Monday, July 24, 2017

Interview with Lisa Wingate

 I am thrilled to be able to present this interview with Lisa Wingate regarding her new book, Before We Were Yours. I've loved Lisa's books, but when I read the blurb about this one I couldn't buy it fast enough. I have a very personal connection to this story.

For readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale—an engrossing new novel, inspired by a true story, about two families, generations apart, that are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

My own mother grew up under the iron hand of Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children's Home Society. It wasn't something Mother liked to talk about, but what she did tell us is completely consistent with this story, based on truth, that Lisa Wingate has portrayed with meticulous research and heart-wrenching story-telling.

Lisa, welcome. I can't tell you now much this book has meant to me:

1.  What was the inspiration for this story?  

For me, every piece of fiction begins with a spark. From there, the story travels on the winds of research and imagination. Before We Were Yours had the most unexpected kind of beginning.

I was up late one night working on materials for a different story and had the TV playing in the background for company. A rerun of the Investigation Discovery: Dangerous Women cycled through at about two in the morning. I looked up and saw images of an old mansion. The front room was filled with bassinettes and babies. There were crying babies, laughing babies, babies who were red-cheeked and sweaty-faced and sickly looking. I tuned in and immediately became fascinated by the bizarre, tragic, and startling history of Georgia Tann and her Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. One of the most shocking things about the story was how recent it was. Georgia Tann and her childrens’ home operated from the 1920s through 1950. After watching the segment, I literally could not clear the images from my mind. I couldn't stop wondering about the thousands of children who had been victimized by Georgia’s system, who had been brokered in adoptions for profit. What became of them? Where were they now?

I couldn’t help but dig into the story. I was shocked by the scope of Georgia’s network, the fact that she affected so many children, and the tragic consequences of her cruelty and greed. An estimated five thousand babies and children passed through her hands. While in the care of her system of orphanages and boarding homes, many were neglected, abused, denied schooling, medical care, and food. They were separated from their siblings with no preparation or explanation. They were, quite simply, offered as products. Prospective parents could choose hair color, eye color, age, gender, religious background, and genetic predisposition for talents such as art and music. As long as prospects had the ability to pay, they could circumvent many of the normal barriers to adoption. There were rumors of family members procuring babies and children as gifts for couples who might have lost a child, or couldn’t conceive.

What, I wondered, could motivate someone like Georgia Tann? How could so many others – law enforcement officials, welfare workers, court workers, caretakers – be coerced into taking part, or at least turning a blind eye to the kidnapping and abuse of so many children? How could as many as five-hundred children have simply vanished from the care of Georgia’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society with no investigation of their whereabouts and probable deaths? How could ordinary people have failed question Georgia’s frequent newspaper ads, offering children as “Christmas presents” and “Yours for the asking?”


            (Image courtesy of Preservation and Special Collections Department,
University Libraries, University of Memphis)

Writing Before We Were Yours was a means of answering those questions in a very personal way.

2.  Tell us about the book’s cover and what makes it unique.

The cover actually went through many iterations before we landed on a combination that seemed just perfect for the story. I have to say, of all of my book covers on over thirty novels now, this one is my favorite. There’s just something about the posture of these two little girls that speaks to me. They represent twelve-year-old Rill, a little girl growing up on her parents’ Mississippi river shantyboat and her young sister, Fern. When they and their five siblings are taken from their parents one stormy night and placed in one of Georgia Tann’s orphan houses, Rill struggles not only to protect herself, but to keep her siblings together. That battle, to me is what this picture represents—the uncertainty of their situation, the strength of their sibling bond, and Rill’s determination to return to her free floating life on the river.

3.  Tell us about the inspiration behind your characters. Where does it come from?

After researching the Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal, my first question was, Whose story is this, really? Is it a story of parents––both biological and adoptive? Of greed, falsified records, and political corruption? Of one woman’s cruel and unconscionable actions?

In the end, though, the voices that whispered through my mind where the voices of the children. What was it like, I wondered, to be taken from everything you knew, with no explanation or understanding of what was happening, and placed in the care of someone like Georgia Tann?

That question gave life to twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her five young siblings, Camellia, Lark, Fern, and Gabion. Growing up on their family’s tiny Mississippi River shantyboat, the Foss children live an almost magical life, until, as was so often the case in reality, a random twist of fate causes their path to intersect with Georgia Tann’s. Rill’s story is like the stories of so many children who fought not only to survive and adapt, but to reclaim their lives, their family bonds, and their stolen identities. What I admired and treasured most about Rill in the end was her grit, her enduring love for her siblings, and her ability, against all odds, to cling to her sense of who she is.

4.     Where do the truth and fiction in Before We Were Yours meet?

In the case of something like Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, it’s challenging and in some ways, haunting.

Rill and her siblings in the novel and their shantyboat life on the Mississippi river began taking shape as I combed through accounts of birth parents who’d searched for their stolen children for decades and adoptees who’d searched for their birth families. Survivors of TCHS care, desperately seeking their true identities, were confronted with systematic legislative roadblocks, altered paperwork, and closely held secrets. Because powerful families and Hollywood celebrities were involved in TCHS adoptions, and because many people felt that the children should be left where they were, there was pressure to legalize even the most irregular of Tann’s adoptions and seal the records, which was exactly what happened. For years, adoptees and birth families fought for the right to see their records, but they were not successful in having the records opened until 1996. For many birth parents and family members, who’d grieved their lost little ones for a lifetime, that was simply too late.

For others, the attainment of their records was only the beginning of a long, frustrating, and sometimes fruitless journey. Georgia Tann routinely altered names, ages, and family histories to prevent birth parents from finding their children. With the stroke of a pen, she also altered genetic backgrounds to satisfy the preferences of her clients. The children she brokered were often represented as products of accident pregnancies among “gifted college students” or “talented young ladies of good breeding” who could not, of course, keep them. Children were represented to Jewish adoptive parents as being of Jewish descent, when in reality, they were not. Children were represented as having genetic predisposition toward high intellect or skills in music and art. These kinds of nefarious practices often resulted in adoptions that went poorly when the children couldn’t meet the expectations of their new parents.

As with most stories that are true or partially true, the dividing line between good and evil is murky in the case of Georgia Tann and her Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society. The journey of the Foss children in the novel reflects this. Certainly, TCHS removed some children from unfit birth families and facilitated adoptions into safe, loving homes that provided great opportunity. Sadly, thousands of others were left with lasting damage and questions that would never be answered.

I hope Before We Were Yours, in some way, tells their stories. Yes, it’s fiction. Rill and her four siblings, growing up on their family’s shantyboat in the Mississippi River were figments of my imagination. But in a way, they existed. In a way, they are any one and every one of these children, taken from their families, torn from their lives with no explanation or understanding of what was happening, and deposited into an unregulated, unfit, and politically corrupt system that operated not based on child welfare, but on profit. Those were the stories I wanted to tell – the stories told in the smallest voices or never told at all.

As a mother of two boys (now grown), I experienced the writing of Before We Were Yours through a parent’s heart. I deeply felt the strength of the family bond and Rill’s desperate struggle to protect her siblings and reunite with her parents. I also deeply felt the children’s vulnerability as they search for safe haven among their new caretakers and have difficulty trusting new people in their lives. Who wouldn’t? As a parent, I couldn’t help seeing my own children in Rill’s position, imagining them in her situation. How would they survive? Would they manage to remain together? Would they, as so many TCHS victims did, fight to regain their identities later in life?

5.   How much research did you have to do for this book?

            The book was research-intensive. I took in nearly everything I could find about the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis and Georgia Tann. In large part, I found bits of the story here and bits there. The Discovery Channel’s Deadly Women feature and a 60 Minutes segment provided helpful information and visuals. Several books, including, Babies For Sale by Linda Austin and The Baby Thief by Barbara Raymond were particularly helpful in researching the adoption scandal. Harlan Hubbard’s Shantyboat Journal was a beautiful account of shantyboat life on the river. I also spent time in Memphis, researching locations, combing through the river museum, visiting the library and the university’s photo archives, and talking to people who remembered the scandal.

6.   The original manuscript of Before We Were Yours generated worldwide   interest. Tell us about that.

            After the long months of reading, researching, imagining and writing Before We Were Yours, the sale of the novel took place in a wild rush. The novel went out to several publishers on a Thursday. By Friday, we’d received the first preemptive offer. On Monday and Tuesday, I talked with editors from eight or nine publishing houses, all of whom were incredible, talented people who had edited books I’d read and loved. The auction took place the following week on Wednesday. It was a whirlwind day. The bidding was brisk and the book finally sold to Susanna Porter (editor of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife) at Ballantine, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House. At the same time, preemptive bids were coming in from foreign countries. Translation rights have sold in fourteen countries so far, including fourteen countries, including France, Spain, Israel, Germany, Holland, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Italy, Bulgaria, Norway, and Portugal. 

7.   What are some of the most interesting things you found about this subject that you weren’t able to use in the story?

Because Before We Were Yours is fiction, I was able to thread in what I felt were the most interesting pieces of the true-life history of Georgia Tann and her Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. One interesting aspect of the true story that isn’t in the novel is the special investigation that was conducted as Georgia Tann’s operation was finally shut down in 1950. The original Report to Governor Browning was filled with information about Tann’s nefarious methods, the deaths of children in her system of unregulated boarding homes, and the sheer panic of adoptive families who were terrified that the children they’d raised for years would be taken away. There were also some wonderful newspaper stories written years later, telling the reunion stories of birth families finally reunited.

8.  What do you hope the reader takes away from the story?

I hope readers take away the message that we need not be defined by our pasts. I hope Rill’s experience resonates with readers who have in some way surrendered to the wounds of painful past experiences. Rill faces that battle as she matures. As an old woman, she advises thirty-year-old Avery, “A woman’s past need not predict her future. She can dance to new music if she chooses. Her own music. To hear it, she must only stop talking. To herself, I mean. We’re always trying to persuade ourselves of things.” Living in a defensive posture is another form of allowing other people to dictate who we are and what we believe about ourselves. Letting go, dancing to our own music is a risk, but on the other side of that process lays light, freedom and fulfillment. That’s what I hope  people take away from Before We Were Yours. Our lives have purpose, but to fulfill that purpose we must first claim ourselves.
I also hope that, in a broader sense, the story of Rill and the Foss children serves to document the lives of all the children who disappeared into Georgia Tann’s unregulated system. Only by remembering history are we reminded not to let it repeat itself. It’s important that we, ordinary people busy with the rush of every day life, remember that children are vulnerable, that on any given day, thousands of children live the uncertainty of Rill’s journey. We have to be aware. We must be kind neighbors, determined protectors, willing encouragers, wise teachers, and strong advocates, not just for the children who are ours by birth, but for all children.

Lisa, thanks so much for sharing this with us. My mom passed away in February. I'm not sure she ever shed the "defensive posture," but she did try to "dance to her own music." Before We Were Yours has helped me understand her a little better. 

Part 2 of this interview, chock full of tips for writers will post on Friday, July 28. 

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Diversify Your Product Line

Merchandise for Authors is a game changing book of hints, tips, ideas, resources---all centered around developing product lines that compliment our novels.

I got excited reading this. I already developed a coloring book for the Circle Bar Ranch series, but this opened my mind up for tons of other ideas too and provided great tips about bringing those ideas into reality. Now I intend to develop a fuller product line for my series to supplement my book sales. Eventually, I hope to open an online store or at least figure out how to sell book-related items on my website---or both.

The resources Melissa introduced are totally new to me, and they helped me to think outside what I expected for book-related products. For instance, did you know there are sites where you can have fabric made with whatever design you want? Want to have your cover on a bolt of cotton? Go to Spoonflower---they do fabric, wall paper, gift-wrapping paper, all sorts of super-cool things that are out of the ordinary for authors. Have your fabric designed, then fashion scarves, purses, whatever, and voila! You have a custom-made product that bears your book images.

Melissa provides enough links to get you started cranking out the ideas and gives you direction of how to use the products you create to enhance your book sales. She also helps you focus on being not just an author, but a business. This book is worth the $7.99 print price, and it's only 144 pages. Get it and open your mind to new ideas and business opportunities.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

How Important Is Research to Your Work?

Here's a good example of being authentic with characters. This
is a private investigator who goes undercover as a ... well, a
Minion? A superhero? A drag queen? Wait a minute. That's not a
P.I. That's my granddaughter dressed up as a ... well, let's just
say she's dressed up. Yeah, that works. That's authentic. Right.
How important is research to writing a great novel? What if it's not historical? Is it even necessary if it's a fictional setting/town set in current time? Won't your readers already have a good idea of what life is like in today's world?

These are all questions novelists face when writing a book these days. It's a fairly common view that if it's historical, a writer needs to research the period for speech patterns, dress, and other aspects of the time it portrays such as food preparation methods, farming or hunting procedures, societal mores, etc.

But what if it's set in today's world? Can you get away with not researching if your characters live in current times in a culture that's familiar to most of your perceived audience? While that decision rests entirely with the writer, if I were asked for my two cents, I'd have to say no--as in, "no, you shouldn't try to get away without researching." And my reason for that is simple. It shows when you research and it shows when you don't.

As an example, my current series is set in rural Virginia in current times. While speech patterns are broadly consistent across our nation at this time, many of my characters are older. Their speech was formulated decades before young people today. They're from the south, so that adds another layer of differences to be considered. They're also nuts, but that's a whole other post for another day. Each of these slight differences adds up to a big gap in what a younger (sane) person from the north would agree is "normal" for them. Now, keep in mind we're not trying to make everything our characters do or everything about our setting seem "normal" to all our readers. That would be impossible, not to mention boring. Celebrating the differences in human beings, in our lifestyles, food preferences, society's cultural expectations, language, and other things that define us is part of the mystery and appeal of books.

So what are we trying to do? We're trying to make our work authentic. While no one will ever visit Road's End, the fictional village in my series, I want to make them want to. In fact, I strive to make them feel as though they have visited it, that they know the residents, that they understand what World War II veterans think about world affairs today, or what things the reader and the character might agree or disagree on, and for what reasons. The little details I incorporate--whether it's a speech  colloquialism, weather tidbit, or local plant life--makes the setting and characters that much more authentic and appealing. I want my readers to be sad to say goodbye to the characters and yearn to visit the location themselves.

Isn't that the reason we write--to invite readers into a world we've created as authentically and appealingly as we can? To make them want to return again and again? To tell others about this great world (re: book) they've discovered that made them feel as though they were in its pages?

What about you? Do you research?

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Marketing on a Budget

Some authors can do it---hire a publicist, head out to interviews all over the nation, pay for TV commercials and glossy, full-page ads in national magazines. Most of us can't, but all of us need some form of marketing plan if we intend to actually sell the novels we've spent so much blood, sweat, and tears developing.

As I've mentioned before, I'm no pro at this. I was late to the game. Several books on the market before I started developing a clue as how to reach the market. When I figure something out, I usually run here to 777 Peppermint Place---now known by the less flavorful name of Linda Yezak's blog---and share with you. Last week, I shared "Effective Linking with Bitly," This week, I want to mention a few other tools I've discovered---and most are perfect for a shoe-string budget.

Giveaway Contest Sites

My promo run on Gleam for Coming Home: a Tiny House Collection is still ongoing, so I can't really score it yet, but Gleam and Rafflecopter are similar. I don't know which is best---and at the moment, I'm frustrated with Gleam because I can't seem to pull up a link to their homepage, just to my campaign page. I probably just need more coffee.

Anyway, what's great about both of these sites is that they help you grow your visibility and following for little or no cost. Even using the freebie service, you can create contests that send potential readers through several steps of liking your Facebook page or following you on Twitter or, in my case, discovering my new website before becoming eligible to win a copy of your book. So with these services, you're promoting both yourself and your product. With the paid service, you can also have the participants join your newsletter.

Since I haven't tried Rafflecopter yet, I can speak only of Gleam---and even then, only partially. But Gleam isn't totally self-evident. There's a bit of a learning curve to creating a campaign. I went through and played with it to discover the most effective ways I could use it, and even then I goofed. I used the buttons that allowed contestants to follow me on Facebook and Twitter, then tried to use bonus points to have them follow me on Amazon and Goodreads. Problem is, the "Bonus" button doesn't allow for links, so all the contestant had to do was poke that they'd followed me to win points in the contest. Actually following me turned out to be optional, and since Amazon itself doesn't provide follower stats, I have no idea whether folks did. I can tell they haven't on Goodreads. This doesn't mean it's not a good tool, just that I used it wrong. We'll see its effectiveness at the end of the month.

But the point is to combine your efforts to bring attention to both your book and yourself. People signing up for a giveaway are voluntarily making themselves available for your social media promo efforts.

One of the best things I've found for this combo effort is Ryan Zee's promo service. Not long ago, Ryan ran a campaign for "small-town contemporary sweet-to-mild romance," and I jumped on board. This is a paid service, and joining that campaign cost me $60, not too bad on my small budget. Ryan accumulated 40 authors, each willing to giveaway two books each to only two winners (can you imagine getting 40 books for free?!). It was great for the contestant, but even better for me---it was a newsletter/Amazon-follower drive. Once the competition ended, Ryan sent me the email addresses of all the participants to use for my newsletter list. Of the over 300 who subscribed, only 22 unsubscribed after receiving the first newsletter.

Email Promo Services

Both of these services work for gaining a following, but for gaining interest in a release alone, I recommend one of the email promo services. There is an amazing number of these sites---I get inundated with "follow" requests from them on Twitter, and I'm sure you do too---but few  are truly effective.

Prices on these vary considerably from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars. BookBub is hands-down the best, but it's also the most expensive and the most difficult to get on with. My go-tos are Digital Book Today, Free Kindle Books & Tips, Fussy Librarian, and Ereader News Today, among a few others.

Digital Book Today is great because it gives multiple access. For $30, Coming Home was listed on their blog and went out in two emails to their followers. But the most effective the ones on the list is Ereader News Today. It's also the most expensive of those I use at $55/ad.

I found a list of email promo services on Indies Unlimited, my new favorite source on all things indie. I've been going through the list, discovering which other services are effective, but it's a slow process because it's a comprehensive list. If you try any of the other services, let me know what your results are.

The point of these services is to promote books that are free or 99c. If they take anything over 99c at all, they charge more. Some of them charge more or less for different genres too. You just have to look and see what fits your budget, then look them up on Twitter. Although these are email services, Twitter can give you a fairly good idea of the size of their following---though, while I was writing this, I checked my favorite, Ereader News Today. Their following is just under 3000. Go figure.

Combining Efforts

Combine any of these ideas I've mentioned with a Kindle Countdown campaign, and you're likely to get good sales. Combine anything on this page with an askDavid blitz, and you can expand your reach.

Kindle Countdown is a free service through Kindle. You can access it through your KDP page. With the countdown, you can set your book on sale for a certain number of days, and Kindle will raise the price of the book as the days go on.

What's great about the countdown is that Kindle pays the royalty at the regular price. What's rough about it is that they won't accept a book that has been on sale in the past three months, and they won't allow the price to change after the campaign for three months afterward. Still, this works great to get attention for novels in a series. Play with the pricing of the books in the series to play off the campaign of the one on sale.

Tweet services are another great tool to use in concert with the others or independently. I recently found MelRock on Fivrr. This service has as reach of over 65K last I saw, and I intend to try it sometime, but the one I'm most familiar with is askDavid (on Twitter, the handle is @book_tribe).
David has around 58K followers, so getting on his tweet list alone can have quite a reach, but he encourages each participant to retweet the others, so the reach rises exponentially--all for $10.00. For that low price, you get 30 tweets that you design and schedule yourself using your own copy, images, and links. You're allowed only two hashtags, so use them wisely.

When you're designing your campaign, consider what you want it to accomplish and how to make the most of it. Ninety-nine cent sales are more for exposure than income, but they're effective. Combining services can make them more effective.

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Friday, July 14, 2017

The Normal World (Guest: Usvaldo de Leon)

So today was mundane: I woke up, walked the dog, ate, got ready and went to work. It was very similar to what happened the previous day (woke up, ate, got ready, walked the dog and off to work) and to other days stretching back into the mists of time, or possibly at least the Ming Dynasty.

That sounds boring.

Does it? Do you not get ready and go to work in the mornings?

Sure. But this isn’t about me, it’s about you. Do you ever do anything?

Do I ever do anything exciting? Well, one time, someone delivered a cell phone to me by Fed Ex, and when I opened the package, the phone immediately started ringing.

Wow. That’s cool! Who was it? What did they want? What happened?

I’m kind of paranoid about bill collectors, so when I saw it was an unknown number I didn’t pick up.

…I can’t even with you.

The normal world is one we are all familiar with. It’s a land of intermittent beauty and excitement generously larded with stultifying monotony. It also has the perverse habit of being interesting in painful ways: breaking a leg, breaking and entering or breaking your car engine. These incidents relieve us from the tedium but not in a way we appreciate. This is, of course, because change equals growth and growth is painful and we, as a general rule do not like pain. It’s like that old joke: a man went to the doctor. ‘Doctor, it hurts when I do this’, the man said, waggling his arm. ‘Then don’t do that.’

When it comes to growth, most of us don’t do that.

No one asks this of fictional characters. They are put in terrible situations and told, ‘grow’. “Hey Neo, guess what? Your entire life is a lie and you are actually bald and live in amniotic fluid! How cool is that?”

Not cool, man. Not cool at all. I was a computer programmer and a part time hacker. I was cool. I was Keanu Reeves!

However, for a story to work, characters need to not only transcend the normal world they need to be established inside of it. This is a necessary step for the reader to identify with the character. It is also a necessary step to ground the character. We can’t see where we are going until we understand where we have been. In the case of Neo, from The Matrix, the normal world is a job he hates. Neo knows there is something greater out there and is actively trying to find it. This is typical of a fictional character. There are stuck in the normal world and are looking for a way out – to transcend.

Raskolnikov is bored with the world and wants to understand what it means to be God and decide others fate in Crime and Punishment; Huckleberry Finn is not going to sit around and suffer himself to be ‘sivilized’, so he lights out for the Mississippi; Nick in The Great Gatsby is tired of his tiny hovel in West Egg and is more than ready to be introduced to the beautiful, glittering people on the other side of the sound.

When plotting your story, be sure to allow room to establish the normal world. Before the journey begins, we need to know what the character already understands: that the normal world is a drag from which they need to escape. We can only know this by spending some time there with them. However, there is another purpose to opening in the normal world: it enables us to see the issues that are setting  the character up for their trip into the extraordinary. In Liar, Liar, for example, Jim Carrey’s character Fletcher Reede lies constantly. We are shown several different scenarios in which he lies. He lies to advance his career; he lies to advance his client’s interests; he lies because he doesn’t want to disappoint his son. For Fletcher, the normal world is one where lying is not only acceptable but expected and we see both the allure and the downfall of that in the first act.

Do not skimp on the normal world. Who is your character? What do they want? How are their faults holding them back from achieving it? These are questions that can only be answered with an examination of the normal world as they experience. It is only through a grounding in the normal world that we can recognize when the extraordinary world extends an invitation to the character.

Some writers find the idea of the normal world to be boring; why would I want to spend any time there? Well, because the normal world is like the bread in a sandwich: the container that lets the filling shine. Without it all you have is peanut butter in a plastic bag, the utility of which is useless. No, use those two slices well: the normal world they leave in which the main character is stunted and the normal world they return to after the main character has gone through their trials in the extraordinary world. On returning, the character has grown and expanded. Their journey is a gentle, subliminal reminder of the journey that we can undertake as well; that we can take charge and change our own lives. We can go to work, eat, then walk the dog. All the possibilities are wide open for us.

About our guest:

Usvaldo de Leon is a screenwriter in Tucson, Arizona. He won the Nobel Peace Prize Peace in 2013 for his script, Let Us All Hold Hands and Sing Together. One of those facts is not true. (Usvaldo is obviously a fake name...)

Thanks so much for sharing today, Usvaldo!
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

New Christian Titles for July!

July 2017 New Releases

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

On Love's Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson -- When Natalie O’Ryan’s fiancĂ© books their wedding in her hometown, Natalie didn’t know the only reception venue available would be an old barn belonging to Justin Kane--the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness--and that there may be more than an old friendship between them. (Contemporary Romance from Revell - A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Their Ranch Reunion by Mindy Obenhaus -- Single mom Carly Wagner is surprised to learn she'll have to share ownership of the home she's inherited with her first love—and first heartbreak—Andrew Stephens. The man who fled their tiny Western town is back and standing in the way of her dreams to expand her B and B. Now a successful businessman, Andrew has eight weeks to buy Carly out. But Carly's too stubborn to persuade—and too beautiful to ignore. When fire ravages her inn and she and her daughter move in to their shared property, Andrew's in over his head. Time is running out and Andrew must decide: leave and chase another deal...or stay and chase Carly's heart. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Time and Tide by Kristen Terrette -- Recovering from addiction and a near death experience, Chad moves to Moanna Island, a small island close to Savannah off the Atlantic coast, to begin a job with his family’s real estate empire, a job he was supposed to have taken years ago. Free-spirited Ryan Mason is a Moanna local girl from a blue-collar family. She’s dropped her own dreams to help her father care for her schizophrenic brother. When Chad and Ryan meet at the rehabilitation center where her brother lives, feelings develop between them. Can their crazy worlds ever fit together once he learns her secret and she finds out he is the sole heir to the Cusher Empire? (Contemporary from Hartwood Publishing Group)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh -- When a workaholic interior designer returns to her hometown to check on her brother’s welfare, she reconnects with a soldier, secretly in love with her, over a renovation project that will help the struggling town. (Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House)

Cozy Mystery:

A Tempting Taste of Mystery by Elizabeth Ludwig -- Judging a pie contest leads Cheryl Cooper and friends into mayhem and mystery after someone begins methodically sabotaging the entries. (Cozy Mystery from Guideposts Publications)

Over Maya Dead Body by Sandra Orchard -- FBI Special Agent Serena Jones arrives on Martha's Vineyard with her family, ready for a little bit of R&R and a whole lot of reminiscing as they celebrate the engagement of an old family friend. But crime doesn't take a vacation, and she's soon entangled in an investigation of a suspicious death tied to an antiquities smuggling ring.When her investigation propels her into danger, Serena must stay the course and solve this case before anyone else dies. But just how is she supposed to do that when the two men in her life arrive on the scene, bringing with them plenty of romantic complications--and even a secret or two? (Cozy Mystery from Revell [Baker])

Historical Romance:

The American Conquest (Window to the Heart Sage, Book 3) by Jenna Brandt -- Margaret must leave behind her title and wealth in Europe in order to escape and start a new life in the Colorado Territory. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Michelle Griep, Anne Love, Gabrielle Meyer, Natalie Monk, Jennifer Uhlarik, Erica Vetsch, Jaime Jo Wright, and Kathleen Y'Barbo -- Journey along in nine historical romances with those whose lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age. Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Rebel in My House by Sandra Merville Hart -- Promises can be impossible to keep--especially when a Confederate soldier trapped behind enemy lines looks to a Gettysburg seamstress for help. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Match for Melissa by Susan Karsten -- Wanting a godly husband, Melissa's only choice is to follow her father's wishes, even when doing so may not achieve the desires of her heart. (Historical Romance from Prism Book Group [Pelican]).

My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island by Carrie Fancett Pagels -- Moor your heart on Mackinac Island along with resident sweetheart Maude Welling, an heiress trying to prove her worth by working incognito as a maid at the Grand Hotel. Meet Ben Steffans, a journalist posing as a wealthy industrialist who has come to the island to uncover a story about impoverished men pursuing heiresses at the famed hotel. Will a growing love between Maude and Ben be scuttled when truths are revealed in this Gilded Age romance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Salvation by the Sea by Kristen Reed -- Life has been anything but easy for Muirigan thanks to a series of life-altering calamities, but she's found peace with her new, understated life by the sea. However, the maid's past comes back to haunt her when she saves the shipwrecked Prince Halvard one morning. Failing to recognize one of his dearest childhood friends, the prince invites Muirigan to live at court as a reward for her valiant heroism. As the two reconnect, something deeper than friendship blossoms, but will their newfound affection survive when Muirigan’s lies are revealed and Halvard learns the truth about what has befallen since their tragic separation? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble -- As a 911 dispatcher, Dana Newell takes pride in being calm in tough circumstances. In addition to her emotionally-charged career, she’s faced enough emergencies in her own life. She recently escaped her abusive fiancĂ© to move to tranquil Rock Harbor where she hopes life will be more peaceful. But the idyllic town hides more danger and secrets than it first appeared. Dana is continually drawn to her new friend Boone, who has scars inside and out. Then she answers a call at her job only to hear a friend’s desperate screams on the other end. Soon the pain in her past collides with the mysteries of her new home—and threatens to keep her from the future she’s always wanted. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan])


The Genesis Tree by Heather L.L. FitzGerald -- Deception is rampant, the enemy is subtle, and love dares to tug at Sadie’s heart amid the turmoil that forces her and her family back to the Tethered World below. (Speculative/Contemporary Fantasy from Mountain Brook Ink)

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Monday, July 10, 2017

A lesson in dialogue, by Ane Mulligan

I cut my authorial teeth on dialogue as a playwright. I was the creative arts director for 11 years at my church. We did everything from the 30-second sermon starter to full-length musicals. When I first wrote my first few scripts, my actors often used different words that I'd written, or they changed the sentences around, and even—gasp—dropped words.

But I liked what I heard, so I dissected the changes and found the common ground. I wrote like Snoopy, trying to be literary. Gag. The lines were too perfect and not realistic.

Have you read a book where the dialogue actually pulls you out of the story because it's so stiff and unbelievable? Or worse, it sounds like an info dump, as if the writer's saying, "You won't get this part unless I explain it to you."

Well, thank you Billy Sunday. That'll make me throw a book across the room faster than a politician can empty your wallet.

So what does make good dialogue in a book?

It has to be realistic for starters. And it has to be organic to your character. If you're an Oregonian and writing about a Southern Belle, you'd better have a Cousin Sue Ellen read your manuscript or it may well be stereotyped. The same goes for Sue Ellen writing about a Yankee.

One problem is found in the way characters answer questions.

If you aren't sure how the characters would really talk, go to a local mall and hang out in the food court and eavesdrop. Listen to the half sentences, colloquialisms, and especially to the way people answer questions.

"Good morning, Bob. Where are you headed this fine morning?"
"Good morning, John. I'm going to the hardware store to get a new float for the toilet."

First of all, we don't really care about Bob's toilet, unless his four-year-old flushed the latest Wiki-leaks state secrets. A bit more realistic might sound like this:

"Morning, Bob. Where you off to?"
"Hardware store."
"Anything I can help with?"
"I got it."
"Okay, holler if you need me."

That's how two neighboring men would have this conversation. If it were women, it still wouldn't be complete sentences, but it might go something like this:

"Morning, Sally. Going shopping?"
"Macy's is having a huge sale, and you know those new slip cover I got for the den sofa? John ruined it with cranberry juice."
"I hear you. Bob got mustard on my bedspread. Why can't they be more careful?"
"I think it's in their genes."
"Yeah, he got mustard on those, too."

Anyway, you can see how their conversation veered off the main track. Another thing in romance is build conflict in dialogue. Jenny B. Jones is great at this. A few lines from Save the Date illustrate this point well:

"Do you know anything about football?"
"You toss around a ball and throw people to the ground. What else is there to know?"
"Okay then, what's a birdcage?"
"The name of the bar where you met your last girlfriend?"
"A cut?"
"A fantasy I have involving your throat."

She never answered his questions seriously and he kept asking instead of commenting on what she said. It was brilliant dialogue for building character and a great example of verbal Ping-Pong.

How about you? Do you have any great examples of natural dialogue that has stuck with you and helped you write better?

About the Author:

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, award-winning author Ane Mulligan has worn many: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that's a fancy name for a lobbyist), CEO of a Community Theatre group, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find her on her website, Amazon Author page, Novel Rocket, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.

Coming Home ~ A Tiny House Collection

Tiny houses are all the rage these days, but what can you do with something so small? Here are seven stories about people chasing their dreams, making fresh starts, finding love, stumbling upon forgiveness, and embarking upon new adventures in tiny houses. Travel with them around the country in this big novella collection.

Love is Sweeter in Sugar Hill, by Ane Mulligan. She has a tiny house. He lives in a mansion. She vows to charge a doctor with malpractice. His job depends on that doctor's finances. Will love find a way?

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Friday, July 7, 2017

Monte Vista Village: A Book Review

From its nonthreatening title, Lynn Lamb's Monte Vista Village doesn't sound like an apocalyptic tale, but it is. According to the author's bio, Ms. Lamb is known for her work in this genre (as well as horror), and she doesn't disappoint in this book. But aside from the obvious horror of our country being annihilated by a nuclear blast, there's no horror in this book. No vampires, zombies, or the undead.

Laura, the lead character, and Mark, her Sudanese-by-birth, Muslim husband, as well as Laura's mother, Annie, are the main characters. Following a brutal, devastating attack of the United States by foreign forces, Laura finds herself at the head of their neighborhood survival group, hence the Monte Vista Village reference. As unworthy as she feels to lead others, she has a trustworthiness, ability to organize, and a faith in her fellow man and woman that cause others to turn to her. In addition to the utter devastation to every aspect of American life--food, shelter, weapons, water, medicine--the enemy also loosed deadly biological weapons against us and for the first few weeks, everyone must stay inside to avoid radiation poisoning and the plagues that have taken root. They communicate by walkie-talkies, and soon, despite her feelings of unworthiness, Laura is put in charge of the group once everyone can come out of their homes. She orchestrates the necessary aspects of putting a neighborhood back together without the usual resources of hospitals, well-stocked grocery store, clean water, etc.

While I enjoy a good apocalyptic tale, and this one was original in its premise that folks will stay in their homes (assuming they have one), rather than wander the planet as in so many other books, this book fell short for me for a very basic reason. It lacked proper editing and that snapped me out of the book several times. It's too bad, too, because this was the first in a series, and unless I hear that the second book is superbly-edited, I won't be revisiting this series. For those readers who don't mind encountering editing errors and love apocalyptic stories, this would be a fine book to read.

The back cover copy reads: 



I’m Laura, and I survived global nuclear war. When I walked out into the devastated landscape, I didn’t find zombies, witches or vampires— what I found was infinitely worse; it was real.

Our tormentor is no longer the enemy; it is what’s left of the desperate earth. My neighbors are starving and sick from the biochemicals in the air. Our food, water and meds are running low. Our only hope is to come together to stay alive.

Certainly not me. Why would it be me? The Army Colonel should be the leader of the Village, not me.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

10 Books Every Christian Should Read guest post

Top 10 Books Every Christian Should Read
By Jim Baton, Christian thriller writer

Every novelist is inevitably a reader first. I confess that I’d rather spend a holiday reading a good book than doing hardly anything.

Over the years, so many books have greatly impacted my life. But there are certain books that were absolutely transformational—they either brought the most important things into crystal clear focus, or took me to a new place with God where I desperately needed to go.

These books may not get the notoriety of Christianity Today’s or Amazon’s Top 100 Lists, but I guarantee they will all rock your world!

Image result for world

1)      How Jesus Saves the World from Us by Morgan Guyton
The Pharisees had the Scriptures but had created a religious culture that kept the common folks from God—have we done the same today? This book is ripping me up right now!
2)      Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle
Los Angeles gang members’ hearts get melted by the raw love of God—I cried through the whole book.
3)      The Seven Mountain Renaissance by Johnny Enlow
A prophetic, insightful and hopeful view of the glorious Bride God is forming us into and how this maturing Church will be powerfully impacting all aspects of culture by 2050.
4)      Speakingof Jesus by Carl Medearis
Whether talking to a Hezbollah terrorist or a gay activist, Carl convinces us that Jesus would rather hang out with them than visit Carl’s church!
“Jesus is perfect theology,” Bill states, then gives us a “mind-makeover” to step into a supernatural life with Him.
6)      Praying for Strangers by River Jordan
What if every day we took time to stop and pray for a stranger? River Jordan did, and it changed her life.
7)      Come be My Light by Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa’s personal letters and thoughts reveal long struggles in the darkness, along with a determination to see Jesus in the face of the dying and “offer Jesus my smile.”
8)      Culture of Honor by Danny Silk
A revolutionary book on moving from punishment-based discipline to honor-based relationships without fear.
9)      Falling Upward by Richard Rohr
For those over 30, the second-half of life requires a new way of thinking, and Rohr is a brilliant guide.
10)   Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning
Walking through darkness, taking risks, releasing our need for clarity—all these require deeper levels of trust—not in Biblical principles, but in a faithful Father who is completely trustworthy.

Jim Baton’s 20 years of cross-cultural learning in a Muslim nation have birthed a series of novels that are transforming people’s perceptions on Muslims and how God would have us relate to them in love. Find out more at

Read Lisa's reviews of Jim's books:
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