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April 20, 2016


Simple Pleasures

I confess I don’t know much about the Amish way of life, and so when I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. I hoped it would enlighten me as to how and why the Amish live the way they do, without electricity or automobiles. To hear it all told from a mother’s point of view seemed irresistible for me.

I love the image on this book cover — it’s a work of art! There’s an expression of intense concentration and joy on this child’s face as she quietly creates a secret world with her pencil and paper. It’s how I feel most of the time when I can squirrel away a few minutes with my own journal. Thank you to whoever you are who took this photo, and thank you to Marianne Jantzi for being brave enough to share your private family stories with the loud outside world.

As a member of the Milverton Old Order Amish community, the oldest and largest of ten Amish settlements in Ontario, Canada, Marianne Jantzi’s days are filled with chores most of us can’t imagine. Her home is heated by wood stoves, which she must also use to cook her meals. Her husband leaves for work before dawn, transported by a horse and buggy driver. The Jantzis own a shoe business, attached to the front of their home, and all transactions are recorded by hand.

Jantzi’s writing reaches readers all over North America via her much-loved “Northern Reflections” column in The Connection, a favorite magazine among Amish and Mennonite communities. She doesn’t have a computer at home to type out her thoughts. They’re written by hand and driven to town for someone else to type and edit. As a mother of four young children, the oldest in kindergarten, Jantzi’s days are incredibly busy. Yet she takes the time to reflect on the quiet simple pleasures that fill a home with love.

Reading her stories brought back happy memories of my own early days of mothering. Young children can be both exhausting and endearing, and I love how she takes the time to listen and record their conversations. I especially enjoyed reading about her gardening experiences and how she provides healthy meals for her family from her own backyard.

Her book answered many questions I had about Amish life, and it’s an important work to be added to Amish book collections, preserving our North American history. I found myself double-checking the copyright date in the front several times: was this really published in 2016? Yes, it’s a brand new book, and there really are people in the world who choose to live like Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books. In fact, Jantzi enjoys reading that whole series out loud to her children.

Yet she doesn’t sugarcoat the frustrations of motherhood. Her children bicker at times and lose their shoes and socks. She worries about getting her home tidied up for a church meeting, which is no easy task with toddlers underfoot. But through her busy days, Jantzi finds strength in simple pleasures of family, fellowship, and quiet time with God.

I love her descriptions of the tight-knit Amish communal way of life. She is never lonely, being surrounded by people who have known and loved her family for generations. Here’s an example:

For my thirtieth birthday, my sisters put a quilt in a frame and invited…cousins in to quilt, visit, and eat. Since then, each glimpse of my lovely quilt reminds me of that wonderful day and the message it speaks to me. The quilt is filled with lovely blue flowered circles linking over a white background. Just like those flowery links, my friends joined around the quilt, blossoming from each other’s friendship and helping hands.

In the back of the book, she includes several of her family’s favorite kid-friendly recipes, and after reading her background stories, I can’t wait to try them out. She also has a section answering Frequently Asked Questions about Amish living, as well as “A Day in the Life of the Author.” I will treasure this book and add it to my collection of books written by mothers. She has helped me appreciate the “simple pleasures” in my own home and to savor my own gift of being surrounded by children.

I hope the Amish will continue being able to live the way they do, but at the end of the book, I began to feel a sense of tension. She describes how difficult it can be depending on others for internet transactions. For example, the Canadian government recently changed its methods of tax collection, and those who used to be able to send in paperwork by regular mail, now must make phone calls or submit electronically. Since Jantzi doesn’t have a phone in her home, she had a stressful day trying to handle this payment. I wonder what will happen in the future.

I also wondered about the children…what will they do about schooling once they graduate from the one-room Amish schools? Will the adolescents be allowed to learn to use technology? Will they be able to attend university? What kinds of careers will they be able to choose? I guess I finished the book with still more questions…but that’s what good literature is all about.

For now, I’ll savor the beauty of Marianne Jantzi’s writing, as she describes the beginnings of a Canadian summer:

We are busy reaping the fruits of the gift we longed and sighed for. For weeks, it was kept from reach, wrapped in deep, white layers of cold. Next we wished to quickly tear away the layers of chilly, soggy days…Those last layers were gradually stripped away by warm breezes and sunshine. Daffodils and tulips bloomed. Toes bared and leaves unfurled. There are barbecues and picnics, scooters and Rollerblades. Happiness reigns as we sing praises to God for this gift we’ve so graciously been given. Summer.

I can relate to that!

Simple Pleasures is part of the Plainspoken series, published by Mennomedia. These real-life stories of Amish and Mennonites include:

Book 1 – Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor, by Loren Beachy

Book 2 – Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, by Marlene Miller

Book 3 – Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community, by Linda Maendel

Book 4 – Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother, by Marianne Jantzi

About the author:
Marianne Jantzi is an Amish writer and homemaker in Ontario, Canada. Formerly a teacher in an Amish school, Jantzi now educates and inspires through her “Northern Reflections” column for The Connection, a magazine directed mainly to Amish and plain communities across the U.S. and Canada. She and her husband have four young children and run a shoe store among the Milverton Amish settlement of Ontario.
Thank you to Litfuse for a complimentary copy of this book for the purposes of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Books,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Gardening,Marriage,Motherhood,Parenting,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on An Amish Mother Who Writes to Record Life’s Simple Pleasures



December 18, 2015

Nearly ten years ago, I read Dianne Jacob’s book, Will Write for Food, after purchasing it from the Writer’s Digest catalog. It has become one of my favorite writing books, surviving year after year of ruthless culling of my bookshelves. I reviewed it then in my brand new blog, and it’s a bit staggering to look back on that post, as both I and my blog have aged an entire decade.

I’m still here, and I still enjoy sharing great books and writing resources. In 2009, Dianne Jacob entered the world of blogging as a way to update her book, and you can keep up with her at Will Write for Food.

Because of vast changes in the world of print and digital writing, Dianne Jacob’s new edition has been extensively revised to reflect current media trends. I enjoyed this 2015 release and found it brimming with practical advice for bloggers and photographers, as she offers a smorgasbord of ideas on how to become a professional in the field. That is, how to make money from your food writing.


Will Write for Food

In her introduction, Dianne Jacob shares:

Much has changed in the world of food writing since 2005, most notably in the widespread acceptance of blogging. Ten years ago, bloggers had barely emerged, and the print world did not respect them. Since then, a national food magazine asked a food blogger to write a monthly column…a food blogger got a show on the Food Network…more than a hundred food bloggers have book deals, and a few make a six-figure income. Learning good photography, social media skills, and self-promotion has become as important — maybe more so, if I’m being honest — than being an excellent writer.

Whether you’re a gourmet food aficionado or simply enjoy sharing your love of cooking through recipes and personal photography, this book has something to offer you. After devouring this new edition, I learned the field of food writing is still wide open, and if you have a passion for food writing, this book can help take you to the next step of becoming a professional.

Here are a few ways you can break into the huge market for food writing:

Start a Food Blog
If you’ve ever dreamed of writing a book, the best place to begin is by creating a blog. Then you can start immediately in finding your voice and audience, which will build your platform as an expert in your field. Chapter 4 of Will Write for Food is completely devoted to helping you get started. Jacob has interviewed dozens of successful food bloggers and shares their tips to help you.

Become a Better Photographer
Food writing works in sync with beautiful photography. Jacob explains, “Since the web is such a visual place, this is the best way to increase views. Of course it isn’t easy, but having terrific photos can propel a food blog to stardom.” She includes many practical ways to make your photo shoots look more professional.

Master the Art of Recipe Writing
“A well-written recipe is like poetry,” says Jacob. “Agents and editors can see a good one a mile away.” Who knew there was such an art to writing down your recipes? There is, and chapter 8 explains how you can become a master of the art. She includes a list of powerful action verbs that will bring your recipes to life. I especially enjoyed reading about how Julia Child captured the attention of legendary editor Judith Jones because of her strong knack for punchy verbs.

Compile a Cookbook
The world of cookbook writing has changed drastically in the past decade. Cookbooks are full of stories, which help grab a reader’s attention. “Many people read cookbooks in bed as though they were novels,” Jacob says. “They provide escape from daily life and a source of guiltless pleasure.” I confess I’ve done this very thing. I love reading descriptions of food, and especially the narratives behind them. Many magazines and websites have created sections to showcase the stories behind recipes. My favorite is Guideposts.

Write a Food Memoir
Ah… I love food memoirs. When I traveled to Tampa a few years ago to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the egg industry, I found myself spending the weekend with strangers who had one main topic in common: we loved reading and writing about food. So we discussed our favorite food memoirs, as we dined on scrambled egg burritos on the bus ride to tour egg farms. My all-time favorite food memoir is Julia Child’s My Life in France, which was co-authored with her nephew, Alex Prud’Homme. Julie and Julia sprang from the original, and I’m also a fan of farm-to-table memoirs such as Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. There’s a never-ending market for weight-loss stories and recipes, and I reviewed Heidi Bonds’ Who’s the New Kid? here. Dianne Jacob devotes all of Chapter 9 to “Crafting Memoir and Nonfiction.”

Create Fiction Infused with Food
I love it when I’m reading a novel infused with descriptions of food. I can’t help it. I learn so much about characters and setting by visualizing meals in the story. Jacob writes, “In fiction, food is a device that helps you develop characters based on how they cook, which foods they like, and how they eat. It also creates a mood or sets a scene, and establishes the time.” Many fiction authors today include recipes, and several books I’ve reviewed have inspired me to try out a recipe I’ve discovered, such as Eva Marie Everson and Linda Evans Shepherd’s The Potluck Club and Cyndy Salzmann’s Friday Afternoon Club cozy mystery series.

I hope you get a chance to read Will Write for Food, and if you collect trade books on writing, this is one you’ll want to acquire for your shelves. Reading the updated edition ten years after the first has me focused less on myself and more on how I plan to incorporate food writing in my English/Language Arts classroom. I can’t wait to see what kinds of recipes and stories my teen students come up with. Maybe we’ll even compile a classroom cookbook or break into food blogging. The opportunities for sharing a love of good food and writing are endless!


Dianne-Jacob

About the Author:
Dianne Jacob is a popular speaker at food writing conferences and workshops in America and around the world. She judges for both the James Beard Foundation annual cookbook awards and the IACP annual cookbook awards. The coauthor of Grilled Pizzas & Piandinas and The United States of Pizza, and the writer of The Good Pantry, she lives in Oakland, California. She can be reached at her website and blog, where she covers food writing trends, issues, and technique.

Note: I received this book, complimentary, from the publisher for the purpose of review.

By: Heather Ivester in: Blogging,Book Reviews,Cooking & Recipes,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Dianne Jacob Offers Great Tips for Bloggers in Will Write for Food



January 25, 2014


A Promise Kept. Hatcher

January is a month of fresh beginnings for me. I celebrate a birthday, for one thing, and I always enjoy having the chance to sit down with a notebook and plot out a few plans and goals for the new year. I’ve been keeping a journal, off and on, since I was in college.

Back when I was 19, I lived in a dorm and needed a “quiet place” to go to pray, so writing gave me a chance to slip away from reality and focus on God. Not much has changed in that respect. Writing is still my best way to connect to the Almighty.

That’s why I got really excited when the opportunity came my way to read Robin Lee Hatcher’s latest novel, A Promise Kept. It’s a contemporary story about a woman struggling with painful choices, trying to discern God’s will for her life. The main character, Allison Kavanagh, needs time to heal from a wounded heart, and she retreats to a log cabin she inherited from her Great Aunt Emma. While living there, she discovers a trunk full of old diaries, written by her great aunt, and these diaries from the late 1920s/early 1930s play a significant role in how Allison moves forward in her life today.

I loved the whole premise of the book, and the setting in the beautiful mountains north of Boise, Idaho, gave me a chance to escape to a place quite different from my native Georgia. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. Allison and her husband, Tony, have recently divorced, after being married for over two decades. The day Allison issued her husband an ultimatum — to change his ways or leave — she thought she’d save him. Instead, he walked out, leaving her with a broken heart, broken marriage, and disappointment that she’d misunderstood God.

Her move to small-town life in the area of Aunt Emma’s restored rustic cabin gives her ample time to explore her past, as well as the mysteries that begin to unravel from Emma’s stash of hidden diaries. Strangely, she also discovers a beautiful vintage wedding dress in the trunk, as well as a photograph of a handsome stranger. But how can this be? Her self-reliant great aunt never married!

Allison, flanked by her cute papillon puppy, Gizmo, begins to develop relationships with people in her new town. She attends church and discovers people in her congregation who are also suffering and seeking God’s will. Her grown daughter, Meredith, visits from Texas, and continues to seek ways to draw her mom and dad back together. It’s awkward … but has her ex-husband, Tony, truly started to change?

I love how the author allows readers into both women’s lives through their diaries: we see the day-to-day life of Emma as she slips from the decade of the Roaring 20s into the Great Depression of the 1930s. Then Allison, inspired by her Great Aunt, also begins to write in a journal. It made me see how a woman’s faith survives through her words, powerful even generations later.

The most shocking thing about the book comes at the end — I’d love for you to read it, so I don’t want to spoil it for you! But I will say that the author confesses in a personal “note to readers” this is the most intimate book she’s ever written (out of more than 70 novels!) because it’s based on the true story of her own life. Wow! So I loved this book on another level: I loved learning how a writer transforms real life into the art form of a novel. Beautifully done!

I hope you can read A Promise Kept. I found it spiritually uplifting, as Allison contemplates scripture and how prayer can affect one’s circumstances. I felt like the character had become a personal friend by the time I finished, and of course it made me want to go write in my own journal. This would be a wonderful novel for a book club to share, as it also contains discussion questions at the back.

If you’d like to read A Promise Kept, keep reading below, to find out how you can “meet” the author and enter a giveaway to win a copy of her book!

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Don’t miss Robin Lee Hatcher‘s stunning new novel, A Promise KeptRobin is celebrating with a fun giveaway and an encouraging Facebook Author Chat Party.

promisekept-400

 One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • A Promise Kept by Robin Lee Hatcher

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 6th. Winner will be announced at the “A Promise Kept” Facebook Author Chat Party on the 6th. Connect with Robin and friends for an evening of encouraging book chat, prizes, and an exclusive look at Robin’s next book!



So grab your copy of A Promise Kept and join Robin on the evening of February 6th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)


Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN at the event page. Spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and party via FACEBOOK or TWITTER. Hope to see you on 2/6!


Robin Lee Hatcher

    Meet the author:

Robin is the author of 65+ novels and novellas. Her home is in Idaho, where she spends her time writing stories of faith, courage, and love; pondering the things of God; and loving her family and friends. Learn more about Robin at: http://www.robinleehatcher.com.
Blogger’s note: I received this novel, complimentary, from Litfuse.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Christian Living,Faith,Family,Marriage,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Robin Lee Hatcher’s A PROMISE KEPT



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



May 28, 2013

Summer is here, and I love encouraging kids to keep a journal, where they’re free to write whatever’s on their mind. Here’s a story of two girls who did just that. Cousins Isabelle and Isabella, ages 10 and 8, decided to write down a secret notebook of “rules” to help keep their younger siblings in line. Their rules included important things like, “Color on paper, not on people” and “Don’t bite the dentist.”

While visiting Walmart earlier in the year, the journal was accidentally dropped in the parking lot and later picked up by a 20-year-old Walmart employee. Although there was no name inside it, the employee knew he had discovered something important, and he went on a mission to find the owners.

Using social media, his plea found its way to the mother of one of the cousins, who recognized her daughter’s journal and claimed it. Then the story of the Walmart-employee-turned-literary-hero got even bigger, was picked up by news media, and ended up being noticed by an editor from Simon & Schuster publishing house on her morning commute in New York.

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. En route to an editorial meeting, she brought the story to the attention of her publisher, who worked quickly to contact the authors and offer them a book contract. The hardcover book, Isabelle and Isabella’s Little Book of Rules, will be due out in October.

Here’s a dreams-come-true publishing story worth sharing with your kids. Who knows? Your child’s summer diary may someday end up in the hands of a New York publisher.

Stranger things have happened!

By: Heather Ivester in: Children's Books,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Isabelle and Isabella’s Little Book of Rules



December 6, 2011

Our dreams can be like a familiar childhood friend.

They’re often something we’ve grown up with and treasured in our hearts since we were little, but for one reason or another we’ve drifted away from.

We all go through seasons where our dreams need to be grounded so we can focus on other things in our lives, but there is a time to resurrect our dreams.

I struggled for years with figuring out when the time was right for me to pursue writing full time. After ten years of focusing on family, I thought it was time to resurrect my dreams. Looking back, it might have been easier to let my dreams sleep a little longer, or maybe I could have slowly worked toward my goals those ten years. I’ll never know, but here are some things I’ve learned along the way.

Identifying Your Dream Passion
Sometimes it’s been so long since we let ourselves dream, that we’ve forgotten what our passions are. Think back to when you were little. What were the things that brought you joy? Did those same activities extend to your high school and college years? Did you lose your passion in the busyness of family rearing and life? Still stumped at identifying your passion? How about the things you did that you felt God’s smile of approval or presence in? Ask God to stir up a passion inside of you for His glory. Then expect him to! Here’s a peek at one of my childhood dreams…fulfilled!

Pray Before You Leap
It seems so simple, but why don’t we do it? For me, it’s because I’m driven and I see others with the “prize” and I think “I can do that.” But I’ve learned that no matter how hard I try or how talented I think I am, God’s the one in control, not me. I can strive all I want (and I believe in working toward my goals,) but ultimately God knows when I’m ready to take that leap toward my dreams. I’ve learned the hard way not to rush it. Don’t make the same mistake.

Banish the Naysayers
Sometimes our biggest dream killers are our inner voices that tell us our dreams are too impractical or unrealistic. That’s why they’re called dreams! While some seasons of dreaming might have to be practical like having a steady job or bigger home, I believe inside everyone is a dream that connects with our soul that if left to sleep too long will eventually die, killing your spirit as well! Allow yourself to wake the dream!

If you feel that now is your time to resurrect your dream, you might be terrified. But how scary is it to live without the pursuit of our passions? To live with the doubt of never knowing if you might have succeeded because your never even tried or gave up too soon.

I don’t want to live with those regrets.

Do you?

Gina Conroy used to think she knew where her life was headed; now she’s leaning on the Lord to show her the way. She is the founder of Writer…Interrupted where she mentors busy writers and tries to keep things in perspective, knowing God’s timing is perfect, even if she doesn’t agree with it! She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, releases from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. On her blog Defying Gravity and Twitter she chronicles her triumphs and trials as she pursues her dreams while encouraging her family and others to chase after their own passions. Gina loves to connect with readers, and when she isn’t writing, teaching, or driving kids around, you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.




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?





May 5, 2011

Welcome back to another day in the Pearl Girls Mother of Pearl Mother’s Day blog series.

You still have a few days to enter the contest for a chance to win a beautiful hand crafted pearl necklace. To enter, just {CLICK THIS LINK} and fill out the short form. Contest runs 5/1-5/8 and the winner will on 5/11. Contest is only open to US and Canadian residents.

If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT Mother’s Day gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls.

And to all you MOMS out there! Happy Mother’s Day!

A Mother’s Day Wish by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Heads up: Margaret McSweeney deserves a medal, or at least a commendation for giving everyone a much deserved Mother’s Day rest. Okay, y’all can be seated. I’m glad you agree, but you’re supposed to be taking a load off, remember? Oh, and full disclosure—Margaret didn’t know I was going to say that so I hope she leaves it in, and no, I didn’t do it just because I’m ridiculously nostalgic about the theme of her community, although I am. As the Belle of All Things Southern, one who is southern to the bone, I have a thing about pearls.

When I was a teenager, add-a-pearl necklaces were all the rage. They may not be as wildly popular anymore as they were back in the day but I still say they’ll always be a classic concept: a gift of a single pearl on a dainty chain given with the intentions of adding other pearls on important holidays and special occasions. Today, I see add-a-pearls as a beautiful reminder of the accumulated wisdom we learn from our mamas.  Oh, sure, we snicker as young girls because not all of their advice strikes us as useful and some of it seems positively fossilized, but hopefully, over time and with the Father’s blessing, we gain enough perspective to see that these mama-isms—the important values and the silly little lagniappe— are all increasing in value with the years.  By the way, that’s my Mother’s Day wish for each of you, that we’d each take the time and the responsibility to thread these precious heirlooms into treasures worthy of bequeathing to the next generation. Mother’s Day…

May I be honest? I’m looking ahead to the annual celebration with somewhat mixed emotions. I’m not feeling very Mother of the Year. Instead of cooking dinner for my most deserving mama and enjoying her company, instead of reveling in the love of my husband, kids, and grands, (known as the Baby Czars of All Things Southern), I’ll be on the road, touring with my latest book “Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy.” I’ve got Mama’s gift bought, wrapped, and ready to be delivered by my beloved hubby, and my grown kids understand that I didn’t choose the release date, but the facts remain:  I won’t be there. (Shameless plugs time, anyone? My daughter blogs at Kitchen Belleicious and is raising funds to build an orphanage in Rwanda at Shelter a Child http://www.shelterachild.com/ and my daughter-in-law celebrates the daily details of getting to know the Holy One at Providence, http://providence-carey.blogspot.com). I won’t get to enjoy Mama tickling the ivory from the piano bench of Melbourne Baptist Church and I won’t be overdosing on baby sugah. Sigh.

But, then, I mentioned mixed emotions earlier, didn’t I? Well, before some sweet soul cues the violin music, perhaps I should lighten up and come clean on what Mr. Harvey would call “the rest of the story.”  It so happens that while the 8th of May will find me miles from home, it’ll also find me in Savannah, Georgia where I’ve secured myself a little reservation at that famous establishment belonging to Mrs. Paula Deen, the Queen of Southern Cooking. Indeed, y’all, I’ll be suffering for Jesus at The Lady and Sons. I know. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Regardless of where you spend it, I wish you each a Happy Mother’s Day. I’d love to think that everyone reading my words had a mother like mine, a woman of faith who taught me from childhood of the Risen Savior who saves souls and anchors lives. But, dear reader, if that’s not your past, I hope you know it can be your future. I pray you’ll be the one that begins such a legacy, and that you’ll be moved to start building that heritage today.

I’d love to see y’all on the road somewhere. Watch for me, and I’ll watch for you. I’ll be the one with an empty glass of sweet tea looking, always looking, for a refill.

Hugs,
Shellie

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, known as the Belle of All Things Southern is a radio host, columnist, author, speaker and founder of the All Things Southern online community, www.allthingssouthern.com. She loves meeting, greeting, laughing and learning with the whole wide world or as many who wander her way. Shellie once dreamed of writing great important things that changed the world, only once she started writing the world grinned and christened her a humorist. Shellie saw this as a problem at first, until she discovered that the laughter softens hearts, builds relationships, and invites her into people’s hurting hearts where she can share her own, which is exactly where she wanted to be all along. Look for Shellie’s latest book, Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy wherever fine books are sold.