A Conversation with Tessa Afshar

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Tessa Asfshar. Her novel, Land of Silence (Tyndale House) is on the 2017 shortlist in the General Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Tessa.

Tessa shares the inspiration behind her shortlist novel, her TV shows (hint: she’s a BBC fan!) – plus more!

ABOUT the BOOK

Before Christ called her daughter . . .

Before she stole healing by touching the hem of his garment . . .

Elianna is a young girl crushed by guilt. After her only brother is killed while in her care, Elianna tries to earn forgiveness by working for her father’s textile trade and caring for her family. When another tragedy places Elianna in sole charge of the business, her talent for design brings enormous success, but never the absolution she longs for. As her world unravels, she breaks off her betrothal to the only man she will ever love. Then illness strikes, isolating Elianna from everyone, stripping everything she has left.

No physician can cure her. No end is in sight. Until she hears whispers of a man whose mere touch can heal. After so many years of suffering and disappointment, is it possible that one man could redeem the wounds of body . . . and soul? – Goodreads


Interview Questions

INSPYs: Tell us about Land of Silence; what inspired it or its characters? Land of Silence is based on the gospel accounts of the woman suffering from a bleeding disease. I always found this story touching because of Jesus’ indescribable grace for an outcast. But after studying it, I found some hidden treasures, and was profoundly moved by them.

The context of the core story made me want to write a novel about it. A twelve-year-old girl is dying. Her father, Jairus, has come to beg Jesus to help. The situation is urgent. There is no time to waste. Jesus begins to follow Jairus to his house, a large crowd following in His wake. Suddenly, He comes to a dead stop. Most of us would agree that this doesn’t seem like a good time to halt. A little girl’s life depends on Him. Every moment is critical. This is a time to hurry, not to delay! But Jesus slows everything down and demands to know who has touched Him.

Finally a woman falls on her knees before Him. She has no father to beg for her. She has no one to approach Jesus on her behalf. For twelve years, the same number of years that the little girl has lived on this earth, she has been sick. And the nature of her sickness has brought her great shame. Because of her condition, she isn’t allowed to touch people. But in faith, she has touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. An outrage. A presumption. An act of faith.

With one touch, she is healed. She knows it. Jesus also knows it, because He has felt healing power going out of Him. Again, I had to ask myself, why the delay, then, when a little girl’s life hangs in the balance? The woman has already received the miracle she needed. Why endanger the little girl’s life?

I think Jesus has two reasons. First, He wants to declare publicly that the bleeding woman is healed. He wants the crowds to see that her shame is wiped clean. God has restored her.

There is another reason. Jesus calls her daughter, the only woman in thea New Testament that He addresses in such a way. She has no father to come and beg for her. No one implores the Master on her behalf. So Jesus takes on the role. He fills the hole. I think in addition to healing her body, in that moment Jesus heals a father wound in her soul as well. That is why He delays the procession to Jairus’ house. He wants to give this woman not only physical healing, but also a restored heart.

Pictured are “some of the books I used to find inspiration and direction and accurate information for Land of Silence.”

Tessa says of her notebook, “I always make [one] for each project, where I handwrite my notes. Of course, at the time I create the notebook, there is no book cover. So I try to find an image that fits the storyline.”

What are some of the greatest challenges writing Biblical Fiction? I am writing fiction based on Holy Scriptures. Scriptures that many of us hold sacred. As I weave my narrative around that core revelation, I have to be careful that I retain the truth, while weaving a fictional tale around it. At the same time, I must take care that the novel does not grow preachy while displaying biblical insights. I am not writing a Bible study. My books are supposed to entertain and engage the reader. It’s a tight rope. On the other hand, the people who inhabit the biblical world have managed to capture our hearts for thousands of years. Most of these characters are flawed men and women through whom God fulfills his purposes.  In my experience, all of us struggle with various wounds. Soul wounds. Biblical stories show us how in God’s hands a broken person can live a healed and healing life.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I am reading The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. It is a secular fantasy. It sits sandwiched between my journal and the Bible, neither of which is secular or fantasy.

What are you currently watching? Season two of Poldark and season four of Sherlock.

Faceoff Questions:
  1. Cake or Pie? Cake, definitely. No offense, but pie is for amateurs. Way too much fruit.
  2. Print or Ebook? I still prefer print for my favorite books. I need to be able to flip to various portions at a moment’s notice.
  3. Comedy or Action? How about action with a lot of witty comments?

ABOUT the AUTHOR

Tessa Afshar is an award-winning author of historical and biblical fiction. Her novel, Land of Silence was voted by Library Journal as one of five top Christian Fiction titles of 2016, and nominated for the 2016 RT Reviewer’s Choice Award for best Inspirational Romance. Harvest of Gold won the prestigious 2014 Christy Award in the Historical Romance category. Her book, Harvest of Rubies was a finalist for the 2013 ECPA Book Award in the fiction category. Her first novel, Pearl in the Sand, won her “New Author of the Year” by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader’s Choice Awards 2011. Tessa was born in Iran and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as cochair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She serves on the staff of one of the oldest churches in America. But that has not cured her from being addicted to chocolate. Contact Tessa at tessaafshar.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorTessaAfshar/


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs blog today, Tessa. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight Land of Silence.

Thank you for inviting me to join you. I am honored to have spent this time with you and your readers.

A Conversation with Jolina Petersheim

Today, the INSPY Awards warmly welcomes author, Jolina Petersheim. Her novel, The Alliance (Tyndale) is on the 2017 shortlist in the General Fiction category. Please join us in welcoming Jolina.

Jolina beautifully shares a piece of her heart today through the inspiration of her shortlisted title, shares about her love of dark chocolate – plus more!

ABOUT the BOOK

When Leora Ebersole sees the small plane crash in her Old Order Mennonite community, she has no idea it’s a foreshadowing of things to come. Once the young pilot, Moses Hughes, regains consciousness, they realize his instruments were destroyed by the same power outage that killed the electricity at the community store, where Englischers are stranded with dead cell phones and cars that won’t start.

Moses offers a sobering theory, but no one can know how drastically life is about to change. With the only self-sustaining food supply in the region, the Pacifist community is forced to forge an alliance with the handful of stranded Englischers in an effort to protect not only the food but their very lives.

In the weeks that follow, Leora, Moses, and the community will be tested as never before, requiring them to make decisions they never thought possible. Whom will they help and whom will they turn away? When the community receives news of a new threat, everyone must decide how far they’re willing to go to protect their beliefs and way of life. – Goodreads

Interview Questions

INSPYs: What was the inspiration behind The Alliance? I guess you could say I had a slightly different childhood. When I was six and my brother ten, our family stood in a field on the camp where my parents were caretakers, and my parents told us that this was where we would meet if we were separated when the world “blew up.” From this field, our family would travel by foot to our friends’ elaborate, fairytale home and live in the blue room hidden behind their bookshelves.

My parents in no way meant to instill fear in us. Now that I’m a parent, I see that they were trying to assuage their own fears by coming up with a disaster-recovery plan. But I was born with an overactive imagination, and therefore this plan planted in me the seed of fear—and, subsequently, a driving need to control my environment.

I wish I could say I uprooted this fear once I became an adult, but after I had my firstborn daughter, my fear grew worse, for not only did I have to control my environment; I also had to control hers.

When my eldest was six months old, an unnerving exchange with a logger caused my fear to deepen its roots and for me to ask myself whether I would ever use lethal force to protect myself and my family. I believed I would, even though, growing up, I sensed that my own father would adhere to his pacifist heritage if placed in such a situation.

The final puzzle piece for my book, The Alliance, slid into place when my father told us that we needed heirloom seeds to last us until the next harvest season. I remember standing in my darkened kitchen and repeating that phrase to myself—The Harvest Season.

Initially, I believed this would be the title of the book, but over time, I knew a community having enough food to last until the next harvest season was only a small element of the story. The larger element came from the protagonist, Leora Ebersole, and her driving need to control her environment, even after society crumbles around her, because if she controls her environment, she believes she will be able to keep her orphaned family safe.

With every one of my books, God’s been faithful to allow me to experience some portion of whatever topic I’m addressing. The Alliance is no exception. My family and I moved from Tennessee to Wisconsin shortly before I finished the rough draft. Eight weeks later, my husband went in for a CAT scan, which revealed a tumor near his brain stem. He had surgery the next morning, and all through that night next to his hospital bed, I feared for my family.

I feared for our two young daughters; our firstborn was two and a half and our youngest was four months old at the time. I feared that I would be a widow, living on a grid-tie solar-powered farm six hundred miles away from our immediate families. In a matter of hours, one of my worst fears had come true, and I didn’t know how to handle it.

However, all through my Garden of Gethsemane night, during the hours my husband was in surgery, and the critical weeks that followed the craniotomy, I felt God’s presence as if he was sitting beside me. I then understood that God had allowed me to face one of my greatest fears so that I would learn that inner peace can never be acquired through my futile attempts to control my environment—and therefore keep my family safe. Moreover, I can only achieve inner peace if I continually surrender my life and the lives of my family to the One who called us into being.

So I pray, dear reader, that you will discover the author of the peace that passes all understanding and daily surrender your life—and the lives of your family—to him.

What were some of the greatest challenges you found while writing this story? Well, it’s always challenging, trying to write around the demands of my two young children, but I would have to say that the greatest challenge for me, while writing The Alliance, came from the isolation I felt while living in Wisconsin. A lot of this had to do with my stage of life. It’s difficult to get out and about with a toddler and a newborn when it’s cold and there’s snow on the ground. Also, my husband’s health crisis was, needless to say, a great source of distraction. However, I believe that the cold, the snow, the isolation, and the fear all coalesced to allow me to really get into my main character, Leora’s head as she is also isolated, cold, and fearful while living in the mountains of Montana with her community.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

1. What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I just finished Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, Anything Is Possible, which provides sneak peeks at the characters she introduced in her blockbuster, My Name Is Lucy Barton. I’m also listening to M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans for the second time. It’s a beautiful novel, and the narrator is fantastic…though sometimes he mumbles. I also just started reading a novel called, How It All Began by British writer, Penelope Lively. As you might be able to tell, I read a lot and widely. I carry a book around with me like my two-year-old carries her security blanket. But hey, at least I don’t suck my thumb! 

Photo: BBC

2. What are you currently watching? I don’t have the opportunity to watch much TV, but I am looking forward to the Poldark series when it releases on Amazon Prime. The date, May 25, I believe, is right after my due date for my third daughter, so I think I might indulge a bit during my “recovery.”

Faceoff Questions:
  1. PC or Mac? PC, simply because I’m so technologically inept I go through computers like they’re disposable!
  1. Milk or Dark Chocolate? Dark chocolate all the way! Unless, you’re swirling it in there with the milk! You’re talking to a pregnant lady, here….
  2. Comedy or Action? Hm, that’s a hard one. I lean more toward period dramas with beautiful soundtracks and costumes. My husband just loves it (sarcasm), though he did enjoy the first seasons of Downton Abbey more than he admitted!

ABOUT the AUTHOR

Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Midwife and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. Her writing has been featured in venues as varied as radio programs, nonfiction books, and numerous online and print publications such as Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman. Jolina and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but now live on a solar-powered farm in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin with their young daughters. Follow Jolina and her blog at jolinapetersheim.com.


Thanks so much for joining us on the INSPYs blog today, Jolina. It was a pleasure to host you and spotlight your shortlisted novel, The Alliance.

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 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.

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.

A Conversation with Katie Ganshert

INSPYs 2016-Katie Ganshert FeatureAs we come down to the final hours before the INSPYs 2016 winners are announced (Tuesday!), today we welcome Katie Ganshert. A multi-genre author who made the jump to Indie and YA fiction last year, Katie’s novel The Art of Losing Yourself (WaterBrook Press) is on the 2016 shortlist in the General Fiction category.

Katie shares more on the inspiration of The Art of Losing Yourself, and the challenges/benefits of writing organically incorporated faith. Plus, she’s a Gilmore Girls fan!


Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high Book - The Art of Losing Yourselfschool football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together. But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole? – Goodreads

Amazon | Goodreads


AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH KATIE GANSHERT

What inspired The Art of Losing Yourself?

This doesn’t usually happen for me, but it was a passage of Scripture—from Ezekiel 37. It’s when the Lord gives Ezekiel a vision, and shows him a valley filled with dry bones. And then the Lord asks, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I was so very struck by the passage and the question, and of course, God’s response. So struck, I wanted to tell a story about God’s ability to breath the dead back to life. In the Art of Losing Yourself, that dead thing happens to be a marriage, a derelict motel, and a woman’s faith.

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

Well, for this book, incorporating faith into the story was relatively easy, as the entire theme revolves around the main character’s faith, or lack thereof. I think the biggest challenge is making sure the faith-element arises organically from the characters and the story, instead of making it this painted-on thing just because the genre demands it. The benefits are numerous! Namely, hearing from readers who have been encouraged in their faith after reading the story. And, of course, being encouraged in my own faith as I seek God and His truth while writing the story.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

What are you listening to?

Katie Ganshert TBR

Katie’s TBR pile.

Mostly, Bible kid songs. We have a Jesus Loves Me soundtrack that plays on repeat wherever we go because my daughter loves it and it’s good for her to try to sing familiar songs, as she has a severe speech delay. Music aside, I love audio books, and am currently listening to Kate Morton’s The Lake House.

What are you watching?

A conglomeration of things—nothing new. We don’t have cable, but we do have Netflix and Amazon Prime. Right now, I’m watching Gilmore Girls and when I’m in the mood for a laugh, The Office. I’ve already watched both.

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

(See Picture) I’m reading 19 Minutes by Jodi Picoult. It’s my first Picoult book and so far, I’m enjoying it. I’m also reading Forgotten God by Francis Chan. And up next is Becky Wade’s newest—Her One and Only.


Thank you so much for joining us today, Katie! We enjoyed learning more about the inspiration of The Art of Losing Yourself, and discovering what’s on your TBR.

ABOUT THE AUTHORKatie Ganshert

Award-winning author, Katie Ganshert, graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison with a degree in education, and worked as a fifth grade teacher for several years before staying home to write full-time. She was born and raised in the Midwest, where she lives with her family. When she’s not busy penning novels or spending time with her people, she enjoys drinking coffee with friends, reading great literature, and eating copious amounts of dark chocolate.

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A Conversation with Katherine Reay

INSPYs 2016-Katherine Reay

Our final week (before the INSPY Advisory Board announces the winners) of author interviews continues today with author, Katherine Reay. Katherine has been shortlisted in previous INSPY awards and this year, her novel The Bronte Plot (Thomas Nelson) is on the 2016 shortlist in the General Fiction category.

Today, Katherine shares about the inspiration of The Bronte Plot, and asks YOU for new TV show recommendations. Read on below.


Lucy Alling makes a living selling rare books, often taking suspicious measures to reach her goals. When her unorthodox methods are discovered, Lucy’s secret ruins her relationship with Book - The Bronte Plother boss and her boyfriend James—leaving Lucy in a heap of hurt, and trouble. Something has to change; she has to change.

In a sudden turn of events, James’s wealthy grandmother Helen hires Lucy as a consultant for a London literary and antiques excursion. Lucy reluctantly agrees and soon discovers Helen holds secrets of her own. In fact, Helen understands Lucy’s predicament better than anyone else.

As the two travel across England, Lucy benefits from Helen’s wisdom, as Helen confronts the ghosts of her own past. Everything comes to a head at Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, where Lucy is reminded of the sisters’ beloved heroines, who, with tenacity and resolution, endured—even in the midst of change.

Now Lucy must go back into her past in order to move forward. And while it may hold mistakes and regrets, she will prevail—if only she can step into the life that’s been waiting for her all along. – Goodreads

Amazon ($1.99 e-book sale) | Goodreads


AUTHOR INTERVIEW WITH KATHERINE REAY

INSPYs: What inspired the story of The Bronte Plot? 

The Bronte Plot came to me as a question while reading C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. In that story, while asleep, Lewis travels to heaven where he witnesses souls traveling “upward and onward.” Decisions must be made and burdens relinquished if the “passengers” on this journey wish to remain in heaven. Wrapped within fantasy, Lewis introduces us to the ideas of free will, choice and consequence – as well as deftly portraying the strings pulling at our hearts and the nature of surrender. I began to ask, what could or would that journey look like on this side of eternity? And if someone did reach a point to make new decisions and lay down old burdens, what event or force might begin the process? Lucy entered the story first, with her red hair, passion for design and story – and a few other personality traits – but she didn’t complete it. I knew that such turning points can happen at any age and Lucy needed a companion, someone unlike herself yet able to understand. She needed a Helen. And so, with two women ready for change, The Bronte Plot began…

INSPYs: Who was your favorite character/storyline in The Bronte Plot?

I adore Helen. Her character became so complex, from the wild summer of her youth to the pressures that later defined her life. And to see her work to redefine and find herself again – and, in many ways, free her family – was exciting.

I also loved Sid. If I ever hire an interior designer, I’ll need to find him in the real world.

Katherine's favorite writing spot!

Katherine’s favorite writing spot!

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

+What are you listening to?  

To and from my daughter’s volleyball practice, we listen to audiobooks. We just finished The Book Thief – brilliantly narrated, by the way. We are now listening to The Screwtape Letters. At home, The Zac Brown Band is the most played Pandora station with Needtobreathe and Van Morrison close behind. Now… That said, Jimmy Buffet always makes a strong appearance on the back patio each summer.

+What are you watching?

I just finished The Night Manager, an AMC miniseries of the John le Carré novel. Wow! Incredibly tense and well done. Hugh Laurie is, as always, brilliant.

And now that Castle is over, I’m looking for recommendations. I need a new show! Please help…

+What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand?Katherin Reay TBR

I decided to pick up the two books on the floor and take a picture of the true mess that is my nightstand. It needs a little explanation. At present, I am reading The Blind Side, Prayer, The Screwtape Letters (I know, listening to it too… it’s research) and Self-Editing. The Nightingale has sat teasing me for six months because I want to get to it, but I need more time. I picked up the Moriarty ARC at BEA last month and hope to find time to read it this summer as well. And the Amor Towles? I picked that up at BEA too and pat it every now and then. His debut, Rules of Civility, was fantastic and I’m almost nervous to begin his second, A Gentleman in Moscow, because soon after I start that first sentence it’ll be over and I’ll have to wait five more years for another beautiful Towles tale. Oh… And Everybody’s Jane. Again research. I really do get the best research!

Thanks for inviting me here!


Katherine, thank you SO much for joining us! It was a pleasure to chat with you, and learn more about The Brone Plot.

EDITOR’s NOTE:  Some of my recent TV show favorites would be NBC’s Blindspot, ITV’s Grantchester and I’m currently watching the sixth season of TNT’s Rizzoli and Isles. What are you currently watching, readers?

ABOUT THE AUTHORKBR Headshot

Katherine Reay has lived all across the country and Europe and has just moved with her family to Chicago. She is a writer, wife, mom, runner, and, most randomly, a tae kwon do black belt. Her debut novel, “Dear Mr. Knightley,” is a contemporary story with a dash of Jane Austen and other nineteenth century writers thrown in for the fun of it. Her subsequent novels, “Lizzy & Jane” and “The Bronte Plot,” feature stories of hope, reconciliation, family, some seriously good food and travel. “A Portrait of Emily Price” will be released in November of this year. 

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A Conversation with Cathy Gohlke

INSPYs 2016-Cathy Gohlke Feature

Good afternoon, INSPYs readers. We’re welcoming  author Cathy Gohlke today. Cathy is the author of novels like Saving Amelie, Promise Me This, and this year, her novel, Secrets She Kept (Tyndale) made the final in the 2016 INSPYs shortlist in the General Fiction category.

Below Cathy shares about the inspiration of Secrets She Kept, and gives us some insight into her favorite story to write in the two-person narrative of the novel.


The secret a mother was forbidden to share . . . the consequences a daughter could not redeem—but will risk everything in her attempt.Book - Secrets She Kept

All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah unlocks secrets of her mother’s mysterious past, including the discovery of a grandfather living in Germany.

Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father, ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, demands a marriage for his daughter to help advance his career. But Lieselotte is in love—and her beloved Lukas secretly works against the Reich. How far will her father go to achieve his goal?

Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who hides wartime secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past, and how their legacy will shape her future. – Goodreads

Amazon | Goodreads


INTERVIEW WITH CATHY GOHLKE

INSPYs: What inspired Secrets She Kept? Secrets She Kept was conceived while researching WWII and touring Germany. I learned that WWII bred many deep secrets in families—secrets of good deeds unrewarded and secrets of evil deeds never discovered.

But I wondered, how did Holocaust survivors reclaim their lives and live beyond the tragedies of the war when anti-Semitism still existed? How did perpetrators and their families live with the horrors they’d inflicted? Were they sorry for what they’d done? Did they attempt to hide their wartime activities? Did they confess or try in any way to redeem the wrongs they’d committed? Is there atonement? How do Germans today reconcile what they or their nation did during WWII?

Those questions made me ask, too, how do we confront the far-reaching consequences of our actions or those of our family members?

Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian, who, with her sister, father and many family members, helped Jews escape Nazi persecution during the war, inspired an answer in her book, The Hiding Place. I’ve been fascinated and convicted since my teenage years by Corrie’s courageous and triumphant faith, and the frank honesty of her journey.

INSPYs: Which character/story did you most enjoy writing about in Secrets She Kept? Lieselotte. During my research I walked Lieselotte’s paths in Berlin before and during the war, and through Ravensbruk Concentration Camp. I tramped through the rain from a train to the camp at Sachsenhausen and imagined what it meant to be Jewish or considered a political criminal, yanked from your life, taken away by train and thrown into prison . . . not just any prison, but one of terrible persecution.

Creating Lieselotte and imagining her life, the daring and courage it took to help Jews right under the nose of her Nazi loving father and brother, the grievous loss of her mother and the man she loved so dearly, and the terrible sacrifice she made for love of her daughter . . . I feel as if I know her, as if she and her journey are part of me.

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

+ What are you listening to? “Favourite Wartime Songs—The Songs That Lifted a Nation’s Heart,” produced by English Heritage. It’s a wonderful collection of nostalgic and well-known British songs and dance music from WWII that I found at the Imperial War Museum in London. A note on the back of the CD case reads, “Tunes that we all remember from a time we will never forget.” Can you guess the period for my current wip? : )

+ What are you watching? My brother and sister-in-law introduced me to “Coalhouse at War,” a series filmed in Wales. I’m hooked! It’s a fascinating reality show about daily life in a Welsh coal town during WWII. Three modern-day families and a group of young men “drafted” to work the mines live, work and go to school just as they would have during WWII.

Men, women and children deal with blackout, rations, deprivations, evacuees from bombed towns, raising animals for food, air raids, Home Guard training, coal mining, the threat of invasion, dances and sing-songs for fun, weekly chapel, and all that went with life in those days. It is the only reality show I’ve ever seen that I would love to participate in—although I’m not keen on the idea of eating sheep’s tongue. : {Cathy Gohlke's Reading Table

+ What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I’m rereading some of C. S. Lewis’s works, especially those things written prior to and during WWII. Many of his works were published or broadcast in different forms than the final books we have today. I’ve just finished reading Mere Christianity which is a compilation of his WWII radio broadcasts, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and am now reading The Weight of Glory. I’ve loved reading the Boxen stories he and his brother, Warnie, wrote and illustrated for fun as a children (inspired by beloved stories and illustrations of Beatrix Potter).

Daily I read my Bible. This year I’m enjoying Tyndale’s NLT and the new Tree of Life Version. Dwelling Places, by Lucinda Secrest McDowell is a favorite new devotional, as is Priscilla Shirer’s Fervent. Two wonderfully engrossing novels I’ve read and reread recently are Tessa Afshar’s Land of Silence and Carrie Turansky’s Refuge at Highland Hall.


Thanks so much for joining us, Cathy. It was a pleasure to learn more about Secrets She Kept, and which storyline was your favorite to write.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Cathy Gohlke Author-Photo

Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Promise Me This, William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires, which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award and was listed by Library Journal as one of the Best Books of 2008.

Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, make their home on the banks of the Laurel Run in Elkton, Maryland.

Author Website | Facebook

A Conversation with Susie Finkbeiner

INSPYs 2016-Susie Finkbeiner

Today we’re talking with another author shortlisted in our 2016 awards as our interview series continues. The spotlight today is on Susie Finkbeiner and her novel, A Cup of Dust (Kregel Publications), which is on the 2016 shortlist in the General Fiction category.

We chat with Susie about the inspiration behind A Cup of Dust, what’s next for her (fans of A Cup of Dust will want to read about this one), and learn what TV addiction she makes time for every Monday.


Where you come from isn’t who you are. Book - A Cup of Dust

Ten-year-old Pearl Spence is a daydreamer, playing make-believe to escape life in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1935. The Spences have their share of misfortune, but as the sheriff’s family, they’ve got more than most in this dry, desolate place. They’re who the town turns to when there’s a crisis or a need—and during these desperate times, there are plenty of both, even if half the town stands empty as people have packed up and moved on.

Pearl is proud of her loving, strong family, though she often wearies of tracking down her mentally impaired older sister or wrestling with her grandmother’s unshakable belief in a God who Pearl just isn’t sure she likes.

Then a mysterious man bent on revenge tramps into her town of Red River. Eddie is dangerous and he seems fixated on Pearl. When he reveals why he’s really there and shares a shocking secret involving the whole town, dust won’t be the only thing darkening Pearl’s world.

While the tone is suspenseful and often poignant, the subtle humor of Pearl’s voice keeps A Cup of Dust from becoming heavyhanded. Finkbeiner deftly paints a story of a family unit coming together despite fractures of distress threatening to pull them apart. – Goodreads | Amazon


INSPYs: What inspired A Cup of Dust?  When I was 17 I read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. I’d never even heard of The Dust Bowl before then. Over the next 20 years I researched that era, pouring over books and documentaries and the photography of Dorothea Lange. Then, one day, I looked at my husband and said, “I’m ready to write my Dust Bowl novel.” He smiled and answered, “It’s about time.”
 
INSPYs: Can you give us a sneak peek into what’s coming next from you? I’m actually working on the sequel to A Cup of Dust. It’s called A Trail of Crumbs and it picks up right where Cup left off. I can’t wait for my readers to experience more of Pearl’s story. 

JUST FOR FUN QUESTIONS

  • What are you listening to? I listen to all kinds of music. But when I write, I stick to classical music. Debussy is my favorite, particularly his piano pieces. 
  • What are you watching? I don’t watch much television. I find that it sucks away a lot of the time I could be spending with my family, writing, or reading. I do, however, indulge in watching Gotham with my husband on Mondays. It’s fun.

Susie Fink IMG_20160509_134629

  • What are you reading or what’s on your nightstand? I’m currently toggling between This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff and Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson. Next on my list of to-reads is Alison Hodgson’s The Pug List and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I also have a stack of books to read aloud to my kids this summer. I can hardly wait!

Thanks for joining us today, Susie! It’s great to learn more about your novel, A Cup of Dust and the inspiration behind it, plus see what’s on your reading list.

ABOUT THE AUTHORSusie Fink

Susie Finkbeiner is the author of A Cup of Dust: A Novel of the Dust Bowl (Kregel, 2015) as well as My Mother’s Chamomile (WhiteFire, 2014) and Paint Chips (WhiteFire, 2013). 

She is currently working on her fourth novel.

Susie is a wife, mother of three, and avid reader. She enjoys time with her family, coffee dates with her good friends, and quiet moments to read and write.

Author Website | Facebook | Twitter

Up Close and Personal with Cathy Gohlke

Happy June, Inspy Friends! Our special author of the day is Cathy Gohlke, writer of Saving Amelie, shortlisted for the General Fiction Inspy.  Cathy is no stranger to the Inspy’s as she was also shortlisted in 2013 with Promise Me This.  Join us in welcoming this incredible lady.  We are thrilled to learn Cathy is hard at work on her next novel due in September, 2015.  Be sure to read through to the bottom as we’ve been given a few hints about Cathy’s next book in the picture at the bottom of this post.  Welcome Cathy!

saving amelieIncreasingly wary of her father’s genetic research, Rachel Kramer has determined that this trip with him to Germany–in the summer of 1939–will be her last. But a cryptic letter from her estranged friend, begging Rachel for help, changes everything. Married to SS officer Gerhardt Schlick, Kristine sees the dark tides turning and fears her husband views their daughter, Amelie, deaf since birth, as a blight on his Aryan bloodline.Once courted by Schlick, Rachel knows he’s as dangerous as the swastikas that hang like ebony spiders from every government building in Berlin. She fears her father’s files may hold answers about Hitler’s plans for others, like Amelie, whom the regime deems “unworthy of life.” She risks searching his classified documents only to uncover shocking secrets about her own history and a family she’s never known.Now hunted by the SS, Rachel turns to Jason Young–a driven, disarming American journalist and unlikely ally–who connects her to the resistance and to controversial theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Forced into hiding, Rachel’s every ideal is challenged as she and Jason walk a knife’s edge, risking their lives–and asking others to do the same–for those they barely know but come to love.

What are you listening to?
I’m loving Timeless Reflections, by Dave Kurtz. Inside the CD 
cover Kurtz writes, “This collection of cherished hymns is played on a piano—one instrument, no vocals—pure, simple, yet full of feeling and at times even complex and full of layers, much like our relationship with the Most Holy God.” This mesmerizing CD has long been my favorite, my absolute “go-to” when I need to stop, drop, and spend time with the Lord.

What are you watching?
I love British series—like “Downton Abbey” and “Endeavor” and “Foyle’s War.” I’m especially enjoying the new season of “Call the Midwives.” The characters are compassionate, real, and I love glimpsing each character’s backstory as their tale unfolds. Seeing themes from current events woven into the tapestry of long ago British life is an idea near and dear to my historical fiction writing heart.

Cathy's Daily Devotional Reading
What are you reading?
My daily devotional reading for this year includes The One Year Bible (NIV), Holy Scriptures Tree of Life Version, Jesus Today by Sarah Young, Hymns for the Living Church, and Notes from the Valley by Andy McQuitty. I love combining devotionals and a nonfiction book with daily Bible reading and hymn singing.

This second photo does not reveal the stack of tantalizing fiction lined up on my Kindle, but you can see that I’m focused on research in England for my work in progress—books to do with WWII child evacuees, the Blitz, the influence of C. S. Lewis, Beatrix Potter’s magical gardens, the flora and fauna of Britain and the beauty of the magnificent Lake District. You may also see some of my granddaughter’s books—which creep into every stack of books and take reading priority on daily demand. : )

Some of Cathy's research books for her work in progress

 

Thank you Cathy, for giving us brief glimpse into your world and a hint of what’s to come next!  For more information about Cathy and her books visit her Website | Facebook