The Unique Love for a Firstborn
Ask any mother if there is something “different” about your mothering experience with their firstborn, and most will definitely agree. Those poor first babies endure all of our inexperience and first mistakes. Starting with names, moving to simple things like how to dress them properly and determine if they’ve had enough to eat, you move to everything from taking first steps to basic social skills.
Moms are often too strict, or too lenient with these first babies. We stuff them with every bit of knowledge we can cram into them because, surprise! They seem to thrive on it. Who knew?
We’re determined to do this “mothering thing” right and at any cost.
Too often that cost is the child.
The same is true for “book babies.”
Authors go through the same birthing process. We gestate ideas and make them grow into full-fledged novel fetuses. They’re born, and like many new mothers, we pack diaper bags the size of steamer trunks as we sally forth into a brutal world, determined that our baby won’t just survive—they’ll thrive.
We give them amazing names that we spent months agonizing over and dress them in beautiful covers that often only a mother could love—you know, the one crocheted out of scratchy yarn by Great Aunt Berthalie and way too hot for July.
We feed them with love and attention, showing them off to anyone who will look at our 381 snapshots of the exact same pose… almost. We agonize… to advertise or not. Maybe delayed advertising so we can let them grow a bit before we thrust them into the public eye.
Do we send them to traditional schools—*cough* publishers—or do we choose a private one tailored to our book baby’s needs? Perhaps we homeschool—*cough* indie publish—because we want our book to live life on our schedules.
And regardless of how we birth, dress, name, and launch our book into the world, especially with those firstborn book babies, we make huge mistakes.
I know I did.
While not the first book I wrote, Noble Pursuits was the first book I published.
It was my “test subject” for how I would publish if I decided I even wanted to do this “publishing thing.” I spent months trying to name the silly thing. It started off as Graceful Measures, and went through a million revisions of “Grace” (which is what I’ve usually called it when talking about it) before I realized that the name “Grace” anywhere in that title made it sound like a Christian Living (read: nonfiction) book.
That would never do.
Originally, Nolan’s last name was “Barnes.” Only when I realized that I’d have a “Barnes & Noble/Nolan” did I decide I should change it. Finally, I settled on Noble Pursuits. I didn’t love that title, but it suited the book, and that would have to be enough for me.
My next mistake came with the cover.
The poor book. I was so literal with the first cover. Determined not to have people on it, I wanted a checkerboard on the front porch. It reflected actual happenings in the book, and of course, that was supremely important. *cough*
I never did find an adequate porch picture, but I did find a checkerboard with fall leaves all around it—perfect, since the book opened in fall back then. Like I said—literal.
Get this. The original O in Noble had a checker instead of a letter. How original. See? Isn’t it hideous?
I then tackled editing.
Oh, yes. Contrary to popular belief (and an epidemic of typos to prove it), I sent that poor book through ten rounds of editing and proofreading. I’d found this “foolproof, shoestring self-publishing” article from someone who sounded like he knew what he was talking about. That made it totally legit, right? Oh, the folly of inexperience and stupidity. Following that (supremely stupid) advice left me with more typos than my original manuscript had, and a boatload of head hopping, which I actually like. So, I did what “I like” because you’re supposed to “write the book you want to read.” Shoot me now.
That poor book. I knew it had serious problems when two “friends” from a message board I read emailed me and offered to help me fix it. Ouch! By the way, those friends were the best and truest kind—the kind Mr. Knightley would totally approve of.
And one of them is now my editor. Just sayin’.
After a couple of agonizing years with that hideous, and oh-so-on-point cover, my new publicist said, “Change it.”
She wanted people on it.
I said no.
Instead, I swung to the opposite end of the cover pendulum and created something that reflected a nebulous desire of Nolan’s—the “picket fence life.” Yeah. No joke.
Only I could take a theme of a book and create such a literal representation of it—with appalling typography to boot. I mean, what’s with the Art Deco font, Chautona! Sigh.
I will now go on record and admit that she was right. 100% correct. It needed people.
However, I will also give myself a little grace (see what I did there?) and remind myself that creating a cover with people on it that conveys the tone and theme of this book is not easy.
In fact, when I finally decided to give this poor book a refresh and relaunch, I spent weeks playing with ideas. Every one of them failed. And then one night while bemoaning the problem with another graphic designer, I got the idea. Grace needed to be on that cover. In an apron. And Nolan needed to be in a suit—a visual representation of their disparate lives.
That’s all it took for me. Perry from Perry Elizabeth Designs took over the design and did a fabulous job creating what I hadn’t been able actualize.
Then it was time for the title.
After all, Perry needed something to put on that cover. Once more, I worked with all the Grace things I could. My launch team struggled with me. Nothing was right. I even thought of just doing Grace, but I have an entire series where each book’s title is just one name. It seemed like a bad idea to do that—confusing, you know?
Look, I wanted Pursuing Grace so bad that it isn’t even funny. But really, if you saw only that title, would you assume nonfiction? I knew I would.
Eventually, we came up with Oh, Gracious! I can’t actually remember how we got that name (it all blurs, folks! It was a rough few weeks), but I feel like someone finally said, “Oh, gracious! We’ve got to think of something,” and the title was born.
It fits the book so well. Grace is one of my most gracious characters of all time. With everything that happens in the book, I can just see her laughing and saying, “Oh, gracious that’s funny!”
So, here she is.
My firstborn book baby is all grown up and has a fresh makeover and detox! The story is completely the same, but every sentence and paragraph got a solid look before I moved onto the next. Will it be perfect?
Nope. After all, if we’re honest with ourselves, no matter how wonderful we think our firstborns are, they’re still dirty, rotten sinners like the rest of us. We just love them to bits anyway, and when the Lord redeems them, all that rottenness gets washed clean. I pray that the Lord will redeem my words in the hearts of the readers so that only the beauty that He wishes to shine through will show.
Author Interview with Michelle Keener
Tell us a little bit about yourself, Michelle.
I’m a wife, homeschooling mom, writer, and speaker. I’m married to a retired US Marine and we live in Southern California with our two kids and one very spoiled dog. I love Jesus, books, and chocolate.
How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My dad still has a copy of a book I wrote in kindergarten. It’s always been a part of who I am. I wrote my first novel right after I got married (it was awful and it shall never be read by anyone). My first published book was a memoir about being a Marine wife during the Iraq War. I spent almost a decade doing freelance work before I went back to writing novels. And now I have three novels out in the world!
You don’t see many Christian books about Hollywood. What inspired you to write Mission Hollywood?
I’m a sucker for Christian romance novels. I love stories that combine faith and romance, and I had been playing around the idea of writing a faith-based love story for a long time. I also spent a lot of time in Hollywood when I was studying theatre in college. Both of those things collided when I started to daydream about a movie star bumping into a Christian woman and how that one meeting could change his life. That idea turned into Mission Hollywood, and then the sequel Made in Hollywood.
Do you have any writing quirks?
Snacks! I love to have snacks close by while I write.
What do you hope readers will take away from your books?
I hope readers will see the unconditional, unchanging, never-ending love of God. In Mission Hollywood, Ben Prescott spent his life running from God, but God never gave up on him. To me, the biggest love story in the world is God’s love for us.
How can readers connect with you?
I love to hear from readers! I spend a lot of time on Twitter so you can always find me there. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram and my handle is the same on all of my social media sites.
You can also find me on my website and if you stop by my site you can grab a free eBook copy of my devotional You Are…Thirty Names God Has Given You and What They Mean.
Sovereign of Lauchtenland
I can smell the fear. It taints the icy sea breeze blowing up the valley with a pungent, rancid oder.
The scent rises from my own skin as well as the band of warriors around me. Only my war horse seems game for the fight. Knight shifts and paws the ground, tossing his head, snorting his warm breath in to the cold morn.
Before dawn, the trumpet sounded through our capital village of Aagon. Norman ships docked on our rocky northern shore while we slept. A suicide mission for the best sailors.
The fighting men are gathered on the hill, at the Plain of Boer, where we will meet the foe.
But I am not a man. I am Honor of Roan, daughter of Roan the Rogue.
“Isn’t their victory over the Anglo-Saxon army enough?” Henry Pike reigned in next to me. “How much war can they stand?”
“They drink blood for pleasure.” Michael, the tailor, pushes his large helmet from his brow. Pale as a winter moon, he lowers his spear, his arms are thin and weak beneath his shirt, his hands soft from working in a shop instead of the fields.
He’s not a warrior. But every man, or woman, able to fight is on this slopping hill.
“We were foolish to believe they’d stop with the Anglos. Lauchentland is a rich prize with natural ports.” Henry glances down at me. “Your da would be proud to see you here.”
With a nod, I turn away. Dead only these past six weeks, the mention of my father draws my tears.
You see, he was a blacksmith, warrior, and leader of men until the sword of a Norman felled him at Hastings. A volunteer, he was, willing to stand with our brethren.
He died as he lived. Selfless. Fearless. Now I ride in his place and for his honor. To finish what he began. And I am terrified.
Our tiny home country floats in the North Sea. We are cousins to the Anglo-Saxons, the Duchy of Hessenberg and Brighton Kingdom.
We are warriors. Never a surf nor slave. Since ancient days, we’ve clung to the Lord of Christiandom. But lately the earth beneath our feet rumbles. Change is on the horizon.
Our duke, Titus the Brave, died on the battlefield with Da. And half the Lauchten men who volunteered for the Anglo army. Without a leader, we are exposed and vulnerable for take over.
I glance about. The ragtag army among the baring autumn trees is scarred and battle weary. Should we lose the field today, there will not be a Lauchtenland tomorrow.
Bishop Harp rides among the battalion with communion. “Hoc est corpus meum.”
Each man partakes no matter his inner conviction. Fear of death turns every doubter into a Believer.
When he stops at me, he lowers the bread and the cup. “You must return to your mother, Honor.”
“I will partake.” I open my mouth, waiting to taste the Lord’s body.
“You are all she has.”
“She knows I must do my duty. In place of Da.”
He trained me with his bow and arrow, and spear. He raised me in his smithy. I can wield a sword as well as hammer one from glowing steel.
I am slight but strong. Though none of his victorious war stories, nor Mama’s Lauchten songs, prepared me for this moment.
I’ve not reached my twenty-first year and I may die today. I’ve never known love, tasted the lips of a man, or felt his skin against mine.
“Your Da never truly intended for you to be here, girl,” the Bishop said.
“Then why did he train me? Please, may I have communion?” He hesitated with a wary glance at Henry for help. “You cannot separate me to the women,” I say. “I am the only one here.”
“Precisely why you should return to Fressa and wait for word with the rest of your gender.”
“If you do not serve me communion, what shall I tell the Lord when I met Him later today? That the stain on my robe remain because my priest would not consecrate me?”
“Bishop, what is the delay?” Bruce the Worthy steers his giant black stallion between us. A member of Titus’s council, he has declared himself our ruler. But we do not revere him as such.
Brutish and angry, uncouth, he is ill suited for the job. Lauchtenland will not tolerate him once the battle is over.
Yet the question remains. Who will lead us? With no heir and no vision, the privy council must use their wisdom to build a government. And they are at extreme odds.
“The lasses in the rear are wetting themselves with fear. They want communion before they see their Maker.” Bruce swears without restraint. “They’re gutless nerves will get us all killed.” His gaze lands on me. “Honor of Roan, you are too small to ride up front.” He kicks at Knight. “What’s this, a pony or a large goat?”
“He’s a well-trained war pony, quick and low. I can ride beneath the arrows and javelins. Just watch—”
“Leave her be, Bruce.” Bishop Harp raises the communion wafer to my tongue. “She shows more courage than the young men with the ballista.”
“If a woman, nay a girl, a child, dies under my command—”
“Do you plan to expose me to the front lines as you did my father?” I drink from the cup, of the wine, of the blood.
“Hush your lies, girl. He was foolish. Overeager and stubborn. You are much like him.” His eyes are narrow and dark. “There’s no man here who rides with you. Go to your mother, slaughter the fatted hog for our return.”
“She rides with me.” Henry Pike raises his chin, his angular jaw taunt. “You cannot stop her, Bruce. Tis law for her to take her Da’s place. And law if a man agrees to rides with her, she is permitted.”
Bruce growls and backs away. “You’ll both be dead before the ballistas fire the first fiery darts.”
“Then we will see heaven satisfied we fought bravely to the end.”
Bruce raises his fist but the bishop catches his arm on the downward stroke.
“A house divided cannot win. Henry may be impertinent but he, along with Honor, are among your rank. Good fighters, and you know it. We’ve seen Honor in the contests with the bow and arrow. Her skill outmatches the best of the young lads, dare I say the older ones as well.”
The old bishop’s motions for Bruce to move out of his way. With a smile, he bids me goodbye. “God’s speed.” Then he sobers, his grinning encouragement fading as he leans ever closer for a deeper, haunting search of my soul. “You,” he mutters. “You are the one. How did I not see it before?”
“What are you whispering, man of God?” Bruce buttresses against us again. “Tend to your duties and I’ll tend to my troops. Hurry, the charge will be called the moment the Normans crest the field.”
“She is the one.”
“The one? The one what?” Bruce inspects me with a dower expression. Then with understanding. “Surely not. She’s a child, daughter of a smithy and no taller than three rods.”
“Five and a half mind you.” I sit up to my full height.
“I say, she is the one.”
Bruce bursts into laughter. “Bishop, have you imbibing in the wine? No one has had the royal vision in four hundred years. Honor, have you had the vision?”
“Precisely. Nor will you. Tis the story of fables concocted by old King Gable to keep the throne. Titus is gone and I was his general. I am Duke and King now. I will fight anyone who tries to take it from me.” He motions the Bishop around him. “Press on to your duties. And quickly.”
The bishop grips my arm before urging his pale gelding forward. “You are the one. Have courage. No harm shall befall you.”
His words touch me as if he breathed fire from the smithy’s forge. “You are the one.”
“Surely I am not.”
He presses his finger to my lips. “Hush. Do not let your words be hasty before the King.” The bishop serves the warrior behind me. “Go in peace. Ad Deo.”
“What did he whisper to you?” Henry Pike says.
I peered into his august face and in an instant, my heart moves from fear to flutters. Knight rears in anticipation and I gather his reigns, grateful to look away from Henry’s blue eyes.
He is the one I long to love, to kiss, to lay with under a summer sky.
“Honor what did he—”
“Nothing. Holy foolishness.”
“Nay, canna be. I’ve seen holy foolishness and the bishop looked sober, even frightened, as if seeing a ghost. What did he say?”
When Henry angles toward me, I nearly fall into him. Unlike the unwashed maggots next to me, he smells of the sun and wind, of the wild clean of a spring meadow.
I dare say I could not breathe. My eyes search his. What would he do if I just rose up and kissed—
“So you think you can fight, wee girl? The breeze of a swinging sword will knock you from your wee horse.” Caer of Malwind interrupts us.
“Back up, my brother.” Henry says. “How much Yank did you embed in last eve?”
“Enough to give me courage in the morn.”
“Then be off. I have business with Honor.”
“Business, eh?” His ugly cackle indicates his despot thoughts.
With a yell, I fling my maul at him, hitting my mark, hooking the edge of his exposed mail.
Henry laughs, as well as those around us, and retrieves my weapon from Caer’s garb. “Have you learnt your lesson? Or shall I have her try for your head?”
Henry knows me well. From the play yard between our houses. From lessons with his Da and mine.
Swearing, Caer passes on.
“I didn’t need your help.” I reach for the maul but Henry withholds it.
“Tell me what the bishop said.”
Swen moves through us. “Prepare yourselves. They are on the horizon. Fight nobly. Fight well. Your wife will cheer you when you return, welcome you to her bed. If you’ve no wife, the lasses will kiss you and sing of your victory. Your mother’s will prepare a feast. If you’ve no meat, she’ll serve you hot oatmeal and warm buttered bread.”
“And what of me,” I shove my shoulders back and my chin up.
“To you I say, fight for Lauchtenland. For your Da.”
When his is gone, Henry pesters me again. “Tell me or you canna ride with me.”
I snatch the maul from his hand and tuck it in the leather loop inside my shield. “Too late, you already promised.”
“Honor, tell me—”
“That I am the one! He said I am the one.”
Henry rears away. “The one? Our queen? Duchess of Lauchtenland.”
“See, holy foolishness. He believes in the old lore of God choosing men to lead.”
Henry’s mount spooks as the battalion presses forward. Desperation mingles with the fear.
The first light breaks through the scattered clouds and I see the Norman ballistas from my position. They out power us. They out number us. I am in awe and fear.
“Honor,” Henry whispers. “Have you seen the vision? Tell me it’s only a fairy story.”
“I’ve had no such vision.” I urge Knight forward and to the left flank. “If I ride low, I can get to their ballistas and fire on them.”
“Honor, upon your word, you’ve seen no vision?” His gaze penetrates mine.
I respond the only way my heart will allow. I pull him in for a kiss. His lips are stiff and cold, then with a breath they become warm and soft, and I feel as if I’m floating.
When I break away, heat burns my cheeks and my courage returns, “I canna die without at least one man’s kiss.”
“One man’s? Any man’s?”
He makes me smile. “Yours. Only yours. There, now you’ve drawn my deepest confession from my heart. Tis good I will die today.”
Henry grips my sleeve so we are nose to nose. He kisses me with tenderness and purpose.
“I canna die without at least one woman’s kiss.”
“One woman’s? Any woman’s?”
He smiles. “Yours, only yours.”
“Henry, if this is our last—”
My confession is interrupted by the sound of the horn and Knight races off. I grip his mane and lean now so we become one. His thundering heart beats with mine.
Henry’s spotted charger strides to keep pace as a hail of fiery darts arch over us from the beardless lads manning our ballista. They may be the only ones left to tell our story.
The line splits and we flank our foe on the right and left. I ride on the outside, drawing my bow on the Norman aiming at me.
Just as I’m about to launch, a light brighter than any sun blinds me. I release my arrow praying the yelp of the wounded is not a Lauchten brother.
Still with the fire in my eyes, I thread my bow again. Knight stops with such force I am nearly catapulted.
“Get up. Ride on.” Shaking, I kick his sides as the cries of dying men fills my ears. “Knight, yah!”
The voice of Bruce calls from behind and flows through me. “Ride on, men. Take courage. Face your fears, destroy your foes.”
While I canna see a thing, his broken voice tells me we are losing before we truly began.
“Knight! Yaw!” But he refuses to move. He canna move.
The light in my eyes fades and I see a man standing beside a brilliant glass case. I’ve never seen such a clean and clear thing, nor such a beautiful human being.
He is both fire and ice, strength and humility. There is no flaw, no blemish. I’m frozen, unable to move other than slip from my mount down to my knees.
“What have I done to earn your appearing, my Lord?”
“Take it.” He doesn’t speak yet I hear his voice.
“Take what, my Lord?”
I raise my gaze to the glass case to find a diamond and gold crown inside, perched on lush, red velvet.
“The crown. You are Honor of Roan, Princess of Lauchtenland. I hold your heart and thus choose you to rule.”
“No, my Lord. I am not worthy. A daughter of a smithy and dead warrior. I’ve no means, no stature.”
The screams of the pierced and dying surround me. Yet I canna move or leave this encounter.
“You have Me.”
“My Lord, then I am your servant.”
The swoosh of retreat blows by. “Fall back. Fall back!” Bruce roars with such a force my bones rattle.
“Take up your cross,” The Lord points to the crown. “Follow me.”
He moves away from the battle as if wind and light are His chariot. Without urging, Knight leaves me to race after Him.
One step, then two, and I am at the case. The glass is cool and smooth to the touch but I can’t find a way to open it.
“Open up,” I say to myself and upon my word, the top raises on it’s own wind. I retrieve the crown but canna bring myself to set such beauty on my head.
Suddenly the light vanishes and I’m exposed, alone in the center of the field, the brown pitch littered with my countrymen moaning in defeat.
“Courage!” I raise the crown, fear no longer reeking from my soul. “Fight on. We have the field. Fight on!”
Finding my bow on the ground, I fire from my quiver. When my arrows are depleted, I move to my sword and clash through the Norman troops. My arm grows weary. I’ve no strength to my voice. I canna tell if I fight as one or as many.
The crown dangles from my elbow, the diamonds and gems sparking in harmony with the dawn.
The horns of retreat sound from the sea. The clashing of swords ceases. Men’s voices go silent.
“They are retreating. They are retreating.”
Our thunderous roar of our victory pushes the Normans over the cliff. Spotting Knight, I catch his mane and swing on his back as Henry comes my way.
“You, Honor, you led us. You fought man after man.” He takes my shoulder and pulls me in for a kiss. “You were…” His eyes search mine. “What came over you?”
“This.” I reach for the crown swinging from my arm but found nothing.
“What?” Henry regarded my arm. “Agh, Honor, you’ve a nasty gash. Come, let’s find the surgeon.”
I raised my arm to see no crown, no diamonds and gems diffusing the light. I glanced over the field to where I saw the vision, the Man. There was nothing but dead men, their horses wandering away, chewing at the brown, burnt grass.
“Honor, come. Your arm.”
“Henry, did you see a Man? All in white?”
“When? Where?” He pulled me along. “Have you seen the surgeon. Michael, the surgeon?”
Men clap me on the back, congratulating me, calling me a heroine, a woman of courage. I see the respect in their eyes.
“Marry her Henry or I will.”
Hidden in the trees, Bruce the Worthy looks on, shadow on his bearded, battered face. Then he turns to go. The victory was not his and he will make me pay.
“Forget him. He will change is ways when he’s in Fressa.”
The sunlight shifts and I follow a golden path to the surgeon, Henry at my side. What happened to me, is a mystery. A fairytale. But for a moment, I had the crown. I gained the victory.
I want to be chosen again and again.
The surgeon hands me a strap of leather for my teeth and Henry holds my hand has the man’s blood-stained hands stitch my wound.
When the deep is done, my skin still resonating with each needle pierce, I peer up at Henry. “If you ask me to marry you, I will say yes.”
A pinkish hue moves under the dirt and blood on his cheeks. “Let me first speak to your mama.”
Then he kisses me. In front of the surgeon, the men, God and His angels. A shout rises from our war-scarred band.
I can smell love. It perfumes the icy sea breeze blowing up the valley with a floral, sweet fragrance. The scent rises from my heart as well Henry’s and the warriors around us. We are all one under love’s banner.
The battle has healed me. I dare say, all of us. Now love has dissolved my grief and I know I need never be afraid again. In life or in death.
Have you ever faced something you thought you couldn’t?
I stared at the invitation from a fellow author friend and felt my hands go clammy. Write a 40,000-word novella that connected with 1 other author’s story and meet for prayer a couple times during the project. Those parts weren’t daunting, they were exciting. But the next little tick box had me quaking in my boots.
Write a study guide for the book about your faith journey as you write.
I’ve been accused by friends and peers of writing “fluffy” romance, the kind that doesn’t really make you think. You grab a tissue or two and sigh when you’re done. That’s okay. We all have our place in this world. But how could I write a faith-centered study guide and still remain true to my voice? I started by praying about it. This was a hangup for me, which meant I absolutely needed to do it.
Writing is always a journey. Sometimes, when you finish, you feel like you’ve traveled the world and back again. But could I share that part that was so intimate with readers? I had to, or I couldn’t be part of the collection.
When things are hardest, and we don’t know what to do next, sitting still and doing nothing for a moment is always a good option. I prayed, then looked over my notes and quotes from Whole Latte Love. Suddenly, without even trying that hard, questions came to me. I’ve since received emails that people loved the study guides in the Great River series.
The first book in the Great River series is part of the Betwixt Two Hearts collection. If not for their invitation, I never would’ve crossed this bridge. My team of readers insisted I needed to make that story into a series, and Sincerely Yours follows directly after the first. And yes, it has another study guide. I felt it had to in order to maintain the feel of the series.
Will I get to the point where I put study guides in every book? Probably not. Some series or books are just not deep enough for that. I do love how this series turned out, and I pray that those guides help you understand some of my thought process along the way.
Author Interview with Lisa Renée
About Lisa …
Where are you from?
I’m a third-generation Australian, living in Perth.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
When I tell people I have seven children, it usually gains some raised eyebrows. LOL.
What are your favorite hobbies and activities outside writing and reading?
I enjoy developing businesses. I even branded and manufactured an organic smoothie and latte range, which I sold in Australia.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve read several lovely Christian novels of first-time love. Unfortunately, not all of us experience a healthy, lasting marriage. I’ve met women whose husbands have turned away from their faith and marriage vows. I want to encourage those women that God can bless them with a faithful man.
My message is not to rush ahead of God’s timing. My characters are more cautious since they know life can throw unexpected blows. They learn to trust and open their hearts again, which takes time.
My first series tackles the central issue of divorce. More Than A Second Chance also addresses the challenges of infertility and grief. The story wraps around a new romance with plenty of humor and light-hearted moments to balance out the themes.
The second novel, Acres of Promise, also shows the challenges of raising a teenager as a single parent.
The third in the series will address mental health issues. Gee, I sure don’t take the easy tropes!
Where is your series set?
Another desire of mine is to see more Australian themed novels released into the international market. So, the Single Again series begins in Perth, Western Australia. The third novel’s heroine ends up in the United States. That story will be released at the end of 2020. All of my books have an American main character involved.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Once into the flow of the story, I love seeing my main character’s personality shine through the dialogue. My female protagonist usually has a sassy aspect with lots of “spunk.”
What would you like readers to say about your books?
I’d like readers to feel encouraged through their trials and the body of Christ to swap judgment for compassion toward those that have made mistakes but desire to move forward, putting the past behind them where it belongs.
What’s your inspiration for writing Christian fiction?
I feel compelled to write about real-life people where their tragic story has a restorative ending. Real people overcoming setbacks inspires me.
In 2014, I began making noise that I was writing a novel. Support from those around me was encouraging, my husband took up household chores when I asked as he did his best to manage kids, and words flew from my mind to my fingers with relative ease. I published that first book just before Christmas that year (probably shouldn’t have, but that is another story) and I was on cloud nine because I had accomplished something that didn’t identify me as a wife or mother. I was Melissa Wardwell, Author.
That’s when the questions began.
“Are you writing your life story?”
“Will it be non-fiction?”
“Whose your publisher?”
The questions were endless and some of them I recall making me a little angry. I eventually stopped telling people and just kept wading through this side gig of independently publishing stories God put on my heart. Then one day, a dear friend asked most innocently, “Are you writing for tween girls? Our daughters need books like that from a Christian perspective.” She made a great point, but my pride was kicked again and I shamefully admit that I took it wrong. I told her I would pray about it and walked away.
After that, I began to ask God “why fiction?” The answer came in flashes of book titles that touched my heart, taught me how to parent, took me on an adventure, or opened my eyes to some kind of Biblical truth that maybe I had missed. I found all of that in fiction and it was in such a way that I didn’t even recall learning, seeing, or understanding those things. It was unthreatening and impacting.
As a reader, fiction has become a life line of sorts for me. I have a plethora (I love that word) of choices and I am rarely board with what I read. I can visit the wild west in the middle of a wagon train for a couple of days then jump forward in time to the shores of Dover during the years proceeding World War 2 for a couple more days and never once feel cheated by the content in my hands. Fiction has provided a means of the escape that I stopped finding in television so much so that I hardly watch it.
As a writer, fiction has provided an outlet for me to tell stories of what God has done in my life and in the lives of others. I try to shed light on those we don’t see often in fiction, though now, more and more are beginning to do the same thing. And I think it is great.
Writing fiction challenges me in ways I’d never been challenged. I have to research, talk to people, be more mindful of how things make me feel, put my mind in situations and figure out how I would/could respond; it is a roller coaster for sure, but I love every minute of it. I get to explore places I have never visited, like Savannah Georgia, learn about things – like symptoms of head trauma and the workings of the Irish Mob – and all because we have this wonderful thing called the internet. As a result, I craft a story around these things I learned and mesh them with Biblical lessons I have learned or lived through – like forgiving the unforgivable – so that I can introduce the concept to a world that wouldn’t pick up a Christian self help book.
So, “Why Fiction?”
Because for a brief moment in my life, I can travel through time and discover amazing people while never leaving the confines of home. Because of Fiction, I can get away from the noise of the world for a few hours a day and feel no shame for neglecting my duties.
A Trial in Patience
Have you ever wanted something so much you could hardly stand the waiting?
That was me with my latest release, Trial by Patience. She’s not a brand new book baby. She’s six months old now. Yay! She’ll be walking and talking before you know it. Heaven help us.
I always joke that I have no patience. While it’s somewhat true, there are times when I seem to be forced to wait. God’s way of keeping me humble? Likely.
When I began the final book in my trials series, patience seemed to be in short supply, especially for the characters. Phoenix, in particular. Did you know I never intended for this to be a series? Good thing God knew. If I’d known when I first started writing that I would spend three years agonizing over these books, I probably would have given up.
I can’t even tell you how the name came into being. Doesn’t seem very romancey, does it? Trials? Who wants to read about trials? We want all the fun and none of the hard moments. I wanted that too. I wanted to write laugh-out-loud romantic gold.
God said do this instead.
So I tucked my head and did what He said. I might have grumbled along the way. Okay. Okay. I grumbled. I didn’t want to write about characters who overcame childhood abuse. I just didn’t. I didn’t know why God wanted me to write it. I still don’t understand. I only know there is beauty in recovery and glory in the everlasting effect of God’s love.
As the series continued (you’ve no idea how strange it was to realize Trial by Courage was meant to be a series), I wanted to incorporate the characteristic vital to each female lead in the title, and the characteristic needed to begin with the same first letter as the character’s name. Talk about a God moment when I saw how everything was working out. I never could have done this on my own. They even happen in alphabetical order: Courage, Faith, Patience. And the characters: Cheyenne, Faith, Phoenix. Please don’t disown me because I used faith for Faith. It fit her. She didn’t want to be a Fiona.
Speaking of patience, boy did Phoenix test mine. She wouldn’t do anything I wanted, and the punk rocker attitude kept tension between her and Danny ALL THE TIME. Danny is in the unique situation to understand Phoenix, and instead of letting Danny help, Phoenix tries every way she knows to push Danny away.
She’s never known anything good or decent. She can’t trust that Danny will be different.
God is at work even in her defiance.
When I started writing Trial by Patience, I stumbled upon equine therapy. While I’d always seen this as a thing, I’d not realized there were actual equine therapy barns available across the US. I contacted one in my state, and they were incredibly helpful with my questions. Although they did not deal with abused kids, they did work with disabled kids, and they invited me down for a visit. The work they do is phenomenal.
Several people have asked if the series is finished. The answer is…I don’t know. I know. I’m terrible. You see, Danny has a brother who really deserves his own story. But he’s not speaking to me right now. I guess he’s not ready yet. Or I’m not ready yet. When it’s time to tell Grant’s story, I’ll know. I love these characters. They are the first fictional family I created. Writing their stories affected me in ways I can’t even explain, except to say I’m better for having known them.
While I’ve moved on to happier story plots, I can’t promise God will never pull me back. In fact, I’m certain I’ll find myself back here again as I have an entire trilogy in my head that deals with alcoholism. Don’t look for it anytime soon though. I’ve re-written it three times already. Fun times ahead. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though a story is done, it’s never quite finished.
Don’t tell my other babies in this series, but Trial by Patience is my favorite.