New Release Coming Soon!


Deadly Silence CoverThe benefit of sheltering at home is more time to write. In April, I released A Deadly Silence. Here’s what a few of people have said:

“Sara and Brad’s story gripped me the second I opened the book. Laura Bennet weaves believable storylines and it’s like you are an invisible person witnessing it as it’s taking place. Emotions run high with the characters, but also the reader. Thank you, Laura, for such an outstanding book. Bravo!!!” J.Messmer

“I really couldn’t put this down. I enjoyed reading this, and I was surprised because it’s not usually my reading genre. A definite recommend, especially if you like reading about relationships, family, friendships, overcoming trauma, personal growth, spiritual growth, and learning.” J.N.

“I enjoyed this book as I have all of Laura’s books. Her honest writing style is refreshing in that things don’t always work out the way we think they “should” – just like in real life. This book covers a difficult topic but one that many people face. I’m glad to see an honest take on removing the stigma in talking about issues when they occur. Can’t wait for the next book!” Peggy I.

I’m glad to know readers are anxiously awaiting the next book because it’s almost here! Anticipating an October release, When the Wind Blows, shows how being in community brings hope, healing, and redemption.

when-the-wind-blows-1

Category 4 Hurricane Harriet slams Southwest Florida, throwing six high rise neighbors together in unexpected ways.

Alec and Jessica Freeman can’t seem to make their five-year marriage work, and Jessica’s secret isn’t helping. Author Dylan Davis loses himself in writing books about missing children as therapy for the daughter he lost. Bailey Crenshaw, a free-spirited young woman who’s been on her own since girlhood, finds family with strangers. Older, retired folks, Ralph and Edith Manning wonder if life is over for them, but experiencing trauma with neighbors offers a new sense of purpose. Within community, each one discovers that weathering a storm together is better than surviving alone.

John Mark Miller: The Real Deal


Recently I had the privilege of interviewing John Mark Miller, a musician and writer who leads worship at First Baptist Church of Sunset, Texas. John Mark inspires and encourages other Christian artists with his blog and has recently been showcasing various artists. I was blessed to be on his list.

What I admire most about John Mark is his genuine love for the Lord, music and fellow artists. He exudes grace and kindness. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I have.

Hi, John Mark. Thanks so much for spending some time with us today. I’ve appreciated reading your blog and interacting with you through comments and emails. I guess we’ll jump right into the questions I have for you.

First, let me ask when did you first know you were born to be a singer and a writer?

I was born singing, and I caught on to writing as soon as I could! When I was just a toddler, my mom remembers finding me rolling around the back yard on my riding toy, singing a hymn that she and my dad had sung in church that morning. She was impressed that I remembered the melody perfectly, and started to encourage my musical gifts. I sang my first church solo when I was five years old and started taking piano lessons when I was seven years old. I honestly cannot remember a time when music wasn’t an important part of my life, and here I am all these years later, still making music and teaching others how to join in!

Interestingly enough, it was my dad who honed in on my gift for writing. He read some of the stories I wrote for spelling class and told me that he thought I had real talent. He was a pastor, and before I knew it I was writing articles for the church newsletter and helping him prepare Sunday School curriculum and church publications. One weekend as we drove to a funeral, he realized he needed a poem to recite for the Graveside Service and told me to write one on the spot! I did… and thanks to his belief in me as a writer, I’m still at it!

It’s great that your parents were so encouraging and helpful in fostering your God-given talents. Perhaps that’s one reason you are so great at encouraging other artists.

So, along those same lines, what is your favorite worship song?

My all-time favorite worship song is “Before the Throne of God Above,” but I also find great inspiration in “Give Me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega and “All of Me” by Selah.

I love that song by Fernando Ortega as well. A few of his CD’s spend time in my player!

And how about favorite books?

Where books are concerned, I’m going to have to break this down into categories! I would say that my favorite devotional book is “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers, my favorite fictional book is “The Robe” by Lloyd C. Douglas, and my favorite biography/memoir is “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickham.

That’s quite a nice collection. I read and re-read “My Utmost for His Highest” over a three year period, and it literally changed my life. What do you feel most inspires your creativity?

I feel most inspired when I spend time outside, either walking for exercise or just sitting and drinking in all of God’s beauty. Taking time to notice the splendor of Creation helps me to quiet the distractions, focus my prayers, and allows me to listen for His still, small voice. It has been during these quiet moments of reflection that many of my greatest ideas have come to me.

It’s amazing how even a little bit of time outside can bring out the creator in us!

Now this may seem like a strange question, but I think you can tell a lot about a person by their favorite “working” drink. I tend to stick with water or tea. How about you?

I absolutely love a steaming mug of hot tea (either Earl Grey or Vanilla Rooibos) while I’m working on a project. The warmth is comforting, and the aroma stimulates the senses. I’d have to agree with C.S. Lewis, who said, “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me!”

That’s a great quote! I might have to add it to my bulletin board. When is it that we would find you nursing that steaming mug of tea? Are you most productive in the morning or at night?

Though I’m married to a night owl, I will forever be a hopeless morning person! Much to my wife’s dismay, I wake up bright and early and ready to work. My best work takes place early in the morning, and I’ve noticed that my writing is much stronger and more focused after I’ve spent some quiet time with the Lord.

I so agree with you. Spending time with the Lord makes the difference between a good and rough day, writing or otherwise. Do you have a “life verse?” How does it influence your creative endeavors?

Since high school, my life verse has been John 15:5: “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” I used to get very nervous playing the piano in church, to the point that my fingers and pedal feet would shake uncontrollably and cause the entire piano to have tremors! I remember sitting in church waiting for my turn to play, and reading this verse on a small index card. It was comforting to remember that without God I could do nothing, but with Him behind me I was guaranteed to bear good fruit. I have clung to this through the years, and it’s just as helpful to me now as it ever was!

That’s a verse my husband has been meditating on lately. It’s so true that whatever we produce comes from Jesus working in us. It’s a great reminder. What would you say is the most important message you want your listeners or readers to take away from your work?

The sole purpose of launching my blog, The Artistic Christian, was to help people realize that the beauty of God is all around us. There is such rich beauty in the midst of the most everyday moments, and all of it declares the truth of Who God is. Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God,” and each aspect of nature tells us something about God’s character. Immovable mountains declare His strength, soft rose pedals declare his tenderness and beauty, and so on. Not only this, but anytime an artist creates he or she is imitating God, since we are all made in His image (Gen. 1:26). Because of this, artistic works also point us to God, since they reveal the divine spark which lies in each of our hearts.

I hope that by reading my work, my readers will have their eyes opened to the beauty and splendor that lies everywhere they look, and realize that all of it was designed to draw our hearts toward worshiping God. And once they begin to see this, I want to remind them that if they will seek God with all their heart, they will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13).

I certainly get that from your blog. Where can people find your work? Can they purchase it yet?

I am still working on getting a book published, but my reflections on art, culture, and life can be found at my primary blog, The Artistic Christian, at http://theartisticchristian.wordpress.com.

Also, my sermons and thoughts on Bible Study and church life can be found at my self-titled devotional blog, at http://johnmarkmiller.wordpress.com

Finally, readers can keep up with my thoughts and latest releases by following me on Twitter: @JohnMark_Miller

Thank you so much for investing this time with us today!

Thank you for interviewing me. It’s been an honor.

Go visit John Mark Miller on Twitter and his blogs. I guarantee you’ll be blessed and glad you did!

Saying Goodbye


I finished my first novel yesterday.IMG_0368

I confess I cried. Yes, near the end it brought tears both for the characters and me. Finishing a project is like wondering what to do on the day after Christmas. Content, but sad. Joyful, but empty. The idea for this story began thirty plus years ago. Yet it ended far differently than I envisioned. (Those willful characters again.) Now that’s it’s done, I’m amazed at the way it turned out. And glad. But sorry.

I have plenty of other work to do.

But today I found myself wandering. Mentally, emotionally and even in daily life. I actually made dinner early for a change because I didn’t have to drag myself away from writing. I hardly knew what to do with myself. Like an empty-nester whose chicks have all flown off, I’m ready for the next adventure, but not quite over letting the last one go.

Even my blogging is uninspired.

And that’s that. The end.

 

How do you feel when you complete a writing project?

 

 

Why Do You Write?


Yesterday, I opened an email from a follower of this blog and a reader of my new book, The Miracle of Us: Confessions of an Online Dater. My tears of joy could not be contained as I read how this person’s life was being challenged and changed by God.  In part, as a result of the book.

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Bella at Riding Lessons

I’ve seen the growth. I feel proud, like a beaming mother watching her child on stage or at a sporting event. (I know this feeling well with seven children and seven grandchildren!) The joy that bursts forth in your heart to see someone live out who they were made to be can’t be described. And the blessing of being a small part of that overwhelms me.

I told my husband, “This is why I write.”

 

It’s not for money. Forget the hype of “New York Times Bestseller! ” Most authors make very little in comparison to the hours they put in.

Nor is it for fame. True, it’s been kind of cool to have a few people recognize me from one of two newspaper articles about the release of my book. But that is nothing but a bit of lovely fun.

To make a point? Well, I suppose that the point I try to make in all my books is that God offers us hope, healing and redemption. His love for us is beyond our comprehension, and he is able and willing to do anything to show us that.

But the bottom line reason is this:

“Thank you again for this book. I’m learning to believe in miracles and the One who works them.”

“I just finished reading your book “The Miracle of Us.”  I loved it! I was in tears at times as I read the miracles that God did in your relationship with Brendan.”

“Laura’s book strengthened my faith in God’s ability to work miracles for broken people.”

“What a lovely story of love, adventure, and God’s faithfulness!”

 

God uses our words, gives them to us in fact, to change lives for people’s good and his glory.

 

I’m so stoked on that. Amazed. Humbled. Grateful.

And I’m convinced he wants to use each of us to do the same. Maybe through books, or poems, or songs, or art or your job as a postal clerk (Tina has blessed me every time I mail something, and she doesn’t even realize she’s doing it), a doctor, a mother, a sales representative…in other words, whatever you do.

So, why do you write?

 

Confessions from an Author


Yesterday, Brendan tiptoed into our bedroom(home of my office) with the grin of a Cheshire cat.

“Darling, guess what?”

He held a small package in his hand.

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Me holding my book

“It’s here?”

He nodded and held it out as if on a silver platter for me to open. My book proof had come. I pulled the tab and slid it out. My book. The culmination of a thousand starts and stops, tears, rewrites and re directions sat in my hands, my name on the cover. I like the cover.

I confess, I don’t know how other authors feel when they see their books in print for the first time. I’ve never thought to ask. There is something surreal about it, and I don’t think it’s fully sunk in. Writing is hard work. It takes practice and patience and gumption. It requires determination and fortitude. All of these thoughts have rattled around in my head since yesterday. And the work isn’t done. The final proofing will now begin.

But, the contemplation of process and pain, and questions of “am I good enough?” drift away as on a gentle breeze. None of those seem to matter now.

I mean, I absolutely hope my book will encourage someone, or bless them, make them laugh or sigh with hopeful longing. But the project has added so much to my life as a writer and as a person that I am content, I think. Whether anyone reads it, or likes it is now simply icing on the cake.

I’ve written a book. I’ve held it in my hands. That is no small thing, and I feel…satisfied.

For you authors, how did you feel when you first held (or saw the Kindle) of your first book? For those of you still in process, can you speculate?
 

For anyone interested, there are still a few FREE copies to be had. AND there is still a week left to pre-order for 20% off the retail price. Click here to fill out the form requesting either or to volunteer to review it on your blog.

 

Failing to Grow


A few weeks ago, I had a wonderful conversation with my eldest son. 301

During the course of our discussion, he made two comments in relation to life and career:

If you are unwilling to experience discomfort, you will not experience success.

and

It’s okay if I keep failing as a result of trying to grow.

Since our chat, I’ve thought a lot about that conversation and the wisdom of those two statements. I think they apply to life in general, but I’ve specifically thought about them in regard to my writing career.

Sometimes, I must really push myself outside of my area of comfort in order to find get to the place I really want to be. With trepidation I pressed myself to:

  • write my first book
  • approach publishers
  • attend writer’s conferences
  • start a blog
  • join Twitter
  • write a second book
  • have my work critiqued (several times)
  • submit proposals
  • re-write both books numerous times
  • entered contests
  • learn, practice, learn more, practice again
  • write articles
  • seed out the advice of established authors
  • attend a mentoring class
  • read a lot (okay, so that part is fun)

For some people, those things may be easy. For others, the same activities may feel impossible. Looking back on the journey, I see that I am becoming more successful as I am willing to be uncomfortable. Because we’re only uncomfortable for a little while, until we try, learn and become comfortable again with our new knowledge or abilities.

And even though I’ve failed a lot doing the above things, I’ve been growing. So the failure is part of the process and actually something to be embraced, not avoided.

I want to see my life in the same light.

Pushing outside my comfort zone, trying, failing, learning, failing, and growing.

Thanks for sharing, Josh. I love you.

 

What makes you uncomfortable? Where have you found growth in failing?

 

 

What Does the Reader Want?


Who do I write for?

An agent, publisher, myself, my reader? The general masses or a specific few? Maybe we write for profit, maybe we write for fun, or perhaps to heal by telling our story. Yet again.

It could be, the telling encourages others, or lifts our spirits and soothes our souls. It may challenge, instruct, or offer experiential advice. Sometimes, it simply entertains.

It’s a dilemma for most writers.

We long to write. Stories or non-fiction pours out of our brains and into our fingers through our keyboard and onto the page. Creativity expressed without much initial thought as to whether I’m writing for a niche or my Aunt Matilda’s reading group.

But what do we do when people, agents, publishers start telling us what to write? I’m not talking about writing advice, I’m talking about career advice and life direction. I’ve been struggling with this question.

I’m not sure what the average reader wants. IMG_4535

Thousands of authors turn out new works every day. There are more Amish books out there right now than I can ever imagine reading, yet I’ve read my share. My reading habits are varied and not the same as anyone else. I’m currently reading Sherry Kyle (romance), John Grisham(legal thrillers), a book about Rabbi Jesus (Lois Tverberg) and books for my eighth graders literature/history classes. And, my Bible.

This is my conclusion.

Maybe what readers need is a better point. And I don’t know that either. But God knows. He knows who will be inspired, touched, challenged, entertained or advised through whatever I write. So I’ve decided to write whatever God gives me to write at any given time. Sometimes it’s just plain fun. Most of the time it blows me away. Always, I’m amazed at how it seems to help someone in some way.

So I guess only God knows what a reader wants or needs. If I write for him, he’ll make it be for others. He’ll put it into the right hands at the right time.

What do you write or read?

 

 

What I’m Learning From My Illness


I began getting sick more easily last November.

And it seemed to take longer than usual to shake it off. By January, I had been sick two more times and still felt under the weather. An unexplained rash began taking over my body with painful itching. At first, I didn’t make any connections. Stress governed my life due to family pressures, a beloved friend losing her baby, my grandmother passing and my push to sell myself to an agent. I assumed sleep would take care of my health issues. That is, if I could get any.

During the Mt Hermon Writers Conference, I silently itched and couldn’t sleep for the pain. But, after meeting with an agent who had some great ideas for me, I put my goals in place and plowed into my writing and marketing plans. Within a couple of weeks, the rash on my fingers had turned into painful, oozing blisters. My hand was so swollen I couldn’t type. Complete exhaustion prevented me from speaking a cohesive sentence let alone putting one in a book.

It was difficult to drag myself out of bed at all.

After numerous tests, the bottom line is a depressed immune and adrenal system – the result of a variety of issues. One of which is the driven, non-resting me that ties my worth to my productivity as a person, wife, mother, educator and writer. In the furthest recesses of my heart, what I do and how I perform dictate my value. Oh, my head knows this isn’t true. Jesus loves me based on who I am, not what I do or don’t do.  A recent read of Embracing Grace by Daniel Brown, PhD,  reminded me that God’s love is unconditional and complete. But sometimes my broken places scream otherwise. Especially when my defenses are down because of external or physical stress.

Here are a few things God’s been showing me:

  1. As I admired the amazing diversity of God’s creation on a recent trip to Florida, I was struck by a whisper of God to my heart.  “Just as my creation praises me by being what I created it to be, so are you my creation and praise me by your existence. I delight in you simply because you are.” Wow! DSC_0018Really? Still wrapping my mind around that one.
  2. Rest is more spiritual than physical. Yes, I need to get enough sleep. But on my vacation, during which I basically slept or lounged all day, every day, the Lord showed me that my soul wasn’t at rest which was just as exhausting as not sleeping enough. I’m trying to grasp that I can be still because God is God and has everything under control. He says “I have everything you need. Relax. I’ve got your back.” I am finding peace by spending time each day in his presence—simply sitting and listening for his voice. I’ve read Psalm 23 about 100 times. Really.
  3. I need to listen to what God says. Not agents or bloggers or other authors (no offense to all you wonderful, wise writers out there). I was crazily trying to learn everything and do it all even as it shifted from week to week. Knowledge is helpful. God tells us to “get knowledge.” But God will lead my steps. His direction may or may not fit with the “101 Steps to Getting Published.” Therefore, I need to be selective with what I read (I do not have time or energy for all of it, even if it’s good advice), and I need to submit it to God to see if it fits with his plans for me. He’s the one who can make his good plans for me happen. I got off track. It’s easy to do.
  4. Reacting to others or circumstances rather than seeking God first sends me into emotional overload and gives the enemy a place to attack. Instead, whenever I start freaking out inside, I’ve been trying to ask God, “What do you say about that?” Sometimes it takes some sorting out the truth from the lies that swirl through my mind. Today my husband reminded me that whenever the thought I hear accuses or belittles me, it isn’t my thoughts or God’s about me. Satan hates me and wants me to hate myself. He is the one who tells me lies.

I’ve been learning  so many great things. And while I’d rather have God heal me miraculously, I believe this has been the better way. Of course, God knew that.

And now I need to get to bed 🙂

Perhaps you can relate to feeling overwhelmed or exhausted because of an urgent driven place inside. Would you be willing to share your experiences?

 

Ready for an Enjoyable Read?


Newest Release

Author, Sherry Kyle, has written a delightful novel that weaves a thread of forgiveness and redemption throughout the lives of four very real and loveable characters.

“When the alcoholic father of Jessica MacAllister’s son reappers in their lives, Jessica and her son go to her Uncle George for advice and refuge.

Following a year of grief, Evelyn Sweeney is finally ready to move on. Pondering her new path in life, her mind drifts to her first love, George MacAllister.

When the lives of these two women cross, they discover that one heart-shaped ring binds their stories together. But will the results be a rekindled faith and new hope, or will it lead them both back into the darkness they’ve fought for so long?”

The Heart Stone was hard to put down.

The romantic possibility and tension as well as intriguing suspense kept me engaged and guessing. Jacob, the 6 year old son, had me smiling and even brought an outright laugh. By the end, I felt as if these characters were my friends who had overcome obstacles and grown emotionally and spiritually. I wished the book didn’t have to end.

Sherry Kyle’s gift as a connector of people shines in her novels which rekindle and reconcile relationships. I believe Sherry’s ability as a writer grows with each new release. I can’t wait for the next one.

Well done, Sherry.

The Heart Stone, Published by Abingdon Press released on April 1, 2013 and is available from these retailers:

Cokesbury

Christian Book Distributors

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

What are books you’ve enjoyed reading lately?

What I Learned at Mount Hermon


Or, an attempt to encapsulate infinite amounts of wisdom in less than 800 words.

My Accommodations
My Accommodations

Mc Nair Wilson, our keynote speaker, inspired us as creative people to:

  • Be yourself. What do you do best? Who are you, really?
  • Take risks. Just start something. Everyone fails. You have before, you will again. Don’t fear it.
  • Challenge assumptions. God expects us to live in more abundance.
  • Stay Curious. Do what people think can’t be done. God’s name is I AM and He is holding you.
  • See differently. Write a story no one has written before. Do. You.
  • Be confident. God’s on your side.
  • Tell the why. Pay more attention to life.
  • Remember that Jesus showed us humor, humility and humanity.

About editors and agents.

Practice talking about your manuscript. Agents and editors expect you to be nervous so don’t fear them. Know your story well. Be prepared to answer their inquiries and be willing to ask them questions too. If an agent or editor has to tell you no, it isn’t personal, it’s about the right editor at the right publishing house at the right time. Don’t give up!

About the craft of writing.

The Scenery
The Scenery

The four D’s:

  • Desire sets our protagonist on a particular path that pulls the reader through the book.
  • Distancing happens with each conflict that knocks her off the path.
  • Denial is the point when it seems that our character will never attain her desire.
  • Devastation goes beyond denial, pushing our character back to the beginning.

A boring or confusing story is actually a symptom of a writer not having a concrete desire with high stakes for each of his main characters. We can approach our story with this simple formula:

   Protagonist wants (action words – verb) so that (specific result or outcome).

For me, it’s actually much harder than it seems. Being specific propels the character through the story, but that same specificity feels elusive to pin down. I’m still working on it.

  • Use restraint and control with our words. (Rein ‘em in boys!)

Our sentence structure needs to keep the tension taut like a rubber band during our story. Too many words weigh our story down and alleviate the tension. We may lose our reader. Make it easy for our reader to remain engaged. Anything that stops the action (or forward momentum) is a reason for our reader to stop reading.

  • Use sentence rhythm.  (Who knew?)

Our sentence rhythm needs to match the beat of the action in the scene. The sentences should reflect what is going on in our character. High action or nervous tension?  Use short sentences. Complex sentences make the reader wait to get to the action. Don’t make your reader wait. There is a fine line between suspense that engages the reader and frustrating our reader by not giving enough detail. Each sentence should answer a question and raise another one.

  • Show, don’t tell. (We’ve heard this before, right?)

We want our reader to feel the scene not just read about it. Use all five senses and chose your words and their placement for the greatest impact. Split up descriptions and place them strategically to show without stopping the action. Add emotion by showing it in the dialogue and action of the characters without explaining or naming it.

And finally, about characters.

One of Many Bloomers
One of Many Bloomers

Point of View

Pretend there is a camera attached to the side of your POV character’s head. He can’t see himself (don’t cheat with a mirror), only what he would be looking at or thinking. Limit your point of view changes to new scenes. You personalize your characters by the way they perceive a setting or scene.

Dialogue

Knowing your characters intimately will help you create real dialogue that shows who they are without tags. Try taking out all the speaker attributes and see if you can tell who is speaking. Use action wherever possible and only add in “he/she said” when necessary to avoid confusion. Long, uninterrupted speeches aren’t natural. (Okay, maybe only for me …just ask my husband). Keep it short.

One parting note…

My mentoring group teacher, Brandilyn Collins pointed out to us that when we evaluate our own writing, we judge it based upon the same level of craftsmanship with which we wrote it. Therefore, find a more experienced critique partner (or professional editor) to help you discover the deeper issues you may be missing in your writing.

Phew. I made it. Only 760 words.  And that was only the first day. (Just kidding)DSC_0052

Any tips you’d like to share with the group?