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What I’m Reading Now

For those who are summertime readers (at the beach? poolside? back yard?), I thought I'd take a midsummer moment to share what I'm reading these days. At any given time I've usually got several books I'm in the midst of. In no particular order, here's what I'm reading right now (clicking on the titles will take you to the Amazon.com listings, in most cases for the Kindle version): 51YitYv0ZrL._AA160_

  1. Letters to a Young Artist (Anna Deavere Smith). Fans of The West Wing, the hit TV drama of a few years back, might remember Smith as the actress who played National Security Advisor Dr. Nancy McNally on the show. What I didn't know until recently is that Smith is also an author and playwright. I only recently discovered this book, but it was published in 2006. Structured in the form of “letters” to a fictional young artist, Deavere addresses a broad spectrum of issues faced by creatives of all types, from identity and confidence to mental and physical health to dealing with both fame and failure. I'm midway through and finding much that inspires me as a writer and human being.
  2. Unravel Me (Tahereh Mafi). This is the second book in Mafi's dystopian YA “Shatter Me” series, focused on Juliette, a teen girl whose touch kills. Mafi creates a fascinating future world in which rebels with unique “talents” are planning a revolution against the totalitarian regime that keeps the masses in abject poverty. A pretty typical dystopian scenario, but I find the characters in this one interesting and Mafi's style intriguing. If you like dystopian YA, start with Shatter Me, the first book in the series.51fiUojIlQL._AA160_
  3. A Broken Kind of Beautiful (Katie Ganshert). I've just started reading this story, which has come highly recommended by many writers and readers whose opinions I respect. This is the story of a model whose career seems to be on its way downhill and a former fashion photographer who appears to have a guilty secret. I've just started this one, and so far, I'm liking what I've read.
  4. Lean In (Sheryl Sandberg). Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook. In this book she addresses the barriers–both external and, more important, internal–that keep women from achieving true equality in terms of leadership and power in the workplace and the world at large. I'm not sure I agree with all of Sandberg's positions or analysis, but the book is well written, well argued, and thought-provoking. I encourage both women and men to read this book and think deeply about the issues she discusses.

In addition, I have to recommend a couple of books I've recently finished:

  1. Burning Sky (Lori Benton). Benton's debut novel won multiple Christy awards, and I can see why. Well drawn, compelling characters fighting to overcome nearly impossible obstacles drew me from one chapter to the next long after I should've been asleep. Set in late 18th century America, this is the story of a woman just returned from more than a decade of captivity with the Mohawks. Carrying with her an overwhelming grief she can barely acknowledge, she comes home to find her parents gone and her family homestead confiscated by the government. Few people are happy to see her return. I highly recommend this novel.
  2. When I Fall in Love (Susan May Warren). What can I say? I've yet to read one of Warren's novels that I didn't love. She has a gift for telling stories that draw you in with real, believable characters and engaging plots. The endings are sigh-worthy, but without beating you over the head with the gospel, she leaves you thinking for days. In this case, a reluctant traveler and a hopeless hockey star meet and fall in love in Hawaii, but struggle to keep what they've found when they return to the “real world.” Loved it.519ISSGo08L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_
  3. Redeeming Love (Francine Rivers). I just re-read this for the umpteenth time and found it just as engrossing and inspiring as the first however-many times I read it. This probably is my favorite novel of all time. The story–a retelling of the biblical tale of the prophet Hosea and his faithless prostitute wife–is set in gold rush California, and beautifully depicts God's relentless, loving pursuit of his faithless people. You can't miss the allegory, yet Rivers tells the story so skillfully you don't feel the least bit preached at. You simply become immersed in the lives of Michael Hosea and his flawed, wounded, desperate bride. Love, love, love this book. If you haven't read it, you should. If you've read it before, you should read it again.

What about you? What are you reading this summer? Anything you recommend I add to my list?

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

Blog Hop! A Little About My Writing

I've been invited to participate in a “blog hop”! The assignment is to write a post that answers four specific questions about my writing, and then tag three other writers who will do the same in their blogs. Be sure to see the links at the end to their blogs–you'll want to get to know these amazing ladies! Thank you to Sandy Ardoin for inviting me to be part of this. You can find Sandy's answers to these questions on her blog. In the meantime, here are my answers:

Kangaroo

What are you working on?  I am still working on my first novel. Do No Harm is women’s fiction, the story of a young female obstetrician who’s struggling to overcome the trauma of a delivery gone very wrong, while trying to fit in with the women of the church where her husband is the new worship pastor. I wrote the first words of this manuscript in 2012, and if anybody had told me then that I’d still be working on it in May 2014 … I probably would’ve cried. But here I am, plugging away, word by word, trying to get it right.

I’m also working on capturing some ideas for a second novel, and trying to be more consistent about blogging. All this is in my “free” time outside my day job.

How does your work differ from others in its genre?  I’ve often asked myself that question. One of the things I struggle with most in my writing is the feeling that everything worth saying has already been said, more than once, by better writers than I. But I’ve been reminded multiple times that no one else will say things quite the way I do, because I bring my own perspective, colored by my lifetime experiences. So there’s that.

I think my work also might differ in that I try very hard to be honest and transparent, to not skirt the tough issues. My goal in all my writing, fiction and nonfiction, is to tell the truth, because I really do believe that the truth will set us free.

Why do you write what you do?  I write the things I want to read. I write to explore the questions I have about life and human relationships, because I need to believe that I’m not the only one who feels the way I do, and I hope that by telling the truth as I see it, somebody else will feel a little less alone.

How does your writing process work?  My writing process works s-l-o-w-l-y. I have to make time for writing while still practicing law full-time and trying to be a decent wife and mother.

Do No Harm started as a question–the proverbial “what if?”–that turned into a stack of index cards. On each card I wrote one little sentence or idea for a scene or an event. Then after I had a good-sized stack, I sorted them into an order that made sense, then copied the scene ideas into Scrivener (the app I use for writing), and I just started writing, one scene at a time, fumbling for words as I tried to find my story, get to know my characters. I generally try to write from the first scene through to the end, but sometimes the next scene in order just isn’t there for me, so I’ll look through the list of scene ideas and pick one that catches my eye.

I have an overactive internal editor who sits on my shoulder when I write, telling me what I’m writing is stupid and badly written. To shut him up, sometimes I’ll set a timer and just start writing the first words that come into my head, as fast as I can, without stopping or editing or correcting. I’ve learned that the purpose of a first draft is to get words on paper. They don’t have to be pretty; they just have to be written.

Once I have paragraphs, pages, scenes, chapters written, I can edit them. I LOVE editing. Moving words around, playing with sentence rhythms, finding a better word, a better way to say what I’m trying to say.

Tag, You're It!

I’ve enlisted three of my favorite writer friends to pick up the hop from here. Sometime in the next couple of weeks each of them will answer the same four questions in their respective blogs. Be sure to watch for their posts. They are:

  • Amory Cannon writes romantic suspense as Amryn Cross. She and I met through the American Christian Fiction Writers’ big online critique group, so I had the privilege of reading some of her wonderful work-in-progress early on. Her debut novel, Learning to Die, will release in September 2014. Amory/Amryn blogs on her very cool website. Watch for her answers to the four questions there in the next week or so.
  • Laura Hilton will post her answers at her blog. Laura leads the small critique group I’ve been privileged to be a part of for the last couple of years. She writes wonderful Amish fiction, and has published several novels in that genre. I’ll confess that I’d never been a fan of Amish fiction until I started reading Laura’s chapters–she adds humor and a bit of sauce to the genre that makes it tremendously appealing.
  • Dana McNeely is a semifinalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest in the historical category. She's been such an encourager to me in my writing journey, so I'm excited to see where her writing is taking her. Watch for her answers to these questions in a few days on the Christian Writers of the West blog.

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

Summer Reading Recommendations – & Giveaway

For many people, summer is a time to catch up on reading. Whether you’re on the road for a family vacation or just enjoying quiet time in the back yard, you might be looking for some fun summer reads. Here are a few I can recommend, listed in no particular order. Note: You can click on each cover image to go straight to Amazon.com to order that book. Click on each author's name to visit her website and learn more about her work. And be sure to read all the way to the end to see how you can win a free copy of one of these titles.*

Love Finds You coverLove Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, by Pamela S. Meyers. In 1933, beautiful Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, is a summertime playground for wealthy Chicagoans. Local girl Meg Alden longs to be a real reporter, but her boss at the town newspaper believes that’s a man’s job, so she’s stuck writing fluff pieces for the society page while she waits for her big break. When a reporter position opens up, she’s hopeful that this is the break she's been waiting for, but her hopes are dashed when Jack Wallace, son of a big-city newpaper publisher, gets hired instead. Meg struggles against resentment, mistrust, and a growing attraction to Jack. Then Jack suggests they team up to investigate a local scandal. The closer they get, though, the more torn Meg is: should she follow her heart and stay with Jack, or follow her dream to a newspaper job in Los Angeles? This book offers an intriguing look at life in the 1930s, as the backdrop for a romance that pits one young womans dreams against her family’s wishes and the call of her own heart.

Vogt coverWish You Were Here, by Beth K. Vogt. Allison Denman is only days away from marrying her high school sweetheart. It should be the happiest time of her life, but nothing feels right to her. The wedding is too big, the dress is too froufrou, and … well … an impulsive kiss with the groom’s brother five days before the wedding throws everything completely off balance. Allison makes a run for it, seeking sanctuary with her aunt while she tries to figure out what the rest of her life should be now that her plans have all been destroyed. Beth Vogt has created real, believable characters that you can’t help but care about as you follow Allison, Seth, and Daniel through the twists and turns of the plot. This is one of my favorite books I've read in the past few months.

Miss Nights coverMississippi Nights, by D.M. Webb. When firefighter David Boyette’s fiancée dies in a car fire, he blames his brother, police sergeant Jeremy Boyette. Jeremy flees their home town for an anonymous life in the big city, but now, three years later, he’s back, hiding a dark and devastating secret. Can the the two brothers’ bond overcome the bitterness and blame between them? Can the love of their family and a good woman help Jeremy conquer the demons that threaten to destroy him? Webb has crafted a novel full of emotion–grief, guilt, loss, and love–with a story that kept me turning pages long after I should have turned off the light.

Tutor's Daughter coverThe Tutor’s Daughter, by Julie Klassen. In the early 19th century, Emma Smallwood has spent her life helping her father teach the sons of the well-to-do at his academy in Devonshire, England. When his boarding school fails, she accompanies her widowed father to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons, where her father will tutor the two youngest. Although they come at Sir Giles’s invitation, they are not made to feel welcome by the baronet’s new wife or the staff. Then, shortly after their arrival, mysterious events create tension in the manor. Meanwhile, the baronet’s older sons, Phillip and Henry Weston, wrestle with secrets of their own. Emma remembers them well from their time at her father’s academy, but as time goes on and the tension in the household grows, Emma wonders if the boys she knew have grown into very different men. Klassen's strength in is weaving in details of setting and time period that make you feel like you've actually walked on the grounds of the baronet's estate.

*Fair disclosure: I received copies of each of these books from the publisher for free, in exchange for an honest review.

What about you? What are you reading this summer? Share your recommendations in the comments below. If one of the novels I've described appeals to you, let me know in the comments. I'll be drawing names to receive copies of these books.

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . . 
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me

I’m Running Away From Home (and We Have a Winner!)

As this post goes live, I’m packed and ready to run away from home. This weekend I’ll be holed up at a Dallas hotel with a writer friend of mine. She and I were talking a few weeks ago, both of us lamenting how close we are to finishing our respective manuscripts, but our daily lives and writerly insecurities keep getting in the way of typing “The End.”

In The War of Art (a book I recommend highly for people who pursue creative endeavors of any kind), author Stephen Pressfield writes about “resistance” as a force everybody has to overcome when attempting to do anything that matters. He says that resistance increases as you near the end, and boy, has that been true for me!

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

So my friend and I decided to run away from home (together) and spend the weekend in a marathon writing/editing session. I don't like being away from home for the weekend, but I’m hoping this focused time will help me get over the hump so I can finish this project in time to meet my goal of sending it off by the end of the month to the agent who asked for it 8 months ago! If you think of it from time to time, I’d appreciate your prayers for a productive time of writing.

Before I disappear for the weekend, though, I wanted to fill you in on a few random things:

  1. The winner of Sharon Srock’s new release (see the post about it by clicking here) is … Zoe McCarthy! Sharon will be in touch with you to work out the arrangements for getting your copy to you.
  2. If you didn’t win this time, take heart. Come back on Tuesday, May 14, to read an inspiring guest post and sign up for a chance to win 16 great novels in CrossReads’s “Spring Cleaning Print Book Giveaway.” Don’t miss it!
  3. As a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, I'm honored to have the opportunity to guest post on the ACFW blog on Wednesday, May 15. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the question of being “called” to write, and I’d love to have your feedback. Please stop by and check it out, then let me know what you think.
  4. I was surprised and honored to learn last week that Do No Harm was selected as the winner in the women’s fiction category of The Write Stuff, a fiction contest sponsored by the Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers of America.This contest was particularly worthwhile because the judges gave really helpful, detailed feedback on my 30-page submission.
    Write Stuff list 2013-05-09

One last request: If you’re a pray-er, I’d appreciate prayers for my sons:

  • Benjamin (the newlywed) started Army bootcamp this week, so we'd welcome prayers for both him and his new bride back in San Diego.
  • Sam just finished his freshman year in college and is home for the summer, contemplating big changes for next year.
  • Matthew will be moving his wife and sons from Hawaii to Connecticut this fall as he starts his next post in the US Navy. His new assignment is a big opportunity and an exciting challenge for him, but the move means a huge change for his wife and boys.

So what about you? Are you battling resistance with respect to something you’re trying to accomplish? What do you do to overcome it?

See you next week!

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Greenville, Texas
I Was Just Thinking . . .
Legal Blog: Real Estate Law Blog
Twitter: @LauraMcMom
Email me