Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Guest Author: Sherri Sand

I just finished a great book! Sherri Sand's "Leave it to Chance" was a delectable read. Devouring fiction is a part of this writer's life, so I go through a lot of books. But this one stands out. Why? Sherri's characters are well drawn, her plot well paced. I enjoyed the romance thread most (of course), but I'd have to say the other elements joined forces to advance the story so well I could barely tear myself away. If I had a rating system, five being best, this book would get all five stars. Her prose was fresh and her story well-handled. Great job, Sherri!

Here's an interview:

How did you come up with the characters in your book?

They came to me. When I saw Sierra, I knew she was a mom who deeply loved her kids and wanted the best for them. Elise was so fun to write with her over-the-top ways. When she drove up to Sierra's and pushed her ooga horn, I knew I was going to love her. And Sid is such a dear and reminds me so much of my father-in-law, Art. And Ross, how could you not love him?

Do you have a horse?

No, but I love horses, and desperately wanted one as a child. I did end up with a little Shetland pony named Sundance that I would gallop through the mint fields around our house. I spent countless hours sprawled across him backwards reading books. One time he'd apparently had enough of the dead weight on his back and he lay down. It was a shocking end to my reading time.

Did the theme of forgiveness/unforgiveness that Sierra deals with come from your own life?

In a way it did, though I didn't consciously implement it into the novel. Just like most of us living in this fallen world, there have been a couple significant events in my life that I had difficulty forgiving. I finally realized that if I waited until I felt like forgiving, it would never happen. And I desperately needed to forgive. The bitterness was choking the life out of me. So with God's help and through His grace I made the choice to forgive and forgive and forgive. I wish I could say that there was instant peace and joy. Though I think that can happen for people when they forgive, I'd lived in unforgiveness for so long that I had to continually make a choice to forgive until the freedom came. And when that freedom came, it was a wow moment for me!

In the story, Sierra has three young kids, you have four children. How successful are you at trusting God with their lives?

It's been an ongoing process for me. Maybe because I'm a writer and have such a vivid imagination, I can always come up with the most gut-wrenching conclusions to the most innocuous circumstances involving my kids. That makes it hard to let go and trust. But how much control do we actually have over every day life? I had to learn that before we can trust God with ourselves or our children, we have to get to know him first. It's only in knowing God and His character that trust can develop. And when we truly know the God of the universe, we can trust him with everything.

Ross worked hard in his landscaping business in an attempt to prove his value. Do you struggle with that?

It's difficult not to get caught up in that. Our world is performance driven. How often do we praise others without attributing it to something they've done? Even with our children, we praise how well they unloaded the dishwasher or drew a picture or minded us. It's difficult to find the words to value people for who they are, apart from anything they do. For most of my life, performance colored my relationship with God. I could not wrap my mind around the concept that He loved me despite less than perfect behaviors. Recently I glimpsed His grace from a new angle. Sin does create anger, but God's anger was satisfied at the cross. So rather than His anger at our sinfulness, we have His pleasure in us. That has done wonders with my ability to be myself with Him, to honestly let His light shine on all parts of me—the good and the unsightly. When you bring your faults to God and discover He isn't angry, you can fully experience His compassion and love.

I have to agree. Thanks for visiting, Sherri!!

Hey readers--leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of this fantastic book! I'll have a drawing on June 3rd. Happy reading!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Guest Author: Sharon K. Souza

Every now and then a debut author makes a big splash with his/her first published book and Sharon has done just that! "Every Good and Perfect Gift" is a fantastic read. I highly recommend it. Her prose was fresh (which means a lot to me as a reader). I love reading first person POV, and she nailed it!

Here's an interview:

1 . Your debut novel Every Good & Perfect Gift released recently from Nav Press. Can you tell us a little about the book?

DeeDee and Gabby have been friends since the sixth grade, when headstrong and courageous DeeDee began mapping out their lives. But after twenty years with her husband DeeDee changes her plan. Nearing forty years old, she wants a baby - now! Two years of infertility, prayers, and outrageous behavior finally results in the birth of DeeDee's demand.

Gabby is present for all of it, noting the increasingly strange behavior of her lifelong friend after the baby's birth. Then comes a diagnosis that threatens to shatter their world. Gabby must find the strength and faith to carry DeeDee and herself through the dark unknown, but is she up for it?

2. What inspired you to write Every Good & Perfect Gift?

I wanted to write a book about a "Jonathan and David" type friendship between two women, knowing that I was ultimately going to tell the story of a young woman who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's. I have a close friend who, at the age of 42, began to exhibit many of the symptoms portrayed in the book. Since completing the book I've learned that another close friend has been diagnosed with EOA. What are the odds?

In determining what course the friendship between Gabby and DeeDee would take, I asked myself: What is the greatest way one woman can express friendship to another? The answer: By helping her have a child if she's unable to, which one character is willing to do if it comes to that.

3. You've incorporated two major issues in Every Good & Perfect Gift: infertility and Early Onset Alzheimer's. Why not focus on one or the other? Why both?

The theme of Gift is extraordinary friendship. The foundation for the friendship is established between the characters in their childhood, tested through the issue of infertility, and exemplified through catastrophic illness. Infertility was the catalyst to get to that level of friendship expressed because of the illness. One character's growth was accomplished because of infertility, while the other character's growth came as a result of the Alzheimer's.

4. Why did you use humor to tell a story with such serious issues?

It's exactly because the issues are so serious that I chose humor to tell the story. Our life experiences are heavy enough without adding to them as we read for pleasure. That's not to say there aren't serious moments in the book, but hopefully the reader is buoyed by the lighter sections, rather than overloaded with the weightier ones.

5. What do you want your readers to take away from this book?

I spent several years in my early adulthood without a close friend. When the first one came into my life, I realized what I had missed and truly saw her as a gift from the Lord. But beyond that, I've experienced the truth of Proverbs 18:24: ". . . there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." In her darkest moments, Gabby learned that the Lord reaches out to us in compassion, spanning the gap between our need and His provision. That's been the case in my life over and over.

6. Do you base any of your characters on real people?

The concept of the story was based on a real situation in regards to the Early Onset Alzheimer's. But the characters are not based on real people. I do typically use people I know/have known and then take their personality traits/quirks to extremes--almost like a caricature--in order to make the character as interesting as possible. Almost always my daughters will recognize something of themselves in my make-believe world. It makes for fun conversation.

7. If the characters are primarily fictional, what about the setting? Is that someplace known to you?

I actually wrote the entire story in a fictional setting, without ever naming it. I just placed the town in the San Joaquin valley. My editor suggested I nail down the location, even a fictitious one. As we talked back and forth, I decided to use my real "home town" of Lodi. I grew up in the Sacramento area, but have lived in or around Lodi since my husband and I got married. There's some debate about whether or not "our" Lodi is the subject of the 1969 Credence Clearwater Revival song, "Stuck in Lodi." Right or wrong, I choose to think it is. But not for a minute do I feel stuck. I love Lodi.

8. What is your purpose in writing inspirational fiction?

I've had well-meaning friends ask why I write fiction at all. If I want to share the Gospel, why not write "the truth." Two answers come to mind. First, that "burning fire shut up in my bones" (Jer. 20:9) finds its release in fiction. Second, when Jesus wanted to get a heavenly truth across, He didn't deliver a three-point sermon. He told stories. My desire in writing inspirational fiction is that women who read my books will find them easy to share with other women who haven't yet come into relationship with Jesus, and that those women will be directed to the One who loves them with an everlasting love.

Thank you for joining us today, Sharon!

There's a book trailer at her site: www.sharonksouza.com

You can find "Every Good and Perfect Gift" for sale everywhere, and on sale at www.christianbook.com (23% off the cover price). Go check it out!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Perfect Sync

I watched a couple jog by this morning, going uphill on an adjacent street to ours. They were in perfect sync and though I noticed that, I didn’t stop to think about it. I’d moved my laptop into my living room and sat typing my latest novel. About a half-hour later, I saw them jog back down the hill, again, in perfect sync. That’s when I started thinking what it took to jog side by side. They’re likely spouses. Does one of them jog faster alone? Did he or she have to slow down in order to keep in step? Both looked fit. Had they practiced long before they were able to match pace like they seemed to do so effortlessly? Did one have to sacrifice for the other?

Jesus slows His pace to keep in step with me. Oops, there they go again, on the same hill. This time, the male is several paces ahead of the female. She is jogging at about the same speed, but perhaps since he’s taller his paces are longer. Either way, they’re no longer in sync.

Isn’t it amazing that God will humble Himself (not from a prideful and lofty position, but from the holy and high place of God’s dwelling) to “jog” with me. He wants to be close to me, yoked together and running at the same pace. I’m so glad He honors me with His presence.

We’re all running a race.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. (1 Corinthians 9:24, NKJV)

Like a coach, Jesus urges me to finish strong. But, like a Lover, He runs alongside me, strategizing the best route, sharing the burdens I pick up along the way. He’ll even take those burdens from me altogether, if I let go.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (Hebrews 12:1, NKJV)

I don’t want to straggle behind, getting caught up in unimportant thoughts, plans or worries. I don’t want to try to get ahead, tripping myself up on unknown obstacles. I want to run in perfect sync with Him, the Lover of my soul. He’s so loving and humble to want the same thing.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Guest Author: Terri Kraus

Today I'm excited to host Terri Kraus. Her first solo novel “The Renovation” centers on a hero and heroine who both need healing. She has years of experience as an interior designer, has even won awards. This book shows her expertise. The main characters are both hiding secrets and like renovating a house, one must remove the old fa├žade oftentimes to find the true state beneath. As a huge fan of her shared project “Treasures of the Caribbean” with her husband Jim, I was very excited to jump in to promote this work. So, let’s run a contest. Leave a comment and I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a free copy of the book. Then, one week from now (May 15th) I’ll have the drawing. Terri has even signed this copy.

We're having another contest, so leave a comment for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book. I'll hold the drawing on May 15th.

Here's a bit about Terri:

After eleven co-authored books with husband, Jim, Terri Kraus has added her award-winning interior designer’s eye to her world of fiction. Terri has worked as a professional designer for 25 years. She has also directed women’s ministries at her church for the past 6 years and has traveled extensively internationally. She makes her home in Wheaton, Illinois, USA, with her husband, son, Elliot, miniature schnauzer, Rufus, and Siberian cat, Petey.

And our interview:

When did you first discover that you were a writer?

As soon as I began to read, I began to write, so I was very young. I would invent intricate stories walking back and forth to school. My first big endeavor was a neighborhood “newspaper” when I was 8 years old. In high school, I had an awesome English Literature teacher who really inspired and mentored me. Thanks, Miss Fina.

Tell us about "The Renovation"--

The lives of Ethan Willis, a master carpenter and restorer of old buildings, and his son, Chase, were forever changed when Lynne, Ethan’s wife and Chase’s mother, was murdered during a carjacking attempt. This story, set seven years later during Ethan’s dream restoration project—the Carter Mansion—sees both father and son struggle with unresolved issues. Young Chase thinks the death of his mother was his fault, and Ethan allows that lie to remain unchallenged because of his own grief. Like an old house, neglected and in ruins, Ethan’s faith and life are in need of renovation and renewal. Then Cameron Dane, a young reporter on the local newspaper assigned to cover the Carter Mansion project, enters their lives. Seeing his father start a relationship with another woman makes Chase resentful…and makes Ethan feel guilty, as if he is betraying Lynne’s memory. But it is through Cameron, and her own need for forgiveness over an event in her past, that Chase accepts the freedom of forgiveness. It is also through Cameron that Ethan recaptures his lost faith and finds the ability to forgive his son. And as the Carter Mansion is restored to its original beauty and intent, so are their lives.

After co-authoring eleven books with your husband, Jim, what made you decide to write this one solo?

Writing a novel set in the world of the restoration of old buildings has always been a dream of mine. The idea of renovation is in my family’s blood. I’m an interior design professional. My brothers are rehabbers. My husband, Jim, and I have survived the renovation of three houses, and I’ve been the one on the front lines of working with the contractors. So this was a natural for me to write alone. My husband Jim has gone solo, too. His last two books were contemporary—one more of an end-times story (The Silence) and the other a bio-terrorism thriller (The Micah Judgment). I love writing and researching historical fiction, and he doesn’t get as excited about it as I do. So we’ve both sort of found our own voice and what we’re really passionate about writing. We’ve also been told by publishers and our agent that books by two authors will often not sell as well, for some unknown reason. We still are each other’s best critic and supporter, and that will never change.

The Renovation, the mending of broken relationships is mirrored in the restoration of the run-down Carter Mansion. As an award-winning interior designer, this must have been quite a satisfying book to write.

VERY satisfying. I love the metaphor of restoration, which is why I came up with the idea for the Project Restoration series—stories that would follow both the physical restoration of a building and emotional/spiritual restoration of a character.

I’ve always been captivated by old buildings. Poring over books about art, architectural styles, and decoration from all over the world has always been one of my favorite pastimes. As I’ve traveled internationally and visited many of the places I’ve studied independently and in the course of my education in design, I’ve become even more passionate about restoration.

After all, God is in the business of restoring lives—reclaiming, repairing, renewing what was broken and bringing beauty from ashes. I know, because I’ve seen his renovation firsthand. For many years, I’ve worked in women’s ministries. I’ve seen many women—as well as the men and children they love—deal with scars from their past that shape their todays and tomorrows. They all long for restoration—to live joyfully and productively once again—but that also requires forgiveness. Forgiveness of others (whether they deserve it or not) and, perhaps most importantly, forgiveness of oneself in order to be healthy and available to God. Clinging to past hurts or “unfairness,” hostility, anger, grudges, resentment, bitterness, or allowing abuse to alter your self-worth renders your life virtually useless. Unforgiveness shapes your perception of yourself, your outlook on life, the kind of relationships you have, and keeps you in “stuck” mode. It leaves you in a dark, emotionally paralyzing, spiritually debilitating, physically draining state and causes so much unnecessary pain…even addiction. So I’ve become passionate about this kind of restoration, too.

I noticed that one of the characters is named Elliott, just like your son. Did you model him after your son, or just borrow the name?

There are some things about the Elliot in the book that are very much like my son. But my Elliot is smarter than how I portray the Elliot in the book.

What do you hope people take away after reading The Renovation?

I want them to know that God himself stands and waits, extending the gift of restoration. The light of his love shines on all those dark places deep within us, exposing what needs his healing touch. For when our souls are gloriously freed through God’s renovation, we become whole, useful, and able to extend the forgiveness we have experienced to others. Then individuals, families, churches, and entire communities can be transformed!

Perhaps there are readers who have an event in their past they need to let go of. It is my hope and prayer that by reading the book some will experience the renovation that awaits them through saying yes to God’s invitation of heart restoration…and the life-transforming joy that will follow.

What’s next for you in the writing arena?

I’m just completing Book 2 in the Project Restoration Series—The Renewal—to be released in the Fall. That will be followed by Book 3 next Spring. My work in progress is historical, about an Italian-American young woman in the 1930’s and 40’s, in which I draw on many elements from my Italian heritage. It’s set mainly in Italy, so I will use what I have seen and learned in my travels there. I’m really excited about it, and hope a publisher will be, too.

What other books have you written, whether published or not?

The Treasures of the Caribbean Series--Tyndale (Pirates of the Heart, Passages of Gold, Journey to the Crimson Sea); The Circle of Destiny Series--Tyndale (The Price, The Promise, The Treasure, The Quest); Stories from MacKenzie Street —Barbour (The Unfolding, The Choosing); Scattered Stones—Capstone (Coming in 2008)

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

Hmmm…that I’m 100% Italian, love to cook and bake Italian food, have studied the Italian language for many years, and hope to someday live in Italy---even for just a short time. That I adore thunderstorms. I used to be a total sun-worshipper, and hated rain, but as I’ve aged I’ve come to love it. Sitting out on a porch, with a cup of tea and a good book, listening to the rain…it doesn’t get much better that that. If there’s thunder, all the better!

Last but not least, how can people keep up with your latest publishing news?

My website is www.terrikraus.com

Terri, thank you for visiting! It's been a pleasure! Readers, don't forget to leave a message for a chance to win a signed copy of "The Renovation." We'll draw the name 5/15/08, so check back to see if you won.