Food for the Soul
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Audra Jennings

Audra Jennings is a publicist with Litfuse Publicity Group.

Posted 10/29/12 at 1:07 PM | Audra Jennings

Cozy Up with A Merry Little Christmas

An interview with Anita Higman, Author of A Merry Little Christmas

Q: What inspired you to incorporate Jim Crow laws and segregation into your book?

Even though A Merry Little Christmas is really a love story, I felt it needed some additional conflict, and some of the racial struggles of the 60s seemed to be the right choice for this particular plot. I grew up in the 60s, and I was always interested in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. In some ways I feel I’ve waited my whole life to write this book. It came easily to me in that it’s been percolating in my imagination for a long time, but it was also hard to write because I had to consider more deeply the injustices of that era. Even though it sounds like a cliché, A Merry Little Christmas truly was the book of my heart.

Q: The farm scenes seem pretty realistic. Did you grow up in the country?

I did. While the small towns in the book are totally fictitious, I did grow up on a wheat, cattle, pig and chicken farm in Western Oklahoma, and it was pretty much identical to the one in the novel. If the farm scenes seem realistic, it’s because I got to know farm life quite well before I moved off to college at 18.

Q: Franny and Charlie come from very different backgrounds but are both looking for something very different from the way they've grown up. Do you think, as humans, we all just have a "grass is always greener on the other side" mentality?

Yes, that is a human frailty that is easy to succumb to, and I’ve been guilty of it as well. But God is good about reminding me that he’s placed me on my own unique life-road, and it may have little to do with anyone else’s journey. Besides, in many cases when we get a closer look at someone else’s “lush green grass,” it usually turns out to be turf.

Q: Do you think that sometimes we don't pray for what we want because we are afraid of getting what we pray for?

Perhaps that’s true, which would explain why Franny is equally nervous and excited about the sudden answer to her prayers.

Q: Was there a reason you added the themes of Christmas and music to your latest story?

My editor asked me to add those elements, and it was a blessing, since Christmas is my favorite time of year and I love music. Also, female readers in general love novels that are set during the holidays, and I’m hoping the music adds a cozy feel to the overall Christmas theme.

Q: What is your favorite Christmas song?

“The Holly and the Ivy.” The song has a melancholy feel to it, but it’s also beautifully sweet. I love the “Currier and Ives” style pictures my imagination conjures up when I’m listening to it.

Q: Does the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" have a special significance to you?

The song makes me swoon it’s so romantic and lovely. It makes me think of being snowed-in with the man I love. Of course, that scene also needs a mountain cabin with a crackling fire and two mugs of wassail.

Q: What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

I love to have my gal friends over for brunch around Christmastime. I have been collecting tea dishes for many years, so when I do a brunch, I go all out. Women are usually in a service mode most of their lives, so when they come to my house I want them to feel wonderfully pampered. And by the time they leave, I hope their hearts are a little merrier and they feel we’ve celebrated Christmas well!

Q: Is Franny's character based on any "real-life" person?

Franny is like me in some ways, but she has a lot more courage than I have and more laughter in her heart. So, really, I want to be Franny when I grow up.

Q: You have written everything from romance to suspense/thrillers to nonfiction. What is your favorite genre to write?

I love inspirational romance. There’s just nothing else like it for writing and reading. It naturally makes you want to curl up on an overstuffed couch and read the day away.

Readers can keep up with Anita Higman by visiting www.anitahigman.com, becoming a fan on Facebook or following on Twitter.

Posted 10/26/12 at 12:06 PM | Audra Jennings

From Pro Golfing to Authoring

An interview with Wally Armstrong, author of Practicing the Presence of Jesus

Although professional golfer Wally Armstrong had pursued a relationship with Jesus for over 35 years, he always sensed that there was something missing. As Armstrong puts it, there's a big difference between believing something is true and experiencing something as real. In Practicing the Presence of Jesus: Experience the Gift of His Friendship (Summerside Press, October 2012, ISBN 978-1-60936-702-2, $12.99), Armstrong shares his personal journey of discovering Jesus as a real companion and true friend.

Q: You write about a deep spiritual hunger that led you on a pursuit to experience a closer relationship with Jesus. Was there any one event that awakened the hunger?

There has always been a deep desire to be an authentic believer and pursue a closer relationship with Jesus. He just seemed so unapproachable for many years. I didn't feel worthy and did not feel I had achieved the level of understanding or performance that I needed to get to that higher level.

In Practicing the Presence of Jesus, I talk about the series of events that happened when I picked up a book by Dallas Willard on spiritual disciplines and was tipped off on a book from the 1920s about friendship with Jesus. It was when I started reading the first paragraph of the book’s prologue titled “A Modern Vision of Jesus” that the hunger was heightened. For the next two hours, I totally indulged in this new experience with Jesus that took me to the beginnings of living life on the highest level. It was completely different than how I had envisioned, and it all had to deal with having the truth become a reality.

There's a big difference between believing something is true and experiencing something as real. Before this experience, I believed Jesus was alive, but I had no idea that he wanted to be my friend and companion every moment of every day. The picture I have in my mind now is standing shoulder to shoulder with Jesus facing my sin together. I always felt alone and that he would have nothing to do with me in the midst of my sin such as, impure thoughts or unfair criticism of someone.

Q: Tell us about the day you met “Jesus” in Augusta.

In the spring of 2004, I drove up to Augusta to follow the King – Arnold Palmer. I had no idea that I was going to see Jesus standing there in the flesh talking to another golf professional like me. The Jesus I encountered behind the 18th green had no sandals or beard or long flowing robe, but was dressed like every other spectator at the event with a golf shirt and slacks. He only stood out in the crowd because people had seen the movie The Passion of the Christ that winter and recognized Jim Caviezal’s face as that of Jesus. So when they saw Caviezel, they were saying “look Jesus is talking to that Pro over there!”

When I came around behind the 18th green to meet my friend Jim Hiskey and his granddaughter, Rachel, I had no idea that I was going to see Jesus there talking to another player. It was just God's timing that Jim asked me to come up there and meet his granddaughter or I may have missed this whole encounter. It was the affirmation that this was the picture that I needed to secure the truths that I believed in as well as validate the personal encounter I had with the real Jesus four months before.

You see months before I found myself in my library reading a book which encouraged the reader to envision what Jesus would look like today if he showed up in your world as someone like you or me. As I thought of this, I envisioned Jesus as a fellow golfer and all of a sudden he became approachable and alive and real for the first time. The truths about Jesus became a reality. So I began to engage him mentally, not only as my Savior and Lord, but as a friend. A friend who is up-to-date and spoke my language. I always heard the scripture “I am the way the truth and the life,” but now I realized that this was just not encountering truth or discovering a way or a lifestyle. He is a real living person who was always there, I just never saw him in that light.

Back to Augusta – Later that evening when I was on the phone being interviewed live on a national radio sports talk show, it all gelled and made sense when I began to describe what it was like to see Jesus in the crowd. It must've been similar to what the disciples saw or maybe Zacchaeus saw from up in the tree. He saw that Jesus as one of them. The moment I finished the interview I felt as though God were saying to me, “now this is a wonderful way for people to connect with Me on a level they were created to experience, so tell others so they can meet Jesus as their personal friend in this simple uncomplicated way.”

Q: Growing up, you struggled with being “good enough” for your own father. How did that translate over to your spiritual relationship with Jesus and the feeling of not being able to measure up?

Growing up as a child of an alcoholic you become a human “doing” rather than a human “being.” You find all of your significance in your performance and attempts to please your father, and to be recognized by him as being okay. There was so much energy spent on meeting his expectations. You're just looking for that nod of acknowledgment that you’re special or have done well, but when it never comes, the energy builds up and it gets transferred to other ways of gaining that affirmation such as winning golf tournaments, writing books, speaking to hundreds of people, and doing golf clinics. Over the years, I have found many ways of gaining that affirmation. So your greatest strengths become your greatest weaknesses. Unfortunately, I found my significance and got my affirmation from the praise of other people.

This same quest for affirmation was transferred over to my relationship with God the Father and Jesus. After accepting Christ I read about a father who really loved me and my energy was transferred into that new relationship. I was driven in a new direction, but I was on the treadmill of performance again, but this time it was spiritual in nature. I still felt like I fell way short of God's expectations, and even though reading the words of Jesus in the Scriptures gave me great comfort, subconsciously I was still restless and working so hard to be okay, to get to the next level where I knew I had to be. I was trying to be a disciple on the highest level, but I was getting there on my own effort and understanding, based upon what I had read about in other books. No one really shared with me that Jesus was really alive, and beside me and in me, every moment of every day—whether I was doing well or doing bad, whether I was honoring him or dishonoring him.

I read the truth of Scripture telling me about how much God loved me and how special I was to him but this didn't deeply impact my heart until I encountered Jesus as real and began to practice his presence. I began to hear the voice of my Savior and friend affirming me of his love for me, not based on me doing anything but being his friend. That's the big difference between changing and transformation. Change requires effort and trying and earning to be okay, but the transformation requires letting God love you for who you are and receiving that affirmation without trying to change to earn that love.

Q: What is the chair experiment?

The chair experiment came about when I read the book I mentioned earlier, and the author’s own personal experiment of desiring “the friend’s” comforting presence and envisioning him in his office. The writer told the story of a man that a pastor once visited. The old Scotsman was ill and had a chair beside his bed. He made the Savior real by imagining him sitting in the chair and talking to him eye to eye as though he were his friend. When I read that from his old book, I decided to jump right in and visualize Jesus in my room and to imagine him as real.

Once that connection was made, and I saw that I could receive his gift of friendship as if he were a loving friend, I turned my desk chair to face me in my reading chair and began to imagine Jesus sitting across from me. I visualized what he would look like and how he would speak to me. This became a habit, and I could not get enough of this relationship every morning. I would get up and imagine him in the chair and mentally speak to him. Then, I would listen and imagine how He would be sitting and how he would be talking. The friendship was developed and nurtured day after day. To me it's finding space, a place for him not only in the morning for our special times together, but throughout the day whether it be imagining him in the car sitting next to me, on the golf course walking down the fairway together, or playing with my grandchildren. My desire is for him to be involved in my daily life and to acknowledge his presence in the good and the bad, knowing that everything is okay because he is there and as much alive today as he was with Peter and the disciples when they were on the beach cooking fish.

Q: What does it mean to practice the presence of Jesus? What steps are involved?

Practicing the presence of Jesus is something that takes discipline and work just like building a friendship with anyone else. It requires spending time with them and being totally transparent with them. It requires learning about them by asking sincere questions, sincerely listening and hearing with your heart.

My first waking moments start with meeting him wherever I am, whether it's in a hotel room on the road or at home in my den. This is the time when I am most alert and alive. It's an acknowledgment of his presence and his sovereignty and his love, the time when I talk to Jesus eye to eye and worship the Father for who he is.

I read his word in Scripture and visualized him speaking the same words to me in a modern setting with modern language. I know that he is present in all of my activities throughout the day, so there is an acknowledgment that he will be a part of everything I do and everything I think. It's more than a relationship but a companionship. A relationship is on and off, but a companionship is alive all the time because he lives in me and walks beside me every moment of every day. I desire for him to enjoy my life, and that I would be a loyal friend to him wherever I am and whatever I am involved in.

As I come to situations, circumstances, decision-making, and meeting people, I desire to have an awareness of his presence and check in with him during the day. Some days I may go for hours without this actively happening. I just think you develop a mindset to look back and to look ahead in order to have the assurance that He has been a part of it and will be a part of the future whether you want him to be there or not. It's a lifestyle and the mindset that follows the Scriptures of “come to me,” “learn from me,” and “fix your eyes on me” so His joy may be in you. The truth is because of his presence he experiences our life with us, now that is an incredible truth to ponder.

Q: Why do you think we too often see our Christian lives as performance-based rather than relationally-based?

We are living in a performance driven society where everything is based on the curve. You're constantly being graded and everything is achievement oriented. From the time you understand this force, it becomes more and more drilled into you. Relationships take time and, most of all, risk. It’s much easier to perform a task than to develop a relationship. God wants people to be involved in being real with each other and be in relationships that are genuine and filled with integrity. With Jesus and others, risk is the path to certainty. If you don't risk, then you'll never be sure that relationships are real and sustained. This is where so many opposites come into play. In order to be a leader, you must be a servant. To be a true follower of Jesus requires looking at life in a whole different way. You make choices every day to follow his lead rather than your own common sense or instincts. Jesus said my sheep hear my voice and they follow me. So as we live our life in this interactive companionship with Jesus, it requires looking at him and stepping out onto thin ice, or as Peter was encouraged to do, by walk on the water to Jesus.

Q: We often think of Jesus as being condemning, but He was nothing like that with His disciples, was He?

As I read in the Scriptures about Jesus’ relationship with his disciples, there was a tremendous amount of patience with these numbskulls. They were very numb to what was happening around them. Jesus was teaching a whole new way of life than what they were used to experiencing. Jesus lived an upside down life and was encouraging them to follow him in the same way. You have to go back and understand the culture that they lived in to see how incredibly upside down Jesus was turning everything. He wasn't condemning people except those who were religious fanatics or cruel to little children. He loved the disciples and corrected them, but he realized that they were not filled with his Holy Spirit yet, so their spiritual insights were not fully developed yet. When they got connected to Jesus after the resurrection, then the Holy Spirit helped them to see Jesus clearly and connect with him and live life on the highest level. So there is no condemnation, only corrective love.

Q: What do you mean when you talk about not only accepting Jesus as a Savior, but as a friend?

There is such a reverence to Christ and a loyalty to his sovereignty that some people like me keep him at arm’s length in the sky as a royal judge. They see him as a task master who requires them to shape up and get to work. They're not comfortable sitting at his feet and resting. They have no time to learn from him because they're too busy learning about theology and doing all kinds of benevolent things for others. They're becoming disciples on their own efforts and the have never been taught the first step of how to follow him as the living person he is and the friend that he wants to be.

They don’t see the gift of his friendship that is offered. We are talking about a living person who is a brother and is an advocate (someone who comes along beside to help). He is someone who is approachable and has walked in your shoes, experiencing everything to the same level that you experienced them. This is a side of Jesus that very few people see and understand. They have not been enabled to see a simple way of entering into this friendship.

That's what I am hoping that this little book will do: open up this side of Jesus that is personal and intimate and that people will enter in to this invitation he gives to be his friend and develop intimacy (which means – in to me see). Now that's what friends are for.

Q: What can we learn about Jesus by looking at His relationships, especially with His father?

Jesus was the actually the first disciple, a disciple to his father. And because Jesus was the first disciple, we can learn many things by looking at the way that he described his relationship with his father. Then we can realize that these are the same opportunities we have to enjoy fellowship with the father and the son. It was his desire that we would be living together in communion with the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit. In the Lord's prayer, Jesus encourages us to live on earth as it is in heaven, so we just live on this Earth with the triune God as it is in heaven. We are invited into their family as a son or daughter. It was once said, the son of God became a son of man so the sons of men could become the sons of God. God is in the business of building a family of sons and daughters who will live with him forever and ever. Jesus was sent to start the ball rolling again. He was mankind’s second chance. The best second chance ever and it's all about being saved by grace. On Earth as it is in heaven.

Q: You say that you waited a number of years to write this book. Why did you wait so long?

I was a busy bee, writing another book and traveling to support other ministries with my speaking and clinics. As I began to practice the presence of Jesus and study his word I began to put many of my thoughts and experiences down on paper in my Journal, so the book was written over many years. I'm an avid reader and usually have three or four books I am reading at one time and because of this, I'm constantly learning from others new ways of looking at this interactive life with Jesus.

As I began to get deeper into this friendship with Jesus, I realized that I had many misconceptions of the truth. I began to categorize these within my Journal, so when I had enough of them together I wrote out my story. I started the first rough draft about five years ago, then I had a number of writers take a look at it and doctor it up, so the book just kept growing and being refined.

Just like in golf instruction, there's nothing new under the sun, so this book is a giant compilation of many things that I have read from other people and listened to other people talk about. It's always been my desire to share with others the simplicity of the gospel. I've spent my lifetime refining the golf swing into its simplicity and teaching it so people can play golf and enjoy it for what it was meant to be not for what it has become. This is the same desire in writing this book – that people could be freed to live life on the highest level in the simplicity of a friendship with Jesus.

Armstrong invites readers to visit his website www.oldprobooks.com for more insights about receiving the gift of friendship Jesus offers us, and check out www.wallyarmstronggolf.com for free golf tips.

Posted 10/25/12 at 10:34 AM | Audra Jennings

A Fascination of Titanic Proportions

An interview with Janice Thompson, author of Queen of the Waves

This year marks the hundredth Anniversary of the Titanic’s maiden and only voyage, yet the passing of time has done little to diminish our fascination with the “queen of the ocean” or our love of stories set upon the ill-fated ship. This fall Summerside Press’ new American Tapestries™ line of historical romance novels will set sail with the release of Queen of the Waves (Summerside Press/October 2012/ISBN: 978-1-60936-685-8/$12.99), a story of love and destiny by Janice Thompson.

She shares more about how her latest release is different from anything she has done in the past and the unique challenges to writing about an event as historic as the sinking of the Titanic in the interview below.

Q: You are one of the first two authors to release a book in the American Tapestries series. How did you become involved in the project?

My agent asked me to put together a story idea focused on the Titanic. I’m usually a comedic writer, (and he happened to catch me on my way home from the theater, where I direct musicals), so I quipped: “Only if I can throw in a song and dance number involving an iceberg!” He laughed and responded with, “No, we have to play this one straight.” At first I wasn’t sure if I could come up with a serious plotline, but 24-hours later I had the story idea and the first chapter. My editors at Summerside (Rachel Meisel and Susan Downs) read the idea and loved it. When they saw me at the ACFW conference I got the news: “We’re going to publish your novel!” I was especially thrilled to hear that my book would be among the first to release in the new line. What a privilege!

Q: Writing historically accurate novels take a lot of research. How much time and effort went into researching for this book?

Oh my goodness! Talk about a lot of work. Not only did I spend months researching Titanic’s story (reading every available book and watching every conceivable documentary), I also drove from Houston to Branson, Missouri to go to the Titanic museum. Talk about an eye-opener! The exhibit covers everything you could imagine, and includes all sorts of artifacts from the ship. When you write about an event such as this, particularly one that has been so well documented in movies and books, you need to get your facts right. Even the “little” things (like how long did it take to load everyone onto the ship) can bog the writer down. Dozens and dozens of times I would stop writing just to look something up. And don’t even get me started on the clothing and hats! I created a board on Pinterest to study 1910 fashion!

Q: What are a couple of facts that you found while researching for this book that you never knew before and think that audiences will find particularly fascinating?

I’m not sure I realized that the Titanic made multiple stops before setting out to sea. She sailed out of Southampton, England, of course, but stopped in Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland to pick up additional passengers. Some of the best-known passengers actually boarded at the later stops. And one very famous passenger (Francis Browne) disembarked in Queenstown. He took photographs during his few hours onboard, and his photos helped document the first leg of the journey. Another thing that took me by surprise was how the second and third-class passengers were treated. After watching the infamous movie, Titanic, I felt sure the third class passengers were treated more like animals (or steerage). In reality, their living and eating conditions onboard the ship were better than most were accustomed to in their daily lives. Being on the ship was truly an adventure for all involved, (even prior to the iceberg incident, I mean).

Q: The book is dedicated to your Queen of the Waves online group and (specifically) to Cathy Stenhouse Peeling. Could you tell readers a bit more about those people?

I had just started writing Queen of the Waves when I got a note from a friend, asking if I would be interested in taking a Titanic anniversary cruise. My response? “No thanks! The only Titanic cruise I would consider taking would have to be a virtual one.” As I typed the words, the idea hit: Set up a Facebook group, title it Queen of the Waves, and invite people on a “virtual” Titanic cruise. Use the name of my POV character (Tessa Bowen) as cruise director. Within ten minutes I’d established the group and posted to my primary Facebook page extending the invitation. By the end of the day more than seventy people had asked to join the cruise. We eventually reached over 200! Most of my guests chose the names of real people who traveled on the Titanic. They posted photos, comments, and much more. We utilizing networking sites like Pinterest to collect photos. What fun! And speaking of photos, you should have seen the dresses, shoes and hats my passengers wore aboard the ship. We had a delightful time shopping for our time aboard the great luxury liner. I gave my passengers the background of the ship (all in first person, of course, from Tessa’s point of view). I also shared information about the staterooms, and tantalized folks with menus from the various dining rooms. I also provided activities for the children. (Side note: I opened this group to homeschool families, and many children boarded. With that in mind, I put together a full document of activities that families could use to teach their kiddos about the Titanic. I encouraged other participants to add to the activities list, so the document has grown a lot!) To answer your question about Cathy, she’s the great-niece of Captain Edward Smith and is an awesome, godly Facebook friend! I met her while sharing on Facebook about my story. She agreed to play the role of “captain” of our cruise, but (unfortunately) was hospitalized with a very serious illness while we were on our journey and was unable to participate. Praise God, she recovered and we remain wonderful friends!

Q: Talk about your reenactment of the night the ship went down.

Our Queen of the Waves journey coincided with the actual dates that the ship set sail. I knew that we would eventually have to “sink” our proverbial ship. So, on the night of the 100th anniversary, we all met in the group at a designated time and (literally) reenacted the entire event. It took a couple of hours to accomplish (with lots of weeping and wailing, as you might imagine), but we got the deed done. The various “characters” (many of whom were named for real-life passengers) re-lived the event in real time. I will tell you that I was completely worn out (emotionally and otherwise) when the night ended. I don’t recall every feeling so drained! (It takes a lot out of a person to drown that many people!)

Q: This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Titanic. Why do you think we’re still so fascinated with the so-called unsinkable ship after all this time?

I would imagine that people 500 years from now will still be interested. It’s such a tragic story, and one that affected thousands of people. Meeting Cathy Peeling really put this in perspective for me. Her uncle passed away that night. This completely changed the make-up of her family. And she’s just one person out of thousands. Generations of people were affected by this tragedy. And so many feel a connection. Ship builders. Dress designers. Modern-day cruisers. The rich. The poor. The dreamers. Those who long to travel. We can all envision ourselves aboard Titanic on that fateful journey. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from Titanic is this: We cannot put our trust/confidence in man-made things; only in the Lord.

Q: For such a tragic moment in history, why do you think so many stories are told of finding love on the Titanic? What makes it so romantic?

I think it’s the “unknown variable” that makes it all so interesting. It’s the fact that we can only speculate. Who were those people? What were they feeling? What were their hopes and dreams? What were they feeling before the ship set sail? After? How strongly did they feel it? Who did they feel it with? These are the questions that motivate us. As I sat to write this story, I envisioned people from every walk of life, all converged in one small world for a brief moment in history. Together, in that place, emotions surely ran the gamut (from exhilaration to distress and grief). Placing a love story in the middle of all of that emotion just made sense.

Q: We often think of the opulence of the Titanic and how some of the world’s richest people were aboard the ship. There were also very poor passengers as well, hoping to start a new life in America. Do you know how much it would cost for a ticket?

Cost of a ticket (one way) - http://www.keyflux.com/titanic/facts.htm
First Class (parlor suite) $4,350 ($83,200 today)
First Class (berth) $150 ($2975 today)
Second Class $60 ($1200 today)
Third Class $40 ($298 to $793 today)

Q: Is there a spiritual thread through the story/a message that you hope readers come away with?

Absolutely. Several of my characters (primarily Tessa) face their own destiny. They come to grips with the brevity and value of life. They see first-hand what’s truly important and what isn’t. In my story, Tessa learns that her picture of God has been skewed since childhood. She discovers a relationship with Him while onboard the ship, but that relationship is tested the night the ship goes down.

Q: What’s next for you? Where will you be taking readers with your next book?

I’m currently writing historicals for the Summerside “Belles and Whistles” line. The first book, Wedding Belles just released and the second, Sleigh Belles will release in a couple of months. These stories are more light-hearted in nature and deal with comedic women from the West.

Readers can keep up with Janice Thompson by visiting janiceathompson.com, becoming a fan on Facebook or following her Twitter.

Posted 10/23/12 at 7:30 PM | Audra Jennings

Need to Have THE Talk But Don't Know Where to Start?

An interview with Nicole O’Dell, Author of Hot Buttons

All parents were teenagers once, but with each generation there are new challenges that teens face, at least in a different way than their parents did. This has never been truer than today with the influences of social networking and a constant connection to the internet and media. It’s more important than ever for parents to be proactive in talking to their teens about hot-button issues such as the internet, dating, sexuality and drugs. As a resource to help parents have those difficult conversations with their children, Nicole O’Dell, author and popular radio host, has launched an innovative, proactive strategy parents can use to prepare their teens for difficult decisions with the release of the Hot Buttons book series.

Q: You are a mom of six. Did the idea for the Hot Buttons series come from your own experiences in talking to your children?

Definitely. I was searching for ways to lead my children to make good decisions and decided it would be far better to talk to them proactively about issues they would one day face, than it would be to wait until they were buried under poor choices. I believed it would be easier to control the way they perceived the information and easier to help them see and understand the consequences of poor decisions if they could look at it objectively, without the added stress of peer pressure and other outside influences. This relaxed and safe way of approaching the issues has been invaluable in preparing my own kids for the pressure they’d soon face, and the added benefit of open and honest discussion has brought us closer together.

Q: How do you decide the right age to discuss these hot buttons with your child? Should you talk about all of these issues about the same time, or do some come earlier than others?

Long ago, I decided it would be far better to talk to my kids pro-actively about issues they would face one day than to wait until they were buried under poor choices, like I was in my own teen years. I knew that if I had any hope of being as proactive as I wanted to be, I’d have to be willing to talk about the hard things like sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide, bullying, modesty, pornography, and more, perhaps even before they actually knew what those things were. No subject could be off-limits and nothing could be ignored. With that as a goal, conversations are always happening. Parents don’t need to wait until the issue comes up. In fact, it’s better if they don’t. No, not everything needs to be covered at once, but something should always be on the table. Shine the light and crowd out the darkness.

Q: What is an appropriate age for teens to start dating? Are there any variables to be considered?

Every teenager is different, so I hesitate to give an exact age. In Hot Buttons: Dating Edition, I outline several benchmarks for parents to look for as well as questions to ask themselves and their teenager before deciding whether or not it’s a good time to allow dating. Parents need to be prepared to make that age different for each of their kids, if necessary. It’s about readiness, not perceived fairness.

Q: How early do parents need to be talking to their children about sexuality? 2? 3?

Honestly, sexuality and issues related to it should be on parents' minds from the time their kids are toddlers. Hanging back and waiting for the all-important sex talk as the launching point misses very important opportunities to develop self-awareness in kids. They need to be pointed toward a healthy marriage from a very early age so they have their sights set fully on what God has for them--even if they can't put it into words yet. Modeling a godly lifestyle, answering questions, and having intentional, age-appropriate conversations from the very beginning are vital. By the time kids are ten, you can be sure they've started to grasp some of the finer points of sex and their own sexuality. This is when deeper and more specific conversations should be tackled.

Q: What signs should parents watch for if they suspect their teen of using drugs?

From Hot Buttons: Drug Edition They can be sudden, glaring changes that scream for your help, or they can be subtle trends that creep in slowly like a sinister fog. If you’re not observant, the fog will overtake your teen. The symptoms fall into three categories: emotional, behavioral, and spiritual. Specific emotional changes that can signal drug use include: Irritability, aggressiveness, mood or attitude changes, depression, excitability, restlessness, drastic mood swings. Behavioral changes might include: Lack of care for personal hygiene, major shift in personal style, such as clothing and hair, weight loss or gain, drowsiness or sluggishness, bloodshot, watery, or glazed eyes, clumsiness, crop in grades, lack of focus, new group of friends; cutting ties with old friends, lying or making excuses, stealing, breaking curfew, withdrawal from the family or activities, verbal or physical abuse toward others. And spiritual alarm bells might include: Pulling away from church or youth group, avoiding prayer or other spiritual connections, expressing doubt or disbelief.

Q: How closely should parents monitor their children’s online activities? What are some of the things parents can do to keep their children safe?

It’s not necessarily their fault when they stumble onto something risky. So it’s our job as parents to protect our kids. I have a few rules in my house that exist no matter what—even with the most trustworthy kids. It doesn’t really matter how much you trust them because when entering the WWW, they are exposed to an entire world of people and things that they don’t know how to avoid or why they should. Parental controls on computers to protect from dangerous websites that open the door to dangerous things like pornography and connections with strangers. Time limits on computer use. Internet access only in public areas of the home. Access via a shared password to every account a teen has (email, social media, etc.)

Q: Honestly, if parents don’t talk to their teens about the difficult topics such as dating and sex, where do they expect their teens to get information in order to make good decisions?

Sadly, I see a lot of parents who are clearly just hoping to make it through the teen years. Their hands-off approach leaves a teenager to wade through the doubt, confusion, peer pressure, and temptation all alone. And no teenager is equipped to do that in a healthy way. Without Mom and Dad taking charge, friends, the media, and anything else with a voice will take over.

Q: Why is it so important for parents to talk to pre-teens and teenagers about choices?

If I look at all to the major struggles I’ve had in my life, troubles I’ve caused, mistakes I’ve made…they can all be traced back to a moment of choice. Do it, or don’t? At that moment, when a decision is made, it sets a pattern of activity into action and you can’t go back to the moment before that choice—big or small—was made. Thankfully, we serve a big God who is in the business of forgiveness and restoration. Even though it would obviously be better to have made the right choices in the beginning, when we do make mistakes, He’ll pick up the pieces and put our messes back together. And, while ultimately it's a simple process because God's already done the work, it doesn't come naturally to human beings to deny self gratification and choose the right path. And when mistakes are made, it's not always easy accept grace and forgiveness. So, the goal is that we, as parents, will teach our kids about that process before the choices are presented.

Learn more about Nicole O’Dell and her books and Choose NOW podcasts at www.nicoleodell.com. She has special sections set up for both teens and parents. Readers can also keep up with her via Facebook and Twitter.

Posted 10/22/12 at 3:40 PM | Audra Jennings

Traveling the Oregon Trail

An interview with Melanie Dobson, author of Where the Trail Ends

Many events in our country’s history have shaped us into the nation we are today—countless stories of brave men and women giving up the lives they knew in hopes of making better ones for their families. Sometimes they lost everything they owned to build this nation, but in the midst of their losses, many of them discovered faith and love. Life was especially difficult along the Oregon Trail, as depicted in Where the Trail Ends by Melanie Dobson (Summerside Press/October 2012/ISBN: 978-1-60936-686-5/$12.99), one of two debut releases in Summerside Press’ new American Tapestries™ line of historical romance novels.

Melanie Dobson’s writing has allowed her to travel to and explore many locales around the country, but she was excited that Where the Trail Ends allowed her to stick closer to home. “Our family moved to Oregon six years ago, and I’ve been intrigued by the unique history of this state ever since,” explains Dobson. “Writing this novel gave me the wonderful opportunity to delve into the history of my new home state and learn about the strength and determination of the first Oregonians.” She shares more about her new release in the interview below.

Q: You are one of the first two authors to release a book in the American Tapestries series. How did you become involved in the project?

It’s such an honor for me to join Janice Thompson in launching this wonderful series about significant events in our country’s history! I wrote five historical novels for the “Love Finds You” series and I so enjoyed writing each one of these that when Summerside began developing the idea for American Tapestries, I was really excited about the opportunity to partner with them again.

Q: The American Tapestries line sets a love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. Did you get to choose the event yourself, or did you have options to choose from?

The editors and I brainstormed almost a dozen major events in our country’s history, but we kept coming back to a story about the Oregon Trail. Most of my books have been set on the other side of the United States so I loved the idea of setting a novel in the beautiful and rugged state that my family and I call home.

Q: Did you choose to write about the Oregon Trail because it was close to home?

Our family moved to Oregon six years ago, and I’ve been very intrigued by the unique history of this state ever since. When Summerside asked me to write a novel about the Oregon Trail, it was a ton of fun for me to delve into the history of my new home state and learn about the strength and determination of the first Oregonians.

Q: Writing historically accurate novels take a lot of research. Have you always had a love for history and research?

When I was younger, I loved reading about history, but I hated the timelines I had to memorize in school. Instead of learning about dates, I wanted to hear stories! For a long time, I thought I would be an archeologist until I discovered that I enjoy digging up information about people and events a lot more than bones and artifacts…and it’s a bit less dusty. My oldest daughter now wants to be an archeologist.

Q: What is the first thing you remember learning about the Oregon Trail? How old were you?

I grew up in Ohio, and while I don’t remember the first time I learned about the Oregon Trail, I was an avid fan of the Little House on the Prairie series. The life of pioneering families fascinated me so much as a child that I spent hours sending my Barbie dolls off into the vast frontier (also known as my basement) in a shoebox-turned-wagon. I still treasure the memories of those Barbie pioneer days.

Q: What would it have been like for a single woman out on the trail?

A single woman on the trail would most likely be single because she’d lost a spouse or a parent along the way. There wouldn’t be time for her to stop and grieve her loss so she would have to grieve as she worked and walked all the way to Oregon City. The wagon trains were run like democratic countries so each party had unique rules that they agreed to through voting. Usually only men could vote so a single woman would be at the mercy of the others in her party. Most wagon trains would have rallied together to help a widow or a young woman if they had enough supplies to do so, but there was no guarantee.

Q: What are some of the conditions settlers on the trail would have to endure?

Approximately three hundred thousand Americans traveled West on the Oregon Trail, and the conditions were often horrendous. Not only did the emigrants have to protect themselves from extreme weather and dangerous animals, the first Americans to travel to Oregon Country in a wagon train had to ford dangerous streams, fell trees, and leave behind most of their belongings in the rugged mountains. About thirty thousand pioneers lost their lives on this journey to accidents, drowning, and cholera—one grave, it is said, for every eighty yards of the trail.

Q: What are a couple of facts that you found while researching for this book that you never knew before and think that audiences will find particularly fascinating?

I’ve always been fascinated by how these emigrants could survive six months on supplies from a wagon so almost every detail of the research captivated me. While I once thought that pioneers rode their wagons west, I discovered that almost everyone walked the entire two thousand miles from Missouri. The children were often responsible for counting the rotations of a wagon wheel to see how many miles they traveled each day, chewing coffee beans to stay awake so they wouldn’t be run over by another wagon. I also didn’t realize when I started that what was known as Oregon Country was jointly owned by the British and American governments until 1846. The British fur companies and local Indian tribes were amiable, and they worked together for decades to trap animals and ship thousands of pelts back to London where beaver top hats were quite fashionable among noblemen. The British didn’t think Americans would ever be able to cross into Oregon by land.

Q: If our audience would like to visit a museum or exhibit to learn more about the Oregon Trail, where should they go?

There are actually two fantastic museums about the Oregon Trail. The first is the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center near Baker City, Oregon. This museum has old wagons and artifacts and a wonderful visual timeline of the trail as well as a fun children’s section where my girls dressed up as pioneers. The second is the National Oregon/California Trail Center in Montpelier, Idaho. A wagon master guides visitors through this amazing center as you travel together back in time about a hundred and fifty years. This tour—and the simulated wagon ride—was an unforgettable experience for my family and me.

Q: Is there a spiritual thread through the story or a message that you hope readers come away with?

One thing I love about novels with spiritual themes is that God often speaks to readers in a way the writer never intended. The spiritual threads in Where the Trail Ends are about God’s faithfulness and protection and also about crossing over into what The Pilgrim’s Progress calls the “Celestial City”. I pray God will use this story about a harrowing physical journey to encourage people wherever they are on their own journey.

Q: What’s next for you? Will you be writing another release in the American Tapestries line? Where will you be taking readers next time?

I’m hoping my next writing journey will be to Williamsburg and New York City during the American Revolution. My daughter and I just toured the old plantations along the James River, and my mind is full of possibilities about a female spy who risks everything to help the Patriots win this war.

Readers can keep up with Melanie Dobson by visiting www.melaniedobson.com or becoming a fan on Facebook.

Posted 10/17/12 at 6:56 PM | Audra Jennings

Living the Amish Lifestyle . . . But Not Quite

Best-selling authors and prominent bloggers create a new lifestyle website

Our lives are busy. We’re constantly connected to our phones and computers. Social media updates us on the news around the world. The minute we open our inboxes on Monday mornings the burden of doing more, being more, hits us. Disconnecting and simplifying is hard to do, but several Amish authors and lifestyle bloggers are challenging you to do just that.

Best-selling author Tricia Goyer is the visionary force behind the new website, Not Quite Amish (http://notquiteamishliving.com/). “With the publication of my Big Sky Amish series and The Memory Jar, I’ve wanted to create a community where Amish experts can become contributors. Not Quite Amish is a community blog for women who love Amish influences, simple living, and vintage style, and who have a desire to be in growing relationships with friends, family, and God.”

The website will officially launch the week of October 1 and will feature daily posts about recipes, repurposing, simple style, beautifying your home, book chats, sewing and knitting projects, wisdom, Scripture, Amish proverbs, and Q&As with Amish and former Amish (among many other topics).

Carol award-winning and Amish author Suzanne Woods Fisher, who will be a monthly contributor for Not Quite Amish, says, “There’s a theme in my non-fiction books about the Amish—you don’t have to ‘go Amish’ to incorporate their principles into your life. NQA is a way to encourage people to dig deeper and find ways to make life a little big easier.”

Amish author and monthly Not Quite Amish contributor Kathleen Fuller admits that living “Not Quite Amish” isn’t easy, but it’s rewarding. “I find that when my schedule is overloaded, I miss those times when I can just sit outside, enjoy God’s creation, and commune with him.”

More than 15 authors and bloggers will be contributing monthly to Not Quite Amish. Readers are also encouraged to submit ideas, questions, and posts for topics they’d like to see written about.

For more information, visit Not Quite Amish, or visit the website’s Twitter or Facebook page.

Posted 10/16/12 at 4:53 PM | Audra Jennings

Mission: Nothing is Impossible

Missionary Rose Marie Miller shares her journey to discovering Nothing is Impossible with God for herself

Nothing is impossible with God. That’s what Rose Marie Miller had always heard, but for a long time it didn’t seem to ring true to her. Even while serving in ministry, she kept God at a distance, building walls of self-protection and self-reliance. She wanted to avoid weakness and vulnerability at all costs. Then, God powerfully transformed her heart. In Nothing is Impossible with God: Reflections on Weakness, Faith, and Power (New Growth Press, October 2012, ISBN 978-1-936768-68-4, $ 15.99, also available in eBook), Miller shares how God revealed his grace and forgiveness, changing her life in ways she never thought were possible and welcoming her into new, missional life of discipleship.

For many years, Rose Marie served alongside her husband, Jack, as they ministered to people in their home, planted the New Life Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and eventually began World Harvest Mission. She tried her best to be not only supportive, but a true partner to Jack in ministry. However, she could not shake the dark cloud of fear, guilt, condemnation, and loneliness that hung over her life. “Into this dark cloud God spoke, not with an audible voice, but with life-giving words. God, for whom nothing really is impossible—not even changing a self- righteous, independent, desperately- trying-to-keep-it-all-together pastor’s wife—gave me himself,” says Miller.

Miller gives of her wisdom and experience as she points the reader to Jesus and his grand mission to use his people to redeem the broken world. Addressing fears, weaknesses, and hopelessness, she always comes back to a new, gospel-centered way of living where the way up is down, the weak become strong, and the dead receive life. Readers will be encouraged that God, for whom nothing is impossible, can fill each of them with faith and use them to reach a broken world.

Although Nothing is Impossible with God shares stories of God working throughout Miller’s life, the book focuses in on her life’s journey since husband’s death in 1996 when she was faced with losing not only her husband, but her ministry partner. She felt lonely and unsure of where she was supposed to go next. “This book tells how God nurtured me and matured me in the years that followed,” explains Miller. “It’s a collection of personal meditations, journal entries, talks, and Bible studies that I have written over the years. Together they illustrate what my Beloved Jesus has done in my heart and life. When God began to unlock the garden of my heart, he invited me to join in his mission to make this broken world an inheritance for his Son. His assignments haven’t been easy, but I love and trust my Gardener and I am filled with joy to partner with him. He truly is the God of the impossible.”

Nothing is Impossible with God also gives insight into the themes of living a lifestyle of forgiveness, hopeful discipleship, what it means to be content, and lessons in how to pray. Readers will also learn about four women of the Bible who had firsthand experience with the God of the Impossible.

The missional life has not slowed down for Miller. At age 88, Rose Marie actively ministers to Asian women living in London eight months out of the year, further proving that nothing is impossible with God.

About the Author

Rose Marie Miller is a Bible teacher, conference speaker and missionary. She was born to German parents and grew up in San Francisco. She graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, and from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles.

Rose Marie and her husband, Jack, moved with their growing family to Philadelphia, PA where Jack joined the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary as professor of evangelism. Over the years they took many troubled people and Ugandan refugees into their home, and saw the power of the gospel change many lives. This led the Millers to plant the New Life Presbyterian Churches and to make their first trip to war-torn Uganda in 1979.

A few years later, World Harvest Mission was born, and Sonship was launched as a training curriculum to help missionaries understand and live out the gospel. As a result Rose Marie had many opportunities to speak about the power of the gospel to change lives, in both the U.S. and abroad.

Since Jack passed away in 1996, the Lord has given Rose Marie the strength and grace to continue her gospel-centered speaking ministry, and she currently spends eight months a year as part of the World Harvest team in Southall, building friendships and sharing her faith with Asian women in London. She is the author of From Fear to Freedom: Living as Sons and Daughters of God and Nothing is Impossible with God: Reflections on Weakness, Faith, and Power (New Growth Press).

Miller has five children, twenty-four grandchildren, and twenty (and counting) great-grandchildren. She divides her time between London, England and Jenkintown, PA.

Posted 10/16/12 at 10:15 AM | Audra Jennings

Rediscovering the Adventure, Suspense, and Mystery of the Bible as a Family

Old Story New makes it easy for families to focus on the Gospel with 10 minute daily devotions

Who can resist a story filled with adventure, suspense, drama and mystery? A story with these elements easily captures our attention, no matter how old or young we may be. However, we often forget that the gospel story has all these characteristics, and it’s a true story that has the power to save. Longtime children’s ministry leader Marty Machowski brings the entire family together to rediscover the excitement of the gospel by taking a deep biblical truth and presenting it in an easy-to-understand weekly devotion in his latest release, Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (New Growth Press, October 2012, ISBN 978-1-936768-66-0, $19.99).

As adults, we often struggle to figure out when to do our own devotions and where to start, so regular devotionals for family Bible study can seem especially daunting. Machowski frees parents from the pressure by giving them everything they need for five daily devotions per week, focusing on a weekly story and covering the entire New Testament in a year and a half (78 lessons). Each week’s gospel-centered lesson helps children understand and remember Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, as well as the beginning of the church. The devotional program is designed to explain God’s plan of salvation throughout the New Testament. Every lesson asks the question, “where is the gospel?”

Old Story New walks children through the great truths of the Christian faith through New Testament stories and offers simple discussion questions (and answers) for each day’s devotion. By focusing the family for only 10 minutes, parents can keep the attention of their young children and reign in their busy teenagers. Machowski even offers parents suggestions of how to make the gospel-centered devotionals relevant for all grade levels, and the lessons are suitable for children from preschool through high school. These kids Bible materials are perfect for morning routines, after dinner discussions, or bedtime rituals.

“Each week starts off with a creative activity, exercise, or bit of trivia to introduce the passage,” explains Machowski. “On days one through four you review a portion of the week’s Scripture passage. Special attention is given on day three to connect the current passage to the gospel. On day four we’ve added a question for your older children to ask you, and on day five you and your family will investigate a Bible passage from the book of Psalms or an excerpt from one of the prophets to discover how the passage points forward to Christ.”

Although Old Story New can be used as a standalone devotional, the stories coordinate with each New Testament story from The Gospel Story Bible (released last December) and the entire line of Gospel Story for Kids Bible curriculum. Long Story Short, the first volume in Machowski’s family Bible study series covering the Old Testament, was one of the 6 finalists for the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) 2012 Christian Book Awards in the Inspiration category. Using the two books together, families can go through the entire Bible in three years and gain a better understanding of the whole storyline of redemption.

The Gospel Story Curriculum for churches and Christian schools is now available for the Old Testament, and the New Testament portion will release in January 2013. When used in coordination with the church curriculum, Old Story New is a wonderful tool for families to follow-up on each week’s Sunday school lesson.

Visit http://gospelstoryforkids.com, for more information about the Gospel Story for Kids series and curriculum.

About the Author

Marty Machowski is a Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church, a Sovereign Grace Ministries church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, where he has served on the pastoral staff for more than twenty years. As leader of their children’s ministry, Promise Kingdom, he has worked for many years to develop kids Bible curriculum and devotional material that connect church and home. His passion is equipping families to understand the Bible as one gospel story and help them share that with their children.

“We get to tell God’s story to our children—the mighty life-transforming message of the gospel,” says Machowski. “We are sowers who plant the seeds of faith each time we speak the truth of God’s story to our children. Like a farmer sprinkling the newly planted seed with his watering can, we send our prayers to God while we keep our eyes fixed upon the soil of their lives, waiting to rejoice with the first sprouting leaves. Even then, though we’ve sown the seeds of the gospel, we still marvel and wonder about how they sprouted. That is where I hope Old Story New can help make sharing the Bible with your children a whole lot easier.”

Machowski is the author of The Gospel Story for Kids series including: The Gospel Story Bible, Long Story Short: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (OT), The Gospel Story Curriculum: Finding Jesus in the Old Testament, Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God (NT), and Gospel Story Curriculum: Following Jesus in the New Testament (coming in January 2013).

Marty and his wife Lois and their six children reside in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Visit http://gospelstoryforkids.com, for more information about the Gospel Story for Kids series and curriculum. The website is also home to Marty’s blog on family, children’s ministry and more.

Posted 10/15/12 at 11:42 AM | Audra Jennings

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Author Anita Higman invites readers to kick off the season with a spirited holiday tale.

Often times the mere mention of Christmas stirs cherished memories and makes us nostalgic for years gone by and the ones we love. Maybe you even begin to hum your favorite Christmas tune. Author Anita Higman harnesses that sentimentality and affection for the holiday season in her latest release, A Merry Little Christmas (Summerside Press/October 2012/hardcover/ISBN 978-1-60936-688-9/$14.99).

Higman invites readers to fall in love with this cozy story about two people from different worlds. Franny Martin is an Oklahoma farm girl who’s preparing to spend the holidays alone... again. She has spent all of her adult life keeping the family farm going after her parents’ death, and she struggles to make ends meet. Franny has no money to speak of, but she is clever and spirited. Her love for music drives her dream to sell the farm and move to the city to find work in the radio business.

Then Charlie Landau shows up one day, all wealth and polish, and offers to buy Franny’s farm. Charlie has been trying to prove himself and meet the expectations of his wealthy father after falling short on one business venture after another. He is determined to make his latest endeavor work — running a farm—that is, after taking a few lessons from Franny.

Even though Franny and Charlie come from very different backgrounds, they quickly find a common bond. In the back of her mind, Franny fears the bigger life that lies beyond her small world. At the same, Charlie is afraid of letting his father down yet again. Both must face their fear of failure and come to the realization that life on the other side isn’t always as it appears.

Drawing on her own experience of growing up in Oklahoma, Higman brings the Martin farm to vivid life. Yet, that’s not the only part of her childhood that she brings to the story. “Even though A Merry Little Christmas is really a love story, I felt it needed some additional conflict, and some of the racial struggles of the 60s seemed to be the right choice for this particular plot,” says Higman. “I grew up in the 60s, and I was always interested in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. In some ways I feel I’ve waited my whole life to write this book. It came easily to me in that it’s been percolating in my imagination for a long time, but it was also hard to write because I had to consider more deeply the injustices of that era. Even though it sounds like a cliché, A Merry Little Christmas truly was the book of my heart.”

As Sinatra croons from the radio and Christmas descends upon her charming farm, Franny teaches Charlie the curious and sometimes comical ways of country life. In the process, they unearth some discoveries of the heart —that sometimes love comes when you’re least ready for it. Will the holidays bring their most impossible dreams within reach?

A Merry Little Christmas is the first release in Summerside’s Songs of the Season™ line. Each year, readers will get into the spirit of Christmas with a seasonal romance novel bearing the title of a popular Christmas song. Each giftable hardcover book will combine romance and holiday charm in a nostalgic era.

For more information on Anita Higman and her books, visit www.anitahigman.com.

About the Author

Anita Higman is a CBA bestselling and award-winning author. She has written or co-authored 30 books including fiction and non-fiction for adults and children as well as plays. And she isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Higman has six books coming out in the next two years.

Even though she’s written in many genres, Higman does have her favorite. “I love inspirational romance. There’s just nothing else like it for writing and reading. It naturally makes you want to curl up on an overstuffed couch and read the day away.”

There’s something about writing Christmas stories for Higman. Love Finds You Under the Mistletoe (co-written with Irene Brand) made two bestsellers lists for Christian fiction. Her novella in the compilation, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, was given a four-star review in Romantic Times Book Reviews. Her latest release, A Merry Little Christmas, is sure to be a favorite of shoppers and readers this holiday season.

Higman has won two awards for her contributions to literacy and has raised thousands of dollars with her book, I Can Be Anything, while serving on the board of directors of Literacy Advance of Houston.

In addition to writing books, Higman has written for radio, e-zines and advertising. She also cohosts a monthly blog talk radio show at www.InFaithNetwork.com which is a part of Reader’s Entertainment Radio. She has a BA degree combining speech communication, psychology and art from Southern Nazarene University and is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and The Writer’s View.

She loves good movies, exotic teas and brunch with her friends. Higman and her husband live in Houston, TX.

Readers can keep up with Anita Higman by visiting www.anitahigman.com, becoming a fan on Facebook or following on Twitter.

Posted 10/13/12 at 9:55 AM | Audra Jennings

Trials on the Trail

Melanie Dobson’s latest release takes readers on an unforgettable journey of trials and triumph.

Many events in our country’s history have shaped us into the nation we are today—countless stories of brave men and women giving up the lives they knew in hopes of making better ones for their families. Sometimes they lost everything they owned to build this nation, but in the midst of their losses, many of them discovered faith and love. Life was especially difficult along the Oregon Trail, as depicted in Where the Trail Ends by Melanie Dobson (Summerside Press/October 2012/ISBN: 978-1-60936-686-5/$12.99), one of two debut releases in Summerside Press’ new American Tapestries™ line of historical romance novels.

It’s 1842, and for 2,000 miles along the trail to Oregon Country, eighteen-year-old Samantha Waldron and her family have faced tremendous challenges to reach the Willamette Valley before winter. They have weathered autumn storms, hunger, thirst and the dangers of a wild and unfamiliar country. After the loss of first their mother and then their father along the trail, Samantha and her younger brother, Micah, are rescued from the mighty Columbia River by British exporter Alexander Clarke.

Once the three of them arrive at Fort Vancouver, Samantha is overwhelmed with men vying for her affections; after all, few women made the journey, especially unmarried ones. However, the only man who intrigues her, Alex, is already promised to another. When his betrothed arrives unexpectedly from England to escort him home, Samantha becomes determined to create a home for herself and Micah in the fertile valley far away from the fort. But how will an unmarried woman support herself and her brother in the wilderness alone? When Micah disappears into the wilderness one rainy night, Samantha must rely on the man she has fallen in love with—the man she’s trying desperately to forget—to rescue her brother again before it’s too late.

Where the Trail Ends is the one of two releases launching in Summerside’s new American Tapestries™ series this fall. Each novel in this line sets a heart-stirring love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. Whether they fought in her battles, built her cities or forged paths to new territories, a diverse tapestry of men and women shaped this great nation into the Land of Opportunity. Even then, as is true now, the search for romance was a major part of the American Dream.

Melanie Dobson’s writing has allowed her to travel to and explore many locales around the country, but she was excited that Where the Trail Ends allowed her to stick closer to home. “Our family moved to Oregon six years ago, and I’ve been intrigued by the unique history of this state ever since,” explains Dobson. “Writing this novel gave me the wonderful opportunity to delve into the history of my new home state and learn about the strength and determination of the first Oregonians.”

Dobson has always had a love for reading about history but admits she was much fonder of the stories than the timelines. She often has to force herself to stop the research process in order to start writing, and she loves learning new facts along the way. “I’ve always been fascinated by how these emigrants could survive six months on supplies from a wagon, so almost every detail of the research captivated me. While I once thought that pioneers rode their wagons west, I discovered that almost everyone walked the entire two thousand miles from Missouri.”

Through her stories, Dobson enjoys sharing with her readers what she’s learned along the way and bringing to life the stories of what might have happened in a time gone by. In each of her books, she includes an “Author’s Note” to give readers an added bonus of more background behind the history of the story and pointers on where to go to learn even more.

However, by the time readers reach the end of the book, she hopes they have experienced an entertaining glimpse into our nation’s history as well as a reminder of how God cares for those who put their trust in Him. “Where the Trail Ends is about God’s faithfulness and protection and also about crossing over into what The Pilgrim’s Progress calls the ‘Celestial City.’ I pray God will use this story about a harrowing physical journey to encourage people wherever they are on their own journey.”

For more information on Melanie Dobson and her books, visit www.melaniedobson.com. You can also watch Novel Crossing's video of Melanie talking about Where the Trail Ends.

About the Author

Melanie Dobson has written eleven contemporary and historical novels, including five books for Summerside’s Love Finds You series and one of two debut releases in the new American Tapestries™ line. In 2011, two of her releases won Carol Awards: Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa (for historical romance) and The Silent Order (for romantic suspense).

Not only does Dobson enjoy writing historical fiction, she enjoys the research process that comes along with it. Because Melanie visits each location she writes about, she’s been able to spend time in the beautiful and fascinating towns across the country that bring her stories to life.

Melanie received her undergraduate degree in journalism from Liberty University and her master's degree in communication from Regent University. Prior to her writing career, Melanie was the corporate publicity manager at Focus on the Family and a publicist for The Family Channel. She later launched her own public relations company and worked in the fields of publicity and journalism for more than fifteen years.

She met her husband, Jon, in Colorado Springs, but since they've been married, the Dobsons have relocated numerous times including stints in Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Colorado, Berlin and southern California. Along with their two daughters, Karly and Kiki, they now enjoy their home in the Pacific Northwest. The entire Dobson family loves to travel and hike in both the mountains and along the cliffs above the Pacific.

When Melanie isn't writing or playing with her family, she enjoys exploring ghost towns and dusty back roads, line dancing, and reading inspirational fiction.

Readers can keep up with Melanie Dobson by visiting www.melaniedobson.com or becoming a fan on Facebook.

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