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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

To listen or not to listen?

Recently, during a promotional visit to a bookstore in Melbourne, I received a wonderful surprise. A lady
with whom I had connected only via email in the past made a special effort to drop by and meet me in person. This lady works for an organisation that helps those with visual impairment or ‘print disability'--her role includes acquiring books for possible recording for the audio lending library this organisation runs. A few years ago, an elderly friend badly wanted to read my first two novels but the print was too small for her. She told this organisation about my books and asked if they could record them. After some time, they contacted me and the upshot was that, over the next little while, my first three novels were produced as audio books. I was sent a copy of each in their special DAISY mp3 format—and I thought that was the end of it all.

However, when this lady met me recently, she told me they had now completed my fourth and fifth novels and were about to start on my memoir Soul Friend. As well, she also wanted to purchase my latest novel The Inheritance, with a view to recording it. A few days later, she emailed to say she was forwarding the recordings of my fourth and fifth novels so I would have all my books they had produced so far.

But here is my dilemma. While I love having these copies, I have not as yet been able to bring myself to listen to any of them! I know they are  professionally produced—the person who narrated them is a well known and very gifted actor from stage and screen here in Australia and has a beautiful speaking voice. But I am certain that, because these were my first novels, I would want to change so much of what I would hear, which would definitely dampen my enjoyment of the whole experience. I imagine it is a little like artists might feel when viewing their early efforts at painting. Surely their fingers must itch to alter or touch up this or that!

Perhaps the best way to approach it all is for me to listen to those recordings with an accepting heart and mind, acknowledge the stylistic changes I would now make, and simply be thankful for how far I have come since those earlier writing efforts. We all learn as we go and we all have to begin somewhere. And, stylistic issues aside, the stories they contain still touch readers, I have discovered, who are often not as critical as those of us who write! Then again ... is it better not to listen and instead to keep moving forward, writing the best I can at this point?

What would you decide in this instance? Would you listen or not?

All questions aside, I am honoured and grateful that those recordings have been made—especially my third novel Laura, which is the story of a girl who becomes blind as a child. I love the idea that those for whom most books are inaccessible can choose to hear my books, if they so desire. God has ways of blessing us far beyond what we could ever imagine, don’t you agree?

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. 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 three grandchildren. For more information, please visit or

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Writing about Culture

Sigh. Not this year in Grand Rapids,
but at least it didn't snow!
(until the following week ...)
I’ve just returned from one of my favourite writing conferences—Calvin College’s Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This conference is not just for writers. It brings together librarians, English teachers and ordinary readers as well. And it’s about faith, not just evangelical Christianity. As someone who is always interested in how faith is presented in literature and popular writing, I find this particularly stretching.

I’m also someone who often writes about people and settings outside the US. I was particularly interested this year in Mitali Perkins’ session entitled, “It’s Just Fiction: Reading and Writing About Race, Culture and Power.” Perkins (who, BTW, is a woman—she says she wonders if the ambiguity of her name helps her with male readers) was born in Calcutta of refugee parents who fled then-East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) following the 1948 partition of India. She has moved A LOT internationally and is married to a pastor in the US, making her eminently qualified to speak to questions of how culture is presented.

Perkins speaks of fiction as windows and mirrors—windows where we see out into the wider world; mirrors that help us to better see ourselves. She gave us tips to evaluate the treatment of people of other cultures in our reading and writing. As you read these points, think about how your home culture is represented in fiction and what assumptions you make about other cultures when you read or write about them.

1. Watch for the noble savage. This character is not presented in a denigrating way. The author no doubt thought he or she was doing a good deed by elevating the stereotype to a positive role. Perkins describes this as the “Morgan Freeman character.” But he has no backstory—no realistic context that makes him a human any reader can identify with.

2. Watch for the smart or good foil to the main character. Again, this is likely to be a token character of color with no rooting in his own community. It does nothing to enrich our understanding of people of this alternative culture group.

3. Does the cover art portray this non-white culture as romantic or exotic? Or does it “white”wash the culture in order to attract white readers? Neither focusing on ethnicity nor avoiding it does justice to members of the culture group.

4. When and how is race defined if at all? Are only people of color described by their skin, assuming a white default? There IS a white default in American thinking. Remember the outcry when Rue was cast as black in The Hunger Games movie although the author clearly describes her as having dark skin? Perkins is not saying we should not indicate race; she is asking us to do it in ways that do not make people of non-European backgrounds sound like the weird ones.

5. Is diversity appropriate to the setting? I’m currently writing about 16th century Britain. If I stuck in black or brown people, I’d better have a darn good reason for their being there. Diversity for diversity’s sake doesn’t work. Again it detracts from the reality of the characters by depriving them of personal and family histories.

6. How is beauty defined in the book? Perkins talked about “shadism” which is strong in the African and Latin American cultures where I have lived. Light is good; dark is bad. I have often wondered how the child called “negrinho” (little dark one) by his mother sees himself in relation to his lighter-skinned brothers and sisters.

7. Does the author use a bridge character to bring in American readers? Maybe it is a tourist or a new teacher going to the other cultural community. That character will not be able to present the culture in the same way an insider will.

8. Is there a single story of this other culture, for example, Africa equals poverty, war and AIDS? Africa does NOT equal poverty, war and AIDS. When I returned from three years doing story hours with orphans and vulnerable children in the townships of Johannesburg, people commented with surprise that the children in my pictures were smiling and laughing. They may be orphans, but that is not the sum total of who they are.

9. Who has the power to affect change in this story? Is the white outsider the savior (all too easy when the main character is a bridge character from America)? Or are people within the culture presented as being the masters of their own fates?

10. Does the storyteller have the authenticity to tell this story or do they come from an outside position of power and privilege? Of course, that is always the question—can a man write a woman’s POV? Can a woman write a man’s POV? Can an adult really claim to represent a child fairly?

As a white person from North America who sometimes writes about black Africa, I have struggled with this last one. Frankly, I would love to be coaching African writers to tell their own stories, and I have done some of that, conducting workshops in Kenya and corresponding with African writers via e-mail. I could never have told the story of the civil war in Mozambique where I lived in the 1980s from the standpoint of Mozambicans, so I made my main character in The Wooden Ox an American missionary kid whose family is kidnapped by rebels. She identifies with the Africans she meets, but I don’t pretend to understand them from the inside. And neither Keri nor her family is their savior. They are in need of being saved. In the same way, I knew I couldn’t tell the stories of the orphans and child heads of households I read stories with in Tembisa and Alexandra, so I made my main character in Keeping Secrets a middle class girl whose family can no longer afford to live in the cosmopolitan suburb of Kempton Park where she grew up. Her classmates call Sindi “coconut,” a position black teens in my middle class South African church identified with. Her passion for figure skating draws focus away from the single-story of HIV. (Or at least, that's what I hoped to do.)

So which of Mitali Perkins’ points have you struggled with in your own writing about culture? How have you attempted to solve the problems she raises? How have you seen your own home culture misrepresented in books intended for an American audience?

[Although Mitali Perkins writes mainstream fiction for young adults, she readily identifies as a Jesus follower. Here is a link to her testimony.]


LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. She's dying to read Mitali Perkins' books. LeAnne's fiction reflects her faith, her passion for storytelling that stretches the mind, and the cultures she has lived in. Learn more at .

Monday, April 21, 2014

Self-help within the pages of fiction

Fiction is a genre I enjoy writing, but when I visit libraries and bookshops I also love to browse the self help and personal development sections. I'm always open to the idea of improving something and if any of these books contain ideas I've been overlooking all my life, so much the better. They often boost my mood when I read them; particularly those with lively anecdotes and stories. Perhaps anybody who has been borrowing and purchasing self help books for as long as I have ought to have their act far more together than I do. That's an interesting thought.

Once I found a website which listed what compilers called history's Top 100 self help books. I realised that I'd already read a huge chunk of them, which left me puzzled. Surely, in that case, I ought to have what it takes then, whatever "it" is. My husband said, "Maybe you have too many self help books. I think people ought to choose just one and then stick to it."

Well, recently I found Og Mandino's The Greatest Miracle in the World in a second hand shop for 10c, which proved to be a great bargain. It's a personal development book disguised as a fictional story. The mentor character, Simon Potter, tells Mandino that he'd spent several years dissecting all the great self help books which had ever been written, trying to extract their essence. He listed Norman Vincent Peale, Dale Carnegie, James Allen, Napoleon Hill and many others I've read over the years. Finally, he was able to compress their messages down to 5 main points, a bit like reducing a scientific substance to its chief elements. Rather than suggesting you all go out to buy the book, I'll tell you what they are.

1) Count your blessings.
2) Recognise and appreciate your uniqueness.
3) Go the extra mile.
4) Use your power of choice wisely.
5) Do all of the above with an attitude of love.

It made a lot of sense to me, especially as God IS love. I'm sure that anybody who follows each of these straightforward suggestions consistently cannot help improving their mindset and condition.

Now, here is the unexpected thing that helped me. I'd just done something silly which I was paying myself out over, and I wanted to forget about. I don't know why, but I randomly decided to read a few pages of A Design of Gold, one of my own novels I've written. It was published in 2009 and since then, I've worked on three others and forgotten some of its finer details. Well, I found myself drawn into the story of how my characters Michael and Jerome had fallen down a pit (an apt analogy but pardon the pun). Their feelings and points of view really struck home with me. I even felt like cheering them on as they realised that they needed to change their thinking patterns to improve their lives. It was great for me to re-visit these two young guys with a fresh perspective.

I decided that the advice they gave each down the mineshaft was good and to take it on board myself. It was all about how a simple shift in the way individuals think about themselves can make an enormous difference to their personal satisfaction levels, even when nothing else changes. Can characters actually be wiser than the author who wrote them? Well, I have to say yes, I think so. At least we all may forget some of the wisdom we once knew. I was smiling for the rest of the day, to think that a story I wrote back in 2008 was now coming back to bless me. It felt a bit surreal in a very pleasant way. I never would have thought of myself as a self help agent, but hey, why not? Maybe I didn't need to spend all the money on self help resources.
 Paula Vince is an author of contemporary inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia, which she enjoys using as the setting for her novels. She enjoys filling her stories with a bit of mystery, suspense and romance.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Coming Up This Week


Paula Vince


LeAnne Hardy: Writing about Culture


Jo-Anne Berthelsen: To listen or not to listen?


Narelle Atkins: Balancing book marketing and writing time (plus book giveaway)

Friday Devotion

Pam Forde Davis: The Good Tutor



Lisa Harris' romantic suspense novel, Dangerous Passage (Revell, 2013), is a 2014 Christy Award finalist in the Contemporary/Romance/Suspense category - congratulations Lisa!


New Book Releases

Paula Vince's contemporary romance set in Australia, Imogen's Chance, will be an April 2014 release from Even Before Publishing.


Upcoming Book Releases

Narelle Atkins' contemporary romance set in Australia, The Nurse's Perfect Match, will be a May 2014 release from Love Inspired Heartsong Presents.

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in the US, Fatal Exchange, will be a May 2014 release from Revell. 

Narelle Atkins' contemporary romance set in Australia, The Doctor's Return, will be an August 2014 release from Love Inspired Heartsong Presents.

Christine Lindsay's historical romance, Veiled at Midnight, Book 3 of Twilight of the British Raj series, will be a September 2014 release from WhiteFire Publishing.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance novella is included in Snowflake Tiara, a September 2014 release from Choose NOW Publishing. Her novella, The Model Queen, will be paired with author Angela Breidenbach's historical novella, The Debutante Queen, both set in the US.

Narelle Atkins' contemporary romance set in Australia, Her Tycoon Hero, will be a November 2014 release from Love Inspired Heartsong Presents.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Sweetened with Honey, Book 3 in the Farm Fresh Romance series, will be a March 2015 release from Choose NOW Publishing.

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

Happy Easter! We hope you have a blessed Easter Sunday as we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Friday, April 18, 2014

DEVOTION: He Is Risen Indeed! ~ by Kathi Macias

"He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay" 
(Matthew 28:6, NKJV).

“The Old Rugged Cross” will always be one of my favorite hymns, for the old rugged Cross is where the costly, bloody price was paid for my sin—and for yours. Without it, we would all be without hope in this world.

But the story doesn’t end at the Cross. Though we focus on that great sacrificial symbol throughout Holy Week—and rightfully so—that beloved Cross would be meaningless and powerless if it hadn’t culminated in the empty tomb. On Easter morning, our focus moves from Christ’s death to His Resurrection, for that is what we truly celebrate.

Without the empty tomb, the Cross, as precious as it is to those of us who have personally identified with its sacrifice, would be the saddest emblem in history, the symbol of the worst failure and defeat of all time. For if Christ had not risen from the dead, then He would merely have been a nice man who performed good deeds, modeled a good life, and then died a martyr, deserted by His followers, leaving nothing more than an example behind.

Praise be to God that the Story did NOT end there! God accepted His Son’s sacrifice, and visibly exhibited His acceptance by raising Jesus from the dead and restoring Him to power at the right hand of the Father. That very acceptance, shown in the Resurrection, is our insurance of resurrection as well. Because humanity had turned away from God, each choosing to go his or her own way, a tremendous price had to be paid to restore us to relationship with God. That price could only be paid by One without sin. 

No human being has ever met that criterion, except the One who was both Man and God—Jesus Christ Himself. Out of a depth of love that we can’t even begin to imagine, God sent His only Son to be that sinless sacrifice. Out of that same unconditional love, the Son willingly came and suffered an excruciating death on our behalf. But three days after being placed in the grave, He burst the bonds of death and hell and arose, victorious, opening the door to heaven once again.

That old rugged Cross will always be precious to me, but it is the empty tomb I will celebrate this Easter. May you too join the many choruses of hallelujahs resounding around the globe this Sunday morning as we celebrate the pivotal point of all history, the empty tomb!

Kathi Macias is a multi-award winning writer who has authored nearly 40 books and ghostwritten several others. A former newspaper columnist and string reporter, Kathi has taught creative and business writing in various venues and has been a guest on many radio and television programs. 

Kathi is a popular speaker at churches, women’s clubs and retreats, and writers’ conferences. She won the 2008 Member of the Year award from AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) and was the 2011 Author of the Year from Kathi “Easy Writer” Macias lives in Homeland, CA, with her husband.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Predictability and Bravery

"Trust Me, and don't be afraid. Many things feel out of control. Your routines are not running smoothly. You tend to feel more secure when your life is predictable. Let Me lead you to the rock that is higher than you and your circumstances. Take refuge in the shelter of My wings, where you are absolutely secure...say 'yes' to the ways I work in your life. Trust Me, and do not be afraid."  'Jesus Calling' by Sarah Young, April 15th.

We have been trying to move for a year and a half. 
We have looked at about 15 homes, made offers on five, had one full house inspection and had 5 house inspections cancelled in a month on one house.
Our house has been waiting for new owners and we have been waiting with our boxes packed, our extras in storage and the bathroom toilets constantly wiped clean.
Seventy-five tomato seedlings, thirty artichokes, one hundred onions and leeks, twenty strawberry plants, Echinacea, rudbeckia, petunias, lavender, lettuces, and lilies are crammed onto a grow-shelf, reaching for the backyard garden that has been freshly raked and turned. 

I put a sign on our backdoor, leading to the garage that says, 'We will move into our dream home by April 2014'.  It's the 15th.  Fifteen days to go. 
My heart is all over the place. My brain won't turn off.
We have another offer on a house.  They accepted and now we are waiting for the bank to say, 'yes'. 
The owners are anxious to leave, their home already half-empty.
We are anxious to leave, our home already half-empty, our hearts already dreaming about living in a our dream house. A house that we thought was house 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, then 6. Each house more amazing than the next.  But this house is such a huge dream, I'm terrified.

An old stone home.  Eighty-six acres of forest surrounding us, including ready-to-tap maples.  Open spaces around the home that just happen to all face south, so they can be turned and tilled and I can plant my seedlings into their waiting rich soil.  An extra garage/outbuilding to put in a gymnastics practice-gym for the boy and is insulated for his drum set.  Space and the materials for my greenhouse - that I have dreamt about since University, because I want to create new species of flowers.

I have moved twenty-one times in my forty years.  The longest I have ever rested in a home, was this one. The one we are in now.  Our son grew up here, little notches on the wall that have been taken down and transferred to a beam for now.  The back patio where he rode his tricycle, the tree house with a zip-line and rope bridge that he still plays on, although he does flips off of it now.  My gorgeous peonies that I propagated and split and cultivated just popping up through the soil.  The circle in front of our house where I can watch my son and husband play catch, badminton, ride their bmx bikes on new jumps they built.

I'm terrified to leave.  It's in a whole new city, a whole new area that I am completely unfamiliar with.  I'm terrified of new adventure, now.  Before, I could leave at the drop of a hat, move to another house no problem. But now?  Change terrifies me. And what terrifies me even more, is that my heart is falling in love with this stone house and her land. And I'm terrified it will be taken away.  The bank will say no. We won't sell our house.
I know I'm being ridiculous, but life has been the same for seven years.  I know my house inside and out.  I know when a new creak appears on the stairs, I know the robins that visit, I know that the monarchs will come again because I planted milkweed, and the bees are plentiful in my tiny yard.
I've tried using my imagination and photos to create my new space, to know where the furniture will go, where I will hang my paintings and photos.  Where will I put our king-size bed when the rooms are too small?

I hate this feeling of not knowing.  It's not like wondering if you'll get a certain job, because I can make my brain say, 'it's ok, something better will come'.  Because my heart is already living there, and I'm terrified she'll be broken with disappointment.  Sure I can stay here another year, if we have to.  I'd have to give away a lot of my seedlings because my yard will not fit that many tomatoes. 

I think it's time to be brave.  To go out and wait for my heart to get broken... or be fed beyond her wildest dreams.  I know God has this, I know my Heavenly Father has us all in His hands, and His blessings will be beyond measure and my heart will be full.  And that I choose to be grateful, no matter what.
But I also believe in dreams coming true.  So I will never stop chasing them.

So you there. The one with the dreams.  Be brave. Be unpredictable.  Be strong.

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation." Is 12:2

Jenn Kelly is an author who has found her new character for her new novel which will be written at some point.  She is often thoughtful, but mostly crazy. You can find her at, but she hasn't been there in awhile. She prays for your bravery.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


by Marion Ueckermann

I’m born and bred African. My birth and the first six years of my life were spent in Mufulira, Zambia, close to the Congo. After that I spent my childhood in a small town right beside the Kruger National Park.  When I finished school I moved to Johannesburg, some 600 kilometers away. I married and raised my children in suburbia Jo’burg and Pretoria (bar the 18 months we spent overseas in Ireland).

Africa is synonymous with wildlife, bugs and critters, and it’s not uncommon for children to find tortoises, chameleons, and a host of other strange pets to keep them occupied and entertained for a while.

One of our greatest wildlife pets we had was a hedgehog. Then we had two. Sadly, they found the back door leading inside from our garden, probably dashed through our house to the front door, and escaped. We were sad, especially my youngest son. But it was fun to have them while it lasted.

Dinner time

I think they were planning their escape.

And right here is probably where they got the idea to escape through the house.
My son, Kyle, aged 12 then with one of his pet hedgehogs.

 In January last year, I joined ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), and subsequently their Scribes critique group. During my time there I have made friends with some wonderful critters. Many of them having stayed the course of two novelettes with me, and many have become good cyber friends.

Each of these woman come with their own set of strengths, but together, they’ve allowed me to submit a manuscript that was as close to perfect as I could get it, and subsequently was contracted for publication. I’m hoping that, with their help, a second will follow soon.

So, I wanted to share a little about a few of them.

First, there’s Sondra, who’s brilliant at noticing those unnecessary words. I’ve gotten to the place of trusting those red lines that come with her crits.

Sondra Kraak grew up in Seattle, Washington, studying writing and theology, and now resides in North Carolina with her husband and two children. A musician, writer, and theologian, she serves her church through music ministry and Bible teaching. She has recently finished her first novel and is seeking publication. When she's not writing, playing the piano, or tending her home and family, she might be hiking in the mountains that surround her home, reading, or sharing coffee with a friend.
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Diane is my Comma Queen (and she loves the title I’ve bestowed on her). If a comma should be there, Diane will spot it and rectify my run-on sentences.

Diane Tatum started writing her own stories in 6th grade. After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Business Administration and later a Masters in Teaching Language Arts—raising her boys in between—she began writing again. She did freelance writing for magazines and church Sunday school curriculum. Her novel, Gold Earrings, was published in 2011. She’s completed a second and third novel, A Time to Choose and Colonial Dream. Diane loves creating characters that become deeper and fuller as the story evolves.
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Heidi’s writing is as vibrant as those gorgeous eyes of hers, and she’s always on the same page as me. We both belong to a smaller crit group of five who write Contemporary Romance. Heidi’s a writer after my own heart, her voice and genre so like mine. She’s great at spotting a myriad of things, or just coming alongside like a High School cheerleader, cheering me on when the writing shines. I love critiquing Heidi’s writing, too.

Heidi’s formative years in Alaska, coupled with the country's breathtaking scenery, fueled her active imagination and loosely inspired her debut novel, Unraveled. With a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Medicine and a Master’s Degree in Athletic Training, Heidi enjoyed a brief career as a Certified Athletic Trainer before she married her husband, Steve. They live in North Carolina with their three active little boys. When Heidi isn’t stepping on Legos, chauffeuring the boys around suburbia or folding laundry, she loves to write heartwarming romance set in unique locales.
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

And then there's Nancy, my toughest critiquer. In the beginning I would cringe when I saw a crit coming from her. But, oh, how I appreciate this woman who goes far beyond the extra mile, not only in critiquing my work, but also in encouraging and complimenting when needed. I just love what she had to say to me in a crit recently: “The thing about writing as strong as yours is it allows me to be very, very picky and see little nuance structure and reader anticipation things, so while there were a LOT of comments and tweaks here, it’s kind of like getting to dust the Mona Lisa for me when I crit you. Nice job girl and so glad we’re friends.”

Author, avid reader and shameless hero addict, Nancy Kimball makes her home in Houston, Texas. She loves history, great books with strong heroes, and doesn't understand the point of white crayons. Her stories feature characters that must rise from brokenness to triumph, with a little love and faith along the way, solidifying her brand of storytelling, Fiction From the Ashes.
Used with permission from Debbie Ridpath Ohi at

Don’t you just love having critters in your life? Why not share about those you’ve had the privilege of encountering, in both the animal kingdom and the writing world?

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 (2009), The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter (published August 2011 by Tyndale House Publishers) and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven (published 15 October 2013). She has recently signed a publishing contract with Pelican Book Group (White Rose Publishing) for Helsinki Sunrise, Passport to Romance series. Marion blogs for International Christian Fiction Writers and Beauty for Ashes. She belongs to Christian Writers of South Africa and American Christian Fiction Writers. She now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.