Taking Your Part in the Conversation

To me, a great novel says something. Beyond having compelling characters or page-turning plot elements, a great novel makes a point of some kind. It has something to say to the world. It might be as simple as “Love conquers all,” or “You can never go home again,” or “Do unto others.” Or it might be a far more complex statement about human nature or political systems or whether there is a God. But one thing that all great novels have in common is that they have something to add to the Conversation.

You may not be surprised to learn that someone who thinks this way—namely the writer of this article—was an English major in college. It’s such a delightfully impractical degree. Why would anyone get a degree in a language they already speak? Surely others have their own reasons, but my reason was that I loved to read and I wanted to teach others to love to read. I thought I’d be a professor and take my place as another happy cog in the futile wheel of teaching students literature so they could teach students literature so they could teach students literature.

Of course, that oversimplifies things a bit too much, don’t you think? As an English major studies poetry, plays, short stories, and novels she is learning plenty of “useful” skills: how to read a text closely, how to identify subtext, how to interpret symbols, how to think critically, how to defend one’s position on an issue. But that’s not why one becomes an English major. One becomes an English major because one wants to be part of the Conversation.

The Conversation I’m talking about is that time-bending, mystical union between writer and reader. That magical transference of thought from one mind to another over miles and over oceans, over years or decades or centuries. A writer speaks onto the page and sometime later a reader listens.

John Donne opines on the nature of love in the 16th century and 450 years later a brokenhearted man finds solace.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe exposes a generation of Americans who preferred to look the other way to the horrors of slavery and ten years later President Lincoln is said to have said upon meeting her, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.”

In post-war Britain, George Orwell puts pen to his fears about humanity giving up freedom in exchange for safety, and in 21st century America his words ring out from countless memes shared on social media.

Personal or political, quiet or inflammatory, satirical or sentimental, the Conversation continues through the ages as new books are written and new readers are born. What a privilege that despite our own obscurity we can speak with the likes of William Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison.

As it turned out, I went into publishing rather than academia, into the realm of creation rather than critique. I am adding my own thoughts to the Conversation, which will carry on without me after I die. So when I write, I want my novels to say something. Something about what it means to human, what we lose when we ignore the past, what it takes to forgive, what we gain when we love each other anyway.

I don’t regret getting a degree in a language I already spoke. Because all the while it was allowing me to speak to countless people I would never have the chance to meet. And those people have become some of my closest friends and greatest teachers.


Erin Bartels has been a publishing professional for more than fifteen years. Her short story “This Elegant Ruin” was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post 2014 Great American Fiction Contest. A freelance writer and editor, she is a member of Capital City Writers and the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and is former features editor of WFWA’s Write On! magazine. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son, Calvin, and can be found online at www.erinbartels.com. We Hope for Better Things is her first novel.

What Reading (and Writing) Books Means to Me with Elizabeth Goddard

Happy Thursday! Today’s installment of What Reading/Writing Books Means to Me is brought to us courtesy of Elizabeth Goddard, popular author of romantic suspense - including her new book NEVER LET GO which released February 5, 2019 from Revell Books.


What Reading (and Writing) Books Means to Me

by Elizabeth Goddard, Author of Never Let Go

As a novelist, I know that I wouldn’t be a writer if I weren’t also an avid reader. Add to that, the two activities could be considered interchangeable, at least for me. As I write a novel, I’m also discovering the story. Discovery is what books are all about.

The love of reading and the books we read shape us early on, that is, if we’re inspired to read at a young age. They allow us to escape to new worlds never explored or that will never exist. We learn new perspectives through the eyes of characters whose lives we’ll never live.

For instance, most of what I know about World War II, I learned by reading historical novels such as Bodie Thoene’s Zion Covenant series (Brock Thoene is a historian so I trusted the history). I learned to love horses by reading Black Beauty and books like it. I grew to love romance and romantic suspense when I got hooked on gothic novels written by Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, and the Bronte sisters.

I love the smell of a new book, the feel of it as I hold it in my hands. Like scents ignite memories long buried or music reminds of special moments, books make me think of my childhood and all things good.

Most of all, books remind me of my mother. She loved to read and brought books from her childhood into her own home when she married. Titles such as My Friend Flick, Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and countless more filled the bookshelves. Those books remained on the shelves for decades until all four walls of a room became bookshelves filled with new books, and the pages in my mother’s hardbacks turned yellow with age.

My mother was an avid reader and I learned to love books from her, often spending my entire summers reading some of my favorite books more than once. This activity ignited the desire to write my own stories, and my mother encouraged me in that as well. I’m grateful that I became published while she was still alive, so she could see the fruit of what she inspired in me. She passed away a couple of years ago, and I dedicated Never Let Go to her. I hope to pass down to my own children and grandchildren the same gift she gave to me—the love of reading, the joy of books, and for some, even the passionate drive to write novels.

Books have inspired me, changed me, given me hope, taught me, and carved out the path I walk every day on my journey to create more books.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling, award-winning author of forty novels and counting, including the romantic mystery, THE CAMERA NEVER LIES–a 2011 Carol Award winner. Four of her six Mountain Cove books have been contest finalists. Buried, Backfire and Deception are finalists in the Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense, and Submerged is a Carol Award finalist. A 7th generation Texan, Elizabeth graduated from North Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and worked in high-level software sales for several years before retiring to fulfill her dreams of writing full-time.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

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The case may be cold, but things are about to heat up.

Forensic genealogist Willow Anderson is following in her late grandfather's footsteps in her quest for answers about a baby abducted from a hospital more than twenty years ago. When someone makes an attempt on Willow's life to keep her from discovering the truth, help will come from an unexpected source.

Ex-FBI agent--and Willow's ex-flame--Austin McKade readily offers to protect the woman he never should have let get away. Together they'll follow where the clues lead them, even if it means Austin must face the past he's spent much of his life trying to forget--and put Willow's tender heart at risk.

Why I Write (and Read) Christian Romance

“I write inspirational romantic comedy.”

And then I wait with bated breath. Why? Because I get a variety of reactions when I tell people this. And for some reason, real people look at you funny when you say that you talk to imaginary people, so I thought this response sounded more…uh, normal than saying that I giggle with glee when I devise the perfect plan to get my bickering couple to spend more time together, consequently ushering them down the road of Happily Ever After. And if romance isn’t your thing, that’s fine! God made all of us different, so celebrate your God-given uniqueness! But my thing is experiencing a mob of butterflies on a sugar high in my gut when the hero and heroine finally kiss! 

I am a dreamy romantic, and I always have been. I find the romance in reading or writing at my favorite coffee house. My husband’s hugs are just as swoony as his surprise trips to the bookstore. I’ll read almost (there are exceptions!) any story or genre if there’s at least a thin romantic thread. Romance and love are all around us, every single day! Romance is a billion-dollar industry and leading genre for a reason – we connect to it on a soul level!

With my newest novel releasing last week on Valentine’s Day, I have been thinking about why I love Christian Romance. This is what I found in that cluttered, anti-KonMari place known as my mind:

1.  I love the kissing!

Okay, I’ll be honest… I wait for that first kiss (and the next one…and the one after that…) between Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Right. I happily sigh and grin, and sometimes I need smelling salts! I love that Christian Romance is sweet, sizzling, and safe all at the same time! 

2.  I love the fight!

No, not the fighting… (Although, I probably have too much fun writing the scenes of back-and-forth bickering.) I mean that I love seeing Prince Charming and Lady I’m-More-Than-Just-A-Pretty-Face fight for each other, for love, for the chance to see what God has in store for them! When trauma threatens to crush a marriage, this is a message of hope. When a family is broken and hurting, this is a message of hope. When we are lost and alone, this is a message of hope. Knowing that God has put people in our corner who will fight for us and with us is a powerful thing. Knowing that we are called to fight for our loved ones is just as empowering. But when a story can remind me that God is fighting for me, that’s beautiful! Without fail, I always see this message of hope in Christian Romance, giving me hope on the days I want to fail myself into a vat of chocolate and devour the whole thing.

3.  God created it!

Love and romance were created by God, and this always blows my mind in an obvious sort of way. These beautiful and sacred treasures have been around since the very beginning! It’s not something invented by greeting card companies. It’s not something to shame, ignore, or forget. And it is NOT a waste of time! They are gifts that He created for us out of His love for us, and they should be celebrated and enjoyed! No other genre does this better than Christian Romance, though her subgenres are pretty awesome! With this truth in my heart, I will happily continue to immerse myself in the romantic world of the bookish.

Because He created each facet for me to enjoy.


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V. Joy Palmer is the author of Love, Lace, and Minor Alterations, Weddings, Willows and Revised Expectations (her newest release), and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is also an avid blogger and co-founder of Snack Time Devotions. In her spare time, Joy is an unprofessional chocolate connoisseur/binger, and she loves acting crazy and drinking coffee with the teens she mentors. When Joy isn't urging the elves that live in her computer to write, she's hanging out with her husband, their adorable baby girl, and their socially awkward pets.

10 Reasons Why Book Boyfriends Make the Perfect Valentine's Date

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1. A book boyfriend is schedule-friendly! Your date with your book boyfriend will begin exactly when he fits into your schedule. He'll stay up late with you if you like. Or, without a single complaint, he'll let you nod off at nine p.m.

 

2. He's location-friendly. He'll meet you anywhere you are. He'll travel with you on the subway on your way to work. He'll join you on the sofa at your parent's house. He'll fly on a plane with you. Sail on a cruise with you. Keep you company on your beach chair when your toes are buried in the sand.

 

3. He's extremely romantic. Especially if you select a book boyfriend who originates within the pages of a romance novel. My heroes frequently make big sacrifices for their heroines while saying things like, "I'll always love you. As long as there's an earth and a sun. Longer. I will love you."

 

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4. A book boyfriend can break the constraints of time. It's a wee bit hard to date a Regency era duke or a Viking or a Civil War soldier these days. But not if he's a book boyfriend!  Imagine spending your Valentine's day wearing a ball gown, dancing a waltz in the arms of a Viscount.

 

5. Any food you eat with him while inside his story world is calorie free!

 

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6. You don't have to clean up after him. At all. Ever. Book boyfriends don't leave socks on the floor or dirty dishes on the counter.

 

7. Your book boyfriend looks the way you want him to look. Yes, the author has provided you with a few details about him. But thanks to the powers of your imagination, you can envision him in your mind's eye exactly the way you prefer.

 

8. Book boyfriends are larger than life!  Go on a Valentine's date with a billionaire rancher. A European prince from the 1700s. A pro football player. A single father who's also a famous country singer.

 

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9. He's memorable. If you choose your book boyfriend wisely, chances are that he'll carve his name onto your heart and you'll remember him fondly for years and years to come.

 

10. You can count on a happy ending!  He may be flawed and he's likely to make mistakes, but by the end of your time together, he'll have redeemed himself. You're guaranteed to part from your book boyfriend with a happy sigh and a smile.

 


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Becky Wade is a California native who attended Baylor University, married a Texan, and settled with him and their three children in Dallas. She’s the Christy and Carol award winning author of the heartwarming Christian romances included in the Porter Family series and the Bradford Sisters Romance series. Visit her website!

 

When You Fear That the One Who Has Swept You Off Your Feet Has Dropped You

I returned to the critical care waiting room on the neurosurgery floor and saw, through the glass, my mother-in-law’s smile and thumbs-up. My heart flooded with relief as a smile broke across my face. I knew my husband had survived his second brain surgery in four years.

In that moment, I did not think of our starkly different personalities or the fact that my love language is quality time and his love language is hunting. Really, I didn’t think of anything but the fact that I love my man.

In that moment, he could do no wrong.

Two days later, I was so grateful that his severe post-craniotomy headaches had eased, and his appetite returned, that I offered to get him cold-pressed juice, omelets . . . coffee. He teased me and said I would flip the breaker to the whole hospital just to dim the lights in his room, or I would pay $3,000 and walk through snow to purchase the fizzy drink he craved. It was true (well, maybe not the snow part). I would have done anything for my husband because the trial of brain surgery had blurred everything but love.

The day after we returned home, however, my vision returned to normal.

My husband is a minimalist except when it comes to undershirts and camouflage. He likes smooth surfaces and clean, white lines. I like color and texture and plants.

This morning, I ate breakfast and left the plate on the table. The leftover yolk would have congealed, but my husband was so kind and rinsed it off. At lunch, I ate a salad and left the container on the counter. I also left a wet diaper on the living room floor, which I forgot to take back to the diaper genie in the nursery.

My husband commented on these things, and I snapped out the fitted sheet and began folding it (which you probably shouldn’t do if you’re already frustrated). I snapped out the pillowcases. I began folding towels. And then I took off, cleaning baseboards and wiping down walls. If he wanted a clean house, by George, he was going to get it.

My husband, in his recliner while recovering from brain surgery, started laughing.

“Can’t there be a balance?” he said.

But he knew the answer to his own question. Part of the reason he married me is because I am an all or nothing kind of gal. Part of the reason I married him is because he is an all or nothing kind of man. When we’re all in, even the harshest of trials cannot stop us. And here we were, getting annoyed with each other because we had different ways of keeping house.

Marriages are often formed between starkly different personalities because we’re drawn to strengths that offset the places where we’re weak. But over time, those stark differences can clash instead of complement, and you find yourself wondering if the one who swept you off your feet really wishes he would have dropped you.

But then, when we focus on love, every perceived “fault” or difference blurs. Did I care about our differences when I saw my mother-in-law’s thumbs-up through the waiting room window? No. Did I wish he liked my red gingham tablecloth instead of surreptitiously stuffing it into the storage cupboard? No.

In that moment, all I cared about was him: my dryly funny man, who drives me up the (very clean) wall and makes me laugh till my sides hurt.

Let’s focus on love, my friends. Love is the greatest commandment because, when we focus on it, every surface fault blurs.


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Jolina Petersheim is the highly acclaimed author of The Divide, The Alliance, The Midwife, and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller and was featured in Huffington Post’s Fall Picks, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Tennessean. CBA Retailers + Resources called her second book, The Midwife, “an excellent read [that] will be hard to put down,” and Booklist selected The Alliance as one of their Top 10 Inspirational Fiction Titles for 2016. The Alliance was also a finalist for the 2017 Christy Award in the Visionary category. The sequel to The Alliance, The Divide, won the 2018 INSPY Award for Speculative Fiction. Jolina’s non-fiction writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, Today’s Christian Woman, and Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their three young daughters. Jolina’s next novel, How the Light Gets In, a modern retelling of Ruth set in a cranberry bog in Wisconsin, releases March 2019.

What Reading Books Means to Me with Rachel Scott McDaniel

Happy Monday! At Hope By the Book we are trying out some new regular features here on the website, and today’s guest - author & avid reader Rachel Scott McDaniel - is someone you need to meet! Her debut novel, Above the Fold, releases December 2019 and she’s bringing us the first installment of “What Reading Books Means to Me” .


What Reading Books Means to Me

by Rachel Scott McDaniel, Author of Above The Fold

Have you ever considered the power of story? How is it possible that words on a page can refresh a wearied soul or bolster a feeble heart? It’s just a conglomeration of sentences and paragraphs. Just a book. Yet within the boundaries of Chapter One and The End lies the potential of something remarkable. What if I told you it holds the capability of bringing to life that which is deemed dead?

Ten years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom who wrote Christian romance during my kiddos’ naptimes. Then something occurred in my family that challenged my secure little world. My three-year-old daughter was diagnosed autistic. I wish I could say that I donned my super cape and stood as Faith Woman, but the truth was, I struggled. Everything came to a screeching halt. I closed my laptop, stopped reading Christian fiction, and only concentrated on surviving the day. The following decade was spent focusing on caring for my kids and reorienting myself to life. My daughter was significantly progressing, overcoming delays which were branded insurmountable. Slowly, my brittle faith strengthened, but I allowed my dream to collect dust in the corner of my heart.

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One day, my sister-in-law mentioned a contemporary romance she’d read by some novelist named Rachel Hauck. At that point, I had been so far removed from Christian fiction—hadn’t browsed the inspy aisle at Barnes and Noble, hadn’t fangirled any authors on Facebook, hadn’t even cracked open a book in years. Not to mention, I hadn’t written a single word in my own story. I completely detached myself from my dream—that aspiration which had once sparked my soul. So on a whim, I snagged To Catch A Prince from the local library, yet I was inwardly skeptical. After all I’d experienced, did I even believe in such a thing as happily-ever-after? But the unexpected occurred in the form of me binge-reading the book, taking in the layered characters and absorbing the vivid prose.

Then it happened.

Somewhere between the pages, the dormant ember ignited. The love of story returned. The only way I can explain it is that I had a “God-nudge.” A pivotal mark on my soul where I knew what had to be done. I dug out my laptop and opened my manuscript. It’d been so long that I nearly forgotten what I’d written. I started creating again and immersed myself into the world of storytelling. Before long, I had the entire novel completed and from then on, the dream unraveled before my eyes. That particular story had won a national contest. I signed with an agent and within a year, I’d landed a book contract.

What would’ve happened if I never had picked up that book? Would my lifeless dream have been revived? I’m not certain. But one thing I do know is the power of story. It can fortify what is frail. It can liven what is dull. So what does reading books mean to me? Simple. Reading is—and always will be—a game changer.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Rachel Scott McDaniel is an award-winning Christian romance writer. She hopes to inspire the mind and refresh the soul with words infused with faith and heart. Because she could never resist a good mystery, suspense and intrigue routinely sneak into her stories. She currently enjoys life in Ohio with her husband and two children. You can find Rachel at her online home RachelMcDaniel.net or on all major social media platforms.

Look for her debut novel - ABOVE THE FOLD - coming December 2019 from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas!

Books That Have Shaped Me with Laura Frantz

Happy Wednesday, dear readers! At Hope By the Book we are trying out some new regular features here on the website, and we adore today’s guest - author Laura Frantz - who is bringing you the first installment of “Books That Have Shaped Me”.


Books That Have Shaped Me

by Laura Frantz, Author of A Bound Heart

More than anything, reading has taught me how to write. It didn’t hurt that I was raised on the lap of my reading teacher mom who early on inspired me with countless books. As I grew, my reading tastes settled and sharpened. Looking back, three books stand out as shaping me. My hope is that they’re already on your reading radar…

 
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THE BLUE CASTLE

Move over, dear Anne with an e! Though I’m an avid Anne of Green Gables fan, I’m most smitten by her creator’s The Blue Castle. Within its novella-length pages, Lucy Maud Montgomery makes the endearing Valancy Stirling shine and breathes life into the most heroic yet un-heroically named Barney Snaith. With her signature wit, wisdom, and perfect pacing, The Blue Castle has been called a ‘forgotten book,’ incorporating enchanted woods, a cabin turned castle, and a ‘chase contentment’ theme. It’s one of those rare novels I’ve read more than once. For an added look at the author’s inner life, L.M. Montgomery’s complete journals are also extraordinary.

A few favorite lines:

“All that supported her through the boredom of her days was the hope of going on a dream spree at night.” 

“His eyes, which she had always thought brown, now seen close, were deep violet – translucent and intense…”

 
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 A LANTERN IN HER HAND

Another shaper is A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich. Epic in spirit, we meet within its pages the pioneer Abbie Mackenzie Deal with her unquenchable courage. Reading this classic is like looking at landscape photography through the author’s astonishing, evocative prose. Equally memorable is Aldrich’s Song of Years. Tissues required!

A few favorite lines:

“You are so much a part of me, that if you were taken away, I think it would seem that you just went on with me. And I’m sure if I were the one taken, I would go on with you, remembering all you had been to me.”

 
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LOVE’S PURSUIT

Lastly is Love’s Pursuit by Siri Mitchell. Rich in historical detail and a unique setting, the novel’s Puritan heroine is wonderfully complex, and her unconventional hero might well make this a Christian classic in time. The novel has a literary vibe I love and since I shy away from formulaic writing, her remarkable ending is heart-stopping and layered with meaning.

A few favorite lines:

“I am not good. I merit no favor, deserve no grace from God. There is nothing I can do to coax God to save me. Nothing I can do to deserve to whisper in God’s ear, to feel His eye upon me. There is no work that I could accomplish that would place God in my debt or coerce Him to act on my behalf. But still, He does it.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura Frantz is a Christy Award winner and the ECPA bestselling author of several books, including The Frontiersman’s Daughter, Courting Morrow Little, The Colonel’s Lady, The Mistress of Tall Acre, A Moonbow Night, The Lacemaker and The Ballantyne Legacy series. She lives and writes in a log cabin in the heart of Kentucky. Learn more at www.laurafrantz.net.

Her newest book A Bound Heart (Revell, Jan 2019) is getting rave reviews as well!

"Equally suspenseful and heart-wrenching, Laura Frantz's A Bound Heart takes readers on a journey that begins in the misty isles of Scotland and crosses oceans to the sun-drenched plantations of the New World, with finely drawn characters who rose from the pages to quickly capture my sympathies. From start to finish, A Bound Heart is an absorbing, tenderhearted story about the grace of second chances." - Lori Benton,author of Many Sparrows and the Christy Award-winning Burning Sky

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

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Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning–together.

Laura Frantz’s prose sparkles with authenticity and deep feeling as she digs into her own family history to share this breathless tale of love, exile, and courage in Colonial America.