Friday, October 13, 2017

Guest Post with Laura V. Hilton

Glass Blowing and The Christmas Admirer
 By Laura V. Hilton

Right before my youngest son joined the Coast Guard we went on a short mini-vacation to Springfield, Missouri, actually going farther north almost to Kansas City to see another Amish community near there in Osceola. There is a cheese factory there and my son wanted to try some of their cheeses – such as a ghost pepper cheese. Too spicy for me.

But upon the return to Springfield, Steve read about a glass blowers shop in the downtown area. We found the address and went to visit it. It is owned by an older gentleman and his son. They had a display area set up where people could see their wares and buy them and then a work area where the son mostly worked, and talked about how the fire needed to be so hot, and showed us how he worked and made things. As we watched, he made a lovely flower, a lily, in different colors of glass, green, white, pinks.

It was fascinating.

And I got to thinking what if… 

So I did some more research. Asked questions. Probably drove them nuts. But when Whitaker House indicated they’d be interested in a Christmas novel, I proposed one about a glass blower.

The story is set in Jamesport, Missouri, and while completely stand alone, it does have some continuing characters from other books I’ve written set in Jamesport. If you are interested, the books set there are:

Amish Books set in Jamesport, Missouri:

The Snow Globe
The Postcard
The Birdhouse
The Amish Firefighter
The Amish Wanderer
The Kissing Bridge (part of Springs of Love collection)
The Christmas Admirer
Gingerbread Wishes (part of A Plain Thanksgiving collection--November 2018)
Love by the Numbers (February 2018)

I haven’t read any books about an Amish glass blower, but that’s not to say they aren’t out there. I haven’t read all the Amish books available. Jamesport is an area that is more tourist-oriented than the books set in Seymour / Webster County Missouri. They give buggy tours, have bed and breakfasts, open their homes for visitors to eat supper with them, and have businesses.

All Amish districts are different and the rules vary depending on the bishop and preachers. Some are more liberal and some more conservative. Some keep themselves distant and don’t welcome attention from non-Amish and some embrace it. While Jamesport is not as touristy as some districts in Lancaster Pennsylvania or in Ohio, it is much more so than others.

The Christmas Admirer

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Benaiah Troyer has loved Susanna King for as long as he can remember, but other than a lone summer filled with romantic buggy rides, marrying her remains an elusive dream. When his parents died in an accident a year ago, he broke up with her—for her own good. After all, they left him as the sole caregiver for his three younger sisters and his grandparents. What woman wants to step into a ready-made family like his? Still, he leaves her monthly gifts from “A Secret Admirer,” hoping she’ll know that someone loves her, even though he isn’t free to step forward.

Susanna has never gotten over losing Benaiah, and hopes he’s her secret admirer, but now the clock is ticking. Susanna’s father is remarrying in January and his wife-to-be doesn’t want to leave her Amish community and family in Iowa. So when Susanna’s daed sells his glass-blowing business to his right-hand man, Benaiah, she’s left with three options: 1) Go with Daed to his new home with a new frau and step-kinner, 2) Flush out her mysterious secret admirer, or 3) Resign herself to life as an old maid. She doesn’t want to follow Daed where his new frau is leading him. And number three isn’t happening. Marrying Benaiah is her greatest desire—but he broke her heart, and now he treats her like a pesky younger sister. Can she make him see her as a woman, one who could stand by his side as he cares for his family?

As Christmas approaches, Susanna and her friends start making gingerbread houses for select members of the community. Susanna plans for hers to go to Benaiah’s family. But while her gingerbread may find a home—will her heart?

Laura V. Hilton is an award-winning, sought-after author with almost twenty Amish, contemporary, and historical romances. When she’s not writing, she reviews books for her blogs, and writes devotionals for blog posts for Seriously Write and Putting on the New.

Laura and her pastor-husband have five children and a hyper dog named Skye. They currently live in Arkansas. One son is in the U.S. Coast Guard. She is a pastor’s wife, and homeschools her two youngest children.

When she’s not writing, Laura enjoys reading, and visiting lighthouses and waterfalls. Her favorite season is winter, her favorite holiday is Christmas.

twitter: @Laura_V_Hilton

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Guest Post with Lillian Duncan

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A Different Sort of Book

My usual books are fast-paced suspense and mystery novels but my newest release, Puzzle House is a different sort of book than I usually write. However, that makes sense. I’ve been living a different sort of life for more than five years. My life was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with brain tumors and a genetic condition known as Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) in 2012.

During these past several years, I’ve come to understand that nothing can be taken for granted. Except for God and his faithfulness. God has been there with me—every step of the way on this journey I didn’t want to take.

After all who wants to get brain tumors? 

In many ways PUZZLE HOUSE is the book I never wanted to write because I know had I never been diagnosed with the brain tumors, I would never have written this particular story.

Like me the main character, Rachel, has NF2 but that’s not the main point of the story. The focus is that Rachel stepped up in obedience to what God wanted from her. And just like many of us, she thought that because it was what God wanted her journey would be an easy one.


Instead Rachel had many lessons to learn on her way to becoming all that God created her to be—as do all of us. As the story proceeds she shares her experiences and those lessons with Nia, a young African-American girl who is dying as they work on a puzzle together.

Why did I choose a puzzle theme? Because in many ways life is like a puzzle—not a box of candy! There’s lot of pieces that have to be put together before you can see the whole picture. Many times we don’t understand why we need a particular piece but God always does.

It’s not easy to keep trusting when we are suffering, whether it be from a physical condition like brain tumors or it be some other difficulty like losing a loved one. But when we trust God with all the puzzle pieces of our life, He will use them to create a thing of beauty, such as a book called Puzzle House.

After all I’ve written about NF 2 you might think it’s a sad and depressing story, but you’d be wrong. The tagline for Puzzle House is a novel of healing and hope and that’s what I want people to take away from the story—that no matter what circumstances they find themselves in God promises that he will work all things out for the good of those who love him (Romans 8: 28). 

Maybe not the way we want it to work out as Rachel discovers in Puzzle House but then again God’s ways are not our ways. Puzzle House is a good example of that. I hate my brain tumors but I would never have written Puzzle House without them. So God took my difficult circumstances and worked them out for my good by inspiring me to write a different sort of book than my usual suspense and mystery.

GIVEAWAY INFO: To celebrate the release of Puzzle House, I’m having a very special giveaway on my blog, Tiaras & Tennis Shoes at Leave a comment on one of my Puzzle House posts and you’ll be entered to win. 



Life isn’t a box of candy—it’s a puzzle!

Rachel Summers is all about Rachel Summers…until the day she crashes headlong into a semi-truck. As her life hangs in the balance, she has a visitor who asks a very simple question.

Does she want to be healed or to be a healer?

She makes her choice, but the journey doesn’t go quite the way she expected.

And so Rachel now runs Puzzle House. Every guest is different and yet the same. They all come to the Puzzle House for one reason and one reason only—to be healed, usually from a life-threatening illness. Sometimes they receive their miracle, and sometimes they discover there’s more than one kind of healing.

Nia is a fifteen-year-old African-American girl who is dying. The doctors have told her there is nothing else to be done. No more treatments. No more hope. No more life. And she’s angry about that. Very angry. Against her wishes, Nia’s aunt brings her to The Puzzle House.

Together, Nia and Rachel will take a journey that will change both their lives.

Lillian Duncan…Stories of faith mingled… with murder & mayhem.

Lillian is a multi-published author who lives in the middle of Ohio Amish country with her husband and a menagerie of pets. After more than 30 years working as a speech pathologist for children, she believes in the power of words to transform lives, especially God’s Word.

Lillian writes the types of books she loves to read—fast-paced suspense with a touch of romance that demonstrates God’s love for all of us. To learn more about Lillian, you may visit her at or She also has a devotional blog at

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Guest Post with Natalie Brenner

This Undeserved Life: Uncovering The Gifts of Grief and The Fullness of Life


Is it okay to grieve? What about loss other than death? Can I be sad and still trust God?

Have you ever had the walls of your life shatter and feel you weren't allowed to be upset? Me too. The phrases, "This must be God's plan" and "It was meant to be this way" are often thrown around as encouragement but only deepen the wound.

Loss after loss, I felt these fix-it phrases stripped my consent to grieve and acknowledge sorrow.

This Undeserved Life invites you to honestly grieve your losses. You will recognize loss and brokenness are not a part of God's plan. It isn't weak to grieve; it takes courage and strength to choose to give loss the space it demands.

"This is the story of how I surrendered my sorrow by grabbing ahold of it, leading me to unearth an immense amount of grace. My sorrow created in me an undeniable hunger for Jesus. I found Him sitting with me in my darkest nightmares. My prayer is to offer a voice to the unseen aches in your soul."

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Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a wanna-be runner. Connect with her at and join her popular email list.

Read an excerpt from This Undeserved Life:

“He fired me.”

Loren’s words were quiet and desperate. His face was painted with shades of sadness and shock.

I dropped my mascara into the sink, my mouth gaping as I stared at my husband in disbelief. Putting on makeup was now the last thing on my mind. Sadness registered over Loren’s face. “What? Can he even do that? Doesn’t he need to consult the elders?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m fired. He’s sending my termination letter by email. Oh, and we are banned from the church; we have to cancel youth group tonight.” Loren’s words pushed through gritted teeth and furrowed brows.

Youth Group was our favorite part of this church since helping plant it over four years ago. It was our whole heart, filled with teens so brave and tender. We considered it a high honor to speak into their life, to be considered a part of their safe space. We found ourselves left without the chance to say goodbye. We were being ripped away from them without preparing an exit plan. It was sudden and unexpected.

Staring at each other, the air filled with betrayal and hurt. It was only two weeks ago we found out I was pregnant for the second time this year. Our adoption was moving along. We were active with multiple agencies and awaiting our match. The week before this abrupt dismissal, Loren and our boss, Matthew, held a conversation. We were nervous about sharing our hearts with him regarding moving on to another church and youth ministry position. We feared he would take it personally, so for months we prayed and struggled to find the most opportune moment to tell him. Loren felt the conversation went well, providing hope for a smooth transition. Our journey to gracefully transition from our current church to a new one within a year abruptly became painful.

“In Matthew’s words, we are ‘unhealthy, toxic, and detrimental to the health of this church,’” Loren said. “So much for a smooth transition,” he muttered. Rubbing his eyes with one hand, he lowered his chin to his chest and avoided eye contact with me. It was clear this knocked him off his feet. Nausea gripped me and that morning’s oatmeal landed in the toilet.

As we sat on our bed tensely searching the internet for answers, the termination letter came through with flesh-tearing words felt purposefully to rip our hearts. Gentle tears turned into sobs reading the letter. It was filled with lies, stripping us of our dignity, and erasing our integrity as we were planning to shift our growing family to a new church, city, and ministry. Frantically searching for something stable to hold onto, we called Bill who was close to the situation and understood its complexity. He knew how messy the entire staff was, how tired, and off the leadership team was. It had been a long few years and he intimately knew.

Church planting was ridiculously fun the first year, but became increasingly harder and demanded more than all of us in the continuing years. It wore us thin, especially in the most important parts of us. It was justified by helping so many people uncover God for the first time. Releasing my sanity for someone’s salvation? It seemed like an easy decision for a while.

Furious, Bill told us he would try to figure out how to fix some of the broken pieces. The termination letter stated very clearly we could not speak of the avalanche of unhealthy events leading to this moment, at least not with truth because the truth painted a poor picture of those involved. If we painted poor pictures of the church’s leadership—even if that’s what the truth revealed—our two months of severance pay would be withheld. I now knew what a gag order felt like.

The day’s plans were drastically changed since we were no longer preparing for middle school youth group. Unexpectedly released from planning weird games, picking up snacks, and practicing the prayed-through message, our minds filled up with insecurities and lies. Matthew’s words and intense labeling of “unhealthy, toxic, and detrimental” fabricated themselves into the quilt of our identity, leaving us later the taxing work of uprooting it. Battered at soul level, wondering if he was right—if we were the problem—we sought out safe people who could help us process the bomb that just blew up our world.

The shock of such betrayal and damage clung to us like leeches on a mound of raw flesh. Loren and I ping-ponged hurt driven questions as we drove our car to some trusted friends, people who knew us. Questions consumed our minds on our drive over: how could Matthew spew such hateful words; did he mean them and really not care for the lies he was sewing into the quilt of our identity? How could he say we were toxic, unhealthy, detrimental, slanderers? We had given years of ourselves, built our entire marriage and life around this church plant, but suddenly we are so toxic we must be banned?

What was Matthew going to say to people who asked about us? We couldn’t even say goodbye to our youth group? They meant the world to us. They hold chunks of our hearts. It isn’t like us disappearing was going to delete the imprint we left, our legacy, or the love people had for us. Dismissing us immediately wasn’t going to expunge the dysfunction we participated in. How was his story of firing my husband going to unfold for others? Would Loren be depicted as the gracious, teachable leader I knew him to be, or made out to be a horrible, godless person who doesn’t know how to communicate? And what about our adoption? Do we tell the adoption agencies we are currently jobless and unsure of when we’ll be receiving income again? This baby inside of me. Would the stress wear on me and cause another miscarriage?

Do we continue pursuing a position as youth pastors, or make a career change? Do we move across the country to somewhere new, or Idaho where Loren’s family is, or Portland where it is a bit more diverse? How do we confidently move forward when everything feels so tender, broken, and confusing?

Pulling into our friend’s driveway, the car sat idling as we gathered enough pieces of ourselves to walk through Jesse’s door. Enough pieces, that is, only to drop them and fall apart again before Jesse and her husband. This situation felt unfair and I was furious. “I will never be the same again,” I thought as a burning fury formed into a profound amount of pain. I felt it searing, piercing my heart in a way that would change me forever.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Which Character Are You?

I thought we could have a little fun with an old blog post today. Come Eat at My Table is on sale for only .99. Grab your copy today if you haven't already. But first...

Here’s a fun little diddy today. Take this quiz and then scroll down to the bottom (make sure you answer all the questions first) to see which character you are most like in the novel Come Eat at My Table.

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  1. How do you feel about food?
A.    Enjoy cooking and entertaining

B.     Enjoy eating

C.     Enjoy both cooking and eating

D.    Have to eat to survive

  1. How do you feel about your surroundings?
A.    I notice some things

B.     What about them?

C.     I notice everything, even the minute details

D.    Nonchalant

  1. How do you feel about forgiveness?
A.    The one who hurt me needs to apologize first

B.     I don’t let things bother me

C.     I have learned my lessons

D.    People make me angry

  1. How do you feel about work?
A. I do whatever it takes to get a job done

B. I would rather not work

C. I enjoy helping others in their work

D. I work to take care of my family

  1. Which is more like you during a conversation?
A.    I try to listen, but sometimes I tune people out

B.     I do most of the talking

C.     I listen and hang on every word

D.    I listen to those I want to listen to

  1. How do you relax?
A.    Talk a walk

B.     Sing along with the radio at the top of my lungs

C.     Rest or read

D.    What does relax mean?

All right. Take note of  how you answered the questions. If you answered mostly A’s you are most like Karin. If you answered mostly B’s you are most like Hope. If you answered mostly C’s you are most like Faith. If you answered mostly D’s you are most like Rob.

Now, don’t you want to read the book to see who your character is?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Homeschooling Mom and Author Laura V. Hilton

Today's homeschooling/mom/author is probably one many of you already know - Amish author Laura V. Hilton. Laura is an award-winning, sought-after author with almost twenty Amish, contemporary, and historical romances. When she’s not writing, she reviews books for her blogs, and writes devotionals for blog posts for Seriously Write and Putting on the New.

Laura and her pastor-husband have five children and a hyper dog named Skye. They currently live in Arkansas. One son is in the U.S. Coast Guard. She is a pastor’s wife, and homeschools her two youngest children.

When she’s not writing, Laura enjoys reading, and visiting lighthouses and waterfalls. Her favorite season is winter, her favorite holiday is Christmas.Welcome, Laura!

How long have you been homeschooling?   

Wow. Years and years. I started when my oldest son (now 26) was five years old and I am still homeschooling my youngest two (currently 15 and 12.)  I have five children.

How long have you been writing?   

Forever. I started when I was in third grade.  Had  a couple poems published in sixth grade, a few more in highschool, and a teacher predicted I would grow up to be a journalist.  She initially thought writer, but said, it is too hard to break into print, so probably you won’t do that.  J  I wish I could remember her name…. I’d tell her I made it.

What gave you the writing bug?  

Oh, wow, I don’t know. Probably the reading bug. I was born knowing how to read and writing was just as much of a calling from a young age.  Oh to be someone who wrote those wonderful books!

Do you remember the first story you wrote?  

Third grade. It was called Jenny’s Garden.  Handwritten, turned in for a grade and never given back, but then the teacher probably didn’t read it. It was a thick bundle of papers.

What type of books do your write?  

Romance.  So far I am in published in contemporary, historical, and Amish (mainly Amish)

How do you find time to write?  

I write when it’s quiet. When school is done. 

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?  

Quiet time!!!  I don’t mind general noise, but one of my children is very hard to write about as he is loud and yells for no reason sometimes and it completely jars me out of story.

Do your kids help with your creative process or give you ideas?  

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One daughter does. She also reads over my shoulder and is my first editor.

What is the single most significant thing you can tell us about your writing career?  

I love my job!!!  

Can you tell us about a character in your current work in progress?   

This is a contemporary and it’s about a girl returning home after burning every bridge behind her. How do you even start to make amends? 


The Kissing Bridge by Laura V. Hilton

Escaping the past isn’t as easy as it should be…

Anna thought her bad decisions would fade into nothing after she vanished for a few months. Her motives would be clear, her mistakes erased, and she’d be able to rewrite her future the way she wanted. It didn’t work out the way she’d planned. Instead, she discovered her actions have consequences and they had to be paid.

Reuben loved Anna for as long as he could remember, but before he could get serious about courting her, his brother, Mark, won her away. But now she’s back and she beginning to pay the steep price for her mistakes. Reuben tries to help her as much as he can, and the decisions he makes will cost them both everything.

Want to find out more about Laura?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Homeschool Author and Mom Intisar Khanani

I have yet another homeschool-mom-author sharing with us today. Please welcome, Intisar Khanani

How long have you been homeschooling?

I suppose you could say we're just starting, since my eldest is finishing up first grade, but what that really means is I've been a stay at home mom the last seven years, working up to homeschooling this past year. :)

How long have you been writing?

Since I can remember! However, I didn't get serious about publishing until 2012, when I decided to quit the last ten hours a week I was working to stay home completely with my daughters. I figured if I was going to be home, I'd have LOTS of time to write--just kidding! But I knew I'd need some non-mommy related endeavor to keep me sane, and what could be better than a "job" that I could do when the kids were in bed?

What gave you the writing bug?

I've always had it--I have been writing and telling stories my whole life. In fact, those occasional timeframes when I wasn't being creative somehow always ended with me being miserable. Ha! I wrote my first novel while taking an "overload" schedule of classes at university plus working 20 hours a week. I'm not quite sure how I managed that, but it was a fabulous year.

Do you remember the first story you wrote?

Yes! It was about a good little fish who went to school. I remember drawing the fish with his backpack on. Apparently, I had a bad case of the puns even at the age of four!

What type of books do your write?

I write Young Adult Fantasy. I have a noblebright fairy tale adaption entitled Thorn, which retells the Grimms' tale "The Goose Girl." It's actually the final product of that first novel I drafted in university, although it went through about a dozen revisions to get there. (I learned a lot of craft along the way!) I also have an epic fantasy series called The Sunbolt Chronicles in process, featuring a street thief with a dangerous secret and her nemesis, the dark mage who killed her father. It's a fast-paced, unpredictable ride that has been absolutely awesome to write.

How do you find time to write?
I write primarily when the kids are in bed--which means lights out at 8 pm! I also get two mornings a week when both my kids are taking classes together. Those are definitely my best writing times. I have tried getting up early to write, but without fail my kids discover this and it ends much sooner than is worth it. So I write at night and whenever they're not about. My husband will also take the kids out or cover me for a daytime writing session when I really need the time, but I try not to ask that of him too much!

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I'm finally getting to a point where there's no one major part of the process that is significantly more difficult than the rest. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean it's all easy. It means it's all equally hard. ;) Over the last few years I've worked through different plotting processes, different approaches to drafting, and different revision methods. And I'm finally, finally, finding the things that work for me. I still find myself challenged by plot twists that even I didn't see coming--plot twists that are better than anything I had planned, but leave me stumped about how to bring the rest of the book back together again. But that's a good (if frustrating) challenge, and I'm glad to occasionally face it.

Do your kids help with your creative process or give you ideas?

Not yet. They're still too young for the genre I write, but hopefully one day!

What is the single most significant thing you can tell us about your writing career?

Writing, like any other occupation, takes work and persistence. It takes time to develop your skills, and persistence because, until you've got that skill (and a good bit after that too, quite likely), you're not going to get return for your work. So you have to take a certain amount of satisfaction in the writing itself, and you have to Keep Going. Also, ignore all those people who say writing is easy. At least until they've earned a couple million off of their "easy" writing career. ;) I've been writing my whole life, but I'm now five years into my writing career as a career and not just a hobby. It took me three years to start earning an income, and now I'm at a point of earning as much as I did working 30 hours a week at the local health department. That's not huge by any means, but it means that my books are finally starting to sell and I'm reaching that point where all that work and persistence is starting to pay off. And it so completely worth it. :)

Can you tell us about a character in your current work in progress?

Hitomi is a street thief with a sense of honor, a whole inheritance of secrets, and an absolutely abysmal amount of luck. She's cunning, and quick on her feet, though, which keeps her alive each time things go from bad to worse. In the first book in the series, Sunbolt, Hitomi volunteers to help a noble family escape execution--only to be betrayed to the dark mage who killed her father. It will take all she can summon to escape with her life.

If you'd like to read a sample of Intisar's writing, here us a free short story. Just click on the cover to download and begin reading.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Homeschooled Student Author: Grace Fay

I have another homeschooled student author on the blog today. I love seeing young people make an impact on the writing world! Welcome, Grace!

Hello, my name is Grace Fay and I am a homeschooled Texan living in Dallas with my husband! I was homeschooled all the way through high school, and am the oldest of nine kids. I definitely also plan to homeschool my own kids one day! I write under my maiden name, J. Grace Pennington.

How long have you been writing?

Since I was about five years old, so over twenty years! I started publishing in 2012, when I was twenty-two years old, but I've been writing basically all my life.

What gave you the writing bug?

I was an early and prolific reader, and one afternoon I was bored while my mom was taking her afternoon nap and decided to write a book of my own. I've always loved stories.

Do you remember the first story you wrote?

Yes--at five years old I wrote (and illustrated) a small book called "If I Had Three Wishes." The first wish was that it would be a sunny, windy day with bunnies hopping on the grass, the second wish was that I had a pony, the third was that I could fly, and then I said that if I could have four wishes the fourth would be to be able to see God with my eyes.

What type of books do you write?
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I write in various genres, but primarily I write young adult science-fiction. My YA series, Firmament, has four books published and I'm working on books five and six. I've also published a YA dystopia called Implant and a Western mystery called Never, as well as a steampunk fairtale in the Once: Six Historically Inspired Fairytales collection. But I also have general fiction, fantasy, and screenplays in the works. I just love stories in general!

How do you find time to write?

As a homemaker, my days are fairly flexible so it's more about making the time to actually sit down and put words on paper. I try to have set times each day to write, word goals, and deadlines to keep me motivated and committed. I also will fit writing in while cooking if need be. I find it helpful to get out of the house when possible to write--to the library, the coffee shop, Barnes & Noble, or even McDonald's!

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Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

Creative and non-confusing plots. Characters are my strong point, but when it comes to getting them into interesting and coherent situations, I struggle and usually require several rewrites to string together a decent plot.

What is the single most significant thing you can tell us about your writing career?

To me, the most important thing about my writing is to communicate truth--whether that's directly through non-fiction, or a display of truth through the narrative of a story. It can be explicit to my worldview or it can be more subtle and implicit. It can be an overt message or just a manifestation of the truth that laughter doeth the heart like good medicine. Regardless, I try always to communicate truth to my readers and to bless, encourage, and entertain them. 

Can you tell us about a character in your current work in progress?

My work in progress is the sixth book in my Firmament series. The book is called No Man and part of it follows the starship's helmsman and first officer, William Guilders, on his quest to help a man he doesn't particularly like. I'm really enjoying exploring Mr. Guilders' character right now. He's a stoic, principled, unemotional, highly intelligent older gentleman who is thrown completely out of his element and out of his comfort zone for this journey, and it will be interesting to see how he reacts and the choices he makes.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Homeschool Author Mom H.L. Burke

Today's awesome homeschooling/mom/author is H. L. Burke. Thanks for joining me today!

How long have you been homeschooling?

Roughly three years. We're a military family and move around a lot, frequently in the middle of the school year, so we kind of need to be able to take school along with us at short notice.

How long have you been writing?

Forever, pretty much. I've been looking for excuses to share stories since elementary school. I was a homeschool student myself, so I had to start the “school” paper. I kind of took a break when I got married then started writing again about four years ago seriously planning to publish. I always intended to go indie. The traditional way just takes way too long, and I'm impatient.

What gave you the writing bug?

I'm a talker. I like to talk. Writing is like talking, just slower.

Do you remember the first story you wrote?

I dictated a short story about rabbits (which I illustrated) to my mom when I was six or so. The only bit I really remember is the brilliant exchange, “Why is it always snowing at your house, Snowflake?” “Because I am a snow bunny.”

What type of books do your write?

I call it “eclectic” fantasy because I am easily distracted, but I like something fantastical in everything I write, be it elaborate clockwork inventions in my YA Steampunk series or enchanted princes in my Fantasy Romance or adorable dragons in my Middle Grade.

How do you find time to write?

They have to sleep sometimes. Thanks to coffee, I really don't. Sort of kidding. But yeah, most of my writing is done for an hour or so after I've tucked them into bed for the night … sometimes, though, I'll bring a notepad to the park or the library or the McDonald's play place and set them loose while I get a little bit done. I can write a thousand words in a little under an hour, so I don't need that much time if I can focus (again, coffee).

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

It really depends on the project. I joke that I hate middles the “moving the characters from inciting event to major set back to climax” … I tend to get bogged down in the in betweens and trying to keep that interesting even though, In my brain, I'm just “traveling” to the next “interesting bit.” I also apparently have an addiction to “air quotes.”

Do your kids help with your creative process or give you ideas?

My kids keep me fresh and flexible. You can't slow down with kids and get in a rut. You can't become dependent on doing things a certain way and you have to count on things not going according to plan. It keeps me interested, honestly. I'm the sort of personality type who would go nuts doing the same thing day after day. I have to have change. 

What is the single most significant thing you can tell us about your writing career?

I have dragons. Lots and lots of dragons. Thanks,mostly, to coffee, I'm prolific. I currently have 15 published books, a few short stories (some in anthologies, some available as standalones on Amazon).

Can you tell us about a character in your current work in progress?

I just finished writing and am beginning to edit a short story that's a prequel to my Nyssa Glass Steampunk series. Nyssa is an orphan who finds herself trapped in a life of crime in order to pay off her uncle's debts. She wants out. Her dream is to fix things, and she loves taking apart gadgets to see how they work … this is her origin story about how she escapes her gang to become the “reformed cat burglar and electrician's apprentice” who we follow throughout the main series.

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Nyssa Blurb:

Available for the first time in a single volume, all five Nyssa Glass Adventures.

Nyssa Glass is a reformed cat burglar turned electrician's apprentice, settled into a life repairing videophones and radio-sets. However, when her past comes calling, she finds herself on the run for a murder she did not commit. As her quiet life goes up in sparks, she must face killer robots, menacing villains, and sarcastic computers in a race for survival.

Nyssa has her hands full just trying to stay one step ahead of the police, but she still has time for adventure, humor, and even a taste of romance.

Here's chapter one of  Nyssa:

Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors

Chapter One

“Late, late, late …” Nyssa Glass nearly bowled over a wind-up paper-vendor as she emerged from her boarding house, her ruffled skirts swishing around her knee-high, buttoned boots. She clutched her leather satchel to her chest and inhaled the comforting, nutty smell of the flaxseed oil she’d polished it with the night before. The satchel was her most prized possession, carefully constructed with pockets for all her various tools, but stylish enough that she could wear it to church functions without drawing attention.
Mr. Calloway, her employer and mentor, always insisted on escorting her to church functions, but being away from her tools made her anxious, a throwback to keeping lockpicks in her back pocket, she supposed. If Mr. Calloway had made that connection, he probably would’ve tried to break her of the habit. He seemed to see it as a harmless quirk, though.
Nyssa searched her brain for an excuse for her tardiness. It wasn’t really one thing that had caused her to be late. More of a series of minute annoyances. Laces snapping on her corset, for instance. She hated her corset. It hadn’t been a required part of her wardrobe until the last year or so. Before her enrollment in Miss Pratchett’s School for Mechanically Minded Maids, no one had cared if she dressed like a boy. Now that she was a graduate of that prestigious school, though, she had to dress her status and age.
Turning sixteen seemed to have only brought on more wardrobe restrictions and pimples … the pimples being the second thing to go wrong that morning, though she supposed it was her own fault for letting them distract her. Normally she wouldn’t bother with make up, but the size of the red spot on the bridge of her nose had sent her begging her roommate for powder. Then breakfast was burned, keys were misplaced, and their elderly landlady had caught her in the hallway and wanted to chat.
“Should’ve just shouted, ‘sorry, late,’ and ran for it.” Nyssa shook her head at her own weakness. “No, you had to not only say 'I'm doing fine, thank you,' but ask her how her parakeet was faring as well.”
The air was cool, but hazy with the exhaust from the nearby steam-power plant. The click of the inner workings of New Taured's automated button factory rose above her footsteps, causing her to walk in time with that rhythm. A few folk lingered on the sidewalk, milling about; however, most shops wouldn't open for another hour. Mr. Calloway liked to open early to “make the most of the day.”
Nyssa liked to stay up late then sleep until her alarm clock screamed at her.
The clock tower at the end of the street clanged for seven o’clock. She clenched her teeth.
As she turned onto Clockwork Row, the timepiece store on the corner erupted in a cacophony of chimes, bells, and cuckoos. She wasn’t sure how the keeper tolerated that going off every hour on the hour. Nyssa needed silence to work … well, silence except for the sound of her own voice. Talking to herself was another of her “harmless quirks.”
Lights shone through the windows of Mr. Calloway’s shop, the painted letters declaring his ability to repair all forms of videophones, radios, and signal sending devices. The sign in the door already read “open.”
She pushed open the door, triggering a mechanism which chimed out the first several bars of a lullaby, and Nyssa smiled in spite of herself. It was a new tune today. Mr. Calloway liked to mix it up every so often.
The old man pushed down his magnifying goggles and smiled at Nyssa from the other side of the counter. “Ah, there you are. My watch must be fast.”
“Your watch, the clock tower, and the two hundred or so timepieces in the store next door?” She raised her eyebrows.
“I know. Coincidences abound.” He bent back over the inner workings of a radio.
Nyssa mulled over her options. Just because Mr. Calloway wasn’t going to make a big fuss over her being late didn’t mean he didn’t deserve an explanation, but as she’d hashed out on the way over, there wasn’t really an explanation, not a concise one anyway. “It won’t happen again,” she said simply.
Hiking her skirts to just above her knees, she vaulted over the counter.
Mr. Calloway pushed a schematic towards her. “Dalhart & Rivera is launching an upgraded version of their videophone next month. They sent out advanced schematics this morning, so we can be prepared for questions and complete any repairs.”
Nyssa unrolled the fresh white paper, inked in blue. It took her a full three minutes of scanning to spot the first difference between the new and the old. “Is this all? A slightly larger viewscreen and one or two new vacuum tubes? That hardly seems worth the trouble of a relaunch.”
“Ah, but you know every wealthy patron will wish to upgrade their in-home system, just to say they have the latest and the greatest.” Mr. Calloway gave a wry smile. His watery blue eyes looked huge through the lenses of his glasses.
Nyssa looked away to avoid laughing.
“It’s a shame, though. When the company was just ‘Dalhart Incorporated,’ they built things to last forever, not to be replaced every six months.” He waved to the wall behind him where a bronze-framed screen rested. “I purchased that model almost a decade ago, when I took the shop over from my father. Still works like a charm.”
If by like a charm you mean makes the caller sound like they are under a foot of water and look like they’re standing in front of a carnival mirror. Still, you have to admire the simplicity of those first models. Made to do one thing forever and do it the best. A lot of people could learn from that.
Mr. Calloway dabbed at his bald head with a handkerchief. “I want to do a quick inventory. You have the counter. Don’t scare off any customers, young lady.” He winked and left through the swinging door into the back.
Nyssa glanced over the counter. Mr. Calloway’s tools were scattered everywhere, completely ignoring the outlines she’d made to mark each instrument’s designated place. She clicked her tongue, and hung her satchel on a hook behind the counter.
“For as much pride as he has in this shop, you’d think he’d keep it in better order.”
“I heard that!” Calloway called from the back.
She chuckled. “Sorry, I forgot you weren’t deaf yet, just senile.”
“Hardy har har. If it matters so much to you, clean it up yourself.”   
Nyssa laughed, shook her head, and began lining up wrenches, spanners, and crimpers. She sorted the spools of wire by gauge and the vacuum tubes by size before spinning around to polish the reliable, old videophone’s screen.
“Trusty old Dalhart 2.” She swiped a muslin cloth over the raised lettering declaring the maker and the model number.
The lullaby chimed, and she turned with her best smile pasted across her face. Not that she didn’t like people, in small doses, but she was told her default face made her look cold and indifferent. People could be so darn sensitive.
A man with dark glasses and a top hat shadowing his pale face strode in. He wore a black raincoat with the collar pulled up to the corners of his thin mouth. He grinned at her as if she were a tasty leg of lamb and he a slavering dog.
Nyssa’s smile melted. She forced her lips back into an appropriate expression, but her hands gripped the edge of the counter. “Can I help you?” she asked.
“A charming little shop. You are the saleswoman, yes?”
“I can also do repairs. I have an electrician and mechanic's license.” She waved towards her own framed diploma, resting next to the yellowed one belonging to Mr. Calloway.
The man stepped to the wall and squinted at the document. “Ah, then you are Nyssa Glass.”
“That’s the name they printed on the certificate anyway.” Nyssa shrugged, beginning to feel impatient. “Did you need a repair or are you looking to purchase a device? We will be discounting our videophones soon to make way for the new models.”
The man grunted and paced towards the door.
Nyssa’s shoulders relaxed. Thank God, he’s leaving.
The man stopped, his back to her. Something glinted on the band of his top hat. Two somethings … Nyssa squinted then flinched back. A pair of yellow eyes blinked at her from the back of his hat. Her breath caught in her throat, and she resisted the urge to rub her eyes. She wavered for a moment between calling for Mr. Calloway and running to hide in the back room before drawing herself up and clearing her throat.
Shocks and sparks! It’s a trick. Some sort of robotic mechanism opening and shutting glass eyes. Nothing more. Look at him, posing so theatrically. He wants a rise. Don’t let him get one.
“You’ve come a long way since your days of breaking into houses for trinkets.” The man didn’t turn around.
“I’m reformed.” Nyssa stuck her chin out. She wasn’t sensitive about her past—too much. Still, she didn’t like the man’s tone.
“You aren’t afraid your past will catch up with you?” The man turned back, raising a thin eyebrow over his glasses.
Nyssa’s throat constricted. She didn’t recognize the man, but that didn’t mean he didn’t have some connection to her past life, to old partners or someone she’d robbed. Could she owe him money? Her bank account barely held enough for next week’s rent.
Nyssa felt under the counter for Mr. Calloway’s revolver. She couldn’t find it. Drat Mr. C and his constant need to move things around.
“My past is resolved. My employer is aware of it, and I’ve received an official pardon in return for completing attendance at Miss Pratchett’s and finding gainful employment.” She stared into his reflective lenses. “Obviously you have no intention of purchasing anything. I think you should go.”
The door to the backroom clacked open.
Mr. Calloway crossed his arms. “My employee is correct. We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, so please leave.”
The man smiled. “So you received a full pardon?”
“Cleared of all charges.” Nyssa gave a sharp nod.
“As far as the east is from the west.” Mr. Calloway stepped further into the room. “Now go.”
“You can’t be pardoned if you’ve never been accused.” The man reached into his coat.
Nyssa stiffened, but a moment later the man drew out a black disc about the size of a compact. He flipped a switch on its side and a holographic projection flickered to life above it. Nyssa paled as a younger version of herself slipped through a window and rummaged about a large, wooden desk.
“The Lanchester Heist. Still officially unsolved. No charges ever filed, which means in spite of what pardons you may have received for other crimes, your tab is still open.” He flipped off the projector and shoved it into his pocket.
“How did you get that?” Nyssa whispered. If there was proof, why hadn’t it come to the authorities’ attention? Why bring it up now?
“It matters not.” The man shrugged.
“What do you want?” Mr. Calloway slid behind the counter.
Nyssa tried not to think of the revolver. Don’t do anything stupid, Mr. C. The man’s not robbing us. Just being a jackass.
“I have a proposition for you, Ms. Glass. I wish for you to return for one last job, a simple heist, really. In return I’ll hand over the copies of this recording and allow you to destroy them.”
Nyssa’s stomach twisted. Back in the day, she’d taken on “assignments” for less cause, just to survive. However, now she was finally doing more than surviving, working a job she loved with a man who respected her in spite of her past, not seeing her as a tool. “That’s not who I am anymore. It never was. I was just a scared kid who didn’t know any better. I’ll take my chances in court rather than return to that life.”
“They won’t prosecute her based on a technicality. The crime may not have been mentioned in her pardon, but the spirit of the decree was for all her past crimes.” Mr. Calloway motioned for Nyssa to come towards him. She hovered near his side. “I’ll speak on her behalf.”
The man’s mouth curled into a sneer. “You think you can be rid of me that easily? You don’t know who you’re dealing with, girl.” He stepped forward.
Mr. Calloway’s hand shot under the counter. He whipped out the silver-handled revolver. “I don’t like to live by the sword, but I will not let you harm this young lady. Get behind me, Nyssa.”
Nyssa’s pulse throbbed in her ears like the ticking of a clock. She squeezed between Mr. Calloway and the wall, so tight she could feel the raised letters on the Dalhart 2 imprinting on her back.
The man laughed. “Really, old man? Really?” He extended his seemingly empty gloved hand.
Mr. Calloway leveled the gun. “You’re unarmed. I don’t want to shoot, but I will.” The hammer clicked back.
“I don’t need guns.” The man made a fist. Wires shot from his knuckles and sank into Mr. Calloway’s chest. The gun went off, but the bullet flew over the man’s shoulder, shattering the window into a rain of glass. The air crackled as Mr. Calloway convulsed.
Nyssa screamed. A smell of charred flesh singed her nose. Then he collapsed at her feet, his eyes staring blindly up at her.
The man grinned. “Now, girly, looks like you just killed your employer. Sure, you can say it was a mysterious man you've never seen before, but why would they believe a ‘reformed’ cat burglar?”
Nyssa swallowed. The revolver glistened on the floor beside Mr. Calloway. She dove for it, but the man lunged at her. His hand clawed at her arm, and she stumbled back. With a snarl, he scrambled over the counter. Nyssa grabbed the closest thing, her own satchel hanging from a hook in the wall. With all her might, she swung.
The bag impacted against the man’s face, causing him to shout. He crashed into the shelf of tools behind the counter. Wrenches clattered to the floor and over his head.
Nyssa sprang over the counter, crossed the floor in two great leaps, and flew through the broken window. Broken glass crunched beneath her feet. She turned towards the busy Main Way, but a horseless carriage blocked her path. What if he has a partner in there? Spinning on her heel, she headed off in the other direction, towards a back alley.
The man’s cursing chased her down the street.