A time of rest
I’m a multitasker. A person who delights in having multiple projects and is constantly working toward a goal. Always have been. Probably always will be. On top of that, I seem to work better under multiple deadlines. They keep me from intense bouts of procrastination.
The downside of this type of personality is that I can crash and burn if I don’t recognize my limits. I’ll take on one job, then another, until they’re stacked up across my calendar like a precarious line of dominos. They creep up on me sometimes, and without realizing what I’ve done, there are so many little jobs I need to do that I lose myself to the hustle and bustle of work, tipping that first domino and causing a landslide.
When I reach those tipping points, the joy of writing (and the stories themselves) suffer. Writing is both a job and a passion. I can’t NOT write, but as with all jobs, sometimes you need a break.
A moment to dig deeper into the well of inspiration without deadlines and “I have to do this” hanging overhead.
That’s why, when we left for vacation last week, I didn’t even think about getting any work done.
With a view like this, you can understand why I allowed myself to relax. What’s amazing, though, is that through those days of rest, my mind never stopped working.
Book three in the Independence Island series began percolating as I sat on that sandy beach and watched God paint a masterpiece in the sky each morning.
It’s possible to get so caught up in the day to day grind that we lose sight of where we’re going.
The stories God intends for me to write are more than a word count or a daily writing goal. Those things are important, but they are only the steppingstones. They are not the destination.
Every now and then, lift your head. Look to the sky and remember Whose you are.
Have A Laugh On Me
In September, as a guest author for The Bookshelf Facebook group, I shared my book trailer for Polarized Love. One woman commented that she loved the accent of the actress. That made me laugh because I am the actress!
The video was a hoot to create, and although I could easily feel like a dork, I embrace the funny side of life and choose to help people laugh.
Okay, okay, I have done acting before—in high school and as a young adult. Last year, I had the privilege of teaching drama classes to a home school group and received paymen to be a drama queen. How cool is that?
In life, we have so many things to be serious about. It seems one drama has barely finished before another one has begun. Life can be chaotic. We need to take every opportunity to find the joys in life to help us through the chaos.
Ecclesiastes 5:18 (NKJV) says, “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot.”
Solomon’s frank way of communication brings tears of laughter to my eyes. Eccl 9:7: “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love, all the days of this meaningless life that God has given you under the sun—all your meaningless days.”
Well now, who are we to argue with one of the wisest men that’s ever lived? Let’s enjoy life. Love God and love people.
One way I enjoy my life is by reading and writing fiction. Isn’t it wonderful when you may not have the money or ability to physically travel the world, but you can visit new places, meet people, and learn valuable life-lessons in books!
I wanted to write a story that started on an Island because next year, I’m working on an Island series with Celebrate Lit.
The bonus for me is there’s an Island only a thirty-minute ferry ride away from where I live. The unique aspect of Rottnest Island is the rare and small population of Quokkas. Quokkas are a rare marsupial only found on this Island, and occasionally sighted on the mainland of Western Australia.
These creatures made a fascinating subplot. Here’s an excerpt from the text:
One Quokka straightened on its hind legs, and wiped its front paws several times. The creature smiled at the camera. Lachlan blinked and looked again. It was smiling or that was how its mouth appeared. Amazing little critters. No wonder people came from all over the world to see them.
Beth angled her head and squinted up at Lachlan. “Come down here. Get a selfie with a Quokka.”
He hitched up his shorts and squatted next to Beth. Holding out his phone, he tried to angle it so he could get her and the Quokka in the frame with him. Beth adjusted and slapped on a big smile and snuggled next to him. Where had the Quokka disappeared to? There. He angled again, but it just wouldn’t work.
“Beth, can you move your head under my chin. Then I can fit all of us.”
Without hesitation, she placed her head on his chest. He half laid on the asphalt, leaning on his forearm with one knee bent. The Quokka popped its head up in the background, raising its nose in the air as if to say, “What the heck are these people doing, and where’s the food the lady promised?”
“Cheese!” Beth gritted out a smile.
Lachlan laughed, his chest making her head bounce.
“Stay still, you.” She patted his chest. “Take another one. I blinked that time.”
Beth’s hair smelled like coconut and sunshine. His arm went limp, totally distracted by her closeness.
She grabbed his phone. “Let me.” The screen whirled in her hand until she found the perfect frame. At a forty-five-degree angle, she snapped away, changing her expression with each shot. He kept on grinning. Nothing could rub the smile off his face. Except—
“Don’t you two look cute together.” Wally towered over them, blocking the sun. “Nice and cozy, Chaplain Peters. Good thing you’re out of uniform.”
Beth scrambled upright and placed her hand on her hip. “Waldo, you dork.” She glanced over her shoulder. “You scared the Quokka away.”
Check out my quick YouTube video of our island trip and meet a Quokka.
Polarized Love starts with a try-hard reporter, Bethany Michaels, who throws up on an American Navy chaplain during the Rottnest Island Ferry ride. That’s one way to create a love interest. Don’t you think?
Why are the rare marsupials dying on the Island? Will the handsome American, Lachlan Peters, help Bethany Michaels with her cause or distract her from her mission?
Beth has served her family and father’s church faithfully, and now it’s her turn to leave the nest and spread her wings. But does her dad push her into the arms of the right man to launch his daughter into her God-given destiny?
When an American sailor, Nick DeHann, arrives on the shores of the West Coast of Australia, Beth is swept away with the promise of high aspirations. As the rushed relationship unfolds, Beth finds herself torn between following someone else’s dream or settling for the comfort of home and all she’s ever known.
Lachlan Peters returns to San Diego from his time in the Navy and tries to gain his footing in a life that has passed him by. Will Lachlan realize what he’s missing out on before Beth commits to another man?
Romance is messy
As I sit here in my new living room chair, I watch my husband of twenty-one years struggle to make a piece of subfloor submit to his will. The screws don’t seem to want to go through the one hundred-twenty year old wood and he is ready to take an ax to it all, I think. My living room is disheveled with all our furniture in unusual positions and my dining room holds all the flooring and new fireplace feature for the living room. I wonder if my husband’s funny way to say naughty words will fill the air soon. All I can do is smile at the mess of it all. Some would ask why he would do all this remodeling work and not hire it out. It’s easy, this is how he shows his love for me. This is how our romance works.
When I start making noise that there is something about our house that I don’t like, my husband starts moving numbers around in his head and looking up ways to make my dream home become a reality. If he can do the work, it will happen—even if it takes him a whole summer to get the project done like the bathroom of our first house. This project though comes in the middle of one of our messiest years in the twenty-five years we have been together.
See, my darling suffers with depression. He has his good days and bad days and he does his best to keep things together. It isn’t always easy but we work together to help him succeed in overcoming and managing this thing. Those messy moments though are what have brought us closer to each other and the Father.
Back in 2014, I began writing What God Brings Together after we had just went through four years of a messy marriage. I don’t think we had ever been is such a terrible state of chaos like we had during those four years. But, by the grace of God and a lot of “I won’t quit on us” we came out on the other side stronger and closer. That book, messy itself due to being a first, is a testimony of what God did in our own marriage. Sure, Ryan and Emma divorced where my husband and I did not, but it doesn’t mean that our marriage and hearts did not feel as broken. Our union was not very united and we were divorced in our minds and hearts and our kids were effected a great deal.
Now, don’t be sad, because there was restoration in our marriage and the romance that bonds us together. Just like in the book. We found our way back and are committed to not letting this kind of thing happen again.
You may be asking, “Melissa, you have all ready talked about this book with us here at #BecauseFiction Magazine. Why are we talking about it again?”
Well, here is why. There is still a messy romance that blooms and grows between “Ryan and Emma” as well as “Jonathan and Melissa”. The story is not over. (And because it is our 21st wedding anniversary on October 16th and the fact that we have made it this long is something to crow about. Right?)
An interviewer recently asked me which of my characters is my favorite. Out of every character I have ever written, in every book, which one is my very favorite.
What a hard question! I stumbled and stalled, and fortunately for me, the interviewer jumped in with her favorite character. She loves Noah, the hero of Made in Hollywood. We first meet him in Mission Hollywood as Lily’s wise-cracking, but fiercely protective older brother. In the sequel, Made in Hollywood, we get to know him more and discover the vulnerability beneath his flippant exterior.
Noah is an excellent choice. Noah will make you laugh, convince you to do crazy thing you probably shouldn’t, and take photos so you never forget it. I’m pretty sure most of the stories in the Shaw family start with “Remember that time Noah…”
But then there’s Ben. Ben, the Hollywood bad boy who falls for a pastor’s daughter in Mission Hollywood. His story, from being a teenager who runs away from his abusive parents to becoming one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, but still missing the one thing he needs most, touches my heart. He overcame so much, reached the pinnacle of his career, but his heart was empty. Until he met Lily. Ben wants to do the right thing, but he isn’t always sure what that is. He is the character I most want to hug.
And how could I forget Hannah? Hannah with her deep wounds, the guilt she feels over the mistakes and bad choices she’s made, her deep need for forgiveness, but the shame that keeps her from turning back to Jesus. One of the first scenes I imagined in Made in Hollywood is what I call “Hannah’s Prodigal Son” moment. I cried when I wrote it and I cried when I read it. Hannah and I would definitely be friends. Hannah is the friend who will drop everything and rush over with ice cream when your boyfriend dumps you. (Kate is the friend who would plot revenge.)
Surely, you can see what a difficult choice this is! And I haven’t even gotten to Lily, with her tender heart and her courage, or Evan with his wisdom and the love he still carries for his wife who passed away. Chris with his faithfulness and Kate with her stubbornness. You should see the way those two are hashing things out in Book 3. (It’s sitting on my desk right now….shhhh…that’s a secret!)
And that’s only one series!
If I have to choose, my favorite character in all of these books is all of them. That’s not a fair answer, but it’s the best I’ve got. And at least now I’m ready for that question the next time it pops up! What about you? Do you have an all-time favorite character?
This Year, Why Not Attend Your Christmas Party—in a Box?
It’s been a year, hasn’t it? While some people are stepping out into normal life, warnings flash everywhere. “Keep your gatherings to X number of people!” Or, “Don’t gather indoors.”
Well, that might work for those of us who live in the middle of nowhere where there aren’t many people and who won’t freeze our toes off if we stand out in the open air in the middle of December, but um… Michigan exists, folks. Montana’s a thing. Maine—wait… what’s with all the M states and the freezing cold. I feel like I’m onto something here.
Well, I decided on a solution. For your party pleasure, I’ve created a “Christmas Party in a Box” for lovers of Christmas fiction.
See, it started way back when. I had this guy who had a story for me to tell—just didn’t know what that story was. Then, said guy started showing himself for who he was. The questions began. Why did the highest paid guy in the office dress in shabby clothes? Where did he go when he rushed out of the office after getting random calls? Why didn’t he ever participate in office parties and pools?
Enter Lita. She wanted to know. And that’s when my regular novel became a Christmas story. She popped his name in the Secret Santa exchange in the office, dragged him off to the Nutcracker, and made him hang and initiate mistletoe. Advent began.
But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The thing is, I loved writing that story. Who knew I was a closet Hallmark Christmas wannabe?
That same year, I wrote 31 Kisses. It was just supposed to be an exercise in writing kisses. Yeah. I’m no Pepper Basham. I don’t do kisses, but really, folks kiss. I needed to get over my prudish self. Or so, I thought. After thirty-one plus kisses, it was a little less painful for me, but far and away better than the one I wrote that was so discreet half of the readers missed it. No joke.
That kicked off a tradition of annual Christmas stories.
Every year on Black Friday I release something Christmas related. This year may actually be the first one I haven’t. EEEP! However, instead, I’ve done something that I think is pretty cool. Because see, since writing that first Christmas book, I’ve gone on to write… well, let’s just say a few more. As in seventeen more. Yep, I have eighteen Christmas novels and novellas and half a dozen more Christmas short stories of one sort or another.
Well, with one thing and another… Okay, with this little thing we all do not like to call a pandemic, I decided it was time to give readers a bit of fun—what I like to call a “Christmas Party in a Box.” A box set of books that is!
I have four of these boxes this year, and I’m excited to share them with you.
First up: Christmas Romances (Set One)
This set includes the aforementioned Advent and 31 Kisses, as well as Merri’s Christmas Mission. So… let’s see, tropes wise, we’re looking at opposites attract, the pact, and “enemies” to love.
Next: Christmas Romances “Noellas” (Set Two)
What’s a “Noella” you ask? Well, it’s my word for a Christmas (Noel) novella. Noel-la! Fa-la-la-la-la!
This set includes 12 Dates of Christmas, Merri’s Christmas Mission, The Ghosts of New Cheltenham, and The Second Noel.
This one has so many things—enemies to love (she’s hated him since high school), and next there’s another enemies to love (except they’re really not… they just want the same thing, and she’s determined to get it). However, I can’t tell you what trope Ghosts has—face your fears and fall in love? Okay, let’s go with that. Hey, it’s an enemies to love—just not in the same person! And finally, yep. You guessed it! Enemies to love in The Second Noel when one gal has to work with the guy who did a date and ditch several years earlier. But a boy’s life is at stake if they don’t get past those differences!
After that, we have: Romantic Mystery and Suspense (Set 3)
Love cats? Great. We’ve gotcha covered. Hate them? Got you covered there, too in Christmas Stalkings. Do you go all out to decorate for Christmas? Think all the decorating is overkill? Someone else did, too and takes matters into their own hands in Silenced Knight. Finally, once again, a plasmaphobe (guy who has a phobia of ghosts) gets stuck trying to figure out who is tormenting him… unless there really are ghosts? Say it isn’t so and find out more in The Ghosts of New Cheltenham.
Last but not least (no, really, I’ll do more next year), Contemporary Romance (Set 4)
They’ve been penpals for years, and now she’s ready to play matchmaker in Carol and the Belles. After twenty-five years, will they finally put their differences behind them and have a second Christmas together? Find out in Tarnished Silver. Finally, the last in this time separates love set, they’ve loved each other for ten years, so why hasn’t he ever asked her out? Why does she keep waiting when she could just ask him herself? Find out in The Matchmakers of Holly Circle.
Oh, and get this.
I never noticed the connections in the noellas set and the contemporary romance set until oh… *checks watch* about thirty-two point four seconds ago. Cool.
Look, Christmas is such a beautiful time of year. People going out of their way to be kind to each other, beautiful music replacing the pulsing headache-inducing stuff that’s usually out there… Oh, wait. That’s probably just me. I’ve got issues.
Still, there’s a lot of stress out there during the Christmas holidays—extra food prep, all the shopping, the events (well, during normal years, anyway) and… yeah. Stress. So, why not take a breather, calm yourself, and read a few feel-good books. There are dozens of collections out there. Historical, contemporary, themed, interconnected… the works. Or, you can just grab a Christmas Party in a box and go to town.
Writing has always been a family affair for me. In fact, I never set out to be a writer. That was never an aspiration, a goal, a desire. It was, and still is, a pure gift from God that I lovingly and willingly give back to Him daily.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a love for storytelling or reading that was nurtured from before I remember. Storytelling started when I was in elementary school. I have one older sister, no brothers. Growing up, she had the air conditioner in her bedroom so in the summertime, I got to sleep in her double bed with her. To keep me out of our parents’ room early in the morning, she would entertain me with made-up stories. All. The. Time.
I loved listening to her stories so much, I soon found that whenever I’d have a long bus ride or had extra time on my hands, I would start to make up stories in my head too…and grew to love spending time with my new imaginary friends as much as I loved spending time with hers.
Fast forward many years and I found myself married and raising our children, my true desire in life. One day I had a conversation with God: “Thank You for letting me be a medical transcriptionist so I can stay home and raise our kids. But…I can’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I don’t know what I want to do, except I know I want our family to make a difference for You. If You’ll tell us what You want us to do in life, we’ll obey.” Several years later, God revealed that He wanted me to write and speak – to encourage women and point them to Him using books and speaking engagements.
My husband gifted me with a writer’s conference soon after. When I got back from there, I had two books I knew I wanted to publish: one was nonfiction and the other was fiction. God let me write that first fiction book in four months, while also working my medical transcription job. I had it all planned out: In two years I’d have a traditional publishing career and I’d be writing fiction all day long, volunteering at our children’s schools, and finding time to make homemade chocolate chip cookies to greet our kids when they got home from school. I’d be able to quit my other job and life was going to be great.
I imagine God laughed at those plans…because He knew I needed some refining before I was ready to handle a full-time writing career. First, He took fiction away from me. He invited me to write nonfiction exclusively, for years. And instead of being published with a traditional publisher, He introduced me to the world of self-publishing. I obeyed.
Seven to eight years, and 25+ books later, He gave me back fiction. The book that I had written in four months? I found it in my files, took it out and started editing. God then told me, “This isn’t a stand-alone book like you thought. Instead, it’s going to be a six-book series set in a close-knit community. There are so many lessons of redemption to share with your readers within the pages of these books. Get ready because you’ll get to spend a lot of time with these imaginary friends in the years to come.”
Journey Back Home, which is debuting November 17th this year, is Book 2 in The Redemption of Green Pines series. When God told me it was going to be a series, I knew I needed to write a prequel of sorts and let the readers discover Holly’s story first. That’s why Adventure’s Invitation was written, because readers deserve to know Holly’s background too.
Book 3, picks the readers up literally hours from where Journey Back Home leaves off. Hours. Book 3 takes the reader deeper into the lives of other community members, giving a better picture of the types of problems that roam the streets of Green Pines. Every town has its secrets and every town needs redemption.
I’m almost finished writing Book 4. This one has proven to be the hardest of the series to write. The topics shared in this book are tougher, but oh, so important. Book 4 centers around the four teenagers, Wynn, Addie, Owen, and Zane, who were first introduced in Journey Back Home. It’s now two years later and they are knee-deep in college, working toward their careers.
Book 5 takes the reader deeper into Wynn’s family, whom they were introduced to in Book 4, and then Book 6 wraps up all the loose ends with all the relationships the reader has grown to love. I know when I write Book 6, it’s going to be hard. I’ve already grown to love this community…and I hope readers grow to love them too.
I have over a dozen more fiction stories swirling around in my head. The fiction series I’m writing after The Redemption of Green Pines wraps up has been “written” in my brain for almost a decade. It was outlined while I mowed the lawn in the summertime, and has only gotten better and more detailed as it has simmered, waiting to be put down on paper.
While I never set out to be a writer, I’m so glad God took me down this path. Writing energizes me. Spending time with my imaginary friends fills me up so I can thoroughly enjoy my true calling as a wife and mother. I feel blessed God planted this desire in my heart…and I pray the stories He gives me to write will encourage, strengthen, and help point readers toward a God who loves them so personally. God definitely answered my prayer in a big way when I asked my Heavenly Father to use our family to make a difference for Him!
Writing the Antihero
According to Wikipedia, “an antihero or antiheroine is a main character in a story who lacks conventional heroic qualities and attributes such as idealism, courage, and morality.”
Forgiven Again, book two of my Shadows Over Whitman series, completes the unfinished story from book one, No Greater Love. No Greater Love begins the tale of a young woman searching for her birth mother and of a birth mother who doesn’t want to be found. And the ending doesn’t tie up with a neat little bow. It couldn’t. The story wasn’t finished.
In both books, Anna Kathleen Staten Phillips (Annie) is not your typical protagonist. She’s an antiheroine. She doesn’t always make the right choice. More often, it’s the wrong one. And if she does a good thing, it’s for selfish reasons. Her life consists of furthering her own agenda, and she doesn’t let something like scruples keep her from meeting her goals.
Let’s just be honest here, Kathleen is hard to like, and it’s hard to make a connection with her. And she was hard to write. I kept wanting to soften her—to make her likable. She’s not.
That’s because she doesn’t want to make a connection with you.
She doesn’t want to connect with anyone.
Writing a protagonist that readers can’t relate to or connect with was frightening. I’ve spent a lot of time praying and asking God to help me with this story. I needed to present Kathleen in all her ugliness so that the glorious light of God’s redeeming mercy shone through.
I didn’t set out to write an unlikable main character. It wasn’t until I began digging into who Kathleen really was that I discovered the truth behind my character. As I delved into her past, I found a darker pain than I initially realized. She’s built walls around her heart to protect her from being hurt again, and it wasn’t easy to break beyond those walls. She’s prickly, rude, and sometimes downright mean. She pushes everyone away, even those who want to love her. Kathleen’s story is emotional, and at times, intense. But as the “Ice Queen” begins to melt, you, as the reader, will also see deeper into her heart and understand why she is the way she is.
I implore you to give Kathleen a chance. Once she begins to open, you’ll find she’s more relatable than your first impression indicated. Forgiven Again is a “prodigal son” type story. She knows the Lord, but the pain she has suffered has pushed her farther and farther from the Heavenly Father.
This quote sums it up:
“He wants you, Annie. He wants all of you. He wants your heart. And your soul. You can sit there, shaking your fist at God all you want, but He’s still waiting with open arms to welcome you home.”