I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Not Sure About Amish? Take Another Look with Elizabeth Byler Younts — The Fresh Voice of Amish Historicals

By Roxanne Sherwood Gray 

Elizabeth Byler Younts released her debut novel, Promise to Return, a few days ago. Elizabeth has been a military wife until recently and is a homeschooling mom of two young daughters. She was raised in an Amish home as a child. After her parents left the church, she remained close to her large, extended Amish family and still speaks Pennsylvania Dutch.

At the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference, you practically started a bidding war among agents for your historical Amish series. Did an agent hand you a contract at the conference?

Natasha Kern offered to represent me at the ACFW conference in Dallas last September. Technically, I signed the contract a few days later. J It was an absolutely overwhelming experience. I could’ve have asked for a better agent for me. She is amazing.

How did you get “The Call,” offering you a book contract? Was it for just one book or a series?

It all happened so fast I barely had time to catch my breath. It was for the three-book series. It was what I’d dreamed about for years ... really, as long as I can remember… but it’s a lot more of a reality check than living in a dream world. You have to be ready for the deadlines and real life at the same time. We were readjusting to life after deployment at the time so everything happening at once was a big deal. I was so amazed with Natasha and talked with my editors before I said “yes” to the contract offer… it was just such an unbelievable experience. It’s hard to express how my heart and mind felt at the moment. All I can really say is that it was all God!

What’s the premise of Promise to Return? Why did you decide to tell this story?

This story idea came after writing my grandma’s childhood story Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl and I found a voice in Amish fiction that really excited me … historical! Since my grandpa “Daudy” had been drafted in WW2 and joined the 12,000 other conscientious objectors who served in the Civilian Public Service instead of going to war, this history has always been a part of my life. But I imagined what it might have been like if he had decided to enlist instead. And what if he’d left behind a woman he loved and planned to marry? Henry and Miriam’s story was born.

I’m so glad you wrote it! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Miriam and Henry’s story. There's such authenticity to your writing. What was happening in your life as you wrote this novel?

My husband was actually deployed when I wrote Promise to Return — which was titled Miriam’s Soldier at the time. Though my husband was in a safe location and we Skyped daily … I was still able to tap into some of my own emotions to feel Miriam’s heart. The story came alive to me. I lived with my parents for most of the deployment, and since they were Amish into adulthood, they were the most amazing resources. My grandma “Mammie” lives about 35 minutes from my parents and she was also very helpful with some of the period questions so that the Amish in the 40s was believable.

Well, you did a fabulous job I was captivated. Did you learn a spiritual lesson while writing Promise to Return? If so, how did that influence Miriam’s spiritual journey?

Absolutely. I tend to really feed on the emotions and burdens of other people. It weighs me down and it exhausts me. It is difficult for me divide fact from fiction. I have a VERY hard time being still and just listening to God and not letting the world (or my own mind really) interfere with HIS voice. Wow … that was exactly what Miriam needed. She needed to block out the world (even a good church like hers) to hear the pure voice of God so she could learn God’s plan for her life. This is an important lesson for us all. There are plenty of good, spiritual people and good standards of life that can help us live really Godly lives … but unless we are truly letting God’s voice soak into our souls we can’t have ultimate joy, happiness, and the guidance we need to learn about God’s will for our unique lives. We need HIS voice above all others.

Promise to Return is part of a series. Can you tell when the next novel and when it releases?

Promise to Cherish focuses on a secondary character in Promise to Return. I won’t give away who yet … but you can read more about the premise in the back of Promise to Return. It will also take the reader into the mental asylums where the Mennonite/Amish conscientious objectors served for years and improved the conditions substantially. It’s a romantic story between an Amish man and an English nurse. It releases October 2014. I hope you will love it!!!

It's definitely going on my to-buy list. You mentioned self publishing a memoir called Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. What's it about? Would you recommend self-publishing to others?

I did self-pub it for a variety of reasons … mostly since it was originally written for my family to honor my grandma’s life and how God worked in her childhood. I was blessed beyond measure when it became an Amazon bestseller in several categories. As far as recommending going indy … that’s really a very personal decision. I think with family stories it usually is fine but you still handle it as professionally as absolutely possible. Do everything you can do to make it the best possible…as far as what your budget will allow. It will be out there forever. I can tell you that impatience is not a great reason to go indy. Think it through and if it’s the best fit for you, do it right. I cannot stress that enough. Indy publishing has grown so much in the last 5 years — the standards have been raised. Take the time to make your book the best it possibly can be and be prepared to do A LOT of work.

Do you have a writing mentor? If so, how has this writer influenced you?

I’ve never taken a writing class in my life so when I joined award-winning author Allison Pittman’s critique group a few years ago, it was the best education I could possibly have asked for. I give huge props to Allison and I consider her a very dear friend in addition to being a mentor. I love her writing and I’ve read all of her books. I am very thankful for Allison. I feel extremely blessed that she’s been such a good friend to me! I only wish we didn’t live more than a thousand miles apart!

When I was growing up there were two brothers, Michael and Christopher Dack who poured themselves into me. They took me under their wing and just took me seriously as a writer even when it all seemed like a pipe dream. For as long as I can remember they were the ones I looked up to. Their creativity and out-of-the-box thinking captivated me. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They have been the best “big brothers” I could ever have asked for. They are filmmakers, screenwriters, and fiction authors also and just really fantastic guys.

What have you had to give up in order to make time for writing? You’re a wife and a homeschooling mom. How do you manage it all?

Well, I definitely don’t manage it all. I don’t believe in super-moms and won’t let anyone call me that. ;-) I know my flaws and how I fall short. I give up quiet evenings for lots of writing and have by far a less clean house. Ha.Ha! I really do the best I can with God’s strength. I don’t get it right a lot of the time and ask for forgiveness when I fall short with God and my family. My husband is the most supportive man on the planet. He is seriously my hero and my rock. I could never do this without him. His support has given me the opportunity to pursue writing as a career. I praise the Lord for him.
What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned in your research for this series?

My whole life I’ve known about the Civilian Public Service but when I started writing this series and started buying tons of books and looking online for information, I was blown away. Some of the “campers” (also called: conscientious objectors, C.O.s, conscies) were away for the entire war with no pay. There were churches that supported the camps and so some of them received a few dollars a week. Remember, these were gov’t camps and were to serve the nation in a variety of ways but these 12,000 men were not given a real wage. They were away from their families (many of them were husbands with families or sons who were still at home and helping their families monetarily) without an actual wage for years. My grandpa said that his pay was so low it wasn’t enough for HIM to live on even though the camp provided food and shelter. In some locations, the public called the C.O.s “Hitler’s Helpers” and very belittled and considered unpatriotic because their conscience would not allow them to serve.

Now, I am a proud military wife and truly support our efforts … but I do stand by someone’s right to be a C.O. I think it’s great when the government is able to provide them some way to serve that doesn’t go against their belief system but I really believe they should still get a wage. Thank God the local churches stepped in.

During these same years, the German POWs captured by the Americans were being paid 80 cents a day for their work. While that may not seem like a lot, it was money coming from the US government to the German POWs but not it’s own C.O.s. You can make your own judgment call on that … but the bottom line is that this is fascinating history.

Elizabeth, Thanks so much for sharing your story. 

Readers, it’s your turn to ask questions. What would you like to ask Elizabeth Byler Younts? 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Final Proof that Writers are Weird?

Writers have a lot of fun slipping various literary devices into stories.  We actually delight in some of those troublesome topics in English class like foreshadowing, imagery, symbolism, irony, and satire. It’s one reason, perhaps, why some folks think we’re weird. 

The best literary devices come organically from the story rather than being forced. Many go unnoticed except by the best reading detectives. Occasionally some hit you over the head.

I once wrote a novel set in Texas where each chapter began with a fact about bluebonnets which was symbolic of something that happened in the chapter. Believe me, I researched a lot about bluebonnets when writing that story because the facts had to fit the story and not the other way around!

As a reader, do you notice these literary devices? As a writer, do you look for ways to include them? Or do you simply agree that writers really are weird folks?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How do you get ideas for your books?

By Jennie Atkins

As an author I am sure you struggle with building a quality story—one that will grab the attention of the agents and editors and subsequently your readers.  We know all about the MBT Book Buddy for planning your strategy, we understand the concept of goal, motivation, and conflict. 

But what I want to know is, how do you come up with a story line that is unique? How do you decide your story is going to be about a nurse trying to solve her own murder—before it occurs? Or a prodigal son returning home—only to learn the one man who can forgive him has died? Or a woman returning home with a child that isn’t hers—only no one believes her?

Or smaller yet, how do you come up with ideas that can inflict as much pain as an author can on their characters?  Those scenes that are unique, yet add power to the story?  How do you decide the location?  Or find the strange but plausible thing that can occur to disrupt your character’s journey?

A couple of years ago I went to a Donald Maas seminar at ACFW.  He suggested listing ten items that could happen and use the last one.  The consensus was the first few on your list would be common solutions, and the ones you don't want to use.  The items closer to the bottom of the list would be more unusual. And, that’s what you should use. 
I keep a file of weird, but probable, news items that occur. One such news article I found was when a crotchety old man frustrated with the political system had to pay a fine.  As the story went, he marched into the building carrying a sack of pennies.  The city frowned upon his method of payment and refused the money.  I thought it was hilarious and I’m saving it for a scene in one of my future manuscripts.

Another article told of a grain silo blowing up, dumping a layer of corn twelve-feet deep along the main streets of town. It even pushed a nearby home off its foundation by the rush of more than 100,000 bushels of corn.  It’s another example of odd but true and waiting to go into one of my stories.

Just recently I read an article where an author took ideas from her books from other writers.  Not in a plagiaristic way, but at the 50,000 level which she later built on. 

Your turn: Where do you get ideas from? Do you brainstorm by yourself or others?  Do you think about a song and possibly the story that could be behind it?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
or Recognizing the Hand of God

by ginger takamiya

It’s easy to recognize the hand of God when it pops out from heaven and scrawls a message on the wall from the Almighty, even if you don’t understand its meaning, as in King Belshazzar’s case. (See Daniel 5)

But would you recognize the hand of God if it came down and looked like silence, or punishment, or failure?

In the book of Acts 16:16-31 we have a story of the Apostles Paul and Silas going about doing good when a demon possessed girl comes up and shouts behind them:

 “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”
Sounds good doesn't it?

Paul finally get’s fed up with it and casts the demon out causing her to lose her fortune-telling abilities and her owners to lose money. They drag Paul and Silas into court, tell stories on them and get them flogged (that’s a bad beating) and thrown into prison.
Bad day for our boys the Apostles.

When bad things happen to us while we are moving and living in the will of God, it can sometimes rock our world. Leaving us locked up and looking hopeless.

Paul and Silas didn't let what was happening on the outside of them, nullify or overtake what God had already done on the inside of them. Though they sat in stocks with their backs raw and in all kinds of pain, they lifted up their voices to praise and worship God. Look what Acts 16:25 said happened:

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

They had no way of knowing that anyone was listening. They were in the deep part of jail, in stocks. Acts 16:26 says:

 But then suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone's chains came loose.

The jailer stood ready to kill himself but for Paul shouting:

 "Don't harm yourself! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household."

An entire household and who knows how many prisoners came to Christ that night because two men decided not to be defeated on the inside. They chose to allow the hand of God to work any way He wanted to.

Are you allowing God to work in your life?

He holds your writing career, the timing, the purpose, the results, all in His hands so stop fretting about it and do what Paul and Silas did. 


I bet you have stories where your good deed got punished or perhaps you finally recognized the hand of God in something. Please share your story below.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

From Contract to Publication...

by Patricia Bradley

It’s been a year since Revell made an offer on my romantic suspense manuscript, Shadows of the Past, and I thought readers might like to know a little of what goes on from contract to publication. So I thought I’d do a little interview with myself.

What is the question you get asked the most often?

When is your book coming out? Early on when I told the questioner it would be February 1st, their eyes would grow wide and I knew the next question that was coming. What takes so long? I don’t know why it takes a year, but I’ve noticed most Trades, (and this book is the Trade size) take about a year from turning it in until publication. But...Shadows of the Past can now be preordered on AmazonCBD, and Barnes and Noble!

During that year, Shadows of the Past went through at least 3 edits. The first with my acquisitions editor—it was actually 2 edits, then another one with the line editor, and at that point I’m thinking, but I thought you liked the book! Then a final one called the galley proofs. While I was doing the galley proof, another reader was proofing for typos.

Do you get to choose your cover?

No. I do get asked if I like it. Lol. Thankfully, Revell does really great covers. See…

So, it doesn’t look like you do much while you’re waiting for your book to come out.

Oh, but I do. I’m in contact with the marketing team and the publicist, and I’ve been busy writing the next book in the series. Just turned it in at the end of August, and received an email last week that the editor loved it. The relief I experienced actually made me sick. Wasn’t good for anything the rest of the day.

I hear horror stories about edits. Were they really bad?

I didn’t think so. I wanted my book to be the best it could be, and I figured the editors at Revell knew what it took to make it the best. Was it always easy? No! Sometimes I had to really dig deep within myself to come up with the changes my editors wanted. But, I had taken my book as far as I knew how. I was so glad to have guidance and editors knowledgeable about what it needed.

What was the hardest part of the whole process?

For me, it was reading and re-reading my manuscript. It got to a point where I was reeeeeeally sick of it. But, hopefully all that reading will help make it a better book!

Now, I have a question for you, the reader. What are you looking for when you read a book?

Patricia Bradley

I asked God to teach me patience and He gave me a book to write.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Major Changes Bring Life and Writing Growth

Delores E. Topliff

I was born in Vancouver, Washington, official end of the Oregon Trail, which, besides becoming a Christian, largely shaped my interests and goals. After college and grad school, with two sons ages 11 and 9, choosing life options included teaching in New York City or Guam, or joining committed Christians in Canada along the Alaska Hwy. where we bought inexpensive land to start a Christian community. That's what we did. We were a modern version of the Plymouth Colony eager to build a new life and culture together on an increasingly self-sufficient farm, We founded an excellent school, and ultimately a 4-year Christian college.

My family came in the second tier of arrivals. Our first summer, we peeled enough logs to build 10 cabins, including ours. We carved our names into the logs we peeled, and appreciated reading those names inside our snug comfortable homes that winter.

We became part of each other’s lives. Though that community has since segued into other locations, and some people have gone different directions, we remain close-knit friends forever.

That’s reminiscent of how the MBT Ponderers grew. We met, peeled (and signed) our works-in-progress, and formed bonded friendships closer than any of us expected when we first exchanged contact information.

Perhaps growth in life and writing is in proportion to major life changes--the bigger the effort, the bigger the payoff--plus more muscles built and lessons learned in the process. No matter the outcome, the journey is memorable--worth every effort.

No pain, no gain. Isn’t that the American Ethic? I remember in college saying, “Man scorns that which he too easily obtains.” That apparently has become my life creed. But that’s also true for our fiction characters. Readers despise the mediocre, only get involved when heroes and heroines face gut-wrenching tests and stumble, sometimes fall, but keep going forward to heart-satisfying conclusions--if not always fully happy endings.

Through life journeys, authors and readers become older and wiser. Embracing great fiction enriches our life experiences.

What about you? What life adventure and/or effort has brought you the most change or gain so far?