Monday, December 22, 2014

Happily Ever After!

I know most of you are still running here and there, doing last minute baking and shopping and wrapping, so I'll keep this short. I was at the mall on Friday and was stunned to see no decorations at all. I wondered why and thought perhaps they thought putting them up would offend someone. Here in California, we are all about tolerance and being non-offensive (Unless it comes to Christianity)  Anyway, as usual there seems to be a heightened stress in the air, accompanied by a depression, and I'm reminded how difficult this season can be for so many.  Those without families, older people in homes, those with chronic illnesses, those who have no money for gifts or even food, parents who can't buy their kids something, those who have lost loved ones, those who have dysfunctional families who get together and fight and cause stress.... I could go on.  It seems the enemy has done a good job at getting our focus off the best news of all time that could have ever happened on earth.

The Prince came on a rescue mission to save us from eternal damnation and to defeat evil once and for all. He came first as a baby who grew to a man who then sacrificed his life for us. (Because He loved us so much!) Next time He'll come back as a Warrior King who will rule and reign in righteousness, and we will be with Him forever! 

It's a bit like a fairy tale, isn't it? The damsel in distress held captive by the evil warlock, doomed to live in the dungeon forever. But then the prince shows up on his white horse with his sword and he defeats the warlock and carries us off to his palace to live happily ever after!  

Who says Fairy Tales aren't true?  Who says there aren't Happily Ever Afters?  We believers are living in a Fairy Tale that is more real then what we see around us. The entire world longs to believe in happily ever afters, that good will always defeat evil, that love will always prevail!  That's what Jesus came to do. I pray that no matter what you are facing this Christmas season, that thought will give you the hope and joy to endure anything until He returns! 

From my family to yours, Merry, Merry Christmas and Happily Ever After to you!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Why I write if it doesn't pay the bills

A couple of weeks ago I received an interview request from Bob Clary, marketing manager at Webucator: Expert Instructors Blogging asking me to answer a few questions about why I write, what got me started, and what keeps me going.  It appears that most of the other authors interviewed did so in honor of National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a  NaNoWriMo, something I've only participated in once several years ago and found not to my liking. Mainly because I'm a very slow and meticulous writer and don't do well when I'm pressured to get an insane number of words down in a month (Even if I'm the one who chose the goal).

Anyway, if you are an aspiring writer, published author, or just someone interested in the publishing industry, I hope you find my answers below interesting, instructive and encouraging.

What were your goals when you started writing

When I started writing seriously ten years ago, I actually did it purely for enjoyment. I have always loved to write and often wrote as a child growing up, but then life got in the way. I went to college, got married, got a job, had kids, and the writing fell by the wayside. After most of the kids were off on their own, I finally found a moment to think about maybe putting pen to paper again. At the time, there was a story rattling around in my head that I desperately needed to get out. Still, I had no aspirations of ever being published. A year and a half later, after I finished the book, one thing led to another, and I got an agent and then was offered a contract for three books! Afterward, that same publisher published another twelve of my books. It doesn't usually happen that fast and never with an author's first book, and I truly give God all the credit.

What are your goals now?

After writing over fifteen books, all I want to do is keep writing and putting out quality books that entertain and encourage my readers. And of course, like anyone who works hard in a profession, it would be nice to be paid well for what I do. Ultimately I would love to make at least as much as I made when I was working as a software engineer. 

What pays the bills?

I'm blessed to have a husband who has a great job and who works hard. If not for his salary, there's no way we could live here in the Bay Area on what I make as an author. 

Assuming writing doesn't pay the bills, what motivates you to keep writing?

Two things motivate me to keep writing.

  1. I don't think I could ever stop writing. Stories are as much a part of me as breathing and eating.  Even if I never make a fortune or hit the NY Times Best-seller list, I will always write.
  2. My stories aren't just romantic adventures, they each contain spiritual truths and lessons I've learned in my walk with God. Therefore helping people see how much God loves them is a big part of why I keep writing.

What advice would you give young authors hoping to make a career out of writing?

Like any career, writing requires hard work and discipline. There are no quick get-rich schemes to make it to the NY Times best seller list or make a gazillion dollars like Stephanie Meyer.  You may have natural talent, but you have to learn the craft, take courses, read good books on writing. Then write, write, write! Practice makes perfect, my Mom always said!  Also read good, best-selling books in the genre you want to write in, analyze them, study them, see what makes them tick.
Then when you're ready and you think you've produced your best work, seek an agent and pray!

Honestly, most authors don't make a fabulous living at writing fiction. Some may be able to pay the bills, but most need to rely on a supplemental income. Very few hit it big. I have several author friends who hire themselves out as editors or write columns for magazines or do technical writing for software companies. They may not be writing what they love, but they are paying the bills so they can write what they love.  But don't let that discourage you. Keep at it, work hard, and enjoy yourself along the way.  The publishing business is changing and many authors are finding a way to pay the bills by self-publishing because they get to keep most of the profits instead of sign them away to a publisher.

I wish much success to my fellow authors out there!! It's a hard job, but it is well worth it.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Word of God!

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12


Monday, December 15, 2014

What is belief?

We hear so much about belief in the Christian faith.  From the moment we "believe" in Jesus at the point of salvation and then throughout our walk, we are constantly being told we need to believe, we need to have faith. Jesus spoke often of belief and faith.

... if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you  Matt 17:20

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you  Mark 11:24

But what is belief? Could it really be that easy? We just believe in God and His Son Jesus and we're in! We just believe our prayers are answered and they are! Yet, then we run into difficult Scriptures like this one in James:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

So, then it isn't enough to just believe.  Even though the Bible clearly says that it is, as we find here in Acts 16 when the jailer asked Paul and Silas how he could be saved?

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.

So is the Bible inconsistent?  I've been reading through the Old Testament recently, and in particular the wanderings of the Israelites through the dessert for 40 years after God so miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  Whenever God got mad at them or punished them for something, I asked myself, what did they do to cause His anger?  Whether it was the making of an idol, or the grumbling and complaining, what it all boiled down to was they didn't TRUST God.  They believed in Him, no doubt. How could they not after what they'd seen in Egypt? How could they not believe in God when He was escorting them through the dessert with a cloud by day and fire by night? These people saw more miracles then all the believers in any generation after them. You can bet they believed God existed.  But was it enough to believe only that? What else does God require?

More than anything, I've come to see that God requires TRUST. He wants us to trust Him, first for our salvation through Jesus, but then for everything else: Health, food, shelter, jobs, money. He wants us to trust Him for help with relationships, spouses, kids, for wisdom, for knowledge, for everything! We are to trust God to keep His promises.  This is exactly what the Israelites DID NOT do. They didn't trust God for food or water or to protect them. The final straw was when they didn't trust God to defeat the giants in the land God was going to give them. God had been so patient up to that point, but He'd finally had enough. And no one in that generation except Caleb and Joshua (who had trusted God) entered the promised land.

The truth of the matter is, God doesn't really care whether you believe He exists or not. He cares that you trust Him, that you throw your life into His hands and then believe He's got your back. No matter how dark it gets, no matter the trials and struggles, He wants you to trust that He is good, that He loves you, and that He will provide. I truly believe this is what God wants from each and every one of His children. Of course this is a process. We start out with only enough faith to trust Him for our salvation but as we walk along with Him and get to know Him, we should start trusting Him for more and more and more.  One thing I've noticed is that the more I trust Him, the less fear I have. Trust and fear cannot coexist!

If you want to enter your promised land and quit wandering in the desert, if you want to make God happy, learn to trust Him in everything! That's true salvation, not only from hell, but from a purposeless existence in this life. 


Friday, December 12, 2014

Win Debbie Lynne Costello's debut book, A Cup of Christmas Cheer!

WINNER of the Audio Books of The Ransom from last week are:  Angi and Stacey (who commented from Goodreads) Congratulations, ladies! I'll be contacting you with instructions on how to receive your audio book!

Please welcome today a really good friend of mine, Debbie Lynne Costello. Debbie Lynne and I met online when she sent me a note asking me some questions about writing. I get a lot of those, but something about Debblie Lynne stuck out. She seemed really serious and willing to put in the time and years to become a successful writer. Wow, I think that was 5 years ago! And here she is with her very first published story!!  I'm so very proud of her and excited for her!  Debbie Lynne and I actually met twice, both times when she and her hubby came out here to California, but she lives in South Carolina and is a huge fan of Charleston.

So, I hope you'll take a few minutes and read more about Debbie Lynne and her new book and then leave a nice comment for her in order to enter to win her book. I'll choose a winner next Friday.

Debbie Lynne has enjoyed writing stories since she was about eight years old. She raised her family and then embarked on her own career of writing the stories that had been begging to be told. She and her husband have four children and two grandchildren and they live in upstate South Carolina. She has worked in many capacities in her church and is currently the Children’s director. Debbie Lynne has shown and raised Shetland sheepdogs for eighteen years and still enjoys litters now and then. In their spare time, her and her husband enjoy camping and riding their Arabian and Tennessee Walking horses. 

Isn't she cute?

I asked Debbie Lynne some questions.

1. First of all, congratulations on your first publication!! Very exciting. Please share with us about your writing journey. How long have you been writing? How long have you been seeking publication? What is the most important thing you learned along the way?

I’ve been writing seriously for about six years now and I started seeking publication as soon as I finished my first novel. My journey really started when I contacted you. You told me to join ACFW and then you connected me with a great editor. You’ve walked with me through this from the very beginning and mentored me. I don’t know that I’d be writing today if God hadn’t led me to you. You’ve been a wonderful friend and prayer partner as well as a mentor. The most important thing I learned along the way, you taught me, MaryLu. And that is that you have to have tough skin in this business and keep your eyes on the Lord. Every rejection is just Him telling you it isn’t time yet.

MaryLu: I may have helped you a little bit, but you did all the work, girl!

2. I hear you live in South Carolina and have horses and dogs and a ranch! How long have you been raising horses? And I also know that you breed dogs to sell. Please tell us a little bit about that.

We are actually pretty new to horses. We married young by today’s standards. I had just turned 20 the week of our wedding. We were pretty poor and we would talk about our dreams. One of those dreams was to own horses. It took 30 years but here we are with 3 horses—2 Arabians and a Tennessee Walker. We’ve had horses for 4 years now. Yes, I raise Shetland Sheepdogs aka Shelties. I actually have a litter right now. Back before I started writing I used to show them, too.

3. What is your favorite genre to read and your favorite genre to write?

Oh that is a hard question! I love writing in the 19th Century Christian romance but I also love writing during the medieval time period. Love those knights! LOL  I enjoy reading those 2 time periods about the same too.

MaryLu: I'm with you on the knights!

4. I know you've had some personal challenges in your life recently. What things have you learned in your walk with God? 

You’ve been right there beside me, praying for me these last 2 ½ years so you know that it’s been several challenges that have come before us. Number one thing I’ve learned is that God is faithful. Even when things don’t go the way we want them to, He is still faithful! I’ve learned that He truly does carry you through the tough roads we travel and that no one can love like our God can. 

MaryLu: Amen!

5. If you don't mind answering the following so my readers can get to know you a bit better
Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Oh Milk Chocolate definitely!
City or Country?  I bet your readers can guess this one. Country.
Book or TV? I rarely watch TV. I probably haven’t watched a whole show in over a month. So it has to be book.
Beach or Mountains?  That depends on if the beach is in Charleston, SC. I love that city. But the answer would be mountains. I’m not a person who likes any areas that are highly commercialized.
Quiet Evening in or Evening out? Quiet evening. Although I do like to go out once in a while and have fun. Like when we went to a corn maze at night. That was a fun time.
Coffee or Tea? Tea and I am a tea snob, my daughter tells me. I only drink one brand and I won’t drink tea where water has been chlorinated.
If you could go one place in the world, where would it be? I’ve been to Italy and loved Venice. I always wanted to go there because my great grandfather and his brother stowed away on a ship to get to America. But since I’ve been there the other place I want to go to is Scotland. Love those Scots and their accents.

Other than Jesus, who is your hero? Living or dead. And why?  

David because he was a man after God’s own heart. I know he did some bad things, but I would like to meet the man that God would say that about. David was a man that heroes are made from. He did so many awesome things in his life. He was fearless. I mean if I were to write a novel and model him after David people would say, yeah right, there is no way there could be a man like that.  If I were to choose someone not in the bible it would be Ronald Regan. I really loved that man. He brought the love of country back to America. He made me proud to be an American. He wasn’t afraid to talk about God or call things as he saw them. I admired that in him.

6. I understand you're considering self-publishing.  What prompted you to make this decision? Please share what you plan on publishing and when?  Are you excited? Terrified? 

 Yes, I am. There are so many things that prompted me to do this. The industry itself was a big factor. There are a lot of perks to self-publishing. You have more control over your stories, your titles and your covers. I plan on releasing my first self pub book, a medieval, in February of 2015. Am I excited? I am! Am I terrified? More than you know!

7.  Tell us about A Cup of Christmas Cheer.  Where did you get the idea for the story? What do you hope readers will get out of it?  

The idea came from a great Uncle who fought in WWII and never made it home. I thought about his widow and children. The story evolved on its own from there. The story is about forgiveness and reconciliation. I hope that my story will open hearts and make people want to restore broken relationships. 

8. Where can readers find the book? And where can readers find you?

A recent WWII widow receives a mysterious letter seeking reconciliation with her in-laws, but when
she goes for a visit only her father-in-law seems to be interested in mending fences. But as the days pass mother-in-law and daughter-in-law learn a little about themselves and the true meaning of forgiveness.

Inside this book are 8 contemporary stories and 8 historical stories. Debbie Lynne's is one of the historical (obviously)  She is giving away the entire set!!  Isn't that generous?

Please leave a comment for Debbie Lynne and your email address and I'll enter you to win the book! Check back next Friday to see if you won!



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Our Prince is coming!

I hope you aren't offended by the woman's bare back, but I thought this picture was so gorgeous and it reminded me of the 10 Virgins  from the parable Jesus told in Matthew 25. 

. . .but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.  5-7

And then this Scripture came to mind where Jesus said He is preparing a place for us and He will return soon so we can be with Him forever!

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:1-3

I pray that brings you comfort today!


Monday, December 8, 2014

Sit down in heavenly places

For many, the holidays and Christmas in particular, can be very difficult. For some reason it seems more tragedies happen during the holidays than any other time of the year. It's like the devil does his best to muck up our celebration of Jesus's birth!  Even in my own little church there are multiple people undergoing surgeries, others who are struggling financially, and even more who have lost a loved one recently.  Maybe you can relate. Maybe you lost a family member around the holidays in the past and this time of year renews the sorrow of that loss. Or maybe Christmas just reminds you of how little money you have to buy gifts and increases your worry about making ends meet. Or maybe you're sick and won't really enjoy all the celebrations. 

Where am I going with this? Probably somewhere you wouldn't expect. I'm sitting down with Jesus in heaven. 

God ... raised us up together with Jesus and made us sit down (giving us joint seating with Him) in the heavenly sphere in Christ Jesus.   Ephesians 2:6

I read that verse the other day and I thought to myself, I sure don't feel like I'm seated next to Jesus in heaven. How about you?  Clearly we are still physically here on earth, but since the Bible doesn't lie, it must mean that our spirits have been raised to sit with Jesus. We are no longer of this world. We are confined here physically until we die or Jesus comes, but the real part of us, our souls, our personalities, our spirits are not confined to this world. We can enjoy one-on-one fellowship with God. We, through the power of Jesus and His name have overcome this present world. You see, it doesn't really matter what happens to us here on earth as long as we belong to God.  Too many Christians are too focused on their 80 or so years here on earth.. they are too focused on their life here, almost acting as if this were all there was. The very next verse in Ephesians helps us get a better perspective of what being seated in heaven means.

God... did this that He might clearly demonstrate through the ages to come the immeasurable riches of His free grace, His kindness and goodness of heart toward us in Christ Jesus, Ehpesians 2:7

The ages to come.  We are in an age right now. It started with Adam and Eve and will end when Jesus returns. But there are mulitple ages to come, billions and billions of years ahead of our 80 or so here in which God promises to demonstrate the immeasurable riches of His free grace to us. Can you imagine?  I don't believe we have the ability to come close to even imagining the wondrous worlds we will be a part of, the incredible activities, creations, tasks, exciting missions and celebrations!

If you keep your eye on that. If you remember that this life is SO SO SHORT compared to what's ahead of us, perhaps the struggles we endure here, (though difficult) will seem a little less daunting, a little less tragic, and a little more like a series of hurdles we can overcome with God's help until we make it to the glorious finish line.

For this world in its present form is passing away. 1 Corinthians 7:21

And all this was made possible because Jesus relinquished all His rights, His privileges, His position and came here to be born in a stable, live a pauper's life, and die a criminal's death for us.

May these truths inhabit your mind during this season and bring you great joy!