Thursday, October 30, 2008

Win A Copy of Michelle Sutton's "It's Not About Me!"

I've known Michelle Sutton for a long while through ACFW and have gotten to know her better since we've served on the ACFW Operating Board together the past couple years. For almost all of those two years Michelle has talked about her YA (young adult) novel, It's Not About Me.

When Sheaf House, a new imprint, picked it up I knew that although I am never attracted to YA genre novels, I would read this one because Michelle is my friend. The novel came out about a month or so ago and it has hit the shelves like gangbusters. I don't know exactly what printing it is in now, but before it was even officially released, it was sold out! In fact, I had a hard time getting my hands on a copy.

Well, my copy finally arrived and I eagerly opened the book and started reading. I immediately saw how much the book is needed to help teens of today's culture deal with peer pressure in getting involved sexually outside of marriage. But it also addresses another important issue. Many teens who are raised in the church are raised with a sense that they are saved through family connections rather than personally placing their faith in Christ as an individual. The truth is that God has no grandchildren. In It's Not About Me, Sutton works through Annie's (her main character) struggle with this and her thinking process as she comes to understand that she really didn't have a personal relationship with Christ like she she thought she did.

Although I personally didn't always find the parents' characters to be believable in their reactions because they seem to accept some of the situations so quickly and without question, I realize that the main thrust of the story is what is important. How God uses adversity in the main characters' lives to bring them to a deeper relationship with Him and able to overcome the pressures of today's culture.

I would recommend this book to teens who can handle some of the more mature scenes. Michelle bills herself as the Edgy Christian Writer and that does come through in several scenes. I didn't find any of it over the top, but sensitive teens might not be able to deal with it. I would advise parents to read the book first to be certain it's right for your teen.

Michelle graciously agreed to an interview which follows. After you read it, don't forget to leave a comment. I will happily share my copy of It's Not About Me to the person whose name is picked from all who leave a comment. The name will be drawn a week from today, November 4th. Please be sure to leave contact info in case you are the winner!

Without further ado, here's the interview!

How did you come to set the story in Idaho?

Actually, this is the first time I've been asked this question. When I first wrote the series (which used to have two previous titles that I have since made stand alone novels, and one I relocated to Sierra Vista) I was concerned about locating the series in Arizona because I used to work for Child Protective Services. I didn't want former clients who may happen to read my book think that I was talking about their case, because I made sure I didn't do that with anything I wrote. To be on the safe side I changed the location to Idaho. I used to live in Idaho, too, but only for a year back in 1985. So that was a secondary reason.

I believe you said you didn’t start out the story to be a YA, how far into it did you get before you realized it was a YA?

It was actually book 3 in a series. The first two were women's fiction and I intended Annie's story to be the same and was told by a publisher that it seemed more YA to her than Women's fiction, so we relooked at that and decided to change it to YA. It's not about the age of the characters but more the content and topical matter that make it YA. There are a lot of Women's fiction titles with young characters but they have different themes.

Now that you have blazed a trail for yourself in YA will that be your genre from now on?

After this series (which has been written for 3 years) is all in print I hope to sell some of the Women's fiction titles I have circulating right now. I have one romantic suspense, five women's fiction titles and these three-plus other projects in the works. Everything I write has three things in common regardless of the genre. They all have edgy content, lots of romance, and tragedy turned to triumph themes.

I believe you’ve said before that you are a seat of the pants writer as opposed to a plotter. How much prep work do you do on characterization before starting a novel?

I just write. But like some people say, there is always a plot in your head. Before I write a story I think about it for months and let it simmer in my head. By the time I write the story I have the outline in my head and so the only thing that is seat of the pants is the details. Those come as I write. I am usually so mentally immersed in the characters when I write that I know exactly what they are going to say and do before I even write it.

How much did the story change from the original idea as it was being written.

Not a thing changed. What you've read is so close to my original manuscript that you would be amazed. A lot of people say they have editors hack at their novels or give them a long list of changes that the publisher/editor wants to be changed. Not so in my case. It's the same story with the same guts. The editor told me I could spice it up a hair, so I did (in the beginning) but the rest is exactly the same.

There’s a sequel in the works. How long until we can buy it and who is it about?

It's Not About Him is coming out in Sept 2009 and I'm very excited about this novel. My endorsers are really enjoying it, too, and that's a good sign. You always worry that people won't like your second book as much as your first. These stories are different but both are quite intense. The sequel is Susie's story. What does she do with her baby and what happens to Jeff? Will they get together or are the destined to remain just friends? That's the gist of it, but all the mucky muck you experience in the midst of the story will hold your attention and keep you reading. I love drama and the tension and I drag some characters through some pretty hard stuff. It's more fun to read than blah storylines. Plus, I don't have to do research as I write what I know. :) People should be able to get copies of INAM easier than before, now that online publishers are getting smarter and stocking more books. They can also be ordered at most Barnes and Noble and Borders book stores. Pre-orders for INAH (the sequel) should be available sometime this summer, like July or August.

Thanks for the chance to interview, Pam!

Thanks for visiting, Michelle!

Don't forget to leave a comment to win your own copy of It's Not About Me!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Concerns About the Election

Every presidential election I become a junkie. An election junkie that is. This year is different. I'm not only an election junkie, but an election warrior.

I have not usually used this platform for political purposes, but this year I feel I have no choice but to speak out. I have been shocked to learn how many people I know are so uninformed about the things Obama and McCain stand for and are relying on the media to tell them.And I'm very, very concerned for the direction this country appears to be going.

It used to be that we could turn on our nightly news to any of the big three, CBS, NBC, and ABC and receive an unbiased report about what was happening with the candidates. Not anymore. The secular media is so unabashedly for the Democratic ticket that they go so far as to quash anything negative about Obama and Biden and only report the positive. At the same time, they have no qualms about reporting anything they can find negative about McCain and Palin. In particular, Sarah Palin has received endless bashing.

I tell my friends to not depend on the network news for their information, but do their own research. Learn how to find the information on the Internet, watch news programs that give you both sides. And use your brain to discern the truth.

The guy I've come to like best in this election cycle is Joe the Plumber. Who knew that an ordinary Ohio guy could quite possibly turn this election around. One little conversation with Obama and he called it what it is. When I heard the phrase "We've got to spread the wealth around," my stomach went sour. Where is the encouragement to better your business through growth? Why bother when you'll only be taxed more and that money given down to someone who hasn't worked as hard as you? Call it what you will, that system scares me.

Then there is the abortion issue. We've had the pro-life, pro-choice views thrown out there for a lot of years now. I'm strongly in the pro-life camp, believing every life is sacred from conception, but Obama has added a new wrinkle. Here in Chicagoland we've been aware for a long time about a place in our Southern burbs called Christ Hospital. A number of years ago doctors were performing late term abortions there as is allowed by law. What most people didn't know was that sometimes the babies were born still alive. Did they quickly dash the child off to have him or her tended to? No. They left the baby laying there to die! This led to proposed legislation to protect these innocent lives against such acts and, while he was a state senator here in Illinois, Obama voted against this legislation. He has given excuses for these votes to appease the naysayers but, in my opinion, they don't add up. If you want to check this out for yourself, go to this site. Another place to educate yourself about this is at author Randy Alcorn's blog.

This has been so much on my heart the past couple weeks, that I've not even posted here, struggling with whether or not I should speak up. We still have a week and a few days to make a difference with how we vote.

All I ask is please, if you've not yet decided who to vote for, educate yourself and try to see beyond what the media is saying. There is substance out there for all of us to read and decide.

Next time I'll be back with chatter about books and writing. I promise.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Yikes! I've Been Tagged Again!

Fellow ACFW board member, Pamela (Pammer) James, tagged me last night. This time the exercise is to tell five random things about myself that people likely don't know. This may be harder than it sounds but I'll give it a go.

1. Like Pammer I graduated high school before I was 18 and still had a curfew (which rebel that I was, tried to break and was grounded!)

2. I once climbed a mountain. Years ago my cousins and I camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and my cousin, Dick, led us up a mountain, past the tree line to the top. Not exactly Long's Peak in Colorado, but it was a mountain. I have no idea what the elevation was.

3. When I was about five or six I won first place singing Jingle Bells in a talent contest put on at the local movie theatre where we went every Saturday afternoon to watch Roy Rogers movies. Only at that age could I win a singing contest. Probably because I was cute as all kids are at that age. It surely couldn't be for my voice! A singer I am not :-).

4. One of my ancestors in my extended family, George Bancroft, served as secretary of the Navy under President Van Buren. He also founded Annapolis and there's a building named for him there. There he is on the right!

5. A late-bloomer, I didn't graduate from college until age 49. I started college before I turned 18 (remember how I graduated high school at 17?) and my immaturity showed. By the next year I was home and looking for a job. Over time I got my act together and went back to school, getting A's.

Okay there's my little-know list of facts. Now I tag Michelle S., Deb Kinnard, and Winter Peck. Let me know when your info is up!

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Winner of My Sister Dilly is . . .

Ta da!!!
Drum roll, please!!!


As soon as Cindy sends me her snailmail address Maureen will be getting a copy of My Sister Dilly off to her.

Thanks to all for entering my contest!

Watch this blog for another contest coming up soon!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

ACFW Conference Picture Show

I finally got my pictures from the ACFW Conference uploaded. I often got so busy I forgot to pull out the camera, but I did manage to get quite a few pics and some of these were taken by others.

On Free Friday night my crit group, the Penwrights, went out to a great Italian Restaurant at the Mall of America. It's amazing how much fun a group can have with nothing stronger than Diet soda to drink. :-)

So here ya go! Enjoy!

ACFW Conference 2008 - Minneapolis MN

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Win a Free Copy of Maureen Lang's My Sister Dilly!

October is going to be a great month at Writer's Journey as I get caught up on my book reviews and interviews and contests.

We're starting out with a great read by Maureen Lang that is just out from Tyndale. Many of you are familiar with Maureen's historical novels, but this time you are in for a treat. "Dilly" is a contemporary novel that is all about relationships. Hannah Williams comes back from California to the small farm town in central Illinois where she grew up. She thinks she's coming to help her sister who has paid the price of a bad decision. A decision Dilly made because Hannah wasn't there to help her. She's driven to do this although she loves life in California and loves the man she left behind there.

I don't want to tell you more because you need to read it for yourself. The story begins in a slow, easy pace, much like life is in Downstate Illinois, which is what Chicagoans (where I live) call any place in Illinois that isn't near Chicago :-). But the action picks up quickly and before you know it you are turning the pages as fast as you can read!

Maureen is kind enough to offer a pristine copy of My Sister Dilly to the winner of a contest I'm running. Next Monday, on my birthday, October 6th, I will throw all the names of those who leave a comment to this post on the randomizer and see whose name comes out in first place.

Below is an interview with Maureen about the writing of My Sister Dilly. Enjoy and be sure to leave a comment to win your own free copy of this excellent book!

1. My Sister Dilly is a departure from the historical genre you usually write in. What prompted you to write the story?

I vividly recall the exact moment this story took shape. I was talking to my sister-in-law, who, like me, has a child with a disability. We often talk about how things are, and she told me of another mom to a disabled child who was serving time in prison. Even as my sister-in-law was telling me the story, I remember praying, “Oh, no, this story is too hard, Lord. I cannot possibly write it. Why are You nudging me to do this?”

But it just wouldn’t go away, even though I didn’t feel equipped. The circumstances seemed too serious, even though from the get-go I started telling myself that if I could insert some kind of romance I might be able to make it through the storyline.

So I started corresponding with my sister-in-law’s friend, who was so helpful to me even as she’s still serving time. Her input was invaluable, and the story really started to take shape.
Another thing that made this particular story more difficult was the setting. It had to be a small, rural town, similar to where my husband grew up. I knew it would be a delicate balance to create a character who wouldn’t like small town living, but I didn’t want to offend so many people I love who live in small towns!

2. Not only is this not an historical, but you also write the story in first person point of view. How did that come about? Did you find it easier to write in this format or harder than third person?

The first person POV was a definite surprise to me, since I tend to prefer 3rd person both for my own reading and for my writing. But when I sat down to experiment with this storyline, it just naturally came out from the first person POV of the older sister.

It wasn’t long before the story idea was contracted with Tyndale, and as I seriously proceeded with the book, the first person POV still seemed like it was the best fit—for the book, not necessarily for me. I sent a sample to my editor and asked her what she thought. Should I change it to 3rd person? I was almost hoping she’d say yes, change it, because that’s the format I’m more familiar with. But to my surprise she wrote back almost immediately and said to keep it in first. It was working.

So it stayed that way, and I’m really happy with it. It was one of those things that really served the story best, as if it couldn’t have been told any other way.

Later, it was my editor who suggested a few chapters in Dilly’s POV, also in first person. And I loved it! I wish I could say those chapters were my idea. ☺

3. Do you think you’ll write another first-person novel in the future?

I never say never, so who knows! 3rd person continues to be more in my comfort zone, but now that I know I CAN write in first, it’s not so scary. It would have to serve the story best, though.

4. Right after I read “Dilly” I went on a road trip through Central Illinois and kept thinking about your story as I drove along and looked at the farms dotting the landscape. How did you come to situate the story in that locale?

I really thought the small town setting served the story best because small towns are known for a closer-knit community. If people can isolate even amidst a tighter community, then maybe this isolation really is a factor more unique to families with disabled kids.

5. A funny thing I noticed that really reminded me of your story was the rows of yellow directional arrows on a side road warning drivers of the road narrowing. You describe a similar thing in your book that warned drivers of a turn the road. Is this something indicative to that part of Illinois or is it coincidental that I came upon a similar thing where I was?

I tend to think it’s not that much of a coincidence. If you’ve flown over rural areas, you might have noticed how absolutely square the acreage usually is. Roads tend to follow that pattern, so unless there is a natural reason (like a lake, hills, woods, etc) for a curve, here in flat farm country it really is divided into even squares. So changes in what the road is expected to be, from narrowing to curving, tend to be high lighted for safety reasons.

6. How important is it to have these kind of little details in a story to personalize the setting?

Oh my goodness, I love details! Whether I’m reading or writing, that’s the element that makes a book really come alive. The trick is not to get too detailed and bore the reader, or go off track from the story. If the details really reflect the story, they deepen the texture and can make the characters absolutely breathe.

7. How did you conceive the characters, i.e. the two sisters and Mac, the Los Angeles boyfriend of the older sister?

When I heard about the woman who inspired the story, I knew I didn’t want the serious challenges of her life to be the main POV character. I didn’t want to take my readers (or myself) to that dark place where she did what she did to land herself in jail to begin with. I knew I needed to start the story after the worst was behind her, at that point of hopeful healing, but I was also concerned about the sympathy factor. So the older sister, also flawed, was born. She was a step away from the really blackest part of the story. She seemed safer to me, both for my own comfort and for my readers who want an escape.

And Mac…well, I have to admit my husband plays a part in the inspiration behind all of my heroes. As I mentioned, he grew up in a small town, but after college he lived out in California for a few years before returning to the Midwest. So his experience played a part in the formation of my characters.

8. Did the storyline change by the time you finished the story or was it in place from the start? I guess this is another way to ask if you are a seat-of-the-pants writer or a plotter :-).

I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants writer. I knew from the beginning that there would be a faction of the story representing the public’s abhorrence over the type of crime Dilly committed. But I didn’t know about her needing to help out another woman who committed the same crime until coming to that dreaded middle—knowing the end was too far away and something had to keep those pages turning. It worked out well, I thought!

9. What can readers look forward to next from Maureen Lang?

I’m going back to my safe historicals, at least for the time being. Although if my characters could come alive and you could interview them, I doubt they’d say there was anything “safe” about the circumstances I’ve put them in! The setting is rural again, but this time in Northern France, during the First World War. That setting continues to intrigue me, mainly because it’s on the cusp of modern living and yet (especially in rural areas) still so historical. And the backdrop of that war in particular, where the fighting was for reasons no one really understood, makes for great conflict on any scale.

I don’t have a final title for this book, in my mind it’s just Book One of a three book series, and it’ll be released from Tyndale in September of 2009.

I’ve actually been blogging about the process, from the sale through a research trip to Belgium and Northern France, and the topic will continue on through the editing process, cover design and marketing. You can check that out at:

Thanks so much for having me, Pam! This was fun.

And it was having you here, Maureen.

Okay, folks, before you click out of here, be sure to leave a comment to win your own free copy of My Sister Dilly sent directly to you from the author, Maureen Lang, herself. I'll be she'll even sign it for you :-).