Friday, April 29, 2016

From Cozy Mystery to Historical Suspense back to Cozy

Elizabeth Ludwig is the bestselling author of Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine and the highly successful Edge of Freedom series from Bethany House Publishers. Her popular literary blog, The Borrowed Book, enjoys a wide readership. Elizabeth is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit her on her website, Facebook, Twitter, on her blog The Borrowed Book, and her Amazon Author page to find out about all her books.

Where Hope Dwells is the second in the Sugarcreek Amish Mystery series.  This is a new genre for your writing career. Tell us what drew your interest to the Amish community? Why did you choose a cozy mystery as a vehicle to explore the Amish community of Sugarcreek?
Many years ago, I plotted out a series of Amish romances that unfortunately never panned out. Still, the seed for those books remained in my head. So, when I heard that Guideposts was doing an Amish series, and that Susan Downs was the acquisitions editor, I jumped at the chance. Susan and I have worked together before. In fact, she bought my very first book waaaay back in 2006. LOL! It was a cozy mystery, so I have, in fact, come full circle in my career. J

The Swiss Miss is loosely based on a real café in Sugarcreek, the Honey Bee Café. Have you met the proprietor? Have you done “feet-on-the ground” research in this Amish community?
No, I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit Sugarcreek…yet. I’m hoping to get there next spring. But I have enjoyed getting to know the proprietor, Kathy (Snyder) Kimble, through social media. Also, I have an amazing editorial team who are very familiar with Ohio and who help me out a great deal. Lastly, I can’t forget to give a shout out to my son-in-law, a former Ohioan and #1 Buckeye fan, Derrick Cole. These great people all help keep me in line when it comes to my Ohio facts.

Justice and forgiveness seem to be mutually exclusive in most people’s heart. Cheryl Cooper, one of the main characters, wrestles with this concept throughout most of the novel. Tell readers what you learned as you examined the concept of forgiveness from the Amish perspective?
I was so excited to write the character Cheryl Cooper, mainly because I was able to write from the perspective of an outsider looking “in” to the Amish community. I could give Cheryl all sorts of preconceived ideas about what it means to be Amish—some which were correct, and some which were way off base. Not only was this true of my own situation, I knew it would be true for many of my readers.

When it came to forgiveness, I really wanted Cheryl to have some ingrained ideas in her head. I wanted her to realize that true forgiveness is a struggle for everyone, no matter their religious affiliation. Plus, I wanted her to see only one perspective is clear when it comes to forgiveness…God’s! We all need to pardon as He pardons—completely and without reservation. I showed this by giving Cheryl examples from both the English community and the Amish and letting her compare the two to find the truth.

Religious beliefs can often become a divisive area for many families. The Amish faith exercises the practice of shunning, and yet it is an English family who rejects a daughter’s choice to become Amish that becomes a focal point in this novel. Tell us how this idea was born in your mind?
Oh, I’m so glad you asked! I loved, loved, loved writing this little twist into Where Hope Dwells. So many Amish books deal with shunning—either a character who has been shunned, or is facing shunning, or loves someone who has been shunned—that I think we’ve given people the wrong idea about what the practice is and what it is meant to accomplish. 

Through Cheryl, I tried to correct this thinking and demonstrate that shunning is always instituted with the hope of winning a disobedient member back. Plus, I wanted readers to see that while we Englishers don’t commonly refer to our actions in the same way, we very often refuse to speak to people who have wronged us, or refuse to extend forgiveness to someone we believe has sinned. It truly was an eye-opener to me to view my actions and unforgiveness in this way. I hope it is to others as well.

There are many moments where you allow the reader an inside view to the character’s internal struggle with their faith. Why was this important to include in the development of the story? What do you hope readers gain from experiencing this through the eyes of the characters in the story?
All of my books have a faith message woven in, but with these books, I really felt like I could be transparent. Through Cheryl and her many insecurities, I could write about my own struggles with faith, family, and doubt. I could give Cheryl the same fears, the same hurts, that I have experienced, and I could demonstrate the same wonderful goodness of God in getting through them. I guess it’s because Amish books have an inherent religious nature about them that I felt I could be more overt in my message. It was such a timely project for me and where I am in my faith. I hope that resonates with readers.

What is one thing you have learned about the Amish faith that has made the greatest impact on your heart?  Why was it so impactful? 
There’s a paragraph in Where Hope Dwells that made me stop and ponder the moment I wrote it:

Concern marred Naomi’s face as she rose to pace, her rubber-soled shoes making
soft swishing sounds against the carpet. “No, I agree…something is not right.” She paused and pressed her hand to her chest. “Poor Jeremiah and Rebecca. They are both such quiet people, and they waited and prayed for that baby for so long. I can only imagine the strain their loss has placed on their marriage.”
Her words startled Cheryl. She realized the past few weeks had to have been difficult for the couple, but enough to jeopardize their marriage? Weren’t the Amish immune to that?
Naomi braced both hands on her hips. “What is this? You think because they are Amish, they are above strife?”

I grew up in Michigan next to a small Mennonite community. We also had some neighbors who were German Baptist. I hate to admit that before I got to know them, I was very intimidated by their plain life. I thought they were “super religious.” I thought they would be judgmental of me and my puny faith. I thought they were above doubt, above fear or struggle…pretty much just…above. 

I was wrong. What my German Baptist neighbors taught me was humble servant-hood. They taught me acceptance and friendship. Most of all, they taught me that no one is above his brother. I suppose that’s why I wanted to write about an Amish community with real struggles and real hurts. I wanted others to know what I learned long ago—that we are all God’s children who love Him and who have given our hearts and lives to Jesus.

Historical fiction is a genre where you have garnered awards – are there other historical novels brewing in your writer’s mind?  Can you share a sneak peek into a future story?
Ah…the mind of a writer!! I have a strange, dark, quirky sort of historical suspense brewing in my brain that I hope to finish sometime next year. It involves a woman and two men who become embroiled in the Spiritualist Movement that swept America in the late 1800’s. And since I can’t resist spilling more…here is a small series blurb:

Eryn Blackwood has always been fascinated by the spiritualist movement sweeping across America. Mysterious tales of mediums and séances abound, even in the elevated circles to which she and her best friend, Catherine, belong. But when Catherine falls prey to illness, and a stranger appears claiming to have access to the afterlife, Eryn is driven to uncover the truth behind the spiritualist’s claims. Casting her life of prestige and privilege aside, she delves deeper into the dark realm of “rappers” and “seers”. She quickly discovers, however, that it’s people with sinister intent who pose the greatest threat. Even with two vastly different men watching over her—both who love Eryn fiercely—the danger may be closer than they thought, and greater than any of them ever imagined.

When will readers get to visit Sugarcreek again? Will you be adding another Amish story to your writing history?
I’ve written 2 books for the Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries series so far, including Where Hope Dwells and A Stitch in Time. I’m also currently working on a third book tentatively titled At Home in Sugarcreek and have my fingers crossed that there might possibly be a fourth! It’s been such a fun series and such a nice departure for me creatively. 

What is your favorite part of the writing process for you personally Why is it your favorite?
Writing is hard. Like…really, really hard. Sometimes I despair of ever penning another word worthy of being put in print. And then I read a heartfelt review, or I get an email from an appreciative reader, and I remember that all the work, the fear, the doubt, all the hours of struggle and toil and angst…those were the tools God used to make me rely on Him.

I think that’s what I enjoy most about the writing process—learning to trust God and then putting all of those lessons into words that hopefully will mean something to someone else.

How has God encouraged you as you wrote Where Hope Dwells? How will you use this to encourage others?
This is a continuity series from Guideposts, which means it is several books written by several authors. This book…this whole series…came to me at a time in my life when I was really struggling to define myself as a writer. I’d been hurt by circumstances, I was floundering over changes in the publishing industry, I even questioned whether I had another book in me.

Then along came this wonderful character named Cheryl Cooper, who was battling many of the same insecurities and facing many of the same challenges. Not only did I get to write her, I grew to love her! Cheryl, with her funny, strange little quirks, became someone I could relate to, and someone I wanted others to relate to as well. Her spunk and wit encouraged me to keep writing, and trying, and believing in God’s plan for me.

I’m so humbled and blessed by the success of this series and by the wonderful authors and woman I get to work with. Nothing I did caused it. In fact, were it not for the persistence of my amazing agent (waving to Chip MacGregor), I might have let the opportunity pass me by, and I never would have had the courage to venture into something so different. I guess that’s what I would tell others who find themselves struggling to find the Lord’s plan in the midst of their circumstances: Trust God. He still has a plan for you, and it’s better than the one you have for yourself.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Cynthia Ruchti ~ Having Fun

Cynthia Ruchti does what all published authors do: she writes, markets, writes, plans and yes, writes all at the same time. I love hearing about her new Work in Progress, since I already finished Song of Silence. That's a book you have GOT to read!! Here's what Cynthia said about her next book:

I’m having such fun working on the Christmas novella—Restoring Christmas—that releases in October from Worthy Publishing. One day recently, this was what I had up on my computer screen—little snippets that inspired the story.

Algoma, WI, is the setting. It’s on the far eastern edge of Wisconsin, up at the base of the “thumb” of Wisconsin’s mitten, just northeast of Green Bay, the foyer for Door County and home of…my brother and sister-in-law and family! I love visiting their town. The Crescent Bay beach and boardwalk are memorable and romantic no matter what the season. I’ve had many cups of coconut oolong tea at the Caffe Tlazo in downtown Algoma, which happens to be the local hangout for Gabe and Alexis, the main characters in Restoring Christmas. Gabe—a local videographer—and Alexis—a designer with dreams of having her own show on a home decorating channel plot and plan over the delicious meals, teas, and coffees at Caffe Tlazo.

The fieldstone farmhouse Alexis is renovating for her audition video for the channel’s Restoring Christmas special looks a lot like the one pictured here. Alexis has designs to use an enormous copper metal tree in the renovation, a massive version of this simple copper cookie cutter, and multi-dimensional. That may or may not make the final cut.

The rusty harp sculpture in the photo reminds me of a significant moment in the story when Gabe and Alexis visit The Flying Pig shop and gardens on a day of the last farmer’s market of the season before the snow flies.

Just finished the final edits. Can’t wait until you read this story about what a Restoring Christmas really looks like!

And I can't wait to read it, Cynthia!

Lucy and Charlie Tuttle agree on one thing: they’re committed to each other for life. Trouble is, neither of them expected life to look like this. While Charlie retired early, Lucy is devoted to a long-term career . . . until the day she has no choice. 

Forced to retire from her position as music educator in a small Midwestern K-8 school, Lucy can only watch helplessly as the program her father started years ago disintegrates before her eyes. As the music fades and a chasm separates her from the passion of her heart, Lucy wonders if her faith’s song has gone silent, too. The musical score of her life seems to be missing all the notes.

When a simple misstep threatens to silence Lucy forever, a young boy and his soundless mother change the way she sees—and hears—everything.


Monday, April 25, 2016

You Say What???

Whilst I am on necessitated deadline, let this entertain thou. 

Aren't you glad we live in the 21st Century? 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Life's Heroes

Some people stand out in life as the quiet heroes. Diana Dilcher is one of those. I "met" Diana online in my writers association, ACFW. She's older hand has several health problems. However, she never let those stop her pursuit of learning all she could to become a better writer.

On our writers email loop and privately, Diana and I exchanged a lot of emails. I sent her articles I had about writing. She asked lots of questions, always learning. Then one day, she didn't renew her membership. Between computer problems and disliking email, I didn't hear from her anymore. 

Then one day, her name popped up in the ACFW new members. I was tickled pink to see her back. Last week, another writer told us Diana is graduated from college today, April 23, 2016.

What makes that so noteworthy? Diana is 74 and not in the best of health. But she persevered through ill health and math. 

Diana is my hero. She never gave up on her dream.

On January 1, 2016, she published a book. A retelling of the Christmas story. I bought a copy. I hope you will, too.

Joan Cameron learns that she has inherited her parent's bed and breakfast inn. She and her husband, Philip soon face challenges as income and savings are eaten up by expenses. A torrential rainstorm forces cancellations, three days before Christmas, Joan and Philip face the possibility of closing the inn and loosing the dream of passing on a family tradition to their children.

Will the arrival of an interstate bus, and a young woman and a baby teach the Camerons the real meaning of Christmas. 


Friday, April 22, 2016

10 Tips for Attending a Writer's Conference

On my writers' loop today, someone said this was their first time to go to the ACFW conference and they asked for advice. As a conference veteran (I've been to more than a dozen) I offer the following:

1. Don't be terrified. I promise you'll love it. Look for names you recognize! ACFW gives you Zone stickers to add to your name tag to help recognize other zone members.

2. If you can, go a day early and volunteer to help stuff packets or something. That gives you a few friends right from the start.

3. Don't push yourself. If you start to feel overloaded, skip a class or a general session and do something else or take a nap. You can always get the MP3 of that class later.

4. Make use of the prayer room.

5. IF you plan to pitch to an agent or editor, practice at home and with friends. Covenant with a couple of pals who will call you at random unplanned hours and ask, "Tell me about your book." DO that until you stop swallowing your tongue or stuttering. :)

6. Remember, agents and editors are people, too. They are there to find the next great book. It might be yours! So use lunch and dinner to pitch at the tables, but don't monopolize the conversation. Again, practice until you can deliver your pitch in 30 seconds. Then close your mouth. If you babble on for a long time and don't give anyone else a chance, the editor/agent will think you do that in your writing, too. :) A good byword is: Less is more.

7. Networking is as big a part of conference as the classes and pitch sessions. That's how I met my critique partner, Gina Holmes. We met at the Blueridge Mountains conference and have been crit partners ever since. That was back in 2004.

8. Last but not least ... never ... I repeat ... never follow an agent or editor into the restroom to pitch! Elevators are okay, after all they can't escape if they've already pushed their floor button. ;) But the restrooms are off limits. And don't think it never happened. Just ask Chip MacGregor.

9. Most of all, don't set wild expectations. You will NOT be handed a contract at breakfast. Well, there is an exception to that, if you have a manuscript under consideration at Barbour. They always award 1 or 2 contracts the first general session of the conference.

10. For first timers (especially if you're a fairly new writer) simply sit back and enjoy being among people who actually "get you."

See y'all there!

10 Tips for Attending A #Writers Conference #ACFW2016 (Click to tweet)