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Any Good Thing: Adult Christian Fiction by Joy Rancatore + Giveaway

Joy Rancatore‘s debut novel dramatically opens with 15-year-old Jack Calhoun’s life permanently altered: a teenage drag race ends in death and disaster. From that point onward, Jack shoulders the guilt of four deaths–compounded later by two other deaths for which he takes responsibility. Set up in five acts (you may have to look up “instauration” like I did), Any Good Thing is a saga that you will enjoy reading. 

REVIEW

In the first chapter the reader meets Jack’s girlfriend, Rachel Burns, her father Ben, and Jack’s mother, Becky; the three people who are his trinity of support as Jack wrestles with demons from his past. 
 
Jack’s father abandoned the family when Jack was young and Ben becomes a father figure to him. Quickly after the accidents, Jack descends into alcoholism; Ben helps him to get into a rehab. There, Jack confesses his motivation to get over his addiction: “I want to be better for my mom and the people who’ve stuck by me…despite all I’ve done.” (p. 43)
 
Although this refrain is repeated throughout the book, Jack’s fatal flaw/sinful thought pattern is that he believes the only way he can help the people he loves is to remove his poisonous influence from their lives. “No more would he sit by and watch people he loved get hurt by whatever curse had claimed him as its host. The final tendrils of the sun’s red hair slunk before him as he headed west.” (p. 90)
With this faulty conclusion guiding him, he joins the Marines and vows to make something of his life and become a source of pride to his mother. 
 
Jack’s internal conversation shows that he sees himself as a failure, but at the same time the author portrays him as a successful carpenter and outstanding Marine who is consistently promoted. Even when he feels responsible for his best friend, Tray’s, death in Iraq, Tray’s mother forgives him, but he doesn’t forgive himself. 
 
Jack feels hopeless when he returns home after taking a bullet in his right arm. His days as a Marine Scout Sniper are over and he refuses to get help. He enters into a bleak, near-suicidal time of roaming through North Carolina. His only help for the reoccurring PTSD anxiety is a stray, shaggy hound, Scout, who provides the companionship which Jack desperately needs.  
Early in the book Jack is disillusioned by the hypocrisy in his hometown church; later Ben also leaves the church for a similar reason. The novel is also full of characters who speak about Jack’s need to receive God’s grace and peace. Jack’s “that’s-good-for-you-but-can-never-apply-to-me-attitude” prevails for most of the book. Although I appreciated the author weaving a Christian theme into the story, sin and salvation is less central than coming to God to receive peace.  The centrality of Christ as Savior could have been made stronger.
The author does not shy away from hard topics like alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, straying from the faith, and PTSD.  One of the most touching parts of the book was how Rachel demonstrates an amazing understanding of what Jack has experienced in Iraq and demonstrates unconditional, unselfish love towards him. 
 
For me, the most powerful part of this book came in the last one hundred pages. An unexpected encounter with his father helps Jack begin his journey home, eventually leading to his emotional and spiritual healing. Jack’s self-absorption (which is the lie behind “I’m too bad for even God to love me”) is shown in the last few pages. Although Jack’s coming to faith was somewhat predictable, it provides a satisfactory resolution to Christian readers.  

GIVEAWAY

If you love adult fiction that includes drama, reconciliation, and romance, then this book is one you will enjoy. Please leave a comment with your name and email address by 8 PM on January 15 for a chance to win an autographed copy. 

Note: Portions of this review first appeared on Carol Baldwin’s blog

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Navigating Your Writing Goals by Guest Blogger, Penny Reeve

Have you ever stood at the edge of a road, holding the hand of a small child, getting ready to cross the road safely? You glance up the street. You look back down the other way. You take notice of the cars and the traffic lights and when all is clear and safe and your small person is ready, you head towards your destination.

Goal setting for writers can be a bit like that. You generally know the direction you are headed; you need this or that manuscript to be researched/written/edited/revised/submitted and so forth. But pinpointing the goals into language and tasks that make them manageable and successful can be a little tricky. Sometimes the oncoming traffic of our to-do list feels overwhelming, or the rejection truck swerves closer than we would like, tipping us off balance. Occasionally we can even find ourselves standing still, lost and unsure of the direction we should be heading and why.

Because of this, it can be helpful to slow down and carefully navigate our way forwards in regards to our writing goals. Here are four directions we need to look in order to prioritise our writing goals for 2020:

  • Look Back

Looking back is remembering our writing dreams and reflecting on the progress we’re made so far. We can celebrate our writing achievements and be kind with our disappointments. Even a rejection can indicate progress if it means we’re putting in the hard work and growing as writers! Looking back allows us to deliberately build on last year’s progress and provides powerful motivation for our new year’s writing goals.

  • Look Ahead

Looking ahead as a writer means thinking strategically about what we’d like, or need, to achieve in the New Year (and beyond). It means realistically considering what might be achievable (for example: write a children’s devotional, or complete my middle grade novel), but it can also mean allowing yourself to dream. This is especially important if you’ve had a tough year writing wise.
Looking ahead allows us to create goals that move our writing forwards.

  • Look Down

Looking down means checking what’s already on our writing desks. Literally, this may mean doing a clean-up. Clear your physical and mental space for new projects. Sort the paperwork, tidy your desk, flick through your ideas notebook and choose the fun ones you’d like to work on this year. Looking down also means checking the status of your works-in-progress. It ensures us there’s nothing in our way to trip us up as we step out to achieve our writing goals.

  • Look Up

Looking up means reminding ourselves of God’s perspective. It’s so easy to get swept away in the try harder mentality, or to be discouraged because our writing dreams haven’t turned out as we might have liked. But when we remember Christ and the extent of his humility and love (Philippians 2: 5-11) it reminds us that our writing is but a small thing in the scope of God’s glory. Our task is obedience. Walking humbly in step with the Spirit of God, we write as an expression of worship.

 

So as you step onto the curb of the New Year, don’t forget to look ahead, look back, look down and look up as you journey through goal setting for your writing in 2020.

 

Which direction do you find easiest to consider when setting new goals? Which one makes the most impact in your planning? Leave a comment below.

 

Invitation: If you’d like to spend some more time reflecting on your writing priorities and goals for the New Year, why not join the Summer Writer’s Refresh Facebook Group? It’s a January 2020 challenge for writers of any stage and genre, to celebrate, reassess and reflect on their writing. Join here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/summerwritersrefresh/

Penny Reeve is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for children and older readers. She lives in Sydney, Australia and writes picture books, junior fiction, children’s Bible Studies and young adult fiction (she also writes as Penny Jaye). Penny is also a writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping children’s book writers. For more information visit www.pennyreeve.com or follow her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pennyreevethepennydrops/

 

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Tips for Productive Writing by Helena George

Ultimately, to have a productive writing session, you need to have self-control. I can give you all the best tips in the world, but unless you have zero self-control, it won’t help.

Here’s my tip: open your document and write. And don’t stop.

Need something more specific?

Social Media? Turn it Off!

Yes, this is the most obvious. Don’t check social media until you’ve finished your writing time! Turn your phone off if you have to. Do whatever it takes to not get distracted. I have the willpower to not check Instagram before I write, but if I somehow end up on there (maybe to message someone, maybe to look for something I saved for reference), it’s harder for me to turn it off and get back to writing.

 

Treat Writing Like it’s Your Job

 

And no goofing off when you’re on the clock. It’s your writing time, so sit down, and write. It’s a production environment, folks. Time is ticking, and words have gotta fill the page. Sometimes I’ll get a timer going, say for 10-20 minutes, and write without stopping until the timer goes off. Other times I’ll use the stopwatch function and let it run while I’m writing to mimic being punched in at work. I’ve even logged in my hours in a notebook.

List Things to Lookup Later

 

Need to google what kind of fish live in the Atlantic Ocean? Jot it down and keep writing. Wondering what plants are used to dye fabric? Look it up later. Right now, you’re writing. Once I’ve completed the draft (or round of edits), I’ll pull up that list (physical paper, or via word document) and spend a writing session looking up all those things. Then I can go in and make corrections as needed. And because I have a list of things to do, it’s easier for me to not get sidetracked while exploring all that info on the internet.

(If it’s a plot-altering thing, by all means, stop and look it up, but make sure you don’t end up on YouTube 15 minutes later, watching funny cat videos.)

Set Session Goals

Maybe write for 30 minutes? Maybe finish the chapter? Maybe tackle that descriptive paragraph? Having a goal in the back of your mind can help you get right on track the minute you open that draft.

Write and Don’t Look Back

Whatever you do, don’t get stuck in the destructive editing circle. When I first started writing, I got to a point where I was writing and re-writing the first couple chapters for a number of books. The instant I felt like something wasn’t right, I was back at the beginning, tweaking those first couple paragraphs…and I never got deeper into the middle of the story.

And can I tell you a secret? When you finally get past that beginning and into the middle of the book, things will need to change again. You’ll have learned more about the characters, about the story world. But don’t got back to change the beginning. Because by the time you get to the end, you’ll need to change things again, because know you know the ending.

So if you’re unhappy with the beginning, or a certain scene, or can’t figure out a character…just keep writing. By the time you struggle through to the end, you’ll have a better picture—the full picture—of the story and how things need to be started, hinted at, and carried through.

Just keep writing, y’all. Push on. Get the book finished. It’ll be worth it when you’re done.

Helena George has participated in NaNoWriMo 5 times, winning each one (and even writing a 100K+ draft in Nov. 2018). She encourages writers to also do the twice-yearly Camp NaNo, because setting your own personal goals is less stressful and more fun. So far, her multiple YA fantasy stories remain unpublished, but hey – hard work will pay off eventually, right? Follow her on Instagram @julian.daventry or check out her blog.

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Writing to Ignite by Darcy Hendrick

When you write Christian literature for children ignition is the goal. Writing literature that will ignite a child’s imagination, a zeal for learning, a love of reading, and a reverence for God is the mission. More than that, it’s a ministry. And engaging, well written literature that reveals the presence and purpose of God is a powerful tool toward that end.

And that ignition is the reason for Write2Ignite. We are a non-profit organization that seeks to enable that mission through  a website that offers resources, blogs that supply the writer with tips and encouragement, contests, and a two day conference with a full schedule of keynote speakers, workshops, the opportunity to meet with editors or agents, and to surround yourself with a community of like minded writers. Writers who share a passion for God and children, and good literature that draws the two together.

Write2Ignite specializes in Christian literature for children because that is our passion. Children who develop a love for reading at a young age are life long readers. De That is a high calling for those called by God to write for children.

And if ignition is the goal, what sparks the flame?

The simple truth is, it’s not that simple.

I have four sons. My oldest took to reading without coaxing. He simply loved to learn so a book in the hand was opened and devoured.

My second son showed no interest in reading but he loved his action figures. Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles in particular. So when I saw a TMNT early reader book I scooped it up in the hopes that the subject matter would entice him to open the book. It did! As a matter of fact those TMNT early readers made him realize not only that he could read, but he liked to.

My third son seemed to prefer a narrative told rather than read. That became obvious when, in his teens, he gravitated to youth theater where, to my surprise, he memorized scripts and eventually developed an interest in Shakespeare.

My youngest son devoured the Beanie Baby resource guide and could recite it with encyclopedic precision.

The path to an appreciation of the written word was as unique as my sons.

So what’s a writer to do?

Just as my sons read what they were passionate about, the writer should write their passion. Your interest in the subject matter, whether it’s science or sci-fi, mystery, comedy, or a Beanie Baby resource guide, will come through. And children who share that passion won’t have to be coaxed into reading, they’ll volunteer.

We write to an audience of one – our reader.

But as Christian writers we write for an audience of one – God. Our first passion should be our love for God and if we write what we’re passionate about, and we are passionate about our relationship with God, we will write literature that reveals the presence and purpose of God.

And we can trust God to put each unique piece of literature in the hands of the child who can be uniquely drawn to Him through it.

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Book Review of THE HEART CHANGER by Guest Blogger, Kathryn Dover

I enjoyed reading The Heart Changer by Jarm Del Boccio. Before I even started reading the story, I noticed on the copyright page the use of King James Version text as the basis for the story. This is rare and instantly caught my attention. This biblical basis is crucial because The Heart Changer is based on the account of Naaman given in 2 Kings 5.

In the passage, Naaman is instructed to wash in the river Jordon seven times by the prophet Elijah. He refuses to do so until his wife’s maid persuades him. This maid, named Miriam by the author, is the protagonist of The Heart Changer. The beginning of the story is somewhat gripping. The end is satisfactory but slightly abrupt: I was not expecting the story to end. Overall, the story flows very well with short chapters that keep readers interested, but it is not too difficult to put down if one has chores or homework to do. It is the perfect balance for students in school, both younger grades and teenagers. The mature language is also age-appropriate and can be enjoyed by a variety of ages.

While the plot contains some action, such as Miriam’s village being attacked at the beginning of the book, the main development is internal. All the characters, especially Miriam, exhibit visible growth throughout the story. Just like in life, the changes don’t happen instantly but occur gradually as the result of several events. The story is more realistic because Miriam’s growth happens slowly, and the ending leaves room for continued growth. Even after all she has been through, Miriam is still struggling with her “stubbornness” at the end of the story. Hence, readers can identify with her.

The title is an accurate description of Miriam’s growth and the theme of the story. She goes from have a “stubborn,” “anxious,” and “bitter” heart to one that is forgiving and set on Jesus. My favorite scene in The Heart Changer is where Miriam and Rana, the servant Miriam is replacing, are at first bitter enemies and become best friends simply after an encounter about Miriam’s faith. It shows that even the slightest contact with a Christian influence like Miriam can have a great influence on an unbeliever.

In addition, the setting is historically accurate. The details in the story show that the author researched her setting and time period. Minor details, such as pig being unclean meat, and references to real Bible characters and stories, such as Joseph, add depth and realism.

I enjoy reading books that take a seemingly insignificant character who plays a critical role in the plot and tells a story from her point of view. The Heart Changer stays within biblical parameters in a passage that allows for great poetic license. I hope for a series of behind-the-scenes Bible characters!

This book would make a great gift for the middle school or teen reader in your life! _________________________________________________________________

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

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Give the Gift of Writing

Do you know a teen or tween who dreams of writing a book? Or, perhaps your spouse or best friend is a budding poet. Either way, Write2Ignite has the perfect gift opportunity!

Starting in January, team members Brenda Covert and Carol Baldwin will be giving writing workshops at area Hobby Lobby stores.

The cost for each two-hour workshop is $25.00. But, if you purchase a workshop by December 31, it is only $20.00.

From the Heart: The Gift of Poetry 

Date and Time: January 25, 1:30- 3:30

Location:  Hobby Lobby, 7816 Charlotte Hwy, Indian Land, SC 29707

Supplies: Notebook and pen, laptop, tablet, or whatever you’re most comfortable writing on.  Or, use a journal from Hobby Lobby and a special set of colored pens.

Description: This poetry writing workshop is for teens and adults who want to craft the perfect poem for Valentine’s Day. Brenda Covert, author of a teen poetry curriculum, will help you find your poetic voice so that you have a poem suitable for framing and gift-giving. A gift from your heart is the best gift of all!

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Date and Time: February 1,  3:30-5:30

Location: Hobby Lobby, 6007 Wade Hampton Blvd, Taylors, SC 29687

Supplies: Notebook and pen, laptop, tablet, or whatever you’re most comfortable writing on.  Or, use a journal from Hobby Lobby and a special set of colored pens.

Description: This poetry writing workshop is for teens and adults who want to craft the perfect poem for Valentine’s Day. Brenda Covert, author of a teen poetry curriculum, will help you find your poetic voice so that you have a poem suitable for framing and gift-giving. A gift from your heart is the best gift of all!

Cracking the Core of Fiction Writing: Character and Conflict for Teens and Tweens

Date and Time: January 11, 1:00 PM-3:00 PM

Location: Hobby Lobby, 1511 Woodruff Rd, Greenville, SC 29607

Supplies: Notebook and a pen. Or, use a journal from Hobby Lobby and a special set of colored pens!

Description: If you’re between the ages of 11-17 and love creating stories, then this is the workshop for you. Join North Carolina author, Carol Baldwin, for a fun and informative workshop that will help you create memorable characters with conflict—the driving force of a riveting story. Whether you’re writing fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or a contemporary story, the principles you’ll acquire will move you forward on your writing journey.

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Date and Time: January 18, 1:00 PM-3:00 PM

Location: Hobby Lobby, 7816 Charlotte Hwy, Indian Land, SC 29707

Supplies: Notebook and a pen. Or, use a journal from Hobby Lobby and a special set of colored pens!

Description: If you’re between the ages of 11-17 and love creating stories, then this is the workshop for you. Join North Carolina author, Carol Baldwin, for a fun and informative workshop that will help you create memorable characters with conflict—the driving force of a riveting story. Whether you’re writing fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or a contemporary story, the principles you’ll acquire will move you forward on your writing journey.

TO PURCHASE A WORKSHOP AND REGISTER

Email Cathy Biggerstaff at Write2ignite.Cathy@gmail.com.  Let her know which workshop you are purchasing and who will be attending. She will then send you a PayPal invoice. DEADLINE for the discount is 12/31/19 but participants can also pay when they come. Checks should be made out to Write2Ignite. Questions? Contact Carol Baldwin or Brenda Covert.

Coming in March: Self-Publishing with Sandra Warren and Gretchen Griffith in Hickory, NC.

Date to be announced.