Stepping into the New
Last month saw the release of my first contemporary romance, Restoring Fairhaven – woohoo! Readers have loved the strong, sassy gardening gal and her interactions with the reclusive writer in this story with echoes of Beauty and the Beast and Becky Wade’s My Stubborn Heart. This story was a lot of fun to write, as I’m a fan of gardens, I love writing, and writing collaboratively with the other authors in the Independence Islands series was a new and enjoyable experience.
I think that’s one of the things I’ve found so refreshing. As a writer it can be really easy to stick with what’s known, to do the variations on a theme that boil down to ‘same, same but different.’ I’ve loved writing my historicals, and I have more Regency romances coming out later this year. But writing contemporary has proved a real refreshment to my soul – and not just because I don’t have to stop every few pages and look up whether a word was in existence 200 years ago, or question whether a certain action is ‘Regency appropriate’ or not. I’ve loved Samantha’s energy and willingness to “have a go” and try things, even if it proves hard.
Last year certainly had its challenges. 2021 will have its own. But I don’t want to be stuck in the ruts of the past, going back and forth in the safe and known, digging myself deeper until the walls of the comfortable existence become a giant pothole that swallows up all the potential adventure and promise that lies ahead.
Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow (Hebrews 13.8), but God is also doing a new thing (Isaiah 43.19). The rest of that verse in Isaiah asks “Do you not perceive it?” I think that’s a huge part of the challenge. Sometimes I just don’t perceive what the new opportunities God is presenting me with, perhaps because I’m too busy, perhaps because I just like being comfortable and don’t want to rock the boat of my life too much (which actually suggests I choose to not do something new because of fear).
I think God gives us opportunities all the time, opportunities when we can shrink back, or press forward. Maybe we shrink back from talking to that new person at the gym / church / school / store because we’re afraid, or pressed for time, or can’t be bothered. But what if that person is someone God has destined to be your new best friend – or someone He wants us to talk to about Jesus? Maybe we’re worried about starting a new hobby, or going to the gym, or trying something new. Why let fear of failure affect your future?
The Bible says that “we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” In other words, Christians are called to live by faith, not by sight, and definitely not by fear.
Later this year I’m embarking on something that I find intimidating: self-publishing. Part of the reason I’m loving writing contemporary is because that’s where I began my writing journey eleven years ago. It’s only now, after a number of years of being traditionally published with my historicals and now contemporaries, that I feel like I have some of the wisdom and connections to make this finally happen. I’m excited – but it’s scary. I could leave these stories in my computer forever, or I could step out in faith and trust God with my future. I’m not walking blind, but I am walking in faith, trusting God to continue to lead and guide me.
So what exciting opportunities await you in 2021? What are some of those new experiences that you will enjoy? Are you willing to join me in trusting God with our futures, to “have a go” and try something new?
Who Knew Old Wedding Troubles Would Be Inspirational?
Burgundy taffeta lay strewn across my table, the chair, and the floor. The sewing machine whirred as I attached a sleeve to a bridesmaid dress—for my wedding. Across from me, an older woman chatted as she added skirts to finished bodices.
I don’t recall what she said that prompted the conversation, but I had no idea when I corrected an erroneous but understandable assumption what a mess it would cause. That evening, two of her daughters appeared at our house. Livid. Threatening not to sing in our wedding anymore. Our crime?
We’d gotten married in Las Vegas before the wedding. And didn’t tell anyone.
I want you to really look at what I wrote up there. They never came to us when they had to have assumed I was living in this house without being married (a reasonable assumption, as I already said). No, they were angry that I hadn’t told them that we got married.
It made no sense to me. See, I’d gotten a letter from a friend when she realized I was living in the same house with Kevin. She wanted to know what I thought I was doing. I assured her that we were married and explained the reason we hadn’t announced it. All was well, and I appreciated her concern for my spiritual condition!
Not with these friends.
In case this convoluted story isn’t clear, I’ll rephrase. While sewing that day, I made a comment about being married. No idea what or why. Can’t remember. The mother said, “Oh, you guys got married?” I probably looked at her like she’d lost her mind but assured her that yes, I wasn’t living with Kevin before marriage and explained why we’d gotten married the day after Thanksgiving and why we hadn’t said anything.
And again, those friends knew I was living here (yes, we still live in that same house!). They never said a word. Only when they learned that I was already married and hadn’t told them did they find it necessary to confront me about it.
I spent an hour that evening both acknowledging why not being told would be frustrating (I really did get it) and totally confused about why they weren’t just as or more upset when they thought I was living in sin!
In the end, they forgave me for not telling them and left. They did sing at my wedding. And to this day, I still don’t understand why they were willing to confront me about not announcing something but not about outright, public sin (as far as they knew).
Seriously, that was one of dozens of crazy moments connected with our wedding. By the time the day came, I was over it. I just wanted to get on the road and away from everyone and the drama that people seemed obsessed with creating. I’m pretty sure I informed my husband that our daughters would need to have arranged marriages that ended in elopements.
The poor guy thought I was joking.
Many of my books include weddings, and quite a few of them also have quick ones—minimal. Sometimes, I think our wedding story is why. In fact, I actually have one book where months of preparation end in no wedding and then the same couple are married a month later—fast and without the same fanfare!
Recently, I was given the opportunity to join a collection of novellas about weddings and wedding dresses. Who could resist, right? In Save the Date, you’ll find twelve novellas focused on one aspect of weddings—the dress.
From authors like Kari Trumbo, T.K. Chapin, Hallee Bridgeman, Marian Ueckermann, Jaycee Weaver and many more, you’ll get one novella per month. Mine? Adoring April (guess which month is mine!). This novella will be part of the Marriages of Conviction series. One new minister, one traditional church, one tiny little condition for employment—marry the only single woman in the congregation anywhere near his age.
And seriously, the best part? How she gets her dress. Honestly, folks. It’s the best wedding dress idea I’ve ever had. Can’t wait to share it with you this coming September. The collection is on sale right now for just .99. It won’t stay that price, so preorder your collection now. You’ll “save the date” with Amazon for Save the Date!
Oh… and fun story. Originally, we’d had a different word count limit, so I came up with another story for my New Cheltenham series—and a new series within that series. It had a heartrending story about the dress, and frankly, I was in love with it. Then our word count limit got slashed, and I couldn’t do that story justice with the lowered maximums. But I can’t let it go. The Brides of New Cheltenham is going to be a thing, and I can’t wait to share that cover… and that story.
Hindsight is 2020
Yes, it’s cliché, but admit it – you’ve been eager to use the saying since the year began. Most of us were anxious to see the past year leave. A pandemic, natural disasters, a heated election, financial struggles – we’ve seen it all! There has been plenty of bad news, plenty of negativity, and more than the usual number of difficulties.
In a year like that we have a choice to make. We can focus on the struggles or we can train our eyes on the blessings. In Philippians 4:11b, Paul says that he had learned in whatever situation he was in to be content. If you look at his history, he didn’t have a cushy life. Paul suffered through shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonment, stoning, and was finally beheaded for his faith in Jesus Christ. Be content in the middle of all of that? It doesn’t seem possible.
A few years ago, my verse for the year was 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That year was tough for my family. Both my dad and my grandpa had serious health issues on multiple occasions through the year. I spent so much time at the hospital during that time that I almost turned into the parking lot out of habit one day when I was going to the library! But every day I forced myself to find something to be thankful for. What I discovered was that the difficulties weren’t as hard as they might have been because my focus wasn’t on the problems. Instead, I was focused on my blessings which in turn pointed me to the One who gives all good things.
So, in 2020, what can I be thankful for?
- For a while we were without a home. We had sold our house without having a new one to move into. My husband’s parents have a guest house and we were able to stay there as long as we needed. It was small – a two-bedroom and 1 bathroom for our family of five – but to have a place to stay without a payment was a blessing.
- And while we were in the guesthouse, the lockdowns began! While most people quickly felt isolated, we had family living next door to us. They had a large backyard which allowed our kids plenty of space to play outside and our youngest daughter finally got over her fears and learned to ride her bike.
- Eventually, God led us to a house that had absolutely everything I had prayed for. Do you ever have those moments when you have prayed for something that you know is kind of stupid in the grand scheme of things? You know it’s not important, and that there are much bigger things to pray for, but like a child creating their Christmas list, you can’t help, but include it in your prayers. It means something to you even if it’s just a little thing. God granted me even the littlest request I made for our new home – a pretty street name. I told you it was a stupid request. It makes no difference in the long run what the name of my street is, but He granted it anyway. We live on Glowing Sunset, and I love it! Those moments where God answers those tiny, insignificant requests sometimes make me feel God’s fatherly love for me more than the big things. That He cares for something as small as a street name, because it meant something to His daughter boggles my mind! Besides the street name, our home had a low maintenance back yard, extra storage in the garage, a walk-in pantry, a large loft, a dividing door in the kids’ bathroom between the sink and toilet/shower, and a large walk-in shower in the master. Whenever you make a large purchase you have a wish list and know that you might have to give up some of your desires in order to make it happen. I didn’t have to give up a single thing on my list! God had the house I wanted all ready for me. The truth of the matter is that if we hadn’t moved into the guest house, I may have missed this house. When we first started looking, I had decided that the area was ‘too far out’. After living in the guest house (which was much further ‘out’), I decided this area wasn’t so bad. Now I love our neighborhood and I’m glad we were able to find our home here.
- The reason we had decided to move was to help a church plant in the area. Leaving the sending church was not an easy decision. We had been there for almost nine years and were very involved. I loved my ministries there and giving them up was not going to be easy. Then COVID came and there were no ministries. It made the transition much easier.
- Switching churches is difficult because it’s also like leaving family. Even though we left on good terms, there was fear that with being in a ‘socially distant’ state that we wouldn’t have that sense of community and family with our new church. Then my husband got COVID. Suddenly, our new church community rallied around us in amazing ways. I got texts every day for updates and knew that we were being covered in prayer. I’d get texts asking if we needed anything from the store, and they’d gladly pick things up and drop them off for us. We had goodies left on our doorstep and people bringing us meals. We felt so loved and connected in a time where it would have been easy to feel isolated.
- Once we were cleared, we were able to help our new church by hosting life groups in our home and later have a small group meet for church every Sunday. We have loved getting to know these wonderful people, serving delicious food, and serving our church in an unusual time.
- Our school found a way for us meet in person. I know there are people who would criticize us for doing that, but without meeting in person our little private Christian school would have been forced to close it doors. Meeting in person saved my job. In the first semester of school, we were blessed to stay mostly very healthy. We didn’t even have the traditional back to school colds that happen in September every year.
- And then Christmas break happened – and COVID reared its head again. This time it effected my son and me. It definitely wasn’t how I wanted to spend my winter break, and there were things that were hard to miss, traditions that had to be skipped, no visits with extended family. As I was feeling discouraged that I was missing so much, our pastor had a message about the interruptions through this year. He said, “The same God who is sovereign over our salvation is the same God who is sovereign over our schedules.” I have to admit, I cling to my schedule tightly. Control is hard for me to give up – or I guess the illusion of control because, let’s face it, I am not in control of very much! If I can trust God to save my soul, why can’t I trust Him with something as little as my schedule? Lessons aren’t always fun to learn, but growth is always a benefit.
So maybe 2020 wasn’t the magical year we were hoping for, but God still was present and active. As you look back on your year, I pray that you can see how He worked in your life.
The Chicken or the Egg?
People often ask me what inspired me to write my first romance novel, Falling for the Innkeeper. To be honest, I’ve always felt a tug on my heart toward writing fiction, but what inspired me to write Falling for the Innkeeper is the same thing that inspires me to read: the desire to escape, to relax, and to dream.
You see, at the time I started writing Falling for the Innkeeper, I had three young boys at home. My oldest was in first grade, my middle child was in half-day preschool, and my little guy was at home with me full time.
I love being a mom, but it can be exhausting, and I needed some time to myself. So, every day after lunch, I’d pack up my laptop and drop my two little guys off at the babysitting room at the YMCA, sit in the lobby, and write for two hours.
Some days I’d write two hundred words, some days I’d write a thousand. But I always left feeling energized and excited that I’d taken the time to do something that was just for me.
What made the writing process even more fun for me was that I got to revisit Cape Cod, the site of many of my childhood summer vacations. I have tons of fond memories from those Cape Cod summers:
- Sitting in the dining room of my grandparents’ beachside inn and eating pastries from the local bakery;
- Walking out on the jetty at the mouth of the local harbor with my family;
- Collecting shells and sea glass with my cousins;
- Playing pinball with my dad at the local pizza parlor;
- Body surfing and boogie boarding on the windy, wavy days.
Cape Cod also holds a special place in my marriage, because I’d gone on a Cape Cod vacation just before I met my husband on a blind date. He actually called me before my trip to set up our date, and we had a brief, awkward conversation, but since I was about to head out of town, I told him to call me back after I got home.
Given that it had taken him two months to call me in the first place, I wasn’t sure I was going to hear from him again, but I can’t say that I was unduly worried about it. In fact, while I was on Cape Cod, my mom and I had a conversation about this potential suitor who seemed “really serious.” My mother, wise woman that she is, replied, “Well, you never know.”
The very next summer, my family got to know my now-husband much better when he joined us for our annual trip to Cape Cod.
It turned out that God wanted to use the little writing project I started to give myself an escape to beautiful, romantic Cape Cod for more than just me. Falling for the Innkeeper was published last summer, and it was named one of “Six Sensational 2020 Debut Series Romances” by the American Library Association’s Booklist Reader. If you decide you’d like an escape from the cold winter weather this January, I hope you’ll check it out!
I’m in a reading rut
“Boy, my ‘read’ pile is pretty basic,” I thought as I reviewed the books I read in 2020. Most of it was suspense and mystery, and most of that was the True Colors series. I clearly did not venture into the waters of other genres of reading. No wonder I ended the year bored out of my mind and not wanting to read anything.
Okay, so what can I do to change my list?
Reading challenges could be good, or at least making a point to read something different from the book before. For example, if I read a regency novel, then select a contemporary one next. If I read a novel, read a novella or two next. Just do something to change what you did on the previous read. One book at a time, right? What ever it takes to break things up a bit.
Whatever you choose to read in 2021, keep an open mind. Don’t stay in the rut of your reading habits, step out of the comfort zone. Branch out a little and learn something new, go on a new adventure. I think this is how we can combat the reading rut.
You know what? Let’s do a challenge! I could use the shake up, how about you? Are you in?
2021 Reading Challenge possibilities
January – An author you love
Febuary – A new to you author
March – An independently published author you have NEVER read
April – Going west novel—maybe a mail-order bride trope?
May – author who is your opposite gender.
June – a story older than you are
July – a Christmas book
August – a book that takes place in another country
September – A collection (more than one book from more than one author)
October – chose an author you have never read before from the group of authors in September’s collection.
November – A genre you have never attempted to read before
December – Not a Christmas novel
Check my website for more details like giveaway options and a sign up to help keep track.
This could be fun, so let’s get creative and stir things up.
Happy New Year, Happy Reading!
Who was counting down the days until we could say goodbye and good riddance to 2020? I know I was. If ever there was a year where it felt like the hits just kept coming, it was 2020. I was so happy to ring in 2021. Truthfully, there wasn’t much of a difference between December 31, 2020 and January 1, 2021, but it felt like a whole new world.
There is something exciting and anticipatory about New Year’s Day. Anything is possible. It’s a blank slate of choices and adventures. Moving into a new year carries the feeling of starting over and starting afresh.
I don’t do resolutions (because they usually end up broken by February), but I do like to choose a word for the year. In 2020, my word was Fearless. I had no idea on January 1, 2020 how relevant that word would be. I thought it was a call to take risks, to be bold, to step out in hope and courage. Nope. It was literally a call to withstand the fear and terror of 2020.
This year, the Lord has given me the word Steadfast, and with it this Scripture: “My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast.” (Psalm 57:7) The word steadfast means unwavering; committed; firm in belief, determination and adherence. Synonyms include loyal, devout, and faithful.
If 2020 was a year that challenged us to give up, to be discouraged, to feel defeated and uncertain, 2021 is a year to be Steadfast. This is a year to be firm in our calling, dedicated to our vision, and loyal to God who gave us that dream, vision, and gifting in the first place. I am stepping into 2021 firm in my belief in God and determined to persevere.
Let’s face it, 2020 was a rough year. One of my favorite books that I have ever written was released in March, right at the start of the COVID lockdowns. Neither my publisher nor I could have imagined what was coming when they chose that release date. It was the most discouraging experience of my authorial career. Dismal sales, the release buried in the news cycle, all in-person events were cancelled, and yet, at the end of 2020 that same book was on a best reads of the year list.
Now, at the start of 2021, I am looking ahead at what is in store. My to-do list is already full and I can’t wait to get started! I have two books scheduled for release, including the third book in the Mission Hollywood series, and I am starting a PhD program…I haven’t been in school for 20 years so pray for me, friends! Like a good mystery, we never see the twists and turns that lie in wait for us, but we can choose now, before they come, to be steadfast in whatever storms are on the horizon.
In the midst of pandemics, elections, and fear, God is still God. Let us march into 2021 steadfast in our faith, firm in our purpose, and unwavering in our path.
If you want to keep in touch with me, find me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @MKeenerWrites or stop by my website www.MichelleKeener.com and start off 2021 with a free 30-day devotional ebook!
New Year. New You.
How often do we hear this? Say it to ourselves as the year winds to a close? The previous year is gone and another looms ahead. What changes will we make? At this point, January 2021 is ending. We’ve had a month to reflect on any resolutions we made and decide if they’re worth keeping.
As I write my next Independence Islands novel, I find myself searching, digging deeper into the Bible.
And I realized, this is the change I want to keep as the new year lingers. I want more Biblical truth. I want to write with a stronger faith and give God the reins to my words.
I tend to get in a routine of “hurry up and write” when what I should be doing is reading God’s word and working with Him toward a goal. Sound familiar? Mel does the same thing in Mishaps off the Mainland. I’ve found that God teaches me through my own writing. If no one else learns anything or takes away any bit of story for themselves, I have.
I have learned to listen.
Tomorrow, I might need to be reminded.
I’m a slow learner sometimes.
2020 taught me a lot. Strange, right? But it’s true.
When I started writing in 2015, I had an attitude of “I can do it myself…with God”. I had it partly right. I can do this writing thing with God, but I also need writing friends. God sent me to the people I needed, right when I needed them most. Zoom became an incredibly useful tool, and although I didn’t quite overcome my stage fright and extreme introvert tendencies, my writing friends don’t mind my sometimes weird quirks and rabbit trails of random thought.
My writing is better because of these wonderful women, and I’m excited for you to see what’s coming in 2021.