2012 Highlights and BIG Thanks!

Image2012—WOW! What a year! It’s hard for me to believe one year ago I was still an unpublished novelist. SO much has happened during just one little spin around the sun…but to hit the highlights…since my debut novel, INTO THE FREE, was released in February (David C. Cook), this little book:

• Received a starred review by Publisher’s Weekly (HUGE honor!)

• Spent three weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List

• Landed a repeat spot on the USA Today Top 150 (Bestseller List)

• Became top Mover and Shaker on Amazon.com

• Earned the #1 spot on Amazon.com for paperback fiction and ebook fiction (I’ll never forget watching it slide past Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and 50 Shades of Grey! Unbelievable feeling for little ol’ me sitting on my sofa in my PJs shaking my head in shock.)

• Was selected by Books-a-Million for their national Summer Bookclub

• Was released as an audiobook by Oasis Audio

• Was released in Large Print edition

• Was selected as the number one title on the Top Fiction of 2012 list by Lifeway Booksellers

• Was selected as Top Novel of 2012 by USA TODAY book editor Serena Chase

• Was chosen by Harding University as a community read

• Was selected as a group read by too many wonderful bookclubs, libraries, and schools to mention (THANK YOU!)

• Has been nominated for several prestigious awards (results pending, keep your fingers crossed please…most results announced Fall 2013)

• Was optioned by a Dutch publisher with the foreign edition set to release later this year

• Has been optioned by a production company with high hopes of bringing Millie, Bump, and River to the big screen! (Again, prayers appreciated.)

And that doesn’t count the REAL honors I received this year, as I read emails, text messages, facebook posts, inbox messages, letters, and blogposts from YOU…supportive friends, family members, fellow writers, and readers. It’s been an absolute joy to travel this year to my first author events, writer conferences, and school visits, and I’ve very much enjoyed getting to meet so many wonderful people along the way.

This year, I’m counting my many blessings and hope each of you know…I consider you among my greatest gifts. Thank you for your kindness, your support, your friendship, your smiles, your encouragement, and your willingness to give this little story a shot. I can’t even say you’ve made my dreams come true because, honestly, I never dared to dream so big.

Now, I’m finishing the sequel with each of you in mind and I hope you’ll all enjoy seeing where Millie’s life takes her next. I’m excited about the next phase of her adventure, and I’m eager to share it with you. It’s schedule to be released September 2013, and the working title is WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE. May you each have a wonderful 2013 and I sure hope your life takes you beyond your wildest dreams.

THANK YOU!

Day 2: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh – Three Reasons to Limit the Number of Gifts Under Your Tree

Image by SimplyCindyBlog.com

“On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” – Matthew 2

As Christians, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December. One of the things we learn about the birth of Jesus is that he was visited by wise men who offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Most scholars believe Jesus would have likely been one or two years old by the time they found him, and these gifts would not have been typical offerings to a young child. I won’t go into the theological arguments about how many wise men really existed, whether they originated from Yemen, Iran, or Egypt, or the cultural roles of Zoroastrianism and Judaism in the region at that time, but I encourage you to learn more if you’re interested. Religious history is a fascinating subject to study, no doubt.

What I will note is the number of gifts we believe were offered. Three.

Think about that for a minute. Jesus was being honored as a new-born King. He had been discussed in the scriptures by prophets, announced by a significant celestial event (referred to commonly as a New Star), protected by angels, and targeted by Kind Herod as a threat. He was kind of a Big Deal…and these visitors were not your average guests. They were wealthy, wise, and probably the equivalent of kings in their own regions. Yet, they offered only three simple gifts.

This is something I stress to my children each holiday season when their Wish Lists get longer and longer. I stole the idea from a dear friend many years ago, when she shared her family’s tradition of giving only three gifts to each of their children. “If it’s good enough for Christ, it’s certainly good enough for my kids,” she joked. But the thought has stuck with me as one that really makes sense.

Another friend shared a similar idea today on Pinterest, expanding the rule to Four Gifts (based on a blogpost by giventolove.com).

Image by Givetolove.com

In a world of excess, materialism, and a fierce desire to keep up with the Joneses, I hope you and your loved ones find a way to simplify this Christmas season and focus on the many, many gifts that really matter in your lives — including each other.

For today’s family activity, learn more about the Magi or wise men who traveled to find Jesus. Make the hand print picture shown above (originally found on SimplyCindyBlog.com).

Help your little ones play dress up using robes and dish towels to roleplay the wise men’s visit to Jesus. Discuss the importance of giving to others, and let toddlers “wrap” three “gifts” for Baby Jesus (have fun letting them chose various items around the house they think are special).

Older children can learn more about the nativity story and spend time looking at the stars tonight. Your family can learn about the traditional holiday calendar for Christians.

Advent – (11/28-12/24) Preparation for Christ’s arrival.
Christmas Eve – (12/24) The Night Before Christmas.
Christmas Day – (12/25) Celebration of the birth of Jesus.
The Twelve Days of Christmas – (12/25-1/5) Twelve days starting Christmas night until the day before Epiphany.

Epiphany – (1/6) Also known as Three Kings’ Day celebrates the visit of the Magi.

For more information about the religious reasons behind the Christmas holiday as well as a great list of links to helping kids understand these traditions, visit: http://kingskidstuff.com/christian/wise-men-epiphany/#comment-36439

Peace,

j

Day 1: Christmas Advent-tures Build Stronger Family Connections

It’s official…I’m old. There’s no denying it because I’m now at the age when I say things like, “What? It’s already December? Where did 2011 go?”.

The sad reality is that with my own advancing age, my children are getting older too. This makes me want to cling fiercely to every little Christmas tradition I hold so sacred, including our morning ritual of opening a numbered pocket on our handmade advent calendars to find tiny ornaments to hang on our miniature trees. Sentimental…that’s me. 

And I figure I’m not the only one. That’s why … this year …  I’ll be posting a fun family activity for each of the 25 days of Christmas. I hope you and your little ones enjoy counting down with us and that you all find special ways to savor the season.

SO, Let’s begin!

Today…December 1: It’s time to break out the Christmas book collection. My grandmother started this collection in our family. My mother added many cherished titles, and I’ve been steadily stashing away children’s books about the holidays for years.

Every December 1, we pull them all out…but the collection can be overwhelming. That’s why I love  Oopsey Daisy‘s idea to let kids open just one book a day until Christmas. Of course, if you’ve got more than 25 books, let each child open one…or choose your favorite 25 to wrap and keep a basket of the rest tucked under the coffee table.

One of our favorite titles includes Dream Snow by Eric Carle because each page has a secret image we have to reveal from behind a blanket of snow…plus we can push a magic button to make the tree sing at the end of the book. We also have an old pop-up Nativity Story that’s nearly falling apart from generations of tiny fingers swirling the shining star and swaddling Baby Jesus. And my own personal favorite is a beautiful paper scrapbook that brings us through the ABCs of the holidays. It was made by my grandmother when I was just three years old!

The books don’t have to be expensive. We love our LIttle Golden Book versions of classic stories such as Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and my mother has added fun versions of the Night Before Christmas that showcase our southern and Louisiana heritage.

Whether silly or spiritual, I hope your little ones enjoy unwrapping one Christmas book a day and that your holidays will spoil you all with tons of snuggly storytime!

Stay tuned for more simple ideas to keep your family spending quality time together throughout the Christmas season.

j

Meet Award-Winning Novelist, Lisa Wingate

Award-winning novelist, Lisa Wingate, steadily produces quality reads and has established a massive fan base that crosses into both the ABA and CBA markets. Recently, she discussed her writing life with me, sharing inside information about how she manages to do it all. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

 
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     JC: Lisa, you’ve established yourself as a well-respected author who steadily produces quality work. Dandelion Summer, which was released in July, is your sixteenth book and has garnered extensive praise.

     I admit, I couldn’t put the book down, and I am announcing, This girl can write! But have you ever felt pigeonholed when people place your book within the Romance genre or the Christian/Inspirational or Women’s Fiction genre, and do you find that people sometimes underestimate the skills of such authors?

     LW: I first published in the ABA market with NAL Penguin Putnam, and more recently in CBA with Bethany House Publishers. At times, I have felt pigeonholed by descriptors such as inspirational, women’s fiction, and romance. When I first queried Tending Roses, I received some nice compliments on refusal letters because publishers liked the book but felt they didn’t have the right marketing program for something this “inspirational.” Fortunately, NAL’s Accent line took it on and it has enjoyed over 10 years of success.

    
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     It’s always hard when a book crosses genre lines and the markets don’t quite know where to put it, but oftentimes those are the books that break out and do very well. Over time, many ABA publishers have developed inspirational lines, catalog space and marketing plans, and today the inspirational market and secular market are much more intertwined than they used to be. I think the secret to making inspirational fiction work in a larger market lies in making the Christian message organic to the story.

     JC: Your career as an author started when you decided to share your grandmother’s life lessons with a worldwide audience. Now that debut novel, Tending Roses, is in its fifteenth printing from Penguin Putnam and you’re still telling stories to readers across the globe.

     Share with readers a bit about that journey as a writer. What has been the most positive aspect of life as an author? And have you been disappointed by any particular hurdles within the publishing industry?

     LW: I feel very fortunate to be able to spend my days doing the thing I’ve been dreaming of since the first grade. It’s a special thing when you’re able to realize a dream that seems to have been born into your DNA.

     Overall, my experiences with the publishers have been pretty smooth. I think, like so many people, I didn’t have a realistic picture of the book business when I sold my first book. I had no idea how much marketing authors are required to do these days. Publishing budgets are limited, and unless you’re lucky enough to land a big six-figure deal, you’ll need to find ways to connect to readers and get your book out there in front of media outlets. That was perhaps the biggest surprise or disappointment for me. The world doesn’t just flock to your door because you’ve written a book. You have to let the world know it’s there.

     JC:  Like most women, you are not only a successful writer. You also are a mother, a wife, a farmer, a volunteer, and an inspirational speaker….just to list a few of your daily responsibilities. What advice do you have for women who, like you, are juggling a few too many balls at a time? How do you maintain a healthy balance?

      LW: As much as I love writing and speaking, my greatest accomplishment in life is my family. I’m the mom of two awesome farm boys who are now rushing toward adulthood much faster than I’d thought possible. Life with boys has been a nonstop adventure filled with tree forts, sand pile cities, and unexpected pets captured in unlikely locations.

     The more years go by, the more I realize that the most precious memories are the ordinary ones of picnic lunches at the creek out back, rainy afternoons playing cutthroat Yahtzee, and evenings spent lying side by side in bed reading a story before lights out.

     I manage it all by setting goals and sticking to them. Generally, I try to write ten double-spaced pages per day, which allows me to finish a draft in two or three months, depending on how much I’m gone traveling and speaking. After the first draft is finished, I’ll usually spend a month or so rereading and revising before the book moves on to the editor’s desk.

     Mostly, I get the writing done while my guys are at school and work, but I have learned to live with dropping everything to take left-behind football cleats to school or volunteer at the book sale. Even if it means burning the midnight oil, family time comes first.

     JC: Do your sons read your books? What do they think of having a mother who is a famous author?

     LW: These days my teen and twenty-one-year old would rather be reading car magazines or articles about where to find the fattest bass. They are proud of the fact that I write books, and often travel with me to various book talks. If we happen to pass a good fishing hole on the way home, so much the better!

     I cherish the memory of the day the first print copies of Good Hope Road arrived at my house. It was only my third book to be published, and the first time both boys were old enough to actually read one of my books. Three copies came, and they each asked me if they could have one.

 

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     I remember the two of them sitting on either side of me on the sofa, my 11 year old reading and turning pages fairly quickly, and my 7 year old quietly sounding out words and moving more slowly. That was the ultimate family reading moment.

     JC: Which of your 16 books do you consider to be your favorite?

     LW: Tending Roses will always be my sentimental favorite because it has my grandmother’s stories and Grandma Rose has her personality, although she would deny that. My grandmother was a quirky, stubborn, smart, strong woman, who wasn’t above stirring up some trouble around town and a few family wrangles.

     In the book, Grandma Rose leaves stories in a notebook for her granddaughter to find and read. In reality, my grandmother told me these stories when she visited after the birth of my first son, her first great grandchild. I was a young mother wrestling with the issue of whether I should return to my technical writing career, or stay home and enjoy this tiny baby. Grandma thought I needed some life lessons, and her stories, told in quiet moments with that child nestled on her chest, were life changing for me.

    A couple of years later after my second son was born, I came across the notebook where I had written down her stories. I had the idea of putting them into a novel with a fictional family (my family will have you know that we aren’t nearly as neurotic as the family in the book) and Tending Roses was born!

     JC: In Dandelion Summer, I felt powerfully connected to your characters and I didn’t want the book to end. How did you create such a believable cast and were they based on people in your real life? Tell us a bit about your work with youth.

     LW: For years, Sam and I have taught Sunday School to high school seniors. Being the biggest church in town and having an active youth program, we gather kids from the community who come to socialize, feel safe, and be accepted. We’ve had many teens over the years who seemed somewhat adrift, with not much family support. They are in my thoughts a lot.

     Epie, in Dandelion Summer, is kind of a collage of these teens. Like so many young girls, she is on the verge of making some bad decisions to gain the attention and approval of a men. She needs someone to show her how to live, how to believe in herself. J. Norman comes into her life quite by accident, but he becomes the mentor she needs.

     JC: Dandelion Summer also discusses the inspirational space race era. How did you decide to write about this fascinating topic and what are a few interesting facts you learned during your research?

     LW: For me, Dandelion Summer was a joy to write, as the original Apollo moon shots are some of my oldest memories, and the history of Norman’s character in the novel mirrors the real-life adventures of a wonderful reader-friend, Ed Stevens, who helped design America’s first moon lander, Surveyor, while working for Howard Hughes.

     Ed wrote to me some years ago after reading one of my earlier novels and explained that he was retired, loved computer projects and would like to help in any way he could to get the news about me and about my books out via Internet. I took him up on that (how could I be so lucky?) and I can’t tell you the number of technical issues he has guided me through.

     During all those shared struggles, Ed shared some memories of his career and his life. I found myself printing his notes so I could keep them, and finally, I decided to put his memories into a book. He became the background for J. Norm’s career. The research was minimal, and each time I needed something about the space career, Ed knew just where to go. Ed is responsible for providing all these wonderful articles and web links (be sure you watch the control room video!):

Actual 1966 audio/video of the control room during Surveyor landing:

http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//ITN/1966/06/02/X02066601/

Surveyor 1 Soft Landing on the moon approximately 2 minute video:

http://realserver1.jpl.nasa.gov:8080/ramgen/timeline/Video-first-soft-moon-land-020530.rm?mode=compact

Surveyor history and photos:

http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist//ITN/1966/06/02/X02066601/

Surveyor 1 pictures and details: http://www.thelivingmoon.com/43ancients/02files/Surveyor_01.html

Launch pads 36 A & 36 B where the Surveyor Spacecraft were launched: http://spaceflightnow.com/atlas/ac167/040831pad36a.html

   JC:  Do you “write to learn” as many authors do, choosing challenging topics so that you can learn about them as you write, or do you purposely choose topics that you are already familiar with in hopes of “writing to teach” your readers what you know?

     LW: I write to learn, and each character teaches me lessons. Life is filled with characters. Some characters, like Grandma Rose in Tending Roses, and J. Norman Alvord in Dandelion Summer, come from people I know and love. Some may be inspired by a person I’ve only heard about on the news or brushed by in a store somewhere.

     The more paths you walk in life, the more you realize that everyone has a story and that story made them what they are. Part of writing is looking at the people around you and guessing at what that story may be. That’s when the let’s pretend begins. What if…I put that character in this situation? What would happen? And so the story begins… and I stay tuned (and write) to hear … the rest of the story.

   JC: What can Lisa Wingate fans look forward to in the future?

     LW: Blue Moon Bay comes out in February from Bethany House. Edits are complete, and we are planning several book club activities and promotions. BMB is the second in the Moses Lake books. The story has a mystery, a romance and lots of southern flavor. Here is a little preview:

For Seattle architect Heather Hampton, a trip back to tiny Moses Lake, Texas is hardly in the plan. But when her chance to achieve Project Manager status hinges on the sale of the family farmland to giant Proxica Foods, Heather finds herself headed to the last place she ever wanted to go. If Heather has her way, she’ll be in and out of Texas in a day–with the real estate contracts properly signed.

But the currents of Moses Lake take visitors on unexpected journeys. Heather’s visit soon morphs into Valentine’s week in the rambling family funeral home, with a family steeped in secrets, and the local banker, Blaine Underhill, who seems intent on stalling Heather’s project. As secrets are held and revealed, Heather can’t help but wonder if the handsome banker, and the family she has come to know again, are crooks or crusaders. Somehow she must find out the truth before she loses everything she has worked for and everything she’s found on the shores of Moses Lake.

     The third Moses Lake book, Firefly Island is still in the making, and we’ll be having a Join the Cast contest. One reader, bookclub, or bookseller will win the chance to join the cast of Moses Lake by naming a character, club, or store in Firefly Island and be a part of the story line. Readers can learn more about that on my website and read the first chapter of Blue Moon Bay at www.Lisawingate.com/jointhecast

     I’m also involved in a fun blogsite, where we talk about Southern food, faith, fiction, and fun – sort of a Southern girls’ version of the View. As we speak, SouthernBelleView.com is about to turn one year old, and it has been a fantastic year!

     JC: Thanks for taking your time to share your work with us today. I’m excited to share this beautiful novel and hope new readers will give this story a chance. I have no doubt if they do, they’ll become Lisa Wingate fans for life. I sure have.

     LW: Thank you, Julie. I appreciate your featuring me on your blog. Best wishes to you!

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Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, inspirational speaker, and the author of a host of mainstream fiction novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses. Her books have been featured selections for Doubleday and Literary Guild book clubs, selected for The Reader’s Club of America, and have garnered LORIES Best Fiction and Reader’s Choice Awards, and been nominated for the ACFW Book of the Year Award. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. Lisa loves sharing with readers via Facebook, Youtube, and her website. More information about Lisa’s novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com

 

Creative Nonfiction: Top Tips on Writing Memorable Memoirs and MORE!

Photo Credit: Simon Howden / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Interested in writing stories about your life experience? Want to write nonfiction but don’t want it to be dry?

Whether you’re writing about cooking or canines, the narrative can be creative and captivating. Check out my post on the WordServe Watercooler today to learn simple tips: http://bit.ly/uw9lVU

Cheers,

j

Take a Rest on Southern Belle Porch

I’ve been honored to serve as a guest blogger this week on the fabulous Southern Belle View blogsite. If you’re interested in knowing more about Southern Literature, I invite you to swing by their porch to read my post: http://southernbelleview.blogspot.com/search/label/Very%20Special%20Guests

And, if you’re up for reading yet another blogpost I’ve written this week, check out the WordServe Water Cooler where I join other WordServe authors on a fabulous new blog for writers. http://wordservewatercooler.com/

Both of these blogs are great ones to follow if you’re interested in writing or southern authors. Thanks for stopping by, and have a fantastic week!

j

I Don’t Have an MFA and Other Excuses

Recently, a friend confessed that her lifelong dream was to write, but she didn’t believe she could do it because she lacked a college degree. Her honesty struck a chord with me. Mainly because this lack of confidence is universal, whether we have an MFA or not.

Ironically, I had just seen a biography from a debut novelist that read something along the lines of: “Joe Author never attended college and has not received any awards.” His novel, some kind of zombie love story, was already garnering tons of praise, but it’s the bio that I remember.

This made me think seriously about the excuses that stop us from following our true calling. Lack of a college degree didn’t stop J.K. Rowling from becoming the world’s first billionaire author with her Harry Potter series. Nor did it prevent high-school dropout Dorris Lessing from receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature (2007). In fact, some of the world’s most memorable books were penned by authors without a diploma, including J.D. Salinger (Catcher in the Rye), Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), and William Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury).

I’ve got a confession of my own. I never took a writing class. I did earn a B.A. and an M.A., both in Communication Sciences and Disorders to become a certified speech-language pathologist. I love working with my clients and I am passionate about my career. Yet I always wanted to be a writer.

I’m grateful I have that SLP certification to fall back on, and I continue to work in that field today. But I’m also thankful I had the guts to give writing a shot.

I cannot imagine my life without writing. It is not just a job for me, it is a way of life. I write because it’s how I process the world around me. It’s how I think through the lessons I am given and how I learn from the everyday experiences that might otherwise go unnoticed. I write because it forces me to slow down and appreciate the many blessings in my life. I write because it’s my way of listening to my soul, a voice that gets drowned out by life’s hectic pace.

Today, I challenge you to write. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or whether those thoughts will ever make it to a bookstore shelf. Write because you are giving yourself that gift. Write because it’s what you’re led to do. Write because you want to think, and learn, and grow.

Follow the lead of Rachel Ray (creator of original cookbooks and her own magazine), Ben Affleck (screenwriter of Good Will Hunting), and the Wachowski brothers (writers of The Matrix), all of whom never graduated from college. Don’t let any excuses get in the way. Just write.

Simple Ways to Polish Writing Skills

  1. Keep a journal
  2. Write letters
  3. Maintain a Blog
  4. Write a local newspaper column
  5. Pitch freelance articles