A Conversation with Julie Cantrell

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes Christy-Award winner and New York Times best-selling author, Julie Cantrell. Her novel, The Feathered Bone (Thomas Nelson) is on the 2017 shortlist in the General Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Julie.

Today, we read about The Feathered Bone and its inspiration, learn she’s a film buff and read what wins in her “faceoff” questions – plus more!

In the pre-Katrina glow of New Orleans, Amanda Salassi is anxious about chaperoning her daughter’s sixth grade field trip to the Big Easy during Halloween. And then her worst fears come true. Her daughter’s best friend, Sarah, disappears amid the magic and revelry—gone, without a trace.

Unable to cope with her guilt, Amanda’s daughter sinks in depression. And Amanda’s husband turns destructive as he watches his family succumb to grief. Before long, Amanda’s whole world has collapsed.

Amanda knows she has to save herself before it’s too late. As she continues to search for Sarah, she embarks on a personal journey, seeking hope and purpose in the wake of so much tragedy and loss.

Set amidst the murky parishes of rural Louisiana and told through the eyes of two women who confront the darkest corners of humanity with quiet and unbreakable faith, The Feathered Bone is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world. – Goodreads


Interview Questions

INSPYs: What was the inspiration behind the characters in The Feathered BoneI set this novel in my childhood hometown, Walker, Louisiana. During my youth, Walker was a small, rural community east of Baton Rouge, but it has experienced tremendous growth since Hurricane Katrina.

While the novel’s characters aren’t based on real people, Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard helped me research. When it was time to name the sheriff’s character, Jason and his wife Erica agreed to the name Jay Ardoin in honor of their tremendous assistance and lifelong friendship. I’m excited to hear that readers adore Sheriff Jay Ardoin and see him as a “good guy.” The world needs more of those, in both fiction and reality.

Like the sheriff, other characters in The Feathered Bone are uniquely southern, and yet readers everywhere seem to relate them to people they know. Gator and Raylene are two fan favorites, while the journey of the two young girls has broken many a heart. Some people have a hard time relating to Amanda’s character, while other women write me to thank me for giving them a voice.

In all, I tried to examine how one split-second of time can impact an entire community, and how one trauma can continue to ripple across time and place because, even when we don’t always realize it, we are all connected. Every choice matters, and every choice will shape the lives of all those within its scope.

I hope readers enjoy entering this special Louisiana community and getting to know “my people.”

Since your novel centers addresses Katrina, what were some of the challenges in writing this story? I wrote The Feathered Bone ten years after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. I was already living in Oxford, Mississippi at the time of that storm, and I was unable able to reach my Louisiana relatives for several days. Roads were closed. Cell towers were down. Power was out.  It was an anguishing wait, and I was very relieved when I finally learned most were safe.

The impact of the storm was far-reaching and long-lasting, not only for those communities hit by the winds, but also for the surrounding communities who offered safe refuge to evacuees. As I worked back through video footage, news reels, and written accounts of Katrina, I was surprised by how much it impacted me emotionally. It’s important for us as a nation to look back at what we’ve learned from traumatic experiences, especially those with such widespread impact.

Sadly, in August, 2016, the Flood of the Millennium hit Louisiana. Imagine waking up one morning to learn that 85 percent of your county was underwater. That’s what happened to Livingston Parish (the setting for The Feathered Bone). These are areas that had never been known to flood, so less than 15 percent of those impacted had flood insurance. (Trust me, FEMA is not an ideal solution. But that’s a book in itself.)

Our Lady of Blind River Pre-Flood (August 2016)

Our Lady of Blind River Post-Flood (August 2016)

Unlike a hurricane, there was little warning, so people did not have time to prepare their belongings or to evacuate before the waters rose. Nearly everyone I know from home lost nearly everything they owned and all the places they held dear—homes, vehicles, businesses, daycare facilities, schools, churches, and tons of irreplaceable personal belongings. Levees broke and some homes went completely under water in a matter of minutes in the middle of the night. Miraculously, no one was killed as a result of the flood in my home parish, and I credit that to the local leadership and community volunteers who risked their own lives to ensure the safety of others.

Unfortunately, my own parents lost their Baton Rouge homes, vehicles, and property in that flood. It’s been nearly nine months since the waters rose, and they are still rebuilding. The event has been far more traumatic than people can imagine, and the psychological impact has left its mark on the entire community. Yet the stories of heroism and service are inspirational. I have developed an even greater appreciation for Louisiana people as a result of their selfless and resilient response to this devastating flood.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?

Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours (Half-way through this one)

Kerry Egan’s On Living (Just finished this one)

Ann Hood’s The Book That Matters Most (Just started this one)

What are you currently watching?

 I’m a film buff, but I rarely have time to watch. I finally bought a TV, just last month, but I have only turned it on twice—to stream Zumba and Yoga.

I do splurge on Netflix or Amazon Prime sometimes. I think the last thing I watched was Hello, My Name Is Doris. It’s a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy-drama that hits that sweet spot of plot tension and character development. Written by Michael Showalter and Laura Terruso, the film stars Sally Field and has earned rave reviews.

Before that, I watched A Man Called Ove because I had enjoyed the bestselling novel by Fredrik Backman. The film was just as sweet as the book, in its twisted sort of way.

Faceoff Questions:

1. Coffee or Tea? Tea, but mostly water.

2. Print or Ebook? Print during the day and e-book during those wee hours when insomnia gets the best of me.

3. Comedy or Action? An emotional, tear-jerking drama, of course. And then some comic relief.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Cantrell is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Into the Free, the 2013 Christy Award winning Book of the Year and recipient of the Mississippi Library Association’s Fiction Award. Cantrell has served as editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review and is a recipient of the Mississippi Arts Commission Literary Fellowship. Her second novel, When Mountains Move, won the 2014 Carol Award for Historical Fiction and, like her debut, was selected for several Top Reads lists. Visit her online at juliecantrell.wordpress.com, Facebook: juliecantrellauthor, and Twitter: @JulieCantrell.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs blog today, Julie. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight your latest novel, The Feathered Bone.

A Conversation with Connilyn Cossette

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes debut author, Connilyn Cossette. Her debut novel, Counted with the Stars (Bethany House) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Debut Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Connilyn.

Today, we read about the challenges (or advantages as Conni tells) of writing Biblical fiction, learn what she’s binge watching on TV (Editor note: ITV for the win!), whether she likes coffee or tea – plus more!

A Story of Love, Desperation, and Hope During a Great Biblical Epoch.

Sold into slavery by her father and forsaken by the man she was supposed to marry, young Egyptian Kiya must serve a mistress who takes pleasure in her humiliation. When terrifying plagues strike Egypt, Kiya is in the middle of it all.

To save her older brother and escape the bonds of slavery, Kiya flees with the Hebrews during the Great Exodus. She finds herself utterly dependent on a fearsome God she’s only just beginning to learn about, and in love with a man who despises her people. With everything she’s ever known swept away, will Kiya turn back toward Egypt or surrender her life and her future to Yahweh? – Goodreads

Interview Questions

INSPYs: What inspired Counted with the Stars? Counted with the Stars was inspired by my own personal study into the book of Exodus. As I began to dig further into the roots of my own faith I discovered so much fascinating history that gave me greater context surrounding the Exodus. When I read Exodus 12:20 when it says “a mixed multitude went up with them” I began fascinated by the thought that it was not only Hebrews that left Egypt that day. I began to daydream about who these people might have been and what their reasons were for leaving. I saw an image of my mind of an older Egyptian woman standing on the Jordan River waiting to cross into Canaan and realized I had to discover how she got there, and suddenly, Kiya’s story was born.

What were some of the challenges of writing a Biblical novel? I am one of those nerdy people who adores research, I can get lost on historical rabbit trails for hours, but one of those most difficult things with Biblical research is reconciling so many different opinions about the history. The more I read, the more I realized just how vastly different those opinions are, even between scholars who consider the Bible to be historically accurate. I always do my very best to adhere to the timeline presented in the Bible itself, although some of it is vague, and without a doubt there are places where I will have gotten it wrong. But my goal is not to “teach history” per se, it is to inspire readers to read the Bible with fresh eyes, to see that the people in the Word were not just flannelgraph caricatures—they truly lived and breathed and loved and struggled just like us. Inevitably there will be those who disagree with my imagination on certain events but if I have challenged readers to dig into the Word, to throw off some of our Hollywood-ized ideas of the Bible, and to search for gems of grace in the Old Testament that point toward Jesus, then I have done my job. I leave the rest up to the Lord.

Connilyn’s Office

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What are you watching?

Since I have just launched a new book and have had a number of writing projects I’ve been juggling I haven’t been watching much television lately. I did get into a few episodes of the Man in the High Castle which I’d like to get back to now and I binged out on Victoria a few weeks ago and loved it. I am desperate for the new Anne of Green Gables to come out though!

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?

One of the great things about being finished with the launch now is that I can finally dig into my stack of TBR’s. I just read Becky Wade’s newest, True to You, and started digging into Jolina Petersheim’s The Divide which I’ve been impatiently waiting for! I am also looking forward to Katie Ganshert’s Life After which has been calling my name from my nightstand for a few weeks now. There are so many great books coming out over the next few months that I’ll have to work hard to focus on writing my own next book. Thank goodness for deadlines!

Faceoff Questions:

1. Chocolate or Vanilla Ice Cream? Chocolate, no question.

2. Print or Ebook? I’ll take them however they come to me, however nowadays because I read so many, I mostly use my Kindle. I use audiobooks to coerce myself to clean the house because I’d really rather be reading…

3. Coffee or Tea? I’m mainly a two to three cup coffee girl in the morning but I love tea as well. My favorite is Egyptian Licorice tea by Yogi which I used to help inspire me as I wrote Counted with the Stars. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, warm, and spicy.

4. PC or Mac? Mac all the way. Love my MacBook, it pretty much goes wherever I do. I had a nightmare the other night that I forgot it on a trip and I forced the pilot to turn the plane around to retrieve it!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Connilyn Cossette is a homeschooling mother of two with a passion for writing stories of timeless grace. She hopes to draw readers into a personal encounter with the rich ancient world of the Bible and spark curiosity that will lead to digging deeper into the truth of the Word. Her novel Counted With the Stars won the 2013 Frasier Contest and was a semi-finalist in the 2013 ACFW Genesis Contest. She lives near Dallas, Texas. Connect with her at www.connilyncossette.com.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs blog today, Conni. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight your debut novel Counted with the Stars.

A Conversation with Lorie Langdon

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Lorie Langdon. Her first solo novel, Gilt Hollow (Blink) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Literature for Young Adult category. Please join us in welcoming Lorie.

Today, we read about what inspired Gilt Hollow and a look at what’s next from Lorie, get a peek at her nightstand reading – plus more!

Willow Lamott’s best friend is a murderer, and no one in the small town of Gilt Hollow will let her forget it. For four long years, she’s tried to fade into the background—but none of that matters when Ashton Keller comes striding into school, fresh out of juvie and fueled by revenge. The moment their eyes meet, Willow no longer feels invisible. Drawn to the vulnerability behind Ashton’s mask of rage, she sinks deeper into his sinister world and begins to question whether he’s a villain, a savior, or both.

Ashton thought he wanted vengeance, until Willow reminded him what he’d been missing. Now he longs to clear his name and become the person she sees in him. But the closer they get to uncovering the truth, the darker the secrets become, and Ashton fears his return to Gilt Hollow will destroy everyone he loves, especially the girl he left behind. – Goodreads


Interview Questions 

INSPYs: What inspired you to write Gilt Hollow? The idea for Gilt Hollow was sparked by a news story I saw about a teenage boy who was on trial for killing one of his friends. Which made me ask the all-important ‘what if’ questions. What if the boy was innocent, but took the fall for the crime and spent his formative teen years in juvie? How would it change him? What if he lived in a small town and the girl who’d been his best friend most of his life was ostracized after his conviction? How would that change her? And what would happen when the boy returned to the hometown after serving his time, seeking revenge against those who testified against him?

The ‘what ifs’ kept coming. I tried to ignore them, but this story would not leave me alone. It had to be told!

How did the writing process differ as a co-author (of the ‘Doon’ series) to writing Gilt Hollow solely? Collaborating on the Doon series was fun. I’ve said many times that those books were far better because Carey and I wrote them together. But there’s something special about writing a story that’s just yours. I have to admit that writing alone is a bit easier. You never have to compromise on your ideas and you can write at your own pace.  I feel blessed that I’ve had the chance to publish with one of my best friends and on my own.

What’s next for you? I’m so glad you asked! My next novel is a retelling called OLIVIA TWIST. It’s an epic love story, adventure set in Victorian London that follows some of the main characters from the classic Oliver Twist. It’s a story I’ve been longing to tell since I was a child, and I can’t wait to share it with the world! To read the full description, go to my website: www.LorieLangdon.com

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What’s your favorite writing or reading snack? Trail Mix! I love grabbing some without looking and having a surprise combination of flavors.

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I’m currently reading FORGET TOMORROW by writing buddy, Pintip Dunn. See pic for some of the books on my TBR. I think I have enough unread books that I could read for at least two years without buying more…but I can’t seem to stop!

Faceoff Questions:

White Chocolate or Dark Chocolate? Dark Chocolate! My fav trail mix is Dark Chocolate Espresso from Target.

Early Bird or Night Owl? Early bird! I’m my most creative first thing in the morning. My brain starts to shut down after ten pm.

Coffee or Tea? Both. Coffee in the morning and Tea in the afternoon!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lorie Langdon is one half of the author team that writes the best-selling DOON series, a young adult reimagining of the musical Brigadoon. A few years ago, she left her corporate career to satisfy the voices in her head. Now she spends her days tucked into her office, Havanese puppy by her side, working to translate her effusive imagination into the written word.

Lorie has been interviewed on Entertainment Weekly.com and several NPR radio programs, including Lisa Loeb’s national Kid Lit show. The DOON series has been featured on such high profile sites as USAToday.com, Hypable.com, and BroadwayWorld.com.

Lorie’s solo debut, GILT HOLLOW, a YA romantic thriller, released September 27th 2016. GILT HOLLOW was recently named by Redbook Magazine as one of the “Books By Women You Must Read This Fall” and received a “Highly Recommended” review from USAToday.com.

For more information or just to say hello, go to: www.LorieLangdon.com


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Lorie. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight Gilt Hollow.

A Conversation with Katherine Reay

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Katherine Reay. Her novel, A Portrait of Emily Price (Thomas Nelson) is on the 2017 shortlist in the General Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Katherine.

Today, we read about what inspired A Portrait of Emily Price, the travel research she did for ‘Emily’ and hear about her favorite snack – plus more!

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible? – Goodreads


Interview Questions

INSPYs: What was the inspiration for A Portrait of Emily Price? The idea came to me while reading C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. There is a powerful scene near the end of the story when the main character, Orual, brings her case to the gods to justify all she has done. Yet, within the very act of articulating her case, she realizes she hasn’t got one. It falls at her feet as she sees everything differently. 

I wondered, in our world and in our time, what might it look like for a young woman to be challenged by another way of thinking, believing, living? What could be so enticing, and joy-filled, as to make her yearn for something new and perhaps something better? What might compel her to drop her guard, surrender control, and let in love? … And there began A Portrait of Emily Price.

Since Emily’s story takes her to Italy, what kind of research did you do while writing this novel? “Research” definitely required a visit to Italy 🙂 — and much more. I did a lot of research into art restoration, at the library, online and in person. Here in Chicago, I interviewed several restorers who work for insurance companies and cover a wide variety of mediums and valuations. Then – terribly exciting – I happened to meet a man who works in art restoration at the Vatican and he offered to arrange for a visit to the Vatican’s restoration labs when I was in Rome. So while in Italy, not only did I get to roam small villages and large cities, eat fantastic food and drink wonderful wine, I got a behind-the-scenes peek at restoration at the Vatican. That experience filled out Joseph’s character and the world of high-end art restoration. It was absolutely amazing.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?

Right now I’m finishing A Man Called Ove and beginning The Seven Storey Mountain. I have also just downloaded Hidden Figures onto my Kindle for next week’s book club. Then… I’m reminding by the book actually sitting here that I have the honor of interviewing Lisa Jewell at our local book store next month. I picked up the ARC of her newest, I Found You, last week and that’s awaiting me too… So much fun!

What’s your Favorite Reading/Writing Snack?

I’m a snacker – almonds, always tea or water, chocolate, chocolate and maybe a little more of that.

Faceoff Questions:
  1. PC or Mac? Mac
  2. Print or Ebook? Yes.
  3. Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Definitely!

Okay those seem like ride-the-fence kinds of answers, but I truly love and have a place for both print books and ebooks in my life. I travel to Austin, TX for research this week and it’s fantastic to take my latest three reads with me and not have to check my bag. That said, if I want to revisit a book or need it for research, print is best.

As for chocolate, I’m an any-percentage-cocoa consumer. 🙂


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries—who provide constant inspiration both for writing and for life. She is the author of three previous novels, and her debut, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist, winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut, and winner of two Carol Awards for Best Debut and Best Contemporary. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, runner, and tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago. Visit her on line at katherinereay.com Facebook: katherinereaybooks Twitter: @Katherine_Reay


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Katherine. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight A Portrait of Emily Price.

A Conversation with Lori Benton

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes Christy-winning author, Lori Benton. Her novel, A Flight of Arrows (WaterBrook) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Historical Romance category. Please join us in welcoming Lori.

Today, we read about the what if question that inspired A Flight of Arrows, hear about her most recent TV binge (Bones!) and her print book preference – plus more!

October 1776–August 1777

It is said that what a man sows he will reap–and for such a harvest there is no set season. No one connected to Reginald Aubrey is untouched by the crime he committed twenty years ago.

Not William, the Oneida child Reginald stole and raised as his own. Identity shattered, enlisted in the British army, William trains with Loyalist refugees eager to annihilate the rebels who forced them into exile. Coming to terms with who and what he is proves impossible, but if he breaks his Loyalist oath, he’ll be no better than the man who constructed his life of lies.

Not Anna, Reginald’s adopted daughter, nor Two Hawks, William’s twin, both who long for Reginald to accept their love despite the challenges they will face, building a marriage that bridges two cultures.

Not Good Voice and Stone Thrower, freed of bitterness by a courageous act of forgiveness, but still yearning for their firstborn son and fearful for the future of their Oneida people.

As the British prepare to attack frontier New York and Patriot regiments rally to defend it, two families separated by culture, united by love, will do all in their power to reclaim the son marching toward them in the ranks of their enemies. – Goodreads


Interview Questions

INSPYs: What inspired A Flight of Arrows? A Flight of Arrows is the second book in The Pathfinders series (The Wood’s Edge is the first). Inspiration for the series came by way of an article I read about twins born to a multiracial couple. One twin was white-skinned, the other brown-skinned.

My writer brain seized on that and began asking a hundred what if questions. What if such twins were born to an 18th century couple of different races? What if the mother of these twins was a white woman, captured and adopted by an Iroquoi tribe as a girl? What if the white-skinned twin was in turn stolen from her and her Iroquois husband and raised by a white family? What if he grew up and only then found out the truth?

What drew you to write historical fiction? My answer to this, on the surface, is not at all profound. After several years of dealing with chemo fog in my early thirties, I came to the point where I was ready to write again but was no longer interested in the genres I’d written previously. I’ve always enjoyed reading stories set before the Industrial Revolution, where the characters lived closer to the earth than most of us do nowadays. So I began to think about historical fiction. About that time I happened to see the movie The Patriot (with Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger) set during the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas. I found myself mulling over the 18th century fashion of knee breeches and how much I’d fancy writing male characters who wore them. I Googled knee breeches, found they began to go out of style around 1800, and knew I’d need to set my story in the 1700s. Unbeknownst to me, I’d stumbled upon a treasure trove, as I’ve since discovered in nearly two decades of researching and writing about the 18th century.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What are you watching?

I’m rewatching the 12-season murder/mystery series Bones. It’s almost made me brave enough to try my hand at writing a historical mystery. I’m also watching Tales By Light, a Netflix series on nature and photography. Both are inspiring.

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?

I took my current reading pile out with me for a photo shoot early one morning last week. Pictured left to right: Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot, The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron, Story Genious by Lisa Cron, and The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, PH.D.

Faceoff Questions:
  1. Print or Ebook? Print, always. I’ve never owned an e-reader.
  2. Early Bird or Night Owl? I’ll get up at 2am for a sunrise photo shoot hours away, but I can’t stay up late to watch a movie. By the time 8pm rolls around I’m thinking about sleep.
  3. Coffee or Tea? Some of both, but if I had to choose, coffee.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lori Benton was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching, Lori enjoys exploring the Oregon wilderness with her husband. She is the author of Burning Sky, recipient of three Christy Awards, and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn. Visit her online http://loribenton.blogspot.com.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Lori. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight A Flight of Arrows.

A Conversation with Leanne W. Smith

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Leanne W. Smith. Her novel, Leaving Independence (Waterfall Press) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Debut Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Leanne.

Today, we read about the inspiration for Leaving Independence (Louis L’Amour is involved), learn about her road to publication, and hear about her most recent TV binges – plus more!

Abigail Baldwyn might not be a widow after all.…

Ever since she received word that her husband, Robert, was killed in the Civil War, Abigail has struggled to keep her Tennessee home and family together. Then a letter arrives claiming that Robert isn’t dead, yet he has no plans to return. Desperate for answers, Abigail travels to Independence, Missouri, where she joins a westbound wagon train to find him.

Leading a company along the Oregon Trail isn’t part of Hoke Mathews’s plans. But then the former cavalry scout gets a glimpse of Abigail—so elegant compared to the rest of their hardscrabble wagon community, yet spirited and resilient. Through every peril they encounter—snakebites, Indian raids, fevers, dangerous grudges—his bond with Abigail grows.

Abigail knew this journey would test her courage. Now it’s testing her marriage vows and her heart, daring her to claim a future on her own terms in a land rich with promise. – Goodreads


Interview Questions

INSPYs: What inspired your debut novel, Leaving Independence? I have felt called to write from a young age, but like the fearful servant who buried his one talent, I kept trying to ignore it. Writing is a hard calling and I wanted to by-pass the difficulty. But story ideas kept bubbling to the surface. A few, like the story of Abigail Baldwyn, withstood the tests of time and my own cowardice.

It’s impossible to say when I first had the idea for this story. Over twenty-five years ago I saw a woman walking down the boardwalk of a western town. What inspired it? I don’t know…she just showed up and wouldn’t leave me alone. At some point you have to admit that a story is given to you as a gift, you’re the only one who can tell it in your unique way, and if you don’t get your brave on and put it out there, the world will never get to feel the blessing of your characters.

Leanne says of her novel, “About a year after I committed to seeing this story through to publication my youngest daughter and I flew to Kansas City, rented a car, and drove to Independence where we stayed at a bed and breakfast that became the inspiration for Mrs. Helton’s boarding house in the book. We arrived after dark and I was feeling apprehensive the next morning at the financial and time commitment I was making to this endeavor when Shelby and I drove out to our first historical sight for research and inspiration. We walked up a hill to read the first historical marker we saw and it said…Leaving Independence. This had been my working title for over a year. Felt like a real God-moment.”

As a teen, I read a lot of Louis L’Amour and know his influence shaped parts of this story, like Hoke’s character. In L’Amour’s book, Westward the Tide, the main character is Mathieu Bardoul, a French spelling. So I spelled Hoke’s last name of Mathews with one “t” as my personal tribute to L’Amour.

What are some of the things you found most interesting or challenging about the publishing process?

The most difficult thing for me is the fear of rejection…the fear of judgment. Once I got past the hurdles of signing with an agent, then a publisher, the process was a joy. I prayed a lot that God would control the parts I couldn’t…which were legion…and He did.

Doors started opening for LI at the same moment my personal life held some challenges. I signed with Jessica Kirkland, my agent, within months of my father being diagnosed with dementia. Then I signed with Waterfall, my publisher, during a period of his rapid health decline. I learned in October 2015 that the release date for LI was June 21, 2016. This would have been my parents’ fifty-third wedding anniversary, but my father passed away April 21, two months before my book’s debut.

This experience, along with our daughters leaving home in the same time-period, made me ultra-aware of how little I actually control in life, much less in setting a book upon the waters. I was forced…blessed, really…to leave the details in God’s hands, and everyone He sent me proved to be more wonderful than I could have imagined. He saw to it that I had the perfect editor and a beautiful cover, and He continues to send me kind reviews and affirmation.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

What are you watching? I probably watch more TED Talks and video clips for the classes I teach than anything else. My husband and I have never watched a lot of television but a few months ago someone told me about a Netflix series called Longmire. They said Walt (the sheriff) reminded them of Hoke, so I had no choice but to check it out. It’s the first show we’ve watched since Downton Abbey ended. We rent movies on quiet weekends. Last two we saw were Hidden Figures and Hacksaw Ridge. Enjoyed both.

What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I made a commitment to read through the Bible this year, so it tops the list. I’ve actually been reading a lot of screenplays on my computer. Have been fascinated with screenwriting for years and recently audited a class. One of the best I’ve read is Hell or High Water.

Non-fiction books I’ve read recently include Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder, The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile, and Presence by Amy Cuddy. Next on the list are Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last, Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor, and Flying Flak Alley by my friend Alan Griggs.

Fiction I’ve read recently includes Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, and Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. Am currently reading My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout and Mark Twain’s Roughin’ It. Next on the list are Anne Patchett’s Commonwealth and The Devil’s Bible by my friend Dana Chamblee Carpenter.

Face off Questions:
  1. Print or Ebook? Prefer to hold real books in my hands, but e-books pack lighter when flying.
  2. Chocolate or Vanilla? (Ice Cream) Vanilla, with dark chocolate fudge sauce.
  3. PC or Mac? Mac. All the way.
  4. Coffee or Tea? Coffee in the morning; tea in the afternoon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Leaving Independence is Leanne Wood Smith’s first historical novel. In addition to writing, she teaches for a university in Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her husband, two daughters, and a son-in-law. Leanne believes that when something calls to you, you should journey toward it. Visit her website at www.leannewsmith.com for inspiration in pursuing personal and career-related dreams.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Leanne. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight Leaving Independence.

A Conversation with Julianna Deering

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Julianna Deering. Her novel, Dressed for Death (Bethany House) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Mystery & Thriller category. Please join us in welcoming Julianna.

Today, we read about the inspiration for Dressed for Death (during which its hero travels to a regency era party!), learn more about Julianna’s favorite sweets, and hear about her love of a certain sport – plus more!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Drew and Madeline Farthering celebrate their six-month anniversary by attending a fancy Regency era costume party. Drew is glad to see Talbot Cummins, an Oxford classmate, and his fiancée, Alice Henley, though many present seem worried about the couple. Everyone’s concerns are realized when, at the concluding grand ball, Alice dies of an overdose of cocaine. Tal refuses to believe she took the stuff intentionally, and Drew is determined to find out if her death was an accident or murder.

Drew is shocked and disillusioned when the police arrest Tal’s father and reveal that the man has been smuggling drugs into the country for the past twenty years. Reeling from the death of his fiancée and the revelation about his father, Tal begs Drew to find out what’s going on. Drew, now questioning his own ability to see people as they really are, does so reluctantly, not ready for the secrets he’s about to uncover–or the danger he’ll bring down on everyone he holds dear. – Goodreads

Interview Questions

INSPYs: What inspired the creation of the amateur sleuth Drew Furthering and his friends?

I have been a fan of the golden age of cozy mystery for a very long time. Authors like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham have always delighted me not only with wonderful mysteries to solve but fascinating period characters to solve them with and England in the first half of the twentieth century as a glorious backdrop. I’m also a long-time lover of the movies of the 1930s and ’40s and think black-and-white cinematography is vastly underrated. Besides that, being a devoted Anglophile and an unabashed word nerd, I am intrigued by the small but considerable differences between British English and American English. Given all that, what could be better than writing a series of cozy English mysteries set in the 1930s featuring a British hero and an American heroine?

What is your favorite and least favorite thing of writing a series about the same characters?

I love that I know my characters very well and how they are likely to react in any given situation. But I also love how they sometimes surprise me with what they say and what they insist on doing. I enjoy uncovering new layers to each character as time goes on. (I’m always sorry when I try to force them to do something just to make my plot work. They invariably get mad and stop talking to me.)

The hardest thing about using the same characters again and again in a series is trying to make sure I don’t repeat myself. I want each of them to grow as a person while still keeping his or her original personality. In real life, it’s very unlikely that one person or small group of people not employed by the police or the courts would be involved in even one murder case much less a new one every few months. I always want to find new things for them to do and new ways to involve them in the case at hand, and that’s never easy.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What are you watching? Hockey playoffs! I’m an NHL fiend, and for me this is the most wonderful time of the year. I’m just sorry my Dallas Stars didn’t make it to the playoffs this year. Wait till next time!

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I’ve been on a Georgette Heyer binge for the past few months. I just finished The Quiet Gentleman, which I loved, and I’m now reading Cousin Kate. Fortunately for me, Heyer wrote a ton of Regency romances and, even better, Richard Armitage has read three of them for audio books. When I can’t sit and read, I can still listen. Be still my heart.

Faceoff Questions:

1. Chocolate or Vanilla Ice Cream? Yes, please. Okay, chocolate wins out, but only by a fraction of an inch. Both are fabulous.

2. Print or Ebook? Again, yes. I love print books most because I can actually “have” them. But, since I have text-to-speech on my Kindle, I have really enjoyed listening to e-books while I’m doing other things around the house. Win-win!

3. Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Uh, yes. Dark chocolate gets the tiniest edge here, but both are my favorite. Trying to keep away from them is the problem.

4. Coffee or Tea? Oh, boy, I can never just answer, can I? I have to say both and neither. I always drank iced tea (unsweetened) when it was hot outside and coffee (cream only) when it was cold. But I had to stop drinking both because they were affecting me badly. So now it’s just water or juice (which I love, too).


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julianna Deering is the creator of the acclaimed Drew Farthering Mystery series. She has always loved British history and is a particular fan of the writings of Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. She graduated from the University of Texas at Dallas with a degree in business administration and spent several years as a Certified Public Accountant. She lives outside Dallas, Texas. For more information visit www.juliannadeering.com.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Julianna. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight Dressed for Death.

A Conversation with Celeste Fletcher McHale

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Celeste Fletcher McHale. Her novel, The Secret to Hummingbird Cake (Thomas Nelson) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Debut Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Celeste.

Today, we learn about the inspiration behind The Secret to Hummingbird Cake (it’s based on a true story!), get a glimpse of Celeste’s work space (and her cute writing companion) – plus more!

“Why won’t you just tell me what’s in that cake?” I’d been trying to get Laine’s recipe for years. We all had.

When all else fails, turn to the divine taste of hummingbird cake.

In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food—especially dessert— is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family— even if the threat is something you cannot see.

In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way. – Goodreads

Author Interview with Celeste Fletcher McHale

INSPYs: What inspired The Secret to Hummingbird CakeThe Secret to Hummingbird Cake is a true story. I moved the actual time line around a little when I was writing it, but it is the story of me and my two best friends and an 18 month period in our lives.

Because it is a true story, I didn’t want to sugar coat the situations or the language in the book. I didn’t feel like whitewashing the truth would do me or anyone reading it any good. Some folks always follow the right path and that’s great. But some of us veer to the left or the right and others can sort of make us feel like we aren’t worthy of the love of God because of it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I wanted this book to send that message loud and clear. It isn’t God that moved away from us, it’s us that moved away from God and he will always accept us just like we are… even if some people don’t.

Celeste says of her work space, “It’s wherever I feel comfortable that day, but little Viloula is always by my side.”

What were some of the things that surprised you about the publishing process? I think what surprised me the most about the publishing process is how long it is between “the end” and release day. I have zero patience and it felt like I was five years old again waiting for Santa Claus.
Just for fun Questions:

1. What are you Watching? I generally turn my TV on the SEC channel and leave it there all day. I mostly watch sports and I don’t care what it is. If they are keeping score, I’ll watch it. LOL. I DO watch The Voice and the sitcom, Mom.

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? My Sports Illustrated magazine comes on Thursday. I read it from cover to cover and then I’m done for the week. I honestly have very little time to read. I live on a working ranch and something ALWAYS needs attention. I use the time I would have to read…to write.

Face off Questions:

Print or Ebook? I want to hold my books. I don’t like a kindle.

Dark or Milk Chocolate? I’m not much of a chocolate fan, but if my mama puts a pan of biscuits on the table, y’all better get one before I see them ’cause I can eat half the pan. That’s why I have to run every morning. Hahaha.

Call or text? Definitely text!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Celeste Fletcher McHale lives on her family farm in Central Louisiana where she enjoys raising a variety of animals. Her hobbies include writing, football, baseball, and spending much time with her grandchildren. Website: fletchermchale.wordpress.com Facebook: FletcherMcHale Twitter: @FletcherMcHale


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Celeste. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight The Secret to Hummingbird Cake.

A Conversation with Melissa Jagears

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Melissa Jagears. Her novel, A Heart Most Certain (Bethany House) is on the 2017 shortlist in the Historical Romance category. Please join us in welcoming Melissa.

Today, we read about the inspiration for A Heart Most Certain learn about her nightstand reading and where she does most of her brainstorming – plus more!Melissa Jagears INSPYs

A Fresh Voice in Historical Romance!

Lydia King knows what it’s like to be in need, so when she joins the Teaville Moral Society, she genuinely hopes to help the town’s poor. But with her father’s debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poor house herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that the moral society’s president is her suitor’s mother. Her first task as a moral society member—to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town—should be easy . . . except he flat-out refuses.

Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresee the harrowing complications that will arise from working together. When town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs—and hearts—truly align. – Goodreads

Author Interview with Melissa Jagears

INSPYs: What inspired you to write, A Heart Most CertainI started brainstorming this book back in 2012 when I was not published. I lived near Coffeyville, KS which has this wonderful mansion residing where you would least expect one. Every time I passed it, I thought a mansion in the middle of nowhere would be a great setting for a story. But the mansion only belonged to one family, so I couldn’t use its actual history for a romance. Another time I was driving by, I was pondering how a lot of fairy tale retellings were getting published. (I do a lot of brainstorming in the car!) And while passing the mansion, I was trying to come up with fairy tale/classic stories that hadn’t been done in a Christian novel retelling and thought up Scrooge and Aladdin. Then I wondered if I could combine the two. That’s where it started. How to put Scrooge and Aladdin in a middle-of-nowhere Kansas mansion. The pictures on the series covers are of the actual Brown Mansion which is my Lowe Mansion’s inspiration.

What are some of the challenges/benefits of incorporating faith in your stories? I love theology. I’d go to seminary just for fun if I didn’t have to pay for it. I love reading pages upon pages of theology discussion, BUT not in my fiction. Back in the old days where Christian fiction would plop in an entire sermon delivered from a pulpit? Yeah, I’d skip right over those to get back to the story. So there’s the challenge for me not to go too gung-ho on the theology discussions when they happen in my stories because it’s just so fun to discuss, but I know when reading fiction that’s not what I’m looking for and I don’t want to write anything I myself would skip!

As for the benefit, I mentioned I wrote this book in 2012. When I started editing it again in 2015 for Bethany House, one of the Biblical messages in the book spoke straight to me. God used a book I’d written years before to help myself years later. I think addressing the spiritual in stories make them timely no matter when it’s read.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What are you watching? Sorry I’m not that fun, I don’t have a television and the only movies I overhear are geared to preschoolers. I do watch youtube videos sometimes…..

2. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? Last book I read was Love’s Winter Hope by Naomi Rawlings, and I’ve been itching to read The Lady and the Lionheart by Bischof.

Face-off Questions

1. Print or Ebook? I like both. They each have pros and cons, but if I had to choose one, I’d choose print because if there’s an end-of-the-world Apocalypse coming, I could read without electricity.

2. Dark Chocolate or Milk Chocolate? Milk Chocolate

3. Coffee or Tea? Neither, but if it were a life and death situation where I was forced to drink one, I’d choose tea. I’ve actually lived through an entire cup of tea, but I can’t make it past a sip of coffee.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carol Award-winning author Melissa Jagears is a homeschooling mom who writes Christian historical romance into the wee hours of the night. She’s the author of the Unexpected Brides series and Love by the Letter, a free prequel ebook novella. You can learn more about Melissa, her books, and where she hangs out online at www.melissajagears.com.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs.com blog today, Melissa. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight A Heart Most Certain.

2017 Shortlists Announced

The day has arrived. We are ready to announce our 2017 INSPYs shortlists. 

We thank you so much for your continued support, especially in light of the 2017 changes as we strive to create a program that is considerate of the many wonderful novels written in this genre. 

Following multiple book deliveries plus multiple time zones, and juggling our respective schedules, the Inspy Awards Advisory Board is thrilled to (finally) announce the 2017 shortlist contenders. As each year does, another daunting task was placed before us to pick just 5 books in each category from a long list nominated by readers and bloggers around the world. After careful consideration and deliberation, the INSPYs Advisory Board is pleased to announce that the following books have been shortlisted in the 6th annual INSPY Awards. 

CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE/ROMANTIC SUSPENSE 

Can’t Help Falling (Howard) by Kara Isaac
Her One and Only (Bethany House) by Becky Wade
Just a Kiss (Thomas Nelson) by Denise Hunter
A Twist of Faith (Southern Firefly Fiction) by Pepper Basham
You’re the One that I Want (Tyndale) by Susan May Warren

 DEBUT FICTION

Close to You (Howard Books) by Kara Isaac
Counted with the Stars (Bethany House) by Connilyn Cossette
Leaving Independence (Waterfall Press) by Leanne W. Smith
The Secret to Hummingbird Cake (Thomas Nelson) by Celeste Fletcher McHale
The Undoing of Saint Silvanus (Tyndale) by Beth Moore

GENERAL FICTION 

The Alliance (Tyndale) by Jolina Petersheim
The Feathered Bone (Thomas Nelson) by Julie Cantrell
Land of Silence (Tyndale) by Tessa Afshar
Long Way Gone (Thomas Nelson) by Charles Martin
A Portrait of Emily Price (Thomas Nelson) by Katherine Reay

HISTORICAL ROMANCE

A Flight of Arrows (Waterbrook) by Lori Benton
The Lady and the Lionheart (Mason Jar Books) by Joanne Bischof
A Heart Most Certain (Bethany House) by Melissa Jaegers
The Captive Heart (Shiloh Run Press) by Michelle Griep
The Ringmaster’s Wife (Thomas Nelson) by Kristy Cambron

MYSTERY/THRILLER

Conspiracy of Silence (Bethany House) by Ronie Kendig
Cold Shot (Bethany House) by Dani Pettrey
Dressed for Death (Bethany House) by Julianna Deering
If I Run (Zondervan) by Terri Blackstock
When Death Draws Near (Thomas Nelson) by Carrie Stuart Parks

LITERATURE FOR YOUNG ADULTS 

A Daring Sacrifice (Zondervan) by Jody Hedlund
Gilt Hollow (Blink) by Lorie Langdon
I’ll Be Yours (Sweet Pea Productions) by Jenny B. Jones
Siren’s Song (Thomas Nelson) by Mary Weber
Unblemished (Thomas Nelson) by Sara Ella

SPECULATIVE FICTION

Accelerant (Enclave) by Ronie Kendig
The Calling (Tyndale) by Rachelle Dekker
The Long Journey to Jake Palmer (Thomas Nelson) by James L. Rubart
Seasons of Glory (Blink) by Lisa T. Bergren
The Shattered Vigil (Bethany House) by Patrick W. Carr


Congratulations to all of the nominated authors and shortlist contenders! We now turn the job over to our 2017 judges to select a winner in each category. Winners will be announced June 28th.

Download Press Release here.