In It Together

Today I had the opportunity to share in a special celebration. This morning I spent time at a local library with an author friend of mine who was launching her first book with a reading and signing. Nine months ago, it was her sharing in my book launch. It was an honor to share in her day as she did in mine.

Over the last couple of years she and I, along with the other members of our local writers’ group, have stood beside each other in the ups and downs of the writing process. We’re all in different stages, and we each have our own goals and focus. It doesn’t matter. Each member of the group has their own writing strengths and weaknesses. We’re there for each other to encourage each other when the writing gets tough or we find ourselves frustrated and discouraged. We energize each other for the next step. We learn together. And on days like today, we cheer each other on and share in the joys of success.

Writing tends to be a fairly solitary endeavor. It is made much sweeter knowing there’s a group of people in my corner cheering me on and picking me up when I fall.

gates2This feeling is something Anna Marie, the main character in Anna’s Song by Brenda Gates, hasn’t known since her mother and father disappeared without a trace. When her twin sister goes missing too, Anna Marie feels more alone than ever before. Refusing to give up on her sister and confused by mysterious and seemingly impossible clues to her sister’s whereabouts, Anna Marie begins to find people in her corner though she is unsure how she feels about their involvement.

When Anna Marie slips into the past her hopes of finding her sister grow, but the road to finding her isn’t a guaranteed success. And it definitely isn’t easy. Plunged into the middle of the Civil War, she faces dangers and obstacles she is not prepared for. But in these times, Anna Marie also finds what she’s missed in life. She finds people taking the journey by her side. They encourage her to be her best self. They hurt with her when she’s in pain. They teach her about herself and faith through their examples and words.

If she never makes it home and even if she never finds her sister, Anna Marie finds something that makes the sweet things sweeter and the tough things easier. She finds what friendship and family should be, and it makes all the difference.

That’s how it’s supposed to be. Not just for Anna Marie in Brenda’s book. Not just for writers and the writers’ groups they belong to. It’s supposed to be this way for believers too. Actually, it’s supposed to be this way especially for believers. 1 Corinthians 12:26 encourages us with these words. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”  This is just one of several instructions followers of Jesus are given in how we should interact with one another, and each scripture comes back to loving each other the way God loves us.

When we find this in our churches and with the believers in all areas of our lives, we experience one more amazing gift from God. Allowing God to use us to be this for others makes us the gift to them. Both work in our lives to ease the burden of hard times and increase the joy in the good. And it makes all the difference in the journey of our faith.

 

Traditions and Recipes #3

recipe2From the time I was in fifth grade I was responsible to get dinner started for our family each night. I didn’t mind this task, but I didn’t love it either. It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I realized I could love being in the kitchen. And it was a home economics class that awakened that enjoyment in me.

I remember Mrs. Foster. She is still one of my favorite teachers. She taught us to make poppy seed chicken, taco salad, and baked Alaska that year. She impressed on us the importance of knowing how to properly carry out the instructions in each recipe. And she unknowingly introduced me to the recipe that helped start my tradition of Christmas baking.

Sugar cookies are a staple on many Christmas cookie lists. There’s a local bakery that makes a chewy-type sugar cookie with granulated sugar as its base. People love those cookies. But when I was growing up, the original local bakery in our town had their own sugar cookies. Their recipe was for the more cake-type sugar cookie that uses powdered sugar as its base. These  were a favorite with the kids I grew up with, and I was thrilled to learn how to make them in food class that year.

Perfect for cutting into holiday shapes, this recipe is one I use every year. I don’t always get around to decorating them, but that’s okay. The almond extract in the recipe gives the cookies enough flavor without frosting.

Whether frosted or plain, every time I make these cookies I remember when I first fell in love with baking. And that memory is a special gift I’ll keep forever. I hope you enjoy the recipe and come back next Friday for the chewy sugar cookie recipe!Sugar Cookies

Write Stuff Wednesday: Hidden Stories

old-farmhouse-2535919__340“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” Orson Scott

There’s a small dilapidated house down the road from my grandmother’s house. The wood siding has long since faded and worked loose from the house. Shutters hang in crooked lines refusing to give up their final hold on the window and plunge to the ground. The porch is in shambles, and the yard is overgrown. I wonder why the owners don’t tear it down. It doesn’t serve a purpose.

Still. It draws and keeps my attention. The dark windows pull me in to find the house’s story. It’s the story of an old farming couple, shriveled through years of manual labor in the hot southern Illinois sun. It’s the story of disappointment, a childless couple with no one to care for the home they worked so hard to create once they’re gone. It’s a melancholy story that is as beautiful as it is sad.

It’s a very different story from the one birthed by the abandoned farmhouse near my in-laws house. The simple white house is newer in style. White siding is dingy but still intact. Large, glass windows stare out at me without shutters framing their dark depths. Another farming family lived here. They worked the land but with more modern conveniences. They shared meals with their children around a large kitchen table. There was laughter and love, but there was also discontent.

As the children grew, the life of the farm didn’t offer enough to satisfy. Though it left their parents with no one to carry on the family legacy, each child chose to leave for more lucrative lives in the city. The couple worked their farm, selling off bits and pieces to make up for the bad years, until their bodies could take no more. The home was reduced to a house after their deaths, and the land waits for a time when the children can agree on the proper way to dispose of it. It’s the story of the loss of a way of life and a lack of appreciation for all it held.

Two empty houses. Two different stories. But they’re each only one of many that could be told. Who knows where the truth lies? These are simply the stories I see first when I look at the two houses. What do others see? Two empty houses.

This is why I write.

The stories I see are different from the stories anyone else may see. And some people may not see them at all. That’s why writing is important. We can share stories others can relate to but not otherwise get to hear. We can put life back into empty houses.

But it doesn’t end with story-telling or houses. As believers, we each have a different story. We also have unique ways of approaching life. Just as writers need to see stories in the world around them, believers need to see the lives of the people around them.

We’re called to be salt and light to the world. We’re called to reach into the lives of others and change them through practically showing them the love of God. To do this, we must see their story. With empty houses and a laptop, I can imagine a story and shape it to fit my desires. With people, we need to dig deeper and find the truth. What do they need? How are they hurting?

When we see these things, we can act on their story. We can give love in an unlimited number of ways that will speak to their need. We can show them God through joining them in their story for a time.

And the beauty of it is, the people in need aren’t the only ones like empty houses. Each of us is a unique house on our own. When I step into someone else’s story, I bring my unique perspective, my own story into theirs. I can minister to their needs in a way that is different than anyone else.

This carrying of each other’s burdens, sharing in their joys, and showing them God’s love in practical ways is a believer’s calling from God. Not everyone may look at an empty house and come away with a story like a writer does. But seeing and responding to the stories of others is a trait every believer should cultivate in order to live their faith each day.

Full of Character with Erin Howard

Author PictureToday’s Full of Character Author Interview guest is Erin Howard. Erin is the author of The Seer, a great Christian fantasy story that takes you into the spiritual battle raging that only a select few characters can see. Welcome, Erin. Let’s get to it.

What character from the books you’ve read has impacted you more than all the others?

You know how to ask some tough questions! I’ve read so many wonderful books, that it’s almost impossible me to narrow it down to just one. That’s one reason why I think reading is so wonderful, we can take something away from every book we read, and it’s always different depending on what we may be going through at that particular time in our lives.

I’ve not received that answer before, but I like it. What character you created was the easiest to write? The hardest?

The easiest character for me to write was Viktor. I think that’s because I was able to show the conflict that Viktor has raging inside of him. Who he was and what he’s done is the core of who he is, but he also has this desire to have peace, to leave those ways.

I think the hardest for me was Matthias. I love his character, and I’ve always been fascinated by angels, so I wanted to make sure that his character was just right.

I have to say, I loved Viktor. I’m anxious to see where he goes in the next book. Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to orenjoy reading about?

I think Paul is one of my favorites because before he had an encounter with Jesus, he was the worst of the worst. He has a fantastic redeeming story.

Do you plan your characters and their backstories before you begin writing or are youas surprised by them as your readers?

I think it’s a little of both. I have a general idea when I start writing, but then they surprise me. I love digging deep into their backstory, and see how they respond to what is going on around them.

If someone wrote a movie about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?

Oh my goodness, what a hard question! I would have to say, Melissa McCarthy. I loved her playing Sookie on Gilmore Girls. She was so funny and clumsy in that role. I like to joke around with my family and friends, and I’m definitely clumsy!

Thanks for having me, Heather!

Keep reading to find out more about Erin Howard and The Seer. Then, head over to Facebook on November 26th for A Literary Feast. This event is an online book party. You’ll be introduced to new authors, have an opportunity to chat with them, get great ideas for books to add to your Christmas list or to give to others, and have a chance to win great prizes. You can sign up to attend the party using this link https://www.facebook.com/events/283923535583862/.

Author Bio

Erin R. Howard is a Developmental Editor, Fantasy/Speculative Author and has earned a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing/English from Southern New Hampshire University.

When she’s not writing, Erin enjoys spending time with her family, being a youth leader, and teaching crochet and cake decorating classes. Erin resides in Western Kentucky with her husband, three children, and a cantankerous tabby cat named Jack-Jack.

Erin is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the KenTen Writers Group.

Social Media Links

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/E.R.H.Fiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ErinRHoward

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/erinrhoward/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/erinrhoward/

Blog/Wordpress:  https://erinrhoward.wordpress.com/

Website: https://erinrhoward.com/

FC-The-Seer---LargerMore about The Seer:

Viktor has one order to follow:
Kill the girl before her eyes are opened.

For thousands of years, his job has been to torment and kill seers: humans that have the gift of seeing the spiritual realm. So it was no surprise when his brother Matthias was once again sent to stop him and protect the girl.

Now the last of the seers’ bloodline hangs in the balance, as the estranged demon and angel brothers are forced to work together to save a girl’s life and escape to the sanctuary city of Bethesda.

Join the Parties!

Instead of reviewing a single book today, I’d like to invite you to a couple Facebook Book parties coming up. These are a great way to learn about new authors and get to know more about some of the authors you may already read. In addition to great grand prize giveaways, some of the individual authors are doing some giveaways. For my part, I’ll be giving away signed copies of Faith’s Journey and some handmade Christmas ornaments that were inspired by those in my book.

The first one is the Christian Fiction Lovers Women’s Fiction Party on November 16th. Here’s a little about that party:

4 Featured Authors with 4 Christian Women’s Fiction Novels
Grand Prize: $50 Amazon Card
Runner Up Prize: 4 featured books (Prizes could be eBook or print – author’s choice)

HOW TO ENTER:
• Click you will attend the party.
• Share the party on your timeline.
• Comment on a post by any 2 authors during the party.

Authors may give additional prizes. Winners of all prizes will be announced at the end of the party. Individual authors will post requirements for each individual prize.

You can use this link to find and join the party: https://www.facebook.com/events/1787789031343732/

The second party is happening on November 26th in honor of Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Here are some details about that one:

Join us during this come and go event as fifteen different authors discuss books, Christmas, and yummy recipes. Each author will be doing an individual giveaway during his/her scheduled time, and we’ll be doing a grand prize giveaway of an Amazon Kindle to one individual at the end of the party. To be entered to win the grand prize giveaway, please mark “going” on the party and comment on at least three different posts.

Links to both events can be found on my author Facebook page. So, if you are in the United States (because I’m pretty certain those are the rules to be eligible to win the prizes), you can sign up to “go” to the parties from there. Find me on Facebook by searching @AuthorHeatherGreer.

Oh, and while you’re there, look for my Thanksgiving pie post. If you follow my page and comment on which you think is my least favorite of the four pies, you could win an old-fashioned cook book. I’ll be doing more giveaways on my Facebook page between now and Christmas.

Traditions and Recipes #2

recipe2I started collecting the yearly holiday baking books in the mid to late nineties. I would occasionally buy the regular magazine type, but my favorites have always been the little ones that feel more like paper back books. They don’t take up much room, and they’re sturdy.

At first these were put out by Land O Lands, Pillsbury, and Gold Medal Flour. Then, as cooking magazines gained popularity Taste of Home added to the yearly offerings. I’ve weeded out a few magazines through the years, but only the ones I didn’t use as many recipes from.

Today’s recipe comes from a book I no longer have, but the cookie has remained on my yearly baking list since the first year I made it in the late nineties or early 2000s. I’ve had people request these many times, and one did so even after she got the recipe from me. She said she couldn’t get hers to turn out like mine. I think, maybe, she just didn’t want to put the work into it when someone else could do it!

I hope you enjoy this one as much as I have! Happy Baking!

recipe3

Write Stuff Wednesday – Writers Write

“This is how you do it: You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman

There are days when writing comes easily. I’m perfectly rested. Focus is my middle name. I have nothing pressuring me for my attention other than my work in progress. My time is my own, and I make use of it. The words flow, and the story comes as naturally as breathing. Those days are like a perfectly wrapped Christmas present opened to find an equally perfectly picked item inside the paper.

Then come the days when you open the gift and realize the giver merely wrapped something, anything in order to have a gift. You were an afterthought worked in at the last minute. It’s a box of chocolates for the one who everyone knows has been dieting for a month or an iTunes gift card for the person who has an Android phone. Those are the times when no matter what you do, the story doesn’t want to flow from your brain through your fingertips and onto the screen. Your amazing story idea stalls in the middle of the telling. You write, but it simply doesn’t feel right. Doubts creep in. Maybe you don’t have another story in you after all.

Good days or bad, a writer does one thing. They write. Even when it feels bad. Even when it is bad. They write. We write. We bask in warmth of the days when it’s that easy. We fight our way through the difficult days knowing that there is no mistake that cannot be edited out. We continue in hopes that the sun of successful days will soon shine on us again. Through good and bad we keep writing  and growing stronger through the journey. We do it because we are writers.

It’s this same attitude we need to bring into living our faith each day. How do we be Christians? We get out there every day and live like Jesus lived. It’s as easy and as hard as that. We’ve been given the instruction manual and the perfect example in Jesus. Some days godly love flows easily through our actions. Our priorities are ordered by God’s word. Keeping God’s commands don’t seem like a burden at all.

Then come the days when we just can’t seem to rein in our thoughts or control our attitudes. We are in a funk, and it shows. The difficult people push our buttons, and the last thing we feel like doing it loving them with the love of God. We realize selfishness, discontent, anger, deceit, or pride has taken root in our hearts. We want to do good, but we find ourselves giving in to temptation. We feel like failures of the faith.

But good or bad, we don’t give up. We keep coming to God in repentance for our failures. We turn back to Him and find not only forgiveness but also strength for the next battle. We bask in the good days, not because we’re so great but in praise of the One who gave that day to us. We glean lessons from the bad days, and we find our faith stronger because of it. We do it because that’s what believers do. We are followers of Jesus, and to be that we must keep following.

Full of Character with Amy C. Blake

Today’s author interview is with Amy C. Blake. I’ve enjoyed reading and reviewing her books, and I’m so happy she joined me for Full of Character. Keep reading after the interview to find out Amy’s books and how you can connect with her.

What character from the books you’ve read has impacted you more than all the others?

Honestly, Jesus is the most influential character from all the books I’ve ever read. As for fictional stories I’ve read, I’ve gleaned from characters in a number of genres. And as for characters I’ve written, Levi Prince from my YA Christian fantasy series has had the most impact on me. Since his is a four-book series about four consecutive summers in his young life, I’ve spent a good deal of time assessing his character growth. He’s also a kind of conglomeration of my own kids (homeschooled pastor’s kids), and so I’m very invested in how he turns out.

What character you created was the easiest to write? The hardest?

Patience from Whitewashed was the easiest because I can relate to her impatient tendencies and her strong desire to accomplish her goals. Christy from Colorblind was the hardest because she’s very sweet and yet, for most of the book, not a Christian because she’d believed her false-teacher daddy’s preaching.

I loved both Patience and Christy. All three of the girls in that series are very different but such good friends. Scripture is full of real people who had character to spare. Which one do you most relate to or enjoy reading about?

I enjoy reading about Peter because he said some of the most audacious and wrong-headed things and yet understood exactly who Jesus was when others still didn’t get it.

It always amazes me that we can get it wrong even when we get who Jesus us, but even more amazing is that He still uses us. Do you plan your characters and their backstories before you begin writing or are you as surprised by them as your readers?

I like to at least have a pretty good idea of their personalities and backstories before I write. However, they do sometimes surprise me with their behavior.

If someone wrote a movie about you, who would you like to play your character? Why?

My first thought is, why in the world would somebody write a movie about boring old me? If for some reason they did, I don’t honestly know who I’d like to play me. I can think of several actresses I admire, but none that I would really want to play my part.

I’d like to thank Amy, once again, for joining me today. If you haven’t read her Main Character Monday interview with Nat, check out last Monday’s post.

More about Amy C. Blake:

Amy C. Blake
Author, Homeschooler, Pastor’s Wife
amazon.com/author/amycblake
Now available: Whitewashed, my Christian suspense novel about 18-year-old homeschooler Patience McDonough (Book 1, On the Brink series)
Now available: Colorblind, my Christian suspense about 18-year-old homeschooler Christy Kane (Book 2, On the Brink series)
Now availableTie-Dyed, my Christian suspense about 19-year-old homeschooler Nat Montgomery (Book 3, On the Brink series)
Now available: The Trojan Horse Traitor, my YA fantasy novel about 13-year-old homeschooler Levi Prince and his adventures in Terracaelum (Book 1, Levi Prince series)
Now available: The Fall of Thor’s Hammer, my YA fantasy novel about Levi’s second summer in Terracaelum (Book 2, Levi Prince series)

Change and Hope

hopefortomorrowI drove down the narrow tree-lined road and past the trio of houses from my childhood. They looked the same way they’ve looked for years. But they’re not.

I live in the same place I lived when I was a child. I don’t mean the same neighborhood or the same city. I mean I live within a couple miles of the home I lived in until I was five, and I live across the field from the home I lived in from the time I was six until I got married. I walk down the same road, past the same houses, that I used to ride my bike down when I rode to my grandma’s house. It looks the same. But it’s not.

The houses are still there. The flower gardens still bloom in the spring. The roads still rise and fall and twist and turn as they always have. But everything has changed. The houses on that narrow tree-lined road are filled with people I don’t know. My grandparents and aunts and uncles don’t call them home anymore.

At one time I knew everyone on the road by my house. My other grandparents, my great-grandmas, a slew of great-aunts and great-uncles, and family friends that had known each other for years filled ninety-five percent of the houses along the road. I trick-or-treated down that road without coming to the house of a stranger. There are still some I know. A few family members still live there. But I no longer know a majority of the families living there.

The changes wouldn’t be visible to someone who didn’t know the area personally. What’s outside is similar enough, but what’s housed inside is vastly different. Those are the changes that make a difference. Those are the ones that give the neighborhoods a completely different character.

Some changes are like that. They leave what’s on the outside untouched, but the internal changes affect everything. It’s a lesson Logan De Witt is confronted with when he returns to his childhood home in Hope for Tomorrow by Michelle De Bruin. With his father’s unexpected death and no other males in the household, the responsibility of keeping his family’s farm running for his mother and sister falls to him. It’s a duty he’s more than willing to accept even though it takes him away from the church he pastors.

Arriving home, Logan is greeted by the familiar. The farm, the work, and his home are all as he remembers. But the people are not left untouched by the same grief he faces. When the town’s new teacher arrives to board with Logan’s family the toll their father’s death has taken on his sister becomes glaringly apparent. Instead of finding solace and friendship with the new woman in the house as Logan expects she will, Tillie’s internal struggle is vented in her direction. The more the internal bitterness is given space in her life, the less she acts like the sister Logan remembers.

Logan finds himself in a life that looks like it used to on the outside while struggling to make sense of the truth that life will never be the same again. Financial struggles, discontent in his home, fear to love and possibly lose that love, and this new, unwelcome side of his hurting sister combine to make Logan’s transition to this new reality rocky at best. And even if the storms cease, the real substance of their lives will never be the same.

Change is inevitable. We can fight it, or we can grow through it. We are not meant to stay the same. God sent His Son so we can be different. He wants us to become a new creation. He wants the old, sinful things to pass away. God’s desire is for those who believe to develop the mind of Christ.

God doesn’t really care about our outer packaging. Just like with David, God looks at our heart. He wants us to seek Him first. Our priorities, beliefs, and actions should be shaped by His word. When these changes take place, they may not be noticeable just from a look, but it’s the inside that makes us who we are. What is in our hearts determines our character, and our character determines our actions. These are the changes God desires. These are the ones that will make all the difference.

Traditions and Recipes

recipe2.jpgI love reading and writing. Those pursuits and how my faith affects them is what this blog is all about. But I have other hobbies too. In honor of the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I’d like to share one of them with you.

I hold many fond memories of these holidays. No other time of year focuses so heavily on things like family and tradition. And one of my favorite activities is enjoyed more at this time of year than any other.

I remember my grandma baking at Christmas. Every year she made divinity, peanut brittle, and lace cookies to share with friends and family. I picked up the hobby after my freshman year food and nutrition course in high school. Every year since then, I’ve collected holiday cookie recipe books and spent hours in the kitchen. Before kids it wasn’t unusual for me to make 120 dozen different cookies and candies. Now, I’m lucky to get 20 to 30 dozen, but that’s okay. One day I’ll be able to devote a week to baking like I used to.

I look forward to creating in the kitchen every year. This holiday season, as thanks for sticking with me and this blog, I’d like to share some of my favorite Christmas cookie recipes. Come back every Friday for a new one, and if you get the chance take a look at some of my review and writing posts too. Today’s recipe was passed down to me by my grandma. It’s a staple of my cookie list every year, just like it was hers. I hope you enjoy it! recipe1