Backroads Cover Reveal!

Hope Canyon is a little place that’s been rattling around in my brain for about 18 months. It’s a small town, but not one of those small towns you see on Hallmark movies with one stoplight…filled with cutesy downtown mom and pop coffee shops and hardware stores. No, Hope Canyon is more like the small town where I grew up – not even a town, really. Just a little sign on the edge of the highway, one gas station, and a bunch of gravel roads. It’s the kind of place people drive by while barely even realizing they’ve passed it.

The Backroads series focuses on four main characters. Since I like to do custom photo shoots for my book covers, that meant getting four people in the same place at the same time. Not an easy feat, but they were very accommodating and fantastic to work with. Amy at A Glimpse of Grace Photography captured magnificent shots, and Roseanna White Designs provided the end results which are…

Well, I’ll let you see for yourself. 😊

 

Dedication

to those who grew up off the beaten path

who treasure the smell of a freshly-cut hayfield

rain kicking up the dust

honeysuckle along a fence line

who know the feeling of dirt swirling in the air

when you drive on a gravel road

and know that there’s two ways to tell distance –

as the crow flies and as the road bends

and especially to those who grew up

in my neck of the woods

who completely understand

how a place can be

the middle of nowhere

and the center of the United States

at the same time

if you’ve ever taken a funeral casserole to a neighbor

swung on a rope into the middle of a river

been in a traffic jam because of a tractor

or drank from a red Solo cup in a field

on a Friday night

this story is for you

Written in the Stars

Roundabout these parts, dirt roads don’t just get you from point A to point B. They intersect to create a maze of life often missed when outsiders drive through a sleepy town. The number on the population sign might seem insignificant, but a few short steps from the beaten path, there’s more than meets the eye.

Look a little closer… That sleek out-of-town convertible is bringing former pageant queen Brooke Langdon back into town for the first time in a decade. She’s dragging nothing with her but they hyphen in her last name. Gatlin Moore is running his tractor along the fence line, spending his days keeping up his parents’ farm instead of living out his dreams in Nashville. The sheriff is pulling into Holly Christian’s driveway, preparing to tell her that her life’s about to crumble. And Hunter Pearce, the guy everyone calls when they need something fixed? He’s racing to Holly’s place too, wondering if things are too broken to put back together.

Welcome to Hope Canyon. This is our backroads story.

Written in the Stars

Holly and Hunter are  portrayed by Kaitlynn and Hunter (yes, Hunter – a fabulous coincidence). Both of them grew up around the same little spot in the country where I came from and went to the same high school I attended.

Written in the Dust

There are two basic types of people you’ll come across in small towns. Planters have the land in their blood and want to stay forever. Dreamers long for the day they will finally escape. Holly Christian? Definitely a planter. She’s never considered leaving for greener pastures, but it’ll be a whole lot easier to move forward when people finally stop telling her that will never happen. Thank goodness she has an ally in Hunter Pearce. He has no desire to leave now that he has what he’s always wanted. Well…almost. The words he can’t take back are still clinging closer than a humid summer afternoon.

Then there’s Gatlin Moore, who leans more in the dreamer direction. He used to imagine a future away from his hometown, but circumstances changed his plans long ago. Now he can’t stop thinking about bringing some of his dreams back to life, namely the ones that involve Brooke Langdon. Breaking up in their small town was hard, but getting back together might prove impossible. She may not be around long, unless she rediscovers what she used to love about the place. Putting her future in order by piecing together the past could mend her heart…or break it for keeps.

Welcome to Hope Canyon. This is our backroads story.

Written in the Dust

 

Brooke and Gatlin are portrayed by Ashley and Bobby. Ashley grew up in my neck of the woods, and although it is aging myself to admit it, I may have babysat her once or twice a very long time ago. Bobby recently married my daughter’s kindergarten teacher.

I can’t thank these four people enough for lending their images to my stories, along with the fabulous work from Amy and Roseanna. I love the fact that these homegrown stories have homegrown photos that are uniquely suited to them.

Written in the Stars will be available August 22, with Written in the Dust to follow shortly.

Thanks so much for reading my stories! I appreciate each and every one of you.

Christina

Over My Head

During the past month, I did a lot of sitting in a plastic chair watching my kids take swimming lessons. My daughter loves being in the water. Even if she manages to inhale a bit while she’s under, she comes up sputtering and then goes right back down again. Meanwhile, my son clings to the side of the pool like he’s hanging by his fingertips to the side of a cliff.

It’s been a bit perplexing watching him during the course of the lessons. It took a bit of convincing to get him to go under water in the first place, but over time he seemed to go under less, not more. By the time the lessons were over, he was barely sticking his mouth in the water when the teacher told him to go under. Instead of trying to hold his head beneath the surface, it looked more like he was having a sneezing fit.

He couldn’t convince himself to go all in.

Untitled designHow often do I do the same thing in life? The way forward seems over my head, so I stay in the shallows. If I’m really feeling brave, I do a cannonball into the deep end for a couple seconds and then pat myself on the back for that show of faith as I retreat to the low waters.

It’s hard to unpack and park myself in the deep.

The shallow is comfortable.

It’s easy.

Controllable.

It’s also selfish.

The truth is, God and I have been communicating about water for quite a while now. Years, really. For whatever reason, water is the medium that has been used to capture my notice, to spur me into motion, and to convince me that it was time to move on when I got too comfortable. Over time my attention has been grabbed by leaks, downpours, songs about water, and even dreams about lakes and rivers.

This time, it’s my son swimming.

The more I watched him not quite master the techniques, the feeling began growing inside me that I was supposed to be gaining something from his struggle. Something about relinquishing my hold on the shore so I can go a little farther. Something about leaving the safety of the known for the unfamiliar deep. About tossing out the kiddie pool and going all in.

Last week I picked up one of my random devotionals (I have several that I pop into without any rhyme or reason) and opened it to the correct date. “Put everything in your life afloat upon God, going out to sea on the great swelling tide of His purpose, and your eyes will be opened. If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters just inside the harbor, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbor into the great depths of God…” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

After reading it, I said, “Wow, thanks God for that affirmation of everything I’ve been pondering.” Yeah…not really, because I’m a lot more of a muddled mess than that. What I really did was hastily scan the devotions for the days before and after that one, because my mind wanted to explain why the message for that day was about water. It was surely just a series that I stumbled into, with a week’s worth of ocean topics or something. Except it wasn’t. Just that one day in the midst of others not like it, that I happened to pick up while I was thinking about water once again.

So I kept thinking about it, because as much as I’d like to hope I’m smart, things like this take me forever to figure out. While I was still rolling it around my brain, one of the guys at my church posted a blog about his trip to the ocean. (Check out Alan’s blog here.) “…a few do make their way through the distractions and crowds. They feel the draw and want more than just the beach. They want to see more than just sand. Some will never see the beauty of the ocean because they can’t get past the fun they are having at the beach. They will never know the vastness and the absolute peace that the ocean can give them.”

Alan likely knew he was reaffirming what I already read that week. Ahem. Again…pretty sure that’s not the case. More likely, he’s reading this now and saying, “Hey, that’s cool.” High-fiving someone near him like he usually high-fives my kids.

Untitled design2Those same kids came home from camp last weekend, and they both had written in journals while they were gone. In my son’s, when it asked for something he needed to do better, his answer was simple: swimming. A couple weeks ago I would have just nodded and silently agreed, but by this time his answer hit me in the heart. Mostly because it’s something I need to do better, too.

Someday I will be asked if I encountered the depths of this life, and I don’t want to have to look back and say, “Not really, but look at my cool sandcastle.” Because the beach might be fun, but there’s so much more to be discovered below the surface. And there’s purpose that requires me to be all in, over my head, away from the shore.

Christina

 

Perfectly Ugly

camdyn (2)photo used by permission (c) Shutterstock

If you ever plan to read one of my books, I’ll warn you in advance: My book characters all have a little ugly lurking in their stories. I think it’s a prerequisite for me to think them interesting enough to write about. To me, the flaws are the most integral ingredients to creating believable characters.

But there are a lot of outlets where people don’t want others to have flaws. I’ve seen a lot of Christians hurting other Christians lately – in reader groups, on author groups, in unfair criticism, in ridiculous pieces on the news. And while it bothers me on a deep-heart level, I must admit that I usually see these things online, let out an exasperated sigh, and get about my day.

Part of the reason I don’t ever get involved in those discussions is that I know the lingo. I’ve studied and read and processed and put way more thought into my faith than most of the people who cherry pick random verses to prove their points. I’ve been in a relationship with God all of my life. Not always the best relationship on my part, and sometimes through those angry “I’m not talking” phases, but there’s always been relationship. And being a “good Christian” in a by-the-book way isn’t relationship. I was there. I lived it, and rules don’t work. Striving for perfection doesn’t work.

This process of tearing down others popped up in my last two books as part of the reason the main characters questioned their faith. When things show up in my books that I hadn’t intentionally put there, I figure God’s trying to get my attention. And after doing a lot of thinking, when it’s boiled down to the bare bones, the message of those degrading, hurtful comments or Facebook posts always looks the same: I’m a better Christian than you.

What have I noticed when I really dug deep into my own life? The people who love me the most are Christians. The people who despise me the most are Christians, too. And the people who have hurt me the most weren’t the ones with the most egregious offenses. Plenty of people have showed me ugly moments, and I still love them. The ones that continue to sting are the ones who refuse to own the ugly. The ones who still want the world to think they’re perfect.

I used to try really hard to be perfect. My life once read a little bit like the quintessential good girl character in the novels – you know, the girl who you can’t help but hate a little. I had the absolute best opportunities growing up. My parents are wonderful. My mom is the kindest person I’ve ever met, and she tried to instill that trait in me (still a work in progress). My dad is one of the most dedicated people I know, and he passed some of his work ethic my way.

I tried to excel in absolutely everything I did. My grades were consistently high enough that it became unacceptable for me to get a B instead of an A. By the time I was in sixth grade I was playing the piano for the high school choir. My junior year I wrote a winning essay to earn a trip to Washington, D.C., and the next year I was co-Valedictorian of my senior class and voted Most Likely to Succeed. Before graduation I earned that elusive “I” rating on my piano solo at state contest, and then immediately went home and got dressed for the prom, where I was later named prom queen. (I know – yuck, right?)

It’s perfect on paper, but the thing about being perfect is that it’s never good enough. Even with all those amazing things happening in my life, it never measured up in my mind. Underneath all the things that looked like successes, I was a control freak and felt I deserved everything I desired because of my hard work. Needless to say, when things didn’t go the way I expected, my world fell apart.

I could provide a laundry list of bullet-pointed examples of the ways people pretend that they’re perfect, and the ways I have done so in the past, but the fact is they don’t matter. What matters is this: I know I have plenty of ugly moments. I’m not talking about when I wake up with a head cold and forget to brush my hair. I’m talking temper gets the better of me, my pride gets hurt, woe is me ugly moments. Moments when I’m not the person God called me to be. Moments when I am fallen and human and broken. If you’ve been near me during one of them, please accept my apology.

I get why we want to pretend that we’re perfect. Owning the ugly is one-hundred percent terrifying. But without the ugly, how can we showcase the beauty of grace?

Here’s what the other side of trying to attain perfection gets: I fell so hard that it took years of painful lessons to turn me into some semblance of the person God created me to be. Not just once, but over and over. Hard enough that now I wake up every day realizing that I control zilch, and I have nothing great to offer on my own. Hard enough that every time I see us tearing one another down, it makes my heart hurt. Isn’t this world dark enough without us trying to hurt each other?

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B012LH6L7A/

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01A6H4KB6/

So in this season, maybe God’s using me to write about the ugly. And maybe part of the reason I went through the ugly was to share it with you. I honestly don’t know, because I’m merely a mess trying to get penciled in on the periphery of a masterpiece. We all are, really, and until we choose to own it, those lights we’re trying to shine into a dark world are always going to look pretty dingy.

Can You NaNo if You’re Nuts?

Did you know November is National Novel Writing Month?

Maybe you are blessed enough not to notice, but I can’t get away from it. Every single day, one of my writer friends is posting about how many words they have written in their quest to meet their NaNoWriMo goal.

(Yes, NaNoWriMo – it’s a thing. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.)

My hats off to these people, because they obviously don’t have my case of wandering author brain. At the beginning of November, I thought…you know what? Maybe I can knock out 50,000 words this month. Finish Jake’s story. Totally doable – less than 2,000 words a day. So, sign up for NaNoWriMo and I will just…Is that a squirrel?

grey_squirrel

Want to see a normal writing day for me?

I sit down with my laptop, prepared to plop myself back on Wonder Lane. I read the last chapter I wrote, because that’s just how I roll. Sometimes I go back two or three chapters, because why not? Then I think about where I want the story to go next. Right now I’m delving into Jake’s past a bit, so I’m thinking about where he grew up.

Curiouser
Proof that Jake’s story exists on my laptop. I’m not totally crazy.

I’m seeing Jake’s dad in a flannel shirt, and that makes me think of the country song I just heard. Oh, you know what would be really cool? If I made a video book trailer. But isn’t that a bit cliché? Maybe a music video instead that uses quotes from the book and an original song. Man, that’s going to be a great song. I could sell it to some huge country music star. It will be nominated for song of the year, I bet. I’ll get to go to the CMA awards, and maybe they’ll sit me next to Sam Hunt.

Wait a minute, what was I doing again?

Oh yeah…producing a Sam Hunt music video.

Given the circumstances, it’s probably best that I don’t even attempt NaNoWriMo. Instead, I’ll WhaHaHaMo (Whatever Happens Happens Month). It works better for me, for poor unsuspecting Sam, and for the squirrels.

KHP_08

 

How about you? Are you a “jump on the bandwagon type” or do you tend to go against the grain? While you think about it, I’ll be over here trying to focus on Jake. Not Sam. Jake.

Happy WhaHaHaMo!

Christina

 

A Year in Indie

On this, my official one-year publishing birthday, it feels appropriate to wax poetic a bit about this journey.

But I won’t.

Instead, I’ll tell you that I started this process feeling kind of alone. I really didn’t want to tell many people about my plans ahead of time, because some have a way of trying to talk you out of your dreams. They tell you the road will be difficult, or you might not have the talent, or that it’s all about luck. I still remember when I was around twenty years old, sitting in a college writing class, with my snarky thirty-something professor telling me that being a published writer wasn’t really a viable goal. “I’m an English professor, and I can’t even get The New Yorker to send me a personalized rejection letter.” Unbeknownst to her, my barely-out-of-high-school self had already received a personalized letter from The New Yorker, where a male scrawl informed me that I was talented and to keep submitting my writing. I just folded it up and sat on it, because the timing wasn’t right.

On the one-year anniversary of my official outing to the world as a writer, the thing I most want to share with you is the fact that I’m not alone. There are some really awesome indie authors out there who have perfected their craft and have quality books. These are a few that I have discovered in the last year (in the order I read their books).

Heather Woodhaven

secret

The Secret Life of Book Club is about four women who decide to start spicing up their lives by doing things instead of simply reading about them. What ensues is a glimpse of real life, with its ups and downs, heartaches and excitements, and plenty of laughs thrown in for good measure. The characters felt very real, which is a huge selling point. My review: I was tearing up at the end simply because these ladies WERE, and I got to know them, and I was grateful. Find it here

T.I. Lowe

lulu

T.I. Lowe possesses a unique southern voice that she uses in narration as though she is simply sitting down and telling you a story. I think that is one of the things that made Leah’s story so heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. After seeing her struggles through her eyes, I felt as though I knew her…every fault and scar and endearing quality that drew Crowley toward her. My review: Beautiful and emotionally raw. Find it here

Sally Bradley

kept

One of the bravest books I have read in a while, that dared to take on tough subjects (life as a kept woman) while keeping the characters honest and realistic. Around the middle, there was a scene that was so well-written, I remember thinking I felt like a fly on the wall. Kept has garnered lots of attention this year, and it’s so well-deserved. My review: Think Francine Rivers, and then bump it up a notch. Find it here

JoAnn Durgin

love

You know that Hallmark movie? You’re scrolling through the channels, and you see it listed…you’ve seen it a million times, but you can’t pass it up. It gets you in the gut every time. This is that Hallmark movie. The love story between Ava and Sawyer was one of my absolute favorites of the year. In fact, if I had to choose one male character that I preferred most next to my own characters, Sawyer might get the nod. My review: JoAnn is a master of dialogue, and this one had me feeling like I was sitting in on the meet-cute and listening in on each verbal faux pas. Find it here

Heather Day Gilbert

daughter

I love history so much, I studied it in college as my second major just because I might want to write a historical novel some day. Most historical novels excel in the facts and lack in the storytelling, or have a good story with no solid evidence. God’s Daughter is one of those rare books that has all the requisite research, but combines it with such a solid story that it feels like it could be a diary from Gudrid herself. My review: The first-person point of view was so effective, I was totally drawn in from the beginning. Find it here

Joanne Bischof

quiet

This one snuck in on me yesterday, and oh my goodness, did it sneak in. I had been saving it for a while because I had a feeling I might get sucked into it, and it did not disappoint. The beginning reminded me a little of Anne of Green Gables, which I loved. Never before have I been slightly emotional reading every page of a book, but from the very first lines, I was drawn in. Gorgeous prose and imagery, a great life lesson, and a love story to melt your heart. My review: One of the most beautiful, touching stories I have ever read. Ever. Find it here

Back to Me

At the end of this roller coaster year, all I have to add is that my goal is simply to write the novels that God gives me in a way that pleases Him. If I had to add a second wish, though, it would be that anything I write would be worthy of being on a list with these great books. As I start year number two, I’m hoping to be one step closer to both those goals. This is my sixth book, Crowned. Harley Laine is a reporter on her way to the top when passion and compassion collide to change her life forever. It’s a story that ministered to me while I was writing it, and now it’s God’s to send out into the world. If you want to check it out, you’ll find it here.

crown

Finally, to every one of you who took the time to encourage me, unlike that professor so many years ago…thank you from the bottom of my heart. I see you, and I love you. You’ve held me up when the going was difficult, and I want to thank you. By commenting on this post, one of you will randomly win a $20 Amazon gift card. (Hint: You can use it to buy some of these fantastic books.) The winner will be chosen on August 22, Crowned’s release date.

Much love,

Christina

Wrecked

Tonight I was briefly talking with a reader who is going through an extraordinarily difficult time in her life. She has things going on that I have never been through, and I can’t imagine, but she told me that my books have ministered to her.

They’ve helped her to feel that she wasn’t alone.

I’m not going to lie…that pretty much wrecked me tonight. For someone who tends to get a few of those “not Christian enough” reviews, knowing that my words impacted someone is pretty humbling.

I write the stories God gives me in a way that I hope is true to life, honest, and real, but the plain fact is,

I’m not “Christian enough.”

I’m a mess of mistakes and imperfections, with a big God who sees past them and dares to use me as a method to get His love across. Dares to use my words and my made-up characters to impact real lives in a messed up world. My books don’t look like sermons, because real life doesn’t look like sermons. It looks like crazy drivers on my way to work in the morning, extra jobs to do at the office, kids that don’t want what I made for dinner, and a still, small voice behind it all telling me that I’m not alone and I have value.

Cover For No Reason Kindle

In book four of The Camdyn Series, Rosalie tells Camdyn that sometimes God allows us to go through things in our lives so we’ll better understand someone else’s pain down the road. I can’t help feeling a bit like Camdyn myself tonight. And I’m wondering how different my life would look if I viewed every heartache as something that God could one day use to assure someone else that they have value.

Thankful tonight that God uses broken vessels.

Humbly,

Christina

The Girls of Wonder Lane

I’m sure by now you all know that being an indie author is slightly different than being a traditionally published author, but let me share one of the challenges (and perks) of being completely on my own.

Working with local photographers is something that’s really important to me, because I don’t want to see my cover models on another book, wearing the same clothes, with the same faraway looks in their eyes. I can just imagine setting up my perfect Camdyn Taylor with a close-up shot, and then later seeing her as “Midge” being married to “Drake” or something equally as crazy… I know it’s my insane writer mind being slightly neurotic, but my characters are real people in my head, so I can’t give them stock photo faces.

Close to a month ago, I had a Girls of Wonder Lane photo shoot with the incredible Kassi Hillhouse Photography. (Seriously, check out her awesome photos here.) If you’re wondering exactly what a photo shoot would entail, let me fill you in: First, we had to find models who fit the looks of my characters. (That is a lot harder than it sounds, trust me.) Once we did that, I worked out some basic theme ideas in my head and bought some props, dresses, etc. Then we set out to a lovely spot chosen by Kassi, who fantastically brought my ideas to shape. (I even brought my editor along for the ride, so she could share in the fun.)

Meet the models:

Lexi  KHP_32

 

Mallary KHP_34

Rachel KHP_19

 

After the beautiful pictures were ready, the difficult part began for me. First, I had to choose which photos to use (and trust me, there were many choices). For this series, my main goal was to have the books look similar to complete a theme, so I narrowed down the photos based on that requirement. (The theme is a play on Alice in Wonderland…thus Girls of Wonder Lane.)

Some pretty cool photos were left out, like these two:

KHP_27KHP_52

In the end, I wound up with some pretty spectacularly unique book cover photos. The titles for the second and third books are tentative at this point, but take a look.

Simply Mad 2

Simply Mad: Maddie Heard wants what many girls want—a little respect, a boost in her career, and to find a guy to share happily ever after. Is it possible to have everything, or should she be careful what she wishes for? (Releases June 30th)

Harley

Harley Laine: Louisville’s hottest reporter appears to have it all—a perfect job, great car, beautiful house, and designer clothes. She’s poised to set herself up as the woman at the top, until a gruff old biker, a teenage girl, and the absolute wrong guy threaten to derail her plans.

Alex

Alexis Jennings: Alexis has spent the past few years living someone else’s life, but she’s finally ready to make a fresh start. Outrunning her past might prove impossible, though, when Jake McAuliffe decides to follow her out of town.

Wondering what Maddie, Harley, and Alexis have in common? Well, they all live on a sleepy little street just outside Louisville called Wonder Lane, of course.

I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with all these lovely models, so a heartfelt thank you goes out to them as well as to Kassi. Check out Simply Mad on June 30th, and the next two books in the summer and fall.

To scope out my other books in Amazon’s top-rated chick-lit and Christian women’s fiction series, The Camdyn Series, check them out here.

*All photos on this post are the exclusive property of Kassi Hillhouse Photography and are protected under the United States and International Copyright laws. The images may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted, or manipulated without the written permission of Kassi Hillhouse. All images are copyrighted © 2015 by Kassi Hillhouse.