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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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5 Messages Teens Desperately Need to Read

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

 

It’s 2020! Never has it been so clear that we are living in a completely different world with a completely different set of rules. Each generation is reared up with other influences, more distractions, and a whole new set of problems.
Since we have accepted the call of God to write for the growing generations, we must now pay attention to their needs. If you’re wondering what to explore with your upcoming projects, these 5 crucial concepts are just some that teens desperately need when they open their next book.

1. Good vs. Evil

This concept isn’t lost on storytelling. Any good versus any evil can be found in just about any book. But I’m getting at the nature of good and evil. More stories need to focus on what causes good and what causes evil. We need to promote the biblical fact that we all have a fleshly, evil nature, even if we’re the protagonist. The fight may look different when we realize that good is caused by God and evil by Satan. But the victory might be just what someone needs to hear for their own life.

2. Hope in Mental Illness

We have an epidemic of mental illnesses on our hands. I read that nearly 1 in 5 people are dealing with some type of mental illness. The coming generation is plagued with depression and anxiety. We must write freely about it in order to spread awareness, but our words need to reveal hope and a means of help. I believe more than enough people will relate better when our stories show that we see, we understand, and we offer comfort in a hopeless mindset.

3. Authentic Love

If you’re like me, you like a good old-fashioned love story. But I’m not talking about writing more love triangles and epic romances. I’m talking about demonstrating through our words, the love Christ has challenged us to show. For example, what does it mean to love an enemy? A bully or an undeserving family member? What does it feel like when people fail at showing that love to us or worse, when we fail at showing it to others? A world of possibilities will follow when we take the time to unpack true love.

4. God’s Intentions

Culture has made it easy for young people to decide what they think of the world and what it should be like. Unfortunately, culture’s agenda hasn’t been kind to God’s ways. With a velvet tongue and a delicate hand on the keyboard, we need to nudge our readers to question the views of society just as they are taught to question the views of faith. We need to give them a glimpse of hope through family, marriage, service, and morality in a way that points them back to God.

5. Independent Faith

In reference to the last idea, it’s good to question your faith. The idea is to not only take for granted what has been given to you, but to also discover for yourself the deep well of truth ready to be explored. If we aren’t encouraging our readers to understand and live out their faith, what are we doing but providing entertainment which they get just about everywhere else in the world?

 

It’s easy to look at these messages and say, “Well, looks like you got yourself a good recipe for a cheesy, Christian read.” Not so.

Just because these themes are necessary for our audience doesn’t mean our stories need to be safe and boring. The youth is confronted with a harsh world every day, so we don’t need to shy away from the harsh truth. Pay attention to these felt needs and your writing will live on in the young hearts of those who read them.

Happy writing!


Leah Jordan Meahl is a Christian author who enjoys journeying alongside you through faith with her blog. Visit her full bio on the Bloggers page.

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Find Your Writing Voice Through Guide Poets

Finding Your Writing Voice
“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.” ― George Bernard Shaw

As writers, we tend to strive for originality. We don’t want our work to be a copy of someone else’s; we want to write words that are unique. But what if I was to tell you that you should imitate other writers? Would you believe me if I said that mimicry can help you write more authentically? The fact is, every one of us has authors who influence the way we write, and by studying those authors, we learn how to grow in the areas we care about most. Guide poets can lead the way as you find your writing voice.

So What is A Guide Poet?

A guide poet, put simply, is a writer whose voice resonates with your own. Think of your guide poet as a kindred spirit. In their works, you’ll find a style that matches the tone of your words or a way of thinking that speaks to you. Their writing will sound like something you would say. This isn’t just an author you like; it’s an author you understand and who you feel understands you, although you’ve never met.

How to Find Your Guide Poets

Choosing guide poets is a bit like choosing friends: it’s a mix of chance and intentionality. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

  1. Start with your nightstand-The collection of books you keep ready at hand are a great indicator of your current interests. Make a stack of the books you always have nearby; the books you list off as your favorites and the ones you reread often. Even though not all of your favorite authors are guide poets, chances are your guide poets will be found among your favorite authors.
  2. Evaluate your collection— Look at each of the books in your stack and consider why you’re drawn to them. Do you like them just because they’re fun to read or you learned from them? Or, do they connect with you on a deeper level? If you find yourself underlining whole passages of a text or thinking “I wish I’d written that,” then you may have found a writing guide.
  3. Pick your guides–Ultimately, who your guide poets are boils down to who you want them to be. If you feel like you connect with a bunch of different writers, focus on the ones you’d most like to emulate. Find the ones who best match the goals you have for yourself and make them your models.

 How Your Guides Help You Find Your Voice

Once you find authors whose voices resonate with your own, who you feel connected to and want to learn from, it’s time to consider how they can help you find your voice. There are two main ways these writers can help.

First, Defining Your Voice:

Guide poets can help you decide what you want your voice to sound like. Your writing voice is the underlying tone and message that weaves through everything you put on the page. It’s the flavor that makes your writing distinct, and it stems from both the way you write and the reason you write. Guide poets help you define your voice by helping you recognize the aspects of writing you are most focused on.

When you read the work of the authors who influence you, take note of why you connect with them. Do you love the way they write characters? Is their message something you care about too? Make a list of the different characteristics you admire in their work and then compare it to your own writing. As you begin to find overlap between your style and goals and theirs, you can start to put into words the characteristics of your voice.

For example, studying my guide poets (J.R.R. Tolkien, William Joyce, and Annie Dillard) helped me realize that one of my main goals in writing is to take small, simple parts of life and show the value and wonder to be found in them. I realized I love books with lots of description, color, and light, and so these were aspects that I wanted to focus on in my projects.

Second, Developing Your Voice:

Guide poets can also help you develop your voice through imitation. By mimicking the aspects of your guide poet’s style which resonate with you, you can test out different parts of your voice. You aren’t giving up your uniqueness, but rather using similar authors to learn the skills you need to grow. In taking on the style of another, we can’t help but make it our own. That’s why a thousand different poems can be written in the same form without becoming the same poem. The guide poets simply become a shell, an outline, that we fill with our own color and design.

Here’s a simple exercise to try.  Give yourself 30 minutes to write as much as you can in the voice of one of your guide poets. By putting on their style for a moment, you’ll exercise your creative muscles in the areas you desire to develop.

 

At the end of the day, God has gifted each of us differently. Your story is distinct from all others; your voice is unique to you. The influence of others doesn’t take away our ability to find our own tune, but rather enhances our ability by offering us a chance to sing in harmony.  When we learn from guide poets,  we take what is offered to us and make it into something new.  In them, we find both mentors that guide us as we find our voices and friends who make the journey easier to travel.

So who are some of the guide poets in your writing journey?

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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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.

 

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Are You Thankful for Troubles? Building Character Through Trials by Jarm Del Boccio

William Shakespeare
Image from biography.com

Although my husband and I live in an almost-empty-nest, sometimes I catch myself reminiscing. Our homeschool history course many years ago includes a mini-unit on Shakespeare and his works.  We’d listened to an excellent 3 part DVD series by Schlessinger Media called, “Shakespeare for Students.”  The concepts are simply explained, but meaty.

In The Characters of Shakespeare (Part 1), we learn there are two types of characters in Shakespeare’s works. static and dynamic. Here is a summary:

Static (or Stock) Character: A person who does not change during the course of the story. A shallow two-dimensional figure used to carry along the story, add comic relief or provide a menacing presence. The Fool in King Lear is one example (which, by the way, is the most “tragic of his tragedies . . . nothing good comes from it unless it is a lesson for the readers!) A villainous character would be Iago in Othello or Edmund in King Lear.

Dynamic Character:  A person who changes, for better or worse, in the course of the play.  A deeper, three-dimensional character, such as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. She matures into a complex young lady by the last act, but, unfortunately, it’s too late.  Another example is Macbeth, who moves from a valiant war hero to a paranoid murderer within the course of the play. So, this got me thinking . . .  Not only is this good to know as we develop our own characters in a story (too many static characters spoil the broth, and vice versa), but ponder this:

What sort of character are you?  What kind do you wish to be? 

Hopefully, it’s obvious that you can’t be a dynamic character if you have no trials and tribulations. How many people do you know who have everything they want and need – are they shallow, or complex?

What character is God forming in you this Thanksgiving? Be thankful if God allows troubles in your life. It will make you a more well-rounded 3D character who will be wiser, more compassionate and helpful to others.

Now that’s character!


*This post first appeared on Jarm’s travel and inspiration blog.

Jarm Del Boccio’s debut middle-grade historical fiction, The Heart Changer, released with Ambassador International April 26th. You can connect with her at https://www.jarmdelboccio.com/

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An Idea for Those Who Didn’t (or Couldn’t) Tackle NaNoWriMo This Month by Brenda Covert

Have you seen the social media posts from NaNoWriMo writers beating themselves up because they failed to meet their daily writing goals and pen a 50,000 word novel in November? Or they reached their goal but nearly lost their minds in the process? IMHO, those who wrote any amount this month deserve a pat on the back and a hearty handshake, not a load of guilt.

Though I wrote a novel in the past (not during NaNoWriMo, and it took me 5 years to complete), I now prefer to focus on children’s writing. Picture books in particular appeal to me. Wondering whether NaNoWriMo had a kidlit counterpart, I discovered a blogger who tried to get PicBoWriMo going, but it didn’t catch on. Neither did PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month), which in 2016 became Storystorm and moved to January – a challenge to create 30 story ideas in 31 days. That’s a great idea worth pursuing, but it’s not the same as writing actual stories!

After stumbling across a contest for 100-word stories, I recognized an idea even the busiest among us could tackle. You could write just 4 words a day and have a story in a month, but hopefully you could do this in a couple of days. Here are the particulars:

  • Write a story with no more than 100 words. Fewer is fine.
  • Your story should appeal to kids age 12 or under (although you could also write for adults).
  • There should be a main character and story arc; descriptive or mood pieces don’t count.
  • It can be a story poem, or it can be prose. (I tend to use fewer words in poem stories.)

There are several good reasons to attempt such short-story writing. First, publishers appreciate picture books that are light on words because that means more room for illustrations. Second, telling stories in 100 words is a lesson in succinctness; you learn what matters and what isn’t really necessary. And third, if writer’s block interferes with your writing goals, switching to a 100-word story can get your creative juices flowing again.

If you find yourself with some free time around Thanksgiving or Christmas, see how far you can get with a holiday-themed 100-word story. If you finish and feel like sharing in the comments below, please do! We would love to see what you come up with and encourage your efforts!

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

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Brenda Covert, a member of the Write2Ignite team,  has been editing since 2002, first in the educational field and then in the Christian/family-friendly market. Her editing experience goes from picture books to chapter books—including Johanna’s Journey: Call to Freedom (a finalist for the 2015 Selah Award)—to YA novels and adult fiction and nonfiction, including inspirational books and Bible studies.

Brenda has two grown children, a new grandchild, two blogs that she promises to devote more attention to, and more cats than an allergic woman should have! (Want one?)

You can find Brenda online at BrendaCovert.blogspot.com. If you’re especially fond of Christmas, you’ll enjoy her blog at ChristmaswithBrenda.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter, where she’s  @TheBrendaCovert.