Tuesday, March 31, 2015

How Far Would You Go?

You’ve a story brewing in your head or you’re busy putting it to paper, but how far would you go to research? The middle of the ocean? The moon? The ends of the earth?

The question is perhaps better phrased though as: What crazy things would you do all in the name of research?

Some years ago I did an author interview for ICFW with two-time Christy Award winner for Historical Fiction, Tracy Groot. Dr. R. de Rosset, Moody Bible Institute said of her, “Once again, Groot has done her homework.” During my interview with her, I was fascinated by the lengths Tracy goes in order to carry out her research. At that time she was working on a novel based on the life of Jonah. I asked her the following question—you’ll love her answer:

MARION: Tracy, you confess to being obsessively compulsive about research. Tell us about the crazy research you did for Jonah.

TRACY: I wanted to know what it was like to be thrown off a ship at full sail into the Mediterranean. So I went and did it. The salt was a surprise, since I live in Michigan near the Great Lakes and I’m used to fresh water. It cleared my sinuses in a most distracting way, when I’m trying my best to simulate drowning and take mental notes like a court stenographer hopped up on caffeine and Krispy Kremes. Yes, it was quite an adventure, and the captain I hired thought I was nuts. So did his crew. It was great. Not that it gave Americans a great name, they think we’re all insane writers who want to throw ourselves off full-sail ships.

Now I must admit that I would never throw myself off a ship in the middle of the ocean, however, I did go and dunk in an ice hole in the middle of winter, in the middle of Finland. In the name of research? Partly...

This past December and January, my husband, Noel, and I had the most amazing holiday in Budapest and Finland. While in Finland we drove all the way up to Lapland from Helsinki (one side of Finland to the other) just because I had planned to write a Lapland story for submission to my publisher’s Christmas Extravaganza line. Poles Apart birthed after our Lapland experience and I’m hoping to finish writing it this coming month. We met Santa Claus at his village in his home town, Rovaneimi—all in the name of research (and because we’d never done something like that before).

The Ueckermanns with Santa: Kyle, Tiia, Santa Clause, Marion and Noel
We built snowmen because it was fun, I was certain I’d need the experience for my Lapland story, and we’d never done something like that before. As you can see, we became quite the experts by our third (and very creative) snowman. The snow was also just right by that time (which in itself begs for a blog of its own).

And finally, we jumped in the avanto—that’s Finnish for ‘Hole in the Ice’—and rolled in the snow…in our bathing suits, although I was told when my husband went on his own with the men, the ritual was conducted in their birthday suits. So glad I stayed at home. Snow rolling and avanto happen right after heating up in a eighty degree celcius sauna. And you guessed it, all because I might need the experience in my Lapland story, and because we’d never done something like that before. I also knew that if I returned home to South Africa without having faced the avanto, I would never forgive myself for I may never pass that way again, never get the opportunity to do something that crazy and blame it on research.

Distance from sauna to lake and avanto 
Dipping in the avanto
Rolling in the snow
Anything we experience can be turned into ‘research’. Years ago, Noel and I were fortunate enough to experience riding an African elephant while in Zambia. Now, more than a decade later, I have used that experience in a novella, Orphaned Hearts, set in the same country. This story that I have just completed writing is part of a boxed set collaboration with an awesome group of international authors. The boxed set is due to release later this year and I am so excited to be dipping my feet into the Indie pond in this way.

Noel and I riding Danny, the biggest elephant there
and the smallest elephant there, 11 weeks old, playing in a drop of mud
Feeding Danny
While in Budapest, one of the first surprises my son, Kyle, had planned for us was a visit to the ‘Invisible Exhibition’. Noel and I made all kinds of assumptions as to what we could be doing. I was convinced it was a hologram exhibit.

The Invisible Exhibition
We should have guessed by the tell-tale signs on the way—the cow wearing the darkest of shades, and the braille on the signage outside our destination. Even the stories of Ray Charles, Hungarian-born pianist Tamás Érdi, and the likes didn’t quite prepare us for what lay ahead with this invisible exhibition. It was only when our blind guide told us to leave behind our cellphones and our spectacles—if we wore them, because we wouldn’t need them—that it started to dawn on us what we were about to see.


For the next hour we were plunged into total darkness, needing to rely on our senses of touch, sound and scent as we experienced life as a blind person. All the while as I walked through this black maze consisting of an apartment, a market, a road, a forest, a woodcutter’s cottage, a museum and a bar, I was taking mental notes, wishing I had a pen and paper (not that it would have helped as I could see nothing). This was research. I could use this experience in a book one day, and in fact, I vowed that I would.

Finally, I’ve a story developing which I plan to pen after I return from the ACFW conference in Dallas, Texas in September. My return trip has a seven-and-a-half-hour stop-over in Madrid, and I intend using some of those hours to research the city where my blind flamenco dancer will come to life for the next Passport to Romance novella I intend writing.

So tell me, what experiences have you been able to use in your writing? Or are there some that you intend to use? I would love to hear your stories.

MARION UECKERMANN's passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles and stories in Winners, The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter (Tyndale House Publishers), Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven, and her debut novella, Helsinki Sunrise (White Rose Publishing, a Pelican Book Group imprint, Passport to Romance series). Her second Passport to Romance novella, Oslo Overtures, will be published in 2015. Marion blogs for International Christian Fiction Writers, Beauty for Ashes and Inspy Romance. She belongs to Christian Writers of South Africa and American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.

Passport to Romance

Monday, March 30, 2015

Book Recommendation: Taken by Lisa Harris

Book Description:


Kate Elliot's suburban life turns upside down when her sister is shot and her niece kidnapped. Unsure of whom to trust, she turns to FBI agent Marcus O'Brian. But Kate doesn't want to leave the case to the authorities. Against the handsome agent's orders, she tracks her niece to Paris, and the City of Light quickly becomes a city of danger. Marcus can't explain why he feels such a strong connection with the headstrong woman, but soon he's taking on the role of Kate's protector. Yet when the kidnappers demand a ransom Kate can't deliver, he's not sure how much longer he can keep her alive. Now Marcus has the next twenty-four hours to save a stolen child and the woman he's grown to love.

Narelle's thoughts:

I’m a fan of Lisa’s books and I loved reading Taken. I read it quickly, within twenty four hours, because I couldn’t put it down. The story starts in the middle of the action, when Kate’s niece is kidnapped from her mother’s home. Distraught and desperate to rescue her niece, Kate travels from Texas to Paris and soon realizes her own life is at stake. Forced to rely on Marcus, she sees a different side of the handsome FBI agent who is protecting her.

I really enjoyed the French story setting in Paris and the inclusion of many historic and famous landmarks. The characterisation was excellent and I loved the way the romance developed between Marcus and Kate. I wanted to see Marcus and Kate stay alive to achieve their own happily-ever-after ending. The suspense plot kept me guessing until the end, with exciting twists and turns along the way.

I highly recommend Taken to readers who are looking for a high octane and fast paced romantic suspense story set in beautiful Paris.

Learn more about Lisa and her books at her website.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


Coming Up This Week


Narelle Atkins - Book Recommendation: Taken by Lisa Harris


Marion Ueckermann - How Far Would You Go?


Eva Maria Hamilton


Grace Bridges

Friday Devotion

Shirley Corder - Sunday's Coming!


New Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Dandelions for Dinner, Book 4 in the Farm Fresh Romance series, is a March 2015 independent release.


Upcoming Releases

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance novella set in Riverbend, BC, Canada, Pinky Promise, will be an April 2015 independent release.

Narelle Atkins' contemporary romance set in Australia, Seaside Proposal, will be a May 2015 release from Love Inspired Heartsong Presents.

Sandra Orchard’s romantic mystery set in Niagara, Canada, Desperate Measures, Book 3 in her Port Aster’s Secrets series, will be a June 2015 release from Revell.

Dianne J. Wilson's romantic suspense set in South Africa, Finding Mia, will be a June 2015 release from Harbourlight.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Plum Upside Down, Book 5 in the Farm Fresh Romance series, releases independently in summer 2015.

To find more International Christian Fiction books, please visit our 2013 - 2015 Book Releases page and Backlist Titles.

Friday, March 27, 2015

DEVOTION: The Man with a Broom in His Hands ~ by Marcia Lee Laycock

The day had been hot and the walk through the gardens longer than I had anticipated. I was among the first few people to return to the tour bus that day and it was a relief to step into the air-conditioned environment. As we waited for the others to return, our driver called our attention to a man in the parking lot. 

“See that guy?” he asked. The man was dressed in overalls, with a base-ball cap pulled down to shade his eyes as he pushed a long broom toward the gutter. He looked like any other maintenance man you might see in a park. The driver paused for effect. “He’s the owner of this place.” He let the words sink in. “In fact, he’s the one who created it.”

I stared out the window again. I thought of all the beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees we had just seen, the landscaping that had been done with skill and attention to detail. The gardens were world-renowned for good reason. I was shocked that the man who was responsible for it all was sweeping the parking lot. As our bus rolled away, I watched a large crowd heading for the entrance. They flowed around the man in the over-alls like water around a rock. No-one spoke to him. No-one even seemed to notice him. I wondered what they’d do and say if they knew who he was.

How often do we do that to God? Even if we acknowledge that he did create the world we live in, we think of him as the executive who stays in his office and calls the shots from there. We don’t expect to find him with a broom in his hands. But that’s exactly where God is. He is present with us in every circumstance. Even better, His Spirit is living in us and working through us. He has His hands on the same broom we do. He walks the same roads, drives the same highways. He’s here, waiting for us to see Him, waiting for us to acknowledge his presence.

I still wonder what those people would have said and done, had they known who that man with the broom was. I wonder if they would have thanked him for the treasure he created and opened for their pleasure. I wonder if they would have been in awe, or just a little bit intimidated. And I wonder why it was we who knew sat in our seats and did nothing. We didn’t rush out and shake his hand. We didn’t express our thankfulness for the beauty we’d just seen and experienced. We drove away, watching that crowd ignore him.

There are a lot of verses in scripture that can be used to praise God, to thank Him, to give Him glory. The Psalms are full of them. Perhaps we should all take a moment to read a few, not just out of obligation or habit, but with heart-felt emotion, to acknowledge Him. For, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise” (Ps.145:3).

Marcia Lee Laycock lives and writes in Central Alberta, Canada where she lives with her husband and two golden retrievers. Her work has appeared in print in both Canada and the U.S. and in many places on the world wide web. Visit her website to learn more about her writing and speaking ministry.

Marcia is the author of One Smooth Stone and A Tumbled Stone, and the devotional Spur of the Moment - available at Christian bookstores or from Amazon. Or order by emailing directly. Contact Marcia via her website to sign up to receive her weekly devotional, The Spur. 

Download Abundant Rain, a devotional for writers of faith at Smashwords.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Keeping our own writing counsel

Last year, I began meeting with a younger author at her request, in order to help bring her dream of writing her first work of non-fiction to reality. Her eagerness to learn was obvious from the outset. Whenever I referred to a particular book about writing, she would note its name and want to borrow or buy it. Whenever I mentioned an online writers’ group she might like to join or a writer’s blog she might like to check out, that is what she did. And when I told her about a Christian writers’ conference here in Australia, she was among the first to book in.

My young friend is a delight. I know she respects me and listens to my suggestions. But, much more importantly, she has a deep love for the Lord and is passionate about wanting her own experiences in life to count for the Kingdom. Believing God wants her to write her book, she has worked hard at mapping it all out systematically in a way I have never done with any of my own and has now completed some of her early chapters. I am in awe of her enthusiastic and thorough approach to it all.

But there is another way in which our writing approaches differ. I have discovered my friend is quite happy to show these early chapters to her writing group and to others who are prepared to critique her work, in order to receive as much feedback as possible. As we talked about this, she explained she has always been a collaborative worker, willing to use the skills and gifts of others to get things done. So she is happy to take on board any comments and criticisms, even at this early stage. I, on the other hand, cringed when I heard what she was doing. I felt it could be a little confusing for her and perhaps even hamper her from developing her own writing style.

But then I began to question myself. I had never shown my work to others in those early stages at least. Was it merely my pride and my inability to receive criticism that had caused me to keep my work to myself until it was almost complete? Imagine my recent relief then, when, on reading Dorothea Brande’s book, Becoming A Writer, written way back in 1934, I came across the following in a section entitled ‘Keep your own counsel’:
When you have completed a fair first draft you can, if you like, offer it for criticism and advice; but to talk too early is a grave mistake.  (p 52, 1981 Tarcher/Penguin edition)
The author reasoned that, if we share our work with others while it is still taking shape, we have already received their responses and will be less motivated to complete all the developing and polishing our manuscript needs. Perhaps this then accounted, in part at least, for my reticence in sharing my own work too early and the shudder that ran through me when my friend told me how freely she was showing those early chapters to others.

How about you? Have you found it is good to show your manuscript to critique partners early on so you can fix any key problems? Or do you, like me, prefer to ‘keep your own counsel’ until that first draft is complete?

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney, Australia. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Romance and Suspense in Historic India

“I believe in happy endings,” writes Christine Lindsay. “I believe in love and family and friendship. I believe in all of these things because I believe in a benevolent heavenly Father who wrote the wonderful story of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, for all mankind.”

Christine’s story, Veiled at Midnight, the last in her Twilight of the Raj series, celebrates all those things in the midst of one of the most tragic periods of modern history. India is falling into violence as the Muslim League and Hindu Congress fight for separate states, massacring one another in the process. Miriam Fraser’s students at Kinaird College for Women in Lahore come from a variety of religious communities. Can they model unity in the confusion? Will her passion for teaching them stand as a dashing English officer begs her to return with him to the safety of British colonial rule? Her brother, Captain Cameron Fraser has fallen in love with an Indian orphan girl they were raised with at the mission where their parents served, but his estranged childhood friend, another orphan, loves her too and will do anything to keep them apart.

Filled with romance, suspense, history and spiritual insight, this book swept me up from its opening rail disaster to its final escape amidst the murderous mobs. Christine’s writing brings to life the Indian subcontinent with its sights, smells and rich cultures. She portrays both English and Indian characters with amazing authenticity.

Christine is a regular writer on this blog and I was eager to talk to her about her book.

Christine, I understand you had never been to India when you wrote the first book in this series, Shadowed in Silk (about Cam’s parents). What drew you to India and the Indian people in the first place?

Christine Lindsay: When I was about twelve I read a true-life book about a young girl in India who was studying to be a doctor at Dr. Ida Scudder’s hospital in the south of India. This girl was highly intelligent, but imprisoned by her poverty she would never have been able to study if not for missionary organizations. I felt so much for this girl. Later in my life at church prayer meetings here in Canada, I learned about other caring organizations such as the Ramabai Mukti Mission close to Bombay. These stories inspired me so that when I started writing historical fiction, it was India that held my heart and interest.

LH: What was the biggest challenge of writing about a place you had never been?

CL: The tremendous amount of research. I must have read close to 100 books: auto-biographies of British and American people who went to live in India, missionaries, wives of political leaders, soldier’s wives, Indian politics, religions, Indian women, travel books, etc.  Even parts of my own ancestry since several relatives served in the British military in India, including a great uncle at the time of Lord Mountbatten.

LH: You visited India between that book and the next. Tell us a little about your trip and how it enriched your writing.

CL: My visit in 2010 was a highlight of my life. I hope to visit again one day as my birth-daughter serves in an administrative role with Global Aid Network and the Mukti Mission that I mentioned. But in 2010, on a missionary trip with Children’s Camps International I observed their wonderful program that teaches children about Christ through fun and songs. My fascination with India grew into genuine love for the people.

LH: Many of your major characters are Indian, not English, and yet you manage to portray them with great sensitivity. What do you think enabled you to do that?

CL: I learned a great deal about Indian character from the block-buster novelist MM Kaye. She didn’t write Christian fiction, but she wrote fantastic historical novels set in British India. But I also live in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia Canada, home to a large Indian community. Eating Indian food, seeing their gorgeous culture has allowed me to see the Indian people as my neighbours, as friends, and dearly beloved people of God.

LH: Your characters have a deep love for India and commitment to serving the Lord there. Where did you see that in your own experience?

CL: Sadly, I still see a lot of distrust of Indian people in the community. It is changing, but in the younger generations, and from Christians. It has been from Christian missionaries that I’ve seen the greatest love shown to Indian people. I’m not sure why, but somehow the Lord instilled in me an intense anger when I hear about or see racial bias. I suppose I write my stories as a way of saying, “Hey there! God loves these people; He sent His son to die for them same as He died for you, so you should love them too.”

LH: Most of your readers are neither Muslim nor Hindu. What would you like us to take away from your story?

CL: We Christians especially must realize how much the Lord Jesus loves these people who are so diligently searching for God. But, we see so much mistrust of Muslims and Hindus today. I can understand that fear when I watch the atrocities on the news. ISIS freezes my blood. But I remind myself that these terrorists are just as merciless to their own people, especially to their women. This was true in history and is true today.

I’m not a missionary, only a writer, but I think we should all try to care and do what we can through organizations that are working to help people who are being downtrodden by fanaticism.

LH: This is the last of your Twilight of the Raj series. What are you working on now?

CL: I’m trying to finish the true-life story of my relinquishment of my first child to adoption. I was unmarried when I became pregnant,  and made the painful decision to give her up.

The Lord used that heart-breaking decision to teach me so much about Himself. Sarah and I were reunited 20 years later, and today we have a wonderful relationship. God used each of our passions—hers to be a missionary nurse to widows and children around the world, and mine to write about suffering women and children around the world—to draw our hearts into a very special birth-mom and birth-daughter relationship.

LH: We will look forward to hearing your personal story. Thank you so much for sharing with us here today.


LeAnne Hardy's first international experience was a visit to India and Pakistan as a child. Since then she lived in six countries on four continents. Her fiction reflects her faith, her passion for storytelling that stretches the mind and soul, and the cultures she has lived in. Learn more at www.leannehardy.net .

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Is your passion your passion?

What drives you? What is your passion? Are you living that passion? Or are working towards achieving it?

For a good number of people on this blog, the dream of being a published author has been achieved. For others, steps are hopefully being taken to achieve those goals. But what happens when you are pursuing a dream that you come to realise is not your passion?

Coming from an African background I remember that as a little girl growing up, and into my early university years my Dad wanted me to be a lawyer. Professions like Medicine and Law are extremely well respected in Nigeria and having a daughter as a lawyer or doctor would have made him puff out his chest and probably be the envy of his friends.

That wasn’t to be though. And even now many, many years later when my Dad complains about the fact that I don’t yet have children, I remind him that everyone has different journeys. Some things happen sooner for some and later for others. Hey, maybe I’m just a late bloomer.

So anyway, back to dreams and passions. I’ve always loved books and I’ve always had a vivid imagination, so the desire to write is only natural. I had an idea for a novel. I developed the characters and began to write. I had so much fun crafting the story and interacting with the characters. I couldn’t wait to finish my day job and rush to my ‘people’. You know what I mean.

I went to my first writers conference a few years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting other writers and aspiring writers. What came as a shock to me was the critique of my work. Not so much for the content, but for some technicalities, like POV, showing and not telling, etc. I was shocked. I was so busy having fun in my relationship with my characters that I totally forgot about the technical side of creative writing! All good though, but what happened a short time later has sometimes made me wonder about this dream of mine.

I got seriously distracted from writing immediately after the conference. I was still writing, but as this was the editing phase, it wasn’t as much fun. Then I relocated to another country for a few months and was involved in a ‘strange’ relationship that sapped my creativity. It took a while to recover, but despite all that, I learnt a lot from the experience and it has worked towards making me the person I am today.

So as I said, it’s taken a while and a lot of that ‘while’ meant forcing myself to develop the discipline to continue writing and editing my work. I thank God that I am back to enjoying writing again.

I have learnt that while I am passionate about writing, it is not my only passion. During the ‘dry’ season I can’t tell you how many people came up to me to ask when I was getting published. If only it was that easy. After trying to explain the process of getting an agent first and then God willing, getting your manuscript sold, I just didn’t bother.

I love writing, and I also love helping people ‘get it.’ Getting it could be learning a new skill or realising their potential, or understanding how something works.

I write, I train, I coach. I know my passions. I am a lot clearer about my purpose. Thank God.

Ufuoma Daniella Ojo is a Senior Technical Author and Software Trainer. She is working on some new stories about relationships and is trusting God for connections leading to publication.