Friday, November 17, 2017

My Call Story by Merrillee Whren

I started writing stories just for fun when I was in high school, and I shared them with my friends. But it was many years before I decided to write something with publication in mind. I wrote for many years before I sold. Winning the Romance Writers of American Golden Heart Award in 2003 was something that gave me a lot of encouragement and kept me writing, but my targeted publishing house had already rejected my winning manuscript. So I was a little down after all the hoopla of the conference and the excitement of winning had worn off. However, I had two other completed manuscripts. One of them I had entered in some local chapter contests.

A couple of months after the Golden Heart win, I received word that my story, Second Chances, had won the Dixie First Chapter Contest and the full was requested by the judging editor. I gave that baby a once over and sent it off to Steeple Hill. Then I got busy and polished that other manuscript while I was waiting to hear. In the meantime that manuscript won a contest judged by the senior editor at Steeple Hill. She requested that I send the full to the editor that had my other manuscript. Talk about everything falling into place. I sent that manuscript off after sending the editors a letter to make sure they wanted to have both manuscripts there at the same time. A few weeks later, I called the editor to find out what was happening with the first manuscript, but I always got her voice mail. When she returned the call, I was always out. She talked to my husband and indicated that she was sending the manuscript to the senior editor.

So here's how it all happened. Friday morning February 20, 2004, I went to get my haircut. When I got back home and walked in the door, I saw the light blinking on the answering machine. I punched the button to play the message. "This is Diane Dietz from Steeple Hill. Please call me." My heart was racing, and I was thinking this has got to be THE CALL. (I missed it!!!) At least this time my husband was busy on his business phone and didn't have the chance to answer. But then I thought maybe she wasn’t calling to buy my book, but I thought surely she wouldn't call unless she's going to buy the book. (Was I a little neurotic or what?)

My husband was still on the phone, so I couldn’t even scream or talk to him. Instead, I got teary eyed and waited around until he got off the phone. I told him Diane Dietz called. I think she called to say she wants to buy my book. He said to call her. I said I was afraid. What if she wasn’t calling to buy the book? He just shook his head. I said that I would call when I got myself together. So I took a few minutes to calm myself down. Then I punched in the number, hands shaking. She answered and asked me if I was sitting down. I was. She said, "I'd like to offer you a contract on Second Chances." At least I think that's what she said. I had to be very calm because my husband was still on his business line just up the stairs. I told her that was fabulous. I think she was a little disappointed that I was so calm. I told her I'd taken plenty of time to calm down after I listened to her message. Anyway, she went into details about money, time lines of revisions, option book, publication, etc. And she explained some of the revisions they wanted.

After I hang up and my husband wasn’t on the phone, I screamed, "THEY WANT TO BUY MY BOOK. I GET TO GO TO THE HARLEQUIN PARTY."

Here is the cover of the first book I sold to Love Inspired, which was Steeple Hill at that time. As you can see they changed the title from Second Chances to The Heart's Homecoming.

I've written thirteen other books for Love Inspired, and now I am publishing books on my own. Here are the books in my new series, FRONT PORCH PROMISES

I will be giving away a copy of A PLACE TO CALL HOME, the first book in my Front Porch Promises series to one person who leaves a comment. I will draw the winning name on November 19, 2017 at 9PM MST.

Merrillee Whren is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award presented by Romance Writers of American. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of forty-plus years, and has two grown daughters. Connect with her on her Facebook page and sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

My First Love Inspired Sale & An Unexpected Answer

Answers come in unusual ways sometimes. Several Christmases ago I travelled all by myself to three different African countries to visit some amazing non-profit workers and see some of the innovative and life changing work they were doing. When I got back home, I wrote down stories about some of the people I’d met and the experiences I’d had. These stories grew into a very long and beautiful story, that rambled on and on for hundreds of pages. I knew I loved it and had poured my heart into it. I also knew it was unfocused, too long and wasn’t publishable.

I mailed it to my editor Emily Rodmell and a few weeks later I got “the call” telling me that Love Inspired Suspense was going to publish it.

Years later I started reading Love Inspired Suspense books and wanted to write my own. But I didn’t have a story. I prayed and searched my memory for anything I could turn into a book. Suddenly the people I’d met in Africa and their stories came flooding back to me. I pulled the old stories out and rewrote them entirely into a fun and tense book called Killer Assignment, about a plucky reporter named Kate who was being pursued by ruthless criminals and a daring charity worker named Mark who was hiding a huge secret about his past.

I’d been walking through the park when the call came in. I’d been both praying and crying while I walked, because what I was going through was so hard it felt insurmountable. And that was the moment my prayers were answered with the unbelievable phone call that changed my life.

My tenth Love Inspired Suspense book, Undercover Holiday Fiancée, is out in stores right now. My heroine, Chloe Brant is a detective who had a small walk on role in that first book. Then Chloe reappeared three years later in Headline: Murder where she teamed up with roguishly handsome and determined undercover detective Trent Henry. Even back then I could tell they had a complicated relationship, but I had no idea just how complicated their relationship would become.

Now Chloe is back, working alongside Trent and posing as his loving fiancée, even though she promised herself she’d never work with him again because of the confusing and infuriating things he does to her heart. It’s one of my favorite books and I hope you like it too.

What was the most unexpected answer to prayer you’ve ever received?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Christmas Wreath

Christine Johnson here today talking about something many of us do every year—hang a Christmas wreath. Some years ago I made an artificial one that I put on my front door every year.

traditional wreath

Sometimes I’ll trade it out with a wreath I somehow inherited—the memory is sketchy on exactly how—but I’m partial to the pine green and red of a more traditional wreath.

Do you know the tradition behind wreath-making? Their origin is uncertain, perhaps stretching back to Roman times when wreaths symbolized victory. In Christianity, the circle of the wreath represents eternity or life unending. Some believe the Christmas wreath got its start in the advent wreaths of medieval Germany, adorned with four candles and a fifth in the center which is lit on Christmas Eve to represent the coming of the Christ child. Others look to the early 19th century, when evergreen wreaths and crosses were often laid on gravesites and then brought home for Christmas to add to the decorations.

In my upcoming Christmas book (and last with Love Inspired Historical) ,Would-Be Mistletoe Wife, war widow and school teacher, Louise Smythe, goes on a wreath-making campaign to brighten the town in the hope of drawing more business from travelers, especially from Chicago. When the Great Fire of 1871 decimates that city and the area around her small town, the mission of boosting business turns to one of lifting the spirits of those left homeless. Since one of the results of the fire is the closing of the school, she will soon become one of them unless another avenue opens for her. If only the assistant lighthouse keeper, Jesse Hammond, would overlook her age and petite stature and recognize that she is fully capable of becoming a lighthouse keeper’s wife.

Now, it’s your turn. Do you hang a Christmas wreath? Do you hold with tradition and choose an evergreen one, or do you have a favorite artificial wreath?

Christine Johnson
Would-Be Mistletoe Wife (LIH, Dec 2017)

Monday, November 13, 2017

New for November from Our Love Inspired Historical Authors

Jean C. Gordon here with two new must buys from our Love Inspired Historical authors. Just click on a cover to buy one. And to learn more about these talented ladies, click on their names.
A Lawman for Christmas
by Karen Kirst 

Committed to her spinsterhood, Isabel Flores isn't about to trust a man with her hard-won independence or her heart—especially not lawman Ben MacGregor. But when a little boy is abandoned on her property, the so-called "Debonair Deputy" of their small Tennessee town helps her care for the child. And Isabel begins to hope he might be more than just a handsome flirt.

Ben is well aware of Isabel's aversion to love and has his own secret reasons for avoiding relationships. But as he and Isabel do their best to make the holiday special for their young ward, Ben wonders if he could be a family man after all. Will this Christmas be the first of many for Isabel and Ben's little instant family?
Mail-Order Christmas Baby
by Sherri Shackelford

The "package" is addressed to him, but rancher Sterling Blackwell certainly didn't order a baby! More scandalous still, he and the town's pretty teacher are named as parents. With gossip running wild, only a marriage of convenience can protect little Gracie and their reputations until her real family is found.

Heather O'Connor is content to be the spinster schoolmarm of Valentine, Montana…until Gracie's arrival stirs her heart. She can't keep the adorable child without Sterling's help, though she promises not to interfere with his life. But staying aloof from her handsome husband isn't easy with a tiny matchmaker in tow. A mistake brought them together, but love might just make them a family by Christmas…

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Scripture

God Bless Our Military Heroes
Veteran’s Day Weekend 2017
Michael, the Archangel, by Guido Reni, 1636, Santa Maria della Concezione
Church, Rome. [PD-US]
The Whole Armor of God
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:10-18

Please add the names of your military friends and family members in the comments section. Each military hero will prayerfully be remembered in the week ahead.

Friday, November 10, 2017

First Sale

Once upon a time there was an author - you could have called me unpublished or the politically correct term of the time prepublished.  Didn't matter.  I wanted to write, sell, and see my books on a store's shelf - even better know that some stranger in a distant land (like Florida) might actually be relaxing on a chair and reading my book.

I did everything wrong.  My first manuscript was hundreds of pages long, single spaced (I'm telling the truth) and I didn't plot at all - nada.

I realized that I knew nothing (think Schultz) so I joined a creative writing class at a nearby college where I had a topnotch teacher, found a critique group, and as a posse we all went to an RWA conference together.

I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote.
Submitted, submitted, submitted, submitted.
got rejections, rejections, rejections, rejections.

When I finished one book, I started another.

At church one day, someone said to me, "Hey, you're trying to be a writer, right?"


"Well, Darlene Mindrup sold a book."

Huh?  Darlene Mindrup?  I didn't know she was writing.  She hadn't attending any creative writing class I was a part of.  What?  There'd been no mention of a critique group or going to conferences.


I'd been following the plan.  You know what I'm talking about - do everything in order, check off boxes and all.

That's next Sunday I cornered Darlene.  "You sold a book?"

"Yes, to Barbour Publishing, a line called Heartsong."

"Never heard of them."

Darlene told me they were mail-ordered and then gave me a few.  I promptly sent them a book and heard nothing.

For a year.

Then, I went to my first RWA National Conference.  Back then, ACFW didn't exist so all the Christian publishers came to RWA.  I signed up for an appointment with Rebecca Germany, pitched my book, and she said, "Sounds good, send it."

I told her she already had it.  She suggested I send it again.  I did.

Two months later I headed to my apartment mailboxes.  It was early afternoon, probably 4:00.  Back then, I was an elementary school teacher and finished at 3:00.

I found an envelope from Barbour inside the mailbox.  I ripped it open and saw, "If you make these revisions, we'd like to publish your book."

Yup, I was standing alone in front of a row of mailboxes whooping and jumping around like a happy mad woman.

I made the changes - btw, the edits were done by sticky notes put on the pages that needed changing.  That was my first book It Only Takes a Spark.

Cool beans, eh?
My first book ever.
It came out in 1999.
It was my fifth completed manuscript.

My first book with Love Inspired Suspense (this is the Thorndake version)
It came out in 2007.
It was my eighth published manuscript.

My first book with Love Inspired

This is my sixth book with Harlequin Heartwarming
It came out this month!!!!!
Go ahead, read the blurb.
Did Tom Riley arrest the wrong woman? 

For six years, the Sarasota Falls police chief has been hunting the cunning beauty involved in his partner's death. Now here she is, back in his New Mexico town, her face a match to the one on the wanted posters. But the woman Tom Riley knows as Rachel Ramsey insists her name is Heather Graves. 

Is Heather really as innocent as she claims? And what is he supposed to do about their undeniable mutual attraction? As his search for answers uncovers secrets in Heather's past, Tom realizes that Heather is the woman he most wants…

Buy me

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Thankful and then some!

It isn't quite Thanksgiving Day yet but it's always a good time to count blessings. Putting it off is like saving the good china or linen for special occasions and never enjoying its beauty. Not that I have good china or linens! My idea of a fun day is a session of puppy therapy. :) Now that's easier to do if you happen to have a young puppy - and I do. My older dogs are coping. One mostly ignores the pup and the other asks to go outside after he's had enough playing in the house.
The little one is fearless. They try to control her with reprimands and she continues to bedevil them. You'd think she didn't understand but I know she does. She simply thinks they are being ridiculous and that the world belongs to her. Around here, it sort of does.
I named her "Hope" without realizing what my human reprimands would sound like. I should have called her Problem or Trouble. Then, instead of shouting, "No Hope," when she makes a mistake, I could be saying, "No Problem" or "No Trouble." No Hope sounds too prophetic!
Deciding to add another critter to my household took a lot of thought and much research on the internet. I had been hoping to rescue a lap-size dog and did an extensive search with little success. So, I started considering puppies despite the fact that they are more trouble.
I mean, look at that face. How angelic. How cute. And how intelligent and mischievous! I have used a particular, heavy plastic dog food container for 7 dogs. It sits in the kitchen. Has a hinged lid. Much bigger dogs have left it alone unless I opened it. Not Hope. She's already trying to help herself! And at the table? The older, sedate dogs learned long ago that making a fuss will not get you anywhere, so they wait quietly until I am through eating, clearly hoping for table scraps. They have taught each other through the generations and this one is no different. I looked down and there they sat.
It was as if Hope realized immediately what was proper kitchen protocol. I could imagine her asking, "Are you sure this will get us some food?" and Booboo answering, "Just sit there and look cute, kid. Trust me. She'll weaken soon." He was right.
My long time love of dogs and years of experience have given me a strong base on which to build my own stories for Love Inspired Suspense as well as participating in the ongoing K-9 continuities with other authors. My next working K-9 will be in BOUND BY DUTY, the story of a Rottweiler assigned to the US Air Force. It's #2 in the series that begins in April of 2018.
There is no way I can ever make little Hope a working K-9 unless I use her as a therapy dog. Maybe I will. In the meantime, she can give me private chill-out sessions so I can continue to write without getting too tense. Despite the fact that I love to write Christian fiction, it's still hard work. And I wouldn't trade my job for any other.
So, go count your blessings. They are all around us.
Valerie Hansen  

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hill Country or Beach? Jolene Navarro

Jolene Navarro here checking in from the Texas Hill Country.


This last week I was at an Art Educators conference in Galveston Texas. The focus was art, but my writer’s brain is always working.  I’m working on a short series of four sisters. Texas Daddy was out in August. The Texan's Twins will be out December 19th and the third sister, Jackie has a Christmas story that will be out 2018
Small Ranch Towns, Texas Hill Country - Jolene Navarro

The Texas Hill Country - Jolene Navarro

Texas Hill Country - Jolene Navarro

Small town life. Jolene Navarro

All of my Love Inspired books have taken place in the same fictional town, Clear Water, Texas.
Boerne Plaza - Small Town Life in the Texas Hill Country - Jolene Navarro

It’s based on a small town in the Texas Hill Country, Leakey Texas and bits of Boerne, Texas. If you are familiar with the area you might know Garner State park. I also pulled in bits from Boerne, Texas.

Leakey Texas - Garner State Park

Old restored church that inspired Jackie's story.

Country roads taking me home - Jolene Navarro

I love creating a fictional town – I can build and design the way I want it.
I love both of these towns.  My family and my husband’s family are from Leakey. My parents met there. I met my husband there at a homecoming game and later married on the Frio. Boerne and Leakey have always been a part of my life.

I love these sitting and it shapes the people that I write about, but in a conversation with my editor she thought I might want to try a new setting for my next series.
So I’ve been thinking, do I just move down the road and create another town nestled in the Texas Hill Country or do I try something new?

This was on my mind as I spent the week in Galveston.
Along the seawall in Galveston - Jolene Navarro

Galveston, Texas

At one time the major hub of the south, it rivaled New York. Until 1900 when a hurricane wiped it out and killed between 10,000 to 12,000 people. Some say it has never returned to it past glory.
The seawall, the majestic homes and history make it a place of inspiration. Texas has almost 400 miles of shoreline along the coast.
Growing up I have spent most of my summers at Port Aransas or South Parade. I have to admit South Padre is my favorite.
South Padre, Texas

South Padre, Texas

Pirate's Ship at South Padre

Sand Castles at South Padre, Texas

It is at the very bottom of the Texas coast. It’s where the sea turtles like to lay their eggs.
Some of the biggest ranches are in the coastal plains. So what about a family of ranchers trying to make it work. Do they run a dude ranch, a B&B? Maybe recreational fishing along with ranching? A friend of mine owns a pirate ship in South Padre. How cool is that?
So what do you think? Small Hill Country town or a family ranch on the coast? Coastal Cowboys might work. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

God's Amazing World

This world is filled with beautiful and amazing sights. My husband and I recently took a trip to Australia and New Zealand, where we saw some fantastic scenery while we hiked. Here's a photo of us at Kata Tjuta near Uluru or Ayers Rock, Australia. This is central Australia, where the climate is arid, although we had rain in the evening while we were there.

Here I am with a koala bear. Isn't he cute? I also got to feed some kangaroos. One kicked me because I didn't get the food out fast enough. Here she is with her baby in her pouch. The baby's head is right behind her front arm.
 Here are some fantastic waves on the southern shore of Australia along the Ocean Road.

We also saw some beautiful water falls. I'll share just one from near Lorne, Australia.
In New Zealand we saw some incredible mountains and seashores. In so many places the mountains come right down to the water. The Remarkables, near Queenstown, NZ,
are in the background of this photo.

This next photo was taken in Milford Sound, which is really a fjord. We saw fjords in Norway last year, and I can say that they looked very similar. There are seals on the rock. 

We hiked to the edge of a glacier. We were supposed to do a heli-hike, but the weather was too bad for the helicopter to fly to the glaciers. Here is the tip of the glacier. This is as close as we got.

We hiked to the top of Mt. Victoria in Wellington, NZ. This is a photo I took from the top.

This photo is from Abel Tasman National Park on the north end of the south island in NZ.

Here I am hiking through the Redwoods in New Zealand with the umbrella I bought in Boston last year at Christmas when it was raining during our visit.

This is a photo of one of my favorite hikes along the coastline in New Zealand. We walked along a path that hung right on the edge and looked down on the rocks below.

This is only a small fraction of the photos I took. If you're interested in the other photos, I've been posting them on Facebook. You can view them here.

Do you like to take photos and share them when you go on a vacation or holiday, as they say in other parts of the world?

Currently, I have a sweet Christmas novella on sale for 99 cents. You can get a copy here.

I'm giving away a copy of one of my books, Second Chance Reunion, to one person who leaves a comment. I will draw the winning name on November 9 at 9PM MST.

Merrillee Whren is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award presented by Romance Writers of American. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of forty-plus years, and has two grown daughters. Connect with her on her Facebook page and sign up for her newsletter.