Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Called to tell a story?

This morning, I received a lovely letter from a reader of The Restorer and she asked some great questions. I enjoyed mulling the answers, and after writing to her, realized that these thoughts might bless others, as well.

She asked about what the journey has been like, and her core question was, "What would you tell another Christian young woman with a God-given story burning in her heart?"

As I looked back at the years while The Restorer "brewed" - before I began writing it, and the process that brought it to publication, I remembered how painful that time was. Debilitating health problems, burn-out and feelings of disillusionment after years in a ministry that drained everything from me, then years of seeking Him for new vocational direction with no answers.

I don't know if it's true for all writers (although many of my writer friends tell similar stories) but it seems a lot of stories are born in the crucible of affliction.

I've always been involved in the arts (music, theatre, dance, writing) and yet had several years of NO open doors in any form of expression. Desert days. God whispered to me to "write" many years before He guided me to what kind of writing to do. When He slowly nudged me toward writing a novel, and that door opened, it was like a race-horse when the gate goes up. Exhilarating. Frightening. Intense. Then as the book took shape and people were being blessed by it, He guided me to seek publication--even more frightening and challenging - and then four years of prayerful DAILY seeking for that open door (in the face of the statistics of how many manuscripts are submitted and how few are ever published).

On the practical side, I'd studied writing in grad school, written non-fiction for magazines, etc., and then went to writing conferences for four years to meet editors and agents and learn about the industry. But the faith journey was the REAL challenge. Being willing to invest the work and time knowing I was primarily writing for an audience of ONE. Trusting Him to glorify His name in spite of human measurements. Seeking to give my very best...seeking to hone my skills to better honor Him - yet also knowing that it will never fully convey all the wonder of who He is (our art is so limited compared to His awesomeness).

Honestly, that is STILL a daily struggle for me. To feel God's passion for a story (as you may have felt for the one He's placed in your heart) and to pour out sacrificially to help birth the story - and yet to release any "results" to Him. I treasure each letter from a reader that hints that He is using this story for His purposes.

So what would I tell a woman with a God-given story burning in her heart?

In each step.

I asked Him for a Christian writer's group (I knew I needed accountability, support, and feedback). It took years of prayer before I found one. After I'd joined the group, God released me to begin the novel - finally gave me clear direction. After I finished the first draft (about six months) I prayed about the next step. He led me to a writer's conference where I went with every ounce of teachability I had - to discover what publishers were looking for and if my writing had the skill needed to even be thinking of publication. He continued to provide direction for each next step. The most challenging years of my life.

I learned so much in those years of studying, working full-time at writing, and pursuing His will for my stories. I wrote, revised, and honed eight complete manuscripts (seven are now contracted with two different publishing houses), read books on writing, editing, and proposal-writing, and listened to what marketing teams, acquisition editors, agents, and others were saying about the kind of authors they sought to work with.

For all the practical resources that helped me, I have a page of "encouragement for writers" on my website with recommended books, conferences, etc.

But it's the faith journey that is the real challenge. Daily showing up - giving God my availability. When I teach writing, I mention two qualities that are vital: availability and authenticity. God's grace pours out of the broken places in our lives.

Are you called to tell a story for Him? I pray He will guide you even as He has been stirring the story to life in you. I KNOW He will comfort you on days of discouragement (because those will come) and send you wise counsel at the right moments as you watch for it.

I've talked about the crucible of affliction, but I want to also say that writing The Restorer was FUN! It was joyous to discover the themes of God's grace weaving through the characters and their adventures. It was exciting to show up each morning wondering where God would direct my thoughts and words that day.

I long for my stories to accomplish God's purpose - which might look different for each reader, but I hope include giving glimpses of His wonderfulness.
Have a blessed day!
Sharon Hinck ...
...stories for the hero in all of us

The Secret Life of Becky Miller (Bethany House, June, 2006)
Renovating Becky Miller (Bethany House, February, 2007)
The Restorer (NavPress, May 2007)
The Restorer's Son (NavPress, September 2007)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day Nine (July 17, 2007)

We left the spacious, beautiful home of Bryan's friends after a wonderful breakfast, and headed to New York City. I rode with Christopher and Jennifer. We were constantly rearranging who was in each car, for optimum mixing and fellowshipping during the drives. More shop talk about the work of writing, but also lots of great discussions about God stuff and ministry.

Our destination was a mission in Brooklyn. Driving into the "Big Apple" would have been exciting anyway, but on the outskirts (when traffic was still blitzing along) we had some extra excitement. A car in the left lane had to brake suddenly, and was hit by another, and smashed violently by a third. Christopher (in the second-to-left lane) had no time to brake, and so accelerated past the sparks, crumpling metal, and scream of burning rubber. If the accident had slid further into our lane, we would have had nowhere to go.

Once we reached the burroughs, Christopher really showed off his New York driving skills. Yellow cabs dart in and out of lanes like minnows, and Christopher did the same as we wove our way toward the mission. I loved the music of the car horns. They were a constant conversation.

At the mission, Jennifer and I trekked up to the third floor girls' dorm, to find the bunks where we'd spend the night. Then we relaxed with the rest of the team (who again were jumping at a chance to update their blogs and answer emails...and practice bad Rocky impressions and Brooklyn accents). Soon it was time to navigate to the Timeless Treasures bookstore attached to the Brooklyn Tabernacle.

The time at the store was warm, wonderful, and uplifting. I loved the staff and the folks I got to chat with. But the highlight was the prayer service. We were given a quick tour of the Brooklyn Tabernacle at around 5pm - and folks were already gathering, kneeling at the altar, praying...in preparation for the 7pm prayer service. When we joined them later, the music and heart of worship carried me a couple steps over the threshold of heaven. Tears ran down my face as I praised God, and had one of those "close encounters" with His heart. It was so deep, that I felt like it was a precious gift that washed away a year of some very tough circumstances. Hard to put into words--even for someone who makes a living as a writer.

We weren't able to stay long, but I savored each moment.

One other thing spoke to me that night. The night before in Delaware, we'd enjoyed luxury. Huge rooms, comfy beds, and even a basket of toiletries in the bathroom. I felt welcomed and cared about. The hospitality was palpable and such a blessing.

As I made my way into the bathroom on the third floor of the mission, in this rough building being transformed by love and hard work, construction material was propped in the corner. Broken windows leaked in the rain. Duct-tape held down the edge of the carpet. But on the bathroom counter was a basket of toiletries. The love, the hospitality, the welcome of our vagabond group was every bit as palpable and every bit as much of a blessing.

Since I'd been sick and was overtired, I crashed for the night while Christopher and Jennifer visited with our hosts who run the mission. But the next morning I got to meet them and learn more about their work. Pastor Ron shared that one of the biggest needs if for volunteer staff - folks who can raise support and come to work with them. If you have a calling for urban ministry and God has been nudging you to find a place to serve, email me through my website, and I'll give you their contact info.

A Visit from Gail Martin

Today, I'm welcoming Gail Martin to talk about her new novel. In His Dreams, the 3rd book in the Michigan Island Series released by Steeple Hill Love Inspired.

Gail Gaymer Martin is an award-winning novelist for Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing with over one million books in print and forty fiction novels or novellas. The second book in the Michigan Island Series, With Christmas In His Heart, was recently honored with the 2007 National Readers Choice Award in Inspirational. Her book, Writing The Christian Romance will be released in December from Writers Digest.

Book Blurb:
Escape to beautiful Beaver Island could be the answer to Marsha Sullivan's need for a fresh start. Since her husband's death four years ago, Marsha had lost her way, but on Beaver Island, she had good memories to help guide her. Running into Jeff, her brother-in-law, in this paradise turned out to be a blessing. Not only did they share grief in losing their spouses, but also a warm bond began to form between them. Did God want her to love again? The only thing she knew for sure was that being with Jeff and his daughter felt like family.

A few questions for Gail...

1. Why did you write this story?

Michigan is blessed with the Great Lakes and a multitude of islands. I've enjoyed a number of them and I began to think about the thing that intrigues people about islands. As I thought, I realized islands might make an interesting setting for a series. My first book was set on Harsens Island in Lake St. Clair, was based on a real experience of mine, and I used it to spark a story idea. The second book, With Christmas In His Heart, was set on Mackinac Island, a charming and amazing island that's like stepping back in time. Mackinac has no motorized vehicles, and people who live there walk, ride bikes, horseback, or horse and carriage. This book was inspired by my visit to the historical island which an amazing history. I'd spent a week in a chalet which I used for my heroine Marsha and many of the places mentioned in the book are real. The final book to be released in January 2008 is set on the awesome Les Cheneaux Islands and Drummond Island in northern Michigan. The series was such a joy to write.

2. How do you write? Do your characters come to you first or the plot or the world of the story?

How a story comes to me is not consistent. I might hear a Bible verse in church, notice something in a stained glass window that strikes me. I can get a story idea from song lyrics or an article in the newspaper. I might hear a real life event or situation that brings a story to mind. I might meet someone who has an interesting take on life. Sometimes I visit a place and think that I’d like to set in a story there. Whichever comes first, close behind are the other aspects of what I need. If I have a setting, the plot will be on its tail and then the kind of characters needed to make the story work. My last three book series proposals were based on location. I have completed the Michigan Island series — stories set on four different Michigan Islands as I mentioned. The next book series came to mind while spending time in the Monterey area where my nieces live, and finally, my travels have resulted in a new series idea for Steeple Hill Love Inspired set partially in the U.S. and partially in a foreign country.

3. What do you love about being an author? Is there anything you dislike?

I love writing and creating, and I enjoy meeting readers and receiving their letters.. Sharing my faith in stories that entertain is a blessing for me, and touching people’s lives with the message in the story is an honor. I am awed that the Lord has blessed me in this way. What I don’t like are the pressures of deadlines when they overlap. Then my life becomes so very stressed, especially when I find myself working on two or three books at one time. Then it’s not fun.

Thanks for visiting, Gail!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day Eight (July 16, 2007)

Monday morning we repacked the van and car and made room to add Wayne's daughter to our crew. The seven of us set out for Bel Air, MD where we spent a wonderful hour visiting folk at the Christopher Matthew's Christian bookstore. This was a fun event for me, because I'd met the owner, Bryan Brock, the week before at the Logos retreat in Atlanta.

We fit in a drive-by signing at a Borders, then continued to a short visit at Family Christian store in Newark, Delaware (I think the Newark name led me to think we were sometimes in New Jersey that day). We met professional story teller Michael Forestieri, who even brought his Celtic harp. We finished our day with a fourth event at The Days of Knights Store, also in Newark. GREAT people who went all out for us (a great spread of healthy munchies, which sadly I didn't get to enjoy as much as I would have liked, since I'd gotten a tummy bug the night before and was avoiding food).

I talked to several aspiring authors about their speculative fiction projects, and enjoyed getting to spend time with Tiff Amber Miller from ACFW. She helped arrange the earlier signing even though in the midst of planning her wedding AND a cross-country move. What a hero! When we finished, the guys needed food and wifi time to update their blogs, so I napped in the van while the rest of the team walked to a coffee shop for those vital needs. Then Bryan checked his computer map, and told Wayne "this will be easy to find."

Famous last words.

In the dark of night, Wayne drove everywhere Bryan directed . . . which included several dead ends, and finally an eerie trek down dark country roads that inspired the imaginations of all the fantasy authors. I believe there was mention of trolls.

We reached the host home - someone none of us had met (a brother of a friend of Bryan's). They were incredibly warm and gracious (even as we draggled in late at night).

Bryan's daughter, Wayne's daughter, and myself all settled into a room and slumber party stories ensued. The funniest moment was when Wayne appeared in the doorway to tell his daughter to settle down and "let Ms. Sharon get some sleep" - when I was the instigator of much of the giggles. (But I'm fessing up now, so Wayne's daughter no longer has to take the blame).

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day Seven (July 15, 2007)

Photo: Me with cousin Gail and aunt Helen who surprised me Sunday night.

Sunday I met my host family when I got up in the morning, Deanna made me a super breakfast, (and her boys were so gracious in sharing their room with a stranger AND letting me have some computer time to check emails) and I quickly joined the three other authors for our day's events.

I was delighted we were heading into Washington D.C., past interesting landmarks, but especially glad that it was Sunday and I'd have a chance to attend church.

We had some fuzzy info about what was expected of us at the National Presbyterian Church. We knew we were speaking to a youth group, and then thought we'd be signing books and chatting in a foyer or narthex during a couple services, so we could attend church in shifts. We enjoyed meeting the teens. Christopher, who is a youth pastor, especially connected with them and spoke straight from his heart to challenge and encourage them. Then we went to the main building where tables had been set up near the church bookstore for us. We greeted everyone who walked past, but once church began things were quiet. I was able to slip upstairs through some complex corridors and find the sanctuary, where I sat in the back during most of the sermon. Then I hurried back down to the guys, who were still sitting by the back door. When the service ended, a few families stopped by to chat with us, but apparently most people were staying upstairs for a congregational meeting so we didn't get to meet as many people as we'd hoped. I did get to chat with a man from my home state who works on capitol hill, which brought home to me that we were in the center of movers and shakers. We were all grateful we'd been invited and hoped that a few more people had learned that Christian fiction is alive and well.

We drove to Alexandria, VA, and introduced ourselves to the staff at the Potomac Yard Barnes and Noble. We had an hour before our 3-5 signing, so we walked to a nearby restaurant for a late lunch (or early supper? we tended to grab meals anytime we had a few spare minutes between events) and more great conversation. Put four authors at a table and shop talk is a given. But our conversations were about so much more than writing craft, industry info, and deadlines. Each of the authors is absolutely committed to serving God's kingdom through the books he or she writes. I loved hearing about the challenges and strategies and fruit being evidenced in each writer's life.

We hoped for one of the huge crowds we'd had at other stores, since we knew a reporter and photographer from the Washington Post planned to come to this event. Of course Murphy's Law dictated that we had the smallest turn-out yet. Still, each author took a turn reading a scene from their book, which drew people from around the store. I really enjoyed meeting the reporter, Ms. Salmon, and appreciated her depth of research, and her time and interest.

As in other stores, special individual encounters overshadowed our desire to sign lots of books or meet lots of people. One woman watched me avidly as I read a scene from The Restorer. Afterwards she came to me and said, "that scene describes where my life is right now." I felt like God nudged us into the same time and space to encourage each other. Meantime, Christopher chatted with a marine about to be deployed and then prayed with him. The new community relations manager was awesome and bent over backwards to provide us with sound equipment and chairs for the audience for the reading.

Still, we headed to our evening event with a little honest weariness. We'd had a long day.

That was the night I blogged about on the tour. We pulled up into the parking lot of Ellicott City Barnes and Noble, and Christopher's wife, Bryan's daughter, and Wayne's wife all came out to greet the men. I stood alone in the parking lot missing my hubby and kids with a stabbing intensity. A short time later, I was surprised by my cousin and aunt (whom I hadn't seen in over two decades). God gave me the gift of family when I most needed it.

My host family drove me back to their house after the event. Two nights in a row in the same bed was a huge treat. Not only that, but Deanna supplied me with bath salts, body scrubs, lotions, and her huge, deep soaking tub. Ah!!! Heaven.

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day Six (July 14, 2007)

At some point during out touring, Christopher got a great email from his publisher listing some of the major press that the Fantasy Fiction Tour was gathering.

A.P. Wire service "Everything Sacred" webcast
Publisher's Weekly
San Diego Union-Times
Alexandria Gazette, VA
Asheville Citizen-Times
The Salt Lake Tribune
Baltimore Sun
Washington Post

In addition, she noted hundreds of online sites talking about our tour.
We rejoiced in her report and prayed it would let people know about some of the new Christian fiction choices in the stores. But while we appreciated this news, I think we honestly found the greatest encouragement in each one-on-one face-to-face encounter.

I also was blessed because my tourmates continued to model the kind of servant hearts that I know Christ wants in His writers. They coached aspiring authors, chatted with young readers and their parents, and took every chance to tell their individual fans, "You'd also like books by the other authors." Christopher would say, "let me tell you about Bryan's books." Wayne would say, "I loved Sharon's book." I would say, "if you like the concept of Perelandra, you should read Christopher's books." Bryan would say, "take a look at Wayne's series."

That wasn't always the easy, instinctive, human-nature approach. But again and again I saw the tourmates conquer temptations to compare or elbow their way forward. In some stores we dropped in to, a few authors' books were carried and others weren't. In the home states of some of the authors, crowds of family and friends came out to support them, while others of us were far from our circles of influence. Some groups were the target demographic of one author but not others. At some events an author would glowingly report how many books he sold while others sold nothing. Again and again I saw the guys make conscious choices to rejoice in the blessings of others. And I can vouch for the fact that we ALL felt greatly blessed by the overall experience.

Saturday we hit the road early to reach Richmond, VA by noon for a Barnes and Noble event. After that our itinerary said we had 2.5 hours to reach Ellicott City, so we grabbed a quick late lunch at a Waffle House and then hit the road. Connie (a friend of Bryan) and her two nephews had come to the event, and were heading to the next event. She asked me to ride with her so we could get acquainted. It was great hearing her "God stories" and answering her questions about my writing journey. At some point I dozed for awhile, and woke up to find we were doing some strange maneuvers getting on and off the freeway trying to avoid traffic. Connie played Mario Andretti as she wove around traffic (with her blinkers NOT working) trying to stay on the tail of Christopher's car.

Bumper to bumper traffic jams added HOURS to our travel, and the guys had to call our evening event stop to tell them we would arrive late.

This was a special store - His Way Christian Bookstore - one in Wayne's home turf that has been hugely supportive of his work and other Christian fantasy. I can't tell you how frustrating it was to do all we could and still arrive late. But what a blessing it was to walk in to see a CROWD waiting for us. Banners (specifically made for us) hung from the ceiling of the story, while swords on the floor guided us to the place where we would sign. A rack had been prepared behind us where we could mount our swords. End cap displays filled the entire length of the center aisle of the store. Best of all were the people. Readers who told us how much the books meant to them. I cherished each hug and every conversation.

As the event began to wrap up around nine or ten, the plan was for all of us to go to a party that one of Wayne's friends had graciously prepared. After that, we'd be divided up to drive to various host homes. I was so tired, I was tempted to crawl under the signing table and curl up for a nap. The thought of more drives to more places and more interactions before finally having a bed for the night about did me in. Wayne's wife rescued me. Even though she was helping host the party at one location, she drove me out to my host home and let me in (they were at a ball game that night and not home yet) so I could collapse and get some sleep. I hated missing the party, but I had to concede that I can't keep the sort of pace I used to back in college days or even as a young parent. I felt a little like Goldilocks, and hoped I'd collapsed into the right bed, but didn't have time to worry about it because I was old cold in seconds.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day Five (July 13, 2007)

Have you wondered how the guys kept up on their blogs during the tour? Jennifer (shown here with Christopher) spent time in each bookstore editing the day's video logs while we authors were signing books and chatting. When we'd reach host homes (often well after ten at night) the guys grabbed a chance for internet hook-up. I didn't bring my laptop, but the guys occasionally let me borrow theirs. However, prying writers away from their computers is NOT easy. Besides, they all get so much fan mail, that they need hours a day just to keep up on answering it. :-)

Add to this, the fact that my eyes were usually crossing with fatigue, I decided to blog about the tour AFTER getting home.

Friday was my special day. Margaret drove me to the SHARON'S Corner Shopping Center on SHARON Lane for our noon event at Barnes and Noble in Charlotte. I rejoined the team and we had another great event, meeting some friends I'd only known online. Throughout the tour I was VERY blessed by all the ACFW members who came out to support us. American Christian Fiction Writers is a terrific organization that I've been a part of for about four years.

We headed out of Charlotte at about 2:30 for the 3.5 hour drive to Borders in Raleigh. Another fun event - but I don't think I was the only one struggling to remember what city we were in or how many days had passed. :-)

That night we stayed with lovely friends of Christopher (the guy has friends EVERYWHERE) which is where these "catching up on blogs" photos were taken. I had a blessed and heartfelt conversation with the mom of the house who has an amazing testimony about God's grace poured out in her life. We talked at length about trusting that God is using us for His service - even in obscure ways - about being willing to do BIG things for Him, but also being resolved to do the SMALL things to His glory. :-)

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day Four (July 12, 2007)

A full day, with more opportunities to enjoy the ebullience of my tour-mates. A quick drive-by of a Borders (Bryan did the wonderful prep work of calling stores ahead of time to let them know we'd pop in. They had all our books waiting for us, ready to be signed). Then we went to Knoxville for our official noon event at Cedar Springs Christian Store. Jackie, from Wayne's publisher, Thomas Nelson, came to the event and handed out bookmarks, chatted with folks in the store, and even treated our troupe to a late lunch afterwards. I was delighted I got to meet her - she was a joy.

We squeezed in one more drive-by of a LifeWay store, and then drove to Asheville, NC. I had the opportunity to overcome my fear of electricity (unfortunate backstory I won't get into here) because Bryan navigated from his laptop, which had to plug in to a battery which rested beside me, and I was often asked to "jiggle that cord" that plugged in to the cigarette lighter. I explained that inviting me to jiggle a cord connected to electricity was a dangerous thing, but I conquered my fears and there were no mishaps.

A high point for me of our event at the Barnes and Noble in Asheville, was the arrival of Margaret Montreuil. Margaret founded the writer's group, Word Servants, that I was part of while writing The Restorer. It was fun to celebrate the book's birth with one of its "midwives."
A high point for the guys was a woman who teaches stage combat who happened by the store and offered to give them some sword-play lessons. Always eager to attract crowds, the team engaged in some sparring in front of the store.

If you've been keeping count, we were in four different bookstores in several cities all in this one day. It truly began to feel like each day held about two or three days' worth of memories....which is my explanation for the "what day is it?" chorus.

The team went to a host home in Asheville that night, while Margaret whisked me up to Charlotte for a time to catch up, and a restful night at her home. Unfortunately, a semi-truck rollover in the mountains trapped us for well over an hour, making the drive that night a long one. But I enjoyed every minute chatting with her.

The warmth and enthusiasm of the folks who came out to the events was amazing - but I was also thrilled by the response of store managers. Managers and staff told us again and again, "This is our best event EVER." It was a top goal of ours to serve the hard-working bookstore folk, and to show them our appreciation for the work they do.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cindy's Book Club

I interrupt my tour recap to let you know that The Restorer was chosen as an August book club selection by Cindy Swan for her radio show, and you can hear snippets of our interview at Notes in the Key of Life.

You can also learn more at Cindy's Book Club (a reading experience brought to you by 101QFL, Marlar in the Morning, and the Cannoli Caffe).

I had a BLAST taping the interview with Cindy, who had terrific questions for me. She'll continue posting some of our chat throughout August as a lead up to the book discussion night.

If you stop by her blog, be sure to leave a comment to thank her for picking The Restorer, and for all she does to promote Christian fiction. She rocks!


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Day Three - July 11, 2007

Wednesday morning Ted and I boarded the shuttle from our hotel to the convention center where we met up with Bryan's van and Christopher and Jennifer's car. Since Bryan is a prolific author of a half-dozen books, and travels with boxes of all of them, I was impressed that he was able to wedge my suitcases in the back as well (one for clothes and books, one for door prizes, gifts, cards to store staff, bookmarks, etc.) I also had a bag of food along for in-car snacking. For some reason, none of the guys seemed excited about rice cakes or raisins or granola bars. Cheetos and Pepsi and double-stuffed Oreos were the nutrition of choice. However, Bryan VERY kindly demonstrated his ecumenical heart by also stocking the cooler with Coke for me. I decided to encourage young Amanda in healthy eating - and later in the trip was rewarded with moderate success when she informed me she had included a leaf of lettuce on her cheeseburger. Veggies! Yes!

Saying goodbye to my hubby was difficult, but there was no time to dawdle. Soon we were navigating out of Atlanta on our way to our first booking in Manchester, Tennessee. In the car (and via cellphone with Christopher) we discussed the topics each of us planned to cover in our 22.5 minutes each.

Happy spiritual goosebumps rose on my arms as I listened to my teammates at that Heart and Hearth Home Education Support Group event. Bryan spoke with great logic and shared useful information and a beautifully constructed PowerPoint presentation about making choices in literature. Wayne delighted the audience with his dramatic reading and fake accent. Christopher poured out his passion for each young person and his conviction that God would empower them to make heroic choices. I spoke to the parents about the heroic role they fill, and how God is able to pour grace out to others through even weak and broken vessels. I think we all felt impressed with the way God had woven our messages together.

Soon we were packing up and back on the road to Nashville. We began to share our "God stories" and on the way to grab supper, I learned that Christopher grew up as part of a Christian community that had profoundly influenced me during my high school days. We were delighted to find this kinship and shared spiritual heritage.

Also, at a large Christian conference back in the mid 1970s, I'd watched Dawn Sandquist dance to the song "Courts of the King" which was when God first inspired me to want to use my training and love for dance as a way to worship Him. Christopher said, "Oh, that's my 'Uncle Ted and Aunt Dawn'." He had more surprises for me, when he invited "Uncle Phil" to stop by. Legendary guitarist Phil Keaggy came to the signing that night. It was SUCH an honor to meet him.

My impressions after our first day on the road? Christopher and Wayne were a non-stop Saturday Night Live sketch. Jennifer and Amanda's gentle presences were a huge blessing. Bryan was an organized navigator with a wealth of patience and a sense of humor that continued to surprise me.

We pulled in late to Christopher's editor's home. I collapsed onto the air mattress on the living room floor and the next thing I knew it was morning. Jodie made us a wonderful breakfast, and then it was time to hit the road again. This first night of hospitality demonstrated what we would experience each night of our journey - warm and wonderful people opening their homes to us, feeding us, encouraging us, and just loving on us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Day Two - (July 10, 2007)

Another full day at ICRS with media interviews, cheering on my friends, and a Fantasy Fiction Tour group signing. This was a bit of a surprise, since we'd been told to show up for a photo-op and didn't realize we had been scheduled for a group signing. We scrambled to find books - some publishers had extras we were able to use (although I ran out about half-way through the signing and just signed bookmarks for folk). Good reminder for me (the type A gal) to roll with things and be adaptable - something I need more practice at.

I had another fun moment that afternoon. NavPress was featuring The Restorer's Son at their booth - so copies were propped up on shelves as a display. I was curious since I knew the book hadn't gone to press yet, and I peeked inside one. Blank pages. :-)

I decided it was a new version of the old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books. Or a companion journal for the book. LOL! Actually, it was very exciting seeing the mock-ups. The cover is gorgeous. I also loved meeting NavPress staff from sales, marketing, and editorial. They are all warm, enthusiastic, and gracious and I was glad for a chance to thank them for all they do.

Late in the afternoon, I was asked to mingle with CBA members in a lounge area and had wonderful chats with several couples who own stores. From there, my hubby and I followed Bryan Davis as he and his daughter whisked us away (seriously, Bryan walks VERY fast) to his van. He had lined up a book signing in nearby Douglasville, GA for that evening.

He has a huge fan base in the area, and it was so fun seeing young people come in to meet him - some near tears at meeting an author they loved so much. My hubby shared later how impressed he was with Bryan's heart for service. He spends hours each day responding to emails and posts on his forums, reaching out to his young readers.

I still had only "on the fly" impressions of my other tour mates, but a certain knowledge that God had a good adventure planned for us.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fearless with Robin Parrish

My husband sometimes rolls his eyes when I greet my "friends" in the local bookstore.

"Oh, look! There's Patti. They have two of her. Oh, and there's Susie. I got an email from her yesterday."

Hubby looks around, confused, until he realizes I'm talking about the books of my friends - which I greet with great enthusiasm when I see them on store shelves.

At a big chain store along the Fantasy Fiction Tour, we spotted a table of new releases up front. "Oh, look! Robin is here with the big boys!" Yep, Robin's new book was NOT in the "Christian fiction" or "Religion" section, but alongside other general market (ABA) book releases by the front of the store. Robin and I both had our debut ICRS book signings last year and enjoyed being the "new kids on the block" and part of the "Bethany House class of 2006." I was thrilled to see him (okay, his BOOK - although I also saw him in person at ICRS....the kind man came to my Restorer book signing, even though I missed his signing because of an interview).

I loved Relentless for all the same reasons I liked X-men and Heroes. I can't wait to read Fearless. It will be my treat to myself after turning in copy edits on one book and revisions on another.

The CSFF Blog Tour is featuring Robin this month, so be sure to check out the many reviews and interviews!


More from Day One (July 9, 2007)

In addition to the great conversations, the book signing, and the meet and greet with the Fantasy Fiction Tour group, I also had some media appointments during the first day of ICRS. Here's a photo of a television interview with Kim Gravel of WATC television. She was so warm and enthusiastic about Christian fiction, and absolutely lit up when I mentioned how the biblical story of Deborah had been an inspiration for The Restorer. I felt like I was chatting with an old friend.

The day ended with a dinner with American Christian Fiction Writers. The best part of these ICRS days? My dear hubby flew down to Atlanta to be with me for this middle section of the trip. (After some meetings and a writing retreat, and before the tour hit the road). Without him, I'm sure I would never have gotten to each appointment on time or found my way around the huge convention center. His comforting presence, along with lots of Halls Honey & Lemon cough drops, kept me going in spite of a sore throat and voice that kept giving out.

Tomorrow - Day Two of ICRS (and another Fantasy Fiction Tour moment).

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fantasy Fiction Tour Day One

The Meet and Greet of the Fantasy Tour.

Although I'd met Bryan four or five years earlier at Mount Hermon, and had emailed for months with Christopher and Wayne, this was my first chance to meet them all in person.

Once we'd thanked John Cooper for the excellent swords and shields, visited with the Tsaba house folks who were graciously hosting the event, and handed out bookmarks to curious passersby, I had to hurry back to the NavPress booth. It was hard to pull away, but I knew I'd soon have many hours in the van to get to know each of the fine authors.

They each had their own agenda of meetings, media, and signings during ICRS, but we already felt a sense of "we're in this together."

That afternoon, I had my next cool "God gift."

I was in line to support my friend, Camy Tang, as she signed her awesome Asian Chick-lit novel, Sushi for One? A woman next to me, from Australia, chatted with me to pass the time. She kept looking at my name tag. "I think I know you from somewhere..."

Then she saw my shoulder bag (which has my book covers displayed in clear pockets).

"You wrote The Secret Life of Becky Miller! I love that book! I read it while on a mission trip in Nairobi. Each night I'd go back to my tent and it was the right mix of humor and inspiration after a tough day training humanitarian aid workers about stress and trauma."

Turns out this amazing woman (who spends a lot of time doing BIG THINGS for God) is also an acclaimed author, Lisa McKay.

I'll be honest. I often find the writing life very discouraging. I question the value of what I do, my skill to do it, and God's purposes. That's okay. Being full of questions and doubts comes from the same part of me that wrestles things out through stories. But I thrive on those moments of reassurance that God is using the books to bless others. My conversation with Lisa was a HUGE gift from God to me. For my little story to serve someone on the "front lines" of hard-core ministry...it doesn't get better than that. Lisa told me she's hanging on to Renovating Becky Miller to read on her next mission trip. And in that huge crowd at the convention, what are the odds we would end up next to each other in a line long enough to have a good chat? It's a GOD thing.

A Visit from Traci DePree

Today I'm happy to announce a new release by Minnesota author Traci DePree.

A State of Grace
book #2 in Mystery and the Minister's Wife
by Traci DePree

Unveiling her deepest secret could save her daughter's life.

Kate Hanlon is at it again. Minister's wife, stained-glass artist, and sometimes sleuth, Kate Hanlon discovers more than she bargained for when she visits a woman whose daughter is battling leukemia. Before she knows it she's on the road uncovering clues that could be the girl's very survival.

Book #2 in Mystery and the Minister's Wife, A State of Grace picks up where Through the Fire left off as Kate and Paul Hanlon learn about life in small town Tennessee. Follow Kate as she comes to know the town and its inhabitants. Admire her persistence, intelligence, and strength of character as she slowly, but surely, begins to unlock the town's secrets.
About the author: Traci DePree is the author of four novels, including the Lake Emily series by WaterBrook Press. She, her husband, and their five children make their home in a small town in rural Minnesota.

About the series: Each novel in the MYSTERY AND THE MINISTER'S WIFE series is a page-turner, a good old-fashioned "whodunit." They're books that bring truth to light, that reveal dreams, and that show that trust in God always trumps fear and anxiety.
Learn more about Traci DePree at her website.

These books are part of a Guideposts book club. Readers have two options for ordering this book or the series. They can join the series online or they can call the customer service number, which is 1-800-431-2344. There, they can sign up for the series, in which case they will get every book (a new shipment every six weeks), or they can request specific books in the series (i.e. A State of Grace).

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Touching my heroes

Another photo of the signing for The Restorer at the NavPress booth first thing Monday July 9, from 10-11 am.

But still going back a few steps, before ICRS began, I was VERY privileged to share a morning devotion with members of the Logos retreat on July 6th.

These are independent Christian bookstore owners - and I felt so at home with them. My husband's parents owned an independent Christian bookstore for many many years, and I spent some vacations working there.

I was able hear their stories, and speak from the heart about what a difference their efforts are making. My faith journey was deeply nourished by the books of Christian authors over the years.

A few days later, I was walking in to the Baker dinner, and met Brother Andrew. I heard him speak in the 1970s in Minneapolis, and followed and supported his work for years. Another chance to greet someone whom God used in my life.

Then the day of my signing for the Restorer, a sweet woman chatted while I signed her book. "My husband also has written some fantasy," she said quietly.

"What's his name?"

"Calvin," she answered.

I stared at her name badge. Her last name was Miller.

I gulped. "THE Calvin Miller?"

I began to sputter and hyperventilate and try to express how much his books have meant to me over the years. She accepted my hysteria (and her copy of The Restorer) graciously. A little while later she returned. Calvin Miller was signing his new book at the same time as my signing, so she had him sign one for me and she delivered it to me. Wow.

The line continued steadily, but at eleven, I was supposed to head to a different booth for the Fantasy Fiction Tour meet and greet. Ted went to let them know I was still deep into the NavPress signing. They'd all forgotten I was doing that event, and had been leaving worried messages on my cell-phone as they were carrying in the swords and costumes and getting prepared. Ted explained my dilemma and they schmoozed the crowd without me for awhile until I could get there. More on the team, our swords, and the initial tour events in my next blog! But you can also see highlights on the video diary page of the Fantasy Fiction Tour website.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Going Back in Time

The photo shows me at my ICRS booksigning for The Restorer, at the NavPress booth, with friend Amy Wallace.

How marvelous to be back at home and have access to my computer! Before I begin sharing all the cool "God stories" of the book tour, I need to back up to the awesome experiences and wonderful people in Atlanta.

I flew from Minnesota to Atlanta on July 5th. My first treat was running into writer friends at the airport who were on my flight. Wonderful chats prepared me for the weeks ahead. :-)

That evening I had the opportunity to visit with a sales rep from my publisher. She had read The Restorer and loved it. I consider it a HUGE honor when any of the super-busy folk at a publishing house have time to read one of my books. They are all hard at work promoting the many books produced by the publishing house, and could never possibly read them all. That's just the realities. So it was a wonderful gift to hear her enthusiasm and passion. I felt very blessed.

I was also doubly blessed by my two amazing roomates, Susie Larson and Susie Meissner. I asked if I could be an "honorary Susie" for the week. These deep, strong, powerful women of God are the kind I love to hang out with, hoping a little of their wit and wisdom will rub off on me. :-) More about ICRS in my next blog post...

If you haven't seen it, the last several days of the video diaries from the tour are now up - all organized in order on a special page at the Fantasy Fiction Tour site.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stretched and Strengthened

When I was a choreographer and ballet teacher, I sometimes taught a class for stretching and strengthening. The Fantasy Fiction Tour has done for my soul what those classes did for dancers' muscles.

I had hoped to post frequently along the way, but the experiences have been so amazing, that many small encounters deserve their own post. So I'm planning a day-by-day recap, complete with the terrific video diary (produced by Grandath Films for us).

Yesterday I had several hours to relax at LaGuardia airport waiting for my flight home to Minnesota. As I pondered the tour, I realized how bonded I feel to my tourmates after this experience. Statesman-like Bryan, gentle Wayne, and energizer-bunny Christopher have been part of my every waking moment for the past eight days, along with sweet Amanda, deep Jennifer, and relentless Kayla. I hope I've absorbed some of the amazing greatness of each of them.

There are wonderful practical and tangible things to report about the success of the tour (great press coverage, enthusiastic crowds, etc). But I'm especially rejoicing in the intangibles, and hope to share that in the coming days. Here are a few hints of some moments that warmed my heart along the way:

God-moments. Praying and crying with a man who has committed his life to caring for his son with autism - and him saying my description of The Restorer IS his life. Oh, how I long for the book to bring encouragement to those pulled into adventures they didn't expect! Prayer service at the Brooklyn tabernacle (we did an event for their bookstore). Hearing from readers how deeply they appreciate our efforts to write a genre that has been under-represented in CBA in the past. Bonding with three other authors who are deeply committed to sharing Christ through their books, but also in their conversations. Our prayer times together - sometimes snatched in a bookstore parking lot. Telling a group of homeschool families that their efforts for Christ matter. Sharing with a youth group at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. That they CAN be heroes for Christ as they follow Him. Hearing from book store owners and managers how The Restorer has impacted their lives. Or the woman who was reading it on a Manhattan subway and said her heart was beating so fast she had to stop to breathe before diving back in...

... and much more.

Please pray for Wayne as he prepares to do an interview for Fox network tomorrow about Christians writing fantasy fiction! He is the most good-hearted, humble, and earnest guy, and needs our support.

More as soon as I get unpacked. :-)

Monday, July 16, 2007

God's surprises

For clear and chronilogical updates on our east coast book tour, visit the Fantasy Fiction Tour website. You can also view the video diary for each day (Christopher and Jennifer have been editing on-the-fly and posting everytime they have a hook-up).

Today I have a moment at my host home's computer and want to share some delightful surprises in all-mixed-up order. Since I've been living out of suitcase since July 5th, and have been in more cities than I can count, "mixed up" is my middle name. :-)

Last night we were at a Barnes and Noble in Ellicott City (Wayne's hometown) and a huge crowd gathered to chat with the authors and get books signed. As a woman approached the tables, I reached out my hand and said, "Hi! I'm Sharon. I'm from Minnesota."

Her grin was full of mischief as she said, "I'm Gail, from New Jersey. Your cousin." Then my Aunt Helen stepped out from behind her. HOW COOL!!!!! I haven't seen them since my wedding 28 years ago. Of course we had a good laugh about me introducing myself to Gail.

What's extra cool was that it had been a long day and I'd been missing family a lot. When we pulled up at the store, Bryan's daughter and Christopher's wife (who have been traveling with us and had spent the day relaxing) came out to meet them, and Wayne's wife got out of her car to hug him. I stood in the parking lot feeling one of those "poor me" waves of lonliness. How amazing that God had an uplifting surprise only minutes away for me. I knew that my east-coast relatives were at a Bible camp this week and none could make any of the events. But Gail made arrangements and surprised me.

Speaking of mixed up, at a store in Richmond, I was chatting with a woman and asked where she was from. She said, "Richmond." and I said, "How cool! We're going there next." She gave me a funny look and said, "um, that's where you are NOW." Sigh.

Saturday night was another one of those gifts from God. We'd been stuck in horrendous traffic coming up from Richmond (I think) and arrived at the store late. When we got there, dozens and dozens of children who are fans of Bryan and Wayne were waiting in line with their books in hand. I didn't spot anyone needing me to sign a book, so I asked Michelle and Donna where the restroom was. They took me back into the employee area, and when I came out, they each hugged me and told me they'd read The Restorer and how much it meant to them. I've been feeling fairly upbeat most of the tour - excited by the folks I met, the enthusiasm we were all seeing for Christian fantasy, the fellowship of the amazing tour members, and God's many treats along the way. But that night my head was throbbing, I was beyond exhausted, and I needed those encouraging words more than I can say.

The staff had created a rack behind our signing table for our swords to hang while we signed, had a row of endcaps from one end of the store to another featuring our books (TONS of them!!!) swords on the floor to lead people to the signing, and four beautiful banners created just for us (which they gave us each to keep). But more than that, they spoke to me about the value of what I'm doing and that they saw and appreciated the sacrifice involved and were supporting me through prayer. It ministered to my heart in an incredibly deep way.

Just a few glimpses of the amazing surprises that have been meeting us at every turn. There's so much more to tell, but I need time to sort out all my impressions and organize my thoughts. My sinus infection thingy is ALL better and my throat has stopped hurting. Considering the primary food groups in our van have been Cheetos and Pepsi, and that sleep has been a rare commodity, it's amazing how quickly I've recovered. Last night I was up off and on through the night with some stomach probs...so those of you praying for my health, please direct prayers that direction. :-)

I think the best thing about the tour has been feeling a refreshing in my spirit and new strength in my faith. The vagabond life is rich with opportunities to need to trust God in new ways, and it has rattled me out of my comfort zone in good ways. I've also enjoyed being in a setting of "community" with our tour group. Hearing each of them speak Sunday morning to a youth group in Washington D.C., I marveled at the beautiful souls and diverse gifts that God created in them, and felt so honored to be having this adventure with them.

Today we have three events before we finish the day in Delaware (I think)and tomorrow we're in New York city. Keep praying! Thank you to all who've prayed. I'm so grateful.
Hugs, SHaron

Friday, July 13, 2007

Four Events

Yesterday was FULL. Full of wonderful interactions, new friends, and faces of readers excited about Christian fantasy fiction.

We started with a lovely breakfast at Jodie's home (she's Christopher's editor and let us all sleep at her place) then did a drive-by at a general market store. Then we did a full event at a different store. They had prepared a beautiful large area for us to sign books, draw for door prizes, and chat with customers at the front of the store. Jackie, from Wayne's publisher, then graciously treated us to a quick lunch before we buzzed to another store for a fast drive-by to greet staff and sign in-store copies of our books. Then it was time to hit the road for the next city.

I seriously can't keep track of which city I'm in or what day it is...but you can keep track by checking our itinerary on FantasyFictionTour.com.

We're traveling in two vehicles, a white van and a black car (don't ask me the models, I never know that stuff). On this next leg I rode with Jennifer (Christopher's amazing wife) so we could have "girl talk" and get to know each other. She is a gem.

We finished the day somewhere in North Carolina at a big Barnes and Noble (I think...or was it a Borders?) with a REALLY warm, fun staff. A woman who teaches stage combat stopped by and offered to teach some moves to the guys. Pretty soon she had a crowd in front of the store while a couple of the guys played with their swords.

Other than Christopher trying to lop off my leg at our mid-day event (he was demonstrating his ballet pique-turns while wearing his cloak and sword) there were no mishaps. People everywhere have been curious, gracious, excited, and warm.

Last night, I rode up to Charlotte with my friend Margaret. She came down to the Ashville event to get me, so I could spend a night at her beautiful new home. Margaret was the founder and head of the small writer's group "Word Servants" that I joined when I began writing The Restorer. She remembers the night I brought in the first chapter to read. It was a treat to reminice with her. We are celebrating how God can open impossible doors and do beautiful things through our humble availability to Him.

Still battling the cold, cough, sore-throat, sinus stuff. Keep praying please. :-)
It might help if I stopped chatting non-stop, but people are just so COOL I can't help it. I'm thanking God for honey-lemon Halls cough drops. They are keeping me going.

Don't know when I'll have access to a computer or internet next, but as always, watch the video diarires on our Fantasy Tour official website.

Hugs to all,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

What day is it, Wayne?

It's Wednesday...

SO much happened on the book tour yesterday that after each event I asked Wayne what day it was... yet it was always still Wednesday.

We left Atlanta about 9:30 and hit the road, chattering like only a group of writers can about plot and craft and goals and process and reader mail and loads more.

The theme for me in the past few days has been one of God reconnecting me with past spiritual heritage links...

At ICRS I met Brother Andrew (His book, "God's Smuggler" was very influential in my life in my teen years). I felt so much awe meeting someone who has served the Lord with risk and sacrifice for so long.

I discovered that Christopher Hopper (one of the tour mates) grew up as part of the community of Love Inn in upstate New York. When I was a teen, Scott Ross and his radio show, and the arts focus of their community inspired my fledgling faith. Not only that, but his next door neighbors were Ted and Dawn Sandquist. At a large Christian conference (I think it was Kansas City) also back in the 70s, I saw Dawn dance a worship piece to "Courts of the King" and God quickened my heart as He showed me that I could use my love for dance to communicate about Him... it started me on a path that led to one day being artistic director of a Christian dance/drama ministry. It was like discovering a long-lost cousin to chat with Christopher about all that.

Then, one of the pioneers in our generation for Christian music, Phil Keaggy, came to our signing last night. Meeting him was another honor - and reminded me again of the interweaving threads of spiritual influence and heritage.

Another AMAZING thing about last night's event...

A marketing gal from Wayne's publisher came, a group of ACFW writers that I knew from online came, many of Bryan's young fans came (in costume!) and of course, Christopher's friend Phil, as well as plenty of strangers.... and they all mingled at various times and made interconnections. One of the guys commented on how well God multi-tasks.

We arrived at our host home (Christopher's editor) about 1 am, and are preparing to leave for some drive-bys and then a noon event before another lengthy drive. Tennessee is beautiful. Nashville was amazing. Onward and upward.

P.S. Thanks to all for praying. Weather has been lovely, cars working, not getting lost, everyone getting along AND building true bonds of fellowship. Keep praying about my bad cold. My voice goes in and out, throat still hurts quite a bit, and very congested. But yesterday I was running on adrenaline and barely noticed most of the time. :-)

Don't forget to watch the "Fantasy Fiction Tour Video Diary"!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Prayer Request

Yesterday was another super day. Wonderful conversations, lots to learn.
I started feeling head-achey (pretty normal with the travel and lack of sleep)...but last night got a BAD sore throat.
Please pray for healing. I have almost two weeks of non-stop converstaions, speaking evenets, and interviews ahead.
It would be lovely to manage more than a painful croak. :-)

Today booths begin going up at the conference center, and I'll be heading over there to pick up my badge and get the lay of the land for all of Monday's and Tuesday's events.

I'll be moving to a different hotel, and won't have my roommate's computer to borrow anymore, so it might be awhile until I can post again.

THANK YOU so much to all who are praying.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Quick Note from Atlanta

Using my friend's computer to send a quick update.
Flight to Atlanta was fast and fun...chatted with writer friends I bumped into along the way.
Spoke to the Logos members' retreat yesterday morning and felt like I was "among my tribe." Wonderful, inspirational men and women serving both the Christian community and the world by their hard work and sacrifice to provide books by Christian authors. I shared how much certain books have meant to me in my Christian growth over the years, and how they are my heroes for the work they do.
Spent all day yesterday in a writer's workshop led by Donald Maas (Writing the Breakout Novel). Delicious, challenging, inspirational. Provided AWESOME and specific tools to help me improve and grow as a writer. What a blessing!
And of course scattered in has been wonderful conversations with other writers.
What a comfort to hear stories of their adventures and know that I'm not alone.
Off to another day of writer retreat events....
Ate a Georgia peach with my supper last night. Traveling is fun!
Thanks to all who are praying!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Traveling Light

Anytime God calls me to a new mini-adventure, I know it will be an opportunity to get to know Him better. I'm about to leave for a writer's retreat, followed by the International Christian Retail Show in Atlanta, followed by an east-coast book tour.

I'm packing some words of encouragement to offer readers, book store staff, and other writers that I spend time with. The good thing is, love, encouragement, and blessings don't weigh a thing. I can even carry them on past airport checkpoints. :-)

I hope to post some updates from the road. I know my travel companions will, so be sure to check their blogs, as well as the official Fantasy Fiction Tour site.
Christopher Hopper and his wife Jennifer, Bryan Davis and his daughter, Amanda, and Wayne Batson graciously included me on this adventure. You'll want to check their blogs frequently.

Here are some of the "open to the public" events where you can find us. PLEASE come say "hey" if you live anywhere near!

7/11 - Wednesday
6pm – 8pm Borders 2501 West End Ave. Nashville, TN.

7/12 - Thursday
12:00-2:00pm Cedar Springs Christian Store, 504 North Peter’s Rd., Knoxville, TN.
6:00pm Barnes & Noble, 83 South Tunnel Rd.,Asheville, NC

7/13 - Friday
12:00 - 2:00pm, Barnes & Noble, 4720 Sharon Rd., Charlotte, NC.
6pm Borders, 404 – 101 East Six Forks Rd., Raleigh, NC.

7/14 - Saturday
12:00 - 2:00pm Barnes & Noble, 5501 West Broad St., Richmond, VA.
6:00 - 8:00pm His Way Christian Bookstore, 8450 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City, Maryland

7/15 - Sunday
9:15 am National Presb. Church, 4104 Nebraska Avenue N.W.,Washington D.C.
3:00 - 5:00pm Barnes & Noble, 3651 Jefferson Davis Highway, Alexandria, VA.
6:30 - 8:30pm Barnes & Noble, 4300 Montgomery Road,Ellicott City, Maryland

7/16 - Monday
1-2pm Christopher Matthew's, 5 Bel Air South Parkway - Suite 1421 - Bel Air, MD
4-5 pm Family Christian Store, 1105 Churchman Road, Newark, DE
6pm – 8pm The Days Of Knights Store, 173 East Main Street,Newark, DE. 19711

7/17 - Tuesday
5pm-Timeless Treasures Christian Bookstore, 163 Livingston St.,Brooklyn, NY.

7/18 - Wednesday
Noon -Timeless Treasures Christian Bookstore, 673 8th Ave.,Manhattan, NY

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Newspaper Coverage of the Fantasy Ficiton Tour

One quick update before I hit the road - a Virginia newspaper did an article about the upcoming book tour. You can read the story here.

And you can find our full itinerary, contests, and fun background on each author at the
Fantasy Fiction Tour website.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Restorer Down Under

When I wrote the proposal for The Restorer I struggled to summarize it, explain it, or define it. It's such an atypical sort of story. I floundered through "pitches" to editors and used unfortunate words like "weird."

I wish I'd had this reviewer from Australia to describe it for me. :-)

National Press Coverage

The Associated Press picked up the story of our Fantasy Fiction Tour.
We are the second story on their video webcast called "Everything Sacred"
which you can view at the link above.

I love the focus of the brief feature. She commented on the challenge of writing Christian fantasy. Some Christians are uneasy with the fantasy genre, while some non-Christians may fear they'll feel uncomfortable reading novels by Christian authors.

So how do we respond to that challenge?

1. We pray
2. We get out there and chat with people face to face, about the many different art forms God can use to bring people to Himself. Hence the Fantasy Fiction Tour. :-)

Blessings! Sharon

Today I'm interviewing someone extra special. Not an author or editor, like some of the friends who have visited my blog. Not even someone in the publishing business. Yet he is playing a big role in the Fantasy Fiction Four Tour that I'm participating in as part of the launch of

The Restorer, The Sword of Lyric Series #1

. John Cooper is a Christian international distributor of fine swords, armor and period clothing for Roman, Renaissance and Medieval periods for collectors, theatrical groups, reenactors as well as major studios and production companies.

He is generously providing SERIOUS swords (high-carbon steel which will break a cinderblock) and shields for us to bring on our tour, to our book signings and presentations. Since our fantasy novels feature plenty of sword work, this is an exciting chance to touch something tangible, as if it's sprung from the pages of our stories.

Q: Welcome, John! Thanks for visiting my blog! You have a passion to bring people to Christ.
How did God lead you into this career of selling swords and armor?

A: Actually, I never thought in a million years I would be doing this. My background is in sales and marketing for wholesale distribution of computers and supplies. I was given a sword by my father-in-law as a thank you gift. Of course, my wife did not want it in the house... so we agreed to have it framed and put a scripture verse plate under the sword (Hebrews 4:12). It looks great and has been an interesting conversation piece in our house over the years. With new friends and people we are not sure of their faith, we conclude our sword explanation by turning the conversation to Jesus and a gentle witnessing conversation.

A few years later, we were given a medieval knight figurine which had all the pieces of the armor of God. I told my wife how much I had always wanted something like it and how awesome I thought it was. Next thing I know I was telling her, “I bet there are a lot of other Christian men who would like these too”.

We started the business on $500 and two products we manufactured, a sword frame with any scripture and a medieval knight figure with a paraphrase of Eph 6:13-19. Of course, I needed to find a few swords to offer people. Since the knight figure was all about the armor of God and we were selling “real” swords, we decided to call the company Real Armor of God.com

The sword market is heavily saturated and very competitive. I laugh when I look back at our humble beginnings. We had about 15 different swords we offered at first and averaged about 450 hits a month on the website. God has blessed us and we now have about 700 items we sell in 155 categories with about 5 million hits a month (400,000 pages read a month for those interested in the details).

We also have a great deal of education and historical information on the site for people to learn from. Christians really like our Knighting Ceremony information and use it for Raising A Modern Day Night graduations. (Of course they also get a nice sword and or a custom painted shield for their son too.)

Our staff personally evaluates every product to ensure only the better quality items are added… and customers love it.

Q: When my son was younger, his career goal was to be a knight in shining armor. As he got older, he discovered that not many corporations were hiring knights. Since there are few working knights these days, who purchases your weapons and supplies?

A: This is a great question… and we are regularly trying to find the answer. God has blessed us and we get all kinds of customers. Of course we get the theatrical groups and reenactors as you might expect, but we were surprised as how many women are buying swords and shields as gifts for their fathers, husbands, sons, and boyfriends. We have lots of requests for specific swords, swords in frames with scripture verses, and custom painted shields for people who want their own heraldry (family crest, coat-of-arms) on the shield. We have also helped stunt organizations, film studios (Fox, Universal, etc) and international production companies. It never ceases to amaze me how God can bring customers to your door from anywhere.

Q: Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia all featured fantastic sword play, and were hugely popular films. Why do you think people continue to be fascinated by sword fighting, even in the modern age?

This is true, and you have hit the point exactly, but I don’t have a good answer as to why. Is it our fascination with historic periods, valiant men fighting for freedom and honor against tyranny, or is it a desire or dream of living in the past? It could even be all of the above or none of them.

In my opinion, there are several driving reasons for sword enthusiasm. On one hand, it could be related to a huge variety of things, including any of the following: the sword shape and design, its function related to the time period, and/or the sword fighting techniques required to master a specific sword. As an example, the Japanese Samurai katana, a Roman maintz and a Medieval long sword all had their own unique strengths and weaknesses in battle. Each required an extremely different technique to master. These could be a factor in ones appreciation for a particular sword.

On the other hand, swords are a part of history that you can touch today. Like a castle, pyramid, ancient treasure tomb, or palace, swords are something from our past. Each unique design throughout history incorporated improvements that would give the soldier an advantage over an opponent’s body protection (woven materials, leather, steel, etc). Very few people get the chance to hold a real sword from the Roman or medieval times. They are in private collections or museums. Today, new swords that are designed after historical swords are called ‘replica swords’, and these are what people buy today from our website.

Another factor for sword fascination could be as simple as “the thrill of the moment”. If you have never had the thrill of riding on a roller coaster, go-cart, or snow skiing, no one can really help you understand the excitement of the moment. The same is true for swords. Until you have held a quality, high-carbon steel sword, no one can fully explain the excitement of the moment.

To hold a Roman sword is to step back in time for a moment and feel the weight and balance of a weapon used thousands of years ago. You get to experience exactly what a Roman soldier felt when he held his first sword. The same is true for a Medieval knight’s long sword, or a Japanese Samurai’s katana. You don’t have to imagine what it felt like for one of the 3 Musketeers to sword fight with a rapier, you can hold a replica rapier, swing it in the air and know the feelings first hand.

It really boils down to the individual and their personal reason for liking a specific sword design, era or time period. Stories keep these periods alive today. Since Lord of the Rings was written, there has been a very loyal following, as with the Chronicles of Narnia. Stories of William Wallace (Braveheart), Maximus (Gladiator) and Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean) and only a drop in the bucket of things that keep people interested in the days of olde.

Q: Do you have stories about some of the unique events you've provided swords for?

God has blessed us with being able to supply Roman armor and clothing to many major Church Christmas and Easter shows all over the country. There was a huge show a few years ago in Washington, D.C. that comes to mind as really special. The producer called me a week later and told me the following.

We had supplied Roman swords, armor and clothing for about 8 soldiers who marched into the middle of the show from the back. He told me… “the actors completely changed their countenance and started acting like real Roman soldiers (better than they ever did with the plastic armor we had before). As they marched in the entire audience went completely silent – ‘an awesome hush fell over the audience as they marched in and all you could hear was the thumping of the soldier’s marching and the clanking of armor … it was fabulous!’. All the spotlights were aimed at the Roman soldiers and the lights reflected light all over the auditorium. If the light caught someone’s eye it blinded them for a second. Everyone watching knew these were real Roman soldiers coming to arrest Jesus in our show.”

He went on to tell me that a local radio DJ happened to be in the audience on opening night and spent 30 minutes on the Monday morning show telling everyone in Washington that it was the best show he had ever seen and the costumes were unbelievable. (And yes, this church has been a good repeat customer ever since.)

Q: Have you seen some specific times where God has used your work to introduce or encourage people in their faith? (besides supporting our band of Christian authors who use sword-fighting imagery to depict the invisible spiritual struggle we face).

We have many stories of how parents have used swords with their sons in Christian manhood or knighting ceremonies (Raising A Modern Day Knight graduations). On our Raising A Modern Day Knight page, we have a detailed outline that a pastor used with his own son. The father coordinated an entire weekend with his son, their grandfather, an uncle and a mentor. Each man spent a ½ day with the son talking about a specific topic and relating it to scripture and the Christian walk. For example, the uncle took him swimming in a major river. They went one mile upstream and one mile downstream. When they were done, the uncle started talking about marriage and family life. How sometimes it’s easy (downstream) and other times it will be hard (upstream)… and then went through scripture and shared Christian advise. Later on the grandfather took the young man to a graveyard and talked about the importance of family heritage, Christian tradition and the Christian way of life. It’s really an incredible story and your readers can use the information on our site to have their own Christian knighting ceremonies for their sons.

Rather than going on through a short list of names and what happened, I would like to also share a little about the way we approach Christian ministry.

There are literally thousands of websites selling swords - and we are the only Christian site. Most other sites sell demon swords and focus on a darker side of life (dungeons and dragons, witchcraft, Satanic symbols, etc.). We are a family friendly site focusing on education and historically designed products. Our education and materials are positioned on the website in such a way as to get people curious about, “What is the Armor of God”?

The top of our main pages have a horizontal menu that lists ‘Roman Era’, ‘Medieval Times’, The Renaissance’… and ‘Armor of God’. Well most people know these time periods, but if they are not Christian, they likely have never heard of the Armor of God. Naturally, they click on it to see what it is. We use our Armor of God page to explain spiritual warfare plus we have many links to many other Christian topics. Our hope is to plant Christian seeds in the minds of people that might not ever have seen or heard anything about Christianity at any other time in their life.

We also have a more direct path into ministry with our Witnessing Coins. The Witnessing Coin is a fun, creative and effective tool to share Jesus with non-Christians and struggling Christians alike. Based on the Bible verses from Ephesians 6:13-17 and John 3:16, one side of the coin shows two cliffs and the cross of Jesus and is designed for pure Christian witnessing and evangelism. The other side of the coin shows the Full Armor of God pieces which is the spiritual armor described in Ephesians 6:13-17. This spiritual armor is what God provides each believer for daily victory over temptation, trials, test, suffering, and sickness. This side of the coin is used to encourage people in the Lord during temptations and trials, or to encourage another Christian who is troubled. The Witnessing Coin has been used internationally by many evangelical organizations and within the USA, it is used for things like VBS, Sunday school lessons, Christian gifts, etc…

You can visit http://www.realarmorofgod.com/witnessing-coin.html to see samples and learn more about how the Witnessing Coins can be used in your area.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share with my readers?

A: I would like to offer the opportunity to your readers to visit our website and let us know what you think. We welcome any suggestions to improve. After you have reviewed the site, go to the Contact Us page and type your feedback in the open text area. (Thank you in advance!)

John, thank you so much for the huge support you've put behind the Fantasy Fiction Tour this July, and thanks for visiting my site today! Blessings!


Monday, July 02, 2007

A Visit from Athol Dickson

Today I'm happy to announce a new release from fellow Bethany House author, Athol Dickson.

The Cure
By Athol Dickson

Imagine a medicine that cures you of your worst vice.

One dose and you’re free. How much would a person pay for such a cure? How far would they go? Would they lie for it? Steal for it? Kill for it?

Riley Keep, former man of God, former missionary, has been a beggar on the streets for years, desperate to forget the past. His wife, daughter, work, and faith were all lost in the aftermath of one far-flung act of wickedness. Believing some things cannot be forgiven in this life, lately Riley has begun to think of giving up the ghost. Then he hears the rumors.

Miracles are happening in Maine.

An old woman fleeing a horrific monster, a lonely wife and mother tempted by forbidden desire, an impoverished lobsterman lured by tainted wealth, a young girl weighing life and death decisions, a small town cop with a murder on his hands . . . these are just a few of the citizens of Dublin, Maine, a picture postcard village slowly suffocating underneath an avalanche of hungry people searching for a miracle. But only Riley Keep will find what he desires. And only then will Riley learn if it will save him, or if it’s true what people say . . . .

Sometimes The Cure is worse than the disease.

Advance praise for The Cure:

“…well-written, intelligent follow-up to Dickson's Christy Award-winning River Rising. An involving, suspenseful take on God's transforming grace, it tackles a serious issue while providing an absorbing story.” (Library Journal)
“…unpredictable and surprising, even though clues are sprinkled throughout the book. The final twist was chilling…the author does a wonderful job weaving in the deceit and the actions of those unrestrained by ethics and driven by the bottom line…a powerful book, one that will remain on my bookshelf for a long time to come.” (Crosswalk)

About the author:

Athol Dickson’s writing has been favorably compared to the work of Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). His They Shall See God was a Christy Award finalist and his River Rising was a Christy Award winner, selected as one of the Booklist Top Ten Christian Novels of 2006, and a finalist for the Christianity Today Best Novel of 2006.

Learn more about Athol Dickson and his work at his website.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Of Swords and Shields

Visit RealArmorOfGod.com for high quality Medieval swords, clothing and costumes
Step back in time with Real Armor of God.com to relive the past - and keep part of the olde world with you! Find a huge selection of historically designed items from the Medieval Ages, Roman and Renaissance Era. Battle Ready Swords to wield against a mighty foe, Functional Shields to deflect each attacking blow, Historical Clothing and Costumes to complete your ensemble. Everything you need and more!

As I prepare for the fantasy fiction book tour this July, I'm particularly grateful to one of our tour sponsors. John Cooper has generously given each of the four authors a sword (to match the ones in their fantasy novels) and shields we can use as set pieces at our book signings (or for protection if we run into some battles - LOL!)

Since our fantasy novels feature plenty of sword work, this is an exciting chance to touch something tangible, as if it's sprung from the pages of our stories.

If you've never seen his website, be sure to visit!