

But then, this happens to me with every novel I write. There's always that moment when I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get from point A to point B. That's also the moment when I entertain the idea that I may never again be able to string together 100 usable words much less 80,000. But, of course, I always do in the end.

So what to do in the meantime? There are some things that I like to try to get my brain kicked into gear. I listen to music that fits the feel of the story I'm working on. I'll watch documentaries that focus on the applicable time period. I daydream, picturing the already written scenes in my head. Whatever helps at the time. But most of all, I just stick with it. I may hop up after 45 minutes of mindless tapping at the keyboard and find something else to do, but I'll be back at it again tomorrow. That's what we do with everything, isn't it? If at first you don't succeed try, try again. Eventually, Jessilyn and Gemma will help me find the story lines I need.

They're always getting into some sort of trouble!

What about you? Writer or not, you've probably felt creatively stifled in something. What are your tricks of the trade?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Day To Remember

Friday was a busy day what with errands, computer work, appointments, and it wasn't until afternoon that I even realized it was Good Friday. That's half a day gone by without stopping to think of what that day commemorates: Christ's ultimate sacrifice.

I don't tend to stop and think about these things often enough. I'm too busy doing... stuff. Most of the things I do with my time I won't remember an hour later much less a decade later. But the events that started with desperate prayers in a garden and ended with a stone rolled in front of a tomb will be remembered forever.

As will the events we celebrate today, Easter Sunday - the day we celebrate His resurrection and His victory over death. It's the day we celebrate the opportunity of new life in Christ. And it's a day I'm determined to take the time to stop and remember.

I'll remember that God gave His only Son to die for the sins of the world. I'll remember that Christ left paradise to humble Himself with humanity, to pay my penalty, to endure hatred, to be beaten and scorned and hung on a cross. There are no time limits to the memory of His suffering, His humility, His grace, His forgiveness.

These things are timeless.

May we all stop today to remember the greatest of all sacrifices, the greatest of all miracles, the greatest of all love.

Happy Easter!

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Accentuating The Positives

Since we've been on the subject of monotony lately, I've mostly been thinking about things that really annoy me. But today I'm going to try a radical new idea... brace yourself... I'm going to turn my attention to things that make me happy. Gasp! I know it's a revolutionary idea, but when it comes down to it, there really are a lot of everyday things that make me smile.

Like... time with the Lord, reading His word, moments with family, kid hugs, phone calls from friends, beautiful weather, pudding cups, comfy socks, writing, music, family pictures, a good hockey game, a hot shower, sleep, summer thunderstorms, chocolate, an afternoon out with friends, coupons, favorite TV shows...

Hold on, I'm taking a breath...

Hearing "I love you", saying "I love you", interesting mail, candy, a good hair day, someone holding the door open for me, an easy commute, beautiful scenery, sales, smiling at someone, being smiled at, afternoon naps, snack time, watching classic movies, a good book.

I could go on. But I won't. That would become monotonous.

The point is, I'm trying to realign my thinking. For all the annoying in life there's plenty of enjoying. I just need to peer around the negatives to see all the positives. I'll add one last thing to my list before I'm through: you, the lovely people who wander over here to look at my odd meanderings. Thanks for sticking with me!

Now, excuse me... I'm going to go have a pudding cup. :)

What about you? What everyday stuff makes you smile?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Crying Over Spilled Milk... or Juice

So since I wrote my last post about how the little annoyances of life can be valuable lessons, I've been... umm... learning lessons! My computer has been slow, my brain has been slow, and my ability to complete projects has been... slow. And this morning I managed to spill cranberry juice all over the fresh tablecloth. Things just are NOT working properly.

I should have expected it, really. That's the way the Lord always teaches me, by taking the things that are related to the lessons I need to learn and making them very apparent. I've been keenly aware of late that I needed to be more patient, more submissive; and when I'm needing to mature in a particular area, He uses life to make an impression on me. After all, it really is what we experience that teaches us so much.

And anyway, it could be worse, right? If spilling juice and waiting five minutes for my computer to load a page is as bad as it gets right now, I'm good to go. I just need to find some extra patience.

And some good stain remover!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Life In The Slow Lane

I really don't care for monotony.

That day in, day out grind that seems so perpetual, you eventually come to the conclusion that NOTHING will ever change - it's sometimes overwhelming. In fact, it often feels like I could write my schedule down before it happens:
  • Get up
  • Get ready
  • Stub toe
  • Check e-mail
  • Stub toe again
  • Do some work
  • Eat lunch
  • Do some work
  • Bang into doorjamb when turning corner
  • Eat dinner
  • Cut self shaving
  • Go to bed

So the next day goes, and the next day. Oh, maybe there's a change or two. I might substitute smacking my head on a shelf for the second toe stub. Who knows? But ultimately, it really does seem so run-of-the-mill at times, it all just meshes together. Is this Friday? Or is it Monday? I oftentimes figure that out by what show I'm watching that night.

But now I'm realizing that I'm interpreting this whole thing the wrong way. Because the Lord doesn't do things just for the sake of doing things. There's a purpose and a plan for every aspect of our lives. What seems like monotony may really be repeated chances to learn. To learn patience, obedience, submission, humility, appreciation, a positive attitude... whatever.

Ultimately His will for our lives is that we grow; that we learn to be the best people that we can be so we can live the most fulfilled, productive lives possible according to His perfect plan for each of us. He doesn't want us to merely exist, He wants us to live... with a capital L.

We may not think it at the time, but even those times we bill as monotonous are times when the Lord is working, when He is chipping away at our rough edges. I don't know about you, but the idea that there's a purpose to my stubbed toes and recycled lunches makes life better. If we look at every challenge, every repeated function as a chance to learn, we at least give them purpose. They're no longer meaningless moments, but a means to a great end.

So now I'm trying to remember that each difficulty, each pain, each frustration, each dull moment can teach me. They can teach me to resist temptation, to hold my temper, to pray when I'd rather scream, to praise instead of complain.

Mind you, I said I'm trying! It's a work in progress.

But then, so are we!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cottonwood Whispers

I love writing a series.

Now that I know these characters so well, working on the third installment of life with Jessilyn and Gemma is like writing about great friends. The third book, tentatively titled Catching Moondrops, will take place three years after Cottonwood Whispers; seven years after we first meet the Lassiters in Fireflies In December.

But having just received the preliminary cover for Cottonwood Whispers, I'm so excited about that book right now. Tyndale has yet again produced an amazing scene to set the tone for the story. As soon as I can, I'll post the cover here so everyone can get a look.

Just to whet your appetite for Cottonwood Whispers, I'll tell you that this book also focuses on prejudice... but it's prejudice of a different kind. It will tell the story of quick assumptions and false accusations; of how easily people can believe something without exploring justification. And it will tell the story of true sacrificial love and pure faith in God's sovereignty.

And, of course, it will continue the story of Jessilyn and Luke... the relationship everyone keeps asking me about! No hints about what happens here, though. Mark your calendars for September when you can journey back to Calloway and find out firsthand.

P.S. I've finally given in and joined Facebook. I have a profile as well as a page. The page is dedicated to the books with discussions and latest news. Stop by either and say hello!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Follow The Blinking Cursor

This time of year drives me crazy. One day it's hot, the next it's cold. It's sunny at noon, rainy at one. I can't figure out whether I should wear a sweater or short sleeves. The weather is so fickle.

And so am I.

I can't figure out if I want to work on fiction, tinker with the blog, fiddle with the website... or just go shopping. My brain is in squirrel mode, skittering back and forth with no clear direction, driving me crazy as I sit behind the wheel trying to navigate my attention.

In most other things I do, a little discipline would go a long way in such a situation. I'd wrangle my attention span, force myself to focus, and fight through the jitters that make me want to hop up and switch projects every ten minutes.

But writing is a different sort of occupation altogether because it takes creativity, and creativity is tough to manufacture even with a boat load of discipline. And when creativity takes a holiday, I end up sitting in front of the screen mesmerized by a blinking cursor.

I figure somewhere out there, in these crazy mixed-up days, there must be some inspiration. The world was created by an amazing God. There's always amazing products of His creativity out there somewhere, right? So it's up to me to open my eyes to the little things, to see all the intricate aspects that make up the big picture. It's time to let my wandering focus run around outside for a little recess so I can pick up some ideas to cure my writers block.

Even if it has to wear layers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Releasing The Butterflies

I recently had the honor of speaking to the Richmond Christians Who Write writers group, and I truly enjoyed every second of it. There were plenty of nerves going into my first public speaking situation since senior year of high school, but they made me feel completely at home.

One of the first things someone said to me about my new career once I won the contest was, "I hope you enjoy public speaking" to which I replied, "No! I don't." Right then and there I started to worry about the future possibilities of being a published author. What in the world would I be expected to do now?

The answer is radio and television interviews, speaking engagements, web chats, public appearances... the list is long. But the amazing thing is, I haven't been incapacitated by fear yet. In fact, the Lord has prepared me and helped me through each and every "first". I have by no means been perfect, but I've survived and accomplished my tasks.

Knowing that He wants what's best for us can realease those butterflies that keep us bound up when facing a new experience. It doesn't mean we never get nervous. I do! But I know where to go with that nervousness now, and I know I can trust him to get me through. All I have to do is turn my fears over to the Lord and ask Him to put things in perspective for me, helping me to do the job He wants me to do.

It doesn't matter what kind of life we lead, what sort of endeavors we undertake; we are all faced with new experiences on a daily basis. The wonderful thing about knowing Christ as Lord and Savior means not having to fear them. "Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love" (1 John 4:18).

In this crazy, uncertain world there's nothing better than knowing we can face it with courage, trusting that the Creator of all of it is in control. Whatever new experiences He holds for you are there for a purpose.

And trusting in His perfect love can wipe the fear away.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't Forget To Drop By...

the Dancing Word web chat on St. Patrick's Day at 9pm EST. I hope to see you there!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Out Of Focus

It just occurred to me today that I've let my focus stray, that I've forgotten to recognize uncomfortable circumstances as chances to grow. And the primary reason I've done that is because I've let my focus veer back to myself. "I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed, I'm frustrated, I'm nervous" - those are the thoughts that keep going through my head.

And really, I think it's fine to recognize how we're feeling. The Lord walked the very same earth. He knows the frustrations of being human and He understands. But the point of experiencing these things is to learn to take them to Him and let Him use these times to help us grow and become better than we were before. If we simply wallow in how we feel, we miss the point entirely. And useless wallowing is such a pointless waste of time.

But it's cold and rainy here, the perfect weather for wallowing. In fact, the word "wallow" should be included in the weather report: Overcast with a chance of rain, high probability of wallowing. Now, I'd really rather be shopping than wallowing, but since it's wet and cold, and I'm on a budget, I'm stuck at home having a battle with the blues. But in the whole scheme of things, it's a battle I most definitely should win.

Just a few days ago, I caught a little bit of the film version of The Hiding Place, and I got a huge dose of humility. The very idea of living the life of Corrie Ten Boom, along with the masses of people who suffered so greatly during the Holocaust, was overpowering to say the least. Here I am sitting in safe, comfortable shelter, watching a TV, able to do and say as I please. But there on the screen were examples of people who lost all of what we take for granted and still managed to not only keep their belief in their loving God but to cling to Him as their reason for living.

Needless to say, my "sad" story pales in comparison. It doesn't mean that I can't feel bad sometimes. We all do. But it's what I choose to do with those feelings that's important. Am I going to hang on to them, throw a pity party and gain ten pounds courtesy of Ben and Jerry? Or am I going to use those moments to remember the ways that I am blessed and run to the Lord who is so infinitely able to take all my burdens and replace them with His peace and His joy?

I guess it's really an act of will, isn't it? Somewhere along the way I have to stop letting life get me down and start letting the Lord life me up. And it starts with me taking Him up on His amazing offer: "Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light" (Matthew 11:29, 30).

So hold me accountable. This is the day that I start making a determined effort to focus on Him, not on me, and not on circumstances. Every time my thoughts stray, I need to pull them back to the Lord. And hopefully, before I know it, it'll become habitual for me to be cognizant of what life is all about.


Check out Lori Roeleveld's blog for an uplifting post about a similar subject.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Springing Forward

It was great to find out this week that Missy Frye was kind enough to pass along her Premio Dardos award (for her blog, Incurable Disease Of Writing) to me.

What’s the Premio Dardos Award?

Premio Dardos means “prize darts” in Spanish. It is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing.

Thanks, Missy!

Today is a gorgeous day- warm and a little breezy - which makes my editing process so difficult. I've opened up my windows to let a little of the outside in, and I'm loving it! But this kind of weather can go two ways for me: it can help my creativity or make my mind wander to what I'd enjoy doing outside. But seeing as how all of the past week was spent with snow on the ground, a bit of warm weather can help me wrap my mind around Jessilyn's world since the second book takes place in the summer.

And when it comes down to it, I really do enjoy editing. On each book, editing is the first time I get to work in tandem with someone. Otherwise, it's a very solitary job. So, since I have a terrific editor who really understands my writing and my characters, this process is something I look forward to and have a lot of fun with. But it is a lot of work in a small period of time, so I pray daily for inspiration and creativity - two things that don't always choose to show up on my radar when I need them to.

Once I'm through with edits for Cottonwood Whispers, I'll be moving into the writing process for the third book, and I'm looking forward to it. It will be fun to see where Jessilyn and Gemma go next, and since I write on the fly, I won't know where that will be until the book develops.

I wanted to send a quick but sincere word of thanks to everyone out there who has taken the time to read and spread the word on Fireflies In December. It's incredibly helpful to get the word out. And thanks to everyone who has contacted me to tell me they enjoyed the book. It's such an encouragement as I continue to write!

I hope all of you are enjoying the beginning of spring, and don't forget to turn your clocks ahead tonight!

FYI: The Dancing Word web chat has been rescheduled to Tuesday March 17th @ 9pm EST. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Change In Plans

Weather interfered with our Dancing Word web chat last night. We'll be rescheduling, so keep an eye out here for the new date!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Come For A Chat

On Tuesday, March 3rd, Dancing Word will be hosting a live web chat with me. It should be a fun time of writing conversation, so stop by to pitch in. We'll be live at 9pm EST. Hope to see you there!

And don't forget to stop by my contest page while you're here to drop me a line about your favorite character. If you do you'll be entered to win a signed copy of Fireflies In December along with some other writing gifts and hot chocolate. Plus, you'll make my day!

Friday, February 27, 2009

More Conference Tidbits

Last week at the Christian Writers Guild's conference marked my first major book signing, and it was an incredible experience to be able to sign my book for so many people. After so many years of waiting, it's an amazing feeling to put your writing into someone else's hands. A few people told me they saw conferees digging right into the book after they got their copy, and I wish I had been around to see them and grab some pictures of them.

My agent sent me these pictures of the signing, proof that we were busy but having a great time, and it's moments like these that remind every writer why we do what we do. It's an incredible blessing to be able to share our work with others, to hear about their favorite parts, and have them point out insights into a book that even the author didn't see.

So much of writing today is used for the wrong purposes. Media is flooded with things that are untrue and unhealthy, and it is our purpose as Christian writers to bring something new to the table; to challenge the common perspective. So, if you truly believe the Lord has called you to write but you're out there thinking about giving up, don't. Just trust him and take that leap of faith.

You might just end up at a book signing table before you know it!