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My reflection in the mirror reveals disheveled hair and a face devoid of makeup. Wrinkles that never used to show now line my forty-something skin. Dark bags hang beneath my insomnia-racked eyes. Man, I’m a mess!
This is not who I think of when I think of me. Where have I gone?
Do we all get to that place where what we see in the mirror is not who we remember being? Age, time, and life happens, and suddenly we don’t look the same. Don’t feel the same.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall…” I whisper.
Although I write fantasy, I know there isn’t a voice that will answer my question of where the fairest me of all went.
I point to my reflection and stick out my tongue.
Are you not created in my image? I can hear God asking me midst my frowning dismay. That head of gray hair? It is your glory. (Proverbs 16:31) Wisdom can be found among those strands and those lines. (Job 12:12) Look not to your outer being, but seek that which is inner to judge your beauty, child. It is worth more than you know. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
I glance in the mirror one more time and to try to look beyond my blemishes and gray hair. Why is it so hard to give myself the same grace I give to others? Is it a plot from the beauty industry that makes me believe I need to use this cream or that new and improved dye to color my hair? Is it a societal flaw that we don’t respect and honor ourselves when we begin to show a little wear and tear?
I’m so glad God doesn’t judge me on such a superficial basis. I’m so glad He looks at my heart and sees my intentions. Time can be a thief, but only if we let it be. I make another face at myself in the offending mirror.
“Mirror, mirror, on the wall. You’re not so truthful after all.”
Two weeks ago I met up with former Inkspers Brenda Anderson and Stacy Monson in Branson, Missouri for a writing retreat. We stayed at an amazing resort at The Cliffs at Long Creek, a short but curvy drive from downtown Branson.
The first night we were visited by a masked intruder. Lucky for us it was a friendly animal critter, not a criminal critter. This little guy was very dedicated to climbing up the beams that hold the screen for the basement patio, and he almost made it had we not gotten too close and scared the poor guy away.
Each of the seasons were represented in the seven days we spent at the resort. There were 70 degree days, a hail storm to rival any we’ve had in Iowa, a windy day that would blow the hair off of your head, and a day of massive snowfall. You just can’t beat the Midwest for changing seasons in short order.
I managed to get two of my floundering manuscripts tore apart and pieced back together to into stronger, more interesting stories. I also started a Middle Grade novel about a Troll Princess who learns that beauty is more than warty skin deep.
After our group, which included Brenda’s daughter Sarah and another friend Mari Keisling, spent the majority of our week writing, we ended our retreat on a high note watching Moses, a musical at the Sight and Sound theater. Brenda got us a backstage tour after the show, and we got to meet the actor who played Moses. I can’t say enough about the musical and Sight and Sound theater. Moses was an amazing production, the actors incredibly talented, and they even had live animals that traversed the aisles. It was probably a good thing I didn’t have an aisle seat! I wouldn’t have been able to not reach out and touch the camel as it plodded past.
Alas, the last day came and went and I am back home building on all of the work I managed to get done during our luxurious stay. Next year we plan on having the retreat at a resort in Minnesota, but I will always remember the incredible stay we had at Long Creek.
Below is a video I took when I first entered the resort. Be jealous. Be very, very jealous.
Spring is fighting its way across the country, making my daffodil leaves pop up through the temporary snowfalls and sending me into a frenzy of searching for fresh, new reads. Here are a few new ones I am excited about starting.
Count Me In (Emerald City Romance #1) by Mikal Dawn – releasing in May.
Allegra Spencer has been living a careful life. Her safe job as an accountant is book-ended by going to church and the gym. Okay, sometimes the gym.
Fine. She goes to church. And the coffee shop.
She avoids risk at all cost, preferring to stay safe in her cozy condo. Until her accounting firm goes belly up and she’s suddenly out of a job.
Tyler Hawk had a glorious career as a star NFL Tight End. He retired on a high note and is now living a second dream of owning his own business leading others on extreme outdoor adventures. But he needs help with his books–and his heart.
When Allegra takes the job, sparks–and water–fly. Will Allegra be able to show Tyler he’s worth so much more than his star-status while being open to the most thrilling adventure of all…love?
Mikal is a local author friend of mine, and she has such an amazing sense of humor that I cannot wait to read this gem!! And it has lots of COFFEE in it!!!
Ashen City (Black Tiger #2) by Sara Baysinger –coming in April
Make your choice, Ember Carter. And make it count.
Ember Carter has escaped the flames of death. But will she ever be free from Chief Titus? When the orchard goes up in smoke and her family turns up missing, Ember returns to Frankfort hoping to find her brother and father, and to get Titus to drop the death wish he has against her.
But Titus is always one step ahead. When Ember faces him head-on, she’s captured, only to receive another death sentence. But on her way to her execution, plans go a little askew, and Ember finds herself traveling to the one place no one dares travel: Louisville. If the outskirts of Ky were a ghost town, the ashen city is the borderline of hell itself, but it’s the one place Ember can find refuge from the people who want her dead.
In the ashen city, Ember must learn that being a hero is more than doing what is right because she can, but doing it for the good of the people. And when plans take a turn for the worst, she must decide if it’s worth risking her life to save her country.
Preorder it here.
Last year I read Baysinger’s first book, Black Tiger, and am so thrilled to finally get the chance at reading what happens next. This is a series about a post-apocalyptic world where God and the Bible have been eradicated from the history books and minds of the controlled populace. However, the main character, Ember, continues to feel a tug that leads her toward her Creator. Really well done with many twists along the way. I’m confident Sara will deliver with this second book.
Most of the time when I see a Facebook ad I get a little annoyed. Yes, they use my browsing history to bring up articles and items for sale that should interest me. But, I’m a writer. I look up many things I’m not particularly interested in, except to learn or write about them. However, a few weeks ago I saw an ad for Owlcrate – Magical – Monthly – Reads.
I had to click on it.
Owlcrate is a subscription service that mails out packages of themed items around the chosen book of the month, always young adult and magical. And, can you believe it, a NEW AUTHOR!! How exciting!
What you get in your subscription depends on what the theme is. Today I received my first Owlcrate and I was so excited to open it. I wasn’t disappointed.
Inside I found the theme: Run Away with the Circus. Enclosed is a tote bag, inspired by The Night Circus and created by Evie Bookish. Also included is a Le Cirque Des Reves candle. It’s a book lover’s soy candle from Frostbeard Studio. The scent is a blend of caramel popcorn, roasted chestnuts, and bonfire. I wish you could smell just how delicious this candle is! Mmmm!
Next is a yummy mini doughnut lip balm, inspired by classic traveling carnivals. It’s from Geek Fire Labs, an etsy shop. Pucker up!!
There is also a small notepad made from recycled casino playing cards hand created by Attic Journals. Attic Journals is a company owned by husband and wife Michelle Sanders and Miguel Salinas.
I’m loving the page flags from Girl of All Work. You have got to go to their site and see what all this Girl of All Work does! It’s really fun.
Lastly, there’s the book of the month: Caraval by Stephanie Garber. Along with the book you get a bookplate signed by the author, exclusive quote card, and a sneak peak at Garber’s audio book. All of this is for $29.99 + shipping and handling.
Book description: This is a story about two sisters, Scarlett and Tella, who run away from their controlling father, and join in the game of Caraval. Scarlett has dreamed of attending Caraval her entire life, but things go awry almost immediately, as Tella is kidnapped and becomes a part of the game itself. Now Scarlett is in a race against time to find the clues, navigate the game and rescue her sister before it’s too late.
This is Stephanie Garber’s debut novel! I’m so excited to read this book. The best part is that this package will be going to someone needy at the holidays to lift their spirits. That is, after I read Caraval. (I promise not to dog-ear it!)
I can’t wait to see what March’s Owlcrate brings!!
**Please note I added the links behind the names for these fabulous goodies Owlcrate added. Feel free to click on them and see what other fabulous items they have for sale.
Over the course of my writing career I’ve struggled with what it is that makes a good story. Since writing is so subjective, it’s a given that there will always be someone or groups of people who won’t like your story. I used to think that in order to have a successful book, it had to be well-written. But not all books that are well written make an impact. And not all books that are badly written will tank.
Take Stephanie Meyer and her Twilight series. It was a resounding success in both the book and movie realm. But ask any regular writer about how well the Twilight series books are written and you’d get an answer that is certainly not a ten star review.
So, how did the Twilight series get so popular? The tone of the books, a forbidden love that goes beyond the norms along with the cost this love has on each character along the way, is alluring. Every character is perfectly flawed and appealing in their own way. Twilight had story with a capital S.
I was just discussing this with another writer the other day as we were dissecting Twilight. We came to the conclusion that Meyers had the knack for keeping the reader hooked and wanting to turn the page to find out what was going to happen next. The audience became attached each time something happened to keep those lovebirds apart. Readers were rooting for Team Edward or Team Jacob. Whether you liked or read Twilight or not, this series had an emotional investment we all want to have between our characters and story and the reader.
Andrew Stanton, a Pixar writer and producer, shared what made Pixar’s stories so good in his The Clues to a Great Story . In his TED talk, Andrew shared the points to focus on in creating a resounding story.
- Make Me Care. You have to care about the characters right away. What is happening that makes you identify or have empathy for this character? Is the character suffering an injustice? Is the character thrown into a new situation that is difficult or emotional and you automatically want to root for them? Is there a secret that is intriguing and needs to be figured out? All of these make us care for the character immediately.
- Take Me With You. Give the reader a promise, a problem that will make the story worth reading. Is it the promise of adventure? Is the character fighting to overcome something? Is it revenge? What is it that the reader is going to expect to find in the pages?
- Be Intentional. There has to be motivation for the character. Is the character searching for love or acceptance? Do they require vengeance against some force that wronged them? Are they working to overcome a difficult past? Each character has to have a reason for being in the story.
- Let Me Like You. Your characters have to be likable. This is the part I struggle with because I tend to be black and white, especially when it comes to my villains. But every evil character thinks they are the hero in their own story. Let us like them for some reason, to at least understand what motivates them to do what they do. An evil queen must have been a sweet girl once. Let’s see what makes them vulnerable so we understand their despicable actions.
- Delight Me. Charm your audience. Get them on your character’s side. Make them cheer for the hero who counters the death spell and turns the rabid wizard into a slug, who’s then swallowed by the shark they’ve been mind-controlling. Let’s sigh with relief when the protagonist finds the decree that saves hundreds of innocent lives in the kingdom. Let’s feel it when the hero kisses the heroine when the town is saved from a gun-slinging bad guy.
We may not read or love vampires like in the Twilight books, but we can learn how to create beloved characters who are placed in a dire situation that the readers stick with until the resonating end.
It’s all about story with a capital S.
I was pleasantly surprised with how many times God was mentioned in the inauguration today (Friday January 20, 2017). The amount of prayer and scripture allowed into the event is encouraging, even if you didn’t vote for Donald Trump. Can this be a year where the religious persecution that has been building in the United States finds a low tide? I certainly hope so. It feels like it will be a year for change. Maybe one that holds some unity. I’m thankful to God for that.
This year is going to bring some change for me as well. I’m still working on getting my first book, Knee High Lies, published. I have joined a women’s ministry group called Wholly Loved, whose mission is to embrace women and show them they are loved, unique, and have purpose in Christ. It’s very exciting.
Personally I’ve been studying deeper on faith. Faith that can spur the Spirit to do things in my life that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. I felt the Spirit begin to move last year with a simple act by Allen Arnold at the ACFW conference. For information on this check out my blog article I Got This God.
Since then it has seemed that Satan was working hard against me. I had some issues in my marriage. There were some personal issues I’ve had to deal with. And each time I took a step, something would happen to make me take two or three steps back. It’s been very frustrating. I’m sure many of you have been in the same position where no matter what you do everything around you continues to trip you up.
But, I am confident after all I’ve been through that God is going to finish this good work in my life, both in my ministry and in my writing life. I’m not making any new year’s resolutions, but am opening myself up to whatever changes this year brings. May my faith grow deeper as the year rolls by. I wish the same for you all as well.
Due to the holidays, this short story is a repost from a blog I did a couple of years ago. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.
The Christmas Wish
Pearlie travelled across the quiet neighborhood, gathering the prayers and requests from the children in her care. This was her first Christmas season as a guardian angel, and she wanted to do a good job for her boss.
Most of the prayers were simple ones, thanking God for their parents, or their pets. Since this was December, more prayers turned to requests for toys or specific gifts. Pearlie shook her head, her creamy white curls swishing across her velvet wings. Kids didn’t always understand that prayers were not like wishes to be granted. However, she wrote a few requests down in her notebook, and continued on.
Moonlight glittered upon the frost which blanketed the streets and houses. Only fifteen more children to go and her night rounds would be complete. She could go back up to her heavenly home and watch over the slumbering children.
Pearlie reached the last house on her list. It was a small home, with two little girls—five-year-old Holly, and seven-year-old Noel. Their mommy and daddy usually sat with them each night as they said their prayers, and tucked them in before wishing them both sweet dreams. Pearlie smiled, she liked this family.
But, when she floated into the bedroom, she heard it. Soft cries echoed between the girls. Pearlie realized something was wrong.
“Okay, Holly, Noel. It’s time for bed, girls. Do you want me to read you a story?” The girl’s Aunt Joy came in and crouched down in front of the bookshelf by the door, leafing through the girl’s books. “How about the night before Christmas?”
Holly and Noel sniffled and shook their heads no.
“How about the Twelve Days of Christmas?” Aunt Joy sat down on Noel’s bed. The seven-year-old’s lip quivered. She shook her head no again.
Aunt Joy thumbed through the books. “Hm, here’s a couple good ones. How about A Christmas Carol? Or The Grinch?”
Holly and Noel hung their heads. “We don’t have a gift to give mommy at the hospital for Christmas.”
Pearlie frowned and her chest squeezed tight. Their mommy was gone because she was sick. That hadn’t been on her roster when she’d left earlier.
Aunt Joy set the books aside. “Oh, guys. I know. Hey, the best gift your mommy can get is you being there at the hospital with her tomorrow.”
The girls didn’t look up at their aunt.
“How about if I tell you some Christmas stories from when your mom and I were kids?”
Holly wiped her wet cheeks on her sleeve, and Noel blew her nose in a tissue, both nodded their heads yes.
Pearlie sat up on their dresser and waited while Aunt Joy tucked the girls into their beds and sat down on a chair between them.
“When your mom and I were little girls, we loved wintertime. We would catch snowflakes on our tongues, make snow angels. We’d build snow men, and sled until it was dark out. I remember one Christmas your mom and I got the flu” Aunt Joy cringed and then laughed. “We had really bad sore throats. It snowed, and snowed, and ssssssnnnnnnnnoooooooowwwwwweeeeeddddd that day.” Aunt Joy tickled them and the girls giggled.
“It snowed so much we got stuck in the house. But guess what your grandma did?” Aunt Joy’s eyes sparkled as she looked first at Holly and then at Noel. “She made us snow cream. Grandpa gathered up a bucket full of fresh snow, and grandma made the snow cream. Oh, it was absolutely the best ever.” Aunt Joy flung her arms open wide, a big smile filled her face.
“Yum!” Noel giggled and kicked her feet beneath the blanket
“Yay!” Holly squeaked and clapped her hands.
Pearlie smiled. She liked their Aunt Joy.
“And the best part,” Aunt Joy tweaked the girl’s noses one at a time, “is that the very next day we were better. But now, it’s time to say your prayers.” Aunt Joy folded her hands and bowed her head as the girls said their prayers.
Pearlie took notes as they all prayed together. At the end of their prayers Noel and Holly asked for it to snow so they could make their mommy some snow cream to take to the hospital the next day as a special Christmas gift.
Pearlie hurried back home. Her boss smiled at Pearlie when she told Him about the girl’s sick mother and what the girls had requested. He nodded His magnificent head, and winked.
The next morning Pearlie smiled when she landed in her neighborhood, smiling at the mounds of snow that had fallen overnight. Several of those shoveling the sidewalks and driveways murmured about the freak snow storm the weather men hadn’t predicted. Pearlie just smiled.
She headed for the small house at the end of her list first, and found Aunt Joy, Holly, and Noel with three buckets full of snow in their back yard. The girls, dressed in their snowsuits, were on the ground making snow angels, and Aunt Joy was rolling a snow ball into a large ball for the bottom of a snow man.
Drifting over the houses, Pearlie continued her work, jotting down prayers and special requests. It was dark before she got back to the small house to check on Noel and Holly. The girls were being tucked in bed by their dad.
“Can you believe how much it snowed today?” Their daddy asked them.
The girls nodded, their blue eyes wide with happiness.
Holly’s face grew serious. “It snowed for mommy.”
“We prayed for snow cream to make mommy feel better.” Noel stated.
Their daddy grinned at them. “You did? That was the best Christmas present ever.”
Big smiles covered the girl’s faces.
Warmth filled Pearlie. She was so glad she could help make this one Christmas wish come true.
Snow Cream Recipe
1 gallon of fresh snow ¾ c. white sugar
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk 2 eggs beaten
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
In large bowl, combine evaporated milk, eggs, vanilla, and sugar until smooth. Gradually stir in snow until mixture reaches desired consistency. Eat at once.
Today I’d like to introduce you to a new author friend of mine, Lindsay Harrel. I met Lindsay through a Facebook friend who liked her post about her new book, One More Song to Sing, and after reading the blurb, I was hooked! So without further ado, I’d like to welcome Lindsay to you.
Lindsay, please tell us a little about yourself.
Hi, Dawn. Thanks so much for having me! I am the 30-something stay-at-home mom of a toddler boy, with another little blessing on the way. I’ve worked in education, marketing, and editing, and still do some freelance work during my son’s naptime. My husband and I have been married for 10 years and live in Arizona. We’ve got a busy life and I wouldn’t trade a moment.
What inspired you to become an author?
I’m one of those people who loved reading and writing as a child. You could always find me with someone else’s book in my hands or with a stack of stapled-together papers writing my own. Somewhere along the line, I kind of lost my zeal for writing fiction and decided to pursue journalism instead. But when I was working on my master’s degree, I took a fiction writing class as an elective, and my love for fiction came careening back into my life.
Do you have a favorite food that you could eat all of the time and not get tired of it?
I know I sound like a little kid, but pizza. Buffalo wings are the bomb too. LOL.
Preference: small towns or big cities? Why?
I’ve lived in the suburbs of Phoenix almost all my life, so that’s a hard one! There is so much to admire about small-town living—the intimacy, the simplicity, the quirkiness (if Gilmore Girls is to be believed). But I’m not sure I could go very long without immediate access to some of my favorite stores and restaurants, so I suppose I’d probably be more on the side of favoring big cities.
Are you a coffee drinker or a tea person?
I despise coffee and tolerate flavored iced tea. I didn’t even like that until I was trying to kick my soda habit and needed some caffeine to conquer headaches!
When you write characters, do you put yourself in any of the roles?
(such as I see myself as the protagonist, or I’m more like my antagonist.) I think I can usually see a bit of myself in every character. I like to dive into a character’s motivations, and so many times, they come from a place of hurt or fear. I can relate very well to both of those emotions.
I love music (I’m a singer) and I love stories about redemption. Still, I don’t know if there was one “aha” moment when coming up with the story. But the first scene I envisioned is now the third scene in the book, when Ellie—a young performer struggling to make ends meet—is singing and playing guitar in a somewhat seedy joint in Nashville. She is dejected and hopeless, and I immediately asked myself why. The fun part was figuring it out, and the story unfolded slowly from there.
What is the most fulfilling part of being an author?
For me, it’s just such a privilege to get to share God’s message of hope, redemption, and love with others. It’s also satisfying to do something that makes use of my passions and abilities. I love doing something I feel like I was made to do, you know? Even during the hard days, that sustains me. Well, that and God.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about One More Song to Sing?
I would share more specifics about the story itself, but I don’t want to give too much away! What I can say is this—I hope that every person who picks up the book will come away with a little more hope, a little more love, and a little more belief in God’s power to redeem our lives.
Thanks so much for having me, Dawn! It’s been fun chatting with you.
You, too! We wish you great success on One More Song to Sing.