Good News: When Mountains Move Wins 2014 Carol Award!

AmandaBostic_JulieCantrell_2014ACFWThis weekend, I traveled to St. Louis, Mo. to join nearly a thousand folks for the 2014 Carol Awards Gala.

When Mountains Move had been shortlisted as one of three finalists in the Historical Fiction category, alongside two extraordinarily talented authors: Liz Tolsma for Snow on the Tulips (a stunning WWII tale), and Diana Wallis Taylor for Claudia, Wife of Pontius Pilate (a fresh look at this historical icon).

I was stunned (to say the least) when Millie’s story was selected. The Carol Award was formerly known as “ACFW’s Book-of-the-Year Contest” before being renamed in honor of editor-extraordinaire, Carol Johnson.

What an honor it was to join so many talented authors who were being recognized for the LONG hours and HARD work they have put into building works of fiction.

Because I never expected to win (and because I’m a complete ditz and usually make a total fool of myself in public), I stuttered and stumbled my way through the acceptance speech, huffing and puffing in a flawed effort NOT to cry. My hands were shaking and I was trying to talk super-fast so I wouldn’t bore everyone in the room.

Needless to say, the entire event is a blur to me, but when I viewed the video — I realized I had failed to mention so many people who deserved recognition, including my sweet friend and brilliant critique partner Lisa Wingate, my devoted and dear publicist, Jeane Wynn, and my incredible tribe of author pals, especially the ones who blog with me daily at Southern Belle View.

If my head had not been spinning, I would also have thanked my faithful friends who have saved me this year, again and again, in ways too large to measure: Chris Greissinger, Kerri Greene, Gina Beltz, Ken and Teresa Murray, Larry Wells, Christa Allan, Carol Langendoen, and others (in no particular order).

Because I’ve had a few requests from folks who wanted to see the acceptance speech, I’ll post it here — for those who are curious, or who need a good laugh, or who simply want to make fun of me to break up the workday. (I’m game. It’s all in good fun.)

But before you begin, let’s add a little lagniappe to this “good news” report. (I’m a Louisiana girl after all and we always like to add a “little something extra.”)

I’m THRILLED to introduce y’all to my new editor, Amanda Bostic (see her celebrating with me in the photo above), who will be working with me to produce a third novel with Harper Collins Christian under the direction of publisher Daisy Hutton and her BRILLIANT team.

We are hoping the book will be released November 2015, and it will be a contemporary work of women’s fiction set in my home state of Louisiana. Please stay tuned for more information to follow in the months ahead, and thank you all for your tremendous support.

 

The Survivor’s Side of Suicide

Jeff2bSuicide is one ugly word. It’s the kind of word that swings heavy from lips. The kind that is whispered, and stilted, never sung.

As an author, I build my life around words. Every word has worth. Even those words we are not supposed to say.

But suicide is the one word I do not like. I wish there was no need for such a word in our world. Especially since 1997, when my teen brother ended his own life two months before his high school graduation.

It is one thing to be on the other side of suicide, where you may offer prayer or casseroles or even a hug. It is another thing entirely to be on the side of the survivor, after a loved one puts a gun to the head or a rope to the neck or a blade to the vein.

That dark depth of despair is no easy channel to navigate because unlike every other form of death, this one was intentional. This one could have been prevented. This one carries immeasurable sting.

The what-ifs and but whys and I wonders never cease. They haunt all hours, whether moonlit or shine.

And the stares don’t stop either, the constant conversation that hangs silently between friends — at the grocery store, or in the church pews, or at the birthday party. No one says it, but they are thinking… That poor mother, how does she stand it? Or – That poor child, knowing his father took his own life.

What people on that side of suicide don’t understand is that we, the survivors left in the wake, are barely keeping our heads above water. We don’t want pity, or sympathy, or stares. We don’t want whispers, or questions, or help. We want one thing only. We want our loved ones back.

And there’s one simple way you can give this to us.

Talk about the people we loved and lost. Don’t dance around us as if their ghost is in the way. Acknowledge the lives they lived. Recognize the light they once shined. Laugh about the fun you once had together.

There’s nothing you can tell us — no detail too small, no memory too harsh — that will hurt us. We crave it all. We are hungry for any piece of time travel you offer. Bring us back, to that space, when the one we loved was in the here and now.

Suicide is something most of us struggle to understand. It is difficult to rationalize the selfish part of such an act. How could someone not care about the pain they would throw on their loved ones? How could someone not be strong enough to stay alive?

But here’s the truth: suicide was not the cause of my brother’s death. Depression was the cause of his death. And depression is a beast unlike any other. It is an illness we still struggle to cure, despite all the therapeutic and pharmaceutical intervention available today.

Sometimes, even with all the help in the world, a person cannot see through the pain. They cannot imagine a better day ahead. They see only more hurt. And when I say hurt, I mean suffering. Blood-zapping, brain-numbing, soul-bursting agony.

Imagine this: you wake every day as a prisoner. You are trapped in a cell with no freedom in your future. You are tortured — physically, emotionally, psychologically. The anguish never stops. Just when you think you cannot survive another blow, it comes again. More pain.

You try to ignore the ache. You cannot. You try to numb the hurt. You cannot. You try to rise above the pain. You cannot. The brutality persists. And you see no end to it.

If you knew you had to endure only one more round of abuse, or one more month, or even a year, or longer — If there was an end in view, you could be strong enough to handle it. You could take whatever is thrown at you because you want, more than anything else, to live.

You are a sensitive soul and you have so much left in you to give. You want only to love and be loved. But the cell has you trapped. You have tried everything. There is no end to the insufferable situation.

A person with depression becomes suicidal when they finally give up all hope. When they accept that nothing they do, no matter how long they survive, no matter how many medications or prayers or therapists they turn to, the pain will never end.

Can you imagine the pain you would have to be in to take your own life? Can you imagine the fear of a suicidal person (regardless of faith), daring to face the unknown because even the possibility of eternal hellfire or permanent purgatory or absolute absence seems less scary than another day in this world?

When Robin Williams passed away, the world was abuzz weighing the controversial issues of mental illness, depression, and suicide.

While some people were unable to extend kindness or understanding, proving we have a long way to go in our culture’s recognition of chemical imbalances, the international conversation gave me hope. It proved that people are finally willing to say the word SUICIDE out loud, without the hushed whispers and back corner gossip.

Putting this word on equal footing with all the other words in our vernacular is important. It lessens the sting.

I consider this progress, and I am optimistic the forward momentum will continue.

It is time.

I write this blog today for several reasons:

  • One, I am proud to have been the sister to an amazingly bright spirit who left this world too soon and whose memory I want to keep alive.
  • Two, I want to increase understanding and support for the millions of people struggling with chemical imbalances.
  • Three, I want to offer support and empathy to all who have lost a loved one to suicide and encourage you to speak out loud to honor their spirit and to educate those on the other side.
  • Four, and most importantly, I have a very important message for anyone struggling with depression.

One week after my brother died, we received notice that he had landed the career opportunity he wanted with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. That job may have been enough to offer him the key to that cell, the something to cling to, the reason for reason. Maybe, if he could have stuck it out one more week, he would still be alive today. Seven days, and he may have had hope again.

Today, when I see someone struggling for hope, looking for a signal, a reason, proof that their life matters and that the pain will indeed end, I think of my brother and that phone call that came one week too late.

If you are struggling with depression, please remember... you are in this world for a reason. You have a very important journey you must complete. You were born to accomplish something, something only you know. You will suffer, you will hurt, you will feel hopeless and alone at times. But you are not in that space forever. Keep walking, keep moving forward, and you will find your way through in time.

When you hit bottom, please remember this: You are loved. You are never alone. You were born with everything you need to survive this journey. You matter.

And once you are on the other side, as you will soon be, then, you will look back with wiser eyes, the eyes of a survivor. You will know your soul survived the stretching season. And you will move through the world with greater empathy and understanding, a gift like none other. For you, sensitive one, are the blessed. And we need you here. In this life.

Be brave. Wage war. Hold fast to the light inside of you.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

This post will be shared across multiple platforms for National Suicide Prevention Week. Learn more about suicide prevention by visiting: http://www.suicidology.org/

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Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Into the Free and When Mountains Move. She works to promote suicide awareness and prevention in memory of her brother, Jeff Perkins. Learn more: www.juliecantrell.com

What Kind of Person are You?

heartSometimes, readers ask me why I choose to write about dark topics such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, addiction, betrayal, and hypocrisy.

My answer is simple. I don’t know anyone, no matter how much they pretend it to be so, who hasn’t been touched by struggle in some significant way.

So my goal as an author is to explore these human journeys and to remind each reader that we are never alone in our suffering.

I also hope to show readers that recovery is possible, and that faith is the key to healing.

forgiveI’ve been thinking a lot lately about life, love, and the redemptive power of forgiveness. I realize, as Millie points out in Into the Free, that Forgiveness is a heavy word. To forgive someone is never easy, especially when we seem to have been hurt beyond repair. And let’s be honest…who hasn’t?

I know too many people who have been violently attacked, verbally abused, emotionally destroyed, or sexually victimized. I know soldiers who have sacrificed limb (and sometimes life), left their families, entered the battlefield, and returned with wounded body, mind, and spirit.

I also know parents who have lost their children to addiction, wives who have been betrayed by their adulterous husbands, men who have sold their souls to the fantasy of porn, and children whose parents have hurt them in ways too horrific for our imaginations.

Best friends and coworkers betray one another, fractured families carve deep ravines between loved ones, and the race for wealth, fame, or power lead many well-intentioned individuals to corrupt and selfish paths.

But despite all the hurt in this world, here’s what I believe.

  • Honest people trust others.
  • Joyful people love others.
  • Secure people see only the good in others.
  • Selfless people take great risks in order to help others.
  • Genuine people never turn their back on others.
  • Grateful people do not envy others.
  • Kind people do not intentionally hurt others.
  • Humble people celebrate the success of others.

What kind of person are you? Take away all the hurts and scars and protective barriers and now tell me, what kind of person are you REALLY?

Today, I challenge you to trace back through your life and find the true you. The YOU you were born to be before anyone hurt you. I am willing to bet you are honest, joyful, secure, selfless, genuine, grateful, kind, and humble.

Remember, you were born for a reason. Your life is for a purpose and no one has the power to strip you of your destiny.

Today, I am thinking of each of you. I pray you find the strength and the courage to stay the course. I pray you will never lose yourself because of other people’s destructive choices. And I pray that you will always keep in mind this one simple lesson: Love wins.

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If you haven’t yet read Into the Free and When Mountains Move, please check your local library or Indie store for copies near you. I greatly appreciate your support!

Be sure to join us for daily discussions on the Southern Belle View porch, where I blog with the fabulous bestselling author Amy Hill Hearth on Wednesdays.

There, Amy and I gather with 8 other Southern Inspirational authors for lively chats. We offer special giveaways and engage with our readers, so come join the fun!

Duck Dynasty: Is This the Face of Christianity?

love one anotherIt has happened again. A celebrity has made a controversial statement and the world has reacted. This time, the loose tongue belongs to Phil Robertson, whose conservative Louisiana lifestyle has drawn millions of fans through his A&E reality series, Duck Dynasty.

As Christians, we should examine this situation and ask: What does this say about Christianity today?

First, let’s examine the facts.

  1. Phil Robertson was interviewed by GQ. During the interview, Robertson said (brace yourself): “It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
  2. When asked to elaborate on what he considers to be sinful behavior, Robertson replied: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.”
  3. Robertson continued to make inconsiderate comments throughout the interview including his opinion about race relations and other controversial topics.
  4. In reaction to Robertson’s quotes, sponsors reacted and A&E made a public announcement distancing themselves from Robertson’s beliefs.
  5. Robertson issued the following statement to E! News: “I myself am a product of the ’60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

Now, let’s consider how Robertson’s quotes may have impacted the Christian faith, for both believers and non-believers across the world.

  1. CNN reports that A&E aired the Duck Dynasty show’s fourth season premiere in August, drawing nearly 12 million viewers to become the No. 1 nonfiction series telecast in cable history.
  2. It is logical to assume that at least some of these 12 million viewers look to the Robertson clan as examples of how Christians believe and behave.
  3. Some commenters online have posted: “He is just saying what every Christian believes.”

Is that true? Has Robertson simply voiced what “EVERY” Christian believes?

I do not aim to crucify Robertson for his comments. But because of his platform, many assume he represents the Christian faith as a whole, and as a Christian, that worries me.

Robertson says he strives to bring people to Christ. Unfortunately, I do not believe his current behavior will encourage anyone to discover the power of Christ’s love.

Some may call me a crazed, left-wing liberal who has lost all sight of what is right and wrong. A radical New Age spiritualist who has no understanding of Biblical truths.

Well, to them I say, don’t take it from me. Take it from Jesus of Nazareth, a radical, liberal, Jewish extremist who challenged the hypocrites of His day by reaching out to those the rest of the world had deemed unworthy of kindness and love.

It was this madman, this healer, this teacher, this giver, this Jesus who said: 34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. — John 13:34-35 (NIV)

This holy season, I pray for the world to know a more compassionate Christianity and for everyone to find comfort and peace in God’s love.

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free, the Christy Award winning Book of the Year 2013 and recipient of the 2013 Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. Her second novel, When Mountains Move, released in September and was chosen as one of LifeWay Christian Stores Best of 2013.

Website: www.juliecantrell.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliecantrellauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JulieCantrell

My Response to Steve McSwain’s Six Things

Last week, I read an article in the Huffington Post, Six Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying, by Steve McSwain (Feb. 28, 2013). It had been written by a Christian who challenged the beliefs of many of his fellow believers. I found the article interesting, and while it expressed nothing new, it may have been the first time a Christian voiced those opinions in such a mainstream, and perhaps defiant, way.

I thought others might be interested in reading the piece, so I shared the link on facebook. I share things all the time, things I find inspiring, interesting, or informative, as do many of the people who “friend” me on facebook. I shared the link and then I hit the road, thinking nothing of it.

With our windows down, our radio up, and the sun in sight, our family headed for the hills. We spent most of Spring Break unplugged, hiking remote mountain trails, and feeling incredibly close to God. But when I returned to the world of wifi and facebook, I realized I had left many of you with an article that surged your emotions.

I appreciated reading your reactions to the article, and I can tell many of you put much thought, time, and energy into your responses. For each of you who responded publically, there were many others reading quietly in their living rooms either agreeing or disagreeing with your viewpoints (some of whom contacted me privately to express those views).

I intentionally have not shared my personal beliefs about McSwain’s article. Why? Because they are irrelevant. I was not trying to point out a right way or a wrong way to interpret Christianity, and I certainly wasn’t trying to offend anyone. I was simply sharing another person’s point of view…because I enjoy hearing other opinions, stretching my mind, and exploring different angles. And because many of my friends do, too.

While the author’s tone may have been a bit crass, I honestly don’t think he wrote the article to stir emotions or cause anyone strife. Instead, as Cherise Olson pointed out in her poignant facebook comment…he was highlighting the fact that Christianity encases a large range of beliefs. And that it’s all okay.

Yet, we continue to argue among ourselves.

What happens to a group whose members argue? They eventually split, which is exactly why we have so many different denominations within our Christian faith…and even within those denominations, teachings vary greatly from pulpit to pulpit.

I have been blessed to travel a little in my life. I have lived in many places, attended many churches, and observed many different interpretations of the Bible. Some Christians view their personal interpretation as the only right way, but many of us listen to other viewpoints respectfully, acknowledging we are all trying our best to live a life of faith and to engage actively in spiritual growth.

Like everyone else on this lovely planet, I am flawed beyond description. I have human moods, physical and emotional limitations, and I make mistakes. But I try, every moment of every day, to live in a way that exhibits a deep faith in something larger than myself, a belief that we are each here for a reason, and a trust that this earthly trek is only a small part of our eternal journey.

I don’t seek out reasons to judge others, or to criticize others, or to convince myself I’m better than anyone because of X, Y, or Z. How awful would that be?

It seems that sometimes, people are inclined to find all sorts of reasons why they are better Christians, why they are more worthy of God’s acceptance, why so many people are worse than them. But I have to ask…who are we to judge? When those in the Bible wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery, Jesus spoke up. He said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7 NIV).

Honestly, I believe every single soul on this planet is worthy of God’s love. My job, as a Christian, and as a human being with a heart, is simply to love everyone. EVERYONE.

It is not my job to rate sin, to determine one mistake is worse than another, to categorize human souls in a ranking order of good to bad, or to wage war against those who believe differently than I do. I honestly do not believe that is why any of us are on this rotating globe. I believe we are here to learn. To listen. To love. Without exception.

I have spent thirteen years as a Christian writer. I learned a LONG time ago that writing anything in this arena was likely to cause offense to someone along the way. It’s in our nature to criticize others…which is one of our human flaws we should try to overcome. As Jesus tried to teach during his time on earth, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one” (John 8:15 NIV).

One of my earliest assignments, as contributing editor to a Christian magazine, was to write a monthly activities calendar for moms with young children. One of my suggestions was to engage in mother/child yoga. My editors supported me, but boy did the hate mail stream in.

I was told in every manner of “Christian” expression that I was evil, sinful, and encouraging people to stray from their Christian faith.

I refer to this as one example of how differently people interpret teachings of faith. I happen to believe God is BIGGER than yoga. He’s bigger than whether I cut my hair, wear dresses, or cover my skin. He’s bigger than anything any of us can mentally process, and that is where I place my faith.

If we believe we were created for a purpose, and that we were given the ability to make choices on our own, then nothing…nothing we do as human beings can be shocking to God. He understands more about the human condition than any of us will ever understand, and he loves us anyway. That’s the beauty of God’s grace. That, my friends, is the miracle.

I don’t write this response to argue for or against any interpretations of your faith. I write only with the hope that we can all find a way to acknowledge that we are commanded to love one another. Jesus tells us clearly: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13 34-35 (NIV).

Maybe it really is as simple as that.

Peace to all.

Meet the Gypsies of Spain

Susan-with-lace-cropped-31-222x300I’m excited to introduce you to a new friend of mine, Susan Nadathur, whose debut novel, City of Sorrows, was just released. You’re one of the first to learn about this beautiful new story set in the Gypsy communities of Spain, and this might just be the first interview posted publicly regarding the book.

JC: Susan, You have a fascinating life. You grew up in a quaint New England community but after graduate school became an ex-Pat and relocated to Spain. There, you fell in love with a man from India, and together, after years of some pretty amazing adventures, you decided to move among the Gypsies of Spain whom you describe as some of the most generous, humble people you’ve ever met. Tell us briefly how you ended up “running away with the Gypsies.”

SN: I often wonder where this journey began. I think God always knew, even though He was not so good about sharing the details with me. But, looking back on my life, the road seems clear. For example, if as a child I had not been bullied, picked on and humiliated, I would not have developed the keen sense of empathy I have for people who are marginalized. And without that compassion, I would not have been profoundly affected by a racist remark targeted at my Indian friend in Spain who was confused for a Gypsy way back when I was a twenty-two-year-old expat living in Seville.

“Gypsies and Moors are not served here,” a Spaniard said before refusing my friend a cup of coffee. That one statement, spat out decades ago in a bar in Seville, became the catalyst for a story of love and loss in the vibrant world of Gypsy Spain—a world I would never have penetrated if I had not felt the sting of isolation, humiliation, and rejection that gave me the unique, unspoken connection to this group of persecuted people.

Several years later, that story finally germinated. I started to write the novel which has become CITY OF SORROWS. But, in order to do justice to the project, I had to return to Spain. And this time, I had to meet and get to know the people whose culture I was writing about. Spanish Gypsies.

The only problem was, I knew that most of the Gypsies in Seville lived in poor, dangerous sectors of the city. My husband knew that too. As well as my pastor. The only way I was going to convince both my husband and pastor that I would be safe in these marginalized areas was by connecting with a Christian church that had ministries in the Gypsy community. Well, to make a long story short, I ended up in a  Pentecostal Gypsy church called Dios Con Nosotros (God with Us), in one of the most sordid sectors of the city (Las Tres Mil Viviendas). And not once did I ever feel unsafe. The congregation embraced me, though kept me at a distance whenever I asked questions about their culture. Too many years of marginalization and oppression had made them wary of foreigners.

But as the weeks went by, and they began to trust me, my experiences began to change. I was invited into homes, into people’s lives. Finally, I was asked to leave the apartment I had rented in Seville and invited to live with Pastor Pepe Serrano and his family in their home on the outskirts of Seville. Once I moved into Pastor Pepe’s home, I no longer had to ask questions. I only had to live as part of a family to understand the people I had been led to write about.

Pepe-Pura-and-Susan-Cropped1-300x242Looking back now, I remember what Pastor Pepe said to me that day I first entered his church.

“God has not brought you here to research your book,” Pastor Pepe said. “He has brought you here to work on you.”

I guess God always knew the plans he had for me. There was a reason I was me.

JC: You are not only fluent in Spanish, you have created a successful business teaching Spanish to medical professionals and have published several books on this topic. It’s clear you have spent your life working to promote cross-cultural understanding. What do you consider the most positive aspect of modern Gypsy life in Spain? What are their struggles?

SN: I think the most positive aspect of modern Gypsy life in Spain right now is the transformation that is occurring because of Spanish Gypsy evangelism. Negative behaviors historically associated with Gypsies, such as vagrancy, theft, violence, revenge and tribal feuding, are being modified and corrected with conversions to Christ.

From “gypping” someone out of their money, to truancy and laziness, to admonishment for being unhygienic, to retaliation and revenge, the standard image of the Spanish Gypsy is cloaked in negative stereotyping. The Gypsy has come to symbolize everything that modern-day, industrialized societies reject as immoral and inefficient. But that image is changing from the only place where change is meaningful – from within.

A remarkable phenomenon is occurring that is changing the face of the Spanish Gypsy: Pentecostal evangelism. As thousands of Gypsies convert to Christ, their slogan has become:

 

Antes los gitanos iban con cuchillos y quimeras.

Ahora llevamos la Biblia, la palabra verdadera.

Before the Gypsies went with knives and quarrels into battle.

Now we take the Bible, God’s True and Holy Word.

For more on this subject, here’s a link to an article I wrote for EMQ Online titled “Waiting on Dibel: The Growth of Pentecostalism among Spanish Gypsies.” https://www.dropbox.com/s/nusbzyrmnk48sku/Waiting%20on%20Dibel.pdf?m

  • “Waiting on Dibel: The Growth of Pentecostalism among Spanish Gypsies” was originally published in the April 2011 issue of EMQ (www.emqonline.com). Reprinted with permission. Not to be reproduced or republished without permission.

As far as their struggles, Spanish Gypsies have much to overcome. Poverty is rampant, Work inconsistent (A large number of Spanish Gypsies make their living as itinerant street vendors, a way of life that has been severely affected by the economic crisis that has plagued Spain since 2008). Drugs and crime threaten the world in which many Gypsies live. And attitudes toward education sometimes limit them from exploring options outside of what is familiar to them as a group of people living as part of, while at the same time separated from Spanish culture. And of course, there still exists a subtle level of (sometimes self-imposed) social marginalization from mainstream Spanish society as well as the perpetuation of negative stereotypes. You will still see the beggar sitting in front of a church, or the fortune teller stalking the outside of the Cathedral for unsuspecting foreigners ready to part with their money for a Tarot spread or palm reading. But, the positive news is that change is coming, slowly but surely to the Spanish Gypsies.

CITYofSORROWSfinaldigitalCOVER-660x1024JC: Because you are a writer, you have documented some of the stories you’ve witnessed during your adventures. Tell us a bit about this project and how your real life influences your fiction.

SN: CITY OF SORROWS (release date December 2012) is the story of a young Spanish Gypsy, Diego Vargas, and his journey from the shackles of grief to the obsession of revenge, to the miracle that is love after loss. Young Diego lives with his family on the Southside of Seville, in what is basically a Gypsy ghetto. Just turned nineteen, he is recently married, madly in love, expecting his first child, and completely unaware that his life is about to come crashing down around him. On a dark road outside the city of Seville, Diego must find the courage to face death, the strength to survive it, and the power to hold onto his humanity while both his mind and his will scream against it.

The seeds for this novel were sown many years ago, when I first lived in Spain. But for a long time, those seeds remained dormant. When I finally sat down to write the book, I was all revved up and ready to whip this story into shape. Just “write what you know,” I thought. Well, yes and no. I had NO idea what I had gotten myself into. Surprise, surprise, sitting down to write a novel actually meant acquiring some new skills. Like characterization, plotting, pacing and so many other things I had simply taken for granted.

After writing what was basically a fictionalized account of my life with my Indian friend in Seville, I soon realized that if I wanted this story be of interest to anyone except my immediate family, I had better start studying the craft, and then, start rewriting. As I went through the process of a second draft, I started seeing some subtle changes. My protagonist, who had some pretty obvious character traits of that Indian friend I had met in Spain, started taking a back seat to his fictional best friend, Diego Vargas. And then it seemed as if Diego wanted to write his own story. When that happened, I convinced a lot of people that I needed to abandon my home for a while and go live with the Gypsies in Seville. There was no way Diego was going to hijack the story without me doing my research.

Many of the scenes in the novel are based on my experiences living among the Gypsies. I have tried to be faithful to the reality of their world without either glamorizing it or condemning it. Like in real life, my novel has both good and bad Gypsies. Good and bad Spaniards. And yes, there is a strong Indian presence offered through one of the supporting characters, Rajiv Kumaran. Rajiv is Diego’s philosophical friend from India, the man who helps him to work his way out of the darkness of despair and into the light. And yes, I admit it, Rajiv does have a strong likeness to that Indian friend from Spain who later became my husband.

JC: Finally, I’m intrigued by your efforts to help young adults cope with bullying by celebrating their differences. You even offer a blogsite for such teens. Tell us about these efforts.

SN: I have always enjoyed young people, especially those who don’t quite “fit in.” I currently volunteer at the local high school in Lajas, Puerto Rico, where I live. I work with the students both individually and in a group setting, where I encourage them to express themselves in writing. Many of these students feel isolated or “different” from their more popular peers. They all have been labeled something, from “Goth” to “Nerd” to other more offensive titles. And up until recently, they have, for the most part, kept silent. I have been working with them to help them find their voices.

The students and I have formed a group called Vox Occulta which translates to “hidden voice.” The students have written poems, stories, and rap songs about their lives, learning about themselves in the process. Many of these stories are posted on my blog www.susannadathur.com.

These young people have made a mark on my life. And like the Gypsies, they have influenced my writing. My next novel-in-progress is for young adults. You can’t spend so much time with young people without being influenced by them. They are a wonderful addition to my life.

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SUSAN NADATHUR is a widely-traveled writer, teacher, and self-proclaimed “outsider” from Connecticut who lives on-and-off in Spain with an extended family of Gypsies in Seville. A registered nurse with a Masters degree in Spanish, Susan teaches language and cultural diversity workshops to childbirth and healthcare professionals, and has authored several books on Spanish language acquisition and cross-cultural communication. City of Sorrows (Azahar Books, 2012) is her debut novel. She lives with her husband, a philosophical scientist from India, and their daughter in Lajas, Puerto  Rico. Visit the author online at www.susannadathur.com.

That Whole ‘Unequally Yoked’ Thing (guest Nancy Rue & Giveaway)

I’m so excited to introduce y’all to one of the coolest authors I know –, the incredible Nancy Rue. I’m honored to be a part of Nancy’s blog hop this week, and I hope you’ll enjoy learning all about this fabulous Harley chick and her newest release, Too Far to Say Far Enough.

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What a delight it is to bring my community of “Nudgees” to yours here on Julie’s blog. After endorsing Julie’s book, Into the Free (amazing) and getting to know her a little via email and Facebook, I’m thinking you’re a lot like we are: people who feel nudged by God and need the company of folks who won’t think we’re crazy – or will accept us if they do.

toofartosayenough3D400pxYou are the fourth stop on our hop, and I have to say that “hop” is really too “fluffy” a word for what we’ve been about, which is the asking of the hard-to-deal-with –questions that come with being a Christian. They’re the ones addressed in the trilogy of fiction novels The Reluctant Prophet – and there is probably none more sticky than today’s. Here it is:

What about the whole ‘unequally yoked’ thing? Should you even consider a partner who isn’t where you are spiritually? 

That would be an easy question to answer if the partner under consideration were in the Gomer category – you know, that “bad boy” who oozes sexuality and very little else. Our answer would be like the one we’d give a teenage girl who wanted to “minister to” the hot kid with the juvenile record. Someone told me recently that’s called “Missionary Dating.” I love that!

But it isn’t an easy one to answer in a situation like the one protagonist Allison Chamberlain finds herself in. The man she struggles not to fall in love with is “Chief,” a Harley-riding attorney with more integrity than any three of your average men put together  and a heart bigger than the engine of his Road King and a life that looks so much like the one Jesus led it’s uncanny. Except that he isn’t an official Christian.

In fact, Chief tells Allison early on that he respects her faith but he can’t go there. And then he keeps acting like Jesus. In time he comes around to believing in God again, but as he says to Allison, he isn’t ready to go into the pond (you have to read Unexpected Dismounts to understand that). Then he goes on acting even more like Jesus. How is Allison not to continue to fall more deeply in love with him?

When a proposal is imminent, Allison turns desperately to her mentor, Hank D’Angelo, with this very question: “Do I go ahead and marry him if I’m not totally sure we’re on the same spiritual page?”

Hank could have pointed Allison to Paul. He was, after all, wonderful at bringing people into the body and showing them how to make a life in Christ as easy as possible on themselves. But instead she does what she usually does and what Jesus so often does. She asks another question: “Have you talked to him about it?”

If we’re insistent that an equal yoke has to consist of two people who can pinpoint the day and time they gave their lives to Christ and have been faithful churchgoers and tithers ever since, then that question does us no good. I know some amazing couples who have that kind of yoked-ness and it’s beautiful.

I, however, don’t.

My husband was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and was quite devout as a young boy, until the day his mother was dropping him off at parochial school and he looked at the kids going into the school at the Presbyterian Church next door and asked his mom, “So if what I’m being taught is true, all those kids are going to hell?” When she couldn’t quite answer that, he knew that Catholicism wasn’t for him. He never gave up God, though. When we met and fell in love, I was captured not only by his wit and warmth and overall cuteness, but by the way he lived out his values. I saw God in his soul and I married him.

I have always gone to church and there have been marvelous seasons in our life together when we’ve been involved in a particular church together. We’ve taught Sunday school as a team, been youth group advisors more than once, gone on missions trips as team leaders. Most of our lasting relationships with other people have come out of our church experiences. Several years ago, however, when the church we were part of became toxic and the members turned on each other, my husband said, “Y’know, I think I’m done with the church. I’ll support you in whatever you want to do but I can’t do it anymore.”

I didn’t insist that we find a church together. I found one and I’m happy there. More than happy. I miss him sitting next to me, though. Of course I wish he were. There are in fact things I don’t participate in because he’s not. And at times I wondered, “Is he still talking to God? Is he okay spiritually?”

After I wrote Hank’s words, “Have you talked to HIM about it?”, I thought, well., um, no, I actually haven’t.

So I did. His answers are between the two of us, but what they showed me is that this question goes beyond who we’re “yoked” to and into our assessments of who’s Christian and who’s not, something we touched on a couple of posts ago.

Why do we make these assessments and judgments about how Christian is Christian enough without getting to know the people in question?

What are the signs we absolutely have to see in order to know, okay, that’s a Christian? Do those signs keep us from having a conversation that could tell us so much more?

And is it up to us to see those signs before we can say, “Oh, yeah. Definitely a believer.”

Absolutely we have to know that if marriage is part of the equation. But these questions of an “is this okay?” nature go far deeper than what’s “legal” for Christians. Allison and Chief’s situation raises more than the issue of being unequally yoked. It asks each one of us: what does a Christian look like to God? Now there’s a question I could hop to.

I believe those of you hoping to win prizes might need this quote from Too Far to Say Far Enough.
I believe those of you hoping to win prizes might need this quote from Too Far to Say Far Enough.

Nancy Rue is the author of over 100 books for adults and teens, including Healing Waters, which was a 2009 Women of Faith Novel of the Year, and The Reluctant Prophet which received a Christy award in 2011. Nancy travels extensively-at times on the back of a Harley Davidson-speaking and teaching to groups of `tween girls and their moms and mentoring aspiring Christian authors. She lives on a lake in Tennessee with her Harley-ridin’ husband Jim and their two yellow labs (without whom writing would be difficult.)

Now what you have probably been waiting for…winning books!  Nancy’s publisher, David C. Cook, is giving away:

  • Reluctant Prophet series (3 books) to 10 winners
  • PLUS 10 copies of Reluctant Prophet to each winner’s recipient of choice

Nancy will personally sign each book as well as include a letter with Reluctant Prophet to your person of choice.  Visit here for the Rafflecopter entry form and official rules.

If you are joining the hop mid-way through and not sure where to go, here are all the stops for each day.  That way you are able to maximize your entries into the giveaway, as well as capture Nancy’s heart as she wrote this series:

Monday: Nancy Rue, The Nudge “What Hank Says . . . About Leaving the Pew”
Tuesday: Mocha With Linda “Will the “Real” Christians Please Stand Up?”
Wednesday: Jen Hatmaker “When the Nudge Drives a Wedge”
Thursday: Julie Cantrell “That Whole ‘Unequally Yoked’ Thing
Friday: Far From Perfect MaMMa “Is It Worth Having a Record?”

If you would like to connect with Nancy, she can be found here:

Website: www.nancyrue.com
facebook (adult fans): www.facebook.com/nnrue
facebook (for teen fans): www.facebook.com/nnrueforteens
twitter: www.twitter.com/nnue
pinterest: www.pinterest.com/nnrue
In addition to Nancy’s blog, The Nudge, (for her adult audience), she also has a blog for teens (In Real Life) and for tweens (Tween You and Me)