Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Interview with Diane Craver

Today, we will talk to Diane Craver about A Christmas Gift, her latest book published by Whimsical Publications. I loved reading this book and reviewed it recently. See:

She also wrote: Whitney in Charge (sweet contemporary) and Marrying Mallory (inspirational romance), both published by Desert Breeze. A Fiery Secret (chick-lit mystery), No Greater Loss (inspirational romance) and Never the Same (women’s fiction), published by Samhain Publishing.

Q: You said the story is fictional but based on your own childhood experiences. Can you tell us specifically what led you to write the story?

A: I had thought of writing a story about my father, Horace Wilson, for a long time. His life was hard with his mother’s rejection at a young age, and he was raised by various relatives. Some homes were better than others, because he stayed at times with an alcoholic uncle. Even though both parents deserted him, he had a deep faith and was able to be a good father to me and my siblings. Although I wanted my book to have the emotional honesty of a memoir, I decided to fictionalize it. My goal was to capture a time and place in my childhood based on a true incident in my life that saddened and shocked me. An image of my father’s secret was burned into my mind forever, so the following sentences are the first ones in A Christmas Gift.  “It was 1957 when I saw something that I wasn’t meant to see. I have never forgotten this night because it had such an impact on me.”

Q: I worried about how well everyone accepted the cantankerous Grandma Fogle. Was she written that way to add more conflict?

A: I did want to add more conflict but I was also influenced by my own grandmother. She was self-centered, putting her own needs first. When my father was young, she decided that she had a better chance to get married without him around.

Q: Debra convinced herself she needed to love her Grandma regardless. Have you ever had to do that yourself?

A: Yes, I’ve had to force myself to love certain people who have been very hurtful. I’ve prayed to let go of the negative feelings towards certain relatives and others. All of us carry baggage and we need to rid ourselves of these feelings and do what the Lord wants.

Q: How did you decide whether or not to include an angel in the story?

A: Another good question, Sid. Originally I started the chapter with Elizabeth appearing to Debby. I thought it would be good to have James’s sister talk to Debby, but it just didn’t work for me. Then it occurred to me that an angel would be perfect for this scene. Including an angel in my story was important because I believe God sends angels to guide and protect us during dangerous situations. As the Bible says, “He will give his angels charge of you, to guard you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:11). 

Q: The letter from Debra's father to her was perfect. Tell us about writing it.

A: Thank you, Sid. That means a lot to me. The letter flowed from my heart because I was already so invested in the characters of Justin Reeves and Debra. 

Q: In the epilogue we learn that Debra becomes a heart surgeon. How did you decide to do that?
A: I’ve always had a strong interest in medicine. I planned on becoming a registered nurse, but the high school guidance counselor discouraged me. He felt I wasn’t strong enough in science to go into nursing. Instead I majored in education and became a teacher.  In my mind, Debra was meant to be a doctor and nothing else. By the way, I loved researching how surgeons repair damaged hearts. That’s the fun part of being a writer. Researching different careers to use for my characters is an education in itself and lots of fun.

Thank you for interviewing me, Sid!

You're welcome, and thank you for giving us this special insight into writing A Christmas Gift.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Have you ever thought what the Internet is doing to us by providing too much information too frequently?

My iPhone beeped yesterday and I started to read it, "Fox News Breaking News…"

"I don't want to hear it," Celeste said before I could get to the good part.

I was taken aback, as you might imagine. How could anyone resist hearing what follows the words "breaking news?" When I asked, she said she'd hear it sooner or later. Right now she wanted to enjoy what she was doing.

Actually, she was sitting with Scotch, the cat, on the swing on the screened-in porch reading a book so I could understand why she didn't want to hear some news that turned out to be so unimportant I can't remember what it was now.

Her reaction made me think about how the instant availability of information is negatively affecting us daily. One example is the way I used my iPhone to look up information during discussions at social gatherings. Rather than help, it tends to be a downer to always be right. Instead of an interesting discussion about who was or wasn't in a particular movie, I can access the cast list with a few clicks. But, as I said, it wasn't as helpful as you might think. So, at the last two parties I went to, I left my phone in the car and had some better conversations because of it.

Another example. I've found myself going to the computer more than once a day to check book sales. I check CreateSpace for print edition sales, Amazon for Kindle sales, and for other eBook sales. I have to admit it is fun to see the numbers rise, but it is equally discouraging when they don't.

When my first book came out in 1983, I had to wait three months for a royalty report before learning how sales were going. Now, I'm lucky to wait three hours.

So, one of my resolutions for next year is to relax, enjoy free time, and check the news less.

How about you? Have you had problems adjusting to ease of access to information?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Guest Post by Michelle Massaro, COTT Assistant Editor

Can you believe it's almost December? I love the holidays, but I always struggle this time of year. My heart aches for the Thomas Kinkade paintings, for smiles and laughter and goodwill toward man (especially between siblings in the house!), for snuggling by the fire, kisses under the mistletoe, all that good stuff.

Real life is not a painting. Or an old black-and-white movie. (That's often why we love escaping into our novels.)

Nope. Real life finds too many dust bunnies when it's time to move furniture to make room for the tree. Real life has pouting kids who don't want to help lug in the decoration box or be pulled away from their video games in order to just sit by the fire with mom. Husbands who tolerate, but don't enjoy, watching White Christmas, and who grimace and sweat--and possibly even swear--while wrestling with the Christmas lights.

Add to that the fact that I never got around to shedding that extra five pounds--and now feel it's too late to try--the constant pain in my neck, the myriad bills we aren't sure how to pay, a toddler in the throes of the "terrible two's" (to be fair, he's the sweetest boy in the world, just extremely rambunctious), and homeschool pressures...and each day starts to feel overwhelming. Beyond my ability. Sucking me under. Life does not meet my expectations. I'm failing.

And sometimes "failing" at something as simple and earthly as creating the "right" home atmosphere can lead to a depression that slips into spiritual darkness. Lies. All lies. But too often, I believe them.

Maybe you can relate. Or maybe your set of challenges lies elsewhere. Regardless, we all have seasons, or areas of our life, where we don't feel up to the task. And we grieve that ineptitude.

A dear friend recently gave me a gift--a daily devotional--and the first day's reading hit its mark in my heart. In essence, it reminded me that the measure of God's strength given to me on a daily basis is determined by two things:

The difficulty of my circumstances, and my willingness to depend on Him for help.


This concept completely changed my thinking when it came to facing challenges. Demons. I don't need to assess the situation and measure it against my usual ability and strength. I need to depend on Him and believe that He can and will empower me that much more in order to handle the task. And tomorrow, when the challenge is not so great, He will give me just the strength I need for that day.

Today it might be preparing the house, encouraging generousity in my kids, and finding ways to trim the grocery budget so that we can get that tail light replaced.  Tomorrow it could be the death of a loved one, a falling away of a brother or sister, or the loss of a job. But the degree of His power available to me will match whatever circumstance comes my way.

And the same goes for you, too. So if there's any chance that one of you share this struggle of mine at this time of year, I pray this truth shines like a beacon in your heart and gives you hope. It did for me.

If you're interested in the devotional I mentioned, it's called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. The entry I referenced was November 11th. :-) And if you want some great Christian novels to dive into or pick up as gifts, you always know where to find some winners. (There's always a contest going on at COTT, so I hope you'll join us this week for a look at a couple great cover images.)

Have a blessed week!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Clash of the Titles -- Winner Announced

Guest post by Delia Latham

The Amish are known for their quiet, unassuming manner. Their love of all things peaceful…and shunning of competitive pastimes.

Well. I'm afraid that all flew out the window in the COTT Clash featuring Amish fiction. It was a fight to the finish.... a nose-to-nose race...a no-holds-barred dash to the finish line!

Contestants were:

Suzanne Woods Fisher
(Click on the cover to read Suzanne's Excerpt A)


Laura V. Hilton
(Click on the cover to read Laura's Excerpt B)

Both authors hit the ground running with sizzling teasers that presented a definite challenge to our readers. Both were super-fantastic! Both offered a tantalizing glimpse into an amazing read.

But only one of these fabulous excerpts could take the win.

When at last the dust died down…the crowd silenced in expectation…and the winner stood revealed…

held the finish line ribbon firmly in hand!

The choice was not an easy one, as our readers made perfectly clear in their comments:

"Both of these excerpts are immediately engaging—I think I'd like to read both books!"

"Both excerpts are winners. Can't wait to read them."

"I enjoy the Clash of the Titles!! Each author is fantastic!! And such a great place to hear of new authors that perhaps you haven't read before. Good luck!"

"I love to read stories of the Amish. Thank you for your hard work."

"The authors who write Amish fiction are doing a great job keeping true to the Amish ways while holding the reader's interest with wonderful story lines over and over again."

Heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to both Suzanne and Laura. I wish we could call it a tie and put both in the winner's slot, because both authors truly are winners.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dr Pepper Malts and Other Pleasant Memories

I used to be a soda jerk at Renfro’s Drugs on 35th Street. It was next door to Lou Sweet’s A&P. My parents knew someone who worked for the company. This friend was an accountant, I believe, and he and his family lived on the second floor of the store on South Congress across from Fulmore Junior High School. I made hamburgers and sandwiches, and mixed a variety of drinks. For fountain drinks such as Coca Cola and Dr Pepper, we would squirt in a concentrated syrup and then add carbonated water. We also made malts, shakes, and floats. The only flavors for malts back then were chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. One day when I wasn't too busy, I created a new drink that became my all time favorite: a Dr Pepper malt.

Our malts were made with only the best ice cream. Milk was added to give it the right consistency. For my new invention I replaced the milk with cream. There were probably tons of calories in that drink, but no one thought about that back then. Mmm.

I'd forgotten about that time in my life until recently. Celeste and I had a long weekend away in a B&B in Glen Rose, Texas. We were close to Dublin, and everyone knows that's where you get real Dr Pepper. See They use Imperial pure cane sugar instead of the high fructose stuff you usually get. I learned Dublin Dr Pepper is actually bottled in Temple, but it was fun visiting the combination museum and old time fountain. I told the man behind the fountain about the Dr Pepper malt I had invented, and he said they make them all the time. I ordered one and the memories poured in. I was a teenager again. I savored that drink and thought of Austin the way it was in the fifties.

While writing Where Love Once Lived, the older version of Austin popped into my head often. I didn't ignore the new Austin which I've learned to love, but I'm reminded of a happy time in my life. Have you found ways to visit your childhood? I'd like to hear about it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

COTT: Meet Julie Arduini and Renee Chaw

*guest post by Michelle Massaro
Today it is my pleasure to shine the spotlight on two more amazing women who are both members of the COTT Blog Alliance.
Julie Arduini was born on Good Friday with tornado warnings. A description that she says could not be more accurate!
She lives in NE Ohio with her husband and two children. She's also a step-mom to two adult children who live in out of state. Her writing is featured in ten books (learn more on her site!) She also blogs monthly for the marriage counter at the Internet Café. She loves serving in children’s and women’s ministries through her local church and Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) chapter.
Julie says: "I love my strong coffee, lilacs, NCIS, and Beth Moore Bible studies (not in that order!)"
Her site has been up since December 31, 2006 and was her first act of surrendering fear of what others would think about her. That fear had kept her from doing what she loved since childhood but her baby step into blogging quickly led to many other writing opportunities—a true testament to listening to the whisperings of the Lord.
Julie's warm, transparent personality is woven throughout her blog posts. "I’m not a scholar, just a wife and mom trying to help anyone willing to read know that Jesus is close and intimate with arms open to receive, not turn away." Her focus is to encourage readers, mostly adult women, to find "freedom through surrender."
An avid reader, Julie provides book ideas on her site based on what she's reading. On Sundays you can take a peek at her amateur nature pictures with a few thoughts about God’s love. She posts 5-7 days per week so there's always something new! If you're looking for a blog-hostess gift, I hear she really really loves chocolate!
Surrendering the good, the bad, and---maybe one day---the chocolate
Say hello to Renee Chaw (and her 3 year old dog, Coco.) Renee's blog features reviews of Christian fiction, romance and young adult fiction as well as posts about some of her favorite movies, TV shows, and Steelers football. Woot!
Black 'n Gold Girl's Book Spot is a fun place to gather. Renee is always looking for a way to make you chuckle or at least inform you about some great books and movies. She also sometimes posts about her other interests like vintage jewelry, TV, antiques, sports, pets etc. She always makes you feel welcome!
Another great reason to add her to your blog roll: she loves doing giveaways and hosting authors.
Renee says she's an avid reader of just about anything from the back of the cereal box to the back of a book. ^-^
"I love to blog. I've met so many great people through the blogging world and have had the opportunity to read so many wonderful books that I might not have otherwise had the chance to. I love being a member of FIRST Wild Card and this Blog Alliance, two other great groups that I wouldn't have had the chance to join if it wasn't for blogging. I'm loyal to the local sports teams, especially my Pittsburgh Steelers (LOVE those Black 'n Gold guys ;-)) and I'm a crazy car girl LOL! Take me to a car show over the mall any day of the week!"
She tries to post everyday but sometimes 'real life' limits her blogging to 3 times per week. If you want to bring her a blog-hostess gift, make sure you get a big box with holes in it. Renee loves big, furry dogs! =) Of course, it might be easier to just bring a treat for Coco.
Be sure to check out these two blogs and make a couple new friends!
* Michelle Massaro is Assistant Editor for Clash of the Titles. Find her on twitter @MLMassaro, and Facebook.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Is Editing Ever Finished?

When I received the edited manuscript of Where Love Once Lived from CreateSpace, I was pleased with the results. However, several comments from the copy editor alarmed me some. First, she said she had read little Christian fiction and had not read any of Jan Karon's books. She also referred to the point of view as omniscient when I worked hard to write in either Brian's or Karen's point of view.

Wouldn't you think CreateSpace would find an editor more familiar with your genre? Maybe it doesn't matter what the subject is when it comes to good grammar and consistency. So far, the corrections and comments look good. I'll let you know more later as I make the suggested changes. A real plus is that the copy editor also pointed out places in the manuscript where she, as the reader, had problems with the flow of the story. Most of these continuity problems were introduced during previous edits and can easily be fixed. I just hope I don't create more grammatical errors with the changes I make. Yikes! At least one error got into the final.

The copyeditor suggested including a scene I had cut based on a reading by White Rose Publishing. More on that later. Now I wonder if I should put the scene back in.

When I published my next book, I asked for and got the same editor. She hadn't read Christian novels, but she did an excellent job as a copy editor.

How about you? Have you spent months or years editing only to find there is more to do? Or you, dear reader, have you spotted grammatical errors and inconsistencies in published books? I have.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How would you react to a tragedy?

In my book, Where Love Once Lived, the two main characters share a traumatic breakup. They were both Christians and both active in church at the time. However, after the event, one turned closer to God and the other turned away. Why? What do you do in dire circumstances? I think most of us turn to the church for support. I often wonder what people without a close church tie do when faced with major problems.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1:

She'd once loved a bookmobile driver. Memories of that time with him poured in so rapidly she caught her breath. It'd been long ago, but her heart remembered. At first she thought of the love she'd felt back then, but the good memories didn't last long. She'd gone to the bookmobile as usual that last day, but nothing was to be the same again. She went to Brian with love and exciting news. She left alone. Not just without him, but alone in the world and apart from God.

Now you know a little about why I've titled this blog the Christian Bookmobile. More about that later. The thoughts quoted above are from Karen, who is now 53 and is teaching in an elementary school. A bookmobile has just pulled up in the parking lot and she is flooded with memories. Some good, some bad. Something happened thirty years ago involving a bookmobile that made her feel apart from God. However, she eventually moved closer to God. It was the bookmobile driver Brian who turned away, and when the story opens he hadn't been to church in thirty years.

When I wrote the book, I didn't plan for the two people to react so differently to the same event. Even though it is fiction, I felt I was reporting could have happened knowing these two fictional characters the way I did. Is it a male/female thing? The man turned away from the support of the church and the woman embraced the love of her church friends. The woman lived a happy life. The man's life was empty.

How about you? Have you had a major event happen in your life that tested your faith? How did you react?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Deleting Precious Words

Here is the overview from the editorial letter from CreateSpace:

Where Love Once Lived was a very clean manuscript overall. There appeared to be some structural issues with the dialogue, but there were few errors in terms of grammar. I have never read any books in the Mitford series, but found your manuscript to be a heartwarming love story that appeals to both old and young alike. I especially liked the beginning of the manuscript, as it really grabbed the reader’s attention.

The letter goes on to identify problem areas and offer suggestions for changes. I found much of it to be helpful, but I couldn't get my mind off what the copyeditor said about the beginning of the manuscript and how it grabbed the reader's attention. Isn't that what all authors try to do? I remember my first version of Where Love Once Lived and its beginning. With the help of Bonnie, my teacher, and my classmates I finally learned to delete everything I'd written up to where the action begins.

It was hard to cut so many words, but I did. Well, to be honest, I saved them all. I have a Word document I call snippets that is probably as big as the final manuscript. It came in handy recently when the copyeditor suggested another scene would be helpful. Turns out it was a scene I'd cut based on another editor's suggestion. So, I polished it up and inserted it into the manuscript. But, back to the beginning of the manuscript. Here's what I ended up with:

Karen felt loved on Tuesdays.

She was fifty-three and divorced with a college-aged daughter at home who’d probably flee the nest soon, leaving Karen to live alone. She’d missed her chance for happiness. Still, she wasn’t sad. Teaching and her volunteer work as a lay minister, hospital chaplain, and member of her church choir fulfilled her. To be honest, she wanted more. She wanted the special kind of love she felt on Tuesdays.

She glanced at the clock on the wall as the familiar knock sounded. The third graders snapped to attention, turning their heads in unison toward the door. Today was the day. Every Tuesday about this time for the past six weeks, a fresh bouquet of flowers arrived. Karen opened the door and felt a rush of warmth when she realized today would be no exception.

Peeking around the blooms with his usual grin, his black curls poking out from under the well-worn blue cap that sat too far back on his head, the deliveryman thrust the vase toward her.

Does that grab your attention and make you want to read more? I hope so.