Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Visit with Merrillee Whren!

Here is just a little bit about this wonderful author. Also, a hint-peek at her new book Homecoming Blessings!

Merrillee Whren is an award-winning author who writes for Steeple Hill Love Inspired. She is the winner of the 2003 Golden Heart Award for best inspirational romance manuscript presented by Romance Writers of America. Her second book, An Unexpected Blessing, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award and the Maggie Award. She is married to her own personal hero, her husband of thirty plus years, and has two grown daughters. She has lived in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas and Chicago but now makes her home on one of God’s most beautiful creations, an island off the east coast of Florida. When she’s not writing or working for her husband’s recruiting firm, she spends her free time playing tennis or walking the beach, where she does the plotting for her novels. Please visit her Web site at http://www.merrilleewhren.com/.

SDC: As we look forward to learning more about you, Merrillee, let’s take a couple of minutes together, okay? How about, after a long day of writing or revisions in a story what is the very first thing you do?

MW: Since I do most of my writing in the evening, I probably go straight to bed.

SDC: Can you remember how many rejection slips you received before you got your first contract, and if so, what did you do when you got your very first one?
What then encouraged you to continue writing?

MW: I never did keep count of the rejections, but I did keep count of the years. I wrote and sent in manuscripts for twenty years before I made my first sale. After the first rejection, my dear hubby sent me roses. I remember that part, but I don’t remember whether I cried. I know I did cry after some rejections, especially the ones where my hopes were high. I wasn’t discouraged by that first rejection. I think in the back of my mind I expected it. Rejections were part of the learning process. I had one rejection that nearly made me quit, but after a couple of months those characters in my head wouldn’t leave me alone until I told their story. This book became my first sale.

SDC: What advice do you have for other authors new in the field of writing who may not yet be published?

MW: Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep submitting. Don’t give up.

SDC: I always seem to find at least one ghastly mistake in my novels AFTER they are published, and if anything keeps me humble that does, because it is too late to fix what is already in print. What is the one thing that keeps you humble about being a published author, Merrillee?

MW: Reviews and reader mail keep me humble. These two things remind me that not everyone loves my work. I’ve had some wonderful reviews, and I’ve had some that weren’t so wonderful. I’ve also had reader mail that makes my day because the readers praise my books and tell me they can’t wait for the next one, but I also get mail that isn’t so complimentary. I had a letter from a woman who said my books were the only books she could read all the way through. She had tried others, but no books were as good as mine. The same week I got another letter in which the reader told me she couldn’t get past the second chapter in my book. It was only the second book in all the hundreds of books she has read over the years that she couldn’t finish. Talk about keeping me humble. That will do it.

SDC: What is your MERRILLEE secret to writing a good book? Willing to tell us?

MW: I have no secret. I’m an organic writer. When it’s all finished, I wonder how I did it. However, there is one thing I try to do with all my books—put myself in the place of my characters and feel their emotions. And I ask God to guide me as I write.

SDC: It’s been so great having you here. I understand you want to donate one of your books to a reader. Tell us about it, and also where people can go to find your books.

MW: My latest book is HOMECOMING BLESSINGS from Steeple Hill Love Inspired. Here is a blurb:

Big-city businessman Peter Dalton doesn't think he and fresh-from-the-field missionary Ashley Hiatt have anything in common. Until his boss—her father—pairs them together on a special project to help those less fortunate. Suddenly, instead of making money, Peter is making dreams come true. He's a changed man. Well, maybe not when comes to settling down. With his past, he's just not cut out for family life. But lovely Ashley seems to think otherwise...and is making it her mission to prove it for good.

You can visit my Web site: http://www.merrilleewhren.com/
I have numerous links to places where you can buy my book online, or it can be found at most Wal-marts, K-Marts, Targets and many grocery or drugs stores across the country during the month of April. You can also order it at any bookstore.
What are some things that keep you best in the state of humility?
Send in your comments and win one of Merrillee's books!
CONGRATULATIONS TO SHERRINDA KETCHERSID of TEXAS, who just won a copy of Merrillee's new book! Woo Hoo! Watch for your book, and be sure to let us know your thoughts!
Blessings: Shirley

Friday, March 20, 2009

I'm Thrilled to Bring You Kim Vogel Sawyer!

Kim Vogel Sawyer is the bestselling, award-winning author of 12 novels including Waiting for Summer’s Return, which was endorsed by Janette Oke. Her compelling stories always provide not only entertainment, but also life-lessons her readers can use on their Christian walk. One of Christian fiction’s newest writers, she is active in her church where she teaches adult Sunday school and participates in both voice and bell choirs. She relishes time with her family, which includes husband Don, three adult daughters, and six darling grandchildren.

SDC: I'm so glad to be able to welcome you here, Kim. Over the last few years you have become both a well-known and talented writer and I've enjoyed reading your work. Before you tell us about your newest release, please fill us in on what got you started writing from the beginning.

Kim: If I’m to start at the beginning, I almost have to go to my birth. :o)

I do believe the desire to write was planted in me from the moments of conception—I have always been a story-teller, even before I was old enough to hold a pencil. As a kindergartner, I told my teacher that someday people would check out my books from libraries. I began actively seeking publication in the early 1990’s and came very close to a contract, but when it fell apart, I kind of fell apart and quit submitting. The disappointment of rejection was too much. Eight years later, my dad began prompting me again to seek publication. I was still reluctant, so he and my mom funded a self-publishing venture. The reader feedback from that that book gave me the courage to begin submitting to traditional publishers, and in 2005 the door swung wide. My first book released in June of 2006, and A Promise for Spring, my 12th novel, released in January of this year. It has been quite a whirlwind.

SDC: That is a whirlwind! Tell us about your publishers.

Kim: I’ve had the privilege of working with some wonderful companies and editors. All of my historical novels are published with Bethany House, one of the most respected names in the business for historicals. Publishing under the same imprint as Janette Oke is quite a privilege! My contemporary, Mennonite-themed adult novels were published by Barbour, and I truly enjoyed my relationship with that company. In early 2010, a series of young adult, Mennonite-themed novels will release from Zondervan. I can honestly say I have had a positive experience in all directions. I’m very fortunate.

SDC: I understand your theme is mainly to edify God’s children with what you call evidence of hope. That’s great. What kind of response to you receive from readers who have not yet come to know the Lord, or who have been influenced greatly by one of your books?

Kim: Just recently I received this message from a reader:

“After reading Bygones, it made me think back to when I became a Christian and realized I have side stepped from my Christian Faith, I got to my knees and prayed for forgiveness. I want to thank you so much for the beautiful writing style you have and the way our Lord comes out in your writing.”

That message brought tears to my eyes. There is power in story. There is the opportunity to minister through story. When readers tell me how something in one of my stories either opened them up to God in a new way or strengthened their relationship with Him, then I know the Holy Spirit is at work, using my humble offerings for good. There is no greater return than these kinds of messages from readers.

SDC: That's what it's all about, isn't it. How do you make faith, love, and hope work together in your stories?

Kim: I wish I could give a difinitive answer to that question, but all I can say is when God is the main character in your life, then He naturally “shows up” in all aspects of your life, which includes my story-writing. I cannot write a story without a faith thread. We are three-dimensional people—body, spirit, and soul—and my stories must include God or they are lacking soul.

SDC: You spoke about your publishers earlier, Kim. Who was your very first and how did you come about this company? How long ago was it?

Kim: I signed with both the Heartsong Presents line of Barbour and Bethany House in March of 2005. The contract offers came (on two different books, obviously!) in the same one-week period, so both Barbour and Bethany House were my first traditional publishers. Prior to that, however—in 2002—I self-published a novel through American Christian Writers Press (ACW Press), which at that time was owned by Steve Laube, a former acquisitions editor from Bethany House and now a literary agent. I credit Steve with building in me the confidence to pursue traditional publishing.

SDC: What’s your favorite Bible verse or verse that has sustained you recently and why?

Kim: I try to adopt a “focus verse” at the beginning of every year in lieu of making New Year’s Resolutions, and the verse for 2009 is Isaiah 26:4—“Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”

2009 has started out a bit rough with economic woes and many worries, but my hope isn’t in the economy or a new president; my hope rests in the Lord Jehovah. I trust Him implicitly to meet my every need.

SDC: Many of us writers have favorite rooms or spaces in our home or around our homes that we use to let our creativity do its work. Where is your favorite place to go and why? Does it often play any part in your story writing?

Kim: My hubby and dad worked together to turn one of the bedrooms in our house into a writing space for me, and I adore it. When I step into this room, I am going to “work,” and it puts me in the “zone.” The colors are antique-ish: coffee-with-cream walls, a parquet wood floor, and a lovely burghundy-and-taupe Turkish rug (brought home from one of hubby’s military jaunts overseas). My husband calls my desk the SS Sawyer because it takes up so much room, but I have all the writing space and storage space I need—it’s ideal for a clutter-bug. :o) A wallborder border sporting a shelf of books, collectibles, and the requisite cat decorate the ceiling line, and I have cat collectibles set sporadically around the room. The space is very much “Kim,” and I love it. (You can see pictures of my writing space on the Photo Gallery page of my website.)

SDC: I love it! I mentioned before that I have read many of your books and enjoyed them immensely. Have you ever considered stepping further out and writing about a character who leaves the United States and goes elsewhere to find his or her loved one? (Or do you already have a book like that that I have missed?)

Kim: Thank you for your kind endorsement of my work! I appreciate that very much. At this point my publishers prefer I remain in the U.S. with my stories. However, I do have one coming out in August that begins in Russia (the Molotschna Colony). A Mennonite family will travel to Kansas (and of course, the reader will travel along) where they will plant the Turkey Red wheat that turned America into the nation’s breadbasket. I hope readers will enjoy the journey—it is a page straight out of my own family history, and I’m very excited about the book.

SDC: How does your family respond to your time away from them to write and do research for writing?

Kim: It has been an adjustment, there’s no way around it. In my “former life,” I was an elementary school teacher—I didn’t travel, I was always home, and I had a very predictable schedule. Writing is anything but predictable! LOL At first, my family had some difficulty recognizing that writing was my “job.” I’d done it for fun and entertainment for so many years, and always on my own time, but now I HAD to write—I HAD to meet deadline,s and help with marketing, and travel to booksignings… They are very proud of me, but as with any career change, there are adjustments to be made. We’re finding our stride with it now, but it has taken some time.

SDC: So often, it does with writers, I agree. But it sounds like you have it well worked out.

Kim, I understand you have a book you would like to share with one of our readers if we receive enough responders. Tell us which one you are planning to donate. Also, what question would you like one of our viewers to answer to help me select the winner?

Kim: Well, even though A Promise for Spring is my most recent release, My Heart Remembers was just named a finalist in the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, so I’d like to offer that one. My Heart Remembers is an extra special story to me because it was inspired by my stepgrandma, who was an orphan-train rider.

Three Irish immigrant children are separated when an orphan train takes them to Severy, Missouri. The oldest vows she will one day find her brother and sister and they’ll be a family again. But seventeen years later, she’s still seeking. Her memories…and her hope…has faded. United by blood, divided by time, will she ever be reunited with her siblings?

SDC: Sounds like another great one! And I love the cover!

KIM: My question relates to childhood memories. My favorite story as a little girl was a picture book called “A Cat Called Cindy.” What is the title of the first book you remember loving as a child?

SDC: That's a wonderful question to ask, Kim. I'll be interested to see what our readers write in! It’s been a real pleasure having you here at A Pen for Your Thoughts. I hope I can have you here with us again soon.

KIM: Thank you for the opportunity to be with you, Shirley! I’ve enjoyed it.

READERS: Be sure to answer Kim’s question above to try to win a copy of her book!

Congratulations to Gayla Collins of Sheridan, Wyoming! Watch for your book and a message from Kim, Gayla!
You can find Kim Sawyer's Gentle stories of hope by visiting her here:

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Please welcome Ronica Stromberg with me.

Ronica Stromberg is the author of five books for children and teens, including her recently released picture book, The Time-for-bed Angel. She also writes regularly for inspirational magazines and has stories in 18 anthologies. Her romance, Love at the Doorstep, finalled in an RWA contest and is being considered for publication.

SDC: Can you tell us a little about your new release or what you are working on now?

RS: The Time-for-bed Angel is a humorous picture book about a little boy who doesn’t want to go to bed and the guardian angel charged with keeping him safe. I wrote it when my own son was four and scared of the dark. We saw lots of bedtime books with monsters in the closets or under the beds but no bedtime stories with angels watching over and protecting children through the night. I wrote the book thinking it would be the kind of story I’d like to read to my own child to reassure and comfort him before lying down for the night.

I have been busy visiting preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade classrooms with the book, so I haven’t been writing as much as I’d like to, but I am working on my second inspirational romance. I also have two teen novels about to be released.

SDC: I used to write for children. Sometimes I miss it. Tell us about your publishers, Ronica.

RS: The publisher of The Time-for-bed Angel is British, the largest independent inspirational publisher in the United Kingdom. Unlike many inspirational publishers in the American market, Lion Children’s Books does publish stand-alone books rather than just series. I was happy to find this publisher because The Time-for-bed Angel is a stand-alone book, not part of a series.

The publisher of my mystery for 10- to 14-year-olds, The Glass Inheritance, and the three teen novels I have under contract is Royal Fireworks Press out of New York. It is the largest publisher for gifted and talented children in the United States. Much of their fiction is considered “edutainment” (a combination of education and entertainment). My books are novels homeschoolers and teachers can use in the classroom to complement the curriculum and go beyond it. For instance, The Glass Inheritance is a mystery about an inheritance of Depression Era glassware a young girl receives. As the girl is solving a mystery surrounding the glass, she learns about the Depression Era, World War II, and the glass made during those times.

SDC: The Glass Inheritance is at the perfect age level for my new granddaughter, and it especially sounds intriguing. Hmm! What are some of your favorite themes you write about?

RS: In my teen novels and romance I find my characters consistently struggling with making the right, but socially unpopular, choice. Following Christ in daily life is the narrow path, but the wide path leads to destruction.

Another theme I find myself working with is probably a paraphrase of something C.S. Lewis said, “The line between good and evil does not run through race, sex, creed or social class but through men’s hearts.”

SDC: Amen to that! We’d also love to hear about your life outside writing.

RS: I’m married and have two sons who keep me running to baseball, soccer, basketball, Tae Kwon Do, Boy Scouts, and church activities. If ever I get a spare moment, I love to read.

SDC: Tell us about the books you are reading right now, and by the way, how do you select your favorite characters in a story?

RS: I’m reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro right now after striking gold at a garage sale last summer. The seller was in a book club and had about twenty of the recent New York Times bestsellers. I left the sale with my arms loaded and my oldest son asking, “Mom, don’t you think you should leave some for somebody else?”

I also love mysteries and crime fiction and children’s books of all stripes. I’ll read romances, but I’m more particular about them.

I don’t know that I select the characters in my stories. I don’t even know where they come from sometimes. One of the males in my teen novels, Cal, and the male in my romance, Ace, are distinct, fully-dimensional characters previously unknown to me. Perhaps they are a hodgepodge of characteristics of people I’ve known throughout my lifetime, but how those characteristics get melded into one character I have no idea.

SDC: That's so true! Ronica, what’s your favorite Bible verse or verse that has sustained you recently and why?

RS: As I settle into middle age, I draw more comfort from two verses:

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the spirit.” – John 3:8

A lot of incidents in my life haven’t made sense to me, even the fact that I believe in God, and this verse gets at that mysterious nature of the Holy Spirit. You don’t have to understand the spirit to see it at work.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” – James 1:17

Our culture has undergone significant changes in my lifetime, not always for the better. I draw reassurance from this verse, knowing that God “does not change like shifting shadows.” He is the one constant in life.

SDC: Words from the Bible are what keep us all going, I think. I know they do me. What is your favorite room in the house and why? Does it play any part in your story writing?

RS: I have a personal library with a reading chair and lamp and tons of books. I love spending time in there! My desk is in there, and I write my stories at the computer.

SDC: That sounds great! When you are into your stories, how do you choose your settings?

RS: I’m a bit lazy when it comes to research, so I tend to write about what I know: the Midwest. My children’s books are often set in Iowa since I grew up there.

SDC: Although I'm much traveled and will continue to venture out, one place I've never been is Iowa! (I have purchased a lot of chicks from there in the past!) Okay, my final question, Ronica. How did you find the writers’ groups you are in now, and why did you feel it was important to attach yourself to others?

RS: The first group I joined found me. A man from my church found out I write and invited me to what is now the Heart of America Christian Writers’ Network. I later joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Romance Writers of America, and a whole bunch of other groups, online and otherwise.

I think it’d be hard for me to grow in my writing without continuing to educate myself through conferences, classes, or books. The market is also constantly changing, and I need an accurate reading of it to sell what I write. Information is power, and it’s hard to tap into that if you’re isolated. Now that I am published, these groups provide a forum for me to speak about writing and sell my books.

SDC: Ronica, I understand you have a book you would like to share with one of our readers. What question you would like one of our viewers to answer to help me select the winner?

RS: Few of God’s angels are named in the Bible. Can you
name two?

SDC: Great question, Ronica. It will be interesting what our readers write in. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your coming by. I still have good memories of when we critiqued each other’s manuscripts! You can be sure your name will be remembered when that particular book of mine gets out on the market!

Congratulations to our winner Billie Warren Chai! Be watching for your book, Billie!
If you are interested in purchasing one or several...click below