My Favorite Bookstagram Accounts

If you know me, you know Instagram is my preferred social media platform. I love the adorable pictures and the sweet community I have there. So, I thought I would clue y’all in on my favorites! (Just click on the pictures to go to the account!)

To start off, let me introduce you to the SWEETEST #bookstagram girl out there. Madilyn is an absolute darling and I’m pretty sure we were twins separated at birth. I love her happy little Christian feed. It gives me joy!

I love a good magical aesthetic. Is Expelliendsey not the cutest little Harry Potteresque Instagram? I’m not a fantasy writer, but I love her creative vibes!

How lovely is this color scheme? Can you imagine all the work that goes into this feed? Whew! Props to this girl for her top-notch abilities. I’m in love.

I’m a meme girl. Call me tacky if you want, there’s no shame in my game. That one on the top left just gets me – because it’s true and if I don’t laugh I’ll cry. Hahahahamovingon.

I want to be Kim when I grow up. Traveling AND writing books? Yes, please, and thank you. I love her heart for the Lord and her positivity. It’s contagious!!

Another Fantasy author – and another Kim! I found Kim Chance on YouTube and fell in love with her content, so you can imagine my excitement when I found her Instagram… with a PINK theme! It makes me so happy. Also, her writing advice is LEGIT.

These is just a fraction of the accounts that inspire me on the daily. If you have any favorites, leave them in the comments and I will check them out!

And, of course, follow me!

Are Romance Novels Unhealthy?

If you write romance novels, you’re plagued with these questions sometimes. Do my stories cause wives to be dissatisfied with their husbands? Do young girls have unrealistic expectations of their future boyfriends/husband because of my story?

Recently, one of my all-time favorite bloggers came out and bashed all romance novels – even Christian ones – because they foster unrealistic expectations and dissatisfaction. She spoke from personal experience, so I’m assuming she felt she had the authority to condemn all romance novels as someone who doesn’t really like fiction to begin with. I’ll not say her name, because I respect this lady and her wisdom in so many other areas. However, this is a topic I feel like we need to speak into with grace. Not a blanket-statement that condemns an entire demographic of people regardless of heart motive.

A few years ago, I gave up writing because of this very thing. My books seemed to have no eternal consequence and I was discouraged because of the people and statements listed above. I felt like I was creating problems instead of offering solutions. My INFP self couldn’t cope with that.

However, after working through my doubts and concerns with the Lord, I’m back to writing love stories. I have complete peace about it now, even after wrestling doubt for close to three years.

Here are 4 things that I had to realize as I came back into writing Christian Romance Novels.

Know Your Heart.

I’ve said this before on this website, and I’ll say it again. Heart motive always bleeds through to your readers. Whether you are writing for the money, for yourself, for the market, or out of love. It shows.

Ask yourself, why are you writing love stories? What is your motive? Is it to cope with the loneliness and dissatisfaction in your own life? In that case, you may need to prayerfully seek out God’s guidance with your writing. Anything done out of selfish ambition is wrong. If you aren’t writing for God, then you will ultimately be dissatisfied in whatever you do. True peace and fulfillment comes from the One who bought us, and Him alone.

I write love stories because I love writing about love. True, Christ-centered love. Telling the stories of two people who genuinely care for one another instead of the hookup culture I’m plagued with on a daily basis… it gives me hope and reminds me of the higher standard we are called to by the Lord. In a world where the social norm is to sleep together and “hope love comes along”, we need the reminder that God has called us to a much more abundant life than that! From a young age, kids are pressured to give more than they should in exchange for love, but that is a lie straight from the lips of Satan. It’s an absolute shame that we have trained our minds to accept less than God’s design for love. Men and women alike are under intense pressure in this sex-driven world, and it’s exhausting to live in purity sometimes.

I write about love because it’s a heart-warming reminder. The pursuit, the winning of the heart, and eventually marriage… it’s a beautiful picture of what Christ has done for us. It represents the relationship that we have with Him, and that’s what I try to convey in my stories. He is our Groom, we are His Bride, and we wait for Him until the day he comes to marry us.

I guess stories are my way of offering hope. Encouraging others that we don’t have to settle for our culture’s “norm”, that God has called us beyond our culture to live in the abundance that He offers (along with grace for past mistakes).

We should seek to read – and write – about men and women who represent Him well. That’s my “why”, and that’s what keeps me writing even when the doubt tries to sneak in.

Realize the Individual Decision.

Some people may struggle with dissatisfaction in their lives because of the romance novels they read. If this is a struggle for you, then you need to take that to the Lord as you would any other struggle. For this same reason, a person may also opt to not watch certain movies or unfollow certain social media accounts or – if you’re like me – not listen to certain music because it either makes me dissatisfied with my current season, or causes my mind to wander. We have to realize our weaknesses and act accordingly.

We also have to refrain from judging others who may not have this struggle. I have to constantly remind myself of this when someone watches a movie I would not, listens to music I stay way from, or reads books I keep out of my bookshelf. We serve a God who offers freedom!

I would like to draw your attention to some verses in Matthew 17, verses 17+18.

“Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart: and they defile the man.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s not the books, the movies, the music, or anything else that brings us into sin. It’s our own sinful heart that does that.

So protect your walk with God, weed out the things that cause your heart to stumble. But also, allow others to walk in their God-given freedom.

Write Honest Characters.

I love writing my heroes. Why? Because I believe girls need to start expecting a little bit more from these lazy dudes (please don’t stop reading, I have a point!) , but also because I enjoy making him flawed. I love writing about men who actually put in the work – who go beyond a DM that says nothing but “hey”, who are interested in knowing my heroine’s heart instead of what he can get out of her. (No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?) We have lost the art of actually pursuing one another’s heart.

However, I also get this small measure of maniacal pleasure in making him mess up and my heroine getting mad – then vice versa. I love the arguments, the communicating, the words that seem unforgivable and cruel.

Why?

Because I’m a psychopath.

But also because real people have these arguments. They say mean things to one another and they annoy one another and do awful things when they’re upset. That’s humanity. It’s not right, but it’s part of the human condition that we have to fight against.

My characters mess up, then they handle their mistakes badly, but in the end they work through it, because that’s what I want every girl to take away from my stories. When someone else screws up – even if it’s really badly – there is always forgiveness and communication to help us through the confusion and hurt feelings.

There is always grace.

My point is, write honest characters with realistic actions. Then, perhaps, we can avoid this whole debacle. Probably wishful thinking, but one can hope.

Pray About It.

Finally, pray. Pray about your character and how they can represent the Lord well. Yes, God cares about your novel. I did a post on that here. I believe that the Lord thinks stories are important. Even when Jesus walked the earth, he ministered to people by telling parables – stories – so many times. Stories that change lives to this very day. God knows their power and He uses them to reach others every day.

That being said, don’t take your story lightly. Pray over it. Ask God to lead the way so you can write a story that honors Him and His purpose. We have a responsibility to our Savior to represent Him well. Let Him have a part in your story… no, beyond that, let Him take over. Let Him guide the words and the characters until His very heart is weaved into every thread.

Before we go:

I now have a newsletter! You should have seen a pop-up when you got on the website. If not, shoot me an email and I will add you to it! (A newsletter is a mailing list – it’s not the same as being subscribed to the blog!)

In the newsletter:

-Monthly encouragement.

-Short stories.

-Writing updates.

-Tips from amazing authors.

All delivered to YOUR inbox!

Okay, I’m actually done now.

Leave me a comment about what you think we need to guard our hearts against when it comes to entertainment. I’m always interested in your opinion!

Thanks for reading – talk to you soon!

Political Correctness in Fiction

Today, we are going to talk about politics. Not the red-faced arguing, I’m-right-you’re-wrong-and-this-world-is-going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket kind of politics. Rather, how to write about politics in stories.

I’m not going to tell you that I have all the answers to this, because I don’t. As a matter of fact, I don’t know how much of this holds up in the publishing industry. All I can talk about is where I’ve come to morally on this topic.

How much you put into your story is solely dependent on you and your convictions. However, there are a few things I like to take into account when writing about anything controversial.

Your Target Audience.

Typically, how receptive is your target audience to different viewpoints? Now, I get that politics this day and age is especially explosive, but a simple scroll on Twitter will tell you whether your target audience is open-minded to other viewpoints or completely shut down upon being challenged. Pay attention to what you see, then decide how you can delicately approach the topic on your mind. That brings me to the next thing I would like you to consider.

Relevance to the Story.

If you’re writing a historical novel that takes place around a high-stakes election, there are probably some political issues you will need to work through with your characters. Even in current day novels, it’s all about the flow of the story. How much does the government affect the storyline or character? Don’t tack on a political affiliation just for the sake of doing so or being “relevant”. Motive. Motive. Motive.

Where Does Your Main Character Stand?

Personally, I like to make my MC neutral when it comes to politics or religious affiliation. I do not state their specific leanings, but I do remark on their feelings when the story warrants it. I write Christian Fiction, so I obviously talk about God and grow my characters spiritually through the circumstances of my maniacal genius. However, I try to keep affiliations general, stating truth while keeping denomination and political affiliation neutral. However, I am still an unpublished author who is decidedly not an expert on this topic. This is just the path I have chosen for my story personally. In my current “Work In Progress”, my MC hates politics as much as I do, so we bond over that.

What’s The Flip-side?

Yup, there’s two sides to every story. Are you representing both sides well? Are you finding the good intentions within both sides of the argument, or are you leaning solely on your own preferences? You see, writers have this responsibility that is hardly talked about. When we write, we must be 2 things. Informed and Objective. If you’re going into researching an opposite viewpoint with a judgmental attitude, you won’t get anywhere and you will not be representing the topic well. Being a Southern girl writing Civi War era stories, I’ve had to lay aside my pride and surrender my preconceived notions on more than one occasion. I’ve had to accept some major discrepancies with my beloved South, and I’ve had to recognize a lot of good aspects about the North. I had to get to the point where I could defend each side equally, which was easier said than done when I’d surrendered myself to a “Yankee hatin'” mindset. So now, when I write about the different sides of the War Between the States, I try to come to the table with an open and understanding heart with personal preferences aside. I try not to sit at my keyboard with the intent to break down or tear apart. Okay, unless I’m trying to disband the bad guys. Sue me.

Now, once I’ve decided how much of a specific viewpoint to put into the story, there are a few things that I like to ask myself before I put that part of my story into play.

Where’s your heart?

Heart motive almost always bleeds through in the story. Readers can tell if you’re stating your case for personal validation, hatred, or insecurity. Is your motive to deliver a God-honoring story that reflects BOTH sides to the topic in question? Or is your motive to tear down an ideology? While the latter definitely has its place, it’s not generally in fiction. That’s why we have Facebook.

(Just kidding! Please do not be that person. We just want to see pictures of your kids and dogs.)

People don’t need to be hit upside the head with a political view when they just want to see if Susan ends up marrying Bobby the anesthesiologist or Earl the potato farmer. In the words of John Crist, “check ya heart”.

How can I put this delicately?

So you have a bit of controversial political or religious content to put into your novel. It advances the plot, makes sense in the story, and is relevant to your character. How can you put that in a way that doesn’t alienate an entire demographic of potential readers? You can’t please everyone…

Let me say that again.

You can’t please everyone.

But, you do have an obligation to present the truth. Try to find a way that does not water down the truth, but is palatable to people who may not share your view. This goes back to taking both viewpoints into account and acting accordingly. Maybe a secondary character has the opposite view of your main character? Maybe your main character realizes that his black-and-white worldview may possibly be more gray? This is going to be different for every story and every character. Whatever you do, do it with grace and after prayerfully considering how it could come across to others.

Finally, and this applies strictly to my Christian readers.

Sin is sin. Truth is truth. But what does God want me to say?

As followers of Christ, we cannot shy away from admitting sin as sin. We cannot turn what God has made black-and-white into a gray area. Don’t let the fear of offending people make you twist God’s truth until it is more widely accepted.

So, how to discern what is set in stone and what is subject to worldview? That’s going to require a lot of prayer and insight from the Lord. As with anything, He is the ultimate clarity that we need. He has bought that clarity for us through Jesus Christ. Go to His throne room and ask for the wisdom and guidance you need.

Bottom line: don’t write for readers, but don’t write for yourself either. Write objectively. Write informedly. Write well.

And if that gets a little sticky, don’t run away from it. Write God’s truth with grace.

Spotlight On: Tracy Groot

I’ve been keeping this bottled up for a few weeks now… except for the poor dears that had to listen to my ecstatic “GUESS WHO I GOT AN INTERVIEW WITH?” Sorry you guys, but I was just really happy about it.

Tracy’s book is titled “The Sentinels of Andersonville”, and I reviewed it here. I LOVE. THIS. BOOK. It cracked me up and made me cry and if Dance Weld Pickett was a real man, I’d have to fight the urge to take him from Violet Stiles. However, one cannot build a solid relationship with a fictional character, so I’ll have to move on.

To answer your question, “Does Tracy have any books BESIDES this one you keep rambling on about?”… YES! Check out her website and her Facebook Page to keep updated with her and her stories!

Okay, on with the interview!

I narrowed down the CVS receipt of a list of questions I wanted to ask Tracy down to 10 questions. Let’s jump into them!

1) What got you started writing about Andersonville?

 When I was about 12, I was channel-surfing (back then there was, like,10 stations) and found

a show starring Captain Kirk (I’m a Trekkie), dressed up in a Civil War costume. I settled in, thinking he’d been transported to the past by some alien entity. Turned out, it was William Shatner playing the role of Norton Chipman, prosecuting attorney for the U.S. in George C. Scott’s outstanding film, The Andersonville Trial. I was horrified to learn through the testimony of Dr. John C. Bates that a young woman had collected 20 tons worth of food in 4 farm wagons for the starving prisoners, drove it up to the gates, but was turned away by Captain Wirz, and informed by him that if that was all her southern loyalty was worth, feeding these particular Northerners, then she may as well set up a house of ill repute right next to the prison.

A question began to form on my back burner: If she was turned back, did she stay turned back? Later, in my 20s, a friend gave me a book called John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary. I thought: Wait—is this the same Andersonville, from that film? Turned out it was. It was then that I knew I wanted to write about it; I wanted to find out if that young woman came back. And it turned out, she did. (I learned that her name was Anna Hodges—the very same Ann Hodgson in my book.) Writing is all about “finding out”; in this case, I had to find out if she stayed turned back.

2) What book would you say has inspired you the most?

Totally unfair question. I can’t narrow it down. Outside of the Bible, the following books have inspired me the most either from darned good storytelling or effervescent style: A Tale of Two Cities, True Grit, East of Eden, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Paradise Lost, Jane Eyre, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter books, A Little Princess, oh dear,I could go on and on.

3) Given that Historical Fiction isn’t exactly the most popular genre of books this day and age, what advice would you give an author looking to break into this genre?

Don’t give a passing glance at popular genres of the day. The market is fickle. What’s hot one day is cold the next. That makes it easy: write what you want to write. If it doesn’t sell, set it aside and have fun with another genre if you want to. The key is to have fun at what you do. Don’t ever, ever, ever write for market: write what you want to write. If what you want to write happens to coincide with the popular genre of the day, then Bob’s your uncle. But if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it, don’t focus on it, and don’t pay attention to it because you’ll regret it. Write what you want to write. (I had to say that three times. Even then, it’s not enough.)

4) What is the most outrageous thing you have done in the name of research?

I scared up some cash, went to Cyprus in the Mediterranean in ’07, hired a British sailing crew, and asked them to let me throw myself off their sailing vessel while at full sail so I could understand what Jonah felt like to be thrown off a ship in the middle of the ocean. It was a heck of a lot of fun. They actually multi-tasked, and filmed it from a distance for a “Man Overboard” drill for their sailing company. The Jonah book, by the way, is yet to be written; I’ve compiled over a decade of research. I currently volunteer as a sailor during the summer with the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, Michigan. I work on an 1811 recreation of a tall ship sloop called The Friend’s Good Will. I’m learning what it is to be a sailor; the Jonah book is told from the perspective of the sailors.

 5) What did you connect most with while writing The Sentinels of Andersonville?

I connected most with what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said of the Good Samaritan. Somehow, I got hold of this quote while writing Sentinels: He said, of that parable, “the first question that the priest asked…was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’” That quote stayed with me all through the writing of the book, and I included it in the Afterword. It is Dance’s motivation, Emery’s motivation, and Violet’s motivation.

6) What is your favorite underappreciated novel to read?

Oh, what a great question! Hands down, it’s True Grit, by Charles Portis. If you’ve seen both film versions, you’ve seen a good movie, but if you’ve not read the book, you’ve not encountered some of the most brilliant writing that came from American soil. I try to read it every few years, to sit at the feet of one of least-heard-of Great American Novelists of our time.

7) How has publishing changed your approach to writing?

Another great question! First, a lament: I long for the days when things were like a scene from the movie “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”  (a book I haven’t read, by the way, because I found the title off-puttingly trendy—not the first mistake I’ve made in overlooking a great read); in the scene, editor and author were in this book-strewn office, talking about publishing and writing, and I felt a sharp pang when I saw that: such times are no more. Publishing no longer affords for that time-honored, let’s-sit-and-chat relationship. May we light a candle in requiem for those by-gone days. I place the loss of publishing relationships like that at the feet of the Internet, of course. But! (lament over): It is what it is, as mama says, and while the state of publishing is not what this old relic desires, it does not change what I am called to do, what I want to do, and since handsome is as handsome does, this Handsome is gonna write no matter how she finds the current state of publishing. I’ll write if no one reads, and leave a manuscript on my desk for someone to find.

8) What have you learned about book marketing since your first published novel, “The Brother’s Keeper” (2003), and what advice would you give aspiring authors?

I was published at the beginning of the seismic change in traditional publishing, so I remember when it used to be far more the publisher’s responsibility for book marketing; now, it isn’t so. It’s far more on the author, a predicament I’m not at all happy about; a writer is supposed to write, not be consumed with marketing. I go back to word origin when I get confused about roles: editors…edit. Publishers…publish. Agents…agent. Writers…write! And marketers market, doggone it, and no one will convince me otherwise. (Don’t mind me: I’m a congenial curmudgeon when it comes to marketing. I’m not a blogger, or platformer, and resent every minute those things take away from writing.) That said: it’s a new day, a new ball park, one we did not ask for but must deal with, and I suppose we best learn how to operate therein, right? My advice to aspiring authors, then, is the same for myself: if you’re one of those writers without a marketing bone, then pray that God will show you what you’re supposed to do in this day and age. Look for wisdom, and expect that God will also give you grace to go where you need to go, do what you need to do, even if it’s the bare minimum. We should at least do the least we can. I have a website. I occasionally post on my Author Page on Facebook. That’s good enough for me. (I do need to post more, ha ha…) What do we tell our kids? We tell them Proverbs 3:6—“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” God will guide you in this brambly thicket, if you ask.

9) What do you like to do outside of writing?

Lots of glorious things! I love to knit. Read. Watch movies. Shop at used book stores. I love to bake. Travel. Do puzzles. Hang out with people. I love to eat, drink, and be merry. I love watching football with my husband. I love it when my kids come over. (Two are out of the house, one is still home.) I love to hosts shindigs. And I love to engage in the occasional shenanigan. (Whatever it is.)

10) How closely do you relate writing with your relationship with Christ? How do these two things coincide?

“For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36. As a Christian, I am unseparated from Christ in everything I do, including writing. Sometimes a strong God message shows up in what I write; sometimes it doesn’t—it may be there, but not overtly so. When I write, I give God something to work with. I give Him material to use in the life of another, or to use in only my own life—and that’s good enough, too. When I write, I release the goods on the inside to the outside; that’s doing what He has called me to do. It’s very important for writers to remember that they are never responsible for results. We must never play the part of the Holy Spirit; how do we know what sort of effect our words will have on the world? We don’t. And we must never presume anything. We must only trust God to do what He will with them. Maybe seeds will be planted. Maybe they will be watered. And maybe they won’t. C’est la vie! The important thing is to write, and write with joy, and trust all results to the hands of the Creator, who knows what He is doing.

Wasn’t that fun? Special thanks to Mrs. Groot for taking the time while battling the flu to answer my questions and impart her wisdom. Give her a follow on social media, and go buy her book, The Sentinels of Andersonville.

Thanks for reading. See you next week!

Book Review: Engraved On The Heart by Tara Johnson

BONUS POST simply because this book has been on my mind since I finished it a few days ago.

Reluctant debutante Keziah Montgomery lives beneath the weighty expectations of her staunch Confederate family, forced to keep her epilepsy secret for fear of a scandal. As the tensions of the Civil War arrive on their doorstep in Savannah, Keziah sees little cause for balls and courting. Despite her discomfort, she cannot imagine an escape from her familial confines―until her old schoolmate Micah shows her a life-changing truth that sets her feet on a new path . . . as a conductor in the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Micah Greyson never hesitates to answer the call of duty, no matter how dangerous, until the enchanting Keziah walks back into his life and turns his well-ordered plans upside down. Torn between the life he has always known in Savannah and the fight for abolition, Micah struggles to discern God’s plan amid such turbulent times.

Battling an angry fiancé, a war-tattered brother, bounty hunters, and their own personal demons, Keziah and Micah must decide if true love is worth the price . . . and if they are strong enough to survive the unyielding pain of war.

This is Tara’s debut novel, and I’m really hoping she has something new coming down the pike. Her style and meaningful depth of writing make my heart so happy.

When I first started reading “Engraved on the Heart”, I was skeptical. Being a faithful resident of the South, I was defensive against the kind of light that was being shed on the Confederacy’s shortcomings that I prefer not to dwell upon. However, Tara had a way of tugging me into the story and look objectively (something I’m still learning to do as I write my manuscript, also set around the Civil War period).

What I loved most about this story, though, was the delicate way Tara wove story with history. She took the dark and dirty and gave it hope. I love that. I find that Christian books don’t go to the darkest parts like they should, but that was not the case for this book. Both my heart and my morals were invested in the story by the time I read the first few chapters.

Keziah reminded me so much of myself, with her timidity yet strong desire to do the right thing. I loved watching her grow and change for the better through the duration of this novel. Tara did a wonderful job developing a character that functioned on her own, apart from the love interest. Speaking of which, Micah is a total sweetheart. I wish I could put him in a jar and carry him around in my pocket. That’s all I’ll say about him, you should just read for yourself!

In conclusion, this novel is amazing and you should buy it! Support a debut author and join me in encouraging her to release another book soon!

What are you currently reading?