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November 1, 2015

A Respectable Actress

One of our favorite spots to vacation as a family is St. Simon’s Island, off the coast of Georgia. Every time we visit, I learn something new about the history of the island, especially when we go exploring on rainy days. There’s a beautiful old church, Christchurch, that seems to pull me with a magnetic force toward its rich layers of drama and history.

When I heard about Dorothy Love’s new novel that takes place on St. Simon’s Island and Savannah, I couldn’t wait to travel through the pages of time into an 1870s murder mystery. I was completely intrigued!

India Hartley, a famous and beautiful actress, is now alone after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. During the second night’s performance, something goes terribly wrong. India’s co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is found holding her own smoking gun!

After she is arrested and put in jail, a benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best lawyer in Savannah, to defend her. A handsome widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simon’s Island. He must increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point. Hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.

Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the natural beauty of the Georgia lowcountry and is increasingly drawn to Philip.

But a locked room and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise disturbing questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may destroy her or hold the key to her freedom.

What makes this novel even more interesting is that it’s inspired by the life of a real 19th-century woman, Frances “Fanny” Anne Kemble. She was an English actress who moved to Georgia in the 1830s and married Pierce Butler, a wealthy plantation owner. She kept a diary of her life on St. Simon’s, which was published in 1863, Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation.

In an author’s note, Dorothy Love also explains that while Indigo Point is entirely a fictional creation, it is based on King’s Retreat, which is documented in the collected letters of Anna Matilda Page King. For anyone who is interested in Georgia history, A Respectable Actress may serve as a springboard into the lives of real characters who lived on St. Simon’s Island.

After reading A Respectable Actress, I realized this will definitely not be the only Dorothy Love book I read! I was fascinated to learn that one of the characters who appears in this novel, Celia Browning Mackay, is the main character in a previous work, The Bracelet. I love the city of Savannah, so I have added this book to my wish list!

Throughout this novel, the theme of grief is explored, as India Hartley works through her first year of losing her father. It’s helpful for anyone dealing with grief, and I was touched to read Dorothy Love’s account of how she learned to write through her own grief when she found out her beloved brother had terminal cancer.

I hope you will find time to read A Respectable Actress. Through encountering it, I have fallen even further in love with coastal Georgia, and I know you will too!

About the Author:
Dorothy LoveA native of west Tennessee, Dorothy Love makes her home in the Texas hill country with her husband and their golden retriever. An award-winning author of numerous young adult novels, Dorothy made her adult debut with the Hickory Ridge novels. When she isn’t busy writing or researching her next book, Love enjoys hiking, traveling, and hanging out with her husband Ron and their rambunctious golden retriever. The Loves make their home in the Texas hill country.
Find Dorothy online: website, Twitter, Facebook.

Thank you to Litfuse for sending me a complimentary copy of this book for review.

By: Heather Ivester in: American Authors,Book Reviews,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Falling in Love with Coastal Georgia in A Respectable Actress



September 7, 2013



Have you ever wondered how an author turns a story idea into a published book? This video series by New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver is really fun to watch. Over the summer, my daughters and I viewed the seven episodes together and enjoyed hearing Lauren explain how a favorite Maurice Sendak book from her childhood took hold of her imagination and helped inspire her to become a writer.

In the last episode of the series, we listened to Lauren read the first few chapters of her new middle-grade novel, The Spindlers. We loved the characters so much we decided to check the book out from our library and finish reading it together. It’s an exciting book — a bit creepy if you’re scared of spiders — but it shared the positive message of how brothers and sisters can deeply care for each other.

If you’re a teacher, parent, or simply curious about the process of book publication, I highly recommend this wonderful series, How a Book Is Made.

Happy Reading!

By: Heather Ivester in: American Authors,Children's Books,Education,Family,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on How a Story Idea Becomes a Book



December 9, 2011

I was thrilled to see that a new 50th anniversary edition of A Wrinkle in Time is coming out next month — too bad it’s not in time for Christmas because this would be at the top of my Christmas wish list!

Fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s writings will want to own a copy of this new edition, which contains a forward by Katherine Paterson, an afterword by Madeleine L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voiklis, as well as photographs and memorabilia, the author’s Newbery Medal acceptance speech, and other bonus materials.

Although I wasn’t crazy about Disney’s movie version which came out in 2004, I’m so glad we own the DVD because it contains a beautiful interview with Madeleine L’Engle, in which she describes how she wrote the draft of the book in about two weeks, in between changing diapers and reading aloud to her children. It was rejected over 25 times before it was finally accepted by an editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, earning her the Newbery Medal in 1963.

I LOVE this book — I remember reading it the first time in third grade, when our family had moved to a new city, and I didn’t know a soul. A kind librarian in my new school showed me the fiction reading room and told me, “I think you’ll enjoy this book,” handing me A Wrinkle in Time. Oh, how I fell in love — and even more so now, as a parent, I love the book because of the Christian message that love conquers all things, even fear.

You can read more about this upcoming new edition here, in Publisher’s Weekly.




August 31, 2011




It’s no easy task, getting most kids to write a paragraph, much less a full creative story. That’s why I felt like I’d uncovered a treasure, when I happened upon Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly. It was parked on the same shelf near a biography of J.K. Rowling that I was checking out for my kids.

We’ve long been fans of Gail Carson Levine’s Newbery Honor work, Ella Enchanted, one of the rare children’s books that survived being transformed into a movie. In fact, it was the movie, starring Anne Hathaway, that got me reading the novel, along with my daughters. Amazing! Levine’s writing is magical, and she doesn’t keep her methods secret. She willingly shares writing tips in classes she teaches to children and adults, as well as on her blog.

If you have a budding young writer in your family (or if YOU are longing to create fiction), Writing Magic is sure to inspire. It’s filled with writing advice, story starters, and most of all, encouragement. Levine believes writing should be fun, and if it’s not, then something is wrong!

In the first chapter, Levine lists her seven rules for writing:

1. The best way to write better is to write more.
2. The best way to write better is to write more.
3. The best way to write better is to write more.
4. The best way to write more is to write whenever you have five minutes and wherever your find a chair and a pen and paper or your computer.
5. Read! Most likely you don’t need this rule. If you enjoy writing, you probably enjoy reading. The payoff for this pleasure is that reading books shows you how to write them.
6. Reread! There’s nothing wrong with reading a book you love over and over. When you do, the words get inside you, become part of you, in a way that words in a book you’ve read only once can’t.
7. Save everything you write, even if you don’t like it, even it you hate it. Save it for a minimum of fifteen years. I’m serious …

Levine goes on to explain that last rule. She said she used to think she’d always remember what it felt like to be a kid, but she discovered (as we all do) that you forget the details. The only way to absolutely remember how you feel being a child is to write as a child, and then save those writings.

She further explains:

When you become a teenager, you step onto a bridge. You may already be on it. The opposite shore is adulthood. Childhood lies behind. The bridge is made of wood. As you cross, it burns behind you.

If you save what you write, you still won’t be able to cross back to childhood. But you’ll be able to see yourself in that lost country. You’ll be able to wave to yourself across that wide river.

As a mother, I’m always trying to get my children to write in journals. It’s worked for some of my kids, who love to record their memories, but not for others, who would rather be doing ANYthing but writing. Seeing Levine explain it all so clearly reminded me that someday, if their journals survive the years, they’ll appreciate being able to “wave” to themselves across the bridge from adulthood back to their childhoods.

I haven’t always been good at keeping a journal, though it’s a practice I’ve become passionate about the last fifteen years or so. For me, it’s a connection to my spiritual life, to God, because when I put ink to paper I can block out the distractions of the world (most of the time) and enter into my Quiet Place, where I find the strength and joy I need to face my day. I think kids also benefit greatly from being able to sort out their ups and downs in written form. Diaries are also fascinating raw material for creating fiction.

In Writing Magic, Levine explains why she writes fiction, which I enjoyed reading about. She writes for several reasons: to enjoy the power of creation, to tell a good story, and to make discoveries — about herself and others. As parents, if we can pass along this desire to create through words, we’ll be enabling our children to make their own discoveries. What a noble calling!

Throughout this book, Levine uses examples from her own novels as well as other famous children’s works, to clarify her points. I loved being able to enter into her thought process, as to how she came up with her ideas for books such as Ella Enchanted, Fairest, The Wish, and others. She also offers advice on how to come up with interesting characters and plots that will hook readers, as well as how to inject humor into your writing. Finally, she shares her own publishing journey, and encourages her readers to persevere in getting their work out there.

Levine closes every chapter with two simple commands: “Have fun!” and “Save what you wrote.” She also ends her posts the same way in her blog for young writers. It can’t get much simpler than that.

I hope you get a chance to pick up a copy of Writing Magic. Here’s what the author says on her website about her own book:

When I wrote Writing Magic I’d been teaching creative writing to wonderful middle school kids for six years.

I love to talk, teach, and write about writing. I made up prompts, and we tried them together. If a prompt worked for me, it worked for them, and vice versa. I invented a few prompts just for the book, but almost all are workshop tested, just as you’d expect recipes in a kitchen to have been cooked at least once. I love dreaming up prompts, and they’re probably my favorite parts of the book. Writing Magic is my only banned book, as far as I know. It was banned from middle schools in a district in Illinois because I advise readers to make their characters suffer. In my opinion, a how-to about writing that advised against making characters suffer—that would be the book to ban!

Ha! See? You’ll love this book.

You can read more about Gail Carson Levine on her website or blog.




July 27, 2011

Update: A reader alerted me that Lori Z. Scott’s Meghan Rose website is no longer active, so I’ve removed the link.

Hello friends! I hope you’re surviving the heat this summer. Time is flying for us, and my kids are heading back to school next week. Today, I’m excited to share with you an interview with children’s author, Lori Z. Scott, who writes humorous middle grade fiction, especially for the inspirational book market.

Welcome to Mom 2 Mom Connection, Lori! Can you tell us a little about how you balance your roles as mom and writer?

Being a mother is my highest calling in life. And that means I’m a caregiver, nurse, tutor, cheerleader, counselor, transportation expert, and nutritionist. Doing all those mommy things is a bit like stuffing a sock with pineapples. It’s a stretch, but I pursue my own interests in the empty spaces around the pineapple. I think moms should realize that it’s okay to put the mommy part of our lives first and to trust that God will still bless, fulfill, and lead us in other areas as well. He’s full of surprises that way.

I also teach second grade. Since graduating from Wheaton College, I’ve taught school for longer than I care to remember. I’ve worked mainly with kids in kindergarten, first, and second grade. Teaching has been such a huge part of my life. I guess I’m just not ready to give up playing games and reading comic books yet.

Finally, I’m an author. My students get a big kick out of this, and love having my books in the classroom. We talk about writing a lot, and experiment with patterns and words. By the end of the year, they all view themselves as writers.

That sounds wonderful! I’m sure you really inspire your students with your own publishing success! How did you get started writing for children?

I started writing almost by accident. When my kids were little, we often went to the library to hang out. One day when we were there, I saw a flyer for an amateur science fiction/ fantasy writing contest. I decided to enter. Keep in mind, I hadn’t done any writing for probably fifteen years (except letters to my grandma). In high school, I wrote for our yearbook and school newspaper, and really enjoyed it. But I played volleyball in college, and between practice and studies, barely had time to sleep let alone write. I forgot how much I loved playing with words. I forgot how writers both lose and find themselves in those words.

Oh, I love the way you put that! We “lose and find ourselves in words.” So what happened next?

I entered the contest anyway, and won second place. Encouraged by my success, I tried the MOPS International story writing contest…and WON! After that, I joined a writer’s group, learned more about the writing industry, and started publishing short stories, poems, devotions, and personal essays. I didn’t realize it (God did, of course), but writing those short pieces helped me build both the confidence and skill I needed to later write children’s chapter books.

Do you remember the moment you felt inspired to begin writing the Meghan Rose series?

When my daughter was in first grade, her teacher started reading the Junie B. Jones books in class. Since Meghan liked them, I picked up a few copies. I enjoyed the humor in those books, but when Meghan started acting and talking like Junie B., I started editing out those grammar slips, name calling and bad attitudes…and looking elsewhere. I thought there had to be an alternative choice—a book that was just as funny, but also had a good take-away value.

At that time, most Christian bookstores didn’t carry fiction for that age group, only devotional books and Bible stories. I ended up empty-handed and frustrated. Eventually, at my daughter’s urging, I wrote the book I couldn’t find — a book just for her. I put in everything she wanted — an interesting story filled with giggles and characters worth rooting for — and everything I wanted — good moral values (but with nothing preachy about the story at all). (I hate preachy, I love amusing.) BLAM! Inspiration!

Now fast forward a bit. At a writing conference, my hunt for good fiction came back to mind. Almost on a whim, I wrote up a proposal for a whole series based on the book I wrote for my daughter. After all, I knew there had to be an untapped market because I WAS part of that untapped market. I also felt somewhat qualified to fill the gap because of my extensive experience working with children. I pitched the idea to editors, and eventually landed a contract for the series.

Sounds like you wrote something from the heart, then did your research and found the perfect market niche, Lori!

One thing I find interesting is that when the Meghan Rose series was first released, there were very few Christian fiction titles available for the K-2 age group. Now you can find a handful of other options out there, and I’m guessing (and hoping) more on the way.




Yes, I hope so too. I’m also part of your target market, a mom looking for books that are fun to read, yet will also encourage good character in my kids. How would you describe this spunky little girl, Meghan Rose?

When I started the series, I wanted a character that was likable but flawed, outrageous but clever, passionate but sensitive all rolled into one. I wanted someone who didn’t know all the answers, but was willing to look for them. In a nutshell, I wanted someone just like my own daughter. Since I never intended on publishing the books and originally wrote them just for her, I actually used her as the foundational basis for a fictional character. I even used her name!

I’m sure she was excited to see her name on the book covers! What age group are you gearing the books toward?

They’re geared for kids in grades K-2, the age I’ve worked with the most. But I have had older kids who enjoy reading them too. Although it’s a series, each book can be read as a stand-alone adventure. Each book has an overall theme, such as friendship, patience, joy, honesty, or humility. These concepts are NOT preached, but subtly woven into the storyline. There are discussion questions and activities at the end of the book for those parents (or children) who want to continue to explore the theme. Some homeschool parents have especially appreciated this feature.

Also, the books are not just for girls! A mother of two boys once emailed me about how much her sons enjoyed reading them with her. She said they could hardly read for laughing so hard — they were all HOWLING!! The youngest one loved it so much he started sleeping with the first book under his pillow at night.

In fact, the comment I hear most from people who read the books is, “I laughed out loud.” The second comment I hear most often is about how much kids (and parents) like the discussion questions and activities. How can all that just be for girls?

That’s true! I read them out loud to my son and daughter, and we were all laughing at the crazy scrapes Meghan Rose finds herself in. How do you think your series distinguishes itself from other books available for this target age group, such as the Junie B. Jones series?

My books are geared specifically for a Christian audience. Also, since I spend so much time with this age group, I am very much aware of the challenges they face, the way they think and talk, and the questions they struggle to answer. I think that lends a certain amount of authenticity to the stories. Plus I don’t use words like “stupid”. Overall, the books are heavy on the humor and very, VERY light on the lesson…yet neither quality is lost on the child.

I love how Meghan and her mom discuss prayer and seeking God for answers to problems. Can you share with us an example of how parents can use your books to teach prayer to their own children?

Let me relate my own experience with the stories. As I mentioned, I wrote them for my daughter. Since she is the type to imitate people she likes, she began copying some of the fictional Meghan’s actions. That included prayer. I remember when she was in maybe third grade, she came home from school one day and said, “There’s a mean girl on the playground that I don’t like. I was going to say something mean to her, but then I thought what would Meghan Rose do? So I prayed about it instead. And then I talked to her and made friends with her.”

Wow! She had turned to prayer on her own and then solved her own problem. I never expected the books to have that kind of impact on her thinking, but they did. So as far as parents using the book, I suspect just reading and discussing how Meghan works out her problems might do the trick.

In the back of the books, you offer discussion questions and activity ideas that are fun and helpful for parents and teachers. How do you come up with these ideas?

That’s the teacher part of me flaring up big time! LOL. The ideas come from years practice in the classroom. Kids love extending the story experience by creating their own volcanoes or whatever. I also put a ton of other ideas for parents and kids on my website under the BLAM (Brilliant Little Activities to Make) link.

But seriously, I added that section so parents can capitalize on the book’s underlying message. I mean, how many times have you as a mother read a book and thought, “There’s a good lesson in here” but didn’t know how to draw your child into a discussion about it? I remember reading Where the Red Fern Grows with my daughter and wanting to talk about death and sacrifice. Since I didn’t know where to start, I couldn’t fully take advantage of that teachable moment. (Instead we both just wept all the way through the last few chapters.)

Can you tell us more about your journey to publication? Did you write the books with a certain publisher in mind, or did you seek an agent first?

Like I mentioned earlier, I started with contests, moved on to publishing for magazines, e-zines, and book anthologies, and then finally into writing books.

I guess I’m not a typical writer. I don’t write every day, nor do I have thousands of notebooks filled with stories. When I write, I find a need and fill the need. That means when I write a piece, I have a specific publication, along with their wish-list, style and guidelines, in mind. And please don’t laugh. I don’t have an agent. My bread-and-butter writing goes mostly to magazines, and I don’t need an agent for that. The book series was a complete surprise, and I still haven’t gotten around to finding an agent. However, I feel like Standard (my publisher) has been very supportive, generous, and fair.

How many books are in the series now, and do you know how many more you plan to write?

Right now, there are eight books in the series. Apparently, they have been well received. They have reached the bestselling status!

That’s awesome — congratulations!

Thank you. As far as more books go, that’s up to God and the editors at Standard. Standard is considering more Meghan Rose titles and possibly a spin-off series starring Ryan, the main boy character. I have two Meghan Rose and two Ryan Baker stories drafted. I’ve outlined a third Meghan Rose story, which I hope to draft before school starts. I have titles and themes for a dozen more books, but those will have to wait for next summer since I’ll have little time to write during the school year.


Lori, your writing inspires all of us who are busy moms with a desire to write. Can you give us any advice on how to carve out a writing life in the midst of raising our families?

I think the first thing to keep in mind is that everyone’s writing journey will look different. What works for one writer might not work for you. With that said, here are some suggestions:

1. If you’re very determined to write, be prepared to lose sleep over it. Get up early before the kids are up or stay up late when they’re in bed.

2. Carry a notebook with you. If you have to sit through a practice or wait for school to let out so you can pick up your children, that notebook gives you the opportunity to write wherever you are. Those slots may be 10 minutes or 45… but that time is wasted if you’re just sitting. If an idea comes to you, write it down as soon as possible. I’ve used lots of napkins and envelopes in my day! Plants grow inch by inch. So do stories. Keep a notebook next to your bed too. Sometimes when you’re drifting off to sleep, your mind will work out a glitch in your story.

3. Don’t be afraid to start small. Writing devotions, for example, can teach you to make every word count since they generally run anywhere from 150-250 words in length.

4. Join a writer’s group if you can. They offer support and encouragement. Sometimes they will alert you to writing opportunities. If you can’t (sometimes it’s hard to find a decent babysitter!), then look for an online writer’s group.

5. Write with your children. I remember times when I sat down with my young kiddos and we all had notebooks. We wrote our own stories and drew pictures. An hour later, we’d share our work. The kids loved it. (Side note: my children are older now, and still love writing.)

6. Exercise. Believe it or not, I’ve written whole articles in my mind while running.

Wow! These are some great tips! You’ve really gotten me motivated to get writing with my kids. I have one more question — do you have a favorite quick meal you put together when you’re in a deadline crunch, yet you know the people in your house need to eat? Would you mind sharing with us your recipe?

My secret recipe is called “Run to WalMart and buy a roasted Rotisserie chicken.” I usually throw in baked potatoes, bread, and a vegetable. It’s ready in 10 minutes.

Ha! So I’m not the only one who is rescued by those ready-made meals!

Fun aside, if I’ve got deadlines approaching, I cook ahead. That way when it’s time to eat, I can just throw it in the oven. My favorite is homemade pizza. I use a bread machine to make the dough. I roll the dough out, prick it, and bake it at 375 for 15 minutes. While it bakes, I brown some Jimmy Dean’s hot pork sausage. When the crust is ready, I add Ragu pizza sauce, the sausage, and cheese. Then I bake it for 15 more minutes.

Homemade pizza sounds delicious!

Another quick and hearty meal isn’t a recipe, but a package. Bear Creek has a variety of wonderful powder-form soups available. I throw in whatever meat I want (ham for the potato soup, chicken for the tortilla soup, hamburger for others) and add a loaf of bakery-bought bread. It’s fast, inexpensive, and very yummy.

These are GREAT ideas, and very practical for any busy mom! Thank you so much, Lori, for all of your inspiring advice. It’s been a joy getting to know you better. We wish you all the best as you continue to share your faith through writing, teaching, and parenting.

You can learn more about Lori Z. Scott and her popular Meghan Rose series at her website, which also includes games, jokes and activities for parents and teachers.




May 10, 2011



Last weekend, I was looking for something fun and short to read, and a quick glance around my home led me to Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s How I Came to Be a Writer. It’s been years since I picked it up, and while reading it this time, I felt like I was cast under the author’s spell, though outwardly I kept one eye on guinea pigs, children, and a tennis-ball chasing dog frolicking around our sunny backyard.

In fact, the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking, I’ve got to blog about this! There must be one of you at least who needs a jolt of writing inspiration, and this is the book to do it. Have you heard of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor? Her most famous work is Shiloh, which won the 1992 Newbery Award, but her long writing career has spanned seven decades as she’s penned over 130 books for readers of all ages. She’s definitely a good mentor for anyone longing to pursue the publication of fiction.

Ms. Naylor’s first writing break came when she was only 16 years old, and a former Sunday school teacher wrote to ask if she’d be interested in submitting a story to the church school paper she now edited. Right away, Phyllis came up with a sentimental baseball story called “Mike’s Hero.” Her teacher-turned-editor loved it and bought it for $4.67. (Since Phyllis was born in 1933, I’m assuming this happened around 1949.) She kept contributing more stories to church papers and magazines, then started her own humor column, told from the point of view of a 15-year-old boy named P.R. Tedesco. She wrote this for 25 years, and it helped her find her voice as a humor writer, as she describes:

Because I could write about anything at all in the column — friends, fears, parents, school, God — ideas were not hard to think up. By the time I discontinued the series, I had learned to write about serious subjects — segregation, prejudice, capital punishment, and the Vietnam War — in a sardonic way that would still interest teenage readers. The most difficult problem, strangely, was answering an occasional fan letter like this one:

Dear Mr. Tedesco,
You really tell it like it is, Man! What does your girlfriend think of your writing?

Naylor made the shift to publishing books in 1965, by submitting a selection of her short stories, which came out under the title, The Galloping Goat and Other Stories. This led to a another collection of short stories, and then at last, a contract for her first novel. I love how she describes the journey of moving from writing short pieces to writing a whole novel — since this is such a struggle for many writers. She said at first she made the mistake of “trying to throw in everything but the kitchen sink,” which caught the attention of an astute editor, who asked her to revise it. She rewrote the whole book following the editor’s suggestions for improvement, and What the Gulls Were Singing became her first published novel in 1967.

And she’s kept going. What I love about this autobiography is that Phyllis includes many of her early writings and then describes how she would improve them. She’s a writer who never stops growing, and this inspires me, because I can see that writing is a worthy passion of a lifetime. She didn’t stop and sit back on her laurels when she won the Newbery in 1992. She kept on going — in fact, Shiloh was only one book in the Shiloh trilogy.

Go Phyllis.

She is not a one-book wonder, like some of the great writers I’ve read in the past year: Margaret Mitchell, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger. Here are authors who wrote one book and then lost the magic, or the muse, or whatever it took to get their work out there. Phyllis is nearly 80 years old, and she’s still writing. Her latest book came out this year.

I couldn’t find a website under her name, but I found that she’s actually blogging here at Alice McKinley.com. Alice is a character from another one of her popular book series, and is based on her own life. At this point, she’s published 27 books in the series, and she’s going to end it at book 28. From glancing through the blog, I can see she’s extremely popular in Germany. In fact, one of her fans wrote that she couldn’t stand the length of time she had to wait until the books were translated into German, so she learned to read them in English.

I’m not familiar with the Alice series, so I’m unable to endorse their content, but can’t we as writers learn something from an author who’s won the top award in children’s literature and kept on going to reach the hearts of readers? On her blog, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor says this about her writing process:

I guess they “just come to me.” I don’t have any process. I simply try to become whichever girl I’m writing about–the whole girl–what her family sees of her, what her friends see, how she feels inside, what she worries about–all the things that are going on in her life. Writing is always “striking a balance” with humor, serious stuff, body worries, boyfriend problems, philosophical questions…. I have a very good memory of myself growing up and what was happening to me–what I was thinking about–at all ages, and these probably form the basis of my books.

I would love to hear Phyllis Reynolds Naylor speak at a conference someday. I wonder if she still gets out and speaks. She is someone like Katherine Paterson, whose keynote I heard in New York several years ago, and it still stays with me. I don’t know that I’ll ever find the courage to finish the novels I’ve started and abandoned, like orphaned children, on my computer, but at least I’ve been inspired to share her journey with you!

And it all began with this little girl, Phyllis, being read to by her parents. Her father would act out voices as he read Huckleberry Finn, and her mother kept reading great books out loud well into her children’s teen years.

Which reminds me — summer is around the corner. And I know the perfect book to start reading my 8-year-old son as soon as school is out. I have it sitting here right beside me, and I’m thinking maybe I’ll even start reading it tonight.

Care to join us?





March 26, 2011

I’m happy to join in this week’s blog tour for CJ Darlington’s second novel, Bound By Guilt, which is being released this month from Tyndale. CJ has been a blogging/writing friend of mine for several years, and I had the exciting privilege of interviewing her here last March when her debut novel, Thicker Than Blood, released.

Once again, I’m amazed at the depth of CJ’s writing. She focused her first novel on the relationship between two sisters, Christy and May Williams, showing how years of estrangement are restored through the rich bonds of sisterhood and faith. In her second book, she delves even more deeply into the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.

Much of the action in both books takes place on a horse ranch in Colorado or at a used bookstore, Dawson’s Book Barn, which is based on the real Baldwin’s Book Barn in Pennsylvania where CJ lives and has worked as a book scout. (Didn’t even know what that meant until I read about it!) It’s an actual five-story barn, which holds over 300,000 books. I would definitely like to visit there — doesn’t that sound heavenly for all of us book lovers?

Bound By Guilt picks up about a year after the events in Thicker Than Blood. We’re now introduced to a new character, 16-year-old Roxi Gold, a girl with a troubled past, caught in a life of crime. I had a hard time putting this novel down, as CJ carefully lays out pieces of a puzzle that all come together in the end.

This novel is all the more intriguing because it involves the theft of a first edition copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I had no idea a rare book like that could be worth over $50,000! It was fun to learn about the world of antiquarian book scouting. The novel also shows how the little things we do, helping others, sharing a scripture or wisdom from the Bible, can go a long way toward giving someone hope. I really think this would be a great novel to pass along to teenagers, as well as any youth workers who spend time with teen girls.

Go CJ! We’re anxiously awaiting another book in the Dawson’s Book Barn saga!

Check out this beautiful cover and book trailer!

TitleTrakk.com Blog Tours Presents:

Bound by Guilt
by C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House

Shuttled between foster homes, Roxi Gold will do anything to fit in. Soon she’s traveling the country stealing rare books from unsuspecting bookstores. Police officer Abby Dawson has seen the worst of society—and not just at work. One fateful night, both their lives are changed forever. One searches for justice, the other finds herself on the run. Will the power of forgiveness set them free?


***Here’s what others are saying about Bound By Guilt***

Great job! You kept me turning the pages.
Francine Rivers, Internationally best selling author

C.J. is a wonderful, talented writer . . . extraordinary . . .
Bodie Thoene, best-selling author of the A.D. Chronicles

This one engages your senses and reaches your heart.
Jerry B. Jenkins, NY Times best-selling author & owner of The Christian Writers Guild

Watch the book trailer:

About the Author:
C. J. Darlington won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over twelve years, scouting for stores similar to the ones described in her novels before cofounding her own online bookstore. In 2006 C. J. started the Christian entertainment Web site www.TitleTrakk.com with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website www.cjdarlington.com

QUICK LINKS:




March 22, 2011



I love to travel, don’t you? In my 20s, I enjoyed wandering the planet as an itinerant English teacher, but these days, I’m thankful if I get to travel a few hours from home. I do most of my globe trekking from the cheap seat of my armchair — and that is why I LOVED reading Sibella Giorello’s latest novel, The Mountains Bow Down.

Why? Because this author whisked me away to the wilds of Alaska! On a cruise ship, The Spirit of Odysseus. Where I got to see glaciers through sentences like this:

Smothered with evergreens, the steeps pointed to a sky so blue it whispered of eternity … And where a liquid silver sea lapped the rocky shore, a bald eagle surveyed the cold water for fish.

*Aah.*

Not only was the setting of this book thrilling, I also thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the mind of FBI agent, Raleigh Harmon, who uses the fascinating field of forensic geology to solve her crimes. And yes — a crime does take place aboard the ship. While most of the passengers are lounging, eating, and gazing at the gorgeous scenery, a woman goes missing and tragedy occurs. In the short span of a 5-day cruise, it’s up to Raleigh Harmon and her Tom Cruise-like sidekick, Special Agent Jack Stephenson, to piece together the mystery and put a monster behind bars.

So there’s a little romance on board, though Raleigh isn’t too swayed by Jack’s charm and stays focused on her mission of justice. As I read the book, I kept sneaking peeks at the author’s photo, thinking this book has to be somewhat autobiographical! Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology. I could imagine her as the novel’s heroine, an FBI agent solving a crime based on microscopic dust fibers. It was so cool to learn how this is done. (Especially since I’m married to a geologist.)

Here’s the back cover copy of the book, if you’d like to learn more:

Everything’s going to work out. Time away always makes things better…

That’s what FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon believes as she boards a cruise to Alaska. A land of mountains and gems and minerals, The Last Frontier is a dream destination for this forensic geologist who’s hoping to leave behind a hectic work schedule and an engagement drained of romance.

But when a passenger goes missing and winds up dead, Raleigh’s vacation suddenly gets lost at sea. The ship’s security chief tries to rule the death a suicide, but Raleigh’s forensics background points to a much darker conclusion: Somewhere onboard, a ruthless murderer walks free.

Engulfed by one of her toughest cases yet, Raleigh requests assistance from the FBI and receives her nemesis-perpetual ladies man Special Agent Jack Stephanson. As the cruise ship sails through the Inside Passage, Raleigh has five days to solve a high-profile murder, provide consultation for a movie filming onboard, and figure out her increasingly complicated feelings for Jack-who might not be such a jerk after all.

And that’s only her work life. Family offers even more challenges. Joined on the cruise by her mother and aunt, Raleigh watches helplessly as disturbing rifts splinter her family.

Like the scenery that surrounds the cruise ship, Raleigh discovers a situation so steep and so complex that even the mountains might bow down before it.

I hope you have a chance to read this book, and if you click on the picture below, you also have a chance to win a getaway on your own Alaskan Cruise!

Sibella’s celebrating the release of The Mountains Bow Down with a blog tour, a Cruise prize pack worth over $500 and a Facebook Party! Don’t miss a minute of the fun.

One Grand Prize winner will receive:

  • A $500 gift certificate toward the cruise of their choice from Vacations To Go.
  • The entire set of the Raleigh Harmon series.

To enter click one of the icons below. Then tell your friends. And enter soon – the giveaway ends on 4/1! The winner will be announced at Sibella’s Raleigh Harmon Book Club Party on FB April 5th, 2011! Don’t miss the fun – prizes, books and gab!

Enter via E-mail Enter via FacebookEnter via Twitter

About the Facebook Party: Join Sibella and fans of the Raleigh Harmon series on April 5th at 5:00 pm PST (6 MST, 7 CST & 8 EST) for a Facebook Book Club Party. Sibella will be giving away some fun prizes, testing your trivia skills and hosting a book chat about the Raleigh Harmon books. Have questions you’d like to chat about – leave them on the Event page.


Sibella Giorello grew up in Alaska and majored in geology at Mount Holyoke College. After riding a motorcycle across the country, she worked as a features writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Her stories have won state and national awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. She now lives in Washington state with her husband and sons. Find out more about Sibella and her other books at her website. www.sibellagiorello.com




February 21, 2011




I just finished reading Kathi Lipp’s really fun book, The Me Project, and I’m happy to join in the blog tour to help spread the word.

I started reading it a couple of weeks ago without having any idea what my “project” might be. After slipping this book into my purse and carrying it around to basketball games, school pick-up lines, and doctor’s appointments, I feel like Kathi Lipp has become a friend, someone who wants me to seek God’s best for my life.

The book is divided into 21 “projects” that will help you take small steps toward dreams you may have on hold. It would be a great resource for women’s book clubs and church groups, since one of the main points Kathi Lipp makes is that friends can hold you accountable as you make progress toward your goals.

Here’s a little about the book:

Has that rush to make (and break) New Year’s resolutions already waned? According to Daniel Pink, author of 
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, taking small steps every day will not only help you stay committed to your goal, 
but will also help you ultimately achieve that goal when obstacles come up. Author Kathi Lipp wants you and your friends to live out those dreams—and have some fun along the way.

As women, we forget the goals and dreams of our younger years. The busyness of everyday life gets 
in the way. To-do lists replace goals. The Me Project provides women with fun and creative ways to bring back the sense of purpose and vitality that comes with living out the plans and dreams God has planted in our hearts. Kathi Lipp’s warm tone and laugh-out-loud humor motivates women to take daily steps toward intentional goals. The end result? We get back our lives and enjoy living in the confidence of a purposeful life in spite of our chaotic schedules.

This handy guide coaches women to do one simple thing toward achieving our goals each day for three weeks. A woman experiencing the exhilaration of a rediscovered life offers more as a wife, mother, friend, volunteer, career woman.

Now you get a chance to meet Kathi Lipp as she shares how you can get started on your own “Me Project.” And if you leave a comment below, you’ll be entered in to win a really cool Starbucks gift basket full of caffeine-loaded goodies that will certainly energize you and your accountability buddies to reach for the stars!



Three Super-Simple Ways to Kick Start Living Your Dreams — In the Next 15 Minutes
by Kathi Lipp

Is there a dream that God has given you, but you are waiting until the kids are grown and you have money in the bank before you get started?

You may not be able to enroll in a month-long pastry making class or take a week off of work to get started on your novel, but today you can take three little baby steps to making your dream a day-to-day reality.

1. Go Public with It.
It’s a little scary to tell the world what you want to do when you grow up — but this one little step could get you closer to living your dream than almost any other. Plus — it takes very little time, and you don’t have to raid your kid’s college fund to make it happen.

When you gather up all your courage and tell your best friend, “I want to learn how to paint,” suddenly she remembers an old art book she has laying around she would love to give you, or her friend from church who teaches art classes. The people you know and love want to be a resource. Give them the privilege of being a part of making your dream happen.

2. Join an Online Group.
This is one of the simplest — and cheapest — ways to start exploring your passion. Find out who else is talking about restoring antiques and listen to their conversation. Start by Googling your interest along with the term “online groups.” You’ll be amazed with the number of people who want to talk about the proper way to care for 1950’s lunchboxes as much as you do.

3. Don’t be Afraid to Pray.
I remember the first time I put an offer in on a house — I wanted it more than I had wanted almost anything else in my life. While I knew that I had dozens of other people praying on my behalf, I was too scared to pray.

I didn’t want God to tell me no. I was afraid to pray until my co-worker Kim asked me (in a loving, kind way), why I didn’t believe that God wanted His best for me. Don’t be afraid to pray — as with anything amazing in my life, the path is never what I expected, but it has always been obvious that God’s hand has been on it the whole way.

Kathi Lipp is a busy conference and retreat speaker, currently speaking each year to thousands of women throughout the United States. She is the author of The Husband Project and The Marriage Project, serves as food writer for Nickelodeon, and has had articles published in several magazines, including Today’s Christian Woman and Discipleship Journal. Kathi and her husband, Roger, live in California and are the parents of four teenagers and young adults. For more information visit her website.



Grand Prize Giveaway: Deluxe Starbucks Coffee Gift Basket

* Three 2.5-oz. bags of Starbucks coffee
(Sumatra, House Blend, and French Roast)
* Tazo black tea
* Starbucks marshmallow cocoa
* Almond roca
* Almond roca buttercrunch toffee cookies
* White chocolate and raspberry cookies
* 2 Starbucks mugs
* Keepsake black bamboo basket

$62 value




February 11, 2011



In yesterday’s Publisher’s Weekly, I read the sad news that Dr. George Edward Stanley, children’s author and professor of languages, passed away suddenly at the age of 68. Dr. Stanley was one of my first writing teachers when I signed up to take a correspondence course at the age of 20 from the Institute of Children’s Literature.

He asked me to address him simply as “George,” and I’ve kept his letters and notes from my course assignments these past 20+ years. Now, of course, I treasure them even more. Dr. Stanley was a wonderful mentor for me, and his early encouragement helped keep my writing dreams alive. Although I have yet to publish my own children’s novel, I still live as one devoted to the world of children’s literature, especially as the mother of five kids who love to read great books.

I wanted to share with you some of George Edward Stanley’s many accomplishments that I found on a memorial page devoted to him:

George graduated from Memphis High School in 1960. He took his B.A. (1965) and his M.A. (1967) from Texas Tech University. His Doctor Litterarum (1974) in African Linguistics is from the University of Port Elizabeth [now Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University] in South Africa.

It was while he was a Fulbright professor in Chad, in central Africa, that Dr. Stanley began writing fiction. About the only diversion he found available in that nation’s capital city of N’Djamena was listening to the BBC on his short wave radio. That led to his writing radio plays for a program called World Service Short Story. Three of his plays were eventually produced and so began a lifetime of entertaining and educating children and young adults.

After writing and publishing over 200 short stories in American, British, Irish, and South African magazines and linguistics articles in major international journals, Dr. Stanley turned to writing books. He wrote more than 100 books for young people and one book on writing, WRITING SHORT STORIES FOR YOUNG PEOPLE.

Dr. Stanley was also working on several other books for young people, as well as textbooks for teaching Arabic, Hausa, Indonesian, Persian, Swahili, and Urdu.

Dr. Stanley was a Professor of African and Middle-Eastern Languages and Linguistics in the Department of Foreign Languages at Cameron University. At one time or another he has taught all the Germanic and Romance languages, in addition to African and Middle-Eastern languages.

I also found a listing on his home page at Cameron University of over 100 children’s books he published, including books written under his own name as well as several well-known pseudonyms.

Still, out of all these many accomplishments, the fact that he found time to work with unknown, fledgling writers through a correspondence school shows how dedicated he was to the field of children’s writing. I know that he’ll be greatly missed by all of his current and former students, as well as those who knew and loved him.

His funeral is today in Oklahoma. May he rest in peace, and may his life’s work continue to be an inspiration to those who follow in his footsteps.