2015 INSPY Award Winners

After our panel of judges careful consideration, the INSPYs Advisory Board is pleased to announce the 2015 INSPY Award Winners. Below are the seven winning novels in their respective categories and a statement from our judges on the reason why they felt it was worth the award…

Book - Miracle in a Dry SeasonDebut: Miracle in a Dry Season (Bethany House) by Sarah Loudin Thomas: 
We chose Miracle in a Dry Season not only because of the talent of the author, but because it is a unique and engaging story. A refreshing tale of miracles, love, and laughter set in the 1950s, Sarah Loudin Thomas pens an intriguing take based around the miracle of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. Through the story, characters – led primarily by a male character, Casewell, and events we gain a deeper understanding of faith and what it means to embrace the gifts and blessings God has given us.
Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense: Meant to Be Mine (Bethany House) by Becky Wade: Book - Meant to be Mine

Meant to Be Mine by Becky Wade is the epitome of Christian romance. The chemistry between Ty and Celia is fabulous, and we could feel the sparks in every interaction between them! While the romance is spectacular, this book has so much more to offer. Beautifully written, it is an emotional experience in the best way. Wade’s descriptions of the characters brought them to life, and their relational, emotional, and spiritual journeys rang true. The other four novels in this category are wonderful, but Meant To Be Mine’s excellence is unable to be denied.

 

saving amelieGeneral Fiction: Saving Amelie (Tyndale) by Cathy Gohlke: 

What a challenge, to pick one winner from five fabulous titles including Biblical, historical and contemporary fiction. We are delighted to announce the winner of the 2015 INSPY Award for General Fiction is Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, which impressed us all with its complex characters, fascinating historical detail, and bold yet subtle Christian message. The story is set in Germany in the early days of World War II, and plot centres on rescuing the deaf Amelie, from her father and from a regime which prized “perfection” over the sanctity of life. The characters face danger, hardship and uncertainty over the course of this thought-provoking and sometimes harrowing read. We were particularly impressed with the sensitive way Gohlke showed how God can use ordinary people in the bleakest of circumstances.

Book - Mark of DistinctionHistorical Romance: Mark of Distinction (Tyndale) by Jessica Dotta: 

We chose Mark of Distinction because it exemplifies the historical romance genre and confronts unique spiritual themes. Jessica Dotta has woven a story with a captivating setting and characters. The writing style and mystery of the plot draws the reader from the beginning into a Victorian society of restraint, secrets, and consequences. At its center is the theme of full surrender and trust in God. With complex characters and a unique voice, the story unfolds with unexpected twists and romance.

Book - Storm SirenLiterature for Young Adult: Storm Siren (Thomas Nelson) by Mary Weber:

Our panel decided to choose Storm Siren as the winner for the YA category. Nym deals with insecurities about her elemental powers and wondering why she was born with such a curse. This makes Nym relatable to young women all over the world and from every generation – we have all dealt with insecurities at some point in their lives. To see Nym have to come to terms with how she was created and to use those powers for the greater good shows tremendous character growth. Another reason we chose Storm Siren was because of the amazing and magical world that Mary Weber created. World building is one of the first things in a Fantasy novel that draws you into the story. Oh…and who doesn’t love a map inside their book!Book - A.D. 30

Mystery/Thriller: A.D. 30 (Center Street) by Ted Dekker:

A.D. 30 is a fast-paced adventure that keeps you turning the pages until the very end. Ted Dekker delivers a powerful, faith-filled story that brims with perils – each with their own kind of mystery and suspense, struggles, and most importantly hope. Dekker takes us on a journey to Jesus through the eyes of the daughter of Maviah, a gentile and an outcast, readers rediscover the message of Yeshua, experiencing it as never before. Dekker masterfully conveys the depth of God’s love for us — a knowledge we often hold in our heads, but fail to carry in our hearts. Warring kingdoms, power-thirsty adversaries, and fickle rulers are only a few of the obstacles in Maviah’s journey that keep the reader flipping pages. Whether she will succeed in her quest is a mystery. An uplifting and simple message, encased in a sweeping historical epic, is the primary reason it was selected A.D. 30 to be the winner of this year’s INSPY award.

Speculative Fiction: Spirit Bridge (Thomas Nelson) by James L.Rubart:

Book - Spirit BridgeSpirit Bridge is a brilliantly written story that was thought provoking and yet easy to follow as a standalone novel, though it is the third and final book in the Well Spring series. The story-world was populated with an excellent group of lead characters who were complex and easily relatable in their struggles in both the physical and spiritual realms. Their struggles challenge the reader to examine aspects of their own lives.  The story’s message, dying to self and keeping the enemy from gaining a foothold, was clear throughout, not getting lost in the suspense and action of the story. Spirit Bridge fully satisfies the reader’s expectations of the genre. It is a powerful spiritual thriller, with the speculative elements underpinning the novel and not requiring any further explanation to better understand it. Spirit Bridge is very worthy of the INSPY for Speculative Fiction.

 

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We’d like to thank our judges for their hard work and careful consideration of each title.

Congratulations to the winners and all the nominated authors! 

Author Interview: Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

So thrilled to welcome Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon, authors of the young adult shortlisted novel, Doon.  Be sure to play along with Carey’s writing space ‘I Spy’ at the end of the interview and leave us a comment with the number of items you actually did spy!

17745703Veronica doesn’t think she’s going crazy. But why can’t anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes? When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months.

But the Scottish countryside holds other plans.

Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna’s great aunt—and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica’s daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they’ve longed for…or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.

DOON is loosely based on the premise of the musical Brigadoon, with permission from the ALan Jay Lerner Estate and the Frederick Loewe Foundation. Follow the journey at http://www.DoonSeries.com

~Destiny awaits!

What led you to writing?

Lorie: Mine was a long journey with lots of detours. I grew up obsessed with reading fiction and had a teacher in high school who encouraged me to purse writing as a career, so I majored in Journalism in college. But because of some well-meaning guidance from a professor—“you have too much talent to waste it on being a newspaper journalist writing stories about old ladies with cats”—I changed my major to Sociology with an emphasis in Human Resources.

For many years I made good money working in large corporations, but the work of hiring and firing was slowly killing my soul. So when I was in my early 30s, I began to pray for guidance, asking specifically for God to show me His purpose for my life. It wasn’t long after that, that I had a dream that inspired me to write my first novel. (That novel is a time-travel set during the American Revolution with Inspirational elements. It has yet to be published, but I’m currently re-working it for the YA market. )

Carey: When I invested my summer after sixth grade writing 100 pages of bad soap opera fashioned after Santa Barbara, I should have figured out that writing was my passion. But sadly, it would take another decade and a half to discover my destined path. In my late 20s, I had a dream inspired by the live-action Peter Pan movie from 2003 directed by P.J. Hogan. The next day I wrote the first chapter of Shades of Neverland and I was hooked.

Tell us a book you feel epitomizes quality faith-driven literature.

Lorie: I adore The Halflings Series by Heather Burch because the characters are real and make mistakes. They feel things deeply and those feelings aren’t watered-down or sanitized. And I love that the spiritual message is woven seamlessly into a story full of action and romance, and ultimately hope.

Carey: C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. I took a class on the works of C.S. Lewis and adore all of it from his sermons to his fantasy and science fiction.

What is your favorite quote or saying?

Lorie: Well, if you follow me on Pinterest you know I have a little bit of a quote fascination. But one I’ve always loved is by Henry van Dyke: “Use what talent you possess: The world would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.” It reminds me to turn off my inner-critic because when it comes to creative endeavors everyone has something unique to give.

Carey: That’s a toss-up between Albert Camus and Walt Disney. They both inspire me in different ways. “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” Albert Camus. “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Walt Disney.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, theological, or logistical) in bringing the book to life?

Lorie: I think we had challenges in each one of those categories. LOL! We’re on our second agent and we did six complete rewrites of DOON before it was published. So there were plenty of spiritual and physiological battles that almost derailed this entire project. But one of the most interesting challenges we faced was when our current agent told us we needed to get copy right permissions from the original writers of Brigadoon before she could send the book to publishers.

Neither one of us could afford an intellectual property attorney, but in what can only be called a miraculous blessing, I found one who gave me tips over the phone on how to approach the Lerner and Loewe estate—for free! Taking his advice, Carey called the estate attorneys and made the request. After several months of waiting on pins and needles, they granted us the rights to tell our story free and clear!

In writing a series together how do you break down the division of writing, research and editing?

Carey: We divide the writing by character. I write Mackenna and Lorie writes Veronica. And we both research, create the overall plot and work to polish the final document. Splitting responsibilities such as blogging, promotions, and social networking is a great blessing. The biggest advantage is that you have someone who is equally invested. Someone you can call at midnight with a brilliant plot idea, who won’t curse you out and block your phone number.

Favorite book ~ favorite movie ~ favorite tv show?

Lorie: Oh, this is hard. I have so many! But I’ll take a shot at my “current” favorites:
Fav book: SIEGE & STORM (the whole series) by Leigh Bardugo
Fav movie: FROZEN
Fav tv show: ONCE UPON A TIME
(Yes, I’m a bit fairytale obsessed!)

Carey: It’s hard to pick one. Here are my top two.
Fav book: LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo/PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
Fav movie: SIXTEEN CANDLES/LA VITA E BELLA
Fav tv show: BIG BANG THEORY/WALKING DEAD/ONCE UPON A TIME

What do you hope readers take away from Doon
Believing in something and pursuing it with all your heart is the most terrifying thing you will ever do, but it will take you on unimaginable adventures and just might lead to your happily ever after!

Thank you ladies for giving us a peek at your writing system AND your offices!  Lorie you are amongst friends here with your favorite tv show – there’s a few Walking Dead fans around here!  

While I really really want my space to look like Lorie’s, inevitably, I have my own ‘I spy’ game going on with my desk.  You ladies rock! 

 

Carey's writing space - Inspy InterviewCarey’s Writing Space note: I can’t believe that I’m showing you my wreck of a writing space. But I thought that the authors who exist—and thrive—in chaos might appreciate the validation. I like to think of it like an I Spy picture book. I spy … five Doon Lego figures, a playbill from the my most recent Broadway series musical, a stuffed Kenna doll, wind chimes, a Doon coffee mug, a kalimba made from recyclables, one Scottish nutcracker, a Campbell County Public Library CONNECTIONS newsletter, a carriage fit for a princess, a Darth Vader Lego pen, the fantasy castle that inspired the Castle MacCrae, a KEEP CALM AND CROSS THE BRIDGE button, and a baggie of buttons. (Bonus points for finding the owl, sheep, spotted inchworm, beanie frog, and monkey.)

Lorie's desk

Lorie’s Writing Space note: I just finished remodeling our dining room into my dedicated office space—the first one I’ve ever had! But it’s unlikely it will stay looking this organized for long. 😉

 

Author Interview: Travis Thrasher

Thrilled to be bringing Travis Thrasher, author of shortlisted young adult novel Hurt ~ Book Number 4 in The Solitary Series to the Inspy’s blog!  As a huge fan myself of The Chronicles of Narnia series, I have a special affinity for Travis and his work.  We hope you enjoy learning a bit more of this flavorful author!

13207224His Rebellion Will Soon Turn to Hope When Chris Buckley first encountered the mysteries of creepy Solitary, North Carolina, he had little idea how far he would fall into the town’s shadows. After losing the love of his life, Chris tried to do things his way. He hunted answers. Then he gave up trying to find them. But now Chris comes back to Solitary knowing there’s a purpose for his being there. As he watches his place in a twisted and evil bloodline become clear, Chris waits for the last battle—and wonders who will be left when he finally makes his stand. The fourth and final book in the Solitary Tales shines light into deep darkness as Chris’s journey to Solitary comes to a dramatic close.

What led you to writing?  I’ve wanted to be a writer since my third grade teacher encouraged me in my writing. I foolishly thought I want to do that for a living one day. Thankfully it’s good to think foolish thoughts every now and then.

Tell us a book you feel epitomizes quality faith-driven literature.   I’ll go back to the series that started making me want to be a writer: the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis.

More currently, I’m a big fan of Chris Fabry’s work. Titles like June Bug and Almost Heaven are beautifully written dramas. I really wish he’d stop writing such great books. Give us less-skilled authors a break.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, theological, or logistical) in bringing this book to life?   For Hurt, I was coming to the conclusion of a long journey. There were probably about two hundred questions that needed answering. I tried to answer quite a few. I wanted to payoff for those readers who had invested time and energy into the story. It’s all about Chris Buckley’s journey toward finding hope. I loved the emotional journey he’s on, and even the moments where you think he’s going to be the hero he needs to be and he just fails. That’s real life. That’s why I love Chris.

What do you hope readers take away from Hurt?   No matter what dark place you find yourself in, no matter what age you might be, God loves you and is pursuing you. I don’t care if that sounds corny. It’s the truth. There’s a lot of hurt in this world. It’s how you deal with that hurt that counts.


 

Epic words Travis, epic words – learning to deal with hurt IS the ultimate challenge.  Thank you for sharing your stories with us and especially for writing quality faith-driven lit for the youth of today.

To connect with Travis or to learn more about his novels for both young people and adults, please visit his website at TravisThrasher.com

Author Interview: Stephanie Morrill

We are thrilled to have Stephanie Morrill on the Inspy’s Blog today.  Stephanie is the author of shortlisted young adult novel The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet.  Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist).

18741771For once, Ellie Sweet has it all together. Her hair now curls instead of fuzzes, she’s tamed the former bad-boy, Chase Cervantes (she has, right?), and her debut novel will hit shelves in less than a year. Even her ex-friends are leaving her alone. Well, except for Palmer Davis, but it can’t be helped that he works at her grandmother’s nursing home.

Life should feel perfect. And yet, it’s not that easy. Ellie’s editor loves her, but the rest of the publishing biz? Not so much. And they’re not shy about sharing their distrust over Ellie’s unlikely debut.

Ellie has always been able to escape reality in the pages of her novel, but with the stress of major edits and rocky relationships, her words dry up. In fiction, everything always comes together, but in real life, it seems to Ellie that hard work isn’t always enough, the people you love can’t always be trusted, and the dream-come-true of publishing her book could be the biggest mistake she’s made yet.

What led you to writing? I started writing stories in first grade. We were given writing time every day in class and could write about whatever we wanted. When we finished our stories, we turned them in and someone (a teacher or volunteer parent, maybe) would type them for us. We got to pick the color of our cover and binding, and then they printed out our “book” for us to illustrate and read to the class. I loved it and from then on I started telling people I wanted to be a novelist when I grew up.

Stephanie Morrill Low ResTell us of a book you feel epitomizes faith-driven literature. I adored The Passion of Mary-Margaret by Lisa Samson. Not only was the writing beautiful, but the story spoke about Jesus’s great love for us in a very organic way.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, theological or logistical) in bringing your book to life?   The hardest thing about writing The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet was that the first book had just been released, so I was getting a bunch of reader feedback AS I wrote the sequel. My readers are wonderfully opinionated girls and they let me know who they liked and who they didn’t like. When I experienced that with my first series (The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series) I had already written all three books. It was hard at times with The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet to drill into the story without letting in too many voices.

Favorite book ~ favorite movie ~ favorite tv show? I want to say Pride and Prejudice, but it seems like everyone says that. My favorite book that I read recently was 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I was in awe of it.

My favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice, the one made in 2004. (Or 2005?)

I loved both Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars, and I lost them right around the same time. It was a dark time for me with TV 🙂 Fortunately, soon after, I discovered 30 Rock.

Stephanie's Office

Stephanie’s Office

What do you hope readers take away from The Unlikely Debut of Ellie Sweet?  I loved how Ellie’s sense of security came out in this book. In the first book, she made a lot of choices out of insecurity. In the continuation of her story, we see a lot more of her drawing a line in the sand and saying, “No, I’m not going to do that. That’s not who I am.” That was really fun to develop.

Stephanie, a writer after my own heart – 11-22-63 IS MY all-time favorite!  Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing a bit more of how your novel came to be.  To find out more about Stephanie, please visit her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and if you’re a teen writer, definitely check out Go Teen Writers!

 

 

Author Interview: Jill Williamson

We are thrilled to welcome author Jill Williamson to the Inspy’s Blog!  Jill is the author of the shortlisted young adult novel Captives.  Jill currently lives in Oregon with her husband and two children.  She enjoys working with teenagers encouraging them to respect their dreams.  Welcome Jill!

CaptivesSafeLands

In a dystopian future, eighteen-year-old Levi returns from Denver City with his latest scavenged treasures and finds his village of Glenrock decimated, loved ones killed, and many–including his fiancée, Jem–taken captive. Now alone, Levi is determined to rescue what remains of his people, even if it means entering the Safe Lands, a walled city that seems anything but safe.

Omar knows he betrayed his brother by sending him away, but helping the enforcers was necessary. Living off the land and clinging to an outdated religion holds his village back. The Safe Lands has protected people since the plague decimated the world generations ago … and its rulers have promised power and wealth beyond Omar’s dreams.

Meanwhile, their brother Mason has been granted a position inside the Safe Lands, and may be able to use his captivity to save not only the people of his village, but also possibly find a cure for the virus that threatens everyone within the Safe Lands’ walls. Will Mason uncover the truth hidden behind the Safe Lands’ façade before it’s too late?

jillwilliamsonWhat led you to writing?   I had recently quit working in the fashion industry—which was the career I’d gone to college for—and was searching for what I wanted to be when I, ahem, grew up. Since I had a pretty interesting childhood/life story growing up in Alaska, I thought that maybe I could be a motivational speaker for teens. I discovered that sometimes, people hire speakers based on articles written by the speaker. So I looked into writing articles. I was shocked at how hard that was! Meanwhile, a new Harry Potter book came out (book four, I believe), and a new barrage of debates within the church community (my husband is a youth pastor) flared up as to whether or not Christians should read the books. The debate inspired me to try and write my own teen novel that everyone would love. Yep, I was TOTALLY naïve and have since learned that no one likes every book. But that’s how I got started writing fiction. And once I’d created Spencer, I was hooked. I left article writing in the dust and never looked back.
Treadmill Desk 2014Is that a standing desk?!? Do you love it?   It is a treadmill desk. And I do love it. I should use it more than I do, though. I can’t get going very fast on there and still type and focus. But it works fine when I walk slowly or stand. And it’s always good to get me up out of my chair.
Tell us a book you feel epitomizes quality faith-driven literature.   A Walk to Remember by Nicolas Sparks. It’s the perfect story of how being yourself can change lives. And it’s a general market story too.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, theological, or logistical) in bringing the book to life?   The first challenge for me is always storyworld creation. I’m a storyworld first novelist. And if I don’t know my storyworld, I can’t write the story!  And I had a deadline that came faster than I had time to perfect my storyworld. But thankfully I got a chance to rewrite the book during the editing stage and by then I had really discovered what the Safe Lands were like.

I always struggle with researching anything scientific. And this book had a medical issue that gave me plenty of strife. I had to consult some friends who had medical and science training to talk out the plausibility of concepts and scenes in the book.

The biggest challenge I faced again and again was that I was trying to write Babylon for teens–so, in a clean way. And the world was not clean. So it was tricky to write this story with the adult subject matters of surrogacy, drug addiction, and STDs and keep things clean and entertaining.

And one final challenge for me with this book is that I had four points of view–four main characters. And I’d never written that many main characters before. I do tend to write epic stories, but it was a challenge to balance everything, keep it interesting, and keep my word count down.

What do you hope readers take away from Captives?   We live in a world in which anything seems possible, and we often think that who someone else is or what they have is better. And we sometimes think we don’t have enough or that we want what that person has. I hope that Captives might help readers see that sometimes what seems better might actually be worse. That the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of that fence. In fact, the grass might not even be real. It might be AstroTurf! We can all benefit from being content with who we are and what he have.

My Desk

Jill your office is fantastic!  I love how you notate all the essentials – and is that a photo of House on your character board?!?

For more Jill Williamson including free downloads and giveaways visit JillWilliamson.com

 

 

Author Interview with Shannon Dittemore

Welcome, Shannon Dittmore! The author of the Angel Eyes trilogy, Shonnon’s final novel in that series, Dark Halo is a finalist in the speculative fiction category. Read her interview to find out what keeps her busy when not writing and what book influenced her young adult series.

Summary from Goodreads Book - Dark Halo

One halo brought sight to Brielle. Another offers sweet relief from what she sees.

Brielle can’t help but see the Celestial realm. Even without the halo, it’s everywhere she looks. And with the heavens above Stratus ravaged by war, Brielle wishes for another gift, any gift. Because Jake is gone. The only boy she’s ever loved has been taken by the demon, Damien–and she knows if she ever wants to see him again, she must fight.

But fighting is so hard when everything you see makes you afraid.

When she receives instructions from the Throne Room leading her to Jake, she unknowingly walks into a diabolical and heartbreaking trap. Then the Prince of Darkness himself offers Brielle a halo of his own making. With the dark halo, she won’t have to see the fear and brokenness that surround her. She’ll be free of that unbearable burden. And it comes with a promise: the guarantee of a life with Jake.

When confusing details about Jake’s past emerge, and the battle above reaches a fever pitch, Brielle is forced to make a choice. Will she choose the dark halo and the ignorance that comes with it, or will she choose to live with her eyes wide open and trust the Creator’s design–even if it means a future without Jake?

What do you do outside the world of books?

I’m a mom! And a wife! Roles that consume a ton of my time right now. We’re also very involved at our church; together my husband and I oversee the young adult and young married ministries. For fun, I enjoy fangirling. Most any fandom will do, though I’m partial to Sherlock and the San Francisco 49ers. And if life had taken a different turn for me, I’d be on stage performing Shakespearean tragedies. Maybe when the kids get older I’ll give it another go.

As book lovers it interests us – What books or authors have influenced you, both as a writer and a reader?

This question frightens me. I’m destined to forget a favorite, so why don’t I tell you about a single book that influenced me as I was writing the Angel Eyes trilogy? I read The Hunger Games at a very crucial time. It was during a self-imposed edit and I was attempting to make my sentences more active, more present. No one does that better than Suzanne Collins. After reading The Hunger Games, I stopped mid-edit and rewrote Angel Eyes in first person, present tense. Changed everything for me.

My CaveWhat are the challenges or benefits of incorporating faith into your storyline?

The challenge (and the benefit, I suppose) is in getting it right. I’ve read so many books that I almost loved. ALMOST! But when it came to the whole faith thing, they just didn’t do it for me. They made it too simple, or too hard, or too Biblically lacking. I wanted, desperately, to represent the truth and Scripture accurately while still allowing my imagination to fill in the blanks. I’m certain there are things I missed, but I did keep that a priority every time I sat down to write.

What do you hope readers take away from Dark Halo?

The truth that they’re not alone. Even when they most feel it. Even when they’re upside down and backward in their struggle. Hear me, friends, you’re not alone. We’re not alone. What we see isn’t all there is and the moment we grasp that—truly and deeply believe it—faith becomes something more than a Sunday morning service. It becomes life. We serve an invisible God who does amazing things and He often scoops us up and lets us be a part. It’s the kind of life we were meant to live. And faith in the Creator is how we get there.

What were the challenges (literary, research, psychological, theological, or logistical) in bringing the book to life?

Writing with two young children is never easy and my deadlines were tight. So, there was that, but beyond the logistics, Dark Halo was a very personal story for me.

I’ve been in ministry nearly all my life. I was raised as the eldest daughter of a preacher and then I went on to marry one. And while I wouldn’t change it for anything, there have been times when I saw things in people I’d rather not see. There were times when I wished I could unknow the hard realities of the lives people were living.

In Dark Halo, Brielle is given a choice. She can continue to see the invisible world or she can choose spiritual blindness. The invisible world is a beautiful place but there are dark, ugly things to see there as well. Like fear and hatred. Like death and sin. The temptation to walk away from it all is one I understand. But once you’ve seen the world through God’s eyes, once you’ve tasted the truth, can you really ever unknow it? It was a question I puzzled out as I wrote, and that kind of gut-wrenching honesty can be challenging. The writing of this book changed me. I’m better for it.

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Thanks for joining us, Shannon! Read more about Shannon, her books and stay-up-to-date on her latest projects by visiting her website.

Interview with author Jenny B. Jones

Jenny B. Jones‘s So Over My Head is on the INSPYs shortlist for Young Adult Fiction.

Summary of So Over My Head (Goodreads):

Newly single, stalked by a killer, and in desperate need of some chic clown shoes–Bella is one skinny mocha frapp away from total meltdown.

When the Fritz Family Carnival makes its annual appearance in Truman, Bella’s keen reporter instincts tell her the bright lights hide more than they reveal. Her suspicions are confirmed when one of the stars is murdered. Though the police make an immediate arrest, Bella doubts this case is quite that simple.

She needs her crime-solving boyfriend, Luke, more than ever. Problem is, his ex-girlfriend has moved back to town, giving Bella some murderous thoughts of her own. Then again, there’s no time for a relationship crisis when Bella’s doing her best to derail her father’s wedding and stay one step ahead of a killer.

Is God sending her a message in all of this madness? With a murderer on the loose and her boyfriend’s ex on the prowl, this undercover clown has never had more to juggle–or more to risk.

Why do you write your stories?

What a great question—and probably one I don’t think about enough. I think I write because there’s a call on my life to do so. Some days I wish there was a call on my life to do something else. Like professional cheerleading or to be Vanna White’s replacement. Something that didn’t involve so much thinking and time in a seat. (But on the positive, writing does involve yoga pants, so take THAT, Vanna.)  I also write to entertain. I want people to have a good time reading the books, and hopefully while they’re being entertained, they’re either getting some truth about Christ or just seeing the life of a Christian in action.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

The drawbacks are that you can’t please everyone, and we sure would like to. Some people need more spiritual elements in the books, while others want less. And it’s hard to please both. And the barometer for what’s too much or too little spiritual content is never consistent. You can pull up just about any book’s review, and you’ll see reviews that it was too heavy handed in the spiritual message and others asking “Where was Jesus?”  All from the same book.  In Christian fiction the reader brings a lot of expectations with them, and it can be hard to find that balance. I think the benefits definitely outweigh the negatives.  I love being a part of fiction that shows readers how interwoven faith is in the Christian’s life. It’s in all we do.  It’s important to me that the readers see a typical Christian doing life—with all the struggles and mess-ups.  That they see completely imperfect characters serving a perfect God.  And I love that it’s a chance to show how NORMAL Christian are or can be.  Or should be.  

Favorite book – favorite movie – favorite TV show?

Favorite books: Where the Heart Is by Billie Letts, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer and Barrows, A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck, and A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel.

Favorite movie: Princess Bride, Charade, Sweet Home Alabama, and You’ve Got Mail

TV show: Carol Burnett Show (all time fave) and currently Castle and Glee. And I should probably be on medication for my deep depression over the loss of Gilmore Girls.

How do you feel about blogging?  Do you have a blog?

I love to blog. It’s definitely my favorite mode of writing. Plus, I love hanging out with my blog family and friends. We talk about stars like Lindsay Lohan (very important!), movies, the craziness of life, books, and share funny YouTube clip finds. You can find my blog at my website, http://www.jennybjones.com

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.

A book I rarely shut up about is Love Starts with Elle by Rachel Hauck. (Clever title, eh?!)  This book is a romance about a woman named Elle, who runs a small town art gallery and struggles as an artist and a Christian. She loves a man who loves his career and image, and just when things fall apart, a widower with a small child moves to town and into Elle’s life. It’s about Elle making room for true love in all its unexpected forms, pushing through her fears, and totally surrendering to God and his plans. What I love about the book is that it’s beautifully written, has fabulous characters, and  it has some genuine sizzle to it in the romance. To be honest, most of my friends don’t read Christian romance, but THIS is a book that I knew they’d love, and so I’ve made them all read it. I recommend it all the time to Christians and unbelievers alike. It inspires rave reviews every time.

Jenny B Jones writes Christian fiction with a few giggles, quite a bit of sass, and lots of crazy. Her novels include the Katie Parker Production series, A Charmed Life series, and her first contemporary romance, Just Between You and Me.  When she’s not typing her heart out (or checking email), she teaches at a super-sized high school in Arkansas.

Interview with author Donna Freitas

Donna Freitas‘s This Gorgeous Game is on the INSPYs shortlist for Young Adult Fiction.

Summary of This Gorgeous Game (Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Olivia Peters has long dreamed of becoming a writer. So she’s absolutely over the moon when her literary idol, the celebrated novelist and much-adored local priest Mark D. Brendan, selects her from hundreds of other applicants as the winner of the Emerging Writers High School Fiction Prize. Now she gets to spend her summer evenings in a college fiction seminar at the nearby university, where dreamy college boys abound and Father Mark acts as her personal mentor.

But when Father Mark’s enthusiasm for Olivia’s writing develops into something more, Olivia quickly finds her emotions shifting from wonder to confusion to despair. And as her wide-eyed innocence deteriorates, Olivia can’t help but ask – exactly what game is Father Mark playing, and how on earth can she get out of it?

Why do you write novels?

It’s the most fun I’ve ever had, that also counts as work. Really what gets me to sit down and start a new story, though, is the voice of the character showing up in my head. To me, this is the mystical aspect of writing novels—that this person just appears one day,and you can hear just what they would sound like, and suddenly there entire story is just there. It is absolutely thrilling. I joke with my friends sometimes about how “I hear
voices” but I love the voices in my head! Lots of other writers seem to get them, too, so at least I am not alone.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

I’m not sure I would say that it is a challenge to incorporate faith into the stories I’ve written, in the sense that for both my first (The Possibilities of Sainthood) and second novels (This Gorgeous Game), faith was simply a central part of my protagonists’ lives and that of their families, too, so it had to be a part of their stories. I don’t know who they would be without their faith! For The Possibilities of Sainthood, my heroine, Antonia Lucia Labella is Italian Catholic and is always praying to the saints for funny things, so faith was simply part of her makeup, and part of her sense of humor, too. It was a really lighthearted aspect of the story (I hope).

For Olivia Peters, my heroine in This Gorgeous Game, on the other hand, her faith is a complicated aspect of her life and it has a decidedly darker affect (at least initially) on her story. Olivia’s faith and her family’s devotion is, unfortunately, what allows Father Mark (the Catholic priest who stalks her) to take advantage of her. Olivia’s confusion about Father Mark’s advances, his interest in her, and her growing revulsion to him is confused by the fact that the Catholic tradition presents him as someone Olivia not only should trust, but who represents God. As a result, Olivia’s faith in God and everything and
everyone wavers. I suppose the role of faith within the story is challenging. It was very important to me to show exactly how complicated it is when a man who has enormous religious authority abuses his power—how it can cripple a person’s faith, especially when that person is a young girl. But it was equally important that there be people of faith in this story beyond the obvious villain, who would be the heroes and heroines in Olivia’s life, who would stick by her throughout her dark journey, and who would help her hang onto her faith.

In the end I think Olivia does—hang onto her faith, I mean. I hope so.

Favourite book – favourite movie – favourite TV show?

Oooh, I am a TV-junkie!

Favorite shows over the years include: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, Gilmore Girls, Alias, and most recently I am obsessed with Dexter and Modern Family.

As far as movies go, I like totally cheesy romances, such as (I am a little embarrassed to admit this): The Lake House (yes, the one starring Keanu Reeves), Catch and Release, and I can watch You’ve Got Mail about once a week. I actually own these three. I like anything Jane Austen, too. On my more “respectable” list I would include All the President’s Men.

I read constantly and some of my all-time favorite reads are Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, and most recently Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?

Here’s a confession: I think I totally failed at being a blogger, mostly because of the comments section. I’ve been on the Washington Post/Newsweek’s panel “On Faith” for many years now (I am a professor and I write op-eds and things for newspapers and magazines here and there), but earlier this year they gave me a dedicated blog, too.  I’d already experienced the utter horror of the kinds of things people will comment at the Post from blogging now and then for “On Faith”—it’s the Post’s policy not to filter comments, so people can say anything at all that they want, including vicious, violent things—and the editor of the blogs told me never to read the comments people wrote as a rule, and to tell my friends and family this as well.  But the temptation was too great for me and for everyone I knew, and people were so upset about the comments section attached to my blog, that what I was actually blogging seemed to be beside the point.  I kept telling myself I needed a thicker skin, but finally I got to a point and asked myself:  but do I really need a skin this thick?  To be able to weather this level of crazies?  Like, as thick as a space suit?  People are particularly vicious and personal if you are a young woman, too.

It took a lot of soul searching, but I decided to quit the blog.  It’s been such a relief. I think I will still write for “On Faith” now and then (I’m still on the panel), but I haven’t in a long time. It felt liberating!

The children’s blog world is different, though. It is a much safer space to post and to read and bloggers are great about monitoring comments. It also doesn’t seem to attract the cyber trolls like the general newspaper/webzine world does, so occasionally I will participate there.

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.

Well, some of the people on your list are my favorites! The books of Sara Zarr and Anne and May, too. One of my all-time favorites, though, is Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork. This story not only has one of the strongest voices I’ve ever read by a protagonist, but it is extraordinary in the way that faith plays a role in the story. Marcelo has Asperger’s and early on he explains to another person how people with Asperger’s have what he calls “special interests,” and that people often assume that everyone with Asperger’s is good at math—that is the stereotype. Then he goes on to explain that his “special interest” is God. The way that Marcelo’s “special interest” shows up in his story is absolutely wonderful. If you haven’t read Marcelo yet, I feel jealous of you. I wish I could go back to it for the first time again.

Donna Freitas is an author of fiction, nonfiction, and articles that appear in newspapers, magazines, and on blogs.  Born in Rhode Island, Donna now splits her time between New York City and Boston.  In addition to writing books, Donna regularly contributes to a number of magazines, newspapers, and webzines, including Beliefnet, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Christian Century, and School Library Journal.

Interview with author Cindy Martinusen-Coloma

Cindy Martinusen-Coloma‘s Beautiful is on the INSPY shortlist for Young Adult Fiction.

Summary of Beautiful (Goodreads):

Since childhood, seventeen-year-old Ellie Summerfield has fought to overcome her grandfather’s painful words that push her to be driven, determined, and successful to the detriment of those around her. She always strives to do more, be more, help more. But when a tragedy stops her world short, Ellie is confronted with her deepest fears and this question: what is her life really worth?

Experience one girl’s journey to rebuild herself into someone who is truly beautiful.

Why do you write your stories?

I can’t stop myself. If I couldn’t write them down, I’d still see them in my head all the time, wherever I go. I’d probably have to find some other way to let the stories out – in film, storytelling, drama, or maybe as a street performer with unicycle and a kazoo. : )

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

For me, there aren’t really any challenges in this part of writing. I don’t try to come up with the faith element, it just sort of rises from the story and the characters. I think because of my faith and search to know God more, I can’t help having my characters in some sort of state with their own spiritual journey whether faith is part of their lives or not at all. Humans are spiritual beings and so everyone thinks about what they believe to a small or large extent, and we’re all in some sort of spiritual state – even if that is a stagnant state. As I get to know my characters, I see their faith or lack of and then the journey of the book is also a journey of their inner selves.

The benefit I find is very personal to me. Every book I’ve ever written has revealed some deeper level of faith or of God or eternity to me, even if the reader maybe doesn’t see it.

Favorite book – favorite movie – favorite TV show?

I’m never good at choosing ONE favorite. But “some” favorites:

Books — My favorite novel in the past year is probably The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I loved the characters in that! For non-fiction fave of the past year, A Million Miles in the Thousand Years by Donald Miller. That book is very inspiring and funny. His blog is great too.

Movies — The Shawshank Redemption, The Princess Bride, Chocolat, Kolya (a Czech film), and I love UP! and Wall-E as well as the Harry Potter movies and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

TV shows — I’m usually into action and dramas (Alias, LOST, House), but right now, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m hooked on the reality show Teen Mom and also the shows, The Vampire Diaries and Bones. They all have great characters, yeah, that’s why.

How do you feel about blogging? Do you have a blog?

I love reading blogs! But I can’t quite say that I blog since I’m quite behind on updating mine, mainly because I get frustrated with technical problems, and I have too high of expectations for what my blog should offer and be. Once I get those problems ironed out, I’ll hopefully blog more regularly. Though I must say, there are such great voices out there, I sometimes wonder if the blogworld needs mine. : )

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.

I’ve loved Francine Rivers’ books for years and years. Her books epitomize quality faith-driven books and she is a wonderful person of faith as well. She’s quite inspiring!

Cindy began writing around 1988, working on story ideas and writing plays. Her first book was contracted in 1998. Since that time she’s written 8 novels, 2 nonfiction books (coauthor) and over 100 articles, short stories, and plays. For the past ten years, Cindy has been speaking and teaching in different locations nationally and internationally. Her roles include conference leader, featured speaker and workshop leader at numerous women’s gatherings, retreats and writers conferences most notably Litt-World 2004 in Tagaytay City, Philippines.

Interview with authors Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt

Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt‘s A Little Help From My Friends is on the INSPYs shortlist for Young Adult Fiction

Summary of A Little Help From My Friends (Goodreads):

Zoe is used to being overlooked. As the youngest and shyest Miracle Girl, she was happy to fade into the background last year. But when she sheds her baby fat and shoots up four inches the summer before her junior year, everything changes. Now she’s turning heads at school, and this new attention is beginning to strain her relationship with her sweet, serious boyfriend, Marcus. Pressure builds when Zoe’s assigned partner for history class is Dean Foster–a handsome New York transplant who isn’t afraid to show her how he feels.

Just when she needs her three best friends the most, the Miracle Girls are suffering from boy troubles of their own. Even Zoe’s rock-solid home life begins to shake underneath her when her parents’ relationship frays in the face of serious financial burdens. As this uncertain year of growing pains comes to a frenetic head, the quietest Miracle Girl must find her voice at long last and take control of her own destiny . . . with more than a little help from her friends.

Why do you write?

Anne:  I wonder this all the time… I’m not sure I have a good answer yet ☺. It’s hard, and it’s scary, but it’s also pretty fun.

May: It sounds pat but it’s the truth: I really, really enjoy it. Writing is about the only time my brain is at peace and truly happy.

What are the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith into your story?

Anne:  People who buy and read Christian books are so diverse that it’s hard to please everybody.  In our first book, my mom told me it could have been stronger if we hadn’t talked about God do much, while my good friend remarked on how little faith there was in it. A lot of readers thought it was too preachy, and others said we obviously weren’t really Christians because of some of the stuff that happens in the book. I think you have to just write what’s in your heart an pray that it reaches the right people. I can’t imagine writing a story that doesn’t center on faith, because it’s so central to who I am and what I care about.

May: It can be hard. It’s so important to us that our characters live in the “real world.” This means that every boy they meet isn’t going to be a Christian and sometimes they are going to fail, dramatically.

Favourite book – favourite movie – favourite TV show?

Anne: I really don’t like to pick favorites. Seriously hate it. But, ok, I love John Steinbeck. So for book, I go with the Steinbeck canon. Favorite movie is way too hard, so I’m skipping that one. And for TV? Probably 30 Rock. When I grow up I want to be Tina Fey.

May: Favorite book is probably The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Favorite movie is tough. Maybe “Dr. Zhivago?” And favorite TV show changes a lot. Currently I’m loving Parks and Recreation.

How do you feel about blogging?  Do you have a blog?

Anne:  May and I do have a blog. It’s definitely been a great way to connect with readers. We’ve developed some incredible friendships out of it, and hey, if it helps spread the words about our books, that’s a bonus. Blogs and other social media are really changing the way readers and writers interact, in a very good way.

May:  Do you have a blog? We love to blog and our site is pretty wacky. We blog a www.anneandmay.com

Tell us about a book that epitomizes quality [Christian] faith-driven lit.

Anne:  To be honest? A couple of the other finalists in this category are right at the top of my list. Donna Freitas’ This Gorgeous Game is stunning—really, beautifully stunning. And Sarah Zarr’s Once Was Lost tackles faith in an interesting way that definitely resonated with me. I honestly couldn’t be prouder to be in the same list as these books.

May:  I thought Gilead by Marilynne Robinson was fantastic.

Anne was born in San Jose, California, where she wasted her childhood playing Nintendo and watching The Facts of Life. An editor by day, she enjoys bad horror movies, good cheese, and Count Chocula.   May grew up in Panama City, Florida, otherwise known as the Redneck Riviera.  After living in Brooklyn for four years and working at Random House as an Assistant Editor, Vanderbilt moved to fabulous San Francisco, putting an end to her long tour of undesirable cities.

They have written 8 books together – 4 adult fiction and 4 young adult books including the other books in the Miracle Girls series