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

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Different Kind of Christmas Story

As we passed through the walls of Bethlehem, I felt the first tightening tug at the base of my belly, ripping me apart. I was too tired to gripe at Joseph about his poor planning, so he dragged me around town, until finally I lay in that prickly hay-pile in the stall next to an old spotted brown and white cow.

By then the pain was shocking, starting with that sharp piercing claw beneath the weight of the baby and radiating out in heated waves, circling my body, pressing my spine, struggling to break it in two. During those short pauses I tried to breathe steadily, to save up some air, and to swallow back my fear, wishing I had known, that I knew now…wishing my mom…

I stared into Joseph’s eyes looking for sympathy he couldn’t possibly feel, and then past to my only other comfort on this chilly, pain-wracked night. Could a “father” possibly understand? As I gazed beyond the braying donkeys and dusty sheep to the deep blue sky with that strange blaring star, I sensed maybe He did know something…about birth…and then the next sharp crest of agony hit.

There were no breaks now. They crashed one after another, until I felt the shock of virgin flesh opening…the tear…the press of a soft skull against my skin. Stretching, burning, and finally…a release. I heard a soft cry as air hit his lungs for the first time. I giggled through the haze of pain and joy. Joseph told me to push again.

As the squirmy body slid out of mine, as our flesh parted, I reached for him and scooped him against my damp chest, wanting him to know that this was life, not merely fetal death.

So this wrinkly, pink person covered in goo would be a king? I guided him to my breast, an age old ritual I knew well, and he sucked with newborn vigor, happy to be reattached and drinking me, feeling my heart pump, my warmth, feeling almost at home. I was lost in the silken touch, in the scent of his tiny body. Marveling at minuscule fingers and toes.

Then Joseph took him to wipe him, as well as he could, with some rags from our pack. Surveying our surrounding I just had to think, what a crummy place for a king.

What if there had been…some mistake…it was too much to consider, and I focused on Joseph searching the stable for tufts of wool, lining the manger, of all things. Once he was finished, I thought it might do, as he laid the baby down.

Finally able to relax, feeling like I had run for days and days, I looked outside, thought I saw in the sky…a burst…of delight?

A flowing, swirling, I could almost hear…singing?

And then some shepherds showed up. Why not? I figured, what’s a few more lambs. They looked cleaner than these mangy animals. The shepherds had come to worship the king. Something about angels, they said, and I felt an icy unnamed lump in my chest melt.

I looked down toward the wise baby eyes, and dreamed that perhaps he would not be another king of carved armor, glinting swords, and spiked chariots, but a king…of growth, of life. A shepherd, maybe, like these, and that I…woman…might be free.

God births his blessings onto the earth through his children. Take a moment to consider what God desires to birth in your life. Many of us dream of birthing stories and books. You may long to birth a ministry or a relationship. Ponder the agony and wonder of pregnancy and childbirth, and contemplate what God might speak to your situation through them today.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Courage in the Everyday

Yesterday my church went Christmas caroling, but not in the nicest neighborhood in town where we could revel in the professionally installed light displays, not even in the middle class area surrounding our building. We went caroling in a rather rundown trailer park where we deliver food for our food ministry. Okay, so we weren't quite roughing it in a third world country, but considering we're mostly a bunch of suburbanites, it got me thinking about the courage needed to reach out to others in our everyday lives.

One of our caroling groups

Going door to door, knocking on a stranger's trailer, in a neighborhood that's one of the rougher ones in town, takes a bit of courage, especially when you have a bevy of children in tow. By the end of the Christmas cookie fellowship following the caroling, our kids were all running around in the pitch dark. We didn't know if we'd face rejection, harassment, or drunken threats, but we went to spread Christmas joy and cheer nonetheless--to spread Christ's love. It would have been easy for someone to talk themselves out of going and facing all of those risks. But reaching out takes courage and inconvenience. Living life to its fullest involves taking risks.

These neighbors tagged along and joined in the fun.

And when God calls you to do something, those risks pay off! By the end of the caroling many neighbors had joined in with us to sing. We concluded the evening with a fellowship including a fire pit and Christmas cookies, and about 25 people from the neighborhood came to join us :)

The Christmas cookie fellowship was a big hit.

I'm sure it would have been safer and easier for the Good Samaritan to have left the beaten man on the side of the road, but God calls us to a higher standard. Will you dare to reach out and take risks? Will you find the courage to live life to the fullest?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Girl's Christmas Weekend

I'm currently recovering from a fun family tradition we call Girl's Weekend. The women from my mom's side of the family get together the weekend after Thanksgiving for tons of early Christmas fun including shopping, eating out, a crazy card tournament complete with rituals including tiara's, sashes, and an embarrassing "lo-oser" march out on the street in a ridiculous get-up inspired by my very comical grandmother. We also make Christmas crafts. So if you need any gift ideas, here's some inspiration for you below.

Shang-hi winner and lo-oser from 2013.

This year's craft was cupcake ornaments.

Last year we made ornaments with ribbon and twigs.

And our 2013 project was sock snowmen.

I hope you have a great Christmas this year full of your own fun traditions.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Books Make Great Christmas Presents!

A favorite book that I've given to many of my friends.
If you're a book lover like me, you probably realize that books make great Christmas presents. You can hand select books that you think your friends will enjoy, especially hardback and early editions. Giving Christian fiction as a gift can be a subtle way to reach out to those in your life who don't yet know the Lord or who are struggling in their faith. Or, you can buy a book that you loved in bulk and give it to most everyone on your Christmas list. For this purpose I generally choose inspirational nonfiction, since it can bless a broad variety of people.

Dauntless and Chivalrous would make perfect gifts to encourage any female ages 15-35 to be strong and courageous and seek God's best for their lives, but they have also been well-loved by both males and females ages 12-80, so keep them in mind for anyone who loves a blend of romance and adventure. The best deals for Dauntless and Chivalrous right now are available at, although if you have amazon prime or order over $35 for free shipping, you might get a similar deal on amazon. And here's a thought, you could even pre-order Courageous to be sent to them and give them the receipt in a card. That way they can be anticipating the whole trilogy.

Ebooks Make Great Gifts Too!
While books are fairly typical gifts, perhaps you've never considered giving ebooks. All you need is the recipient's email address to send an ebook as a gift from amazon or barnesandnoble, just be sure you know which type of ereader they use before ordering. You can order now and schedule for a Christmas delivery or catch a good sale between now and Christmas. Ebooks are also perfect for last minute shoppers. You can order an ebook on Christmas day for a friend across the country and still get it to them in time.

Right now my Love in Three-Quarter Time, a Zondervan ebook original, is on sale for $1.99, and my WhiteFire novels Dance of the Dandelion and Dance from Deep Within are regularly priced at only $3.99. Another fun gift around Christmas time is always Christmas novels and novellas. Here's a great set of eight Christmas novellas written by some friends of mine for only $0.99! Why fight the crowds at the mall when books make such great gifts?

What books have you received as gifts?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thankful for My Readers

This is a week to give thanks. Often writing can seem like a lonely endeavor, but the best part of writing is certainly hearing from my readers. Whether it's a favorable review, a friendly comment on my blog, an encouraging word on facebook, or an actual fan letter, hearing from readers who connect with my books always brightens my day and makes the hard work worthwhile.

Here are just a few of the reader comments that have blessed me since the release of Chivalrous.

Chivalrous is book two in Dina L. Sleiman’s Valiant Heart series. I loved Dauntless, but I gotta say . . . this one is even better! Ms. Sleiman has stepped up her game (jousting perhaps?!) and given us an Arthurian-inspired medieval story filled with believable characters and a plot packed with twists you won’t see coming...I give Chivalrous five lances!  ~ Darlene L. Turner

This novel has so many threads that make it a rich tapestry befitting the walls of a castle throne room. The exploration of identity can effect both teens and adults alike as people are ever changing. ~ Shannon L. Gonzalez

It’s books like these that give me hope for the Christian fiction genre. I don’t think I rolled my eyes once, which is a habit of mine while reading most Christian fiction novels. I’m so glad to be seeing this kind of material emerge. While I only read a sample of Dauntless, book #1 in the Valiant Heart Series, I can now say that I look forward to reading the rest and anything else from Dina L. Sleiman. ~ Brittney, Goodreads

This book just felt like home – you know how some books do that? I just felt soo happy reading it. ~ Raechel Lenore

Gwen is an awesome role model. I know it's typical to dream of being a princess but I'm sure I'm not the only one to also dream of being a knight. Books like this help me to fulfill that dream a little. I absolutely loved Chivalrous! ~ Amazon Reviewer "Afternoon Snack"

I delighted in the love story. My husband enjoyed the action. I like when both of us can read the same book. We will be passing this book on to our daughter. We are looking forward to the next book in the series. This set will be ideal to use in conjunction with studying Medieval English history. ~ Jennifer Hibdon

I have only one piece of advice concerning this book. Read it. If you like King Arthur, read it. If you enjoy lovely prose, read it. If you couldn't put down her first book in this series, Dauntless, read Chivalrous. This book is brilliant. ~ Michele Harper

One of the things I enjoy about Sleiman's novels is her egalitarian treatment of her male and female protagonists. They are often both a mix of strength and vulnerability and both have moments of being leaders or being support, yet their masculinity and femininity are distinct. ~ The Artist Librarian

One of my favorite authors, Dina Sleiman has outdone herself with Chivalrous. This book has wonderful characters, great adventure, and a charming romance. ~ Susan Johnson

So a huge thank you along with a big hug to all of my wonderful readers. You guys rock!

Monday, November 16, 2015

What I'm Working On

With Courageous safely turned into my publisher, this week I'm working on a little project that has a special place in my heart. A few years ago the ladies of my group blog, Inkwell Inspirations, decided to write a novella collection together with the goal of getting some of our unpublished ladies published for the first time.

This summer, we finally signed a contract on our Austen in Austin collection, and by early 2016, all of our members will be published. I'm a part of volume two in the collection, which will release in September 2016. My novella based on Mansfield Park is called Mansford Ranch and it offers a late 1800s Texas twist on the beloved story.

I've actually been really enjoying the novella format, which is new to me. This is also the first project I've ever undertaken that came to me purely through an assignment rather than some burst of inspiration. I've been pleasantly surprised that this new system is working out just fine for me. I'm loving my romantic, humorous story and looking forward to sharing it with you all next fall.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Girl Power - Barbie Style

I love this girl power Barbie video. This is how to raise valiant young women who are willing to go after their dreams :)

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Courageous Cover Reveal!!!

And here it is....drum roll please...the cover for Valiant Hearts book 3, Courageous.

Valiant Hearts: Where Adventure and Romance Meet

Inspired by the vision of the Young Lady Sapphira, Rosalind of Ipsworth joins a group of men, women, and children as a defender of the cross, seeking to free captives from prisons near Tripoli. She gladly gives herself to the cause, as she's haunted by a tragic mistake and no longer deserves such joys as marriage and family might bring.

Sir Randel Penigree was reared to serve in the church, but dreams of protecting the innocent as a knight. Joining a crusade to escape humiliation at home, he finds himself drawn to Rosalind as they partner to train and protect a group of young adolescents. When they face political machinations, danger, and an unknown enemy bent on their destruction, they are forced to reconsider their priorities and the very nature of the God they serve.

Coming July 15, 2016 with Bethany House Publishers. Available now for pre-order on

Monday, October 26, 2015

Can You Be Better than the Bible?

I have an odd question today. Can you be better than the Bible? I suppose most Christians would summarily respond "no, of course not." Yet often people's lives and theology seem to suggest that they secretly think yes. What is it with Christians trying to sanitize everything and pretty it up and make it nice? The Bible isn't always nice. Recently during our morning devotionals I read the scripture in Galatians where Paul suggests that the circumcision advocates go all the way and chop off a certain key body part. LOL. I looked at my thirteen-year-old son and said, "I guess Paul was throwing a bit of a temper tantrum." And as a popular facebook meme suggests, when asked, "What would Jesus do?"--throwing over tables is an option.

Here's the thing. The Bible is not always neat and pretty and tied up with a bow. Sometimes daughter-in-laws seduce father-in-laws. Prostitutes make it into the lineage of Jesus. Men who are said to be after God's own heart also commit adultery and murder. Prophets smear poop on things. Then there's the Song of Solomon, a rather erotic book that I sometimes wonder if Christian parents even allow their kids to read.

I recently saw a facebook post by a fellow author asking someone to explain to her why Ruth lay down at Boaz's feet. She said this seemed rather risky and risque, and of course twenty or so comments tried to explain why it wasn't. Eventually I couldn't take it any longer and replied, "I think it was risky and risque, and I think God has a message for us in that."

If the Bible is indeed (as we claim we believe) God's inspired Word to mankind, then we need to accept all of it, even when it's messy. And if it is indeed God's inspired Word, we can't be "better" than the behavior recommended in it. Of course I'm not talking about bad behavior of specific individuals, but rather the Bible's prescribed behavior, particularly in the New Testament. When we try to be better, nicer, more pure, and more sanitized than the Bible itself, what we actually are is out of balance.
For example, while certain aspects of life like drinking alcohol or dancing can in some cases lead to sinful behavior, the Bible never says that either of these are sinful. Still, some denominations of Christianity try to turn them into sins. If someone chooses not to drink alcohol, that can be a wise decision, but if they judge others and treat it like a sin, they're out of balance. When they contrive elaborate theologies of why the wine Jesus turned the water into wasn't really wine, they're out of balance. And when you're out of balance, another word for that is: WRONG!

Paul says it is for freedom we've been made free. Satan wants us bound, God wants us to feel free to enjoy life so long as we follow the Spirit and stay within certain general guidelines. Getting drunk is a sin. Drinking wine is allowed if you can do it with self-control. Dancing with an intentional goal of seducing anyone but your own spouse would reasonably seem to fall outside of those prescribed guidelines (although I don't think it's anyone's job to judge the motives of another persons heart), but dancing as worship is encouraged, and dancing to enjoy life and music and community is fine.

Or let's take kissing before marriage. The Bible never says it's wrong, yet some Christians today treat it like a sin, or a lack of purity. The Bible DOES say not to have sex outside of marriage, and yes, excessive and indiscriminate kissing could lead one down a wrong path. But that doesn't make kissing before marriage a sin. You can't just go around making up sins for expediency. The same goes for dating. Adult Christians should feel free to make those sorts of choices for themselves and not be judged by other Christians.

Again, remember that when we try to be better than the Bible, something is dangerously off course. I have an acquaintance who recently wrote a book called Courtship in Crisis about the problem's within the new Christian courtship movement. Here's my thoughts on the issue. When young men and women are taught to feel impure every time their bodies experience natural, God-ordained sensations, they are being set up for problems later on in their marriages. How are they supposed to magically retrain their minds in one brief ceremony to enjoy what has been causing them perpetual guilt and turmoil for years? Guilt and turmoil that the Bible doesn't require.

Feelings aren't sin. Physical sensations aren't sin. What we do with those feelings and sensations determine our sinfulness or righteousness. If we choose to revel in them and fantasize over them, or worse yet to dive into them, that is very different than experiencing them and then making good decisions concerning them. It's very different than saying, "Dear Father God, I'm having these feelings and don't know what to do with them. Please guide me through this situation."

And even when we make poor decisions, God is there to forgive and restore us.

Of course I realize that some of my readers are teens, and so I remind you that children are instructed by the Bible to obey their parents. That message is clear. And adult children must still show their parents honor and respect, but they must also make their own decisions before God and take responsibility for their own choices.

On the flip side, to parents and church leaders I would say this. I grew up in the church, and trust me, kids who grow up in the church have excellent "b.s." detectors. They know when the adults in their lives are giving them rules that go beyond the Bible. And all that serves to do is undermine their credibility. When people try to make rock music, black fingernails, blue hair, and the like into "sin," they risk pushing others away from the true gospel message of freedom, grace, and redemption.

Okay, I may have fallen into rambling a bit, but this has been niggling at me for a while. So here's what it all comes back to. Can you be better than the Bible? No. Not if you believe it's truly God's Holy Word, as we Christians claim to believe it is. So let's get real, authentic, maybe a little vulnerable. Let's stop living nice, safe, clean, pretty lives and not be afraid of the riskier existence of walking by the Spirit of God. Let's present a version of Christianity to the world that is not based on rules and limits, but on the immeasurable gift of God.

We can't be better than the Bible, we can only be out of balance. And out of balance is just plain wrong.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Me and Merry Olde England

I now have three published novels set in England, which probably raises the question, what is my experience with England? First of all, I feel like England is a big part of my heritage. Although in many ways I am the typical American "mutt," the majority of my roots are from the British Isles. I have ancestors from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. Altogether, those make up for well over half of my origins. I have a good dose of English blood on both my mother's and my father's side. Supposedly, I even have an English nobleman somewhere on my mother's side of the family. When I look back over time and imagine how my ancestors would have lived during the middle ages, I mostly think of England.

And although I can't afford research trips before writing my books (trust me, if I could I would be on a plane to England tomorrow!) I have in fact spent a summer in England. In 1990, when I was twenty years old, I went on an international mission trip to England with my Christian university. That might seem like an odd place for a mission trip, but Christianity has been on the decline in England for some time. And it was a great trip. We worked with an organization that did a lot of church planting and street ministry. I learned so much about how to evangelize and had many weeks to completely immerse myself in British culture. We worked with Brits all day, reached out to Brits, and slept in British homes most nights.

Taking the ferry to the Isle of White.

During my summer there we traveled around the country, spending time in London, Cambridge, Southampton, and the Isle of White. Although I did not have the opportunity to go very far north, I met people from all over England. One of my favorites was a guy named Ashley from Yorkshire. He had the most delectable accent, and we couldn't get enough of trying to copy it.

My team at the London Hard Rock Cafe

Although touring was not high on our priority list, we did get to walk throughout all those cities. We saw lots of old buildings, especially from the outside, and all the major sites like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, and London Bridge. We also visited a medieval church, which was definitely one of my highlights. Sadly, I don't have a picture of it, but I also loved these little canal boats the we road on.

As I searched through my old pictures, I found a surprising number featuring cute British guys. What can I say? I have a soft spot for both Brits and missionaries. This one also shows my favorite outfit that I purchased at a boutique in London. While most of my teammates were shopping at Laura Ashley (anyone remember those awful flowered, puffy dresses?) I found this very mod little number that I wore regularly for at least a decade. If you can tear your eyes away from the gentlemen in the background, you can see the outfit below in black and yellow.

So that's me and merry olde England. Have you ever been to England? What's the most interesting place you've ever visited?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Sneakiest Sin

While writing Chivalrous, I had the challenge of taking the nearly perfect spiritual paragon, Allen of Ellsworth from Dauntless, and giving him a flaw that he needed to overcome. As I considered my options, I decided to go with that sneaky character issue that tends to creep in when someone, especially a Christian, is pretty much doing everything right: the sin of pride.

The truth is that we all need a savior, and none of us are good enough on our own. But many Christians fall into the trap of thinking that they have to do things through their own strength and self-determination. It's almost as if Christ saved them once, and it's been their job to save themselves every day since.

Allen was easy pickings for that spirit of pride to creep in due to his subtle issue of insecurity. He had been born and raised a peasant. He had been told that his place was to do nothing more than work the land, and that he would never be good enough for fine ladies such as Merry and Gwendolyn. So when he was offered more than he could have ever dreamed of, it was easy for him to become confused and put his pride and sense of duty before that still, small voice of God that had always led and guided him in the past.

I've noticed that a few reviewers that hadn't read Dauntless weren't sure if they liked Allen because of that pride. And not surprisingly most of them mentioned that they were not Christians. It's easy for Christians to overlook pride, but the truth is, it is very ugly to those outside of the faith. I think pride, judgmentalism, and hypocrisy are the three main downfalls among Christians that the enemy uses to drive people away from faith in Christ. That is why it was so important to me to include this issue in Chivalrous.

Fortunately, Allen overcomes his pride just in the nick of time. But if you think you've got your act all together and that you're an awesome Christian, watch out! None of us are perfect. We all need Christ, and if we start to think we can do it on our own, chances are that sneaky sin of pride has crept in.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Some Knight's Tale Fun

It probably won't surprise you to learn that one of my favorite movies is A Knight's Tale. Although it takes significant liberties with history, it's just so much fun! I admit I might have watched it a time or two while writing Chivalrous. Based on the ages of Chaucer and the Black Knight, this would have to be about 150 years after my story. The armor was different and many of the tournament rules were different. But I definitely got some ideas for how a tournament ground might have been set up, and I tried to pull some of the energy and excitement from the movie. Of course this was also blended with more scholarly research, reading other medieval novels, and my own trip to Medieval Times. Since my story was set in a fictional area, in the end I made up my own brand of tournament that fit the story.

I thought you might want to join in on some of the fun today.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mrs. President???

Although I pretty much gave up hope in politics and especially our two-party monopoly system by college age, I have to admit, I've been a little excited about the upcoming 2016 elections. For the first time ever, we have viable female candidates in the major political parties, not only for vice-president (which, btw, has only happened twice), but for actual president. And thank goodness, we have one on both the Republican and Democratic sides, because I could never bring myself to vote for Hillary (who pretty much represents everything I don't like and don't trust about politics) despite my fervent support of female empowerment.

 On the other hand, I've been very impressed by Carly Fiorina. She's tough, sharp, and on target. She's clawed her way to the top, mostly through her excellent speech and debate skills. She's already conquered the corporate world, despite the so-called "glass ceilings" for women, and now she's ready to take on running our country. And I like that she while she has proven herself a competent leader, she has not spent her life mired in that political system I dislike so much. If indeed Hillary does win the Democratic nomination, I strongly believe that Carly would be the opponent with the greatest chance of beating her.

 I confessed recently on facebook, that despite the fact that I disagree with many of Obama's political stances, as someone who has long been interested in African-American history and issues, I smile every time I see him and his lovely wife and daughters representing our country as the first family. (And Michelle totally rocked on So You Think You Can Dance!) I'm glad that the obstacles to race and sex are being overcome in our country.

It makes me hopeful that someday we will hear the words "Mrs. President" or perhaps "Madam President" if she prefers.

Here's a funny little video that shows the types of obstacles Carly Fiorina has overcome. Hopefully we're getting beyond some of this thinking, but no doubt, Carly has been a valiant woman to get to the place she is now.

Monday, September 21, 2015

More Chivalrous Fun!!!

I wanted to share a few fun new blog articles about Chivalrous with my readers today. The first is about how my two badly behaved malti-poos helped to inspire some endearing characters for the book. Can you handle the cuteness? Click here to read the article on USA Today's Happy-Ever-After blog.

The second is about me and my critique partner Roseanna White. We've been partners in this writing quest since 2010, and in a surprising twist of fate, we both had books releasing with Bethany House this year on September 8th. I mean, seriously, what are the odds? All I can say is that it's a God thing. Beyond being critique partners, she is also my senior editor at WhiteFire Publishing, where I work as a part-time in acquisitions. She is also a great friend of mine, and my favorite author. To top it all off, we only live about six hours apart, and so we've had several opportunities over the years to visit in person. The best was when she came to town for a surprise party some of my friends threw for me celebrating my contract with Bethany House Publishers. I was indeed surprised by the party, but especially stunned to see Roseanna, and excited to learn that she and her husband were staying the night at my house :) Anyway, here's the article about our critique partnership that was featured on the Bethany House blog. 

That should be enough reading to keep you busy for a while. And while your at it, don't forget to read Chivalrous for yourself!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Chivalrous Beginnings

* The winner of last week's Valiant Hearts "Swag" giveaway is "Princessica of books." I will be contacting you by email soon :) *

Chivalrous at Barnes and Noble
This week I thought it would be fun to tell you a little bit about the origins of Chivalrous. In the spring of 2013 I was walking and praying about an idea for a young adult medieval novel. Suddenly it came to me: books with strong heroines in legendary male medieval roles! I'm sure part of my inspiration came from the BBC Robin Hood I had been watching with its tough Maid Marian and female Djaq, but even Once Upon a Time was doing fairy tale retellings with kick butt heroines. Not to mention other strong heroines like Merida in Brave and Katniss in the Hunger Games.

I knew in an instant I had found a stellar idea, and my mind entered that magical creative haze. By the end of the evening I had landed on the series name Valiant Hearts, and I had premises for several books based on legends. Then I played around combining strong words with romantic words for titles: Dauntless Love, Chivalrous Dreams, Gallant Beauty, ect... Originally I planned to write them as stand alone books in different medieval times and places.

The second book in the series would be Chivalrous Dreams, an Athurian type story with a Lancelot and Guinevere twist. I was going to place it in a fictional kingdom in the mountainous part of Germany in the Holy Roman Empire in the late 1200s.

But I was also very open to working with a publisher and incorporating their ideas for this series. When Bethany offered me a contract for book one, formerly titled Dauntless Love, they asked for a few changes in direction. First, they chopped down the titles to one word, thus Dauntless, Chivalrous, and Courageous. Second, they wanted me to add more point of view characters and bring out the epic adventure feel. And third, they wanted the books to spin directly off one another by time, place, and linking characters.

Picture from "The Artist Librarian"
That required some big changes to my Chivalrous idea. It moved to 1217 when the armor was still chain mail and tournaments were still pretty wild. And it needed to take place in a fictional dukedom (technically duchy, but I felt like that word was too weird) in England instead of a kingdom, so I was dealing with dukes and duchesses rather than kings and queens. I decided that in my fictional Athurian dukedom, they would have more progressive, civilized rules for their tournaments and focus them more on jousts the way I had originally envisioned the story.

But the story itself had to undergo some significant changes too. The biggest was that peasant and outsider, Allen of Ellsworth from book one, would now be my hero. Originally the hero of this book was going to be a nobleman from the country who already knew Gwendolyn but just didn't know the secret that she fought as a knight. I had to get pretty creative to work out a scenario that allowed this former peasant to fit my plot, but evidently I managed that part pretty well, because I haven't had any complaints so far.

Favorite quote meme by Janeen Ippolito
That left one final problem. Allen and Gwen didn't know each other, and I hate whirlwind romances. I tried to give them some extended time together off the page, but I'm not sure if everyone caught that, and even then, it was only about a few weeks total. And I tried to make their relationship more about God's will than romantic tingles and shivers. Finally, the romance tied into the plot and at some point became an issue of survival. I hope I managed all of that.The truth remains, I don't generally think whirlwind romances are smart. You need time to really know a person and their character.

Having Allen in the book provided for some other great surprises I never pictured in the early versions, but I wouldn't want to give those away. And of course every story takes on a life of its own and follows unexpected twists and turns. The inclusion of dark magic and Morgaine in Chivalrous was a complete surprise to me, but became necessary to provide motivation for the villain. Since it fit the Arthur feel perfectly, I went with it, although I felt strongly about depicting magic as evil rather than in the light way it is treated in the Arthur stories. Even after all of that was said and done, the publisher requested some additional tweaks, like more action and less introspection, which is always a good idea.

So that is the evolution of Chivalrous. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

What's something in your life that didn't turn out the way you expected it?

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Chivalrous Release Party!!!

Welcome to 1217, Edendale, England. The minstrels are warming up, and dancing will commence shortly. So pull up a bench in the great hall, grab a goose leg, and prepare to party! Chivalrous "officially" releases today, although it has already been available on amazon for a week or so.

Meet Sir Allen, a newcomer to our fair Edendale, but already well-loved by those who spent time with him in Dauntless. Quite a cutie, right? And no, of course you didn't see him on the Gilmore Girls, that must have been some distant ancestor. Excuse me Sir Allen, could you please fetch me some mulled cider from yon serving wench?

Okay, I confess, this is actor Jared Padalecki

And here is Gwendolyn, ready for a party for once thanks to the careful ministrations of her faithful lady's maid, Rosalind. We get a glimpse at the gentle side of the fierce female knight in this picture, although I'm sure she's itching to get back into something more comfortable. Looks like she's reading that book that Sir Allen recommended to her.

I was picturing actress LeeLee Sobieski as Gwen

My launch team has been hard at work spreading the news. Here is an awesome image created by Laura Pol with her favorite quote from the book.

And here is an image with my code of chivalry created by Raechel Lenore. Click on it for a better look.

This is Raechel herself, who definitely wins the prize for most adorable and enthusiastic launch picture. Way to get in the spirit!

Early reviews have already been coming in for the book. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to whet your appetite. 

What reviewers are saying...

Chivalrous is book two in Dina L. Sleiman’s Valiant Heart series. I loved Dauntless, but I gotta say . . . this one is even better! Ms. Sleiman has stepped up her game (jousting perhaps?!) and given us an Arthurian-inspired medieval story filled with believable characters and a plot packed with twists you won’t see coming...I give Chivalrous five lances!  ~ Darlene L. Turner

This novel has so many threads that make it a rich tapestry befitting the walls of a castle throne room. The exploration of identity can effect both teens and adults alike as people are ever changing. ~ Shannon L. Gonzalez

It’s books like these that give me hope for the Christian fiction genre. I don’t think I rolled my eyes once, which is a habit of mine while reading most Christian fiction novels. I’m so glad to be seeing this kind of material emerge. While I only read a sample of Dauntless, book #1 in the Valiant Heart Series, I can now say that I look forward to reading the rest and anything else from Dina L. Sleiman. ~ Brittney, Goodreads

This book just felt like home – you know how some books do that? I just felt soo happy reading it. ~ Raechel Lenore

I have only one piece of advice concerning this book. Read it. If you like King Arthur, read it. If you enjoy lovely prose, read it. If you couldn't put down her first book in this series, Dauntless, read Chivalrous. This book is brilliant. ~ Michele Harper

One of my favorite authors, Dina Sleiman has outdone herself with Chivalrous. This book has wonderful characters, great adventure, and a charming romance. ~ Susan Johnson

Still not convinced? Read a free sample here.  Or check out this great interview in Family Fiction Edge Magazine.

Oh! The minstrels are ready and the dance space has been cleared. You know I can't miss out on the dancing, so you must excuse me. I hear Gwendolyn might give us a magical performance on her pipe later, so be sure to stick around for the fun!

Speaking of fun, if you haven't ordered Chivalrous yet, what are you waiting for?

And it wouldn't be a party without a prize, so leave a comment with your email address below for your chance to win some great Valiant Hearts "swag." Deadline is Sunday September 13th. Winner will be announced next Monday.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Worried about Rosalind???

Early reviews of Chivalrous (officially releasing September 8th, but available in print on amazon now) are starting to come in, and it seems some readers are very worried about Rosalind. Rosalind is my heroine's lady's maid, and she is already well-loved by those who have met her.

How I picture Rosalind, cover to come soon!!!
But without giving away too many spoilers, I leave Rosalind in quite a lurch at the end of book 2. Readers, don't despair. I promise that I love Rosalind as much as you do, and that I have a plan for her. Namely book 3, Courageous. Yes, it's true! Rosalind is the heroine of book 3, so there really is a method to my madness.

Here's the tentative back cover copy for the upcoming third installment in the Valiant Hearts Series...

Rosalind of Ipsworth is haunted by a tragic mistake. A crusade to the Holy Land just might offer her the chance to earn her redemption. Inspired by the vision of the Young Lady Sapphira, Rosalind joins a group of men, women, and children as a defender of the cross, seeking to set captives free from Saracen prisons in the area of Tripoli. She will gladly give herself to the cause of Christ, as she believes she no longer deserves such joys as normal life, marriage, and family might bring.

Sir Randel Penigree was reared for a life in the church and a tonsured scalp, but his own desire is to fight and protect the innocent as a knight. After his stunning defeat at Gravensworth Castle, his parents issue an ultimatum: join the church or be disowned. A crusade to the Holy Land will offer him the opportunity to meet up with the famed Knights Templar to become a warrior monk, finally merging his parents’ wishes with his own.

As they work together to train and protect a group of young adolescents, their hearts begin to heal, and Randel and Rosalind find themselves undeniably drawn to one another. When they face political machinations, danger, and an unknown enemy bent on their destruction, they are forced to reconsider their priorities, and the very nature of the God they serve.

Courageous is coming July 2016. Hopefully Rosalind can hang in there until I can get her out of that rough spot. But she's a pretty tough chick. I think she'll make it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Me and My Heroines

Often readers confuse an author with the characters they create. I imagine the truth is that each character we write has a hint of us inside of them. But it is also true that professional novelists go to great lengths to create unique and separate characters with distinctive personalities. So today I’m going to share with you how I am both similar to and different from some of my female heroines.

Typical Dina
Let’s start with the general idea of these tough Valiant Hearts heroines I've been working on the last few years. I’ve always been strong, healthy, and athletic, but not quite a tough sporty girl. During my school years I did play some sports, mostly because I went to small Christian schools and everyone needed to be involved. I was pretty good at basketball, but always preferred dance, gymnastics, and cheerleading. As an adult, I like quiet physical activities like walking, biking, hiking, and canoeing. I still dance from time to time as part of my church’s worship dance team. But…I believe in female empowerment and that women should follow whatever path God lays on their hearts. I don’t like to see arbitrary limits put on what girls can and can’t do, and that was very important to me as I wrote this Valiant Hearts Series. My Meyer’s Briggs personality type is INFJ, which in addition to being creative, is also very individualistic and idealistic, so I guess that explains my strong feelings about this issue. And I'm a bit of a romantic.

My Robin Hood-esque Merry Ellison from Dauntless and I actually have very little in common. On the Meyers Briggs scale, Merry was my opposite on three out of four indicators. She is more extroverted, sensory, and thinking. This made Merry the most challenging character I’ve ever written, yet I loved and admired her. Her ESTJ personality was the same as my middle child, my outdoor enthusiast and adrenaline junky. It’s a great leadership personality. I often thought of tough sporty girls I’ve been friends with over the years while writing Merry. Merry and I have a few things in common like a love of children and a love of acrobatics, but even her motivations and inner thoughts were often different than mine. I do have a tomboy side, but it does not go as far as weaponry and hunting. In addition to all of that, tiny, dark haired, exotic Merry is pretty much my physical opposite in every way too. 

Chivalrous with my female knight is releasing soon, and I certainly have more in common with Gwendolyn Barnes than with Merry. I was picturing Gwendolyn as a INFP/ISFP hybrid.  Gwendolyn hates mingling at a big party, much like me, and she loves music, dance, and sunshine, again like me. Her biggest flaw is that she tends to fade into a fantasy world rather than deal with reality, which is something I have been guilty of from time to time, but not to the same degree as Gwendolyn. She has more of a temper than I do, although I share her abhorrence of injustice and can get pretty riled up when faced with it. And again, she is tougher than me, although I think if I had been raised with her hang ups, I might have turned out even more like her. Finally, Gwendolyn’s tall, blonde, and curvy physical description is pretty close to mine at that age. At 5’10” I’m used to looking men in the eye and feeling like I can do anything they can.

How I picture Rosalind
Next on the horizon is Courageous with my crusader heroine. It won’t release until July 2016, but you will be introduced to its main character in Chivalrous. Rosalind of Ipsworth is Gwendolyn’s lady’s maid, best friend, and partner in crime. Of the three Valiant Hearts heroines so far, I definitely have the most in common with Rosalind. With her ENFJ personality, she is more of a typical emotional, romantic girl, although she is tough enough to rise to whatever occasion is thrown at her. She’s more outgoing than me, and she makes some unfortunate choices that my upbringing protected me from. But her thoughts, speech, and motivations are pretty similar to what I imagine mine being in those circumstances. And Rosalind is a passionate woman, which is also a trait I share. 

Passion is a characteristic that is often avoided in Christian heroines, and yet a characteristic I think God highly values when channeled in the right direction. In fact, I’ve used the ENFJ personality for two other heroines in the past. Both Dandelion in Dance of the Dandelion and Constance in Love in Three-Quarter Time are feisty, passionate heroines as well. Each makes mistakes, like Rosalind, but each learns to channel that passion toward an intimate relationship with God. My daughter has an ENFJ personality, and I have loved watching her grow in her passion toward God.

Maybe you’re wondering if I’ve ever written myself into a book. I would say the closest I’ve come is with Allie, my Christian ballerina in Dance from Deep Within. She shares my INFJ personality, my love of dance and reading, my blonde coloring, and many of my experiences. Her thoughts, tastes, opinions, fashion sensibilities, and beliefs certainly mirror mine, especially when I was her age. But of course her life is different than mine in some ways too, and her experiences are more extreme, including a trauma I didn’t share. Still, I would say if you want to know what I’m all about, Allie would provide the best clues.

So that’s me and my heroines. I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick foray into our personalities.

Which of my heroines do you think you would relate with the most? What is your personality like?

Monday, August 17, 2015

What is YA Fiction???

(As first seen on Seekerville)

picture from
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, I’m sure you’ve heard that YA fiction is all the rage. Books like The Hunger GamesDivergentThe Fault in Our Stars, and Twilight have not only taken the world by storm, but have also been made into blockbuster movies. Even the Christian market has been opening to YA fiction. But what exactly does “Young Adult” fiction mean, and how does it differ from regular adult fiction? That’s precisely what I had to figure out when I started working on my new Valiant Hearts Series from Bethany House a few years ago. Here’s a little of what I learned to help introduce you to the world of YA fiction.

Know Your Age Range - The age range for these so-called “Young Adult” books is typically about 12-18, although these days many of the books are crossing over and having success with adults as well. Younger than that (aimed at 10-13) is called “Middle Grade,” and a new, slightly older category (aimed at 18-25) called “New Adult” has recently emerged. So be sure to know which group you are writing for, and keep in mind that kids love to read about characters a few years ahead of them in life. So the typical age range for main characters in YA books is around 15-19.

Don’t Talk Down – There is no need to dumb down your thought processes or language choices when writing for teens. Considering that a newspaper is written at a fifth grade level, teens should be well able to handle whatever you toss at them. The last thing they want is for you to treat them like children. In fact, because teens are used to reading challenging literature in school, they are actually much more willing to tackle tough subjects and vocabulary than their adult counterparts. While adults are often looking for fluffy entertainment, teens love to learn and grow through fictional experiences.

Through a Teen’s Eyes - The primary difference between adult and teen fiction is in the perspective.  Remember, your main characters should be teenagers, and teens don’t see things the way adults see them. They are questioning the status quo, figuring themselves out, and trying to find their place in the world. They have the intelligence of an adult, but not quite the wisdom or maturity. When writing teen fiction, you must take yourself back to those days, or attempt to view the world through the eyes of your daughter, granddaughter, niece, teenage neighbor, etc... Also, be sure to understand the teen culture of your chosen time period. If you try to tackle a contemporary young adult novel, you will face the extra challenge of grasping the lingo, the styles, and the popular trends without seeming “lame.”

Keep the Pace Fast – While books like The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars clearly demonstrate that teens are willing to read about tough issues, politics, and even philosophy, the pace should be fast and punchy. The descriptions are quick and tightly woven into the other elements of the scene. The conversations are fast paced and often witty. The books are full of action and excitement, twists and turns. I sometimes joke that teen novels are just like adult novels—only more exciting!

Get Real and Raw – As I mentioned, teens are interested in learning about the world through fiction. But not some fake, fluffy, sugar-coated world!!! Not something oversimplified or didactic. They can get all of that in children’s literature. No, they want to understand the real world in all its raw, gritty glory. Often, they will experience issues (and learn how to think and feel about them) in fiction long before they will in real life. They want you to tell them the truth, guide them, but ultimately let them make their own judgments.

Tools to Face the World – Teens want to be ready to face the world of adults. Top teen fiction issues include identity, sexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, suicide, prejudice, depression, bullying, corrupt politics, family struggles, etc… Serious, real-world stuff! Hopefully they aren’t actually dealing with these issues, although some are, but they want to be prepared when the time comes. If you are a Christian writer, what could be better than introducing these challenging sorts of issues from a godly perspective?

Romance but More – Teens love romance. Especially teen girls. As I mentioned, the awakening of sexuality is a major theme in YA literature. This does not mean having sex, it means learning to understand their bodies and the strange new feelings and sensations they are experiencing. It means making good decisions about the sexual and romantic parts of life at a time when they are often fumbling, giddy, and full of angst over boys.  However, in keeping with the fast pace and grittiness I mentioned, most teen romances offer more than just romance. You will typically find romance mixed with adventure, sci-fi, dystopia, fantasy, suspense, or tough contemporary issues.  So offer your teen reader romance, but also give them something more.

That wraps up the major differences between teen and adult fiction. I think as secular teen fiction becomes darker and more liberal, the market for Christian teen fiction will continue to grow. Likewise as more Christian adult readers discover this entertaining genre, they will boost sales and open even more doors for YA in the future.

For a great database of Christian teen fiction visit

What are some of your favorite young adult books? Come on, ’fess up, we know you love them!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Chivalrous Pre-Order Special!!!

Chivalrous releases in less than a month! Which means that now is the perfect time to pre-order to get it hot off the press. In fact, while I can't make any promises, often people who pre-order the print books online find it in their mailboxes weeks before the official release. And yes, ebooks are also available for pre-order on amazon and barnesandnoble. They should magically appear on your kindle or nook September 8th.

So here's my special offer. If you pre-order Chivalrous, and message some sort of confirmation of the order along with you home address to me by facebook messenger or email, in return I will send you a small package of Valiant Hearts "swag," including a Dauntless button, a Valiant Hearts key chain, bookmarks, and post cards. Find me on facebook here.

Want to read a free sample first? No problem. Click here. 

Let the pre-order party begin!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Me and Acrobatics

One of the funnest elements of Dauntless, in my opinion, is the acrobatic twist. Although as I mention in another post, they didn't actually use the word acrobat at that time, tumblers and aerialists provided popular entertainment during the middle ages. You might wonder if I have any acrobatic background myself, and the answer is yes. I took gymnastics from the ages of 6-11. I never quite reached Merry's level of expertise, but I could do a front flip and front and back handsprings, so I understand the rush of flying through the air. In high school, I also used my gymnastics ability as a cheerleader.

I don't do much acrobatics anymore, but all three of my children are incredible acrobats. Just for fun, here is my farewell acrobatic performance. If you're having a hard time finding me, I'm tall with shoulder length blond hair, and at some point my son stands on my shoulders. I'm guessing this was around 2008. My two older kids are the ones doing the fancy tricks. Gymnastics fans, notice the lovely back flip by my son at about 2:16. :) My youngest was still too little for choreography at the time, but at age 12, he is now a competitive gymnast.

If you would like to learn more about me as a dance, choreographer, and director, click here to visit that page on my main website.

Everything About You from danzingfool on GodTube.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Facing Fears - Missionary Style

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. ~ Psalm 86:11

Camper enjoying cuddle time with God
You might have noticed I went missing last week. I was on a short term mission trip to a poor rural area at the border of West Virginia and Kentucky. The experience was awesome!

Some of the highlights included 1) Leading worship for a kids camp, including crazy dances and Dina's classic "cuddle time with God." 2) Meeting a woman in a trailer park with no furniture and completely furnishing her home within a few hours. 3) Getting to play extreme make-over including shopping, making curtains, and decorating to turn a tiny pantry into a cute camo themed room for a thirteen year old boy, and being able to do the big reveal on his birthday. 4) Seeing my youngest child stepping out of his comfort zone in ministry, quiet time, and praying out loud in a group.

Extreme make-over
Actually, stepping out of our comfort zones and facing our fears was the theme of this trip and of our devotional quiet time studies. And sure enough, I found a few fears of my own. Fear of pain and discomfort mostly, which aren't fears that I had in my younger years. But as I mentioned in my last post, being valiant doesn't mean a lack of fear. It means a willingness to overcome those fears.

So I've decided that I'm not going to ever become one of those older women who make excuses in order to keep their lives cushy and under their control. I want to grow into a tough, sassy, fearless old brod. LOL. Like my Aunt Dolores who still goes on international mission trips in her 90s!!! Now that's my kind of old lady.

My youngest son
We also learned that fear is important, because it is a mirror of what is going on deep inside of us. Rather than repress our fears, we should look them in the face and get to the root. And finally we relearned the importance of the fear of God.

Monday, July 13, 2015

True Confessions: Anxious about Anxiety

(As first seen on Inkwell Inspirations on 7/10/2015) 

Somehow it does not surprise me that around the launch of my Valiant Hearts Series with its goal of inspiring young women to be strong and courageous, I found myself under attack. An attack of anxiety. Isn’t that the way it always seems to work? 

I’m generally a pretty peaceful person. Sure, I’m prone to stress just like everyone else, but I try to keep my life manageable and focus on the positive. I don’t have a tendency to sweat the small stuff or get mired in worry. In fact, I’ve even had the experience of passing through incredibly stressful situations on a cloud of supernatural peace.

However, I have had a few bouts with physiological anxiety. Usually it occurred when I’ve tried a new medication (for unrelated issues like headaches or cholesterol) that didn’t agree with me. I’ve also noticed in recent years that I’ve had some anxiety issues due to food sensitivities.

Those experiences taught me an important lesson about anxiety that most Christians don’t seem to realize. “Anxiety disorder,” in our modern use of the term, can sometimes occur when something in your body goes haywire. It can be a purely physiological phenomenon. Yes, I realize the Bible talks about anxiety in some translations, but I’m going to use the newer disorder definition of the term to indicate a medical condition and contrast it with words like worry, fear, and stress, which are emotional conditions and involve a greater degree of choice.

It would be easy for me to feel guilty that I’m not trusting God enough, not having enough faith, or even in sin. That I’m not staying in perfect peace and casting my care on God the way the Bible instructs. But perhaps the gift that God has given me in this situation is the clarity to realize my anxiety makes no logical sense and isn’t coming from my mind or my spirit at all. 

Worry happens when you fixate on a problem and allow fear to take over. You think about it again and again, often picturing worst case scenarios, until your body becomes stressed and anxious and even sick. To contrast that with a physiological anxiety disorder, this anxiety happens when your body gets out of whack due to nutrition, hormones, or brain chemistry. It begins with your body feeling the anxiety, and then your brain looks for any minor issue, or every minor issue, to attach those anxious feelings to. At that point, your brain might begin to fixate on those issues and it seems like fear or worry. 

Oh, and as I’ve been learning, hormonally based anxiety is especially prevalent in teens, pregnant women, new moms, and middle aged women. (Isn’t that most women?)

So what are those physical symptoms of anxiety? They can include any or all of the following.

A tight or constricted feeling in your chest
Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
Dread or sick feeling in your stomach
Tension throughout your body
Pressure in your head
A racing heartbeat
Difficulty breathing
Difficulty sleeping
Dry mouth

Anxiety stinks. It can completely paralyze you. I’ve been pushing through my anxiety. I’m not letting it stop me, and I’ve been praying and researching to find ways to manage it. In fact, for now at least, it’s pretty much gone.  Here are a few of the simple methods that I’ve found helpful so far.

Journal to isolate food and medication triggers
Avoid caffeine
Cashews and pickles
Probiotics and vitamin D
Chamomile tea: double, triple, or quadruple strength
Contemplative prayer
Worship music
Deep breathing

I think too many people take guilt over their anxiety and just become more anxious about being anxious. Hopefully this article will help you to spot physiological anxiety for what it truly is and give you some tools to manage it. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help when needed. You might require the support of understanding friends and family or even medical care to get through anxiety. If your anxiety is caused by old emotional wounds, ingrained habits, or post-traumatic stress disorder, you will likely require professional counseling. 

Bravery is not the absence of fear; it is the determination to go on in spite of fear. Being a valiant woman of God doesn't mean denying your symptoms and trying to muscle through on sheer will power. It means facing your issues hand in hand with God and being determined to come out victorious!