Why This Is My Favorite Gift to Give This Year
You’d think I’d learn. I mean, it happens every year. What is that saying about insanity? I think it was Einstein who came up with it, actually. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?”
Yeah. No wonder I feel insane every Christmas. You see it goes like this.
I go down my Christmas shopping list and think, “Oh. Hildegard. She’s a reader. Easy peasy. I’ll just snag her a book and done. Better go work on figuring out what pajamas to buy the bestekids. That’ll take weeks.”
And weeks later, something happens. It’s time to go to Hilde’s Christmas party. Time to buy that “easy peasy” book, toss a mug and a box of hot chocolate in the box, wrap it, and voila!
Except for that something that I already informed you that happens. Every time. Every. Stinkin’. Time.
You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? I mean, it’s kind of obvious. After a bit of online snooping, I come up with a list of ten books I think she’d like and that I hope she hasn’t read. Then I zip her a message. “Hey, I just saw this book, Sahara Twilight. It looks sooo good. Have you heard anything about it?”
The message pings back a minute later. “Sorry, was making homemade chocolate turtles for the party on Friday and had to wash my hands. Yeah, I don’t think you’d like that book. There’s a lot of kissing in it, and well… seriously, there was some funky theology going on.”
Translation: I’ve already read it.
By the third or fourth “casual” reference to books, Hilde says, “Um… stop killing yourself over finding me a Christmas gift. Just come. I want you here, not a paper-wrapped stack of glued-together paper.”
But, in one of those proofs of my total weirdness, my love language may not be gifts (and it totally isn’t) but man… I love to give gifts. By the time I get done hounding her family for screen shots of her kindle shelf space (and someone muffs it and shuffles them around a bit, so she knows I did it), and taking pictures of her physical shelves, TBR stacks, and all that jazz…
Another message comes my way.
“I told you to stop it with the gift thing. See you in a couple of hours.”
Still, I’ve got time to dash by the local bookstore. Maybe they’ll have something hot off the presses! With a line out the door and empty shelves, that flops in seconds. Great.
You guessed it! I sneak into Hilde’s house, dash to her office, log onto her computer, print out an Amazon gift card, and add an extra five bucks to it for the use of her ink and paper.
Look, don’t get me wrong. Hilde loves it. “MORE BOOKS! Squee!”
“But it’s a gift card,” someone always says.
“No…” she and I croon together. “It’s a BOOK card.”
Look, I know the goal is to please the recipient. I do. And there’s nothing more I want than to ensure that every gift I give is going to be loved! However, if I can do that and enjoy the giving process (which is the most fun for ME)… well, I want to.
Most of the time, that’s pretty easy. However, with bibliophiles, it can get a bit tricky.
But not this year!
Yep! I am not kidding you. I just got a sneak preview of a BRAND-NEW gift idea for the avid reader in your life. Totally Booked: A Book Lover’s Companion.
Seriously, this 350-page reading journal is packed to the gills with all kinds of goodies. From reading trackers to challenges, who you loaned what book to (or borrowed from), gift lists, and more!
I’ll be honest. At first, I got all excited, thought it was amazing, and wanted mine yesterday. Then I looked at my shelves of unused journals and stacks of unread books. Not going to lie. I almost canceled the (pre)order I’d already made.
Then the other night, I had to look up when I read a book and see if I’d reviewed it. This afternoon, I started to buy a book on sale and went, “Wait. Did I order that from Tyndale already?” Had to go look that up, too. That’s when I realized something.
I do this already—either in my head, in my email inbox, or in the various journals scattered around that I do use.
Will I use every single section of this thing?
Maybe not. However, the way they have it set up, I can already see how I might change up a few things to fit me best. For example, the 100 books challenge? Maybe I won’t do that, but I might use it to keep track of all the blog tour books I review. There are so many options, and with a white Avery sticker, you can cover up any labels that don’t use something how you want to and write in your own use for it!
And get this. These aren’t all just boring black and white pages. This book is beautiful—inside and out. Especially the hardback version. It’s in color! Seriously, you won’t believe how gorgeous it is! See that cover? Yeah. That. Inside. Just sayin’.
I don’t know about you, but I know what I’m getting several book lovers on my gift list.
Totally Booked: A Book Lover’s Companion.
This book is available in hardback (squee!) and paperback (also squee!). With my personal Totally Booked journal, I intend to cut off the spine, punch it for a spiral coil, and make it spiral bound for ease of use. I’m a huge fan of spiral-bound books for stuff like this.
There you have it. The perfect gift for the avid Christian fiction reader in your life!
If you were to ask me what my favorite holiday is, my answer would be…Christmas! You may wonder why I’m telling you that in November, when the holiday coming up is Thanksgiving. Let me explain…
While Christmas is my favorite holiday, my extended family used to go all out for Thanksgiving. It was never just a day for us – it was always a whole weekend. And that festive atmosphere was captured in my memory bank and transplanted into The Redemption of Green Pines series.
I had so much fun creating “A Thanksgiving to Forget,” a short story to share a glimpse into the life of Jace and Simone as newlyweds. Their Thanksgiving tradition looked nothing like my family’s as their family life looks nothing like mine. That’s why it was so much fun to imagine. (I’m blessed with amazing parents, siblings, and in-laws!)
When our kids were little, and my sister and her family still lived close by, we would anticipate Thanksgiving weekend for months. Our oldest, who is quite the introvert, would rave about how much he loved Thanksgiving weekend and would anticipate it for weeks ahead of time.
It all began Wednesday when our kids were already off from school. We would have a lounge-around-the-house day: sleeping in, watching movies, cuddling in our pj’s, a lazy day before four full days of nonstop action.
Thanksgiving Day would begin with cinnamon rolls for breakfast while watching the parade; then getting ready and heading to my sister’s house where she would have a feast ready for us, starting with snacks, then the actual dinner and then succulent desserts. There was always tons of family and even more food.
We’d stay late, then my husband, myself, and our kids would wake up super early on Black Friday and go Christmas shopping. It was a family tradition (taking our kids in pj’s when they were really little) that we all looked forward to every year, complete with eating at McDonald’s for breakfast. After shopping until around mid-day, we would head home to switch cars and then our kids and I would head back up to my sister’s house for a day of making Christmas cookies together. It would be our mom, her children, and my kids altogether baking and decorating sugar cookies, gingerbread men, the peanut butter cookies with the Hershey kiss in the middle and a few other treats that changed every year. After a fun-filled day together, we’d go back home tired and with enough cookies to last the whole season.
Saturday we usually slept in, then each family would decorate their own house for Christmas, enjoying a quiet evening with twinkling Christmas tree lights. My husband and I would enjoy our favorite tradition: peach pie topped with vanilla ice cream. Sunday was church, then a nice relaxing afternoon (usually with a nap) before heading back to work on Monday, satisfied and filled up with lots of family memories and great food.
Unfortunately, about ten years ago, my sister and her family moved halfway around the country and our Thanksgiving weekends changed slightly. We still get to spend Thanksgiving Day with my parents most of the time, although we split up our time now between both sets of parents. Sometimes my dad’s side of the family drives out to spend the weekend with us and my sister and her family usually Facetime at some point in the day so we can still connect.
We added another tradition about six years ago when our daughter had the day off but our youngest had a half day of school. After I drop him off, she and I will make our favorite warm drinks (coffee for me, sometimes hot chocolate for her), grab some donuts and then watch a musical or some other movie before leaving to pick up her brother. It’s a day we both look forward to every year!
Fridays are still spent shopping for deals out in the community, Saturdays are still spent decorating our house for Christmas, and Sundays are still spent at church, then with lazy afternoons.
While Christmas will always be my favorite season of the year, there is something special about Thanksgiving…not just a weekend to pause and reflect on all the blessings God has given to us throughout the year (which are many!) but a chance to spend intentional time with family before the busyness of the holiday season begins.
This year our Thanksgiving will look even different with two of our three kids working during the weekend. Change is a part of family life and we will adjust, just as we did ten years ago when my sister and her family moved away. But may we never forget to thank God for the blessings He continues to give us each and every year, because no matter what our holiday tradition looks like exactly, as long as we’re together in some way, it’s always worth celebrating.
How Writing A Book is Like an Escape Room
Have you ever participated in an escape room? You’ve got one hour to escape a locked room by solving a variety of puzzles and figuring out clues before the time runs out. Personally, I love doing escape rooms. My husband and I have done 7 and have a 70% escape rate.
Have you ever considered how writing a fictional novel is like creating and solving an escape room? Let me show you how.
First, you must create a setting and a backstory. The book (and room) needs a theme and a story line that precedes the current conflict. Is the book set on Mars, in a medieval castle, or a mad scientist lab? What events have led the characters up to the point where our story begins?
Then, you need a motivation and a goal. What are the characters (or players) trying to accomplish and why is it important? In a good escape room, the story gives the gamers a stronger motivation to escape than just the accomplishment of escaping. There is the sensation of getting caught or “dying” that drives the game play. It’s the same way in a good book. The characters need a goal they are trying to reach and a motivation to work toward that goal.
Next, you need characters (or gamers). The best characters (and players) have varying strengths and weaknesses that will help them face the current conflict. You want to create circumstances that will highlight each character’s talents and test their flaws. A good escape room uses a wide variety of different puzzles and logic skills. Some people are better at problem-solving, map-reading, association, physical puzzles, word puzzles… A good writer creates a variety of characters who each have different skills needed to accomplish the story goal.
Finally, you need a series of logical clues. In the writing world, we call them plot points. One action leads to a reaction, which leads to another action, and so forth… In an escape room, the players complete a series of tasks that eventually unlock the door or solve the mystery. Usually, if a clue is tried out of turn, nothing will happen and sometimes, things come to a stalemate. When writing a book, it’s important that all the plot points occur in the proper order and follow a logical path to the ending. How confusing it would be to the readers if events happened with no logical order and characters went about willy-nilly!
Sometimes, writers feel like they’re in an escape room while writing a novel. There are moments when you can feel like you’re backed into a corner and you have no idea how to escape. When you read a book that the author successfully navigated the labyrinth of plot, remember how much work was put into creating the perfect escape!
This month I wanted to update you on all the fun projects I have going on.
I love the adventure of being a Hybrid author. I get to release my own indie books and work with publishers too. Traditional publishers take much longer to release books, so it’s great to have an option to offer Christian Fiction with Grit all year round.
Currently, I’m finishing Kaitlyn’s Masquerade for an agent. This story is so much fun. I’ve discovered a whole new world in Clear Creek County and all the cool touristy things to do. Kaitlyn is under a witness protection program and moves to a little town called Idaho Springs.
Kaitlyn’s new job is booking tours in Clear Creek County. (And happens to work with Ethan, Jake’s best friend. Some friendly competition for the boys 😉
Have you been to Clear Creek County, near Idaho Springs? I’d love to hear from you and ask you more about it. Send me a message on Facebook if you’d like.
I’ve joined my dear friend, Naomi Craig, biblical fiction author, in creating Behind the Story author interviews. Episode 1 & 2 are online. We’ve interviewed Donna Lane, a fantasy author and Tabitha Bouldin, a multi-genre author. Learn what inspired them to write fiction and gain insight into a busy author’s life.
You can subscribe on my YouTube channel here to get notifications.
Did you miss this “A Novel Thought’ PODCAST?
“On this episode, Lisa Renee, an Australian and Christian Fiction Romance author shares info on her books, the Australian writing market, tips for new writers, and some cultural differences between Australia and America. Not only is she a great writer, but her accent is so adorable. I loved our chat!” Host Kimberly McKay. You can find it here!
Do you want to keep in touch and get the behind the scenes of an author’s writing process? I have an exclusive Facebook group for my readers and often they get to make suggestions, enter giveaways or receive advanced copies of my new releases.
Consider this your invitation! Join me here.
The smile that saved my Christmas
They say a smile can change a person’s life, who would have thought it would have been a man who looks like Santa who would change mine.
I am a December baby, but it’s the one month that I hate the most. Not because it’s my birthday but rather it is cold and my memories of the month are not very happy. I want to enjoy the holiday season with my family but I find I am more sad than excited. One particular year, not long ago, I found it to be a little more of a struggle to plaster a smile on my face than normal.
That year, we’d suffered the loss of two beloved pets, worried over the health of my husband’s father, and then there was the ever present yearly holiday sadness that creeps in because of missing loved ones that wouldn’t be at the dinner table that year. I felt like a perpetual sourpuss. No amount of bellringers, Christmas carols, Hallmark holiday movies, or prayers seemed to pull me out of the funk I was in. Add to it my recent struggle with the knowledge of Christmas origins outside of what the church is set in place and you have one downer of a person.
That was until a jolly looking man crossed my path.
It was the day after Black Friday and I was roaming through the grocery side of the department store, not feeling anything but dread. I loathed the crowds so I had a one track mind to grab my items and get out of there as soon as my short legs would take me. People kept stopping me to say hello and wish me a “Happy Holiday”. By the time the third person stopped me, I was ready to snap.
On my way to check out, I recall that there was one item I kept forgetting to grab for my husband—it was his only request for dinner that week and I kept missing it. Where was that said item? On the back wall of the store.
I wove my way back around the shelves and racks, irritated with myself and that little old lady who just shot out in-front of me from between the women’s and baby departments. As I zip toward my last minute item, I catch a glimpse of someone familiar moving in the opposite direction on the other side of the candy racks that divide the aisle. I look again to get a better look and the little corner of my heart that still is that of a child jumped in my chest. It was him. He wasn’t dressed up, but it was unmistakable. It was Santa!
His hair is white as snow and hung loose down to the middle of his back. His beard, just as white and just as long. His rotund middle wasn’t covered in the red suit but rather a brown, leather jacket. His face captured my attention though. His smile beamed as three little girls walk by him and stare with a smile. They saw in this man what I had seen seconds before—the twinkle in his eyes and the rosy sheen of his apple cheeks. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight. That smile turned into a warmth that fills my heart. I knew then what Dr. Seuss meant by the heart growing five times. My inner Grinch just found its happy.
I finished making my way to get the item, smiling all the way through the store. I can’t help but smile when I see the man a few more times. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. It felt so good to smile and my heart feel so full that I wanted to crouch in the middle of the produce department and have a good cry. Instead, I moved to the back corner of the store and let a tear or two fall as I apologized to God for letting life get in the way of what the holidays are really about.
When I understood what happened, I tried to look for the man to convey my gratitude and let him know that God used him in a special way. Every time our paths cross, he is aiding his ailing wife, grabbing items from a shelf, or at the store bank. I couldn’t seem to catch him in all the hustle and bustle of the Black Friday hang over. All I could do is say a little prayer, “Lord, bless him the way he blessed me. Help him carry the load he carries for those he loves. And if he is a department store Santa, use him to minister in some way to others like me.”
I am a firm believer that God will use any one and any thing to minister to the hearts He wants to touch. He loves His children and wants to see us enjoy the things in life. I think He used that man and his simple smile to push that last little bit of gloom out of the way so I could enjoy that time with family and friends.
I still think of that day at the store and smile, hoping to see him one more time. Sadly, I saw him the next Christmas but never again. At this point, I think thanking him is less important than just enjoying the gift of good will and laughter when I might feel low.
Have you ever had God use something out of the ordinary to touch your heart or minister to you?
Take That 2020
October was a good month for me. In the midst of the uncertainty and struggle of 2020, October was a bright spot of good news and happiness. I would like to share it with you because none of this happens without you. None of my books would exits if it wasn’t for readers. I am honored and humbled every time I sit at my computer to write because I get to share this experience with you. You share your time and your heart with my characters and, as an author, there is no greater honor.
So, let me tell you, my reader family, what we did in October.
First, at the beginning of the month I found out that Mission Hollywood won the 2020 Maggie Award for Romance with Religious/Spiritual Elements. Woohoo!!! That was a great day! I shed happy tears all over my laptop. It was such a joy to share it with my family since they saw me writing it. My husband and daughter read the early drafts, and my son happily played video games to give me time to work on it. Being able to share that award with them was amazing! totally understand the Academy Award winners who get all flustered at the microphone and blurt out “I want to thank everybody!”
Second, I turned in the manuscript for Book 3 in the Mission Hollywood series. The title is still a secret but it will be announced soon. That book was extra challenging for me because…well…COVID and 2020. There were days I wasn’t sure I would finish it. I would stare at my laptop and wonder if I actually needed to write it. Maybe no one would notice if Book 3 never appeared. But then, in the midst of my staring and procrastinating, I got a message from a reader. “When is the next book coming out????? Please tellme it’s Kate’s story!!!” (And there really were that many punctuation marks in the message.)
It was just the kick in the rear end that I needed. Someone wanted to read the story. Someone out there was eagerly waiting to read it. So, I poured myself another cup of coffee and got back to work. I finished it at the end of the month and sent it off to my publisher who read it and called it “brilliant.”
It made me think Psalm 126:5, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” The dreams we sow in tears and toil and prayer may be the very dreams that bring us a harvest of joy and praise.
So, take that 2020.
A Season of Thanksgiving
While it’s hard to believe November has finally found us, I usher in this season with fervor.
I have so much to be thankful for this year and every year, and while I could wax rhapsodic about my blessings and the things God has done for me, I’ll not bore you to tears…at least, I hope I won’t.
I have learned so much throughout this year. I attended my first writing conference. Then I attended another. And another. They’re addictive! And although each one was done virtually, I met so many wonderful people who I hope and pray I get to see in person someday.
I entered a writing contest…and didn’t win.
And I entered another one…I’ll let you know in January how that one turns out.
While 2020 has been insane with its ups and downs and rollercoasters of emotional stress, I’ve done some of my best writing ever. I drew closer to God this year than I’ve ever been, and I’m steadily learning how to lean more on Him and rely less on myself (independent spirit x 10 thanks to family genes and upbringing, but that’s another story).
I’m honored to call Celebrate Lit my publishing home. And with that in mind, I have some news that most of you probably know but might be a surprise to others.
I have a book releasing with Celebrate Lit this month! Yay!
Mishaps off the Mainland was such a treat to write, and the remaining books in the series are gearing up to be as much—if not more—fun. I love these characters, and even though they’re fictional, they’ve taught me a lot about perseverance, loyalty, and trusting God no matter what storms come my way.
Funny now a fictional world and all its people can become so real. Mel’s troubles stemmed from a real place in my heart and her questions are some I’ve asked God before.
If you enjoy island settings full of sun, sand, and surf, you’ll probably enjoy this series. And there are more than just my books included here. This series includes books by Chautona Havig, Rachel Skatvold, Melissa Wardwell, Carolyn Miller, and Kari Trumbo.
Come toodle around the islands with us.
Mel’s brother Cooper would be happy to ferry you from island to island in his boat. We might even convince Zeke to bring out Miss Evelyn’s yacht.
In honor of its release, I’ll be giving away an ebook copy of Mishaps off the Mainland.