Thursday, June 28, 2012

Judith Hugg Interview with Mary Nichelson

While To See the Sky is hailed as “a great gift for those who are not perfect in their faith and who struggle with meaning and purpose”,  it is also for readers that have a grasp on their relationship with God, but long for a refreshing reminder of what that relationship is, and more importantly, isn’t. Hugg invites the reader to trade their complacency for wonder, as they realize there is purpose in every experience, even if the meaning isn’t clearly illustrated.

To See The Sky is about seeing with the heart, finding a healthy way through the losses of life, and about having a well-exercised funny bone. I think God's grace involves more letting go than The Epic Struggle to find God.” Perhaps fully embracing God's grace is what motivates Hugg to write for her readers and then donate proceeds from her book to places like the Community Soup Kitchen. She exemplifies in word and deed the proverb ‘Let go and let God’ and is not ashamed to explain how she came to this place in her spiritual journey.

MN-You have said that your book, To See The Sky, is your love note to God. Explain what you mean by that.

JH-My life is surrendered to being Christ’s light in the world, and “To See the Sky: Vignettes of Grace” is my homage to the incredible power of God’s presence and His hilarious grace in my life! I’ve written articles and poetry for years, but it was time to finally assemble the stories of God showing up in my life and make them a book, my thanks to Him for never letting me go!

MN-Your dialogue is very theatrical and can I say, delicious in an artistic sense. You write with an intuitive accuracy. Have you always been connected with the world as effortlessly as you write about your experiences?

JH-Since I was a child, I’ve always felt that connection—and maybe this is a universally childlike link—to a Power in the universe who was manifest in the beauty of nature. That’s where my faith in Christ started. That’s what still heals me when the world is out to turn my heart into mulch. My faith has matured with a foundation in Scripture and an active membership in a great church with brothers and sisters who keep me in line (or they at least try!), plus a very active prayer and meditation life, but when I’m hurting or tired or stressed, an hour in a quiet field, or on a swing, or by some water restores my soul because God is waiting there for me. There is spiritual nourishment in the first scent of the lilacs blooming on a warm spring day that is like no other tonic on earth!

When I was in high school, I wrote a letter to Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles) who I was just discovering at the time, and I asked him if he was always so aware--if, when he was a child, he was really so sensitive to nature and to the vibrancy of life as his young characters were. (It was a school assignment, but I really wanted to know, as I was struggling to leave my own childhood behind.) His response (which I am able to pull off a shelf in my living room as I write this; I am a major fan!), in his own handwriting, was “YES, YES, YES! I ALWAYS KNEW!” Well, it turns out, I did too!

MN-I love your honesty. At one point, when writing about unanswered prayers for the sick, you admit “I don’t know what to do with that fact in my life of faith.” How were you able to make peace with not knowing or fully understanding everything regarding God?

JH-In chapter 13 of Job, he says “though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (KJV) Now there’s some FAITH! (Though the next line has to do with Job arguing his case with God…) Before my father died, I would’ve said something bold like that; I thought I could take anything, with Christ strengthening me. But then Dad died, and my faith was laid bare. I had begged God to heal my father, and the answer was no. My trust in God was an open, festering wound for a while. I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t go to church. I was a follower of Christ, but I couldn’t find Him anywhere, as I say in the book. I was in unbearable pain, and I found myself drawn to our town’s soup kitchen. And I went there, looking for Christ. Every Sunday, I would go and join whatever team was there, and I would chop vegetables and stir soup, and then I would stand in the line where the local working poor and homeless and mentally ill would come past, and I would literally hand them a cup of cold water, or a bowl of soup, or some bread and butter, and I would find Christ there in their eyes, in their faces. It was the only thing that began to heal my heart. There were no answers to my questions; there was no bright light and the hand of God saying “everything’s okay now.”

Dad didn’t come back; the loss was still epic in my life. But Christ showed up and showed that His love could give me a handle on the loss. And my ability to trust God slowly came back. I don’t know as I’ve so much made peace with all of that as much as Christ stepped in and withdrew the intense pain and installed His peace. It was a long road. I have a hard time with Christians who just stick with the “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” Sounds really good, and it makes you look like a super-servant. But until you’ve had to fall flat on your face in front of God in total despair and defeat—and find Christ with His arms around you, waiting at the end of your rope—then it’s not helpful to brag about how you would never fall apart because yourfaith is the brand-name, heaven-certified real Christian one. You have no idea until you are near-drowning what the fresh air of real gritty Christ-love is.

MN-The chapter titled “This is the Day That the Lord Hath Made” literally took my breath away. You so eloquently parallel living in the moment with the vision of a child on a swing as the sun sets, and all that matters is the crickets and the screech of the swing chains. It took me right back to my trusted, old swing and I realized how much we don’t experience living in the present. Do you think it is the responsibility of adulthood or a world spinning out of control that is to blame?

JH- God only gives us today, this moment! I know that, yet I forget that memo a hundred times a day. My pining for or regretting yesterday, or projecting and fretting about tomorrow, is to miss the point of following Christ. Childrenget that; children can be so totally absorbed in a project—or a dandelion—that they are oblivious to any other fact. My moments as a child on the swing set at home—I can still feel it and hear it and smell the garden scents—were totallypresent and full of joy.

When I remember to just be where my feet are at this moment, life is good! But I’m usually wandering off to the weekend schedule, the phone calls I have to make, the arrangements and plans and agendas. I can psychoanalyze that it’s having more responsibility as an adult, or the world putting a thousand demands on me, or having overextended myself so that I can feel superior to you, or because I’m the second child in the birth order and need to prove myself—or something. But I have the choice—right now—if I want to hold God’s hand in the now and dwell in humble peace, or race off towards next Tuesday’s shenanigans. I’m still learning.

MN-No matter where the reader is in their faith journey, they will be able to relate completely with your stories in To See The Sky. The umbrella message is one of grace. Why did you choose that concept to write about?

JH-The articles and poetry that I’ve written for magazines over the years were always about God’s grace in my life, whether I was overtly focusing on grace or just alluding to it, or even if I was oblivious to it. I’ve always wanted to write a book, and I was always told to write what I know! And since I am a fallible, ill-tempered, depressive, skeptical, cynical late-bloomer/person of faith/child of God who is, nevertheless, loved to pieces by God, it was a natural direction! I don’t know as I chose it so much as it chose me.

MN-You have a gift of bringing a sense of closure to the open ended experiences and questions everyone struggles with. Is there a personal message you have for readers that are confused by God’s silence and are lacking peace?

JH-That place where God is hard to find, where everything you’ve believed in is being refined in the fire, where losses are so deep that it seems like even God can’t fill the void, are terrible places to be. I’ve had perfectly well-meaning Christians say to me “well, don’t you think you should be over that by now?” or “God doesn’t want you depressed,” or the ever-popular “It was God’s will that (fill-in-the-blank).” I’ve been told that I don’t have enough faith, and now I can proclaim for an absolute fact: yes, that’s absolutely true. I do not have enough faith to explain away why my father died too young, or why my mother is a paranoid schizophrenic, or why terrible things happen to the dearest of people. I don’t know why you’re suffering what you’re suffering right now, and no one’s holy-sounding explanation is going to help your heart. The comfort is this: there is a God in the universe who is personally involved with you. (Love makes Him pretty involved.)

You and I aren’t entitled to have all the explanations for the pain on a silver platter. What we do--and sometimes it’s enduring for one minute at a time--is to stay where our feet are, cry our hearts out, and wait for God to show up. In my experience, there is always a healing, a shift in the pain, a way out. It is a hard road, this faith thing. I used to think I had it all sewn up: God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life, and that was all I needed. But life gets convoluted, and God doesn’t always take you where you think He will. He is bigger than any concept I could possibly have of Him. And who or what else do I have to trust in on this planet? I’ve leaned into His grace, and He always comes through. Eventually. And He is always worth the wait.

Author Bio: Judith Hugg was brought up in New Jersey in the 1950s. She has been writing since she was ten when her mother let her use the family’s ancient, dusty Royal typewriter. She can still remember the sour smell of that oil and the ink-ribbon. (You could only type in black or red then, and mistakes were forever.) Judith was writing seriously at 17 when she had her first poem published in The Sunday School Times. She has written for a number of Christian magazines since then. This is her first book. You can find out more about Judith by visiting her website:

About Mary Nichelson:

Other interviews featured in The Wordsmith Journal Magazine's June issue: Donita K. Paul, Donna Fitts & Jocelyn Green.

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jocelyn Green Interview with Mary Nichelson

ACFA is proud to partner with The Wordsmith Journal Magazine to feature authors interviewed in that publication on our blog.
Readers and fans of historical fiction are in for a treat when Jocelyn Green’s book Wedded to War is released in July, which is the first in a four-part series focusing on “real women who actually lived and made a difference in the (civil) war”. Who better to tackle the enormous project than one who has already written about-and for-military families. The only challenge to writingWedded to War was crossing over from fiction to nonfiction, Green claims. You’ve heard ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, but in this novel, truth and fiction intercept and run parallel, giving credibility to the narrative, and likability to the history behind the story. Green cleverly balances Biblical truths with historical accuracy, and admits that is the basis behind the Heroines Behind the Lines series.

MN-You wrote four non-fiction books prior to writing your first novel, Wedded to War. Although all of your books are related to the military, it must have been challenging to go from writing non-fiction to fiction. Did you have any difficulties while tackling your first piece of non-fiction?

JG-I had a huge learning curve ahead of me when I decided to make the switch! I have so much more respect for novelists now than I ever did before. I literally went to Barnes & Noble and bought all the books on writing a novel I could find. Then I went to the Writer’s Digest Web site and bought more. I have books on character, plot & structure, the different types of scenes, voice, setting, etc. (You can see a list of my eleven favorites here.) I also joined American Christian Fiction Writers right away and downloaded their workshop handouts to help me map out the characters and plot. I probably spent months learning the craft of writing a novel before I actually started writing. And then of course, I would go back to my mini-library on novel writing all along the way to make sure I was on track, or to make course corrections.

But you can only learn so much about great novel writing from a how-to book. So I also spent lots of time reading really good novels for all the little things that are “caught, not taught.” Reading award-winning novels became the most enjoyable part of my research.

By the time I was done researching my time period for the novel, and how to write a novel, I only had about two months to actually write the book. The hardest part of the entire process was just that time crunch.

MN-Tell us about the Heroines Behind the Lines series.

JG-There are four books in this series, each one focusing on a different aspect of the Civil War. Each of the books are inspired by real women who actually lived and made a difference in the war—but have been mostly unsung heroes. Rather than following the same characters throughout the series, readers will find new people and stories to fall in love with in each book. The first book takes place in New York City, Washington and the Virginia Peninsula. The second book takes place in Gettysburg, Philadelphia, and a few sea islands in the South. The third is set in and around Atlanta, and the fourth is in Richmond, Virginia.

The series is historically accurate but rest assured, the books won’t read like a history text book. There is enough drama and conflicted characters for anyone who just wants an emotionally absorbing novel.

MN-The first in the series, Wedded to War, focuses on The United States Sanitary Commission and it’s affect on The Civil War. Comprised of nurses, The Sanitary Commission single handedly promoted sterile conditions necessary for medical treatment both in the field and make shift hospitals. It also provided kind hearted individuals to minister to dying soldiers. These nurses are true heroes. Explain some of the restrictions they had to meet to enter the nursing program and later, the obstacles they would face in caregiving.

JG-Many women eventually just showed up to volunteer at the hospitals. But if they wanted to be trained in a nursing program, like my main character and the person who inspired her, she had to complete a written application, provide references as to her character, be interviewed by two committees, and prove she was in general good health.

These nurses also could not wear jewelry, hoops under their skirts, or ruffles or ribbons on their dress. They had to be older than 30 (with few exceptions granted and then regretted), preferably married or widowed. Also, the Superintendent of Female Nurses, Miss Dorothea Dix, required that they be homely in appearance, so as not to arouse the “frustrated desires” of the male patients. So for a beautiful, single 28-year-old to break into this field was a challenge, to say the least.

The obstacles they faced in care giving, once they were accepted as nurses, were many. Usually the male doctors they worked with didn’t want them there in the first place because hospitals had been in the male domain up until then. So many doctors made life absolutely miserable for the nurses in order to get them to give up. Women nurses who were trained to be in supervisory roles were made to do the most menial, disgusting chores in the hospitals (think no running water, no water closets in the building). They were also given a terrible diet of food, not much better than a soldier’s rations, and made to sleep in extremely uncomfortable places. Sexual harassment was also present in some cases. There were more challenges than this—you’ll have to read Wedded to War to find out what they were! J

MN-Ruby’s character is fascinating. She represents a lot of women who walk around in undeserved shame. How can we, as women, shed that identity when it’s wrongly thrust upon us?

JG-I love Ruby’s character, too. I think we can all sympathize with her, or even relate to her. To answer your question, we can reject lies about ourselves, whether they form in our own minds, or are spoken by others, when “we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What does that mean, exactly? It means we make a habit of lining up our thoughts against the truth of Scripture.

For example, we’re all sinners, aren’t we? We make mistakes. We do wrong. Satan wants us to believe we are irreparably damaged by those sins, and that those sins absolutely define us. But here’s where we take that thought captive and obedient to Christ—what does God say about our sin? 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” So there you have it. We need to choose to believe God’s opinion of us rather than anyone else’s. And we can learn God’s perspective only from being rooted in the Bible and by prayer.

MN-Charlotte is a strong woman who understands her identity and is not afraid to be authentic to that identity. What would you say to the reader who is struggling with knowing who they are, but are afraid to counter social or familial expectations to become that person?

JG-I would remind them of Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” To me, this verse calls us to do what we believe God wants us to with our lives, even if others don’t understand it. Very often, doing the right thing is not the popular thing. But as long as you seek after God’s will for your life with all your heart and mind, you’ll be doing the right thing. That means you have to really search, with more than just your emotions. Study the Bible. Pray. Talk to your pastor and other trusted Christians. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). One more caution here—sometimes we think we have our plan or our identity all figured out before consulting God about it. Be open to the idea that God may surprise you with a different path for your life than the one you’ve chosen.

Now, having said that, if you do have peace that you’re following God’s will for your life and purpose, go for it with full confidence, and if others don’t agree with you, let God work on their hearts. You just do what God wants from you.

MN-There are many one-liners that cause the reader to pause and think. For instance, at one point, Alice says to her sister Charlotte,“Sometimes the people who most need our help are the ones God has already placed in our lives.” What did you want conveyed most through that statement?

JG-I hope that readers will simply think about who they already have influence over in their lives, and ask God to show them how to minister to them. There are many people with needs, and God has given each of us certain gifts and abilities to meet those needs. It’s wonderful to reach out and try to reach the world for Christ—but we are not indispensable to everyone out there. We are indispensable to a few people, though, and those people we should not neglect.

For example, I have a ministry to military wives through my books and a Web site and Facebook page. I believe God has called me to that—but I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my biggest ministry is my family. That means I turn down some opportunities to travel and speak to military wives because with my kids being so young, they need me home right now. And I know there are dozens of other qualified Christian military wife speakers who could fill a speaking slot and bless their listeners. But no one else can take my place as “mommy” so I really try to limit the number of trips I take per year.

I also want to emphasize the word “sometimes” in the line you quoted. Please use discretion when you are reading this, because there will be times that God does call us to leave everything and everyone we are familiar with to go serve him somewhere else. My brother and sister-in-law, for example, are missionaries to France. He’s the only brother I have, and no one can replace him in that role, but God has clearly called him out to go serve Christ half way around the world.

So my intention is not to tell people what to do or what not to do, but simply to prompt a little thinking.

MN-The idea of being free or set free is a strong element throughout Wedded to War. What does the word freedom mean to you?

JG-Yes, it is. Freedom often conjures up the idea of democracy, liberty, and rights. But the other side of freedom is internal. Even if I live in the “land of the free,” if my heart, spirit, or mind is bound up by sin or deception, I’m not truly free. Ruby’s character illustrates this—she wasn’t really free for a long time. She was enslaved to guilt, shame, and lies. But Jesus sets the captives free.

MN-You have stated on your website that you aren’t a blogger because you don’t want to “become an overcommitted crazy person.”  Being present and available for your family is important to you, isn’t it?

JG-It is. I do blog a little bit, but if you visit my blog for military wives ( you’ll notice that most of the posts are written from other military wives. I’m happy to delegate both to give me more time to be with my family, and also because there is so much wisdom that other women have to share. I’m happy to give them an outlet for it through my blog.

And I never take a book contract lightly, because I know when I sign the dotted line, it affects my whole family because I’ll be spending time on the book, away from them. Thankfully, my parents live close by and they are wonderful to watch the kids when I need some more time. My husband is really supportive in that way, too. So I do pray for a long time before going into any negotiations for a new book.

As I mentioned earlier, my family is my number one ministry. I’m blessed that they are flexible so I can write books, too. I tend to write in spurts, so it’s not like I’m always holed away up in my office. For example, I spent nine months researching Wedded to War, and then three months writing it. While I research, I can still be with the kids, in the same room with them while I read and take notes, and take breaks to take them to the park or play Candyland. Then for the three months of writing, it’s sort of like cramming, and I try to find 4-6 hours a day of uninterrupted writing time. It looks like this will be the pattern for my second novel, The Widow of Gettysburg, too!

Author Bio: Jocelyn Green, the wife of a former Coast Guard officer, is an award-winning author, freelance writer and editor. She is the author of Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives (Moody 2008), along with contributing writers, and its sequel, Faith Deployed...Again: More Daily Encouragement for Military Wives (Moody 2011). She is also co-author of Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq/Afghanistan (AMG Publishers 2009). Jocelyn's debut novel, Wedded to War, releases in July 2012 from River North Fiction.You can learn more about Jocelyn Green at her website ( and through facebook (  

About Mary Nichelson:

Other interviews featured in the June edition of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine: Donita K. Paul, Donna Fitts and Judith Hugg

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Donna Fitts Interview with Mary Nichelson

ACFA is proud to partner with The Wordsmith Journal Magazine to feature authors interviewed in that publication on our blog.

Unlike many authors, Donna Fitts had no aspirations to become a writer. “I have always been a starter but not much of a finisher. I never, ever dreamed of writing a book. Certainly not a romance novel!” But that is exactly what she has successfully accomplished in her novel, An Unexpected Romance. While the word unexpected defines her journey to writing, it also embraces the concept of her book; surprises can happen to anyone, at anytime. Why would the mother of two children, grandmother of five grandchildren who loves Snickers candy bars, strawberries and snorkeling in coral reefs, tackle a writing project pertaining to romance in the twilight years? I quickly learned to expect the unexpected when it came to interviewing this energetic woman of faith.

MN-As a Navy mom, I am surprised by how many military families I encounter daily. Your father was in the Air Force, which I am sure stamped your passport several times. Can you name a few of the places you have been and which one was your favorite?

DF-We lived in a number of different states, including  Missouri, Michigan, Texas, Illinois, and California, but my favorite place was Tripoli, Libya.  While we were there, we lived in a couple of cool places before my dad was able to get base housing.  One of those was a farm where the long private drive was lined by almond trees.  When there were almond on the trees, we kids were known to reach out the windows as Daddy drove down the driveway and try to grab the green almonds off the trees.  We spent three wonderful years there, at Wheelus Air Force base.  We also were able to travel in the area and see a number of different Roman ruins.  I was actually baptized in the Mediterranean Sea while we were there.

MN-Let's talk about your new book, An Unexpected Romance. It didn't always have that title. Why was in changed from Prodigals?

DF-When I first titled the book, my husband didn't like the title.  At first I was convinced that Prodigals was the right name for it, but later developed mixed feelings about it. The publisher found that when women were asked about that name, they were not favorable.  Most thought it was a  self-help book. The publishing team put their heads together, several titles were suggested, and we kind of bogged down for a bit. Then, while discussing the content of the book with someone, I used the phrase, "an unexpected romance," and we decided that was the perfect title for the book.  So, my husband was right, after all!

MN-In writing the book, you found a need and filled it. You stated there were no novels written that targeted the mature woman. I think it is brilliant and certainly God inspired. How hard was it to write for a target audience from the beginning instead of writing and then figuring out who your audience is?

DF-It really wasn't difficult.  I honestly did not think about the audience.  I just wrote about the characters.  I know it probably sounds a bit strange, but I didn't even know how the story would unfold or how it would end.  I felt inspired by God to write it, and it almost seemed to write itself once I got started.  I would sit down at the computer, and start typing and the next thing I knew, another chapter was finished.  I think the most difficult part was letting go of the idea that the cover had to feature a senior citizen couple.  I actually didn't let go of that idea until I realized that the book really could appeal to readers who are not senior citizens.

MN-Even though Elizabeth is a senior citizen, I have to admit that I could relate to her character on many levels. Don't you think that proves that whether we read about a fictional character set in the 1700's or a contemporary senior citizen, we are basically the same at heart making it necessary to not discredit our ability to learn from others just because they are different?

DF-I absolutely agree that we can learn from reading about people who are, on the surface, very different from ourselves.  We learn from Jesus' parables, and they are definitely different from us in many, many ways.  The important thing is the ways they are like us.  When I first started writing this book, my husband said he just didn't see why I would feel that writing a novel could be something that might help others.  I reminded him that Jesus used parables--which are kind of like mini novels--and that sometimes it is easier for people to learn from stories than direct teaching, because stories are less threatening.

MN-Is there a little bit of Donna in Elizabeth?

DF-A little bit.  Elizabeth is very  concerned about the environment and conservation. She enjoys helping others. She still believes that there are absolutes in God's commandments, regardless of what the current culture thinks.

MN-You were certified through seminary to teach which led to your current position, Director of a preschool academy. That takes a lot of patience. Is that a virtue of yours?

DF-Actually, I only studied religious education in general at seminary.  It was my experience as a teacher and a principal in  elementary school that really prepared me for this position. The things I learned not only about teaching, but also about budgets and administration are very instrumental in being a successful director of a preschool.  I think being an elementary school principal took more patience than being a director of a preschool.  Being a director of a preschool is such a daily joy!  There is nothing better than going to "work" every day at church and "work" being the joy of being around God's precious little ones!

MN-Will there be a sequel to An Unexpected Romance and are there any other writing projects on your agenda?

DF-I have started a sequel, featuring one of Elizabeth's younger sisters, a very angry and sad woman who trusts virtually no one. I do have several other ideas for books, but enjoy my daytime job so much, I must admit I am not doing a lot of writing.  The second book is certainly not moving along as quickly as the first one did!

Author Bio: Donna Fitts has a wealth of different life experiences to draw on for her work, including overcoming abuse as a child, traveling the world with her Air Force dad, being a single mother on welfare to marrying and graduating college Magna Cum Laude.Donna's easy writing style allows the reader to see herself and her friends in her writing, but also directs the reader back to the ultimate authority: God's Holy Bible.

Donna is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southeastern Louisiana University, and California State University. She has served more than 30 years in churches and in public schools, and is currently serving as Director of a Christian preschool after retiring as an elementary school principal in Rhode Island.  

You can learn more about author Donna by visiting her website

About Mary Nichelson:

Other interviews featured in The Wordsmith Journal: Donita K. Paul, Jocelyn Green, and Judith Hugg.

Donna Fitts interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Donita K. Paul interview with Mary Nichelson

ACFA is excited to partner with The Wordsmith Journal Magazine and feature authors interviewed in that publication.

Author Donita K. Paul is about as versatile as a writer can get. She has successfully secured an audience through her two allegorical fiction series, The Chiril Chronicles and The Dragon Keeper Chronicles, while appealing to readers of romance and children’s books. Satisfying such a diverse audience takes talent, a strong connection to readers, a bit of heavenly inspiration, as well as a divergent personality. This is evident on Paul’s website where she incorporates art, photography, homeschool helps and yes, her favorite books. Her circle of (author) friends include Lori Copeland, Lauraine Snelling, Brandilyn Collins, and Lynn Austin. With such a broad range of input and inspiration, Paul is able to reach an expansive audience seemingly effortlessly as she endeavors to entertain, and in the case of her recent book Taming the Wild Wind, reveal a practical application for the Christian journey.

MN-Writing about Indians in your book Taming the Wild Wind is not just a side bar of research. Tell us about your Cherokee heritage.

DP-My grandfather died with one of his sons in a drowning accident. My mother barely remembers him, but she remembers her mother’s side of the family had little to do with her father’s side. Her mother never invited both sides of the family to the house at the same time. That was curious but didn’t bother her too much. She was an outdoorsy gal and roamed the banks of the Wabash, particularly the woods near by. There she would play that she was an Indian princess. After she was grown she found out why the two sides of her family were antagonistic toward each other. Her mother had married a half-breed. Back then there was much prejudice and not much tolerance. My mom was thrilled to learn she was a quarter Cherokee. Years later she taught me an Indian dance in the living room of our house in Houston. Jump years ahead again and I was at a Native American Powwow and I saw some Cherokee tribesmen dance that same dance. I guess she knew what she was talking about. It all came from books, though. She never got to know the family that quit coming to visit after her dad died.

MN-The saying goes that there is truth in fiction. What is the basis of truth found in Taming the Wild Wind?

DP-Ida is casual Christian. All her life, she has followed her own path, and there is nothing overtly wrong with her choices. She knows Christ as her Savior, God as her Father, and the Holy Spirit as her Comforter. But she hasn’t grasped that God is also her Lord. She doesn’t consider herself disobedient to her parents because she avoids the conflict and doesn’t act out an obnoxious rebellion. She has not taken to heart that God sees the attitude that is behind the action. I Samuel 16:7 “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (NASB) And when a Christian doesn’t seek God’s wisdom, he can be caught up in sin without being aware. Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.” (NASB) In her new situation, she is draws closer to God and realizes that going against her parents’ wishes was rebellion whether she was caught or not.

MN-Ida is an influential main character. She is rebellious in the best of ways, standing up for the very ones she is expected to shun. Do you think women a hundred years ago were stronger in that aspect than we are today?

DP-I guess it depends on what history book you read or which historical females you have researched. I believe we have a mix of people now much like the ones who lived then. You have Harriet Tubman and all the people who helped her with the Underground Railroad. But you also have seriously selfish New York debutantes.

Also you have to take into account what culture influenced these people. I had a friend whose great grandmother was a nice enough woman, but she was from the farming south. She used derogatory terms for any race but her own. I think that arrogant, obnoxious attitude was taught to her and those who were raised in a similar background. No baby comes out of the womb with a desire to wear a white sheet and burn crosses in someone’s yard. I think we could find a woman from a hundred years ago who was stronger in protecting the underprivileged just as we could go out and find a woman in our own neighborhood who would stand up for what is right.

MN-Ida represents the wild, carefree characteristics many women hide and even deny. Not in that she wanted to live life without responsibility, but that she wanted to live on her terms. She developed her talents in spite of the restrictions of her society. Is it safe for women to unleash this wild side?

DP-Actually, Ida’s formative years were spent in getting away with what she could without any consideration as to God’s will. Her mother set high standards, but Ida dismissed them. Self-absorbed, Ida did what she wanted, like visiting the Irish family, and carefully kept the action from coming to her parents’ attention. We can look at Ida’s wild side and realize that the actions were not necessarily evil, but the attitude was an encumbrance that kept her from running the race in her life. When the Lord worked with her spirit in the lonely mission house, He tamed her wild wind. It is safe for women to explore their gifts, challenge ungodly behavior, stand up for the downhearted as long as the women are grounded in God’s Word and submissive to God’s will.

MN-You have mentioned your struggle to becoming a Christian and trying to act the part prior to it becoming an authentic lifestyle. How would you describe your life as a Christian now?

DP-I’m a very easy-going Christian. I admit to being a bit of a zealot after conversion. But God softened me. Do you know much about Brother Lawrence? He took praying without ceasing literally and every conversation, every task was done in the awareness that God is a participant, not a distant god, but a Present God. About eight years ago, one of my friends wrote a book that helps to explain. Practicing God's Presence: Brother Lawrence for Today's Reader (Quiet Times for the Heart) by Robert Elmer and Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection

I have very strong convictions about what the Bible says, what God wants us to do and what He wants us to be. But I’m not called to be a street corner preacher. God has given me specific talents and helped me develop them. I’m a storyteller as are many in my family. I know from the emails I get that God has used this to change hearts and move His children. DragonSpell has sold close to 150,000 copies. If one little nugget of truth came through to a troubled mind with each book, the effect is astounding. And I chuckle, because it isn’t me, it’s Him.

MN-As a proponent of literacy, what are some steps that you suggest parents can take to encourage their children to read?

DP-The first would be to model reading. Children who see their parents sitting with a good book will want to get the same pleasure from their books. Read to the child and be enthusiastic. The parent who has to be coerced to read a bedtime story isn’t sending positive messages about the joy of reading. Discuss books. Ask the children questions in the car, at breakfast, during dinner, and make observations about the books they read. “I liked that book we read last night. The one about the lost mouse. What was the title? Shall we read it again tonight? What would you do if a big mean cat was between you and mommy?”

Make books available and model treating books with respect.  Get excited when they get a book as a gift. Help them shop for books as gifts to relatives. This grandma loves to get books. I’ve found that the bargain books at Barnes and Noble are fantastic. The children are drawn to the bigness and the flashy colors and the unusual topics of the coffee table books. What grandpa doesn’t want a huge thick book with glossy pictures of Spanish castles? You might want to suggest to Grandpa to demonstrate his enthusiasm.

MN-You have written children's books, historical fiction, romance, and contemporary fiction. In which genre is it the easiest for you to write?

DP-The easiest book I’ve written recently was Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball. This is a contemporary romance with a touch of fantasy. I was tired of the same old same old, and rested by writing this delightful “Made for TV-type” light tale. It took me less than six weeks. It was fun. I want to go back to Sage Street and revisit the modern matchmaking wizards who live there.

MN-Your favorite Bible verse?

DP-Right now: I Corinthians 15:58 “With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (The Message) Isn’t that a beautiful message for anyone in the mission field? Whether you are a preacher in the Sunday pulpit, a missionary calming the fears of new believers in Iraq, a medical missionary performing surgery in Africa, or a writer, stand your ground! Don’t hold back. Nothing you do for HIM is wasted.

Author Bio: Donita K. Paul retired early from teaching school, but soon got bored! The result: a determination to start a new career. Now she is an award-winning novelist writing Christian Romance and Fantasy. She says, “I feel blessed to be doing what I like best.”

She mentors all ages, teaching teenagers and weekly adult writing workshops.

“God must have imprinted 'teacher' on me clear down to the bone. I taught in public school, then home schooled my children, and worked in private schools. Now my writing week isn’t very productive unless I include some time with kids.”

Her two grown children make her proud, and her two grandsons make her laugh. You can read more about author Donita Paul at:

For more author interviews featured in The Wordsmith Journal:
Donna Fitts, Jocelyn Green, and Judith Hugg. 

About Mary Nichelson. 

Interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cooking Up Characters by Tina Pinson

Now, I don't actually mean I'm going to lay my poor sweet character on the chopping block and have my way at her with a Hachette, and make some kind goulash out of them. Nor will my character and I get all chummy, pull out our cookbooks and rustle up some grub.

Let’s face it. My characters aren't real. So to carry on a cooking conversation with anyone of them would be quite tough and I'd probably end up talking to myself.

But if I were to write a recipe for my character, what ingredients might I use?

Let's start with a dash emerald for eye color. Add a sprinkle of daisies for hair color. A couple of teaspoons of peaches and cream for her skin. D drizzle on some rose honey on her lips. I'd make her lean and lithe with just a pinch of fat. And voilĂ … the reader now has an idea about how my character might look.

Next I might garnish her with some clothes. Beings that I write Christian fiction, it is good to dress my characters. How I dress my character gives the reader insight to my character's tastes. It might tell you whether they are poor or wealthy.

Next we add dashes of their lives. Peel back the layers of their lives. I might sift in some spice about their job? Blend up whether married? Widowed? Single? Engaged?

From there I might sprinkle in some anecdotes from their past.

You might see how they grew up.

After I've added all these things, are you satisfied with the character? Or is she still just a bit one dimensional?

So after we've taken care of the aesthetics of a character, we need to begin to check out her psyche. What, beyond brushing her pretty blonde hair, or working her job, makes this character tick?

We need a dollop of heart. A smattering of emotion, (or maybe a gallon). We need to dice up her fears. Saute her hopes and dreams? How does she feel about herself? About the world around her?

The deeper I look in to my character, the more dimensional she becomes. The more I understand her. Is she funny? Sassy? A klutz?

Is she brave? Afraid? Driven? An Adventurer?

Granted… I'm not just going to list all this in a story. That would be utterly boring. But once I dissect my character and find out what makes her who she is, I can write her better. Write her and hopefully make a reader want to know more about her.

Here are some examples:

Read them and let me know what you learned, if anything, about the character.

From When Shadows Fall

His lips thin, his eyes lit with recognition. She saw a remnant of the man she loved and knew. He remained hidden deep behind the cover of sickness. She removed her costume hairpiece so he could see her hair. He smiled.

"Rebekah, love. It is you," his whisper was hoarse, weak. He could barely move. Following her movements with his hollow eyes only seemed to tax his strength, so he closed them. She wiped his fevered brow, allowed herself to cry, then laid beside him to rest. His breathing was labored, bones showed through his skin, but he was alive and she would do all she could to keep him that way.

"I love you," she whispered, and closed her swollen eyes to sleep.

Andrew woke, saw the man and practically planted himself in Rebekah. He stayed there shivering with fear until he realized who it was. "It's Daddy. Mommy."

Rebekah folded her arms around him. "Yes, darling, it's Daddy. And Daddy is very sick so we have to be very quiet. All right?"

Andrew nodded and took a closer look at Robert. Night had blanketed his wounds in the shadows. The light of day painted Robert's emaciation in full, horrific color. The look of him would unsettle anyone, especially a boy. Black rings encircled Robert's eyes. His skin was a pasty gray color that looked as flimsy as parchment. He was beyond sick. Rebekah wondered about the wounds that lay beneath the surface. She would concentrate on his physical healing and deal with the rest when the time arose.

Touched By Mercy

Jethro snorted and slapped his thigh. Allan sat in silence. Sam was at the Chicken Ranch. Allan had a dilemma of his own. How did he get Samantha to notice him? And what were Preston's intentions concerning her?
"So the Lord said you'd meet your new wife at the Chicken Ranch?" Jethro said with a mischievous smile.
"That's about the size of it." Preston's lips curled.
 "That does pose a problem. There's a house full of women over there."
Preston's eyes rolled. "You aren't telling me anything new, Jethro."

"Did the good Lord tell you how you'll know her? Any bolts out of the blue?" Allan flung his arm over the empty chair next to him.

"Maybe a letter from heaven," Jethro said solemnly. He and Allan looked up in quiet anticipation.

"Maybe a rash or a fever," Allan added, his gaze landing on Preston.
Preston sneered slightly. "All He said was, I'd know."
"Well, that poses a problem," Allan said.

"Jethro already said as much." Preston chuckled. "Are we talking about me or you?"
"Both of us," Allan declared. Saying what all three knew. "The Lord said your wife is inthat house and, while He didn't come out and specify mine was there, I've got my eye on someone. How can I be sure I'm not stepping in where the Lord wants you to be?"
Jethro laughed. "Have mercy, if this don't beat all." Allan looked at him through narrowed eyes. Jethro's hand went to his chest. "Don't look at me. I done picked my wife. You two have to work this out alone." With that he rose and left. Allan could hear him chuckling clean out the building.

From Counting Tessa
Strapped at her ankles and wrists; a prisoner in a birthing bed somewhere in the lowest corridor of a hospital with an unknown name, she lay panting. The lights sputtered and spit overhead, practically keeping time with the rhythm of her heart. A curse of life and death hung over her head. Life – the children in her womb. Death – her sentence when those children were born.
She prayed for the children to wait, but each contraction signaled their impatience. She prayed for freedom from her shackles, but her wrists were raw from trying to find release. The second hand of the large black and white clock continued to turn, ticking off the moments, giving her hope, however dismal, that she might greet the next day. But she knew when the solitary figure arrived—a dark angel in pale green scrubs—and uncovered a row of gleaming silver instruments, death awaited her.

What do you do to get to know your character better? Do you do a complete workup of them? So you understand them from the inside out. Learning their history? Their faith? Their fears?

Do tell?