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Words with Friends: Dan Walsh

Dear Friends, It may not look much like Christmas here in Mount Dora, Florida, with temperatures in the 70’s today–but we’re celebrating anyway. Tomorrow morning is our little town’s annual Christmas parade. And my friend Dan Walsh, whose recent release, Keeping Christmas, is set in Mount Dora, has two appearances here this weekend. Saturday, December 5, from 1 – 3 p.m., he’ll sign copies of his books at our wonderful hometown bookstore, Barrel of Books & Games. And Sunday evening, December 6 from 6 – 8 p.m., he’ll participate in the Christmas Book-tactular at the Donnelly Building in Donnelly Park. If you live in the central Florida area, I encourage you to come out and meet him and the other local authors. But since many of you don’t live here, I thought we’d take some time today and get to know Dan and Keeping Christmas. (Read my recent review here). I first met him a few years ago when he was just making the transition from busy pastor to full-time novelist. But I’ll let him tell you about that.                 Welcome, Dan. For those readers who don’t know you, could you give a little background on how you came to the writing life? I know yours is quite a story! Thanks, Marti. I do have an unusual story. Let’s see if I can share it in a paragraph. After serving full-time as a pastor for over two decades, I was experiencing some burnout, so I began writing a fiction novel to help me unwind and relax. After completing it, I polished it up and began the effort to get it published. To my shock and surprise, it was picked up almost immediately by an A-list literary agent, who had a contract with a major publisher in two months. That book, The Unfinished Gift, sold very well and won two Carol Awards. This led to more book contracts and eventually I left pastoring (at the twenty-five year mark) to write novels full-time. Keeping Christmas is my fifteenth novel and I have already released book #16 (Rescuing Finley) on Nov 19. Yours is the story of which so many writers dream. Of course, I was especially interested to read Keeping Christmas because the novel is set in my wonderful hometown of Mount Dora, Florida. How did you choose this location, and what research did you do? When I got the idea for the story, I initially thought to locate it in a northern town. But two years ago, my wife and I visited Mount Dora during Christmas time and fell in love with the place. We had never seen a town so devoted to the Christmas holiday before, especially in Florida. Add in...

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Words with Friends: Cynthia Ruchti

Dear Friends, I’m excited to re-introduce an author friend to you today. I met Cynthia Ruchti several years ago at the very first writers conference where I had the opportunity to teach. Her grace, kindness, and beauty are matched only by her skill as a writer. I fell in love with her back then, but I’ve fallen in love with her words since. I don’t dare present her work as an unbiased reviewer, but I also thought you might enjoy the opportunity to get to know one of my favorite people. Today, I’m thrilled to interview Cynthia and to give her the opportunity to share a little more about her new novella release, An Endless Christmas. Let’s go! Welcome, Cynthia. I know you live in Wisconsin, but you do a great job of setting the scene for Endless Christmas near Stillwater, Minnesota. How did you decide on this location, and what research did your writing involve?  I love spotlighting places that have captured my attention and affection. Stillwater is one of those locations. The story of An Endless Christmas is centered on a too-small cottage about five miles from town, just far enough for the cottage to seem separated from the hubbub of the small-town tourist destination, but accessible to it. I’ve visited Stillwater several times over the years. My husband and I took a day trip to Stillwater as the book was being written so I could recapture the feel, lock down specific landmarks in my mind, and collect some of the details that make Stillwater such a destination spot. I researched online, tapped into the experiences of friends who either lived near or had vacationed in Stillwater, gathered more ideas from their Chamber of Commerce, their Historical Society, and from Pinterest pages that confirmed what I’d discovered personally. I love your care and thoughtfulness. The Binder family has lots of Christmas traditions. Does your own family have any of these in common with your characters? Two key traditions are borrowed from my extended family. For many years, one of the holiday meals always provided a variety of soups. My brother’s Killer Chili for the strong of heart, a milder chili, chicken wild rice soup, and maybe a couple of other choices. When Mom was alive, oyster stew was one of the options. It had been a holiday tradition in her family for many decades. The other tradition that worked its way into the story was deciding to forego exchanging gifts in favor of taking up a collection for a meaningful charity, given first in honor of my father the year after he died. Now, the gifts are collected on behalf of both our father and mother. We’ve truly delighted in sending donations...

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Words with Friends: Yvonne Ortega

Today, I’m delighted to introduce to you one of my dear author friends, Yvonne Ortega. Yvonne lives the title of her most recent book better than almost anyone I know. This dynamo Latina speaks, travels, and ministers in all sorts of ways. Her deep relationship with God along with His faithfulness through her trials has moved her to write her latest book, Moving from Broken to Beautiful. I was blessed to write an endorsement for this book, and here’s what I said: “In one small but powerful package, Moving from Broken to Beautiful combines the wisdom of an older sister, the straight talk of a counselor, and the unconditional love of a longtime best friend. Author, speaker, and licensed professional counselor Yvonne Ortega has the professional credentials and personal experience to speak into readers’ lives with grace, humor, and genuine caring. Take time to process and interact with each of the book’s nine life lessons, and you’ll find yourself leaving destructive patterns of thought and behavior as you move toward a life set free by truth. Excellent read!” But enough of my words. Let’s hear from the author herself. Yvonne, you’re celebrating the release of your new book, Moving from Broken to Beautiful: 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward. What led you to write it? Friends often asked me how I survived and thrived after a domestic violence marriage, divorce, single parenting, breast cancer, several car accidents, and the loss of my only child. I would tell them, and they would say, “You need to write a book about that. It would encourage other people.” After I heard some version of that response dozens of times, I sensed God leading me to write the book. All those trials might cause someone to think the book might be somber or depressing. But I know (both because I’ve read the book and because I know you) it’s not. Do you have any comments about this? Just remember, the subtitle is 9 Life Lessons to Help You Move Forward. The style of writing is positive and hopeful. Friends tell me my sense of humor keeps the message upbeat. I agree! Yvonne, how does your work as a licensed professional counselor influence the book? I became a therapist after the divorce. My training and clinical experience helped me to focus on change for the better rather than being stuck in the past. However, my writing and speaking are not based exclusively on my training and clinical experience but also on the life lessons I learned. Although I’ve also used stories from other people, I have changed names and some identifying details to protect their privacy. And what makes Moving from Broken to Beautiful an interactive...

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WRITE: Words with Friends, Cynthia Ruchti

As promised, here’s my interview with sweet friend and award-winning author Cynthia Ruchti. She and I are serving together this week at the fabulous Write to Publish Conference held on the lovely campus of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. We both give a strong recommendation to this conference which has equipped so many. Now, let’s learn more about one of my favorite authors. Your tagline is “Stories of hope that glows in the dark.” How would you say All My Belongings fits this description? Hope often shows up best against a dark backdrop. That was certainly true for Becca in All My Belongings. Her parents detached emotionally from her before she was born and continued to live as if unaware they had a daughter. Her father’s actions brought shame and public attention to their family name. By her mid-twenties, Becca seemed to have lost everything, including her dignity and any sense of belonging. As the story progresses, she catches faint glimmers of hope that life could be different than how it started. But dark moments intruded. Her father’s reputation threatened, even from hundreds of miles away. But hope is tenacious. And it was all the more beautiful because of the way the light shone off of it in Becca’s greatest challenges. I love the hope that shines throughout her story. But they say novelists almost always write themselves into their main characters. How are you similar to and different from Becca, heroine of this most recent novel? My beginnings were dramatically different from Becca’s. I grew up knowing I was loved. . . except for that brief period in junior high when we all wonder if either we or our parents are aliens because of how “They just don’t get me.” My parents were respected in the community. I had to dig deep into imagination and the experiences of others I know whose childhoods held the kind of pain Becca’s did. Like Becca, though, I have deeply-rooted connections with the sea, even though I’ve lived landlocked most of my childhood and adult life. I got to vicariously live one of my dreams—returning to my birthplace of Oceanside, California, through Becca’s story. I understand her infatuation with it. Two more things we have in common: I love the beach as well, and our family lived in Oceanside for seven years. Now, I know you just won two Selah Awards, one for fiction (When the Morning Glory Blooms) and one for nonfiction (Ragged Hope). Which do you prefer to write? If I didn’t love both, I wouldn’t write both. My heart is the same whether writing fiction or nonfiction, and my nonfiction is strongly storytelling-based. Some topics lend themselves better to one format or...

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WRITE: Words with Friends: Michelle Cox

As promised, here’s my interview with author, speaker, and woman of encouragement Michelle Cox. Because of our shared publishing connections, I “knew” and prayed for Michelle for several years before meeting her in person when we roomed together this year as faculty at the Florida Christian Writers Conference. I hope you enjoy this Words with Friends interview with Michelle. And if you missed my review of her new novel with Rene Gutteridge, Just 18 Summers, check it out here. You’ve told me the fascinating story behind the start of the “Just 18 Summers” concept. Would you share it with our readers, please? My pastor dedicated a baby at church one Sunday morning, and as the parents turned to leave the platform, Rev. Sexton said, “Don’t forget you have just 18 summers. Go make some memories.” The poignancy of that slammed into me—particularly since my youngest son was getting married a few weeks later. I came up with the idea to do a gift book based on the thought, but God had much bigger plans. I’m now developing a complete brand based on the concept—and the release of my Just 18 Summers novel (co-authored with Rene Gutteridge) is an exciting component of that. You’re a mother of three and grandmother of six. How does Just 18 Summers relate to your own personal experience? My sons grew up way too fast—and now I think my grandbabies are growing up even faster. Seriously, I look back at those years with my boys and wonder how we got from the days when we brought them home from the hospital until now so quickly! We made a conscious effort to spend time with our sons and I’m so glad we did that . . . but I wish there’d been so much more. Six years have gone by since our youngest son got married and left home. I love my daughters-in-law and I’m crazy about my grandchildren, but there are still times when I miss my boys so much, days when I’d give a million dollars to walk down the hall one more time to tuck them into bed, to listen to bedtime prayers, and to hear the sounds of their laughter ringing through the house. I know this concept has now become a brand, with a dedicated website, screenplay, and now the novel. Please explain how this developed. Sometimes I feel like the poster child to prove God has a sense of humor, because it’s absolutely hysterical how all of this happened. After hearing my pastor say those words, I’d come up with the idea to do a gift book based on the concept. About that same time, my friend, Lori Marett, was starting the Gideon...

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WRITE: Words with Friends: Joyce Magnin, author of CAKE

Today, I’m proud to share with you an interview with award-winning author Joyce Magnin as the start of a new blog feature, Words with Friends. God has allowed me to build some great relationships with other authors, and I don’t want to hide those when I feature their books. In Words with Friends, I’ll share an interview and  a bit of personal information, too.  Joyce and I first met a few years ago when we both served on faculty at the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. At our first in-person encounter, I bowed at her feet to show my extreme appreciation for her talents. We share an off-center sense of humor, a love for great literature, and a deep appreciation for Lemon Squares. Elsewhere on this blog, you can read my earlier interview with Joyce and my review of her most recent work, CAKE. Joyce, a frequent conference speaker and writing instructor, is the author of the popular and quirky Bright’s Pond series along with two recent middle grade novels, Carrying Mason and Cake. When she’s not writing or reading, Joyce enjoys baseball, needle arts, video games, and cream soda, but not elevators—especially glass ones. She listens to many kinds of music, shamelessly confesses to enjoying American Idol, and has never eaten a scallop or sky dived. Joyce has three children, Rebekah, Emily, and Adam;  three grandsons, Lemuel, Cedar, and Soren; and one son-in-law, Joshua. Joyce, her son Adam, and their crazy cat Mango live in Havertown, Pennsylvania where Joyce cares for an eighty-year-old onion plant. Welcome, Joyce. Let’s jump right into our discussion. What were some of your favorite books as a child? Mrs. Piggle Wiggle books. Loved them all. Still do. Emily of New Moon, she was one of the lesser-known heroines of Lucy Maud Montgomery, although Anne of Green Gables was a favorite also. The poems of Emily Dickinson even though I didn’t understand most of what I was reading, I just loved to read the words. Harriet the Spy Winnie the Pooh Grimm’s Fairy Tales Pippi Longstocking made me want to have big feet and strap sponges on them to scrub the kitchen floor. Oh, and to have a monkey. Mom wouldn’t allow it, which was kind of disappointing considering our mother let us keep every animal we brought home, including dogs, cats, a flying squirrel, snakes, birds, guinea pigs, mice, and a pig for a short while, but my favorite was the dogs. Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales But, believe it or not I became enamored with Sherlock Holmes when I was around eleven years old. When and why did you decide to start writing for young readers? I was nine. No, really. Middle Grade literature...

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