Faith, Friends, and Storytelling

acfwalleycatsLast weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Conference. I’ve been going to ACFW for five years now and over that time I’ve developed great connections with remarkable people, met some of my dearest friends (Go, Alleycats!!), and cultivated a deeper understanding of the ‘call’ God’s placed on my heart as a writer.

alleycatsI am a writer.

My Granny called me one when I was about ten years old, and I joyfully accept the mission. God just happened to sprinkle powdered sugar on top of my life by giving me an amazing group of writers to share the journey.

Tweet: ACFW is so more than meeting editors and making profitable connections. It’s a braided blessing of fellowship, worship, learning, and encouragement.

francineI’m reminded of this truth every September I’ve joined hundreds of writers, editors, publishers, marketers, daydreamers, and world-weavers.

We are taught great courses. The ones I took in marketing were particularly fantastic this year.

We develop amazing friendships. I absolutely love the camaraderie honed among professional daydreamers who love Jesus.

We worship. At the heart of this calling and these friendships is a bond bound by grace.12027752_10207297498386565_6334955013657674308_n

We find and give encouragement. Because the writing road has more twists than a pretzel, finding other journey-ers acfwjulie'sangels2along the way helps the stragglers stay the course and shores up the discouraged.

We create hope-filled stories. And encourage others to spread the endearing truth to the world through words.

What a gift!

Songs of Christmas – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

It’s a song of anticipation. A song born out of years of longing and yearning for the Promised One, the Messiah.

A song with the melody of a Gregorian chant and the celebrative chorus of angels.

O Come O Come Emmanuel ‘s author is unknown, but it was supposedly written in Latin in the 12 century and translated into English by John Mason Neale in 1851.

You can hear Casting Crown’s version here.

Which authors said that this carol was their FAVORITE Christmas song?

My favorite Christmas carol is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I have always loved that one. Aaron Shust sings it sooooooo well. I think I like it partly because it just sounds so cool. And because it sounds very medieval. So when I was writing The Merchant’s Daughter and I needed a song for them sing at church, I looked up O Come, O Come Emmanuel and it was written a hundred years before my story, so I used it. It plays into two scenes in the book. It was perfect.
 Melanie Dickerson (author of The Healer’s Apprentice and the newly released Merchant’s Daughter)
Growing up, my parents had an album The Glorious Sounds of Christmas. One of the songs was “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the orchestration with the cellos and violins was just soooo soulful and moving, it gripped my heart and imagination every time. I could just see the Israelits traversing across the plains, searching for the promised on.
It’s still one of my favorite songs. I have the original album loaded in my iTunes!
Rachel Hauck (author of Dining With Joy and The Wedding Dress)
My favorite Christmas song is “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.” When I was growing up my church did a live nativity scene every year. This song was always a part of the show. There’s something about the melody of that hymn that haunts my soul (in a good way). To think that Christ was prophesied so long before he came as a babe in a manger boggles my mind. I can just hear the cries of the Jews, “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel!” as they cried out to be set free from bondage and captivity. In so many ways people are still held “captive” today (by the things of this world). Like those Jews of old, they can cry out, “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel” (God with us) and Jesus will come into their hearts, set them free and release them from the pain of the past. It’s hard to control my emotions whenever that song plays. The words in the chorus: “Rejoice! Rejoice!” transition the song from the bleakness of the mourner’s past to the joy of a life with God.
 Janice Thompson ( author of Weddings by Bella series and When Stars Collide)
My all-time favorite is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. The reason I like it doesn’t really have as much to do with the words as with the feeling and the mood of the song. It’s one of the few Christmas songs written in a minor key and it feels ancient. It’s very elemental and it reflects Christmas exactly the way I feel it. I spent some years in Canada as I was growing up and winter isn’t all glistening snow with merry blue skies. At least not to me. Winter is cold and treacherous and primitive; isolating and brittle, occasionally warmed by gatherings with family and friends. This Christmas carol could be the soundtrack to the painting ‘Hunters in the Snow’ by Bruegel: My favorite song, my favorite painting. They both evoke very strong moods and feelings. It makes sense that I would like them: I try to evoke moods and feelings with my writing too.
Siri Mitchell (author of She Walks in Beauty  and A Heart Most Worthy) – and of course, her answer is as poetic as her books 😉
Find out more Song of Christmas with your favorite authors coming later this week, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

12 Songs for Christmas Blog Series

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – so I thought I ring in the season with a blog series to help you rock around the Christmas tree.

Starting next week, some of your favorite authors will Deck the Blogosphere with some of their favorite Christmas songs. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more about them and a little about the songs themselves.

From classic carols to newer choruses and popular music, there will be a grand array of music to jingle your Christmas bells with.

Next week, four lovely songs set the intro to this series:

O Come O Come Emmanuel

Mary, Did you Know?

The Little Drummer Boy

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

Stop by to learn which authors picked which song – from Melanie Dickerson, Siri Mitchell, Tina Radcliffe, Deeanne Gist, Rachel Hauck – and more.

May your days be merry and bright…and don’t forget to join in the Christmas fun.


Conference Tips with ACFW Worship Leader Rachel Hauck

The ACFW conference starts today – and what a better way to welcome the fun then with conference tips from the worship leader and fabulous author, Rachel Hauck.  One of the most fabulous parts of ACFW is the time when hundreds of people get together to sing praises to the Author of our Salvation – and Rachel does a fabulous job leading us in song.

What does she think you ought to bring to conference?

Three Writer’s Conference Necessities:

1. An open heart and mind. Go to the conference with hope, but looking to learn and listen! Be slow to speak. Quick to hear.
2. Do your research on the editor and agent you want to meet. Read their blogs if they have one. Email authors who work with them and ask for any advice.
3. Don’t let your hurt feelings or sense of rejection isolate you. If you feel hurt or rejected, go to the prayer room. Go to the worship sets. Reach out. There’s no need to get hurt and stay hurt. Trust me! Every one feels hurt or rejected at the conference at some point. Yea, even me. 😉 But I don’t stay in that place. It’s not fruitful!
GREAT tips, Rachel – and #3 is a doozy!
Those who God has called, He will also equip. I’ve had to repeat my writing mantra to myself a lot over the past few weeks:
God’s call, God’s timing, my perverance!
I hope you guys have enjoyed the conference tips for ANY writers conference you may attend in the future.
Blessings to you all – and stay tuned for updated info from ACFW!!

Conference Tips Lineup

Less than a week left before ACFW, but there is plenty of time to stop by and get some last minute tips from some of your favorite authors.

Check out who’s coming to visit:

Monday – Siri Mitchell

Tuesday – Cara Lynn James

Wednesday – Kim Sawyer

Thursday – Rachel Hauck

And Friday, I’m going to try to stop in and let you know how things are going at ACFW – maybe with a few pics too 🙂

Are YOU Conference Ready?

Stop by for the next three weeks and get some conference tips from fabulous authors like:

Denise Hunter

Rachel Hauck

Ruth Logan Herne

Siri Mitchell

Mary Connealy

Kaye Dacus


Look for the weekend lineup on Saturday so you’ll make sure to stop by for a quick note that will help prepare you for ACFW or any other writers conference you might have in your sights. It all starts on Tuesday, Sept. 6.


Seasons Change – Fall Into Love with Rachel Hauck

Oh boy, oh boy – guess who’s visiting today?!? Rachel Hauck. And let me just tell you a little about this gal. She loves to write – and has been since she was 10 years old (You are a kindred spirit, Rachel. I have my first two stories (of any length) that I wrote – one at 10 and the next at 12. Go figure). She’s married to her best friend. Sigh. She led the worship for ACFW this year and did a fabulous job. AND – I had the wonderful opportunity of getting stuck in an elevator with her. J


My favorite book of hers so far is Love Starts with Elle, but I really want to get my hands on her newest release, Dining with Joy. It sounds fabulous. You can learn more about Rachel, her ministry, and her books at her website –


Now, let’s get to the questions, Rachel J



What are some elements that are present when a hero and heroine first realize they are falling in love with each other? What are some beautiful, interesting, unique ways of showing that realization?


 It can come when they realize they have the same core or essence. Like common values, common goals, or when they understand the other has what they need. Like, Lorelai realizes Luke gets her. He understands her need to speak in rapid quips, but he doesn’t feel compelled to join in the craziness. 


He lets her “be” who she is and in turn, she lets him “be” who he is.


So, I’m hoping you’ve got an example? Ooooh, look! It’s a Dining With Joy sneak peek!


Chapter 2 where Joy and Luke first meet. She’s at the diner where he works. He’s trying to get her to eat apple pie, she keeps shoving it aside. She’s “not hungry” while he has a need to “feed people.” 


Joy still smiled, snickering softly. Luke liked the melody of her voice. It made him wonder how long it’d been since he laughed. A good belly laugh. Turns out the bankruptcy, losing Ami’s and the life he’d chosen for himself, was a real killjoy.


But lately, he’d been waking up whispering prayers, hope in his thoughts, the weight of despair off his chest.


And right now, if he had any idea what Mercy Bea was talking about, he’d laugh along with Joy.


“Not worth the effort.” Luke bent to see Joy’s face. “Excuse me?”


“More sugar than a quarter can buy. It means it’s not worth the effort.”


Luke smiled. “Ah, good to know. The book club ladies can be demanding.”


“You need a dictionary to understand Mercy Bea’s sayings.”


“Just when I thought I was catching on too.” Luke shoved Joy’s pie plate forward, under her hands, as she held her phone. “I can warm up the pie for you if you want.”


“I’ve known Mercy my whole life and still get caught off guard.” Joy shoved the pie out of the way. “The pie’s warm enough.”


Luke wondered if she even liked pie. For a second he watched her, then shuffled around the counter, checking the napkin rolls and stack of clean glass trays, thinking it rude to stare at a customer. No matter how beautiful she was. After another minute he backed away, brushing his hands down his apron. “Well, I—”


The café bells chimed and clattered, weighting the air with a brass ting. Luke expected to see the book club ladies filing in, mingling, chatting about the evening’s selection of what they wanted off the Frogmore’s menu.


But it wasn’t the book club making a beeline for their spot in the back corner booth. It was Helen Woodward, a recent and annoying acquaintance of Luke’s, striding for the counter.


“Luke, there you are, shug.” Helen dropped down hard on the stool next to Joy, her apple-round cheeks flushed, her dark hair frizzing about her forehead. “This is my lucky night.” Helen pulled aside Joy’s hair. “Don’t think you can hide behind your gorgeous red sheen, Joy Ballard. You never returned my calls.”


Joy raised her chin to Helen. “I’m not emceeing the Water Festival Cook-Off, Helen.”


“Heavens to Betsy, not this again. I get it. A thousand times over. You do not want to compete. I have your rider right here in my folder.” Helen waved a black attaché above her head. “Well, you can talk like nobody’s business, and since you’re one of our most famous citizens, you are the emcee of this cook-off.” Helen jerked some papers from her attaché and slapped them down on the counter. “So stop your bellyaching. Luke Redmond here is going to cook against Wenda Divine. So you can lower your hackles and stop baring your teeth. These are the release forms. One for Luke, one for you, Joy. Luke, be a sweetie and pack a jar with ice cubes and drown them in sweet tea.”


“Release form?” Joy held her form up to the light as if examining for some secret code.


Luke reached for a jar and scooped it with ice. He’d done a few cook-offs in his day and a bit of television. The release form appeared to be the standard lingo—permission to use his likeness and name for the contest, for media and television.


“It’s hotter than you-know-what tonight, I tell you.” Helen knocked back her iced tea like it had a bit of extra kick besides sugar. “You got any questions, Luke?” Helen flipped her hand at the paper. “It’s just a silly little thing that says we can use your name and image to promote the cook-off. And if you accidentally cut off your finger while preparing the food, or catch fire, you won’t sue the pants off us.”


“Helen, I’m not going anywhere near Wenda Divine. I’m think- ing of leaving town that day.”

Joy dropped the form, floating and fluttering, in front of Helen.


“Oh, grow up, Joy Ballard. You’re not leaving town. You’re doing your civic duty and hosting your town’s Water Festival Cook-Off. It’s great publicity for all involved.”


“I host a television show from this city. That’s great publicity. This cook-off is all about Wenda.”


“You should’ve finished her off in Omaha when you had the chance.” Helen nodded at Joy, tipping up her tea jar for another long slurp.


“How does everyone know about Omaha?” Joy stabbed at her pie. “I’m not emceeing anything if Wenda Divine is involved.”


Luke stared at his release form. “I don’t know about Omaha.” Silence. Then, “What’dya live under a rock, Luke?”


“Nope.” He lifted his gaze to Helen, then Joy. “Just haven’t heard about Omaha.”


“Well, see, Wenda Divine, you know who she is, right? Of course you do. She got our Joy up on a food convention stage and challenged her to a cook-off. So Joy can’t stand to be in a contest, though she’s twice the cook of Wenda, I’m sure, and what does she do? She falls—”


“Helen, just . . . stop.” Joy dropped the fork to the plate. “I fell off a stage. No big deal.”


“Shug, you can fall off the stage here if you want, I don’t care, but you’re my emcee. End of story.” Helen blew a stream of hot breath toward her bangs and rolled her eyes at Luke, mouthing diva.


“Can I get you anything else, Helen?” Luke reached for his form, taking a pen from the jar on the counter. He’d signed forms for the other shows and events he’d participated in, including as a contestant on a season of The Next Culinary Star.


“Just get this girl here to do her duty.” Helen thunked her glass down on the counter. “And I’ll be happy as a tick on a bloodhound.”


“Since you love this event so much, Helen, why don’t you emcee?” Joy unzipped her purse, dug around, and dropped a ten-dollar bill onto the counter. She was leaving? Without touching her pie? Luke stepped around the counter. “Come on, it’ll be fun.” His words bounced around the café.

“Fun?” Joy paused and leaned against the counter. “Have you met Wenda Divine, Luke?” She plopped her bag down on the coun- ter. “Have you ever been in a cook-off?”


“I’ve not met her, but she seems like a nice woman. And yes, I’ve been in cook-offs. It’s just cooking on speed.” Luke passed his signed form to Helen. “An adrenaline rush.”


“Looky there, Joy. Luke signed. And he’s only been in town six months. All the flyers and advertising have gone out. If our own Dining with Joy backs out, do you think other celebs and distinguished guests will want to come in the future? I think not, I think not.”


“Oh my gosh, all right already.” Joy snatched the form from Helen. “You beat all, Helen. Is this how you got George to marry you? Manipulation?”


“Mercy, no. All that took was a short skirt and a kiss.” She snapped her fingers in the air.


“I must be out of my mind to do this, but—” Joy paused, her pen pressed into the paper, her eyes on Luke. “You’re cooking, right?”


 “I’m cooking.” He’d all but forgotten about the event. Didn’t care much one way or the other. He enjoyed a cook-off now and then, but if Joy was going to emcee, the event took on a whole new meaning.


“Cook-offs are a dime a dozen. Trust me. Anyone with a pot and a spoon can be in a cook-off.” She checked Luke with a quick glance. “No offense.”


“None taken.”


“But Dining with Joy is different.” She angled toward him, a passion infusing her voice. “We’re a different kind of show, and I don’t want our brand to be watered down with me jumping into a cook- off or chef challenge with all the other TV celebrities.” Joy passed the signed form to Helen. “Seriously, don’t you just roll your eyes when you see another celebrity chef in a cooking challenge like it’s some kind of rite of passage?”


“You’re the emcee, baby, so I think your brand is still safe. Thank you very much.” Helen snatched the form before Joy could take it back and tucked it into her case. “Iced tea is on the house, Luke?” Helen boogied toward the door. “Night, all. Thanks.” The air in the dining room swirled in her wake, floating, drifting, trying to find a place to settle.


“She’s like an emotional whiplash,” Joy said as she slipped her bag up to her shoulder. “With her ‘honey,’ ‘sugar,’ and ‘darling,’ while she presses her steely knife into your back, ‘Sign here or I’ll kill you.’”


Luke regarded Joy. “Sure seems to be a lot of protesting for just an emcee gig.”


“Yeah, well, I don’t trust Helen or Wenda Divine.” Joy’s gaze mingled with his—blue touching blue. When she stepped back, the magic broke. “I need to go.”


“Your pie?”

“Not hungry.” When she exited, the dining room settled with an odd quiet.


For the first time, Luke heard the rhythm of rain drumming down. Tucking the ten-dollar bill by the register, he carried her plate back to the kitchen.


“I see Joy didn’t eat her pie.” Mercy Bea peered at the plate in his hand as she carried a tub of dirty dishes to the dishwasher.


“Said she wasn’t hungry.”


“She never is, shug, she never is.”


 Luke took a clean fork from the dishwasher and leaned against the prep table, digging into the pie, musing over the counter exchange with Helen and Joy, trying to suppress the smile on his lips and reckon with the sensation that somehow tonight he’d glimpsed into his future. 


Rachel, I just LOVE guy POVs. Isn’t it so much fun to write those? And a guy who cooks? How much better can it get?!? Can’t wait to read this book!! And thanks so much for contributing today. What fun!


Inspirational Moment:

Here’s Paul’s response to trouble in the book of Ephesians 3:13-21 (emphasis by Pepper)

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 20-21God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Wow, isn’t that powerful.  I love the phrase ‘extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love’. Beautiful. He does love us extravagantly. A love without end, that awakens in us the ability to love others. Real love. The kind you want to write stories about. 🙂

Seasons Change – Fall Into Love

Get ready for a new blog series on Words Seasoned With Salt.

Seasons Change – Fall Into Love, is a blog series to celebrate the moment one person recognizes their love for the other. It might be a look, a feeling, a kiss – all sorts of possibilities tickle the romantic spot, but that’s what it’s about. The essence of that moment and how is described in fiction

Starting next week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, various authors will answer the following question:

What are some elements that are present when a hero and heroine first realize they are falling in love with each other? What are some beautiful, interesting, unique ways of showing that realization?

Then each author will provide an excerpt to demonstrate their answer.

The lineup for next week?

Starting off the week with a kiss and a smile, is author Mary Connealy.



Wednesday, Rachel Hauck joins in.



And we end the week with Patti Lacy.

Stop by and enjoy the fun!

Last ACFW pics – I promise (mostly)

Okay, I’m going to get back to blogging after today, but I wanted to post a few more pics from my time in Indianapolis.

It barely feels real now – especially since I returned back to my nonfiction world at full throttle. Got home at 8pm Monday night and back up at 6am for kids’ school and my job on Tuesday morning. I cannot tell you ANYTHING about my Tuesday 🙂

Highlights of  the trip?

(to the left is a pic with Kim Vogel Sawyer and Kaye Dacus (said DAY-cus – I learned the hard way 😉

Meeting Cyberpals in person, such as the glorious Seeker gals, Julie Lessman, Mary Connealy, Audra Harders, Janet Dean, Cara Lynn James, Debby Giusti, Cheryl Wyatt, Camy Tang, & Pam Hillman.

Seeing Mary Connealy win a Carol (Mary doesn’t mind if I keep showing this picture. She’s kinda proud of that award 😉

Seeing Pam Hillman win a Carol

Meeting other clients who share my agent, Les Stobbe. (Hi guys, you are SOOOO wonderful. Go, Ben. GO!!. Waving to Barry & Jeff too)

Having Caramel Hot Chocolate with Siri Mitchell

Hugging and praying with Cathy Marie Hake.

Getting stuck in an elevator with Rachel Hauck 🙂 Fun times.

Chatting with Dan Walsh – what a GREAT guy!!

The list could go on and on.

Jeff Gerke’s class (FABULOUS presenter and really cool guy. Did I mention his book is great too)

Meeting Revell editor Andrea Doering.

Laughing with Patti Lacy

Gleaning encouragement from Patty Hall.

Dining with Melanie Dickerson and Linore Rose Burkard

Working the registration desk!! I met Carol Voekel there AND Janette Oke.

Rooming with my FABULOUS writing buddy, K. Dawn Byrd, even though the toilet exploded in our room and we had to move to a different room. LOL. By no fault of our own, mind you.

Seriously, it was wonderful.

So – I’m done. I know I’ve forgotten to list a few things, but I’ll try to keep you in suspense. A little. 🙂