Appalachian Blessings on Sale

blessingsLeading up to the release of The Christmas Heirloom on October 2, my publisher has put some of my books on sale. You can currently get the digital editions of Miracle in a Dry Season for $0.99, Until the Harvest for $1.99, and A Tapestry of Secrets for $2.99 (or less!).

The stories follow three generations of the Phillips family through the trials and tribulations of love and faith from the 1940s to present day. If you’ve read one of the earlier books, this is a great time to snag the follow-up stories!

 

Contests–It’s all relative . . .

Rita. . . or do I mean subjective?

I got scores back from RWA last week. (That’s Romance Writers of America.) I entered The Sound of Rain in the “Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements” category.

Spoiler alert–my story didn’t win.

I tend to brace myself when I get scores. Having not even made the finals, I knew they weren’t going to give me the big head. There were five scores. (Which impresses me–that’s a lot of judges to wrangle and ensures a fairer contest.) The first four were downright respectable averaging out to 8.1 out of 10–not too shabby.

Then there was score #5. A big ole 3.7. Ouch. The reader indicated that she felt my book didn’t fit the category. Hmmmm. Too many religious elements? Or too few?

And that right there is the summary of this crazy, roller coaster ride of putting stories out for the world to read. There will usually be someone who ADORES what you write. And then there will be someone who can’t believe you had the audacity to put those words in print.

I’ve had reviewers upset because they didn’t realize I was writing a religious story. And others upset because they thought this was supposed to be Christian fiction.

One of my favorite reviews said that the writing was really good, but the story was terrible. She DID say I was a good writer . . . But my stories will never make everyone happy.

And that’s okay. It reminds me of those old commercials that said things like, “Four out of five dentists who chew gum recommend . . .” There was always that fifth dentist who probably preferred Black Jack chewing gum (licorice!) or who maybe didn’t chew gum at all.

So what’s my takeaway after receiving my scores? Hey, 80% of the readers enjoyed my story. I’d say that’s not too shabby. And reader #5? Well, I guess she’s not my target audience.

Are Writing Contests Worth It?

Selah awardCarol, Rita, Christy, Inspy, Selah, Genesis, First Impressions, Badge of Honor . . . and those are just the ones I’m most familiar with.

Some contests are for pre-published authors, some for published, some for traditionally published, some for independent, and some mix it up. And only ONE story wins in each category. Which can leave those who DON’T win feeling . . . less than.

I coordinate a contest for pre-published authors at the Asheville Christian Writers Conference and here’s what I know about contests . . . are you ready for this? They are TOTALLY subjective. Scores can vary widely, which is why at least three judges per entry is ideal.

I entered a contest before being published. One judge gave the entry a near-perfect score while another, well, clearly thought it could have been better. MUCH better.

The Carol Award finalists were announced on Saturday and what struck me wasn’t the books that were on the list, but the books that weren’t. I’ve read several really wonderful stories this past year that either weren’t entered or didn’t make the final cut.

So why bother with contests?

For pre-published authors I think it’s incredibly valuable when you get feedback and/or opportunities. Judges’ scores can point you toward weaknesses and strengths in your writing. Being a finalist or winning can sometimes get you in front of editors and/or agents. So if you’re starting out, jump into the fray! I entered multiple contests that provided invaluable input for improving my writing.

But what about the contests for published authors? What good is winning one of those?

  • For better sales? After signing my first contract I asked my editor if winning awards helped with sales. Not really. Okay, that’s probably not why.
  • For the prestige? Maybe a little bit. I mean, it IS fun to sit up front at the ceremony and have folks congratulate you. Plus you usually get something pretty to wear or put on your shelf.
  • For the affirmation? Hmmm. This may be getting closer. Did I mention writing is subjective? Having a panel of judges say, “This is good,” is something of a relief. Writers are notorious for self-doubt.
  • For the joy of celebrating work done well? Wow–I hope so. It’s nice to lift up excellence–to applaud it and encourage those who produce it to keep up the good work.
  • To support organizations for writers? Ahhhh, now this one is a bit different. Quite a few contests use entry fees for things like scholarships or to support an organization that provides services for writers. Even if you don’t final or win, you can feel good about supporting other writers.

I go back and forth on contests. I think they’re a wonderful tool for writers yet to be published, but I’m conflicted about entering now that I have several books under my belt. I guess the trick is to get real with myself about why I’m entering. And then decide if that reason is worth the entry fee . . .

I’d love for writers who have entered contests to chime in and share your experiences!

 

 

What Character Did You Want to Be?

Me in a sleeping cap

My Laura Ingalls sleeping cap.

I literally wore out a set of Little House on the Prairie books. I read the covers right off of them and kept going until they were in pieces.

I LOVED those books. And I wanted to be Laura. I wanted to wear a sleeping cap when I went to bed in a loft. I wanted a sunbonnet (even though Laura refused to wear hers). I wanted to ride to town in a wagon and write on a slate. Shoot, I already had the freckles!

Of course, I also wanted to be Heidi. I still have the copy of that book my mother read to me over and over and over again. I wanted to eat toasted cheese and go to the pasture with the goats to pick flowers. I wanted to sleep on a bed of sweet hay (I asked Dad if I could–we DID have a barn full of hay. He said no). I also kind of wanted the nice clothes Heidi got when she was packed off to the miserable city, but I felt like a bit of a turncoat for that.

I didn’t just read those stories when I was a child, I lived them. I opened the books and disappeared inside, traveling to the prairie or the alps as surely as if I’d had a plane ticket. Actually, those places were more than real because they lived in my heart.

As an adult, I don’t read books in the same way. Oh, I still enjoy reading stories, but I guess I’ve lost that feeling that what I’m reading could happen to me. The world of possibilities has narrowed as I’ve aged. I’m probably not going to head west in a covered wagon. I’m probably not going to help my best friend walk again.

But then again . . . when I write stories I get to flip through a world of possibilities and choose the ones that speak to me. The ones that touch my heart and stir my soul. I think that’s what I love best about being a writer. I create characters and then gift them with beauty, joy, hardship, and transformation.

And if I want one of them to sleep on a bed of sweet-smelling hay, there’s no one to tell me I can’t.

How about you? Which characters have you wanted to be?

Revisiting My First Love – Poetry

Sarah & Ann

I also got to hang out with one of my favorite authors–Ann Gabhart!

I had a wonderful time at the Southern Kentucky Book Fest this past weekend. I had a chance to teach a class, sit on a panel, and interact with readers (and writers!). Some of my favorite things to do!

On Friday I sat in on a poetry workshop with former Wisconsin poet laureate and Kentucky native Max Garland. It took me back to my first love–poetry. It’s such fun to sit with a group of other folks who are passionate about stringing words together in a meaningful way.

Which made me realize I’ve never shared my favorite poem (of mine) with you. So here you go–one of my earliest published poems that appeared in Appalachian Heritage way back in 2006.

SAD STREAKS AND WEEPY MERINGUES

Illness, death, disease and even divorce
bring out the mixing bowls, the spoons,
the flour, the sugar and the speckled brown eggs.
Good women converge in kitchens on far
sides of town, all for the expression
of love and sorrow, sadness and hope.
They consult stained cookbooks, faded cards
and memories sharpened with use to concoct
something that will stave off the hunger for
knowing what comes next—what comes
after we get through this . . .

And when the pound cake isn’t quite done,
with a soft, moist middle that invites us
to sink down and find an almost peace—
When the sugar in the meringue doesn’t
quite melt, and caramel drops bloom like
smoky topaz tears—That’s when love
and sadness meet the perfect measure,
filling our sorrowing hearts,
if only for a mouthful.

Southern Kentucky Book Fest – Come See Me!

I’m super excited to be heading to Bowling Green, Kentucky, this week for the Southern Kentucky Book Fest. I’ll be teaching a class titled “Setting as Character” at 9 a.m. Friday morning, attending a meet the authors reception Friday evening, and sitting on a panel titled “People, Places, and Pie” Saturday morning. That last panel is with Karen Spears Zacharias, Ann Gabhart, Naomi Miller, and Rachel Miller so it’ll be a treat for me as much as anyone!

I’ll also be signing as many books as they’ll let me!

The Southern Kentucky Book Fest is one of the state’s largest literary events and is presented by Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Warren County Public Library, and WKU Libraries. The event is in it’s 20th year and I’m honored to be included.

And while it’s great to meet readers, I’ll confess I’m also pretty excited to get to hang out with some author friends. In addition to the ladies on the pie panel, I’ll get to see some other author friends and hopefully meet several new ones. Writing can often feel incredibly solitary, so having an opportunity to spend time with other writers is always a treat.

If you’re in the vicinity of Bowling Green this weekend, I hope you’ll come out to see us. And if you’d like to register (the event is free), click HERE to learn more.

A Man Called Ove–a Book I Hated Then Loved

OveI’ve had a copy of A Man Called Ove in my to-be-read pile for quite a while. Finally, I got an audio copy and began listening to it on a long drive.

I could NOT stand Ove.

There were one or two flickers of seeing something worthwhile in him, but overall, I simply found him to be a miserable human being. And I wondered why so many people raved about this book.

I was tempted to give up, but I had more driving to do and, well, what the heck.

I finished the story last night and I LOVE Ove.

Which, I think, is the point.

A story about a grumpy old man who turns out to have a heart of gold is NOT a new idea. But Frederik Backman managed to take what could have been a simple story of redemption and elevated it to a deep message of hope and love.

Ove was awful at the beginning and he was still pretty awful at the end. I mean, the poor guy who sold him an iPad would not have gone home and talked about dealing with a curmudgeon who was really a marshmallow inside. Ove was vindictive, unbending, impatient, and deeply set in his ways.

And yet. He was also fiercely loyal, ethical, and willing to stand up for what he believed to be right even if it killed him. Backman retained the essence of Ove even after he was redeemed.

Which is why I found this book so ultimately hopeful. The message wasn’t that Ove needed to change, rather it was that Ove needed to be appreciated. He didn’t change so much as the people around him came to see the beauty inherent in this big, tough Swede.

I like that.

Too often, I suspect we think the people around us (especially the people we disagree with) need to change. But maybe, just maybe, if we were willing to understand what makes people see the world the way they do . . . we could–if not agree–at least understand.

And then, perhaps we could see the value in everyone.