Michele Zumwalt: Bringing Hope and Healing through Testimony

IMG_2928In Ruby Shoes, Michele Zumwalt invites readers into her struggle to overcome prescription drug addiction. Michele gives readers hope that they too can overcome the stronghold of addiction. Her story is a powerful testimony of what God can do with a surrendered life.

Maybe you have a very personal story you need to share with the world, too. Maybe your testimony can help pull others from despair and defeat. I hope this interview with Michele will nudge you to get your story written and published so it can bring hope and healing to readers.

Addiction to prescription medications is all over the media lately. How big is the problem?

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate the chance to talk with my friends at Inspire Writers.  I have so much respect for what you do and I’m truly honored to talk with you.

Prescription drug addiction has recently been called an epidemic in America by the Department of Health & Human Services. Americans are only 4% of the world’s population and yet we take 80% of all narcotic prescription medications. More people die every year from prescription drug overdoses than from car accidents. Every 19 minutes, someone dies from a prescription drug overdose and as a Law Enforcement Chaplain in Sacramento County, I know. I’ve done far too many death notifications and witnessed too many preventable deaths just in our county alone.  Since 1999, the number of narcotic prescriptions in the US has quadrupled.  That’s why I wrote the book, Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction, to bring hope to a hopeless situation.

 

How did you become addicted to prescription drugs? How long were you addicted?

Like almost everyone who becomes addicted to prescription drugs, I was caught off guard by the addiction. Most people become addicted because of an injury or some type of chronic pain problem. I developed headaches in college and started on opiates to treat the pain.

There’s nothing social about prescription addiction. No one goes to a bar to take some prescriptions. It’s all very benign and clinical. The doctors prescribed it, and so it’s safe, right? The problem is that prescriptions are taken at home alone and when we get in trouble with these powerful drugs, we are alone with the problem. I became addicted very quickly and struggled with this addiction for years. It almost killed me.

 

At what point did you know there was a problem with your prescription drug use?

There were several ominous warnings, but I can remember one time in the hospital when they were preparing to run an MRI. I had developed a fever, which I later learned was drug fever from chronic use of opiate medications. That day in the hospital, they gave me a heavy dose of Demerol on top of what they had already given me. I overdosed and had a grand mal seizure.  When I awoke, the doctor said they would do the MRI the next day, but if there was nothing on the scan, they would have to consider that perhaps all these medications were the problem. At that point I said a prayer. I asked God to let them find something, anything, on the brain scan. As absurd as it sounds, I would rather have had six months to live with the drugs than to consider a life without them. By that point in the addiction, it was as if they were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen. That day, deep in my heart I knew that I was in real trouble.

 

How did you finally break free from the addiction?Ruby Shoes

My family intervened and put me in a treatment facility in Orange County; but honestly, it took years for me to come to terms with this problem. I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere. I was angry and resentful. I spent many years in and out of recovery. In Ruby Shoes I tried to provide the reader details about this life-and-death struggle. I believe every prescription addict faces it before they finally surrender. My final surrender came when I almost died in the ICU at Mercy Folsom Hospital. God saved me, even from myself. Chapter Eight, “What a Gift – Those Ruby Shoes” describes the turning point for me. I needed to know how much God really loved me. In my most broken and sinful place, He loved me completely. Just like Dorothy from Oz, no one could save me. My family couldn’t do it for me. I had to surrender this problem myself. I had to find and wave my white flag.

 

What advice do you have for someone reading this interview who realizes their use of prescription drugs is out of control? What can they do to escape the tornado of addiction?

The first word in the First Step is “We.” We can’t make it alone. Alone, is how we die. Together, is how we get better. Reach out and get help. Call any 12-Step support group, church, or hospital. You can even call me. My number is 916-439-7775 and my email is michele@zumwaltinc.com

 

How will reading Ruby Shoes: Surviving Prescription Drug Addiction help readers who struggle with addiction?

The Wizard of Oz is used as a metaphor to help readers relate to being lost in the strange world of addiction. That feeling of being trapped in another world with no way to get back home is the very essence of addiction. Ruby Shoes is my story about a devastating prescription addiction tornado, being lost in a foreign world, chasing brooms for fake saviors like Oz, and finally remembering the precious Gift that takes us HOME.

This book offers a personal account of the horrors of prescription addiction and a biblical, 12-Step, life application solution to the problem. Ruby Shoes takes the reader on a discovery journey that leads them to a much better place than where they began. My prayer is that those tormented by prescription drug addiction would discover they do not have to suffer alone any longer. They don’t have to die and become another sad statistic of prescription drug addiction. After reading Ruby Shoes they will know, if I can get better, anyone can.

Since my book launched a few months ago, I’ve been talking with people all across the country with similar stories of desperation.  We don’t have to continue to die in record numbers from this problem. Together, we can find our way HOME to Him.

 

Was this a hard book for you to write?

Yes, but two things made all the difference in keeping me strong, motivated, and what I’d call “writing with a purpose.” First, I had so much love and encouragement from my family.  And second, I knew that this was what God was calling me to do. My mother, Dr. Donna Perry wrote the foreword. You would love my mom. She has helped a great deal in the editing process, but more importantly she encouraged me to share my story and inspired me to do it for the Glory of God. My entire family, my husband, father, mother, and children have all been involved in everything from proof-reading to book signings. We all see this book as a ministry to help people and God has a role for each of us to play.

 

In a 12-step program, you had anonymity. No one outside your recovery group needed to know what you were battling. Was your decision to go public difficult? Were you ever concerned about “coming out” about the topic?

No. After so many years of working as a Law Enforcement Chaplain and seeing so many senseless deaths from prescription addiction, each year more than the last, I knew this story of hope needed to be told. The loss and devastation of so many lives gave me the courage I needed to trust God completely and not worry so much about what my husband calls, “the look good.” We just decided to use this book to speak the truth, trust Him, and love and serve all His children.

 

Tell me about your writing process.

Writing begins and ends for me with prayer. So, I started by asking God about the idea of telling my story. There’s a short story in Chapter One about how He, very directly, answered those prayers for me one day. Then, I began a process of intentionally praying for the audience. This was years before the book was finally published, but God already knew who would read it someday. It’s comforting to know that long ago, I spent so much time praying for each person reading my book today. God has a plan and a purpose for each life.

Next, I prayed for an approach to tell the story in a way that people, some of whom have never been addicted, could relate to the struggle. The idea of using The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor came to me during one of those prayers.  The actual writing of the book was done in much the same way. I would pray about a story or an idea and then write it. Usually, I didn’t even know where it would go in the book. At some point, God began to help me see the chapters and how the stories fit into the chapters. There was great deal of writing, perhaps a whole second book, which didn’t make the final cut.  All of those stories, I collected into a folder I called, “Cut from Ruby Shoes.” I don’t know what God wants to do with all that writing, but I know He is the Master of taking our messes and making them messages. So, don’t ever throw your writing away.  You never know what He’s up to next. J

 

How long did it take to write this book?

The whole process from the beginning prayers to final publication took about six years.  It’s a small book, only about 40,000 words, but it’s my first book and, as you know, it is a very personal story. This was my journey with Jesus and He didn’t rush me.

 

What obstacles did you overcome while writing Ruby Shoes?

Mostly, I just had to get myself out of the way. I keep trying to make the story more general in nature, trying to be inclusive. For example, talking in general terms about my higher power. But in the end, my mom reminded me that I needed to tell my story, even if it’s not for everyone. So, I wrote it true and now I know, that it is for everyone.  We all get lost sometimes, lost in food, spending, shopping, even Netflix or Facebook. We all wander away from God.  Sometimes we feel trapped or so lost that we know we might never get back home. But, we’ve all been given a free gift–Jesus. He died for all of us. No matter what happens, He has given us a precious gift which takes us Home.

 

Were there any surprises along the publication journey?

If you feel that your book is God-Inspired, never take no for an answer. For months after my manuscript was complete, I approached many agents and publishers. I heard nothing at all. So, we took the self-publishing leap of faith and I’m so glad we did! I was surprised that Ruby Shoes launched as the #1 Hot New Release on Amazon in all three categories. As I write these words, four months since the launch, Ruby Shoes is the #3 book on Amazon’s Best Seller list in the Christian Recovery and Counseling category and in the top 10 Best Seller books for Substance Abuse Recovery. The self-publishing world has opened the doors for every writer to reach his or her audience.

If you have a passion for what you are doing and you love marketing, which I do, (it was my major in college) then you have the opportunity to write a best-selling book! I’ve also been amazed at how, when you are called to write, God puts all these other people who are called to write around you. I’m pretty sure He does that because He wants us to love and encourage each other as we seek to do His will through writing. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:11) It’s the we thing again.

 

What advice do you have for an aspiring author who has a deeply personal story to share?

Pray. Seek His will in this and in everything. If you have a deeply personal story to share, it is very important to have people in your life who keep you honest and who support and encourage your writing. Surround yourself with other Christian writers who are trying to do the same thing. Finally, remember that our broken world NEEDS your story. We need more Christian writers to demonstrate how it’s done…not perfectly, but with perfect forgiveness and love. I’m praying for my fellow Inspire Writers as we seek to demonstrate God’s love and mercy for this broken world. May our works inspire others to seek and do His will and may we always remember to give God the glory. (see Matthew 6:33)

Ruby Shoes is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble

What questions do you have for Michele? Join the conversation in the comments section below.

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beth_thompson brightElizabeth M. Thompson hosts weekly Open Studio writing times in her home because she loves to write in a quiet house filled with other creatives creating. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Elizabeth blogs about overcoming on her website and can be found on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to connect with her.

Why Should Authors Invest in School Visits?

An Author Interview with Marci Seither, Kathy Boyd Fellure, and Jeanette Hanscome

Authors are encouraged to know their target audience and connect with the readers who will be buying their books. These tasks become a little more complicated for the writers of children’s books. Their readers may not be able to buy their books, or attend the industry standard book launches or signings.

Marci Seither, Kathy Boyd Fellure, and Jeanette Hanscome are three authors who understand the need to reach their young audiences in creative ways.

This year, they’ll be putting their books right into the little hands of their readers by participating in an Author Day at a local elementary school.

Marci Seither, the organizer of this fun event, has written hundreds of articles for local and national publications, including Guideposts magazine. She is also the author of The Adventures of Pearly Monroe (2014), Empty Nest: Strategies to Help Your Kids Take Flight (2014) and Pumper John

.Marci Seither - Author Photo by Ocean - June 2014     Marci Seither - Book Cover - Pearley Monroe

 

Kathy Boyd Fellure is the author of Nana’s Tin of Buttons, When the Birdies Came to Tea, Bear Cub Adventure, and Mr. Snowman Ate Our Picnic Lunch. She’s celebrating the upcoming 2016 summer release of The Misadventures of Jake and Missy, illustrated by Donna Plant. Her novels include a Tahoe Trilogy, and her current work in progress, Across the Pond.

Kathy Boyd Fellure Author Photo RESIZED 2 Jan 2016    Kathy Boyd Fellure - Casewrap Snowman Book Cover RESIZED

Jeanette Hanscome is the author of six books, including titles published through Focus on the Family and Running with Roselle, the story of Michael Hingson and the guide dog who led him to safety down 78 flights of stairs at the World Trade Center. Her devotional Suddenly Single Mom: 52 Messages of Hope, Grace, and Promise will be published by Worthy Inspired in March 2016.

Jeanette Hanscome Author Photo 2015     Jeanette Hanscome - Running with Roselle - Book Cover

The week before their Author Day in Sacramento, Marci, Kathy, and Jeanette blessed me with an interview and shared the valuable purposes and rewards of school visits.

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Why should children’s book authors consider investing their time in school visits?

Marci: Going into schools allows us to connect directly with our readers. It is also important to encourage the next generation of storytellers. Who knows? Maybe one day I will read a book written by one of the kids I encouraged. After seeing the impact that a handful of authors had on one school, I wondered how it would affect the next generation of storytellers if 100 Christian writers visited 100 classrooms filled with students who need to know their own stories are worth sharing.

Kathy:  During school visits, bridges are built that not only reignite the students’ desire to read, but offer the tools to help a younger generation make personal contact with someone to show them they also can write and/or illustrate books.

Jeanette: School visits show students that everyday people can write books. In this technology-driven, fast-faced society, it benefits them to learn that writing a book is a process−that it takes a lot of time and thought and planning and hard work. These visits also create readers. Something about personal connection makes a book more attractive and fun.

 

Kathy Boyd Fellure - School Visit Photo - RESIZEDHow do you feel during or after a school visit?

Marci: I feel so humbled as I look into their eager and excited faces. Last year was our first year to set up an Author Day. The school held a few assemblies and then the authors rotated classrooms the rest of the day. This year we have a bigger team and are really focusing in on the different aspects of the writing craft. It is going to be interactive and a BLAST!

Kathy: I spend time in prayer before and after school visits. I learn so much from students when I listen to their stories. I am always grateful and touched by the depth of their interest and respect. Afterward, I am overflowing with hope for a new generation of future writers and illustrators!

Jeanette: School visits always encourage and energize me. Is it okay to admit that it’s fun to be treated like a rock star? It’s just sweet! But more than that, I enjoy inspiring children to love reading and great stories. I love hearing their stories and questions, and sensing their interest. Afterward I try to predict which kids will probably become writers themselves.

 

Please share one priceless moment from a school visit.

Marci: I surprised a class that had just finished reading my book, The Adventures of Pearley Monroe. The class had done art projects depicting their favorite scenes from my book. The wall was covered with a timeline of the events of the story. Students wrote reports based on the historical facts I had put in the book. It was my goal to help kids fall in love with history, and I was seeing the result in a way I could never have imagined. I shared that sometimes it takes a long time to work toward your dream. I LOVED seeing their faces when I told them that everyone has a story worth sharing, including them.

Kathy: On a school visit, a student asked me to marry him. He proposed after I read When the Birdies Came to Tea to his class. He took my hand in his when he very sincerely and politely asked me, then waited for my answer. It was sweet beyond measure, but I explained I was already married. Though he was disappointed, he told me his dreams of being an author one day too. That I could encourage!

Jeanette Hanscome Book Signing with Student 2015Jeanette: During my last school visit, every child who’d paid for a book in advance got to come to the library after lunch for a book signing. At the end of the day a little boy came in and asked, “Is it too late to buy a book?” He held out a crumpled wad of cash. The vice-principal reminded him that he was supposed to order the books ahead of time. In a rare moment of boldness, I asked, “Which book were you hoping for?” He looked up at me and said, “The one about the dog.” I told him I had an extra copy in my tote bag. The vice-principal patted the boy on the shoulder. “Well, it looks like this is your lucky day.” Signing my spare copy of Running with Roselle for this young man felt special–like God knew he needed to be able to buy a book on Authors Day. I sold 60 books that day, but signing his book meant the most to me.

 

Marci, how can other children’s book authors join you in reaching out to their very special target audience by investing their time in school visits?

If you’re interested in inspiring students in your area, email me at marci_seither@yahoo.com so we can build a team of 100 Christian writers dedicated to encouraging students in 100 schools in 2017.

 

Thank you for sharing your experiences with our readers, Marci, Kathy, and Jeanette. I look forward to hearing what God does through your team during next year’s Author Day.

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Author Photo 2011 - Use for BIOSXochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to embrace grace and deepen their relationships with God and others. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, Devo ‘Zine, in three Inspire anthologies, and at www.xedixon.com.

 

 

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Why Every Writer Needs a Writing Coach

An Interview with Sandra Byrd

PR PhotoDuring my writing journey, I’ve been blessed by several professional writers who have invested in me and challenged me to hone my craft with excellence. One of my writing mentors, Sandra Byrd, is a bestselling and award-winning author of over four dozen books. She’s currently celebrating the release of her historical novel Mist of Midnight and The One Year Home and Garden Devotions.

Sandra has gleaned a wealth of experience from years as a successful writer of contemporary and historical adult fiction, teen and tween novels, and devotionals for adults and tweens. She’s mentored, edited, and coached hundreds of aspiring writers toward fulfilling their dreams of traditional or independent publication.

During our interview, Sandra Byrd offered valuable insight and encouragement to writers who may be considering teaming up with a writing coach.

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Would you please describe the role of a professional writing coach?

To me, a coach is someone who comes alongside at any stage of the work to plot, strategize, teach or correct technique, read and then brainstorm content solutions, point out what is working well and where a writer’s strengths lie. Finally, coaches encourage authors through the finish line!

 

What’s included in a typical coaching program?

Every coach works differently, but my coaching program includes two hours together every week – one reading and editing, one personal coaching via online meeting or phone.

mist-of-midnight-201x300

 

Are there any steps a writer should take before investing in a coach?

I partner with writers at any stage of their careers. All that’s required is the dedication to see things through, which is one reason my initial coaching package requires a three-month commitment. After 13 weeks, you’ll have made so much progress you’ll be in love with your book!

 

How can a writer get the most out of their coaching experience?

Commitment to the craft and passion for their calling propels writers through the, “I can’t do this” and “my work is no good” periods we all go through.

Carefully consider feedback. You won’t always agree with the comments, but be willing to find out why a character, incidence, or plot thread was flagged. I encourage writers to be willing to listen to critique – but also, to be confident in their ability to discern what editorial guidance works for them and which does not.

 

What can a professional writing coach or mentor offer that an average critique group can’t provide?

I love my critique partners. But early in a career, writers’ critique buddies are likely to have little or no publishing experience. A professional coach is like a surgeon who has successfully performed a particular operation hundreds of times.  A coach can dedicate hours to your work each week. Our critique partners have books, and lives, of their own which may preclude that.

 

What can a coaching relationship offer that writing conferences or workshops can’t provide?

When you walk away from a conference, you usually can’t send your ideas, chapters, or the full manuscript back to the teacher for feedback. A professional coach works with you to build your confidence and strengthen your skills and story within your individual, unique book.  If something’s not working, you’ll figure it out together.

 

What makes a good writing coach?

A good coach cannot and should not promise a best-seller, representation by an agent, publication, or a book that will never receive a critical review.  No editor or author can promise this.

Rather, a good coach should help you develop your book a full grade or two stronger than it is when you bring it to her.  She should also work herself out of her job with you. You’ll improve your skills through this one-one-one teaching and be ready for your next book, and she’ll move on to the next writer, though each and every book will need an editor.

Devo Cover

 

What can a coach offer a writer who has a completed, or partially completed, manuscript?

I offer developmental editing. I’m here to help you “novel remodel” into a solid, unforgettable story.  I will carefully read your manuscript, marking it with many track changes and also summing things up in a ten or so page editorial letter. I have refined fiction editing to twelve to twenty elements that I think need to be carefully addressed before publication.

Our main goal is to make your book shine.

 

How have you been blessed by serving as writing coach and mentor?

I’m not the first to say it, but I consider myself a manuscript midwife. It’s your baby, but I get to help you deliver it safely, strongly, into the world, and encourage you while you do!  It’s such a pleasure for me when I see clients offer their amazing books, proudly, to a new and then growing readership.

 

What would you say to a writer who is hesitant about committing to the investment of working with a writing coach or mentor?

It is a commitment, there is no doubt, of   time, emotions, intellect, and resources.  It’s not right for everyone, and there is a right time in your life when you can whole-heartedly commit.

The Lord encourages us to count the costs (Luke 14:28), and I think that is good advice here, too.  But, also, I’m often reminded of the biblical admonition that I shall not offer my lord anything that costs me nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). I want to offer my best. I keep that in mind when I’m struggling with a book and need to set time aside for work or commit resources toward my research and editorial expenses.

There’s never going to be a time for any of us when we have lots of extra time, energy and money and nothing to do with them.  You have to leap!

 

Thanks for your faithfulness in encouraging and equipping aspiring writers to inspire the world through the written word.

Thank you for inviting me to share.

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Sandra Byrd has a few slots open in her 2016 coaching calendar and is offering a one-time special offer for Inspire blog readers.

Mention the Inspire blog special, and sign a contract before April 1, 2016, to receive 10% off any three-month coaching or editing program. (Click HERE to read what past clients are saying about the benefits of teaming up with Sandra.)

You can connect with Sandra through the comments section on the day of this post and through her author website, her coaching website, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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Xochi DixonXochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to embrace grace, as they deepen their relationships with God and others. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, ENCOUNTER—The Magazine, Devo ‘Zine, in three Inspire anthologies, and at www.xedixon.com.

 

 

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So, You Think You Can Make Readers Laugh?

Interview with Author Erin Taylor Young

Erin Taylor Young and Henry - Author Photo - June 2015 Writing humor isn’t for cowards. Like comedians onstage at the Improv, humor writers don’t really know if their audience will laugh in all the right places, chuckle at just the right time, smile and nod in agreement, or scratch their heads in confusion.

Award winning author Erin Taylor Young tickles funny bones with ease as she shares her faith one giggle at a time. Her debut book, Surviving Henry, was chosen as the Nonfiction Book of the Month by the The Book Club Network’s Readers’ Choice Awards and is a finalist in the Published Memoir category in the 2015 Oregon Christian Writers Cascade Awards.

Please join me in welcoming Erin as she shares her insight on writing humor.

Xochi: Congratulations on the release of Surviving Henry, Erin. Please tell us how you came to write about your hilarious experiences with your adorable Boxer.

Erin:  Early in Henry’s ludicrous string of near-death fiascoes, I remember thinking: Oh. My. Gosh. People will never believe the stuff this dog does. I oughta be writing it down…

Like that would prove it really happened or something?

So I guess in part I just wanted to have a record of it. But I don’t think that alone would’ve been sufficient to make me torture myself at the keyboard day after day, trying to turn words into coherent sentences. I think it really boiled down to a nudge from God. He gave me the most ridiculous and difficult dog in maybe the whole wide world, and there came a point where I couldn’t not write about it.

And when readers tell me their trials and escapades, and how much the book helped them to know they’re not alone with their crazy—and sometimes very hard—pet struggles, well, then I’m really glad I wrote it all down.

Xochi: Have you always considered yourself a humor writer?

Erin: I never saw myself turning into a writer, let alone a humor writer. I wanted to be a composer, but God had other ideas. Which is good, because it turns out that I’m not a very talented musician.

What I do have is a life filled with “Oh, sure, it’s funny now” stories—the kind you wish happened to other people instead of you. Writing about them feels like a natural consequence, like I’m just playing the hand I’ve been dealt.

Xochi: How can writers determine if they have the knack for writing humor?

Erin: If people laugh at what you write, that’s a pretty good tip-off. And I mean laugh in a funny ha-ha way, not in a “bless your heart that’s terrible” way.

Xochi: What are the pros and cons of identifying yourself as a humor writer?

Erin Taylor Young - Surviving Henry Book Cover - June 2015

Surviving Henry: Adventures in Loving a Canine Catastrophe

Erin: You know, in the case of humor branding, I think it’s better to let that label happen naturally.

I can say anything I want about my writing, but it won’t mean much if readers, editors, and other industry professionals don’t agree.

I wrote a guest post for The Steve Laube Agency Blog about this very thing. And yes, it’s an “Oh sure, it’s funny now” story involving the first time I met Steve Laube and how I didn’t know I was a humor writer.

Xochi: What are your top tips for humor writers?

Erin:

1. Don’t let anyone change your voice. It’s the most important tool you have. That doesn’t mean you avoid being edited, it means you know yourself well enough to know when your voice is getting stripped away.

2. Find a critique partner who gets you and your humor, and who’s willing to always push you toward excellence.

3. Be natural, but deliberate. Pay attention to how humor works, and the beauty of the unexpected. Make every word and every punctuation mark work for its place.

Xochi: What pitfalls should aspiring humor writers avoid?

Erin: There will be people out there who just don’t get your humor. Be okay with that.

I don’t love every comic out there, or every humor writer—even some that other people laugh at like crazy. So it’s reasonable to expect some people won’t like me. It doesn’t mean I’m a lousy humor writer. Even the greatest baseball players never bat a thousand. Humor writers don’t either. Not with individual jokes, and not with their writing as a whole.

Work on pleasing the readers who get your humor, and don’t feel bad about those who don’t.

Xochi: What would you like to say to those brave souls who may be on the verge calling themselves humor writers?

Erin: If you’ve had multiple people (and not just your mom or your best friend) identify and confirm this gift in you, then go for it!

Be strong and courageous. You have a unique, fun, creative perspective on life, and it’s time to unleash it on the world!

Xochi: Thanks for inspiring us with your contagious joy and charming sense of humor, Erin.

Erin: Thanks for inviting me, Xochi!

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You can enjoy a faith-filled life with a laugh when you connect with Erin on Facebook, Twitter, on her website, or by subscribing to her blog.

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Are you a humorous writer? Join the conversation by leaving a comment or question below.

Xochi DixonWith a heart for loving God, loving people, and nurturing spiritual growth, Xochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to experience the fragrance of God’s presence through prayerful study and application of His Holy Word at www.xedixon.com.

 

 

The Art of Writing Romance Novels

An Interview with Author Keli Gwyn

Keli Gwyn Historical Author Photo June 2014A good love story keeps readers turning pages as they cheer for characters who struggle to overcome the obstacles that keep them apart. Yet not many writers realize the complexity of writing romance novels.

Award winning author Keli Gwyn delights readers with relatable characters, unexpected plot twists, surprising humor and tender love stories. Her debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, won first place in the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Awards.

Please welcome Keli Gwyn as she celebrates her latest release, a Love Inspired Historical title, Family of Her Dreams, and shares about the art of writing romance novels.

Xochi: Thank you for joining us, Keli. Congratulations on your newest release. Would you please tell us a little bit about the fun event you have planned to celebrate the launch of your first Love Inspired novel, Family of Her Dreams?

Keli: Thanks for inviting me, Xochi. It’s great to be here.

I’m exited about the event, which takes place this coming Sunday (details below). My Book Release Party is being held at the very railroad station in Shingle Springs where the (fictional) hero of my story, Spencer Abbott, is stationmaster. It’s where he meets Tess Grimsby, the headstrong woman who will become his housekeeper.

My guests will be able to purchase the book, enjoy refreshments and browse in the quaint Antique Depot shop operating in the historic building still standing today. In addition, the Western El Dorado Railroad will be offering rides that day for a nominal fee.

Xochi: Celebrating the novel release at the same train station your fictional characters meet sounds exciting. What role do setting and time period play in romance novels?

Keli: The setting, especially real ones like I use, can bring a historic location to life in readers’ minds. Through the descriptions sprinkled in a story, they can travel to a new place. Depending on the period the author has chosen, readers will experience what life was like at that particular time. For example, Shingle Springs is a sleepy small town these days, but in 1865 when Family of Her Dreams begins, it was home to one of the busiest rail depots in the state. Readers will see a bustling community that played an important role in California’s history.

Xochi: What are the most important elements of a good romance novel?

Keli: Creating likable characters readers want to spend time with is important in any story. In a romance we must go beyond that and show the deepening relationship between the hero and heroine. In inspirational romance, we focus primarily on the couple’s emotional journey rather than physical attraction. There are kisses, of course, and we inpsy authors learn how to get the most out of them. 😉

Xochi: What should writers be wary of when crafting their love stories?Keli Gwyn Book Cover - Family of Her Dreams  - June 2015

Keli: It’s important to remember that a romance is first and foremost about the relationship between the hero and heroine. Plot is important, but the focus needs to be on the couple and their journey to the Happy Ever After, which romance readers expect and eagerly await.

Xochi: Please share a few tips on developing the perfect couple for a romance novel.

Keli: Our heroes and heroines need to be strong characters. They’re bigger than life. Readers don’t want to read about ordinary people. They want stories about extraordinary people. It’s important to show attraction, but there can and should be sparks at times. Readers want to see how a couple handles the many obstacles we writers throw at them. In inspirational romances, readers want to see the role faith plays in the hero and heroine’s lives as well.

Xochi: What stereotypes should writers avoid?

Keli: Readers want characters with depth. Cowboys are a reader favorite in the Love Inspired Historical Line, but if a LIH author creates a cowboy hero, he has to have traits and characteristics that set him apart. If he acts and sounds like a stereotypical cowboy, he won’t endear himself to readers.

Although our heroines are strong women, they are unique. Each heroine has to become a real, distinct person in a reader’s mind. A heroine has to be someone the reader relates to, admires and might even want to be more like.

Xochi: What should writers keep in mind when plotting a romance novel?

Keli: Keeping the couple together is key. Most scenes should include the hero and heroine. Each scene should advance the story and not be episodic. The turning points and Black Moment should relate to the couple and their relationship. The external plot needs to be there, but the romance takes top billing.

Xochi: Would you please explain the concept of the Black Moment?

Keli: The Black Moment comes just before the end of a story. It’s that point in time when everything appears to be falling apart.

In a romance it takes place when the hero and heroine appear to have resolved all their issues. However, something comes along that makes it seemingly impossible for them to end up together. All is lost–or so they think.

In The Sound of Music Maria realizes she’s fallen for the Captain and returns to the abbey confused and conflicted. The Mother Abbess convinces Maria the only way to resolve things is to go back and face her fears–and the Captain. She does, arriving filled with hope of a future with the man she loves. But then comes the Black Moment: the Captain is already engaged. There’s no way Maria’s dream can come true. Of course, it does, but before it does the reader/viewer experiences the pain of dashed hopes along with Maria. The Black Moment makes the long-awaited Happy Ever After that much sweeter.

Xochi: What sets apart a romance novel from a novel that has romantic elements?

Keli: In a romance novel, the developing relationship is the primary focus of the story, taking precedence over the external plot. In a novel with strong romantic elements, the romance is there, but it is secondary. Think of The Sound of Music. If you removed the romance between Captain VonTrapp and Maria, the story wouldn’t be the gem it is. This classic movie has stood the test of time not because it’s a great WWII story, but because it’s a wonderfully satisfying romance.

Xochi: What advice would you give an aspiring romance novelist?

Keli: Read plenty of romances to see how other authors craft a story. Then sit down and have fun writing yours.

Let the words flow freely. Don’t expect your first romance to be a work of genius. Allow yourself time to learn and grow as a writer without putting undue pressure on yourself. Spend time studying craft. When others knowledgeable about the romance genre tell you you’re ready to put your work out there, begin querying.

Xochi: Thank you for joining us, Keli. I look forward to reading Family of Her Dreams.

Keli: Thank you so much for hosting me, Xochi, and for asking such insightful questions. You really made me think. :-)

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Visit Keli’s website to connect with her and purchase copies of her books. You can also find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Please join us to celebrate the release of Family of Her Dreams on Sunday, June 14, 2015 at the Antique Depot, 4241 Mother Lode Drive in Shingle Springs, California, from 11 am to 2:30 pm.

Call the Antique Depot at (530) 677-5542 with questions.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Xochi DixonWith a heart for loving God, loving people, and nurturing spiritual growth, Xochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to experience the fragrance of God’s presence through prayerful study and application of His Holy Word at www.xedixon.com.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Cover art and cover copy text used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license

Everlene’s Sky

How A Letter to a Sailor Ignited a Lifelong Friendship and a New Book

While serving in the Navy, aboard an aircraft carrrier in the Persian Gulf, Michael Russo received a letter from a stranger. That letter was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and the catalyst for his debut novel, Everlene’s Sky.

 

I interviewed Michael about his friendship with Everlene and the book he just launched, a novelization of her life story.

Here are some of the questions I posed to Michael:

  • Tell me about the first time Everlene made contact with you.
  • What propelled you to write back to her?
  • How did her correspondence impact you.
  • At what point did you start thinking, “Hey, this would make a great book”?
  • And when did you start writing it?
  • Prior to this, had you written for publication?
  • Describe your writing process.
  • How involved was Everlene in the process?
  • The title, Everlene’s Sky, comes from a quote from Everlene. Can you share that quote and why you used it for your book title?
  • Describe your publishing process.
  • How has the book been received so far?
  • What are you doing to help promote Everlene’s Sky?
  • What would you say to someone who’s in that place where you were–they have an interesting book idea and are at the beginning of the writing and publishing process. What have you learned that you can pass along?

Be sure to watch the 700 Club segment about Everlene Brewer and her unique ministry to U.S. service men and women.

You can connect with Michael Russo via Facebook or Twitter.

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Have you had an encounter with a stranger that became a subject of your writing? Tell us about it.

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beth_thompsonElizabeth M Thompson loves stories–fiction and nonfiction alike. Mostly, she loves God’s story and seeks to share with readers how they fit into it. When she’s not reading, writing, or serving the Inspire writers, she can be found along the American River, pedaling her bike, paddling a kayak or walking hand-in-hand with her husband Mike. Connect with Elizabeth on her blog, Facebook or Twitter. She loves to connect with other writers!

Self-Publish Like a Pro with Lara Van Hulzen

Most of us want to write books that makes a positive impression on our readers–maybe even a life-changing impression. In order to accomplish that, we need to ensure the books we write are published professionally, whether we publish through a traditional publisher or choose to self-publish. If you’ve ever considered self-publishing, you’ll want to learn how to self-publish like a pro.

I’m impressed with the way Inspire writer Lara Van Hulzen approaches self-publishing. Her books look and read like they’re traditionally published. So, I interviewed her about her self-publishing process to find out what she does. Here are the questions I asked her.

About Self-Publishing:

  • With so many publishing options, why did you choose the indie publishing route?
  • When did you decide to self-publish?
  • What was your first step?
  • Your book is very polished. Tell us about your editing process.
  • Did you do the formatting yourself or did you hire someone for that?
  • Your covers are gorgeous! How important is it to have a professionally-designed cover?
  • How did you find a great cover artist?
  • Your second book, Get to Me just released. What did you do differently with it?

About Marketing:

  • What steps are you taking to market your books? Are you working with a publicist or a launch team?
  • What have you learned about marketing since you started this publication journey?
  • You’ve received some great reviews on Amazon and other sites. What advice can you give writers seeking reviews of their self-published titles?
  • What has surprised you the most so far in your publishing journey?
  • Any last words of advice for writers who plan to self-publish?

RememberMegettome3If you’re in the Greater Sacramento area, be sure to stop by Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills on Saturday, April 25 from 4-6pm for a book launch and signing party.

You can find Lara at LaraMVanHulzen.com and sign up for her newsletter.

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What questions do you have for Lara? Leave them in the comments for a chance to win a copy of either Remember Me or Get to Me. We’ll draw a winner on Friday, April 24th.

Sharing Your Painful Past with a Universal Audience

Many people have experienced God’s power, mercy, and redeeming grace in amazing ways. The Lord transforms lives as His people courageously testify about the things He’s done in and through their circumstances.

Sometimes, our sharing is done in an intimate setting. Sometimes, writers pour out their hearts in a book.

JaneThe Lord prepared Jane S. Daly to write Because of Grace from the moment doctors diagnosed her son with cancer, through the grieving process following his death, and in the refuge of His peace from which she shares her journey with others.

Please join me in welcoming Jane as she reminds writers that, no matter how large the audience, a personal testimony is a gift that can be life-changing when placed into the hands of our Almighty God.

Xochi: Thank you for sharing your testimony in your debut book, Because of Grace. Please share the keys to making a personal story relevant to universal audience.

Jane: There’s a saying, “No tears from the writer, no tears from the reader.” Being vulnerable is the most important part of telling your story. People want to know how you dealt with the bad stuff, and receive encouragement from you. Otherwise, it’s just preaching.

Xochi: What was the most challenging part of writing your personal story in a way that would be relevant to a universal audience?

Jane: The most challenging part, period, was reliving all those emotions. Anger, grief, denial, bitterness. Everyone experiences pain, and exposing that pain is where others can relate to your story.

BecauseofGraceXochi: How did you determine if your testimony should be shared through an article or blog post, a series of articles or blog posts, or a nonfiction book?

Jane: I began blogging when Bobby was first diagnosed. I wrote a couple of articles which I submitted for publication. An editor suggested I write a book about my journey, so I pulled much of the content from my journal, blog, and articles.

Xochi: Why is it important for writers to be emotionally and spiritually ready to share their painful past in such a permanent public form?

Jane: We need to know that our fellow Christians don’t have it all together. So often we put on our Sunday faces, and never let people know the painful things we’re going through. It’s encouraging when we find out how God is helping others who are suffering, too. For instance, I was asked to write an article about a woman who was kidnapped and raped. She appeared very together at church, and no one would have ever known about her ordeal. Because she chose to reveal it, other women were emboldened to come forward and receive healing.

Xochi: How can a writer tell if they’re ready to publish their story for a universal audience?

Jane: Critique groups, such as Inspire Christian Writers offers, are invaluable. We write in a vacuum, so having others read our work helps keep things in perspective. They catch grammar problems, continuity, and universal appeal. I LOVE my critique group ladies.

Xochi: If a writer feels ready to share their testimony in a book, what can they do to be better prepared for the process?

Jane: Know that it won’t be easy. Be prepared for tears. Be prepared to want to abandon the project. Be prepared for God to bring things up that you didn’t realize you still needed to deal with.

Xochi: Please share a final word of encouragement for writers who think they might be ready to share their painful past with a universal audience.

Jane: If you think you’re ready to write your story, gather a couple of people around you and ask for their prayers. Ask them if you can rely on them for encouragement when you want to give up. I started a Facebook group called “Fire Pit People.” We share our ups and downs, frustrations and temptations. We support each other, and occasionally virtually slap each other upside the head.

Xochi: Thank you for inspiring us to write with courage and transparency, Jane.

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Celebrate the release of Because of Grace on Saturday, April 25th from 1-4pm at the Edgwood Clubhouse, 5700 Spyglass Lane, Citrus Heights. Come and get your signed copy, visit with the author and enjoy refreshments!

To connect with Jane, please visit her website, subscribe to her blog, or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Please also take a moment to pray readers will experience hope and healing, like Jane, Because of Grace.

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Xochi DixonWith a heart for loving God, loving people, and nurturing spiritual growth, Xochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to experience the fragrance of God’s presence through prayerful study and application of His Holy Word at www.xedixon.com.

 

The Benefits of Writing with a Focus Group: An Author Interview with Joanne Kraft

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work; If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (Eccl. 4:9-10).

 

Joanne Kraft Author PhotoWriters who work the majority of their time in isolation can understand the value of community and relate to King Solomon’s words.

When writing a book, authors usually present their own ideas and support their information with Scripture and quotes from other books. However, some writers, like Joanne Kraft, have discovered the benefits of focus groups made up of people who fit their target audience.

Please help me welcome Joanne, as she shares how a focus group helped form her latest book, The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids.

Xochi: Congratulations on your newest release, Joanne. Please tell us a little bit about The Mean Moms Guide.

Joanne:  Thanks so much for having me! The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids is my newest nonfiction parenting book. It encourages marshmallow moms (softies) to stay the course and keep loving boundaries—especially when parenting is hard.

 

Xochi: What are the benefits of working with the focus group as you write a nonfiction book?

Joanne:  When I signed my contract for The Mean Mom’s Guide I knew I’d need help. With a title like “mean mom”, well, I wanted to have a lot of support from other moms. I used my social media to ask women if they’d be interested in joining “The Mean Mom Team.” I wanted to gather moms and hear what they had to say about things like technology, entitlement and how to maneuver sibling rivalry.

 

Xochi: What are the greatest challenges in working with focus groups?

Joanne: For me, the toughest part was older moms weren’t as well represented as the younger moms in my focus group. Since I drew my focus group from social media, the older generation of moms (moms of adult kids) weren’t as interested in a parenting book as younger moms were.

 

Final Cover The Mean Moms Guider_editedXochi: Please describe the process required by publishers when using focus groups.

Joanne: Each publishing house is different. You’d have to contact your editor and see what they say, or refer back to your contract for that information.

 

Xochi: What, if anything, are authors expected to do for the members of their focus groups?

Joanne: The number one thing? Communicate. I made sure these moms knew the private group they were joining was for The Mean Mom’s Guide. They knew when I asked questions that their answers were part of my research and anything they shared might be used in my book. I made that clear. When my galley copies arrived I went back to my focus group numerous times and shared each mom’s quotes and let them know which chapters they’d be in.

 

Xochi: Why should nonfiction writers consider working with focus groups?

Joanne: I never thought I must have a “focus group.” It was an organic process the Lord made into something better than I’d ever imagined. These women have encouraged me so much this year. I pray for these women and want their faith to grow deeper, just as I would if I was facilitating a ministry face-to-face in church.

 

Xochi: In what ways did having a focus group benefit your writing process?

Joanne: The better you know your target audience the better chance at providing a solid manuscript/written resource. If you struggle to know who your audience is or what they’re all about, then a focus group for your next project might be a great benefit.

 

Xochi: What happens to the group after you complete your manuscript?

Joanne: The Mean Mom Team became so engaged with one another over the past year that when my book came out it was natural to offer them the chance to be a part of my book launch team. I’m using my same group space on Facebook to run my book launch.

We’ve been together for over a year now. They’re helping me get the word out about my book through social media. I’m also reading through the book with them. On Saturdays we have “Prayer & Praise” where we pray for one another and rejoice in the blessings they’ve experienced, too.

When the launch is over I’ll go back to using it for ministry with these women.

 

Xochi: Are there any circumstances where focus groups would not be helpful?

Joanne: If you’re a writer who struggles with criticism a focus group may not be for you. When you open the door wide for lots of people (who aren’t writers) to tell you what they think, a focus group may not be a good choice.

 

Xochi: Please offer our nonfiction writers a final word of encouragement.

Joanne: Inspire Christian Writers was one of my very first steps toward publication. The value of being around writers weekly is immeasurable. If you’re in an Inspire group—keep going. If you’re not in a group yet—find one. If you’re frustrated over edits—keep writing. If you’re discouraged about rejections—ask Inspire friends for prayer. Whatever you do, don’t give up. If God can use me He can use anyone.

 

Xochi: Thank you for joining us, Joanne. I’m looking forward to buying The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids as a gift for all the moms I love.

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To connect with Joanne, please visit her website, “like” her Facebook Author Page, follow her on Twitter, and subscribe to her blog. And when you’re buying your copy of The Mean Moms Guide, please don’t forget to buy a copy for another mom who needs encouragement through biblical wisdom presented with delightful humor.

Would you like to read an excerpt of The Mean Mom’s Guide? Sign up for Joanne’s monthly Newsletter and she’ll provide an excerpt!

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Xochi DixonWith a heart for loving God, loving people, and nurturing spiritual growth, Xochi (so-she) E. Dixon encourages and equips women to experience the fragrance of God’s presence through prayerful study and application of His Holy Word at www.xedixon.com.

 

Joanne Kraft Launches The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids

Today is launch day for Joanne Kraft’s second book, The Mean Mom’s Guide to Raising Great Kids. We had loads of fun talking about the book and her writing passion. Here’s the interview of our time together.

 

Elizabeth M. Thompson writes from her experiences as a Bible teacher, wife, mother and grief navigator. She enjoys speaking at writer’s conferences and women’s ministry events. Elizabeth serves on the Inspire Christian Writers Board. Her publication credits include articles published by Focus on the Family, Today’s Christian, and contributions to several compilations.