Find Faith, Love, and Romance in This Village
“I just love how interconnected your books are!”
If I’ve heard it once… Well, you know how that goes.
Usually, the characters just show up, and… Boom! Sometimes, I actually say aloud, “Well, hello there, Fascinating Character from that other book.” Okay, I put in the name, and I never say what book. That would be dumb because I know that. Writing 101 right there.
While some characters just make tiny cameos like a famous author doing a signing in a book that otherwise has nothing to do with her, other times they become a series in their own—accidentally.
Most recently, though, it’s been kind of a “writing dream come true.”
See, way back in the dark ages of my writing (otherwise known as before 2010), our family went on vacation and ended up in one of my favorite places ever. Solvang, California. As a child, this little Danish tourist village stole a piece of my heart and it refuses to give that back—even today. Windmills, folk art, tasty treats… Solvang has it all and just down the road from Buellton and Pea Soup Andersen’s restaurant (where they really do make great pea soup!).
It shouldn’t surprise you that when I started writing, I wanted a town like that. I created “Little Vienna,” but it wasn’t enough I never felt connected to it, but even as I bemoaned that, a different place appeared in Argosy Junction and soon after that, None So Blind.
New Cheltenham. Situated off by itself between Rockland and Brunswick, the little village was designed with tourists in mind, but owners could live there—first in flats above their stores. Later, I built houses, and some even had thatched roofs. Hey, did you know there are thatchers in the US? Did you know it’s an eco-friendly roofing solution that is weatherproof, vermin proof, lasts a long time, and easy to repair? I was so shocked to learn about it!
Way back then when New Cheltenham had made a cameo appearance a couple of times, I started writing a book. Give & Take. The main character, a young woman named Montgomery, made a bet with her father that she could create a better business in the town than one already there. If she won, he let her keep all the money she spent setting it up. If he won, she’d go work for him like he wanted.
Well, that part has gotten scrapped. I have a better solution, one that doesn’t involve rich fathers. (More fun for me!) However, I haven’t had time to give it a better plot (because really, that should be a subplot. Just sayin’).
So, in 2018, I wrote a story that takes place in New Cheltenham—The Ghosts of New Cheltenham. The idea was to kickstart me into writing that first story idea. But several of my other series have still taken precedence. However, when another collection came along needing a bride and a wedding dress, well… why not have her be from New Cheltenham? Something Borrowed, Someone Blue emerged from that idea.
Well, Christmas 2020 has been a hotbed of New Cheltenham-ness. First, in The Melodies of Christmas Love collection, I wrote another book about a town contest (the first one has a ghost storytelling contest as a big part of the plot). This time, it’s a short story contest, and it features new characters and old ones—including the ones from that first book! I named it, The Bells of New Cheltenham. I love how well it ties in.
Then, for this year’s CrossRoads Collection, we were told the theme was about jilted brides or grooms at the altar. Well, since The Ghosts of New Cheltenham is about a guy who is terrified of ghosts, well… I had to give him an almost wedding and then have him be…
Yes, yes I went there. Ghosted at the Altar.
While I think anyone could read any of the books in any order, there is a chronology. See, we all know that in a romance, the couple will happen. We know it, even when we wonder. However, to read chronologically, you’d want to do…
- The Ghosts of New Cheltenham
- The Ghastly Therapist (a short story)
- Something Borrowed, Someone Blue (from the Wedding Dress Yes collection)
- Ghosted at the Altar
- The Bells of New Cheltenham
Since I’ve been having so much fun with them, I’m giving away a complete set of the eBooks this month. That means that the winner will receive the first two as individual book titles, but she will also receive THREE collections!
Welcome to New Cheltenham. I only have about twenty more ideas I’m dying to write here.
Five Fiction Authors Who Have Resonated with Me
When I first started writing Christian fiction, I got some expert advice: Look to the authors who are doing what you want to do and read their books with a critical eye. This was never about copying what they have done. It was about learning technique in a very hands-on way.
Just like the Bible teaches us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” we should sample the best of the best and emulate it.
I started my writing journey (and still enjoy writing very much) historical romance. A friend told me that my books sort of reminded her of Tracie Peterson. So, I sought out her books. I learned story pacing, how to weave lots of historical detail into a story without overwhelming the plot, and some characterization tips from reading her books. She was my “first favorite”.
My “second favorite” (and this is in timeline order, not in actual love order, I love all of these authors), is Sarah Sundin. Her books are penned decades after anything that I write. However, I still learned a great deal from her writing. How to weave a book that has romance that has beautiful tension throughout but isn’t full of “feelings”. Sarah does that to perfection.
Third, Susan May Warren, my one and only contemporary author on this list. Not only is Suzy a fantastic author and motivator, she is such a down-to-Earth person. I’ve had the privilege of meeting her a few times and even had her critique a chapter for me. She liked it, but also gave me some very sound advice that I’ve used on every single book since then.
Fourthly, Debbie Macomber. She didn’t touch me in the same way the others on this list have. Not because her stories aren’t fabulous (they are), but it was her REAL story that touched me. She is a remarkable lady. Her knitting book with writing tips, I believe the name of the book was Knit Together, Discover God’s Pattern for your Life. She expressed how it took her a long time to get published and she just kept working at it. This was the book that gave me a goal to write.
Lastly (but not really) is Karen Witemeyer. Her books have been favorites of mine for years. She has this wonderful mix of romance with humor and honesty that I just love. She crafts a beautiful paragraph that keeps you turning pages and she does it in a way where you simply can’t stop, not that you want to.
I wish I could learn every single bit of information from these authors as I possibly can. But really, that’s the best part! Every time I pick up a new Christian Fiction book, I learn something new. Within the story is a secondary story of how the book is put together and I love seeing and learning as I read.
Who are your favorites? Do you find that you learn anything from fiction beyond the story?
Have you ever met a new person at church, and you’ve thought, “something just doesn’t seem right?” They’re chatty and charismatic, but as you continue to get to know them, something is amiss.
What about the Christians who join a church with great zeal, go to all the services, Bible studies, prayer groups, and share their revelations with passion, but overnight disappear? They said the “Lord” directed them elsewhere.
Or those that just can’t commit to a local church. They always find something wrong with the leadership and say they “control” the service and don’t allow God to move enough. Sometimes a valid point, but surely there’s a decent church they can find to fellowship. What if the common denominator is them? Hmmm, that’s a valid question.
In my new release, Polarized Love, one of the characters is a great guy—he is fun, caring, and passionate for the Lord. But he is also compulsive, driven, changes his commitments, and can’t stay in one place too long. At first, he draws people in with his stories, vision, plans for great things, but then things start to fall apart—relationships, work, and ministry plans. Have you seen this happen before and thought, if only they got some help, they’d do so much better? If they were open to counsel or saw a psychologist, maybe the cycle of destruction could stop in their lives.
Over the last few decades, mental health statics have risen to concerning heights. I won’t go into the reasons for the increase as there are so many factors involved. But the fact remains, many people do suffer from some kind of mental health problem and it is very real to them. The churches are grasping the concept of depression much better than a decade ago. Some leaders still simplify issues that it can go away by just bringing it to the Lord and ignore the fact that some people have a biological or chemical issue which needs addressing. If someone had diabetes which is life threatening if untreated, Christians wouldn’t advise a friend not to see a doctor. They wouldn’t say, “Don’t take your insulin. Trust the Lord to heal you.”
Depression has obvious signs, but what about the vast range of other mental health struggles some have, such as Borderline personality disorder, Bipolar, Paranoid, Avoidant or Anti-social personality disorder, just to name a few.
In Polarized Love, Beth’s father is a pastor with years of experience in ministry, but he missed the “signs” of someone becoming mentally unwell. The person involved spiritualized things and that seemed normal to Winston’s way of living. The pastor was an expert in theology, but eventually he realized he wasn’t an expert in psychology.
Polarized Love is based on a true story, about a lady who has recently married into our extended family. Ten years ago, she divorced after a messy relationship with someone with a mental illness who refused to get help. Unfortunately, several admissions to hospital didn’t convince her ex-husband that he needed professional help and medicine to live a stable life. I believed her story was worth sharing and many people can gain insight from her experience.
The way I have presented aspects of her story is how I like to lace my fiction. That is with strong elements of romance, humor, and unexpected plot twists.
Polarized Love has a hero! He’s swoony, has rock-solid faith, and you’re sure to fall in love with him too. But who is he? Lachlan or Nick? The love triangle develops. Can you guess before Beth? Who is the right man for her?
Chock-full of romantic comedy, fast-paced action, and inspirational romance, Polarized Love offers a life lesson you won’t soon forget.
Get the first six chapters free here!
Applause for those secondary characters
When I started my writing journey, that first book focused on the family unit. The love and care and sometimes, the pain of family life. I worked on the restoration that would be required to reunite this family back to the way God wanted things. But there was an underlying group that played a pivotal role in keeping my main characters encouraged and moving forward.
It is those secondary characters, those friends, that offer support and wisdom that keep the main characters from completely losing their minds. It’s the back slaps and “attaboy” that gives the hero confidence in his decisions. It’s the cup of coffee in the local coffee bar with girlfriends that help the heroine compartmentalize the racing thoughts in her head. Let’s face it—those secondary characters are the backbone of the stories we love so much.
As I continued with that series, the friends turned Into more influential necessities to the story. The reader will see the girls out at local establishments giggling one minute and crying the next. The men have short but poignant chats with the occasional jab at one another. There is a fun dynamic that reflects our own lives. They became so beloved that what was supposed to be a stand-alone, the readers demanded more. They wanted to know more about the lives of the friends. So I gave them “Dance and Be Glad” and “I Know the Plans”. It is in the last book that you see the group of friends become a family of their own making as they band together to help Brad and Tiffany through memory loss, infertility, and PTSD.
This is what friends do…isn’t it?
You see, my friends, though they are few they are amazing. They know I am there for them and they are there for me. When my son had his accident almost three years ago, they were and still are the people that let me vent and find balance. Now, in these difficult moments of fear, they know I have an open ear to listen when they need it. Those moments of difficulty in motherhood and marriage, it helps to have friends that will let us decompress. I don’t know what I would do without them.
Friendships in fiction is one of my favorite things to read about. Even if it is just a small part of the book, seeing that interaction between them fills in those beautiful, in-between moments. The laughter, the teasing—all the fun things friends do is what makes books more relatable to the reader.
What was the last book you read that a close friendship was part of the plot?
When Disappointment Comes Knocking
Just last week, 2020 came knocking on my door with a basketful of bad news. One of the publishers I work with had become a COVID casualty, and they were going out of business. The initial news that they would close their doors in a few months quickly shifted to “we’re closing our doors right now, this minute, see ya!”
Fortunately, they only published one of my books, all of my Christian romances are devotionals are safe and secure with other publishers. But the book they did have…well, it was about to disappear. I was faced with a dilemma. And it wasn’t the dilemma of what to do with this book I love that was about to lose its publisher. No, the big dilemma I faced was what to do when things go wrong. As a Christian, I knew the right answer. I had to turn it over to God and trust Him. But as a writer, I was crushed. I was discouraged. I was sad and mad and confused.
Those moments, when we need God the most, can be the toughest times to turn to Him.
When the disappointment is so strong you can taste it. When our dreams are broken all around us. When loss, pain, and sickness steal our joy and rob us of our peace. In those dark times, when God seems distant and fear threatens to swallow us whole, that’s when we need Him the most.
And He never fails.
He may not answer us the way we want. He may not show up the way we expect. He may not take the pain away or fix the situation, but He will not fail. He will never leave us or forsake us. He doesn’t run away or skip town when things go wrong. He doesn’t turn away when we mess up or pretend like He doesn’t know us. He is in every battle, every fight, every sorrow, and every trial, beside us, walking with us through it all. His love is unchanging, and our ultimate victory is in Him.
Do I have a plan for this poor, erased book? Not yet. But I know that God will be with me in the sadness of this moment and in the joy to come.
And guess what? He’s with you, too.
When you feel like you’re drowning.
While working on the Independence Islands series last week I began to notice something. This five-book series had a theme. I didn’t plan it. Plotting books is one of the few things I DON’T plan. But there it was, right in front of me, undeniable in black print.
Funny enough, I was also studying about Peter. You remember him, right? He’s the one who saw Jesus walking on the water. Can you imagine the faith Peter had to take that first step out of the boat to join Jesus? Then, when he took his gaze from the savior and looked at the storm raging around him, he faltered, sinking beneath the waves. He had to call out for Jesus to save him.
This is the theme I found.
Mishaps off the Mainland
Mel is drowning in the loss of a dream
Zeke is drowning in anxiety over his father
Stealing the First Mate
Darcy is drowning in her desire to marry
Nigel is drowning in his unrequited love for Darcy
Even book three, which I’ve only begun to write, has characters who feel as though they’re drowning in one thing or another.
It’s a phrase I hear all the time. “We’re drowning in debt.” “I’m drowning in paperwork.” “I’ve taken on too many projects, and now I’m drowning.”
Although these phrases are spoken without the true meaning of drowning, I think many of us can empathize with the feeling of drowning in a metaphorical sense.
This sensation of drowning often comes from fear, but there are other instigators. However, there is always a solution. For each action of emotional drowning, there is an equal reaction of recovery. What that looks like varies from person to person and situation to situation. Which my characters are discovering right now.
Fear does not have to drive us. I’m discovering that while fear is a great motivator and fear can keep us safe, it also has a tendency to keep us from great things.