Author Annie F. Downs is raw and witty in this retelling of a year in her journey to discover the answer to the question: Is God kind?
Beginning with her initial disappointment of being single in her mid-thirties, Annie sets out to embrace her friend’s prophetic word-of-the-year: Love. Over the course of the next twelve months, Annie grows closer to the God who provides for his sheep. She leans into her friend’s prayer and begins the year ready to close this chapter of singlehood.
As the year passes and Annie’s prospects are unchanging she wrestles with God and whether or not he is kind. How could a God who knows the desires of our hearts keep us in a state of wanting for so long? Can he possibly be kind?
Annie brings her readers on a journey of fasting, prayer, heartache, excitement, disappointment, and healing as she seeks out God in the process. This isn’t a book with a nice tidy ending (or overall structure for that matter), but it is one that reminds us that God is in control of the details and our understanding of kindness is so limited by a world that defines it by standards that don’t align to God’s.
In these pages I wrestled with what kindness means and how I react to God not providing in the ways I expect. As Annie lamented over her unfulfilled wishes I walked alongside her and spoke my own disappointments to God. I was also reminded that He shows up in the unexpected, and so I began to search for God everywhere. When life changes, so do our relationships with God. And each of us should remember to celebrate what we have instead of mourning what we do not.
And above all else…we remember God even when the end of the story (or year) doesn’t have the neat and tidy ending.
This was my first time reading anything by Annie F. Downs (although my husband enjoys her books a lot.) I picked this book up while walking through my own season of disappointment, and through the reading I felt as though this journey was not something I was on alone. In my most vulnerable moments I felt a connection to the honest words of the author that reminded me that what I see as the resolution to the story may not be God’s and I have to learn to accept that. What I see as provision may not be God’s plan and I need to trust Him.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a memoir like this. How refreshing it is to join in another’s human experience and to realize I’m not the only one who wrestles with these thoughts and disappointments. And at the end of it all–God is kind.
Check out my Goodreads account to see what else I’m reading!
As I continue on my journey of understanding each of the nine Enneagram types, I cross the threshold of half-way this week . I am using Ian Morgan Cron’s book, The Road Back to You, as I explore the attributes of an Enneagram Five, also known as the Investigator.
My father is an Enneagram Five.
There is no doubt in my mind that my genius, computer programmer, quiet, and anti-social father fits the description of a Five to a T. He is the perfect balance for my emotional overloads as a One. Growing up with a Five as a father was amazing. I always felt heard and supported. I also learned to give him solitude and spaces where he could go to recharge. So all of the descriptions below resonate with me and helped draw up the image of my very first superhero…DAD!
Here are some other Enneagram numbers to check out:
This is a very special Valentine’s Day edition of The Ameri Brit Mom. I am excited to introduce you to my author friend, Kristy Boyce. I first met Kristy at my local chapter of SCBWI. I had no idea that she had been writing a novel about England and once she announced her book deal I was both excited for her and anticipating the release of Hot British Boyfriend.
The Q&A below is based on Kristy’s road to publication. Below she offers great advice for those who aspire to be a published author.
10 Questions with Kristy Boyce
1. Where did you get the ideas or inspiration for your book?
My original inspiration came from teaching a psychology class on “the Self.” We talk a lot about gaining self-knowledge and self-esteem in the class and that led me to write an application multiple-choice question about times when we feel comfortable sharing our “true” selves with others.
I started thinking about how someone would act if they were in a totally new situation for a few months with people they didn’t know. It might be tempting to try acting like someone else because who would know? And you wouldn’t have to keep up the charade forever. Then I decided to set it in England because I love it there! 😉
2. What is your favorite genre to read? How many books do you read monthly/annually?
Well, unsurprisingly, I love reading both young adult and adult romance novels! I also love sinking into a wonderful fantasy series.
I’m not a particularly fast reader so (if I’m lucky) I can finish about one book per week. Oftentimes it’s less than that though.
3. Describe your process of landing an agent.
Hot British Boyfriend was the fourth novel I wrote and the third that I queried. The first time I queried HBB I got full requests followed by rejections. I didn’t know how to improve the book and was about to give up on it, but then I decided to enter PitchWars (a writing mentorship program). My wonderful mentors, Carrie Allen and Sabrina Lotfi, chose me and I’m forever grateful to them. They helped me to rework the novel and then Tara Gonzales with Erin Murphy Literary Agency requested it during the 2019 PitchWars agent showcase and signed me after.
4. What was the process like as you queried publishers?
I did some revisions for my agent and then she sent out the manuscript in early fall of 2019. We were very lucky to hear back from my editor, Catherine Wallace, after about five weeks. I was expecting for the book to be out on submission for a long time, so I was completely shocked when the offer came in!
5. How long did the editing process take? What all did it entail?
Editing with a traditional publisher is an extensive process, even if the manuscript has already been revised many times. My editor and I did two rounds of general revisions, a round of copy edits, then first pass pages and final pass pages.
During the first rounds, I was still changing elements of the plot and working on the emotional arcs for the characters. During copy edits, HarperCollins hired two copy editors to review the manuscript for repetitive words, awkward sentence structure, typos, inconsistencies, and other mistakes. After that, the manuscript was formatted as a PDF and I had two chances to review it for additional mistakes before it went to the printer.
I got my initial offer in October 2019 and I believe we finished all the edits around August of 2020!
6. What tools do you use to strengthen your craft?
I think one of the best things a writer can do is to read both inside and outside their genre so that’s one thing I do. I also beta read for a few friends and that’s always helpful. We can learn so much about writing that way.
7. How did the traditional publishing process enhance your writing?
Traditional publishing isn’t for everyone, but I love that there are so many people invested in making your book the absolute best it can be. Working with my editors has been a blessing and has pushed me to improve my writing immensely. For instance, I think I have a better understanding of pacing, particularly in the first half of the book, and that was something I used to really struggle with when writing.
8. What was it like to open that first box of your books? Describe the feelings and thoughts involved.
It was an incredibly emotional experience. My husband was videotaping the “unboxing” and my son was sitting next to me (and very anxious to see the books himself, lol) so it was definitely a family affair. I was on the verge of tears the entire time, but what tipped me over the edge was opening the book to a random page and seeing my words there. Which is silly because of course my words are printed on the pages—that’s the whole point of publishing!—but holding a “real” book with my dialogue in it was one of the best experiences of my life.
9. What are you looking forward to in your future as an author?
I would love to get to meet some readers in person and talk about the book. Because it came out during the pandemic, I haven’t had any in-person events yet. I’m also looking forward to launching my next book, Hot Dutch Daydream, in 2023!
10. What does your writing practice look like?
Pre-Covid I would often write in libraries or coffee shops, but nowadays I write at my desk at home. I always light a candle and often have a cup of tea by my side. Sometimes I like to write while listening to music—my current favorite is Vitamin String Quartet.
*Bonus Question: What advice do you have for writers who dream of a published book?
There’s lots of advice I could give, but I think my biggest piece of advice is to befriend other writers and hold them close. The entire publishing business can be brutal, and you really need others who understand and can help you through the hard times and celebrate your successes. Some of my closest friends are writers and I’m so thankful for them. I wouldn’t be here without them!
This book sat on my shelf for far too long and my anticipation was strong. Luckily, Matt Haig did not disappoint!
Nora Seed has decided that she no longer wants to live. In the last twenty-four hours she lost her job and her beloved cat and so it seemed to her a good a time as any to swallow a bunch of capsules and check out. The afterlife wasn’t the peace Nora had hoped for, but instead was a large library full of green books and a familiar librarian from her past.
She soon learns that within the pages of each book lies a life that could have been hers. Each variation of Nora’s life was built by the decisions she could have made or the regrets that she held. In this parallel universe, Nora has the chance to see what her life may be like if things had been different. She experiences lives where she is famous, successful, poor, and broken. Each time she feels unsatisfied she transplants to a new version of Nora’s life.
With a beautiful message of contentment and making our own happiness in life this book was worth all of the acclaim in my opinion.
Julia is growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago. Until recently, she flew under the radar of her overprotective parents, because her older sister, Olga, held a monopoly on their attention. Olga never lied. Olga worked hard to bring money home. Olga went to community college. And most of all, Olga never dreamed of leaving home.
Until Olga is killed in a tragic accident involving a semi truck.
Julia’s story begins just a few weeks after the death of her older sister. She finds herself grappling with the trauma of losing Olga, and also the constant attention that is now shifted Julia’s direction. Olga had always been the perfect one, but now the traditional Mexican role of “Perfectly Obedient” child falls on Julia’s unwilling shoulders.
When Olga was around, Julia was able to fade into the background. Her parents had no idea that she and her friends had taken up smoking weed and promiscuous behavior and she would never dream of sharing that after high school she planned to go to college in NYC. Perfect Mexican daughters just didn’t do those things.
Working through her own grief led Julia to her beloved sister’s bedroom where she found a few items that led to the realization that Olga wasn’t the perfect daughter that Ama and Apa had believed her to be. She had a secret life–and Julia was determined to break into Olga’s laptop to prove it.
This is a story of a daring Mexican daughter going to great lengths to uncover her family’s secrets. This quest takes Julia to some dark corners and along the way she must deal with her own demons.
A tale of breaking stereotypes, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a coming of age tale that puts readers into the shoes of a troubled teen trying to come-of-age by her own terms. With themes of grief, mental health, and strength Julia exemplifies growing up according to Mexican culture and she embodies the feminist values that so many young girls need to hear.
I really enjoyed this book. It moved a bit slow in the beginning, but that served to create a bond between readers and Julia. In the end, I felt that Julia’s character arc was beautifully articulated. She went from a bitter, troubled teen to an understanding daughter with a redemptive heart. I also enjoyed learning more about Mexican and immigrant culture through this book. Ama and Apa both immigrated to America shortly before Olga was born and so much of their journey shaped their lives as parents.
Check out my Goodreads account if you want to see what’s up next in my reading. And until I write again–curl up with a good book and find joy in the moments that you can escape into someone else’s story for a little while.
I was introduced to this book while visiting a Mother’s cLife group at my church. As I sat around and listened to the way the women reacted to the book I decided that night I had to get my own copy. I listened as Mom’s fessed up about their own shortcomings, and I was brought to tears by the way they united together in support for the struggles that mothers often face.
Somewhere down the line our culture decided it wasn’t okay to talk about how difficult and demanding being a mother actually is. Many new moms find themselves aching to talk about the hard times, but instead they paint on a smile and act like motherhood is the easiest role they’ve ever played.
Becky Thompson calls out all those bluffs.
With chapter titles like A Fight for Joy, Is It Just Me?, Real Life Looks Lived In, and Don’t Run Her Race, Thompson brings a voice to some of the fears that society silences within moms.
As I read through this book I experienced breakthroughs in my own life. I never realized that certain things I do as a mother are indicative of living in fear. And as I began to throw off those weights I found myself joining Thompson in prayer. I want to see what parenting looks like when we join together as mothers and throw off all the fears. Fears of weakness. Fears of insignificance. Fears of comparison. Fears of not measuring up to impossible standards.
One thing that set this book apart from others is the refreshing format that Thompson uses. Each chapter seems more like a conversation than a lesson. Within the pages the author explains how she learned from her own life experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and then she provides you an opportunity to explore your own life and interact with the text.
Whether new to motherhood or years into the gig this book contains truth you need to hear!
I’m pressing forward in my work to modify my Christian Fiction manuscript. It’s a secular story with Christian themes of forgiveness, redemption, and love. My hope is that in studying this book by Jeff Gerke that I will be able to add some touches to that story that take it beyond a “feel good” tale to one that is steeped in the glory of God.
I’m not out to write a religious story. My hope is to lead my reader to God without having to hold their hand the whole way. I want to leave room for the reader to draw connections and to see for themselves how God has restored the brokeness that my characters face.
So I’m picking up this book my husband bought me for Christmas and learning lessons each week from it that will help me in these edits to my book.
The Invisible Novelist
“You want her to love the story, not the storyteller.” (Gerke 17)
This chapter takes me back to a moment of humility. I had written (what I thought to be) the most illustrious story. My word game was strong and even I was a little impressed with myself. I submitted the piece to my online critique group expecting an immediate response of, “This is going to be a bestseller.” You can imagine my disappointment when I received my feedback in the form of red slashes all over the place.
I felt wronged. “They just don’t understand good writing.” I thought to myself. Pride knocked on my door and I invited it in.
But when I read through their comments and suggestions I felt like they had kicked me in the gut. The critiques were right. I was wrong.
In fiction writing there are two types of story telling. There is the painted paragraph form and the invisible novelist. Painted paragraphs are literary pieces full of carefully crafted prose. In painted paragraphs the author works hard to impress you with language. The problem with painted paragraphs–many readers dislike this form. Readers (generally) pick up a book to hear a story. They want to lose themselves in characters and conflict not in difficult vocabulary and vivid descriptions.
The focus on the invisible novelist approach is to get the reader to forget that they are reading a book. As an invisible novelist you let the plot and characters capture the attention of the reader. You leave your four syllable words out as the author and you draw the reader in so that they forget this story was penned by a novelist at all.
Which method is right for you? It comes down to your purpose in writing.
For me, I write to tell a story. My hope is that my readers walk away with a deeper insight about life. As a reader, I appreciate an invisible novelist and so this should be my goal as a writer as well.
Three keys for writing in this style given in this chapter are:
Keep your vocabulary “normal”
Avoid the bizarre turn of phrase
Stick to said
Understand Your Calling as a Novelist
It is important to understand the market for Christian writing.
Christian fiction is a title generally afforded to books with explicitly Christian content. Those books are ones oftentimes written for the already-Christian. They are aimed at teaching or redirecting the Christian reader. They point to a deeper relationship with Jesus. Their intended audience is generally those already under the influence of Christ.
There is a second category of Christian fiction. This group of books doesn’t get its own shelf at the book store because the books are not advertised as Christian fiction. They don’t fit into the traditional CF box. They may not explicitly discuss scripture. Rather these books take the words and themes of Jesus and mask them behind a secular plot line, non-religious characters, and maybe even a little profanity (you can do that?)
All Christians are called to ministry inside and outside of the church. Most feel a gravitational pull toward one end of that spectrum. And that’s okay.
I can remember sitting in Bible college and learning about being a teacher. So many of the other students described their perfect job as working in a Christian school. Not me. I knew I wanted to land a job in the public school sector. I’ve always felt more drawn to minister to the non-Christian. Not that I don’t see value in the ministry for the already-Christian, but I’ve always felt gifted with the personality and skill sets that mesh well with ministry outside the walls of the church.
That calling has shown up in my writing. And I’ve come to learn that Christian fiction doesn’t have to mean quoting Jesus and including stories from the Bible. Christian fiction can be allegories. It can be creative. It can be secular stories with a hidden layer of Christian themes. It can be a happy ending. It can be an apocalypse. Christian fiction means so much more than a girl meets Jesus for the first time. You may never find my book shelved with the Christian fiction that comes to mind when you hear the genre, but I am a Christian and my kind of fiction is heavily influenced by the God who has gifted me with the ability to write.
The first snow day of 2017 was the perfect day to wrap up my first book for the year as well. For the past several weeks I have come to know the cast of A Man Called Ove, and I took the icy road conditions as an excuse to put my professional life on hold in order to say my farewells to this lovely community of Swedes. I’ve learned so much and been reminded of even more. This was a fantastic call to love the unlovable and to show compassion to the callous.
Everyone in his neighborhood of row houses thinks they have Ove all figured out. He’s the typical curmudgeon whose life follows a routine set in stone, whose patience for anything foreign made and trendy is non-existent, and whose affinity with holding the rest of the homeowners on his street to the association rules makes no exceptions. His life is black and white. And don’t even think about selling this Swede any car other than a Saab.
He’s the bitter old man down the road. The one that everyone murmurs about.
But when his new Iranian neighbor and her husband move next door Ove finds himself struggling to maintain his solidarity. For one, her idiot husband can’t drive a U-Haul to save his life. For two, what adult woman is incapable of securing a driver’s license? For three, a shut door does nothing to limit the Iranian from barging into his house like they were something of friends.
Ove had given up. But with the help of the new neighbors, an unsettled feud, and a stray cat Ove realizes that not everyone has given up on him.
This was one of those stories that restores your hope in humanity. It reminds us that we can’t judge a book by its cover and that everyone has a story to tell. I really enjoyed this book. Much like he did in My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman heightens your sensitivity to the most villainous characters in our world.
Overseas, Backman is taking the literary world by storm. In America his books are a little slower catching on, but they are worth the read. There is also a foreign movie based on this novel that is capturing the attention of critics.
Another year is coming to a close and as another reflection on where I’ve been and what I have accomplished this year I wanted to capture my 2016 Reading List. I began 2016 with the goal of reading 24 books. I wanted to vary my reading exposure so I created a Reading Challenge for the year. I was able to nearly finish the challenge, but still have a few books to go before I complete it in 2017. I am happy to say that I expanded my exposure to different genres and authors this year and I diversified my reading from online periodicals, magazines, and eBooks (as well as the classic book.)
For each of the books listed below, you can find a review or information about the book under my books category in the right-hand margin. I hope you had a lovely year reading.
-Fear Fighting by Kelly Balarie
–Five Minute Friday by the Five Minute Friday Link Up (with a poem by me!)
–For the Love by Jen Hatmaker
-Live Loved by Margaret Feinberg
Writing Books-These are books I focused on this year on the blog to hone my writing skills.
–Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
–The Writer Magazine
–The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke
Other Books (Book Challenge)
–Numbers by Rachel Ward
–Whole 30/It Starts With Food by Melissa Hartwig
–Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
–Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
–Tru and Nelle by G. Neri
–The Crown by Keira Cass
–The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
–The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
–The Heir by Keira Cass
–Wicked by Gregory Maguire
–The One by Keira Cass
–The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
–A Separate Peace by John Knowles
–The Elite by Keira Cass
–The Selection by Keira Cass
–Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass
–Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman
–Schooled in Revenge by Jesse Lasky
–My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman
–City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
–Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland
I’m looking for reading plan suggestions for the new year. I’ve been really impressed by a new local library and have been spending a lot of time combing through their YA and adult fiction selections. I’m kind of on a YA kick right now as my next book I’m writing is from the perspective of a teenager.
I have the unique opportunity to help another author whose first book is launching this January. Her name is Kelly Balarie and her book is called Fear Fighting. I received my pre-release copy of the book this weekend and I’ve struggled to put this book down.
Fear Fighting is a faith-based book about awakening courage to overcome your fears.
It is a twelve-chapter book full of scripture and practical steps to defeat fear with courage and bravery. Within the very first chapter of the book I found myself wanting to draw closer to God and refocus my spiritual life. It’s so easy to be choked by the stress and pressures of our culture, but
“God is ready to hit us with unfathomable new perspectives-ones that redefine our past, present, and problems if we will only stop, receive, and consider.” (page 21)
This book promises to help you on a journey to:
-cultivate unstoppable faith by harnessing God’s Word and promptings
-usher in lasting peace through prayer that reduces panic, blood pressure, and stress
-discover clear and immediate action plans to exchange worry for God’s greater gifts
-implement daily bravery decrees to stand armed throughout the day
-participate in a twelve-week study guide to foster new courageous habits.
I’m excited to share more with you in the future about this book as I continue to make my way through its pages. As a member of the launch team I did not receive any compensation for this post, although my pre-release copy of the book was free. If you are interested in joining other readers on a journey to fight fear pre-order your copy of Fear Fighting here.