Winner of the American Christian Fiction Writer's Carol Award for Dauntless!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Little Christmas Fun

Yes, it is true, this silly bunch of people is my family. My husband Dani is from Lebanon and works in television production. Christi is in college at Oral Roberts University studying engineering. Jonny, bottom left, is a high school senior who competes in track, loves adrenaline sports, and plans to study business next year in college. Adam in the center is in seventh grade and is involved in music and gymnastics. And the dogs, Scruffy and Bella...well, they like to do dog stuff. Hope you all have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Improved Dauntless Cover

Last week I started seeing a new version of the Dauntless cover online. The leaves in the foreground are new. A little birdie told me that someone suggested them to take the focus off of a certain part of Merry's anatomy, which the strap of her bow made all too obvious. LOL. Which is good with me, because Merry is supposed to have a petite, compact gymnast type body. Now Gwendolyn in book 2 is a different story...

So here's the new cover. This version was sent to the printer, so it should be the final one.

What do you think? It's undergone a number of changes from the first version, which I loved, except the model didn't look much like my heroine. Now that the picture has been tweaked numerous times, and I've tweaked my descriptions of Merry as well, I'm completely happy with it. I really think it will hit the target market.

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Writing Process

Often when I am interviewed, I am asked questions about my writing process. So I thought today, I'd give you a glimpse into my writer's world.

Nothing gives me more pleasure than when I can write in a frenzied, blissful fog and lose myself completely in the world of creativity. Once I wrote a 40,000 word memoir in six days. And I wrote the first draft of my second published novel, Love in Three Quarter Time, in six weeks.

But now that I'm a "professional" writer, I rarely get that luxury. These days, my writing process begins with preparing a summary (synopsis) for my publisher. Once it's approved, I pound out about 2,000 words a day, five or so days a week. 2,000 words might sound like a lot, but that usually takes me under two hours. What takes a lot more time each day is getting myself in the mood to write. Usually I begin my day with house chores and errands, so I can feel like everything is in order. I have some quiet time with God. Then I re-read and edit what I wrote in the last few days. If that isn't enough to get my creative juices flowing, I might take a walk or exercise to try to let my mind wander freely to that creative space.

One unique thing about my writing process is that I never just sit and stare at a blank page. I don't believe in doing that. In fact, I "just say no" to writer's block. Occasionally I'll force myself to get some words down even if my imaginary friends aren't talking in my head that day. If after a few pages I haven't found my flow, I stop, because my writing won't be any good anyway. However, I always stay well ahead of deadlines so that I can afford to do that. In general, I find that a lack of creativity means I've hit a snag. Usually after a day or two of letting my subconscious work on things, I figure out where the story went wrong, fix it, and then I'm able to move forward again.

I don't use any fancy systems, outlines, or software to write. I don't listen to music, write on my walls, make bulletin boards, or follow any weird rituals. I usually have two Microsoft Word documents. One for notes and research, and the other which includes the manuscript, plans for upcoming scenes, and occasionally complete random scenes that come to me out of order or even just cool lines that pop into my head.  I guess that means I'm pretty good at staying mentally organized. For one of my books, Dance from Deep Within, I did chart out my three protagonists journeys and how they would overlap and intertwine, but I was still pretty new to novel writing at the time.

Dina's Writing Space
Writing is a solitary activity for me. I usually come up with my ideas completely on my own. Although, for the Valiant Hearts series, I did some brainstorming with my kids to devise lots of unique story premises once the general concept was solid in my mind. Most of the time, I need privacy and silence to write. On the other hand, I do stay surrounded by writer friends--both online and through a local group--for encouragement, help with snags, and critiquing purposes.

The other aspect of my process that is a little unique is where I write. Often, I see posts about writing spaces, and the writer talks about a desk in a quiet little nook surrounded by supplies. That's not me. My writing is all about my laptop--on my lap. In fact, it wasn't until I received my first laptop that I got serious about writing. I hate sitting at a desk. Ninety-five percent of the time I write curled up on my bed. Occasionally on a couch. And sometimes when I'm really in the writing mood, I sit at the kitchen table and continue writing while cooking dinner, although that method is likely to result in culinary mishaps.

So that's my writing process. Mostly just me, my imagination, and my laptop. Any questions?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Other Hat

Did you know that in addition to being an author with Bethany House Publishers, I also serve as an editor for WhiteFire Publishing? WhiteFire is a small, new press with a vision to release books for the upcoming generations. They focus on high quality, cross-genre novels and books that are sometimes hard to market, as well as cutting edge inspirational nonfiction. Their motto is, Where Spirit Meets Page, and I truly believe that each book they publish has the ability to touch readers on a very deep level.

Years ago my writing career began with Dance of the Dandelion, a medieval novel which was deemed good but unmarketable by many of the large Christian publishing houses. WhiteFire took a chance on me anyway. And I knew I wanted to be a part of their mission. I volunteered to help out in any way they needed me and ended up representing them as an acquisitions editor at conferences. Since then, my role has evolved into a paid, part-time member of the editorial team. I acquire, serve as a member of our publishing committee, content edit, and sometimes even line edit.

Getting involved with WhiteFire was one of the best decisions I've ever made because I learned to think like a publisher. Of the hundreds of novel ideas rolling around in my head, I can now pinpoint the ones that publishers will want and write a stellar proposal to catch their attention. I can content and line edit my own novels to the point where they will stand above the crowd. And I know how to communicate with editors in the right way.

My writing and editing support and inform one another. I'm a better editor for being a writer, and I'm a better writer for being an editor. It's a delicious cycle that I'm very happy to be a part of.

For more about WhiteFire Publishing please visit their website here.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Woman of Valor

I learned something really cool last week! You might or might not be familiar with a poem from Proverbs 31 about a "Virtuous Woman." In church circles, this chapter is often used as an example of  perfect Biblical womanhood. Sometimes, it even becomes a checklist to bang over women's heads, which can lead to a lot of guilt, shame, and inferiority. But I think this poem was meant to do the opposite. A woman clothed with strength and dignity... A woman who laughs without fear of the future...

Years ago I figured out a few things about this passage. 1) The woman was rich and had servants, so not many of us these days can hope to accomplish as much as she did. 2) The woman clearly does not have small children, so those struggling through that exciting yet exhausting stage of life need not expect to live up to her esteemed standards. 3) She was a business woman who had her own mind and made her own decisions, so in many ways she is an example for a more liberated woman than some Christian denominations advocate.

But last week I learned the coolest thing ever. I was reading a book examining Biblical womanhood, and the author examined a variety of Biblical traditions including Jewish, Catholic, Amish, etc... Jews do not translate the Hebrew term "eshet chayil" in Proverbs 31 as "virtuous woman," they translate it as "woman of valor." I love that! Don't you? And they understand that it is a poem in praise of the type of woman who should be honored, not a to-do list. Jewish husband's quote this poem in praise of their wives, they don't use it to show them how they're falling short. Jewish women use the term eshet chayil to celebrate each other's accomplishments. 

The author decided to pick up that habit, and I think I will too. As I googled "woman of valor" to find an image for this post, I realized that this idea is more popular and wide-spread than I had realized. And, of course, eshet chayil, goes perfectly with my Valiant Hearts series. So I encourage you all to be strong and courageous women, worthy of the title eshet chayil, and to honor other valorous women in your lives as well.

Are you a woman of valor? What valorous things have you done? If not, how could you move toward becoming a woman of valor?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Chivalrous is Written!!!

I'm happy to share that I have typed the magical words, "The End," for book 2 in the Valiant Hearts series. And since I've been calling it Chivalrous for months, I am also happy to announce that the title has been officially approved by the publisher.

Chivalrous is the story of Gwendolyn Barnes, a tall, strong, adventurous young lady who longs to be a knight like her gallant brothers. However that isn't an option for her, not even in the Arthurian inspired Eden where she dwells. Her parents view her only as a marriage pawn, and her domineering father is determined to see her wed to a brutish man who will break her spirit. When handsome, good-hearted Allen of Ellsworth arrives in Edendale searching for his place in the world, Gwendolyn spies in him the sort of fellow she could imagine marrying. Yet fate seems determined to keep them apart. Tournaments, battles, and intrigue--along with twists and turns aplenty--await these two as they struggle to find love, identity, and their true destinies.

Chivalrous is about discerning God's plan for the future and understanding His purpose for our lives. It deals with hard questions about gender roles and abuse of authority. I'm really excited about this book. It will release in fall 2015, after about 100 rounds of editing ;)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Seed of an Idea

Years ago an editor suggested that I try writing a YA medieval romance series. I was certainly open to the idea, but I didn't have a strong idea. It wasn't until I was in the midst of watching the BBC Robin Hood series with my son that a concept finally sparked to life in my mind. This series features a lot of strong, feisty women. Maid Marian is a thief and defender of the poor in her own right, and the Saracen character, Djaq, in this version is also a woman. Not to mention plenty of tough female bad guys. One day as I was walking and praying specifically about a YA medieval series, this new Robin Hood came to mind, the ideas started flowing, and before long Dauntless was playing like a movie in my mind. Here's a peek at their Maid Marian who helped to inspire my Merry Ellison.

Monday, September 29, 2014

News from the Author

My most exciting news is that this week I got to see my book featured in the lovely Baker Publishing Catalog. This is what book store owners will look at when they're deciding whether or not to purchase my book. I loved the way they promoted it. Zoom in and notice the mention of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior. I know I would want to stock my shelves with this book!

In other news, I just started a fun new board on Pinterest for Christian Medieval Novels. You might enjoy checking that out for a list of my favorite books in this genre. 

The release of Dauntless is still about six months away, but for those of you who like to plan ahead...I thought I'd share the best pre-order deals.

For print, try CBD at only $7.99. Click here.
For ebook, the current winner is amazon also at $7.99. Click here.

Have a great week! And take a moment to share some of your favorite medieval novel in the comments.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Heroines of Reality TV

Lately I've mentioned both The Quest and The American Ninja Warrior as fun reality shows featuring strong real-life heroines. I remain a staunch Kacy Catanzaro fan despite the fact that her tiny 5' height kept her from being able to reach the wall in the spider jump in the national finals of Ninja Warrior. I say she was gypped, and I hope they will reconsider adjusting the course to give shorter competitors a fair shot in the future.

But in happier news, a feisty young woman did beat out a whole bunch of big strong men to take home the title of "The One True Hero" on The Quest. Tiny Lina Carollo managed to hold her own during the physical challenges on the show, but it was her fighting spirit, intelligence, and attention to detail that won her the opportunity to face and defeat the evil Verlox. The show proved fun, if a little bit cheesy. I'm certainly glad I watched it. Check out Lina in her initial interview, and also sneak a peek at some of the huge guys she beat for the title.

Monday, September 1, 2014

YA Fiction Finds

While working on Dauntless last year, I steeped myself in the world of YA fiction. Although the heroines are much younger than me, much about these books resonates in a universal sort of way. On the secular side, they tend to be clean, action-packed, and not afraid to ask the hard questions about life. On the Christian side, they are actually edgier and more real than many of their adult counterparts. Teens won't tolerate anything fake or cheesy, and since I won't either, YA fiction is a great fit for me.

Here's a quick overview of the books I read during that time to help me understand the YA fiction market. In future posts I will share some of the books I've read more recently.

In the Christian world Melanie Dickerson, Lisa Bergren, and Anne Elisabeth Stengl are some of the big stars. I've been enjoying Melanie's great fairy tale retellings for years, and they certainly helped provide inspiration for my series. I read Lisa Bergren's Glamorous Illusions enjoyed it, but didn't really connect with her River of Time series, although many of my adult friends loved it. As for Anne Elizabeth Stengl, I had a hard time getting into Heartless, but her vivid imagination and beautiful voice kept me reading. And I'm so glad I did. I was completely impressed by the gorgeous allegory in this story.

Perhaps my biggest surprise was to learn that a book I stumbled on last year and looooved, Prophet by R. J. Larsen, is considered YA I gobbled up this book in just a few days and enjoyed every word. I was mesmerized by her strong, courageous, spiritual heroine. I've been looking for an excuse to buy books two and three, and never even realized they were YA until my agent mentioned it to me. These books are called speculative, but I would describe them more as fantasy set in the Biblical era. Whatever they are, they're awesome, and I highly recommend them.

In secular fiction, I found I have a real penchant for YA dystopian fiction. Of course I started with The Hunger Games series. Read them straight through. I could easily do a whole post about how they inspired me to find my inner strength and stand against injustice. I have to admit, though, that I wasn't crazy about the existential ending to the whole series. It was kind of a downer. Although the ending was realistic, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wanted something more triumphant. And I read Matched, which was pretty interesting as well.

I also gave Twilight a try, something I probably wouldn't have done if it wasn't for research purposes. This book did have a special sort of magic. I couldn't put it down. And yes, it's romantic on an epic scale. While the vampire element seemed completely fantasy-like and didn't bother me, I cannot in good conscience recommend it, especially not for teens. I felt the message of the book was that love conquers all, even if your boyfriend is inherently evil. Therefore, I felt girls could use this as a justification to get involved with destructive individuals like abusers and addicts. In fact, Edward's craving for Bella's blood is flat-out described as an addiction. There's a very real possibility he might kill her. The impression is given that playing with fire is somehow romantic. As a woman who has had a good bit of experience with both the pros and cons of romance, let me offer my opinion, it's not! While I don't think the author had bad intentions, I also do not think she fully thought through her responsibility to her young readers. 

So those were the books that helped me grasp the feel of the YA fiction world. Feel free to share some of your own favorite YA novels.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Female Ninja Warrior?

So this is a new blog, and I am trying to establish a certain feel that will inspire teen girls and young women. A few posts back I mentioned Kacy Catanzaro, a very exceptional and inspirational young lady who was the first ever female to qualify for American Ninja Warrior. After her, two more women qualified in different cities, but only Kacy made it through the city finals.  She has become a viral sensation, and I'm happy to say, I was on the cutting edge of noticing her. My boys and I have been following the Ninja Warrior shows for years, and it is so exciting to see females finally rising to the occasion. Kacy's success has won her a strong fan base among men and women alike.

While I believe that God created males and females differently to represent varying sides of His image, I also firmly believe that he has called both his sons and his daughters to be strong and courageous. That he has given each young woman unique gifts and callings, and that women should feel as free as men to explore and use those gifts, whether they be in more traditional venues as stay at home mothers, teachers, and nurses, or less traditional ones like engineers, soldiers, or politicians.

Kacy's amazing combination of feminity and strength really captures the spirit of the Valiant Heart Series, and as I mentioned before, she would be a perfect candidate to play my tiny, tough, acrobatic Merry Ellison of the first book, Dauntless. Here is the video of her finals run.

Tonight begins the national finals. I do believe one more woman will be there on a wild card draw, but I think you all know who I will be cheering for. Go Kacy!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Inspiration from "The Quest"

Yes, it's true, television CAN rot your brain. But you know what else is true? Television can supply great inspiration for fiction writers while also letting overworked brains chill and reboot. For this series I've found inspiration from the BBC's Robin Hood and Merlin, and even from the feisty real life heroine of American Ninja Warrior. My latest inspiration comes from yet another reality show, The Quest.

If you've ever heard of LARPING (live action role playing), this is LARPING on steroids. Real life larpers are taken from their everyday lives and drawn into a medieval fantasy world to battle bad guys and monsters alike. Of course my books are historical, not quite fantasy (although there are some legendary and supernatural elements), but this show is a great place to get a feel for medieval settings, dress, and weaponry. The Quest features plenty of real life valiant heart heroines that are tough, brave, and strong. I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment and can't wait to watch more. "Part reality, part fantasy, pure adventure"--check out the trailer video below!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Check Out My Other Books Too

Since it will be a while until Dauntless hits the shelves, you might want to check out some of my other books in the meantime.

As I type this, my contemporary title, Dance from Deep Within, with its multi-cultural/missional theme is on sale for only $.99 for kindle. It's hard for an author to choose a favorite book, kind of like choosing a favorite child, but I do believe this is the most life-changing book I have written. Young adults will enjoy this peek into the college years, while adults will appreciate the themes of inner healing and intimacy with Christ. It looks at new age, Islam, and plain old wounded Christians as the three main characters search together for the truth and for what it means to live from deep within. Click here to order.

If the medieval time setting drew you to my website, you might want to check out my Dance of the Dandelion. This book offers an examination of love and all its many facets. Geared toward adults, some of the themes are more mature than the Valiant Hearts Series. I would recommend this for high school and up. P.S. that gorgeous young lady on the cover is my daughter. Click here to order.

Finally, if you are a classic historical romance fan, you will enjoy my Love in Three-Quarter Time. This book set in 1817 Virginia offers humor, romance, and plenty of drama on a gorgeous plantation. Click here to order. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Real Life Valiant Heroine

Look at that determination, that focus, not to mention that perfectly toned physique. I was beyond delighted to catch this adorable female competing in American Ninja Warrior the other week. She is a tiny 100 lb gymnast, and as tough as any guy in the competition. Despite her incredible strength and agility, she was perfectly feminine and just about as pretty as you can get. In fact, look at her picture and then the model on the cover of Dauntless in the post below. I felt like I was watching Merry Ellison face the gauntlet.

Even more exciting was the turn out of her run in American Ninja Warrior. She set a record as the first woman ever to successfully finish the qualifying round. Go Kacy! You've found a fan in me for sure.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Cover is Here!!!

Since this is available now on amazon, I thought I'd share it with you. I absolutely love it. It really captures the book. In an earlier version I felt like the model didn't look enough like the heroine I described, but the art department worked their magic, and the result is awesome :)