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

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month

9780781404259_3D (3)April is BOTH National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

In hopes of drawing attention to these important issues, David C. Cook is offering WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE for FREE across ALL E-Book Platforms through April. 16.

Please click to DOWNLOAD your free copy of this novel today, and please share with others who may find hope and healing in this inspirational story.

Also, be sure to check out my latest newsletter to discover important statistics, resources, and updates.

Thanks for your continued commitment to making this world the best it can be.

Peace and love to all — and Happy Reading!

julie

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!

Powerhouse Team of Southern Authors on the Porch!

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HIGHLY POPULAR SOUTHERN BLOG WELCOMES POWERHOUSE TEAM OF AUTHORS TO THEIR PORCH

OXFORD, MS. – The Southern Belle View (SBV) writers are pleased to announce the addition of five new novelists to their already popular blog line-up. This expansion allows readers to follow daily posts from 10 leading inspirational authors.

The team, which seeks to give their online gatherings the chatty, down-home feel of a Southern porch, now includes novelists Julie Cantrell, Eva Marie Everson, Kellie Coates Gilbert, Rachel Hauck, Amy Hill Hearth, Denise Hildreth Jones, Jolina Petersheim, Nicole Seitz, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, and Lisa Wingate, writers who have garnered nearly 60 literary honors and awards.

Together, this group of female authors has published more than 50 novels and 23 works of nonfiction, as well as three children’s books, a Broadway play, and a feature film. Their works have been translated into multiple languages and include numerous national and international bestselling titles.

“We have created a place online to discuss family, faith, fiction, and all things southern,” Julie Cantrell said. “It’s become a space for us to share our lives and examine the challenges we all face, especially as women. We particularly enjoy interacting with our readers and discussing the quirks of Southern life.” Cantrell’s bestselling novel, “Into the Free,” won the Christy Award for Book of the Year and the Mississippi Library Association Fiction Award. The sequel, “When Mountains Move,” was recently released.

Amy Hill Hearth will now be blogging opposite Cantrell on Wednesdays. This Peabody-award winning author penned “Having Our Say” which spent 113 weeks on the New York Times list and was produced as both a play and a feature film. After a successful career in nonfiction, Hearth released her debut novel, “Miss Dreamsville,” to rave reviews.

“We are a sisterhood of writers, who are also mothers, grandmothers, daughters, businesswomen, teachers, and neighbors, each with her own unique voice and her own unique Southern experience. Southern Belle View gives us the opportunity to welcome our readers to a central place and join us on our journey,” Hearth said.

Bestselling and award-winning author, Lisa Wingate, who has just published her 21st novel, “Wildwood Creek,” explained the overall goal of SBV. “In a world where we seem to have gotten away from chatting over the fence with our neighbors, we’ve built a front porch for our greater neighborhood, so to speak. Even though it’s online, it has an old-fashioned, Southern vibe, where women of all ages kick off our shoes, sip sweet tea, laugh, cry, and support each other through it all.”

Join these ten acclaimed authors at www.southernbelleviewdaily.com where they engage in open dialogue with readers and frequently offer prize giveaways.

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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

Don’t Miss Rose Hill Cemetery Costumed Tour

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The 4th Annual Historic Costumed Tour at

Rose Hill Cemetery, Meridian, Mississippi

September 28, 2013 6 p.m.

When I began researching the Romani Travelers for my novel, Into the Free…particularly the “Queen of the Gypsies” Kelly Mitchell, I was honored to have the assistance of Leslie Joyner who has spent years compiling records and archiving stories about the history of Meridian, Mississippi. She works for the Lauderdale County Department of Archives & History where she is currently publishing her second book about this rich culture. I’ve invited Leslie here today to tell you all about an annual event they host in Meridian, and I hope you’ll enjoy visiting the grave of Queen Kelly Mitchell and seeing her “come to life” in the upcoming cemetery tour.

INSIDER’S NOTE: In the novel, Into the Free, I renamed Rose Hill Cemetery. It is called Hope Hill in the book, but I drew the details of the location and the funeral from working directly with many wonderful researchers in Meridian, including Leslie.

Now…Here’s Leslie:

As you drive up the hill on 8th Street in Meridian, Mississippi you’ll see what to me is a huge cemetery surrounded by fencing. I had driven by this cemetery for years and always wondered about it. In 2010 I finally got the chance to get close and personal with the cemetery’s history, and the history of those that are resting there. My assignment from my supervisor, Ward Calhoun, Jr. in January 2010 was to research a list of about 20 people. At the time I did not know that a costumed tour was in the works so I began my research with focus.

Kelly Mitchell: Queen of the Gypsies, whose story inspired my debut novel Into the Free

Kelly Mitchell: Queen of the Gypsies, whose story inspired Julie’s debut novel, Into the Free

I spent the next several months researching what to me looked like it would be the most interesting of the subjects, the King and Queen of the Romani (Gypsies), Emil and Kelly Mitchell. Exactly how did someone not from Meridian, and perhaps had never even been to the area come to be buried in this cemetery?

I found that the Queen had died in 1915 during childbirth with her 15 or 16th child in Coatopa, Alabama and Meridian was the closest town that had access to an ice plant which would be needed to preserve her body. It would be many weeks for Kelly’s family and other Romani to make the trip by foot, train, horse or horse drawn wagon to pay their respects to the Queen.

Since her death nearly a century ago, her people come through Meridian to pay their respects, and to leave gifts at her grave. A small publication on the Mitchell family was completed in October 2010 and is available for purchase at the Lauderdale County Department of Archives and History, Inc. http://www.kithandkinofthesouth.org/rose-hill-books.html

Last month, I finally completed researching and writing everything that could be found on the other people that are portrayed in the tour: Lewis Ragsdale and John T. Ball, the feuding founding fathers of Meridian; John Taylor, Mayor of Meridian during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878; Mississippi Legislature and Confederate Officer William Patton; Marjorie Woods Austin, the founder of the Meridian Little Theater and so many more interesting individuals who helped to make Meridian a great city! The biographies of the people that are portrayed on the tour is called “The People of Rose Hill Cemetery: The Tour” and will be available on September 28, 2013 at our next tour!

King Emil Mitchell was distraught when he lost his much loved wife during childbirth in 1915

King Emil Mitchell was distraught when he lost his much loved wife during childbirth in 1915

You can keep up with the tour through our website and Facebook Page

http://www.historicrosehillcemeterytours.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Rose-Hill-Company/125210517551517

1 the crowd

If you do choose to go to the tour, be sure to arrive early…each year the crowds grow larger. Take a look at the line from 2011!

Julie’s bestelling, award-winning novel, Into the Free, is a coming-of-age tale set in Depression-era Mississippi. Many of the details are based on historical research from this region, including the Roma who caravan through town each spring to pay homage to their fallen queen. The sequel, When Mountains Move, launches SEPTEMBER 1. Learn more: https://juliecantrell.wordpress.com/order-books/

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.

My Next Big Thing

So…here’s the scoop on the long-awaited sequel to Into the Free.

YBarks-300x287ou may have noticed authors posting recently about their Next BigThing. You can read about Carla Stewart’s next big thing by visiting her blog. My answers (below) are all about my upcoming novel, WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE due to release THIS SEPTEMBER. Enjoy!
What is your working title of your book?

When Mountains Move (Hits shelves this September!)

Where did the idea come from for the book?

This book is the sequel to Into the Free and explores the next phase of Millie’s life. I always felt there was more to Millie’s story than what was shared in the first book, and I’m grateful so many readers have asked for more. I hope folks will enjoy seeing what happens next as Millie strives to create the happy family she never had as a child.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s considered general fiction, inspirational fiction, Christian fiction, and women’s fiction. Some would call it romantic. It will also appeal to those who enjoy southern literature (since our main characters are southern), as well those who like books about the west (since they leave Mississippi to launch a ranch in the Colorado Rockies during WWII.) Choose your weapon. I don’t focus so much on how it’s boxed (I know that’s important, though). I just hope it’s a human story people like, no matter what they want to call it.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I struggle with this question so much because I never picture any real person when I’m writing my characters. I would love my characters to be depicted by actors who have never been thought of as any other character on a large scale, so they can fully become Millie, Bump, River, etc. without other well-known personality traits blurring that presentation. That said, while watching Les Miserables, I thought Samantha Barks would make a perfect Millie (pictured above). That would be my dream.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
The book will be released September, 2013 by David C Cook, the phenomenal publishing company who produced my debut novel, Into the Free. I am represented by Greg Johnson, literary agent extraordinaire.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Oh goodness. This is a trick question. I really struggled to carve writing time for this sequel. I finally forced myself to focus for five weeks this summer and just get the story down on paper. That meant I had to work through five months of very heavy edits, of course. Believe me…it’s never a good idea to try to write a novel in five weeks. I remember hearing JK Rowling once admit she considered breaking her own arm to delay a deadline. I now understand how she feels. The pressure was intense.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Maybe the Big Stone Gap trilogy by Adriana Trigiani, or the Mitford Series by Jan Karon. Both are character driven series which create a world of believable people and explore the daily struggles and emotions experienced in real life. My characters live more on the gritty side of life though. I aim to show both the brutality and the beauty of this world, because life for a lot of people just isn’t pretty. But in the end, I hope my characters show how to rise above the struggles and never give up hope.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Originally, I wrote my first novel just to see if I could do it. It was on my bucket list, and turning 35 was the trigger for me. I never planned to publish it. But after the story came alive to me, I felt nudged to share it. This book is a continuation of that story, so it was all inspired by a compelling desire to push myself into uncomfortable territory and to grow stronger, braver, and more creative in the process.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Second chances. The mythic West, the Rocky Mountains, a girl trying to overcome her past. Gypsies, cowboys, ranchers. A young couple struggling to make ends meet and to love unconditionally despite many challenges to their new marriage. A journey of growth, as Millie develops deeper faith, a stronger spirit, and the ability to trust. Outlaws, renegades, and secret lovers. This book explores the complicated webs we weave, with secrets and sins, love and loyalty, faith and forgiveness. And hope.

 

On Becoming a Belle..and other things Southern-y

Most of you know I grew up in Louisiana, but no one would have ever described me as a Southern Belle. The only crown I ever wore was for homecoming queen (Thanks to all you crazy kiddos who thought I stood a chance in the world). I didn’t much care for beauty pageants, and we didn’t have debutante balls in our little town. It wasn’t that kind of place. In fact, I endured more of a hard-knocks, rough-livin’, survival-of-the-fittest kind of growing up that taught me early on how to love and how to let go.

So it came as a surprise to me when four leading ladies of southern literature invited me to join them as a Southern Belle. To be honest, I thought their mimosas might have bitten them a little to hard, so I quickly accepted before any of them sobered up enough to realize their great mistake. Now they’re stuck with me (evil laugh), and I’m having SO much fun!

It’s been a wonderful experience mainly because I have long admired the work of Lisa Wingate, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Rachel Hauck, and Beth Webb Hart, the four REAL Belles who let me tag along and play with the big girls. We all discuss an assigned topic each week, and I get to post my two-cents on Wednesdays.

So far, I’ve chatted about how I caught my man (Love and Marriage? Not for Me!), my obsession with Johnny Depp, my favorite reads of 2012, the world’s fastest workout, how Mr. Rogers helped me through the Sandy Hook tragedy, a year of thankful thoughts, and much more.

If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll join us on the porch where we do what southerners do best…we talk! The more the merrier, I like to say, so pull up a rocking chair, grab a glass of sweet tea, and join us. We’ll be glad to see y’all there. Follow us at: http://www.southernbelleviewdaily.com/ Each morning while you sip your coffee, you can take part in the mellow, quiet cyberchat about the topic of the day. Inhale. Exhale. It’s that easy. It’s like The View only slightly more sane. And much more zen. And we talk over each other, promise.

And stay tuned…next week I’m going to be revealing some BIG HINTS about the upcoming sequel to Into the Free!!!

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