Monday, March 26, 2012

Is This Real Life? by Sherri Johnson

“Is this real life?” This is a phrase my 21-year-old daughter uses quite often these days. Why? Because life—where it involves singles trying to make a way for themselves in the modern dating world—is stranger than fiction. She says on a regular basis that her life is a movie. It’s not like a movie; it is a movie. She gets asked out by the strangest guys and always attracts the socially awkward or the stalker. The “Mr. Collins” character from Pride and Prejudice seems to love her—the ones that are a head too short and don’t seem to mind being chest-height. She attracts the Mr. Darcy types, too—you know…the brooding, passive-aggressive types who never tell you what’s on their minds but get angry if you don’t read their minds and understand their plight? They glare at you from across the room if they see you talking to another guy but won’t claim you as their own. In fact, they couldn’t have you even if they wanted to because they simply are not up to your standards. And maybe that’s what the problem is anyway. They know they can’t have you.

Being a Romance novelist and a woman who concocts romances out of every single scenario I see, I find it difficult to believe that single Christians have such a tough time finding each other when they are all right there together at church or in the same community. I also have a hard time understanding why so few guys actually want to be the hero in a real life story. The Atlanta scene (where we live) is teeming with young, vibrant, single Christ followers who can’t seem to find their way to each other for many reasons. I think a main reason is: everything has gone virtual and while young people know how to text, like, chat, tweet, Skype and all of that, great fear comes upon many of them when it comes to actually doing an in-person, face-to-face encounter. If only I could write a perfectly quirky and charmingly edgy love story for each one of these kids and have it come true, I would do it. But I can’t.

So that is why I enjoy reading and writing those kinds of stories. You know what they say: If you can’t do, teach. So I write. I imagine perfect scenarios full of frustrating pathways where the two eventually find their way to one another. It makes life fun. Nothing is better than getting lost in a story that inspires you to believe that everything works out okay in the end and encourages you to stay on the path, to be faithful to your call, and to have fun while you’re doing it.

Sherri Wilson Johnson is an Inspirational Romance novelist, a speaker, and a former homeschooling mom. She lives in Georgia with her husband and two children. She loves to dream of romantic places and romance in general. She’s a bird-watcher, loves roller coasters, tigers, ice cream, her family and her Chihuahua, who faithfully sits by her side every day when she writes. She longs to do something exciting like sky diving one day. Sherri is the author of TO DANCE ONCE MORE(OakTara) and SONG OF THE MEADOWLARK (due out in May by OakTara). She is currently writing TO DANCE ONCE MORE’s sequel.

Want more info about Sherri's book? Here's the book blurb:

All Lydia wants is to travel the world before she has to settle down with a husband. But she may not have that choice anymore.

April 1886
Debutante Lydia Jane Barrington lives a carefree, protected existence on Live Oaks Plantation in Florida. But while her sisters happily learn the traditional tasks of women and talk of courting, Lydia dreams of adventure and independence. Even her friendship with handsome Hamilton Scarbrough isn’t enough to hold her back.

Then one day Hamilton opens Lydia’s eyes and her heart to love. But before they can receive permission to court, Lydia overhears a secret conversation about an unscrupulous business deal. Worse, it has everything to do with her and her future. Now she’s faced with the biggest decision of her life—to concede or to fight. Either choice will require great sacrifice…and, perhaps, countless rewards.

Passion. Friendship. A bitter enemy. A life-changing decision.
Set in Victorian-era Florida.

And how about a sneak peek of To Dance Once More? Click here to read the first couple of chapters!

Sherri has offered to give one lucky reader an electronic copy of her book To Dance Once More! Just leave a comment here with your email address between now and April 9.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Amazon's sale means big Christian fiction deals for you!

Amazon's Big Deal is happening now and there are lots of Christian fiction titles for your kindle. While browsing at the $2.99 sale point I struck gold. Did I ever mention Deeanne Gist's The Measure of a Lady is one of my favorite inspy romances of all time?

There's plenty more where these came from, so be sure to click around, but hurry because this sale ends tomorrow! Happy shopping!












Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: SEATTLE CINDERELLA by Gail Sattler

In her four-in-one novella collection,Seattle Cinderella, author Gail Sattler takes a familiar fairy tale and gives it a quirky modern twist that involves, among other things, a pretty blond girl running a muffler shop in Seattle.

THE SITCH:

When Cindy's father died he left her half-interest in his established auto repair shop and in the house in which she grew up. Unfortunately, he also left half of each place to her mercurial stepmother, Melissa, and an addendum that, until her stepsisters finish college and embark on careers of their own, Cindy must provide each of them with employment in the shop. None of the girls are looking for romance, but as so often happens, romance comes looking for them.

As it should be, the first story belongs to Cindy.

Cindy and the Prince

Luke Princeton is co-owner of the car rental business next door to Cindy's muffler shop. For months he's been trying to work up the nerve to ask Cindy out, but all his attempts for a lunch date have failed. Now that he's the legal guardian of his late sister's teenage daughter, Kat, finding the time and energy for romance is something of a challenge. Cindy has no interest in getting involved with a single dad when she has tricky step-family issues of her own, but when Luke starts showing up at church youth events with Kat she begins to see a new side to her neighbor. With the encouragement of her godmother, Farrah, who always seems to know just when she's needed (don't miss the inference there), Cindy may just find herself reinventing her concept of the word "stepmother" and stepping into those slippers herself.

Love by the Books

The relationship between Cindy and her sisters has not only thawed since she married Luke, but warmed considerably. Annie has nearly completed her accounting degree and hopes to find a job in the industry. Meanwhile, she's helping Cindy – who is on her honeymoon – to keep the muffler shop going. Across the street, Brent, co-owner of Like a Prince Rentals, is doing the same while his business partner, Luke, is gone. When the rental company's accountant calls in sick, however, and he needs to complete his end-of-the-month accounting, Brent calls upon Annie for assistance. He's hesitant, knowing how Cindy has complained of Annie's laziness in the past, but Luke vouches for her improved performance. Brent can't help but be attracted to the young accountant, but when computer errors point to theft and embezzlement, will he believe the evidence … or the woman he's come to love?

Till Death Do Us Part

With both of her sisters married off, Zella will do about anything to get out from under the "you need a man" scrutiny of her mother. How is she supposed to find a man when she looks down, literally, on them all? Even in flats she towers over most men. But her mother, longing to plan another lavish wedding, won't be put off. In search of a man willing to become her fictional boyfriend, Zella attends a book club meeting at the library. Unfortunately, she didn't read the fine print of the meeting notice. As it turns out, this is a book club for writers, not for readers. To stay a member of the group, and out from under her mother's thumb, Zella endeavors to become a writer … fast … and, as a reader, to be a contributing member of the group. The writers' group welcomes her to their fold with open arms, but Trevor Jones, whose writing strangely resembles that of her favorite mystery author, opens his heart as well. Trevor is funny, handsome, and excessively tall – even taller than Zella. As a fictional boyfriend, he's perfect; but Trevor isn't content to keep their romance a work of fiction. And the secret he keeps from Zella might just tear their newfound love apart.

Never Too Late

Farrah is content in her single life. Committed to the elementary students she teaches and happy to have experienced second-hand motherhood through her goddaughter relationship with Cindy – and, now Kat – she has no need for a man in her life. But when Kat and her boyfriend, Tyler, hatch a matchmaking scheme involving Farrah and Tyler's uncle, a veterinarian 10 years her junior, she's pretty sure it's too late for romance. But she didn't count on falling in love with Dr. Matt Robinson. And Matt isn't the sort of guy who will cave to a bit of discouragement.

HITS & MISSES

Each of these little tales is a bit more charming than the last. Although the speed at which our heroines move from reluctant girlfriend to gleeful bride is a little jarring, as long as you give the author license to move her love story along at the fairy-friendly speed common to such tales, it shouldn't give you too much cause for concern.

TO READ... OR NOT?

Seattle Cinderella is a sweet, clean, faith-affirming and modern depiction of the Cinderella story, complete with an evil stepmother, a "Farrah" godmother, and two (not ugly) stepsisters. With touches of humor and a quadruple-threat dose of charming princes, this four-for-one novella collection is a convenient tool to pass the time while you're waiting on kids, lines, or appointments – and also serves as an entertaining way to pass a quiet evening at home.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)



Friday, March 16, 2012

INTERRUPTED: LIFE BEYOND WORDS by teen novelist Rachel Coker


It's not every day a book lands in my box written by a teenager, but that's exactly what happened when I opened the package from Rachel Coker's publicist and pulled out this pretty paperback. Although I'd detected hints of a buzz surrounding this debut novel, I was a bit skeptical. Was it just marketing hype? Or, at 15 years old, had Coker really pulled off a historically accurate, coming-of-age romance?

So with doubtful thoughts, I opened the book … and found myself captured by her tale.

HERE'S THE SITCH:

Alcyone Everly – "Allie" to almost everyone, was named after a star – but her life hasn't been bright for quite a long time. Solely responsible for the care of her dying mother, Allie would be alone in the world, if not for her annoying neighbor, Sam Carroll, who constantly interrupts her plans. One such interruption takes Allie away from her mother at her darkest hour – and she vows never to forgive him for it.

Whisked away from her mother's funeral to become the "daughter" of a prim and proper woman in Maine, Allie retreats into her journal, writing letters to her mother to retain some sort of connection beyond the grave. Beatrice Lovell longs to make some sort of connection with the young girl she's adopted, but Allie will have nothing to do with Beatrice. Tension fills the home. As World War II looms ever closer, Sam arrives in Maine to stay with his aunt for the summer, and Allie's already uncomfortable world turns upside down with the new emotions he ignites in her heart.

Across the ocean, American boys are dying – and Sam could soon be one of them. Will Allie's stubborn hold on the past be able to protect her from the pain if he is lost? Or will she have to become willing to take a chance at allowing herself to love – and to be loved – in order to survive?

HITS & MISSES:

Having an almost-15-year-old daughter of my own, I recognized a few moments in the story that seemed to fit within the limited life-experience parameters of a teen girl's existence; but Coker's dedication to crafting believable, multidimensional characters is much more evident than any limitations her age might put upon her story.

Rachel Coker is a budding wordsmith – and this coming-of-age romance has an almost literary quality to its stylization. Giving attention to the sensory atmosphere of her setting and the physical and emotional nuances of her characters, this young author displays the insight of a writing talent well beyond her years.

Hard-hearted Alcyone Everly would be a difficult character to like if not for the love and care she shows her mother. But the reader sees, through Sam and other characters, the beauty-from-ashes qualities that Allie is capable of developing. And, as the story progresses, it is quite easy to cheer for Allie's star to remember how to shine.

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ?

An unpredictable and engrossing tale of how grief, faith and romance collide within the heart of a girl, Interrupted: Life Beyond Words is quite an achievement – and teen novelist Rachel Coker is an author to watch.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After.)

Serena's rating:


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

BOURNE #3.1 in the River of Time Series by Lisa T. Bergren

Versatile author Lisa T. Bergren took a youthful turn last year with the release of her first YA romance,Waterfall, and within the space of a few months two more books in the River of Time series were born. This romantic and often humorous series follows the adventures of a modern archaeologist's daughters as they stumble upon a pair of handprints in an Italian tomb — and are transported back in time, landing right in the middle of a medieval battle.

In Cascade and Torrent, the two novels that follow Waterfall, Gabi and Lia Bettarini find danger, love, adventure — and three Italian knights who can steam up the room with just a smile. (Oh, yes, they can.) Forced to choose between reuniting with family members in the modern world and staying in the medieval Italy they've grown to love, the She-Wolves of Siena, as Gabi and Lia have come to be known, continue their adventure in Bergren's latest wrinkle in time: Bourne, a novella.

HERE'S THE SITCH!

With the help of a mysterious brotherhood, the Forelli knights have finally recaptured Castello Paratore for Siena, but peace with Firenze (Florence) is still very far away. Lord Marcello Forelli is gravely injured and it is up to his cousin Luca and their brothers-in-arms to keep Castello Forelli and its holdings safe.

A member of the brotherhood, now considered a traitor to his native Firenze, Lord Rodolfo Greco has taken refuge at Castello Forelli, but his colorful history with Gabriella makes things a bit … awkward (to say the least) in light of her new status at the castello. While wrestling with the fear that she could lose Marcello — the love worth traveling 700 years back in time to find — Gabi must deal with Luca's overprotective attention every time the very attractive — and equally dangerous — Lord Greco is about. But even though she has conflicting feelings toward Rodolfo, Gabi's love, duty and loyalty belong to Marcello and Castello Forelli. Though she longs to ride out and lend her own sword to the protection of those she loves, Gabi must stay behind.

But Gabriella isn't the only She-Wolf of Siena and, though two years younger, Lia is more than able to pick up the slack.

Firenze has sent its most elite force to destroy the mysterious brotherhood that threatens its hopes of eventual victory. En route to warn the other members of the brotherhood, Lia is separated from Luca and the rest of her knightly entourage.

Firenze doesn't know as much about the brotherhood as it would like Siena to believe, however. The assassins may soon discover that capturing a She-Wolf of Siena — and extracting that sensitive information — isn't as easy a proposition as they'd hoped.

HITS & MISSES

The first three books of the series star 17-year-old Gabi Bettarini as the lone narrator. Bourne begins through her eyes, as well, but adds younger sister Lia's voice shortly thereafter, flipping back and forth between the girls' points of view for the remainder of the novel. Being so familiar with Gabi's voice, I wondered at first how this would play out. But Bergren does an excellent job of making each young woman's first-person voice unique to her personality. My only disappointment with this book is that it ended. I want more.

Good news! On her blog, Lisa Bergren promises just that: more. I can hardly wait!

Keep in mind that Bourne is the fourth installment (officially numbered 3.1 by the author) in this series and, although there are enough back-story nuggets to allow a new reader to enjoy this novella, reading the preceding three books, in order, is recommended. Not only will you gain a better understanding of how these teens came to be in medieval Italy — and why they're still there! — but you will likely develop a serious-to-severe book crush on Bergren's super-swoon-worthy Italian knights.

Trust me on that one.

TO READ, OR NOT TO READ?

Whether you're still a teen or you've already joined the ranks of adults who love YA romance, the River of Time series is well worth reading in full. And Bourne, with its economic novella length, is a fitting and satisfying addition to the saga.

With rapier sharp wit and a thoroughly romantic cast, Lisa T. Bergren's exceptional story-weaving skills shimmer across the River of Time series. Capturing the same spirit of adventure found in the first three books,Bourne is an absolute gem — romantic fantasy at its addictive best.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, HAPPY EVER AFTER)

Note to our readers: At this time, Bourne is available for purchase in e-book form only. You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords. The other three books in the River of Time series (if you haven't read them yet, make sure you read all three prior to reading Bourne to avoid the dreaded spoiler!) are available in both electronic and paperback form wherever AWESOME books are sold.

Serena's rating for BOURNE:

Friday, March 09, 2012

Interview with BOURNE author Lisa T. Bergren


Lisa T. Bergren has been in the publishing industry for many years, first as an editor and later as a novelist of both historical and contemporary fiction. A well-traveled author, Lisa's heart has been won by the romance of Italy, the setting of the River of Time series.

This series, written for teens, has captured the imaginations of many adult readers, as well. Lisa's latest project is Bourne, an addition to the River of Time series and her first self-published e-novella. I recently sat down with Lisa to discuss this new publishing venture, as well as those hunky — but unfortunately fictional — Italian knights who take up so much space in her readers' hearts.

Serena: You're quite the versatile author, having dipped your quill in historical, contemporary and speculative fiction for adults — and now you've tackled time-traveling historical fantasy for teens. Are there any subgenres out there that you are dying to try?

Lisa: Not really. (Laughing) I've been really blessed to be able to write whatever is on my heart and mind. The next thing on my docket? More time travel and … a dystopian series! So there's yet another genre …

Serena: I love a good dystopian, so I can't wait to read that! So … teens and time travel. Why go there after writing adult fiction with such success?

Lisa: Time travel is a long-held fantasy. It's part of what drives me to write straight historical fiction. I'd love to pop back to a certain time and see, feel, hear, smell what it's like.

Then there was the fact that I really set out to write this series for my girls — both reluctant readers. The only book that had caught my eldest's attention at the time was Twilight, so I dissected what made that book work, and one thing I identified was the huge romantic obstacle (human-vampire romance). Since I wanted my love story to be between humans (rather than human-vampire, werewolf, angel, demon, name-your-paranormal), I thought a 700-year distance would serve nicely.

Serena: What was the most surprising thing about switching from writing adult fiction (not that you've given it up!) to YA?

Lisa: Having to think about words kids know. My teens are constantly asking me what words mean that I use in everyday conversation. Since I wanted this series to be super-accessible — especially for the reluctant readers in my own household — I was cautious about vocabulary usage for Gabi. And since Waterfall, Cascade and Torrent were all written in her point of view … that was a challenge. Now Lia is stretching those limits a tad in Bourne, because she has a bigger vocabulary — just one of the nuances of point of view.

Serena: What struck me when I first read Waterfall (River of Time, book 1) was how very "teen" Gabi came across on the page. It didn't sound like an adult writing to sound like a teen, but the honest and true voice of a 17-year-old girl. After being immersed in her voice for so long, do you find your own vernacular at all changed by Gabi's (or Lia's) generational linguistic quirks?

Lisa: I do use the word "freaking" a lot more, much to my mother's dismay. But that's about it. And there's a word a teen would never use — "dismay."

Serena: Bourne begins with the voice of Gabriella (Gabi), the familiar narrator of the first three books, but switches back and forth between Gabi and her younger sister, Evangelia (Lia) for the remainder of the novella (and Lia gets a lot of page time!). As a writer, was it difficult to get into Lia's head after spending so much time in Gabi's?

Lisa: Definitely. I felt like I knew Gabi, like I'd become her in the first three books. I wanted Lia to be similar, but have her own voice, too. So she's as funny as Gabi — just not as often. She's more of a reader and speaks with a larger vocabulary. She's discovering her inner She-Wolf, but … she's not as apt to charge out on her own without thinking about it — she's more of a follower. Not that she's a wimp. Lia's willing to go wherever, do whatever … but somebody else usually leads. In Bourne, she's forced to make her own decisions.


Serena: One of the things I found so entertaining about the craft of this series is how, when Gabi and Lia speak to each other (or to themselves through the first-person narration), they speak as typical American teens, thrown into a totally crazy situation. Yet, when they talk with their medieval castmates, they slip into the vernacular of the culture. Is it difficult to keep their voices uniquely "Gabi" and "Lia" while straddling the fence of time travel and modern colloquialism?

Lisa: Yes, definitely yes. And some people find that jarring. But the time tunnel enabled them to speak in the medieval Italian; it made no sense to me to have them speak medieval English to each other, in private. And I think it made it more fun, more real, to have them slip into their normal vernacular when it's just them, whispering.

Serena: The girls are very "modern teen" — and pretty darn entertaining, too, especially when their inner monologues stray toward hunky Italian knights! Speaking of those guys … the River of Time series features three particular medieval Italian knights, each utterly masculine (in his own way) and each with a different style of romancing the lady who captures his attention. If you were a single, modern teen traveling through the medieval Italian countryside, which one would catch your eye —and why?

Lisa: Well, good grief! How could you ignore any of them? I think they all intrigue me for different reasons: Marcello's strong leadership, unfailing dedication, and loyalty; Luca's adorable sense of humor and flirtation; Greco's intensity and passion. But like Gabi, I'd choose Marcello.

Serena: My teen daughter and I regularly debate the romantic merits of Marcello, Luca, and Greco. She's a solid Team Luca, while I vacillate between Siena's tender warrior, Marcello — and Lord Greco, the sultry bad boy of Firenze. As you interact with readers in the many River of Time fan arenas, do you hear more gushing over your Italian knights from teens — or their moms?

Lisa: People love these guys! I just got an e-mail from a 65-year-old grandmother, begging me for more of their story! I think it's the knights' chivalrous nature, the willingness to do anything for the women they love — including laying down their very lives — that has to make just about every girl swoon. And it doesn't hurt that they're hunky. And speak with a delicious Italian accent …

Serena: (fanning self) The chivalry, the accent, the shoulders, the abs … ahhhh. Truly, I love them all: Marcello, Luca … and that delectable Lord Rodolfo Greco … yowzer. My knees go a little weak just thinking about Mr. Master of the Brooding Eyes. Have you been surprised by the response that he — who started off as a villain — has gotten from readers?

Lisa: He kind of took on a life of his own. I didn't set out to write a love triangle — I set out to write a great villain who wasn't all bad. He surprised me as much as the readers, I think. So it's been fun to hear their reactions. However, some readers hate him — and hate what he tries to do. But I don't mind that either. It means they're reacting viscerally — really reacting to the characters like they would another human being.

Serena: When you initially created this character (Lord Greco), did you know how complicated, how tortured … and how utterly romantic he would turn out to be?

Lisa: I think giving him valid reasons for his suffering really deepened his character. I identify with him a bit, feeling torn between the thing he knows he ought to do and the thing he has to do. He's definitely one of my favorites. And he just started out as a handsome lord of Firenze hunting the famed She-Wolves!

Serena: There's no denying you've created some fairly delicious romantic leading men. If Marcello Forelli could be described as a food, he would be …? How about Luca? Lord Greco?

Lisa: (Laughing) Marcello would be Bistecca, a straight-forward, wood-grilled, massive steak — the specialty of Firenze. (Sorry, Marcello — he's hating that.) Luca is an artisan gelato — a delightful surprise. (Oh, he's not liking that either. Luca says he's more like minestrone: hearty, simple but satisfying.) Lord Greco is Chianti: dark, full-bodied, peppery, and complex (At last! Rodolfo approves of this … but now the other men are glowering at me.).

Serena: Move over! Let them glower at me! (Laughs.) So … poor Rodolfo. My heart hurts for him. Is it wrong of me to hope Gabi and Lia have a cute cousin or long-lost sister somewhere who's going to find her way through an Etruscan tomb and into Lord Greco's heart?

Lisa: Nope. Rodolfo's love is preparing to ride her way into his heart.

Serena: Ach! Stop! Aww … you're killing me here! (Laughs) Was there ever a scene that surprised you while you were writing? — an action or event that took the story down a road you had not planned on taking?

Lisa: Hmm. Lots of them do. But when Gabi's led to Firenze as a prisoner, I really had no idea what they were going to do to her. Her punishment, and really facing her own mortality, was a surprise to me. And one of the most gut-wrenching, painful scenes I've ever written.

Serena: When you realized your fans wanted more after Torrent, book three of the series, did the Bourne novella immediately come to mind, or did you dive into (what you assumed would be) a fourth novel?

Lisa: I started Tributary, picking up the story six months after we left our characters, in a full-length book. It's really Greco's story, and his journey toward peace. But when I realized we'd have to wait six to 12 months to find out if the publisher was ready to move forward, I knew I had to move out on my own.

And there was a ton that was ripe to tell, right after Torrent ends. People we loved were injured, the battle was just wrapping up, a brotherhood was exposed, and two characters were just beginning a very important chapter of their lives. With that much material, I decided to go back and begin there, with Bourne. If this Bourne publication goes well, Tributary might be the second e-novella ...

Serena: The first three books in the River of Time series were published traditionally. What sorts of things factored into your decision to electronically self-publish the Bourne novella?

Lisa: My publisher released all three books in one year (2011) — which is pretty rare. I loved that they signed on for that! But we recognized this kind of read was an "I want the next one NOW!" series — and that rapid releases might work in our favor. I think it did. We created an ongoing "buzz" that really helped launch it.

So we created this monster, right? A pocket of rabid fans — I call them my River Tribe — who are begging me for more — but the publisher wasn't ready to commit to more.

Serena: Ahh, I see. Like many romantic heroes, your publisher has commitment issues.

Lisa: Exactly. Traditional publishers like to wait and see how things roll in — get a good year of sales data before investing further or committing to more. I get that. I spent years as an in-house editor, so I understand their pressure points. And, although sales have been solid on River of Time, I haven't hit the USA TODAY best-sellers list yet. So my solution (to satisfy the fans) was e-publishing. Happily, David C. Cook (my publisher) blessed the idea — but asked to be kept in the loop. They might partner with me again on this in the future.

We'll see.

Serena: And how's the experience working out so far?

Lisa: I love to see a project through from beginning to end and this gives me the opportunity to experiment with e-publishing. So … we'll see! Right now, I'm thinking about e-pubbing three novellas and, at the end of the year, putting them together in one omnibus and printing that in paper.

Serena: Definitely one I'll add to my shelf! What are some of the differences/pros & cons you've noted between the two publishing options?

Lisa: No. 1: Speed. I decided to write the novella in November, wrote it in December, edited it in January … and it went live the very end of February. Traditional publishing takes a year to process, from delivery to publication.

No. 2: The Moola. With a traditional publisher, I get 18% to 22% of net. So, on a $10 book (sold at 50% off to a bookstore) I get 18% of $5 -- or about 90 cents per copy. But with e-publishing on my own, selling a $10 book on Amazon earns me $7 per copy. (That's just an example, of course. Ten dollars would be expensive for e-pub, but even if I price it at $4.99, I still earn $3 per copy.)

No. 3: The Speed of the Moola. I'll also see my earnings faster — three months down the line, rather than nine-plus months.

That said, there's a downside, too. There are no advances from a self-publishing endeavor, which is a painful thing for an established author to give up. And editorial, cover design and marketing expenses come out of your own pocket. And paper readers are still 70% to 75% of the market. And there is no publishing team supporting you, helping you field administration, sales and marketing calls. So there are definitely trade-offs to consider.

Serena: In addition to being a prolific author of fiction novels, you're also a travel writer with a well-stamped passport. How many times have you been to Italy?

Lisa: Five times.

Serena: What keeps drawing you back?

Lisa: It's hard to explain, but Italy just gets under your skin. I love the landscape, the food — the FOOD! — the people, the pace of life (everyone takes a nap midafternoon and stays up late). *sigh* I can't wait to return and explore more of her. Next time: Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast.

Serena: Sounds lovely! You could have put your heroes on either side of the Firenze/Siena conflict. Why did you choose Siena?

Lisa: Because I liked it better when I visited. Siena is magical — still fabulously preserved as a medieval city. Firenze (Florence) is massive, noisy, and crowded. There are things there you want to see for sure, particularly the Uffizi and the Accademia, a trattoria where I celebrated my 40th birthday. ... But Siena is the kind of place that just feels good. Manageable and yet magical. At least for me.

Serena: Gabi and Lia have swordsmanship and archery skills, respectively. Do you possess skills in either arena?

Lisa: Nope. My wrists are given to carpal tunnel, so I wouldn't dare. But I'd dearly love to.

Serena: In Bourne there is a scene when Lia bemoans the lack of modern hygiene products like toilet paper and even, yes, tampons. If you got a shot at traveling (with your family, of course!) back in time and hanging out with the Forelli and Bettarini families, would it be worth the inconvenience and risk? What would you make sure you had in your pockets?

Lisa: The risk of discovery (of pocketed modern items) would only make antibiotics vital to me. The rest …well, I'd just have to deal like Gabi and Lia have!

Serena: What are you most looking forward to as you continue along the River of Time?

Lisa: Discovering some resolution for these poor, beleaguered, dear, stalwart, fabulous characters! And some new adventures, as well.

Serena: I'm sure we'll all be looking forward to more of that, as well! Thanks so much for visiting with us.

(This interview was originally posted at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After.)

Note to our readers: At this time, Bourne is available for purchase in e-book form only. You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords. The other three books in the River of Time series (if you haven't read them yet, make sure you read all three prior to reading Bourne to avoid the dreaded spoiler!) are available in both electronic and paperback form wherever AWESOME books are sold.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Overcoming Fear by Carrie Daws

Fear. It’s a four letter word. Women who know me today would probably say I’m not afraid of anything. Except spiders. But let’s not go there. I’ve ridden on motorcycles with my husband. I’ve taken on every ride at the fair with my pre-teen son. I jumped out of an airplane. What could possibly scare me? Lots of things!

People scare me. I just don’t know what to say. Some kind woman will walk up to me and I stand there like an idiot because my mind goes completely blank! How can you participate in a conversation with a blank mind?

The publishing world scares me. Some days I feel like I willingly stepped into a glass house and asked everyone to come throw something. And to ask their friends to come look and throw something. And if that’s not scary enough, I’m actively looking for strangers to come look and throw something, too. Writers are part crazy.

Marketing scares me. My desk is a mess of sticky notes reminding me of all kinds of things. Like to make seven meaningful interactions on the web today. And ways to raise my “likeability quotient”. And to not forget tags on my blogs. And to figure out what pingbacks are, other than to know I need them. And to read that latest email on backlinking. And if your head isn’t spinning trying to understand all that then you should come help me out!

I could get more personal. Spiders bigger than a freckle terrify me. Beetles aren’t in my top five fears, but I certainly don’t intentionally get closer than three or four feet from one. Not being in control can be a pet peeve but in some situations definitely rates as a fear. My soon-to-be-driving teenager on the road without me terrifies me. My children moving out away from my protective shelter is still a few years away but is uncomfortable to think about for long.

In all of this I must remember that God did not design me to live in fear. Fear controlled me for a lot of years. Ridiculously tied me in knots. Until I had the courage to say, “Enough.” One day I decided to stand on God’s Word that He did not give us the spirit of fear but of power and love and self-discipline. The enemy of my soul wanted me bound and immobile and ineffective. And fear was his weapon that worked quite well for many years. I could choose to operate in self-discipline, accepting God’s love and power to do things from killing a spider to jumping out of an airplane.

Fear is the weapon I chose to give the main character, Amber, in my debut novel Crossing Values. Like me, she reaches a point where she must choose to fight the fear growing within her or allow it to continue to control her destiny. At this critical moment, another character reaches out to her and simply tells her, “I believe you were made for more than running from your past.”

You, dear woman, were also made for more than fear has in store for you. Reach out to the power available to you in Christ and step forward in God’s promise to provide you with power and love and self-discipline.

About Carrie Daws:
Over the years, God rewrote Carrie’s dreams to include being a stay-at-home mom and a writer. Originally writing weekly devotions as a way to share what she learned with women from various military bases, Carrie decided to enroll in the Christian Writer’s Guild. While there, seeds were planted and cultivated.

After almost ten years in the military, Carrie’s husband medically retired and they now live in central North Carolina with their three children. Besides writing fiction novels, she stays busy with homeschooling, working part time, and volunteering within two military ministries

About Crossing Values

For years, Amber traipsed around the northwest avoiding the skeletons in her closet. Job-hopping every few weeks, she refused to let anyone get close to her as she slowly made her way east. As winter plants itself firmly across the Rockies, she decides to take a chance on a job at a logging company with a family different from any she’s ever known.

Watching the family interact creates more questions than answers for Amber. Feeling like she’s entered the happily-ever-after written at the end of fairytales, she watches for cracks in the fa├žade. Surely as the days pass, the play-acting will cease and the real family will emerge.

Or could she be wrong? Could they truly be genuine? Could Faye understand the trauma from her past or Peter think of her as more than just the winter office help? Could this family really hold the key to what she’s seeking?

You can buy Crossing Values by Carrie Daws at Amazon or Christian Book Distributors.

Connect with Carrie:
www.CarrieDaws.com
Twitter: @CarrieDaws
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/CarrieDaws

Friday, March 02, 2012

Author Interview: JULIE CANTRELL

Julie Cantrell published two children's books before turning her hand to literary romance. A former editor of a literary review, Julie is a teacher by trade and operates a sustainable farming operation with her family in Mississippi. Her debut novel, Into the Free, has garnered acclaim from readers and critics alike.

Serena: Into the Free was an absolutely stunning debut. How long did it take you to flesh out those characters and bring your baby into the world?

Julie: What a wonderfully kind way to start the interview. Thank you! The first draft of the story fell onto the page naturally. I just tuned into my imagination and had fun, recording Millie's story as it came to me. I didn't work from any outline, and I was surprised each night by how the story unfolded. It really was a beautiful journey, and the novel was finished in a few months.

I admire writers who can work from an outline, but I don't have that skill. Instead, I listened to Millie and gave in to the wonder. I hope that allowed me to develop realistic characters who surprise us.The editing phase lasted much longer. I wove in a lot of details after conducting extensive research, and I worked diligently to develop the plot structure and pacing. Thankfully, I had some wonderful early readers and fabulous editors who helped the book become what it is today. I learned so much along the way.

Serena: You've worked as an editor for a literary review — does your experience make it less or more difficult to receive criticism of your own work?

Julie: That's a good question. I have reviewed other authors' works, and I always tried to focus on the strengths. Most reviewers do the same. I doubt I'd be too bothered by a negative review because I keep in mind that it's all subjective. When I reviewed a work or interviewed an author, I never criticized their work. Instead, I was always fascinated by their craft and longed to know more about their process. I'm just grateful folks are giving this story a chance, and I'm enjoying hearing such positive feedback. The most amazing part for me has been hearing from readers who have really connected to Millie and overcome some deep emotional wounds after reading Into the Free. Knowing this book is helping others is incredible to me. I'll take that over literary acclaim any day.

Serena: Do you see your novel as an inspirational title — or do think it will find a more comfortable home amidst a more mainstream audience?

Julie: This is a great question, and thanks for asking. This book is published by David C Cook, a Christian publisher. They've been an amazing team to work with from the start, and I'm extremely grateful they gave this book a chance. However, this book is also being marketed through the ABA (secular) market and that makes me happy, too.

There are powerful messages in this book, but they are woven into the narrative in subtle ways. I think a lot of Christian books preach the same message to the same audience, and I wanted to do something different. In particular, I wanted to reach readers who may not have always had a smooth path in life, especially those who may have fallen to a weak place in their faith.

Millie, like many Christians, questions her faith. She wonders, at some of the lowest points in her life, if God even exists. She faces tremendous struggles and discovers that some of the folks in her life who call themselves Christians are some of the most dangerous people she knows. Yet, she also knows people who exhibit a really deep faith and model for her the importance of forgiveness. These characters do not preach to Millie or judge Millie. They simply LOVE Millie.

While I didn't set out to deliver a certain message to anyone, I do hope this book encourages us to treat each other with love and kindness. We tend to get caught up in certain rules and traditions, but the Bible tells us God is Love. I believe it's really as simple as that.


Serena: Millie's childlike interpretation of her mother's debilitating depression is poignantly described and, although I don't think the word "depression" is ever used by Millie, the diagnosis is clear and keenly felt by the reader. How did you choose the term "the valley" for Millie to describe her mother's dark times?

Julie: Yes, Millie's mother is incredibly depressed. She has a broken spirit and she struggles to be the mother Millie needs her to be. Yet, she loves Millie, and Millie is fiercely loyal to her mother. Millie tells this story first as a young girl and later as a teen. She never really hears anyone mention her mother's difficulties, so to her, it is unnamed. From the time she's very young, she sees it only as The Valley — a deep, dark place her mother visits sometimes. I don't remember giving it much thought, it just seemed to be the way Millie would have understood it at a young age.

Serena: Millie loses so much over the course of the novel, but in her darkest times, visions of a person she's loved and lost comfort her. When you first thought to include these visions, did you see that character as a "friendly ghost" or as a guardian angel?


Julie: I think I always knew he was her guardian angel. I didn't write the book with any intentions of including angels, but this was authentic to Millie's journey. As it came together, it seemed to make perfect sense. This character had meant so much to Millie, and, in her life, he had always represented goodness. As Millie began to fight her own personal battles, it was only natural for her to turn to that source of strength and love.

Serena: Millie's first taste of romance is also her first hope of escape from the uncertainty of her mother's mental state and the violence of her father's personality. Several scenes made me long for Millie to escape, right now, however — and with whomever — she could. Did you ever have a time during the writing that you wanted Millie to just run away?

Julie: Oh, yes. Many times. I don't want to give away the ending, but let's just say, I never quite knew what Millie was going to do until she did it. I hope she keeps the readers guessing as well.

Serena: I'd never thought of "gypsies" in a 20th-century American setting, but you've written of them in a tender way that replaces the "fortune-telling thieves" stigma with wonder — and the idea that it is a gentle, divinely prophetic appointment that brings them to Millie's world each spring. What first fascinated you about the traveler's life?


Julie: I've always been interested in various cultures, surrounding myself with international friends since my college days and teaching students from other countries. However, I had never really thought of the travelers, beyond the stereotypical "gypsy" characters I had observed in movies and books, so I was fascinated to learn that many of them live in the Southeastern United States, including Louisiana (where I lived as a child) and Mississippi (where I live now). I first learned this when I read about the "Gypsy Queen" Kelly Mitchell and her husband, the "King of the Gypsies," Emil Mitchell. Our family visited Rose Hill cemetery in Meridian, Miss., where these travelers are buried, and I was completely engrossed in the legend of Kelly's life, her death, and her funeral, which supposedly drew as many as 20,000 Romany travelers to Meridian in 1915.

I have learned a lot about the Roma by writing this book, and I'm relieved to hear feedback now from travelers who are pleased with how they are portrayed in the story. It's purely fictional, of course, and the characters in the book are not based on real people. But, the "gypsies" in the book travel through town each spring to pay homage to their fallen king and queen, so the historical roots are threaded throughout the novel.

I've posted an interview on my website in which a traveler discusses his life in modern-day America, and more interviews will be posted soon. These travelers are reaching out in hopes of improving cross-cultural understanding, and I am grateful for their willingness to share their stories with us.

Serena: The interview with the Romani-American traveler was fascinating to read, giving a little bit deeper glimpse into the mystery of the travelers. Can we expect to see more of the Roma/gypsy culture in future novels?

Julie: I'm writing the sequel now … but once again, I won't know until it's on the page. Stay tuned.

Serena: There is such a dividing line between cultures in the small Mississippi town where Millie grows up. There's the Rodeo culture, the Society culture, the Help culture and, of course, the gypsies. Millie weaves in and out of each with varying results before finding a place where she is accepted for who she is. But even that acceptance comes with the baggage of her past. Do you think small-town America still operates under this system, or has progress blurred the lines?

Julie: You've done a great job summarizing some of the key themes of the story, as Millie deals with issues of classism, racism, religious hypocrisy and more. While women and minorities certainly have many more options today than they did in Millie's Depression-era Mississippi, most of these themes are timeless. Until we all learn to love one another and find the good in everyone, these issues will still exist.

Serena: As she comes of age, Millie gets to experience two polar opposite romances: one of instant fireworks and passion — and one that grows slowly and cautiously, but still causes her to hold back. Yet neither young man was "the bad guy" in the end — which made Millie's choice even more difficult. Were you ever tempted to keep River from returning to Millie?

Julie: Yes. In fact, this is one of the changes that occurred in editing. The ending was a bit different in the earlier drafts, but I wanted Millie's choice to be purposeful and independent. Not just a matter of chance. This is one of the main points of this book … our choices matter. Every single one of them. In the sequel, Millie's story continues, and while I'm not finished with the story yet … I will say Millie does ask herself, "If I had the chance to choose again, would I make the same choice?"

Serena: I was moved to tears more than once while reading this book. Did you cry while writing it? And if so, which scenes most tore your heart?

Julie: I am glad to hear you connected so deeply with this book. Many readers tell me they cried throughout the book. I also cried while writing it, and I still cry when I read certain scenes. Millie feels so real to me, and I love her dearly at this point. I care about her and I don't like to see her suffer. I think the steeple scene is one of the most difficult ones to read, but I also cried when Millie was in the hospital with her mother. Mother/daughter relationships are so complex, and I feel Millie's pain as she tries so desperately to salvage what's left of theirs.

Serena: You are a speech language pathologist, currently working as an ESL (English as a second language) teacher. Do your students' struggles with language and/or local customs inspire your characters? Or are you able to separate your jobs into their own distinct categories?

Julie: I think everything I do in life plays a part in the stories I write, but I've never penned a character based on any particular person. I don't think I'll ever do that. The last thing I want to do is make my friends and family members insecure around me, thinking I'll put them in a book.

Serena: As a teacher, you have surely witnessed the results of domestic abuse in your students' lives. Was writing about this issue through Millie's eyes a cathartic exercise — or was it painful, making you hypersensitive to the fact that not every child will be rescued from that fate?

Julie: It is certainly heartbreaking to see what some children deal with in their lives. As a teacher, a mother, and a Christian, I have always had tremendous compassion for anyone in need, particularly children. I believe it is our role, as a civilized society, to never turn a blind eye to a victim of domestic violence. Many people feel trapped in abusive relationships. Until we provide safe, convenient escape routes as well as the support required to start a new, healthy life, the cycle will continue. We should stand up for every Millie in the world.

Serena: Beyond writing and your work as an ESL teacher, you live on and help run a farming operation, Valley House Farm. I'm a farmer's daughter from Iowa, so I know it's not all chewing a piece of straw and holding a pitchfork while you wait for the cows to come home. How do you juggle the responsibilities involved in producing sustainable crops, caring for animals, and boarding horses while still finding time at home to write and edit novels?

Julie: Lucky girl … Iowa farmland sure is beautiful! As you know, it's a tricky balancing act. We just became first-generation farmers in Mississippi about a year ago, so we've spent this year working constantly on the farm and trying to get it started. We enjoy the work tremendously, but we sure could use about 40 hours a day to get it all done. At this point, we haven't hired any help. But with our second milking season just around the corner, it may be time to admit we can't juggle it all. Mornings are the toughest, as we're all trying to rush off to our Day Jobs. The only time I really have to write is between about 3 and 5 a.m. Thankfully, I've never required much sleep.

Serena: (picks chin off floor and reminds self to quit complaining about being too busy) When you're not writing, editing, farming, or teaching, what do you do for fun? (Or do you even have time to look up the word "fun" in the dictionary so you can answer this question? LOL.)

Julie: Ha! I do have a VERY busy life, but my top priority will always be my family. For fun, we do all sorts of things. We are a loud, playful, active family, and we spend a lot of time together. We play games, travel, watch movies, read, and we do our chores together each day — everything from mucking stalls to cooking dinner. We are a tight-knit family and we LOVE to laugh. We feel no shame in dancing and singing around the house looking like fools.

Serena: Love it! I know all good writers are also avid readers who grasp every spare minute to dig into a good book. What are you reading now?

Julie: I'm usually reading about six or seven different books at a time. Right now, I'm reading some advanced copies upon request for endorsements. I'm also reading Blindness by Jose Saramago and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I've also always got a few farm books on my nightstand. I just finished The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow, and I just reread The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls for a third time.

Serena: Your first two books were children's books, written originally for your own children and promoted by kids you read them to when they came over for sleepovers. Was Into the Free written as a message for a specific person or group?

Julie: I didn't write it with any specific message in mind, but I do hope it gives readers a sense of healing. I hope it encourages people to work toward forgiveness and to always consider the way we treat one another. Even if readers can't identify with Millie's journey on a personal level, I hope they can relate to at least one character in the book and take a closer look at their own choices. I also hope it reminds us all to protect the children in our society and to offer help when it is needed.

Serena: Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?

Julie: I am so grateful to everyone for giving this story a chance. I am an avid reader, and I know how many titles are available. Every time someone chooses Into the Free from the shelf or online, they've made Millie's voice a little stronger. Every time they recommend it to a book group, Sunday School class, women's circle or library, they've helped again. I appreciate every single person who spends time in Millie's world, and I will never take that gift for granted.

Serena: You can learn more about Julie Cantrell and her debut novel, Into the Free, by visiting her website. There you'll find a reader's guide for the novel, interviews and lots of extras. You can also connect with Julie on Facebook and Twitter (@JulieCantrell).


(This interview first appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

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