Confessions of a Small Town Mountain Girl

by J.M. Hackman

People hear “author” and immediately conjure up a glamorous life, full of book signing-days and jet-setting nights. That’s not me. Or they imagine days filled with writing The Great American Novel in cute little bistros and cafés. That’s not me, either.

The reality is I’m a small–town girl (population 774 and counting). Always have been, and probably always will be. I live in the same small town where I grew up and have lived in for my forty-plus years (cue the John Mellencamp song Small Town). I got married here, had my kids here, and am expecting to die here (although I have no plans to do so anytime soon). I married a small-town boy from Vermont who lived on a dead-end dirt road, so rural living suits both of us.

We live in the mountains not far from Pennsylvania State University where I commuted to and graduated from after four years. (Go Lions!) As I was growing up, I was convinced this town would smother me. State College, the closest “city,” seemed much more cosmopolitan than my small town. I couldn’t wait to get out and start living my life. Live here? Why? There was nothing to do.

I spent a year at Messiah College, only eleven miles away from Harrisburg. After seeing a drug bust complete with SWAT vehicles in the state capitol one night, I was able to appreciate the quirks of my small town life a little more.

 

Everyone either knows everyone else or is related to everyone else. If they don’t know you, they’ll ask. I went to a private high school in a different school district so upon being introduced, I often reeived a perplexed look and a “Who’s your… are you Kenny’s?” (My dad will always be “Kenny” even though he’s in his sixties). This used to irritate me. I wasn’t anybody’s. I had my own name—why couldn’t they remember that? I do it myself now to people I meet here, realizing it’s a way people establish connections.

We don’t go “over the mountain” on a whim. The closest Walmart is twenty-five miles away. The closest Starbucks is fifteen miles away. (Yes, yes, I know—coffee addicts are gasping with horror. This is why I like tea.) Most of my doctor offices are twenty-five to thirty miles away, so every round-trip is at least an hour driving time. Therefore, I’m having two launch parties. As much as they love me, my church family and local community will not go “over the mountain” just to buy a book.

Winter storms don’t scare us. After living on the mountain for twenty years, my husband has learned we have our own weather system. When I call him to come home from work, it’s usually because we’re getting accumulating snow or freezing rain. His response? “Really? It’s raining here.”

We’ll take “the long way,” thanks. Many of us prefer the mountain road over the interstate. Before I-80 was constructed (finished in Pennsylvania in 1970), the mountain road was the only way to get to the towns east and south of us. It’s a two-lane road, with steep drop-offs, twists, and turns, and I could drive it with my eyes closed. All of the school buses still use it.

Instead of cul-de-sacs, we have gorgeous recreational land. Our community relies quite a bit on hunting and fishing. At the beginning of the fall hunting season, an influx of hunters move in from the city to stay in their cabins for a long weekend. Three- and four-wheelers are common. Instead of summer beach houses, some families have a hunting cabin they use for hunting season or for occasional summer weekends. A wooded area borders our backyard where we’ve seen deer, wild turkeys, and evidence of a local bear (claw marks on our white birch tree and teeth marks in our now-ruined inflatable pool).

 

So small-town life in the mountains doesn’t seem so “small town” anymore. My husband and I are content to raise our family close to nature, far from the glitz and glamour of busy city life. After all, there’s truth in the saying: “You can take the girl out of the mountain, but you can’t take the mountain out of the girl.”

 

Author Bio:

J.M. Hackman has held many positions: assistant librarian, office assistant, office manager, substitute teacher, writer, wife, and mother. She still holds the last three. And loves it. She received a degree in Elementary Education from Pennsylvania State University and now spends her days writing stories, consuming massive quantities of chocolate, and looking for portals to other worlds. You can find her at www.jmhackman.com.

Social Media Links:

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Purchase Link on L2L2 Website: http://bit.ly/2mf4Iwg

Spark is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBook, Kobo, and any other online retailer, and Spark can be requested at any bookstore or library.

Spark Back Cover Copy:

Brenna James wants three things for her sixteenth birthday: to find her history notes before the test, to have her mother return from her business trip, and to stop creating fire with her bare hands. Yeah, that’s so not happening. Unfortunately.

When Brenna learns her mother is missing in an alternate reality called Linneah, she travels through a portal to find her. Against her will. Who knew portals even existed? But Brenna’s arrival in Linneah begins the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, including a royal murder and the theft of Linneah’s most powerful relic: the Sacred Veil. Hold up. Can everything just slow down for a sec?

Unwilling yet left with no other choice, Brenna and her new friend Baldwin (Um, hello, Hottie!) pursue the thief into the dangerous woods of Silvastamen and beyond. Exactly what Brenna wanted to do for her sixteenth birthday. Exactly. When they spy an army marching toward Linneah, Brenna is horrified. Can she find the veil, save her mother, and warn Linneah in time? And more importantly, why on earth doesn’t this alternity have Belgian waffles?

Confessions of an Optimist with Chronic Illness

It may sound dreamy to say that I’m literally typing this post while lying in bed, but here’s the reason: I slept very little last night and I woke up with pain all over my body.

Welcome to life with a chronic illness!

But I have one thing in my favor: God gave me a beautiful sense of optimism.

 

How Chronic Illness Works

Some days I am perfectly normal, with all the bounce and sparkle of my ENFP personality. I hike mountains, write books while chortling at my own mad genius, and try to see who I can bring a smile to.

Other days, I crawl into bed, shivering with unexplainable cold; crawling with pain; completely numb with exhaustion; sensitive to every light, smell, and sound; and overwhelmed by the idea of having to get up to go to the bathroom or get myself something to drink.

We’re still working on a full diagnosis, but right now the partial diagnosis includes babesia, a tickborne illness sometimes associated with Lyme Disease. With babesia, the nasty beasties hide out in muscles, blow up red blood cells, and wreak as much havoc as possible.

In 2012, when I first realized how sick I was, I struggled deeply with depression. Was this going to be my life? Would I ever have the energy to do things I loved? What if it interfered with my ability to have a family of my own someday?

Because of my chronic illness, I quit a job. I missed a chance to fly out for a visit with a friend. I cancelled on countless visits with friends. I lost a lot of opportunities because I knew I had no energy to commit to them.

The truth? I may never fully recover. My life is unpredictable, at the mercy of my body. My illness very well might affect my future family life.

But there’s more to the truth than just this grim reality.

 

How Optimism Works

God blessed me with a heart that sees possibility everywhere! And, though the partial truth is that chronic illness is hard, the whole truth is that it has brought me far more blessings than I could have imagined.

I’m optimistic about the future. Everybody has their own struggle. Mine happens to be chronic illness, so I’ve made it almost a game to find ways to live the most of every day God has given me.

So how does optimism bring joy to chronic illness?

  • Gratitude: Today, as I type in my bed, I am so grateful for my comfy bed. I am grateful I don’t have to work today. I’m grateful that my laptop is so conveniently portable. So many people around the world don’t have this level of comfort when they feel yucky. But I do! How’s that for cool?​
  • Focus: The things you give your energy to are the things you most care about. When you have limited energy, then you find out very quickly what those priorities are. For me, the priority is writing. Since 2012, I’ve published five science fiction and fantasy novellas and written several novels, all while riding the physical (and mental) rollercoaster. If I can do that, I can do anything!
  • Boundaries: I used to say yes to everything. Now I pick and choose my commitments. And you know what? It’s awesome. Every time I say “yes,” I can do so unreservedly and without resentment because I know I have thought through all the implications and know I can commit to it.
  • Pacing: In the proverbial tortoise and hare story, I’m naturally the hare. Zip! Zap! Then I take a break, and do it all over again. Now I am learning the benefits of being a tortoise. I used to write thousands of words a day. I don’t have the energy for that anymore, but hey! Doesn’t slow me down. I’ve actually gotten more serious writing done in the last few years because I’ve established a sustainable daily writing goal that I know I can stick to. Consistency really adds up over time! Who knew?
  • Resilience: This past summer, I had an episode in which I experienced two weeks of intense pain. My body gave me a few hours off every day to recover, and then I’d go right back to kneeling on the floor, rocking back and forth and sobbing in pain. That was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Why? Because I know just how powerful I am now (with the Lord’s help). I survived it! This gives me perspective when I experience other hard things.

I could moan about how the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but honestly, I’m too fascinated by the grass on my side of the fence. (Isn’t grass pretty? Have you ever stopped to think what the world would be without grass?) No matter what path your life takes, there are amazing things around the corner, if you keep your eyes open for them.

Yes, I’m chronically ill but so long as I stay chronically optimistic, I know I’ll be okay.

 

About the Author:

Yaasha Moriah believes that good fiction pulses with realism, honor, and invention, so that even fiction becomes true in some way to the reader. In 2015, Wings Beneath Water earned Silver Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest and is now available as a novella. Find her on Facebook and Twitter as Yaasha Moriah and visit her website at www.YaashaMoriah.com.

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Teenager

by Heather Fitzgerald

 

I’m a late bloomer. It took many years of marriage and four kids to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

When I graduated high school back in *ahem* 1987, I had plans of becoming a model and world traveler. Yeah. I know. Very realistic and attainable. But college was definitely not part of my head-in-the-cloud plans because there wasn’t anything I wanted to do that could justify the cost.

Thankfully, the Lord had other ideas. He brought Prince Charming my way a year after graduation, and we were married shortly after I turned twenty. Billy (aka the prince) was the left brain to my right brain—quite literally—and helped me to keep my feet on the ground without giving up my desire to dream big and embrace life.

But once we started our family, a lot of my hopes and daydreams had to be set aside for a season. This was before the internet and smart phones too, so when I see busy moms that—somehow—juggle school, jobs, writing, housework, and social media, I’m a bit boggled and incredulous. I don’t think I could have managed such an itinerary with any measure of grace, let alone success! Hats off to you millennials that have grown up with social media diversions as part of your norm. I guess it’s all a matter of what you’re used to.

By the time my oldest daughter was seven, we also had a boy, age six, with autism, and two more daughters, age three and newborn. Let’s just say there’s a large chunk of my young married life that’s rather fuzzy. Beyond laundry, meals, school work, and therapy, I don’t have a whole lot of clarity on the day to day. Pretty sure everyone made it through well fed and with clean underwear, but I wouldn’t bet large sums of money on it.

Still … in the midst of our busy family life, I knew there would be another season that would allow more time for creative pursuits. Fanciful ideas always bubbled just under the surface. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t merely biding my time as a mother so I could get to the ‘fun stuff’. No. I loved being a mom, a wife, and a teacher. Creative pursuits just looked different at that time…like learning to cook and enjoying the challenge of decorating on a shoestring budget. Still, my mind constantly came up with ideas, both realistic and impractical.

One thing I had always loved to do, from childhood through high school, was dance. Think Fame and Flashdance—iconic 80’s movies. Although my parents didn’t have the finances to put me into any sort of lessons or program, public school had quite a few outlets for it, between dance team, cheerleading, and talent shows (not to mention hoofing it around my house). However, after graduation I really didn’t have an opportunity to continue dancing.

When my youngest was two, my husband encouraged me to get involved with it again (told you he was a prince!). Being that I could only take classes when he was home in the evening, there wasn’t a wide selection of adult dance classes to choose from. I could take ballet, or ballet.

I chose ballet.

Since I hadn’t any experience with this form of dance beyond a plie, it was a whole new discipline. To be honest, it wasn’t nearly as fun as contemporary dance because it’s much more technique driven and all about uniformity among dancers. I’m more of a free spirit. But it was still an opportunity to dance, nonetheless, and I learned to enjoy it.

Around that time, my kids began to take classes at a fine art school for homeschoolers. Eventually, I put my son in their ballet program to help with his coordination. I stayed in class and assisted him since his coordination and flexibility were about as natural as my talent to work quadratic equations (hint, that’s a left brained activity and I don’t have one of those).

Because of my involvement, I was eventually offered a job teaching ballet at this fast-growing school.

What???

Okay, the Lord definitely had a secret agenda for me when ballet had been my only option for dance classes a few years earlier. Someone was actually going to pay me to teach dance and I’d get to choreograph performances—which was my favorite thing ever.

Fast forward fourteen years. I’m still teaching ballet at this fabulous school. We’ve grown from a handful of students to close to one thousand! We’ve expanded from two ballet teachers to five. And choreographing for our ‘showcase’ is still the best part of the year for me. Choreography is storytelling set to music. I prefer to use songs with lyrics so that we can express the story through dance, though certain instrumental pieces can move me in much the same way and I’ve used them as well.

As my children became teens and tweens, I began to see how swiftly our school days would come to a close. When my youngest was in sixth grade and my oldest had graduated, I could feel the fetters of schedules, classes, rehearsals, and performances loosening, little by little, as each child became a young adult. What was I going to do with myself? Ballet classes were only a once a week event. I didn’t want to choose a career path after our final graduate walked the stage. I needed a goal to work toward.

Enter writing. If I could begin a career in ballet in my thirties, why couldn’t I begin a writing career in my forties? I’d always had the desire and the ability lurking just under the surface. Where I had struggled tremendously to keep my head above water in math, I had easily coasted through English and literature courses. And as a homeschooling mom, I enjoyed reading to my kids most of all. “Just one more chapter” was a sure way to take a bite out of my well-intended schedule.

I had already been playing around with writing kids books and venturing into the blogosphere, so writing wasn’t a brand new pursuit. But I made a firm commitment to have some sort of career in place by the time my youngest graduated. Though I had often dipped into creative pursuits only to let projects sit unfinished for eons (if finished at all), I felt like the Lord was calling me to look at the big picture, the long term, and the future of my grown up self.

Well, number four graduated in May of 2016. My first book The Tethered World was published in February of 2016 with The Flaming Sword releasing that November. The Genesis Tree is coming out this June which means my first publishing contract has been fulfilled. Pretty much divine timing, right? Divine indeed because I look back and wonder how my blonde, right-brained self managed to pull this off.

I can’t help but view the past twenty-seven years of marriage with a thrill of awe and thanksgiving over how well the Lord orchestrates our paths. He has blessed me with a wonderful husband, terrific kids that have grown into treasured friends, a beautiful grand daughter, and—amazingly—a dual career doing things that I absolutely love. It’s humbling to look at how little I had to do with any of it. Even the talent to dance or to write are gifts from Him, designed by Him.

I feel like I’m getting some sort of do-over from my graduation in ’87. Probably because I needed to grow up a bit to know what I wanted to be when I actually grew up. Thanks to the disciplines of being a wife and a mother, I’ve matured enough to handle the freedom of self-expression that would have been wasted in my youth (on me anyway).

Yep. I’m a late bloomer. What about you? Maybe you had different opportunities than me and were able to enjoy a career before you reached middle age (okay, maybe you’re not anywhere close to being middle age but, I promise, you’ll be there in a blink). Still, we all have hopes that are deferred for one reason or another. What are your future dreams?

Although there’s controversy surrounding whether or not C.S. Lewis actually said this, it is still a favorite quote and sounds like a tidbit of his wisdom. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” I’m certainly proof of that.

And I’m not done dreaming!

 

Author Bio:

Heather L.L. FitzGerald writes from her home in Texas, while dreaming of being back in the Pacific Northwest, where she grew up. When her four kids were young, she enjoyed reading aloud until her voice gave out. (Her son, who is autistic, would just move on to his favorite audiobook).

Certain stories became good friends—the kind you want to revisit. The kind you wish never needed to say goodbye. Those are the kind of stories Heather aspires to write. Stories worthy of delicious coffee. Stories difficult to leave. Her YA Fantasy trilogy The Tethered World Chronicles will be complete when her third book, The Genesis Tree, releases June 1st. Her other books, The Tethered World, and The Flaming Sword, are available on Amazon or can be ordered at any book retailer.

Heather is a member of the North Texas Christian Writer’s group, ACFW, CAN, and helps with the Manent Writer’s group in Fort Worth, Texas. You can connect with Heather on her website/blogFacebook, Pinterest,(Belongs to her main character, Sadie), Character blog: (Sadie’s mother has a blog pertaining to legendary creatures), Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads.

Confessions of a Medical Mom

by Lindsay Franklin

 

Red lights flashing in the darkness, sirens wailing in the middle of the night. Your child being loaded onto a gurney and whisked away to an emergency room. It sounds like the start of a horror story. Every parents’ nightmare. The worst day of your life.

But if you have a child with a medical condition, this may be routine. It may be the eleventy-hundredth time you’ve watched EMTs load your kid into the back of an ambulance. It may only barely affect your blood pressure these days, which is good, because you have to be calm enough to recite your kid’s entire medical history at three a.m. to the paramedics who have probably never heard of his rare neurological condition.

I’m only speaking for myself, of course. Every medical parent’s story looks different—indeed, the variance can be wild. But the sirens don’t scare me anymore. When my son has a seizure, my husband and I time it carefully (our comfort zone is five to six minutes) and watch for signs of respiratory distress. Most times, we don’t call an ambulance anymore. What are the ER docs going to tell us? “Your son has something weird in his hypothalamus.” Yes, thank you. We know.

The way I’ve described it, maybe it sounds like medical moms (and dads) are the chillest cucumbers in the vegetable bin. In some ways, that’s probably true. We can’t afford to panic in the midst of an emergency. We have to stay calm and level-headed to make sure our kids get the care they need. But that’s only one facet of the medical mom life.

Anxiety has become part of my essential makeup. It always has been to a degree—I’m just wired that way more than some others, like my husband who doesn’t startle at loud noises and barely blinks when he hears glass breaking, people shouting, or atomic bombs dropping.

But my journey as a medical mom has upped the ante. The part of my brain that wants to protect my squishy, exhausted, grieved heart always has me preparing for the worst. When the worst has already happened—when you’ve gotten the very last news you ever wanted to hear—it’s hard not to constantly wait for the other shoe to drop.

I’ve had a lot of dropping shoes in my life.

There’s a strange layer of shame that tags along when you or your child is not healthy, especially in the faith community. I’d need a couple extra hands and feet to count all the times well-meaning people have subtly (or overtly) suggested my life would look different if I had a little more faith—if I prayed better or more frequently, if I had better theology, if there weren’t some underlying sin lurking in my past or present.

Look, I said they’re well-meaning, and I meant that. People don’t realize the hurt they cause when they say such things, and really, no sick or differently abled person should be surprised by these comments. They’ve been happening for millennia: “Who sinned, Jesus, this man or his parents?” But what these folks don’t realize is that the medical parent’s life requires a certain kind of faith just to reach ground zero, if you will. Just to get to the starting place where others begin growing in their relationships with God, we have an uphill battle.

That’s because we start in a pit. We start in a place of constantly wondering why our child is suffering, constantly working to overcome the anxiety and shoe’s-going-to-drop mentality. We start in a place of being reminded every moment that we are weak, that our children are hurting and there’s nothing we can do to fix it. So it is simultaneously true that I’m barely clinging on and my faith is a solid rock. Both those statements are my raw, naked truth—my confession. My faith is tested by the moment, and I’m still here.

The places where I’ve seen God working most clearly in my life have been related to my medical kid. Small miracles—and a couple big ones—have unfolded before my eyes. Medical parents may have a strange, arduous road to walk, but we also have a sharp, unshakable sense of hope. Hope that we’ll make it through today, hope that tomorrow will be easier, hope that even if it’s not, God will see us through.

 

Author Bio:

Lindsay Franklin is an award-winning author, freelance editor, and homeschooling mother of three. Her debut fantasy novel, The Story Peddler, releases in 2017 from Enclave Publishing, and her book of devotionals for young women, Adored, releases October 2017 from Zondervan/HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Lindsay has had dozens of short stories published, and she is Faculty Director for Realm Makers, an annual conference for speculative fiction writers of faith. She is a Bible college student and has taught fiction to wildly creative homeschooled junior and senior high students. Lindsay may or may not be addicted to full-leaf tea and organic coffee. Don’t tell anyone. Connect with Lindsay on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. You can also follow her stuffed wombat on Instagram. Yeah, you read that right.

Confessions of a Wallflower

by S.D. Grimm

 

 

I’m not particularly noticeable. I’ve been thought of as standoffish and snobby by people who didn’t know me yet. I’ve been the person no one in the room wants to get to know. I’m often the person no one remembers seeing even though I was there. The first to leave. Invisible. Quiet. Elusive.

It’s not that I dislike people.

It’s not that I want to hide from conversations, either.

In fact I love to sit down and talk to people about deep, soul-searching things. I cherish my friendships and desire to be able to be myself in social situations.

It’s just that social situations are terrifying. Talking to people on the phone? Rare form of torture. Being called out as the center of attention? The stuff of nightmares. The thought of being tossed into a room filled with strangers and being told to mingle? Enough to keep me at home huddled in my zombie-apocalypse room.

Talking one-on-one with someone about things that have nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with revealing something personal, be it a deep-seeded emotion or favorite comic book character or greatest fear or anything Star Wars related? My idea of awesome. Getting to know a small group of people with whom I think there’s a real possibility of cultivating friendships? One of my favorite things. Hanging out with people I’m already friends with so I can be my crazy, witty, shy, adorably awkward self? Heaven on earth.

Recently I was invited to hang out with some friends, who I am just getting to know. Excitement and anxiety started to mix in a dangerous concoction. What starts out as “Yes! People actually like me!” “I wasn’t completely awkward,” and “I managed not to accidentally tell them to ‘back off’ with a look.” Turns quickly into, “But what if they hate me?” “What if they didn’t really want to invite me, but I was just there?” Or “What if this is some long, drawn-out prank to get me to go meet them and then no one else shows up?” “What if they change the time and then forget to tell me because they don’t even remember inviting me in the first place?”

You can laugh. It’s okay. But you should also know that these thoughts (and more) literally crossed my mind. Not in a funny way, either. Looking back, I can sort of laugh at myself and at least think “why would you go there?” In reality, these thoughts put me in a serious state of panic.

I almost stood them up because I thought no one would notice anyway.

For me, starting a friendship is something that not only terrifies me, but is also something I crave. I LOVE my friends. I wish they knew how much they meant to me. And yet, I have to conquer stupid fears and sometimes crippling doubts to believe that my friends like me too.

That got me thinking.

A lot.

It does matter to me what the people I like think to some degree. I mean, I value their thoughts and opinions. On the other hand, my friendships aren’t just about what they think of me. It’s a give-and-take relationship. I make them feel loved and appreciated. They do the same to me. So … that means even if I’m scared, even if I’m anxious, even if I think an actual invite to hang out could be a ploy to make me feel stupid, I have a choice to make:

I can let fear win.

Or I can let my friendship win.

And when I choose to let my friendship win, guess who benefits? My friends. (Me too, actually!) But that’s what matters: that my friends feel the love and appreciation. Knowing that in my head helps me when the fear grips. Allowing myself to believe that other people could actually be interested in the shy wallflower helps me to take those brave steps forward.

And that’s what life is about, isn’t it? Taking brave steps forward? Because, yeah, bad things could happen. But so could good things.

That’s the risk of bravery. I saw this quote on a meme about being brave: Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you have to do it afraid. And that spoke to me.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have thoughts of relationship sabotage or that I won’t be afraid and stand off to the side when the room is full. It doesn’t stop me from sometimes sneaking to the next aisle at the grocery store when I see someone who might know me, or slow my heart from racing when the phone rings. But it does allow me to stop and think. To make deliberate choices.

So maybe I should title this Confessions of a Braver Wallflower. Because every day that’s what I strive to be. Braver.

But remember, you can’t call it bravery unless you’re pushing through fear.

 

Author Bio:

S. D. Grimm’s first love in writing is young adult fantasy and science fiction—everything from urban fantasy to superheroes. Her office is anywhere she can curl up with her laptop and at least one large-sized dog. You can learn more about her, her debut novel Scarlet Moon, and her upcoming books at www.sdgrimm.com

Check out Scarlet Moon!

 

 

 

 

Confessions of a Thankful Internet Geek

by Laura A. Grace

My Papa’s legacy lives on.

Granted, I don’t recall ever seeing him pick up a book (well, unless maybe it was a train book with lots of pictures) except his Bible when he got older.

Yet his extrovert self still inspires my introvert self to actively get to know other people online, especially authors and writers.

He and my Grandma would share stories of how he met so-and-so online and then, when on a cruise, go and meet that same person. More than once did they tell me how they got “exclusive tours” because of an online friend my Papa knew.

Reflecting on those stories, I am mind blown at how he used the internet to make new friendships that extend over the ocean (and he didn’t even have social media to do it!).

It’s even more exciting to know that I’m following in his footsteps.

Just as it was for him, the internet has opened new gateways that the seventh grade me never would have imagined as I began devouring Nancy Drew mysteries. I thought the most I would ever be able to do was read and tell friends (which I still do). However, someone introduced me to the idea of meeting and interacting with authors online and transformed my life as an avid reader.

Now my inner fangirl does a lot more of this:

via GIPHY

And quite a bit of this:

via GIPHY

Now I could easily be doing this outside of social media (which I still do at some point while reading, and on multiple occasions if I might add), but now I am able to use book blogging to really get to know authors. I can reach out via Facebook messenger or email and ask if they would be interested in an interview or guest post. Then somehow as we’re chatting, the conversation keeps going and this amazing thing sometimes happens … (insert big breath) I get to know and call them friend. Talk about a dream come true! I have to try and remember daily that these authors genuinely call me friend and not let my inner fangirl explode with squeals and giddiness in every conversation (but don’t worry, when they release a new novel, they get a big dose of that).

via GIPHY

Recently my close writing mentor just released her short story on Amazon, and it is surreal to think how I can help get her book out there through blogging. I can show and talk about my friend’s story in a way that wasn’t possible when I first started reading in middle school (well, at least I thought wasn’t possible). I can make memes, do an interview, and make a fan-made book trailer to name a few fun ones.

Now I have to admit, it’s one thing to share the latest book trailer I made, but it’s whole other thing when I’m asked if I would be interested is hosting a blog tour under God’s Grace Blog Tours. By this point, I’m pretty sure my inner fangirl cannot help but faint from joy and excitement (whether I know the author or not). Not only am I able to gush all the amazingness of their story, but I get to do it with different bloggers all over the United States (sometimes even from all over the world).

Enter me stalking these bloggers’ sites for their posts of reviews, guest posts, or some other feature in the name of sharing the book love, and I feel my mission is partially complete.

via GIPHY

What is my mission as an avid reader, book blogger, and blog tour host?

Support the author, read the book, and share the book love (no matter what order I do these).

Usually the final and even more fun part of my mission includes participating in one of the coolest virtual book events I know on the internet: Facebook parties.

Oh my goodness! What an epic way to chat with other readers and favorite authors. Enter lots of fun chat and games with giveaways, and you have this mega fangirl party with lots of squealing and laughter off screen (at least for this inner fangirl).

via GIPHY

Yes, I can definitely say that I’m thankful my Papa showed me how wonderful of an adventure it can be when getting to know people online. A few years ago I would have been a nervous wreck even thinking about remotely wanting to reach out to people I don’t know (even at Facebook parties).

Not so much anymore. And as a result, my Papa’s legacy lives on.

Just with a lot more sequels of excitement and dancing over new book releases.

(Before I go, can I take a moment to share how I feel being featured on Ralene’s blog today? Yeah, I also might have been feeling this as I was reading her novel, Bellanok. Thank you, Ralene!) From Ralene: Aw, thanks, Laura. You know how to make a gal feel special.

via GIPHY

 

 

About Me:

Laura A. Grace loves to read with a passion. Her personal goal: to read all the books as well as write a few of her own (maybe even a hundred!). She’s a firm believer in spreading hope, and book blogging makes a perfect outlet. More than once her husband has caught her staying up late to support and get to know Christian indie authors online. You can find her in her North Carolina home, attempting to capture her characters and force them onto paper—or trying to read just one more chapter before going to sleep.

Links:
HOPE through the Pages (website): https://pagesandhope.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pagesandhope
Twitter: https://twitter.com/pagesandhope
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-u-2ISJD33-o9YDd-0kv4Q
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/15540563-laura-grace

I wrote an e-book, One Bookish Friend Challenge, sharing how I gave myself personal challenges to get to know other people online. I made it a freebie to those who sign up for my newsletter. You don’t have to share, but I thought I would mention it.

Here is the newsletter signup link and I’ll attach the cover in case you decide to share (again, if not, that’s totally okay): http://eepurl.com/csu9yr

Also, was unsure if I should mention, but if someone was interested in learning more about God’s Grace Blog Tours, here is the link: http://pagesandhope.com/gods-grace-blog-tours

Confessions of An Adventure Writer Who Disdains Change

by Elizabeth Van Tassel

 

I’ve lived through death-defying moments ducking from flames as we survived a wildfire, losing every possession and our home in one day, working in South America and had my hotel surrounded by machine guns going off at night and rioting. I’ve been closeted in a hospital room with family living on the edge of life and death, gotten on stage in front of hundreds, held thousands of dollars of pink and colored diamonds and a Faberge Egg, and have moved fifteen times in my lifetime all over the country. I write for tweens and teens about Indiana-Jones-style adventures in other worlds and nonfiction to encourage families to live with resilience after big life changes. Yet, when I first hear that a test or trial is coming, I cringe. That moment of trust is still slightly terrifying! Can you relate?

 

The Choice

When a challenge comes I first need to assess it and understand the parameters—what’s the cost going to be? To me? To my family? Our finances and life in general? It can be an unwanted medical scare or a child needing more attention—an extraordinary life event or amazing opportunity. It doesn’t even have to be all negative. It’s just the pain and distortion of comfort with change that gets me. I find it slightly humorous that I can imagine all kinds of terrors and torture, beauty and gems, and poignant lessons for my characters, yet I really don’t like having to endure them myself.

 

The Hovering

In every kind of change, there’s the point of acceptance. Now you understand it involves a move across the country, a whole new diet, a drastic budget change, or a huge open door you never could have dreamed up. The latter is more fun, of course, but in a walk of faith there’s a moment like watching a seagull hover in the wind currents at the beach, circling, wings spread wide. The winds whisper …

Will you accept or fight me?

Will you seek wisdom or do this on your own strength?

Will you allow others to bless you in this transition?

Will you be bold with your feelings or hold them inside?

 
In this hovering state, you meet the Maker, the Designer who holds the fiber of your integrity in one hand, and the ability to create in the other. He wants to shape and mold you. Will you be pliable?

I believe it’s a conscious choice at this point to decide to live a vibrant life. Resilience is found in those moments. Resilience is made in that crucible of belief and willingness to be open to change. I don’t have to like it, but I know its voice well. I won’t refuse the whispers that the Lord brings that can open doors I never would have dreamed, whether through pain or through perseverance.

 

The Change

You can feel yourself stretching. It is often uncomfortable and brings humbling times where you’re at a total loss. You can truly no longer go it alone on your own strength. You’ve not only come to the end of the rope, but the rope is waving in the breeze, floating away. You’re just living in the trust-zone.

I am right there now. We are getting ready for move number sixteen, living on wisps of trust with a new job, new life, new city, so many things all at once will be new. It is very tempting to question and even when there’s been significant signs of affirmation, it still
makes cringe. Someone else will live in our home, walk our paths, feel the Southern California sunshine in my place. You can even meet skeptics and others with difficult journeys where you’re headed.

But all I know is one simple truth.

I’d rather be walking where the Lord directs my path, than anywhere outside of it that seems easier or more comfortable. Jesus is found in those moments of trust. He’s at work inside of me and our family and is being the wonderful Craftsman that He is. Chiseling away at my inadequacies, making a whole new life ready. Ready for change.

Are you ready for change? Do you love the fresh experiences it brings or want to hide in a corner? How have you seen fingerprints of faith on your own journey of change and growth?

 

 

Author Bio: 

Resilience Expert Elizabeth has lived a life with diamonds, wildfires, and miracles. The gemologist and communication specialist has held a modern-day Faberge egg, played with pink diamonds, and spoken to hundreds of people about adventures with heart. She winds her tales of wondrous gems and destructive loss into fantastic fantasy for teens and tweens, and meaningful nonfiction for adults.

But it’s not all sparkle. Elizabeth has found gems of true meaning as a wildfire survivor who lost every possession. She has helped her family through horrific medical traumas with her son almost dying, and her husband’s stroke. Determined to thrive, rather than just get by, now she spots potential as much as she finds inclusions in her microscope. Her creative eye and stories of survival help others to rise above circumstances and begin meaningful life changes. She also speaks, hosts classes, and blogs for adults and kids about how to live a resilient life.

Starting in April, Elizabeth is featuring a guest-blog series on Thorn & Vine with terrific authors sharing their own stories of resilience and invites you to participate at Elizabeth Van Tassel.com

 

LINKS

(http://elizabethvantassel.com/) where you can sign up to receive the posts to your email personally. She hosts a YouTube channel and interviews inspirational people, actors, and authors to encourage your journey (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbfGSIRoGjwywnyAto0IQKA) and family-friendly or beauty inspired activities to lift your perspective. Her Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/elizabethvantassel/?hl=en) features moments of beauty and inspiration, as well as gems from her gemology life to dazzle and delight. Catch her on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ElizVanTassel) too!

 

Confessions of a Recently Married 20-Something

My name is Adrienne Niceley–I mean Rollick. Still getting used to that. I got married in November 2016 to my hero, David.

Most people when reading that will get visions of sunshine and roses and smiles and sparkly rings. But for us, things haven’t been quite that shiny from the beginning.  

We met online through The One Year Adventure Novel community. Tried a relationship, and it failed. A little while later tried again. And, while it worked, (obviously) it was hard. David lived hundreds of miles away in Kansas while I lived in Kentucky. Our relationship was long distance for almost a year. And if you’ve never been in a long distance dating relationship, let me tell ya, it’s tough as nails.

Because of the distance, the time commitment for our relationship was larger than a normal one, and that, paired with my part-time job, family commitments, and volunteer conference work, took it’s tole on me both physically and creatively.

Now, I’m at the other side of the taxing journey, and I stand before you a recently married 20-something who is … struggling.

Why?

Being an adult and dealing with life and building a marriage all while desperately trying to fulfill the longing in my soul to just create drags me down more often than I’d like to admit.  It’s hard when you have ten loads of laundry on your bedroom floor and three days worth of dishes piled on your counter tops, and all you want to do is run after your dreams of becoming a published author and small business owner.

Life has a way of slowly sucking away at your creativity, joy, and time no matter what stage of the journey you are in.

But today I am also celebrating.

Because I am more myself now than I have been in three years. I am brainstorming again, and my writer’s brain is churning out a story that I am genuinely excited over. I’m reading, knitting, crocheting, cooking–all the things I was too exhausted or too preoccupied to do for the past couple years are all coming back, even if it’s not as much as I would like.  I am building a marriage with my husband that we can be proud of and planning adventures for us to go on together.

The seasons of life are a mixture of the good and the bad, and, more often than not, they show up at about the same time. I’m learning that keeping fast hold on the good isn’t always easy, but it’s abundantly worth it.

 

Bio:

Adrienne has often been compared to Anne of Green Gables. Although she’s never desired to sleep in a wild cherry tree, she has yearned to use stories as a way of reaching out to others and pointing them to God. A student of The One Year Adventure Novel, Adrienne has been pursuing the art and craft of writing fiction for seven years, and is involved in several writing communities. A newly wed, Adrienne is currently working on settling into her new life as a wife and homemaker, as well as getting back to her passions of writing and yarn creations. Visit Adrienne at https://thestorytopian.wordpress.com/

 

Confessions of a Dreamer in Search of Wonder

by Patrick Carr

Most of my dreams are unpleasant. I don’t know if I’m alone in that because, frankly, I don’t want to know. Yet, I suspect that like a lot of people my brain goes to work at night trying to find solutions to the conflicts and confrontations we experience during the day. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a math teacher in an urban school setting, so I live, eat, drink, and breathe the pressure that comes with public school education every day. Naturally, some of that stress spills over into my sleep.

But there are times I have these dreams filled with wonder and I wake and it’s as if I’m a child again experiencing the world for the first time. This in itself would hardly be worth mentioning except to say I hope everyone has them because I think they’re a gift from God. But as they say in the commercials “but wait, there’s more.”

These dreams, the ones I long for, these rare respites from thistles and thorns aren’t unconnected. Weird, right? I don’t mean that I will have continuing dreams several nights in a row, although I wish “wonder” would visit me that often. It’s stranger than that. Years, sometimes many years, will go by and a long-forgotten dream will come back to me and pick up where it left off, like a favorite college-friend who drops in on your doorstep unexpectedly to say hello.

I had one of these sublime visitations last night, which is why I’m writing about it. My amazement and longing is still so fresh, I doubt if I could write about anything else. What fills me with wonder? That the answer is surprising to me perhaps reveals how little I know myself, but to understand last night’s dream, I will have to relate the details of its predecessor.

I find myself in a library. It’s not overly large and certainly not modern. There are no computer stations and there are all these old-fashioned card files to help the patrons find their books. The shelves are hardwood and they lacquer on them is dark with age. Though well-lit, the library has a bit of a dusty smell and the books are all hard-bound copies and the binding is the heavy duty type with embedded fabric without ornamentation. Only the titles are on the cover.

I love libraries, especially one with hardbacks and I’m browsing through the shelves when I find a series of thick books in my favorite genre by an author I’ve never heard of before. I pick up the first book in the series and I start to read.

Boom.

The story is perfect. I’m so overwhelmed by it that I’m completely captivated. Not only does the story enthrall me, it gets inside of me. It makes me a better person. It’s literally the perfect story.

I’m filled with wonder.

I’ve lived and breathed fantasy for years. Why haven’t I heard of this story and this author before? Here I am, holding in my hands huge volumes of the best writing I’ve ever read and I’ve never even heard mention of the author. I sit on the floor, so lost in the writing that I don’t want to move, half-afraid the books might vanish.

The dream ends.

Now, understand, this dream came to me decades ago, but last night I got the sequel.

I’m wandering in the countryside. I live in Tennessee so there are a lot of places even close to Nashville that are half-a-breath away from being completely rural. For some reason in this dream I’m walking and I come upon a hollow. For those of you who don’t speak the southern vernacular, a hollow is the fold between two hills. Unless you go right up and into the crevice in the land, you’d never see whether or not there’s a house there.

I enter the hollow using a dirt road of southern red clay – there are hills all around – and I see a house. When I look at the mailbox, I realize it’s the home of the author of these amazing books. He lives here! I’ve stumbled on the home of the greatest fantasy author ever to set pen to paper.

It doesn’t matter that he’s not home. It’s the middle of the day and I know he’ll be back before long. I settle myself to wait for the man who wrote the story that got inside of me and filled me with wonder on every page.

And that, fortunately or otherwise, is where the dream ended. I don’t know what the author looks like. I don’t know if he’s a nice old man or curmudgeonly with age. I only know that I’m filled with wonder and longing this morning.

I’m also resisting the urge to interpret the dream. I have no desire to explain the points in both dreams and their obvious symbolism. They’ve worked their magic on me and I find myself unwilling to reduce my wonder to the level of prosaic explanations.

However, I will say that I hope and pray you have a similar experience. I hope you get to read the perfect story and find the author, even if it’s just in your dreams.

 

Author Bio:

Patrick W. Carr was born on an Air Force base in West Germany at the height of cold war tensions. He has been told this was not his fault. As an Air Force brat, he experienced a change in locale every three years until his father retired to Tennessee.

Patrick saw more of the world on his own through a varied and somewhat eclectic education and work history. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer.

Patrick’s day gig for the last eight years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. Sometime in the future he would like to be a jazz pianist, and he wrestles with the complexity of improvisation on a daily basis. While Patrick enjoys reading about himself, he thinks writing about himself in the third person is kind of weird.

www.patrickwcarr.com

Confessions of a Rail-Jumper

A few months ago I opened an Etsy shop and named it Jumping Rails. Part of that name choice came from an experience in which I’d jumped a fence to cross some train tracks despite the warning sign not to, but the deeper reason has to do with my path as a creative person. You see, I am constantly jumping rails from one pursuit to another.

Pretty much any time before my senior year of high school, had you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d have said, “Artist.” But after graduation, I honestly had no idea what direction I wanted to go. I still loved to draw, but didn’t like the idea of it becoming “work.” Art stayed a hobby for me, but it didn’t at all stay centered on drawing, even though drawing was the heart of what I considered true art.

Over the years, art has shifted from one thing to another for me. Some examples:

Drawing

Painting plaster figurines

Assembling a multitude of craft kits

Scrapbooking

Refinishing furniture

Building and sewing window treatments

More drawing

Writing

Making wands

Mixed media art

Acrylic painting

I’ve had to shed the strict “artist” label I’d held onto during my childhood and adolescence, but it’s come off layer by layer over many years. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for not sticking to one art form, worried that I was abandoning certain talents. I have wondered off and on what it says about me that I am constantly changing direction and focus. I’ve thought, “I must not be an artist anymore because it’s been so long since I’ve drawn,” all the while not realizing that all creative things are art as well in their own ways. The guilt was never quite strong enough to keep me from jumping, though. I have never been one to force creativity. I found inspiration and it called relentlessly.

It wasn’t until after I started writing that I finally began to see the connection. It finally sank in that I was using the same creative force to write stories as I had to draw portraits. And that same creative force was at work when I scrapbooked, or sewed, or reupholstered a set of dining room chairs. I also accepted that painting didn’t have to mean masterpieces; I didn’t have to be Da Vinci or Van Gogh. I could paint space ships and fairy trees and it still counted as art to me. I could glue burnt paper and brass keys to painted canvas as long as what I created made me happy and counted as art to me.

All of those things, all those art forms, are part of a giant rail system, but for so many years I thought to be a true artist I needed to stay on one track. Now, I’ve had time and life experiences that have shown me all the branches of creativity cross each other. (As we get older, we are more able to see just how complex life in general is, so carrying that over to art makes much more sense.) I’ve gotten to know other artists and creative people who have embraced the different aspects of their own natures, and I’ve learned from their examples. Now I know it’s perfectly okay to jump the rails from one track to another as long as I keep the train moving.

 

 

Author Bio:

Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated from college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her YA fantasy series Toch Island Chronicles is available in print and ebook. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.

Amazon page for Toch Island Chronicles ebooks on sale for $1.39 each- https://www.amazon.com/s?ref=series_rw_dp_labf&_encoding=UTF8&field-collection=Toch+Island+Chronicles&url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text