Sometimes I (gasp!) read reviews

reviewsSo many authors will tell you not to do it. Some even have friends who read reviews for them and only pass along the ones that are really stellar.

Because even if there are only a handful of bad reviews, they tend to dent your confidence. Some will even batter your confidence and make you wonder if you really ARE a fraud.

Even so, I read reviews. I LIKE hearing what people thought of my books. Once in a while I even learn something I can do better. One reviewer pointed out my tendency to use the word, “somehow,” which seriously weakens whatever it is I’m trying to say. I totally need to thank her!

So, last week, I popped in on Goodreads and saw that The Sound of Rain had some new reviews. Mostly good (phew). But one . . . oh my. Sometimes, a reader will just get whatever it is I was trying to do in a way that clarifies it even for me. A reviewer named Kav did that last week.

I try to be careful about “tooting my own horn” here on my blog, but this review brought tears to my eyes. So here you go. A review from someone who totally made my day and reminded me why I keep writing.

Sometimes the people who needed the most help didn’t look like they needed any help at all.” (p 290)

Sarah Loudin Thomas has a lyrical style that is sheer poetry. I find myself reading out loud from time to time just to hear the impact of her words. The Sound of Rain is an exquisite escape into another time and place. And I have a secret fascination for all things Appalachia. Stoic people, hardworking and proud. They blend faith and culture into a fascinating seize-the-moment kind of living that really speaks to me.

But Judd leaves that life in a bid to escape heartbreaking reminders of all that he has lost. He flees the darkness of the coal mines for the promise of light in work above ground in South Carolina. What he doesn’t realize is that he carries that darkness within him. (Exactly! -SLT)

By contrast, Larkin’s light shines brightly. Enthusiastically. Misdirected at times but she has a gift for brightening the lives of the people around her. It’s a dangerous gift in the hands of someone who doesn’t recognize its power — and Larkin doesn’t in the beginning of the story. She’s spoiled and idealistic which Judd finds both frustrating and fascinating. But he’s drawn to that inner glow and Larkin is equally intrigued by a real-life mountain man.

In some ways, Judd and Larkin’s stories seem independent of each other as their goals lead them in different directions. That doesn’t mean they don’t share a lot of ‘page time’, because they do and when that happens there’s an undeniable connection that speaks of hope in their future. Of course, there’s a lot to work through before Thomas brings us to that end. Larkin needs to grow up some, and Judd need to open up more. There’s a lovely spiritual undercoating that binds their stories together even when they are miles apart.

Sarah Loudin Thomas delivers another stunning portrayal of life and love and the faith that connects it all.

Thank you, Kav, for being an incredible encourager.

What’s Your Gift?

Tapestry editsI’m fairly good at writing.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been in love with words since Dad first fell asleep while reading me a book and I had to figure out how to finish the story on my own.

But really, even before then, I remember being drawn to words. I wanted to write them, to touch them, to read them. I wanted to OWN words.

I used to keep all the junk mail my parents would have normally thrown away. Documents with all those lovely words marching across the paper appealed to something deep inside me. I kept them in stacks and sifted through them–finding a kind of comfort that soothed me.

Now, as an adult, I suspect God planted a love of words in my spirit. It’s my gift. Which means I’m NOT good at writing. It simply means God created me with a love for language woven into my very being. It’s not something to be proud of. It simply IS.

I see similar gifts in others. My husband speaks the language of music–a foreign tongue to me. Friends speak other languages–hospitality, parenting, management, organization, teaching . . . The list goes on.

Sometimes I think we worry too much about what our gifts AREN’T. We look around and see people who are better at something than we are. And we tend to downplay our own gifts because, well, they come more easily. And that makes them seem like not such a big deal.

Today I’m challenging you to identify your gift and own it. Not because it makes you better, smarter, or more amazing. But because God gave YOU that gift for a reason. So own it. Appreciate it. And then go use it.

Best Year Ever? Plan On It!

book-img2I gave up making new year’s resolutions a long time ago.

This year, though, I felt like I needed to not so much resolve to do better, but take steps to get a grip on all the STUFF going on in my life. Work, writing, church, family . . . there’s just so much to do, to think about, and to plan. Some days it all just gets away from me.

So I signed up to be an influencer for Michael Hyatt’s new book, Your Best Year Ever. The idea is to stop sacrificing your dreams and ambitions on the altar of daily demands. You know how it goes . . . you mean to write that novel, start that speaking ministry, spend more time in scripture, commit more deeply to your spouse or your kids . . . But first you have to answer all these e-mails, do the grocery shopping, plan that trip to see the in-laws, and get the car inspected before you get a ticket.

And the dreams just never happen.

While I’ve already achieved my dream of being a published author, I’d like to take my writing further. Teach some workshops, have more time for promotions, actually write more. I’d like to find more time for the relationship-building side of fundraising at work in my day job. I’d like to dig deeper into faith with my husband–maybe a study we could do together.

So I’m digging in. Setting goals. Tracking them.

And Michael Hyatt is helping me identify hurdles, overcome roadblocks, develop positive habits, and get unstuck! Will it work? I hope so. I think so.

What gets scheduled gets done. I’ll keep you posted as I aim to make 2018 my best year ever.

How about you? What dreams have you deferred?

Appalachian Thursday – Snow Day!

Snow DayWe had a snow day yesterday–a couple of inches of the white stuff, hardly anyone venturing out, bacon for breakfast, and a good book to read (not to mention one to write!). Ahhhhh.

When I was a kid, of course, snow days were a bit more exciting. And in West Virginia in the 1970s, they seemed more dramatic, too. I remember missing almost the entire month of February one winter. It was so cold that a skim of ice would form on the top of the pail of milk in the time it took Dad to walk from the barn to the house.

Poor Mom. Stuck inside with three kids day after day. And it was too cold to play outside. At least Dad had livestock to tend.

I remember the power going out during a snowstorm once. Dad stoked the fireplace and we got to sleep in the living room floor in sleeping bags. Mom made us wear knit hats since those were the days when we still believed you lost most of your heat through the top of your head.

There was tomato soup with grilled cheese. Card games and board games. Sledding and the building of snowmen. We played in the hayloft, which was a smidge warmer than outside. Mittens were soaked through. Chapstick was applied. And woe to the child who realized she had to pee while wearing a snowsuit too far from the house.

We also fed the cattle. The winter my older brother had appendicitis, I got to ride on the trailer, cutting the twine on bales of hay, and pushing it off for the cows. Bart, our Black Angus bull, would steal bites of hay from the trailer. He was a sweetheart, though, and I’d scratch him behind the ears anyway.

It got dark early those days and in my memory the house was the coziest place in the world. A nation unto itself. A place where the snow and cold could never reach.

Now, snow days frustrate me–make me wish I could get out and work on my to-do list. Maybe I need to go back in time and embrace what I can’t change. Make a snow angel. Throw snowballs for Thistle. Snuggle under a blanket inside and, instead of being frustrated, give thanks for the reprieve of snow days.

2017 Reading Round-Up

RiverWhile I love being a writer, one of the downsides is that it definitely cuts into my reading time. I used to read several books a month, often reading several at once, and now if I finish one or two I feel like I’m doing well.

And then there are contests. If you enter some contests, you’re required to read entries in other categories. Plus, having found contests SO helpful when I was trying to get published, I really want to help judge them.

All of that to say I read fewer books for pleasure than I’d like to.

But, like cutting back on chocolate, it makes the books I DO find time to read all that more wonderful. And here are a few I particularly liked from last year:

  1. River to Redemption by Ann Gabhart – Okay. So sometimes being an author means you get reader perks. This book doesn’t actually release until 2018, but I got to read it as an endorser. Just let me say, you are in for a treat come July!
  2. Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate – I’m not the only one who loved this book about a notorious woman who was essentially stealing and selling children under the guise of running an orphanage. Chilling and redeeming all in one!
  3. Camino Island by John Grisham – This one was such fun! It’s a writer’s book, with a main character suffering writer’s block and lots of literary fun. Not Grisham’s typical fare, but maybe that’s why I liked it so much.
  4. Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette – I don’t read a ton of Biblical fiction, but this story really brought Exodus to life for me. Really well done!
  5. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain – If you liked Out of Africa, read this book. It’s the more or less true story of Beryl Markham who was the third corner of a love triangle with Denys and Karen. And that may be the least remarkable thing about her.
  6. A Dog’s Purpose by Bruce Cameron – I didn’t see the movie, but adored the book. The writing is simple (it’s a dog’s POV after all), but deeply touching. Plus, I’m pretty sure my dog could write a book, so it gives me hope.

How about you? What did you read in 2017 that stirred you?

Appalachian Thursday – Deer Season

Going Hunting

My father and brother–off to hunt on a snowy morning.

It’s almost holiday time in West Virginia. Oh, sure, there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the REAL festivities begin on Monday. The first day of deer season.

Many schools are out all week because, well, no one would come if they were open. Teachers, students, staff–they’re all out “celebrating” deer season.

So how does one celebrate? If you’re a hunter, it’s obvious. You go hunting. But what about non-hunters? That was always me. I know plenty of women who enjoy hunting, but I don’t happen to be one.

Even so, the week was a fun time for me growing up. First, we were out of school. Second, there was plenty of company. Friends and family would come to the farm to hunt, eat, nap, and tell tall tales. Which meant we got to indulge in junk food, questionable conversation, and interesting schedules. And when everyone else was out hunting, I got to curl up in a cozy chair and READ!

One friend of Dad’s worked for Lays and would bring us an entire case of potato chips. We NEVER got potato chips. Hunters eat packaged cookies, processed lunch meats, soda–it’s kid heaven. There’d be a fire in the fireplace, funny stories we didn’t always understand, early mornings, and as soon as someone got a deer–venison tenderloin seared in butter.

Here’s one of my favorite deer season recipes. My dad is the master of this one. Mmmm, I could eat a plate full right now!

1 smallish venison roast
salt and pepper to taste

Partially freeze the venison roast (or, if it’s already frozen, partially thaw it).  Melt a knob of butter in a skillet. Shave off pieces of venison into the butter until you have enough for however many are hungry. As soon as the meat begins to brown add as much flour as you did butter and cook for a few minutes to get rid of the flour taste. Splash in some milk and stir, stir, stir until that begins to thicken. Alternately add water and milk until your gravy is bubbling and the thickness you like. Salt and pepper to taste (lots of pepper really is in order here). Serve spooned generously over hot biscuits (not from a can!).

Release Day is Tomorrow!

Dad at churchReleasing a new book just doesn’t get old. It’s kind of like my birthday. There ought to be cake and maybe some champagne. Certainly streamers and cheering.

And there’s NOTHING wrong with celebrating all week long! So today, to kick off the party, here’s a link to the first chapter of The Sound of Rain.

It still makes me cry to read it.

I think that’s a good sign.