Birthdays and Black Clouds

It’s almost my birthday. I know that’s not terribly exciting news, or even something that you care about. Frankly, I’m at the age where I don’t really care about it very much myself.

It’s almost my birthday, though, and this year that feels pretty monumental.

I remember when I turned thirty. It was a dark, horrible day. (I’m not referring to the weather, but my state of mind.) It wasn’t the number I cared about, or the age – no, all I kept thinking about is what I had hoped to accomplish by the time I was that age, and the things I hadn’t done. It wasn’t my fault, really – I didn’t have time for them.

“I’ll do that as soon as the kids are a little older.”

“Maybe when I’m not quite so busy.”

That was still my state of mind about this time last year when it was almost my birthday. Maybe that’s you, too, and each new day will be a new excuse for not doing that thing.

The thing you desperately want to pursue.

The thing that makes your heart ache.

The thing that is your passion.

You see, last year on my birthday, something inside me came alive. A little fire that started as almost nothing, but held a promise. I could settle into the comfort of my excuses and feel the same dark clouds at forty, fifty, and beyond. I could sit and dream about what would happen in the future, when I finally had time to pursue my dreams. Or, I could give it my best shot and have no regrets.

That birthday started a journey. As I’m sitting here thinking about the events of the previous year, it’s easy to be grateful for the road I’ve walked, or the progress I made, or the end results. Those aren’t the things I’m most thankful for, though. In my heart, I know the absolute, most important thing was the instant I looked out over the horizon at the great distance ahead, with fear at the uncertainties, but chose to say, “It begins here.”

Stepping out is terrifying – I can attest to that fact. I well remember how nervous I felt a couple months later, sending that email to the wonderful friend who is now my editor: “Can I ask you for a huge favor? I’ve written a novel…” There will be people who want you to fail – not because you’re doing something they wish they could do, but simply because you’re doing something. Period. They will want you to fail because they’re sitting on the couch, staring at the dark end of their own magic number, telling themselves they don’t have time.

You want to know a secret? I don’t have time, either. I work forty hours a week and have two beautiful children. We have ball practice, and birthday parties to attend, and laundry that piles up for weekend folding smorgasbords. I do most of my writing with some kind of macho shooting movie playing on TV in the background, or with loud guitar riffs coming from another room. I wrote the last pages of my third book while my son was farting in his hand and throwing it at me. Do you know how difficult it is to try to portray your hero in a romantic light while someone is farting on you?

None of it has been easy. “This year, I’m going to publish a novel,” I vowed. One year later…

top rated

Think about your “thing” – think about it really hard. You don’t need a magic number on the calendar. All you need is a starting point and a little pinch of courage. If you need somebody to give you a push – I’m all ears and would be happy to shove you. 🙂

Dare to live a life without regrets. I promise, you won’t be sorry.

The Dreaded Review

When I saw that thousands of downloads of my book had taken place, I was thrilled that people who might not have seen it before would take notice, but I also mentally prepared myself for that review.

What review, you ask?

“This book is a steaming pile of garbage and I’m deleting it ASAP?”

No, not that one.

“This book is a pedantic, predictable progression into a pool of blithering tripe?”

Strangely, no.

Instead, I waited hesitantly for the review I knew was coming because I have seen it on countless other books. Every time I witness it, I cringe and wonder what will become of us all.

What could this horrible, mind-numbing review possibly contain?

“This book is not Christian enough.”

I am about a quarter of the way through reading a novel right now about characters who feel like they could be my neighbors, and situations that are taken from real life. The book is good and there is nothing immoral in it, but I am positive the author will eventually be held up to some ridiculous invisible standard simply because it’s not preachy. Maybe she already has been.

Listen, I know people have different tastes, and quite frankly I myself find most “Christian fiction” too heavy-handed in the description of spiritual things. Any basic creative writing class will tell you that good fiction is about showing, not telling. It’s a lot like life in that regard – they will know we’re Christians by our love, not by our endless speeches telling them so.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “The world does not need more Christian literature. What it needs is more Christians writing good literature.”

When we decide to set ourselves apart by writing novels that only appeal to Christians, or songs that a nonbeliever would never suffer through, or cheesy movies that we support even though they inwardly make us groan, what are we really accomplishing? The great commission Jesus gave was to go to all nations, not to entertain the choir.

Yet, it seems there are way too many of us who sit in our glass houses with litmus tests of whether something measures up spiritually. It’s often not practiced in a cruel manner – sometimes it’s wrapped up in sweetness to help it go down easier. (This book was fantastically written and I absolutely loved it, but I usually like a little more scripture in my reading, so I have to drop it down a notch.) Maybe the hope is to convince the person we’re critiquing to step up next time – maybe to add a few Bible verses, or a little sermon perhaps.

Can we stop doing this, fellow believers? Either something is good, or it’s not.

Do you want to know what bothers me the most about this practice, honestly? What if a nonbeliever does stumble upon a book or a song critiqued in this way? They’re going to think Christianity is about living up to a standard that is impossible, and then being judged when they fail someone else’s expectations. Forget about the love and compassion painstakingly written into the characters in my book – all 100,000 words of prose can be brushed aside by those three little words in the review: Not Christian Enough.

C.S. Lewis told stories through allegory. Tolkien did, too. Even Jesus used that method to get his point across. So, I think this is a plea for all of us to be very careful in our judgments – the very thing that isn’t quite to our expectations could be the same thing that God is using to change a life forever.

In fact, you know what a more appropriate response would be to finding that something is well done but “not quite Christian enough?” Recommending it to our non-believing friends. Imagine the difference we could make.

Let’s All Be Brave

I adore books. If you were to walk into my house and look at my bookshelf, you would think that my books hadn’t been opened. They are in excellent condition. I don’t bend the covers, or extend the spine so that there are visible wrinkles, and I darn sure don’t write in them. Never, ever, ever.

So, I feel compelled to tell you that this book contains a bunch of yellow highlighted paragraphs. I only feel slightly convicted about it.

When my first novel was sent out into the unknown, my sister-in-law told me I should read this book by Annie Downs, “Let’s All Be Brave.” She said me writing a novel reminded her of that book. It took me a little while, but I finally got around to reading it.

If you have a dream living in your heart, please read this book. I am very serious. Tell me, and I will buy it for you, and I won’t even make you promise not to mark it up. Somehow Annie has perfectly described so many aspects of what it was like for me to inch forward and take those steps of faith in pursuing my goals, and I know her words could bless you, too.

She nailed what I think about every morning in my quiet time.

“I know God can answer this prayer, but even if He doesn’t…”

She even articulated the one question I most ask myself – can I be okay with “knowing that God can change everything, but may not?” These are the issues I most often wrestle over in those early hours of the morning, when it is just the two of us. Let’s be honest – God could take my best efforts and multiply the results in an astronomical way. Or, I could just be pouring out my heart to a handful of people. Am I okay with that? Truly? I hope I am.

Two chapters in particular really impacted me – the first was Your Talents. “What do I want most with my life? To be doing the things that partner me with God. I want to be His partner. When I look back on my life, the greatest joy will be to talk about the times I was partnered with God in what He was already doing.” I so wish I could share with you some of the ways God has been walking with me, but I can’t do so without Camdyn spoilers, so that will have to wait for another day. Just suffice it to say that I have been truly blessed to feel His presence with me.

The second chapter that got me was Your People.

“How to find them – the people who will stand with you and hold up your arms or cover your mouth when you should shut up – seems to be the challenge. The people are easier to identify than you realize – you just follow your path and look around, because the brave ones? They are the ones parallel to you. They are your people.”

I absolutely have people, and now that I have stepped out in this scary way, I know who they are. You are the ones who have encouraged and cheered me on – who have let my pursuit of this dream inspire you. I thank each one of you. There are a couple, though, who I feel I have to call out by name. Tammy Atterberry – you have been absolutely incredible in your willingness to support me. I know as grade school besties we promised to always be there for each other, but you have gone above and beyond. And Linda Meckem – sometimes I think you are more excited for my success than I am. I couldn’t ask for a better person to partner with me in this crazy pursuit. You ladies are my people. I love you.

What should you be stepping towards in faith? Find it, whatever it is, and say yes. Let’s all be brave.


Now That Camdyn Officially Has a Following…

Since A Reason to Be Alone has officially hit the streets, I just thought I’d share some of the coolest comments I’ve heard in the last few days:

“My daughter just did a book report on A Reason to Run.”

Seriously, I am a high school English assignment. How amazingly cool is that?!

“I love your story! Nothing can keep my attention (other than Fifty Shades) so this rates right up there!”

Even though my book is nothing like Fifty Shades at all, I kept someone’s attention like a mega-bestseller whose author made multi-millions last year. I will take that as a superb compliment!

“I have been trying to read The Hunger Games but can’t get into it – now that I have your second book, maybe I’ll put that one aside.”

Come on – taking precedence over The Hunger Games? That is pretty epic, people!

“A Reason to Run is only the third book I have read in the last fifteen years, and I definitely want the second book in the series.”

Woohoo! Score one for mankind, right? I got someone reading!

And, perhaps the most important:

“Camdyn is here because she is connecting with so many women on so many levels. She has a purpose.”

Yeah, she totally does have a purpose, and I really hope you all stick with this series to the end. Camdyn is searching for answers, and it is definitely a love story, but it’s also a tale of grace, redemption, mercy, forgiveness, and hope. There is so much more to come – stuff that had me crying on the interstate on the way to work this morning just thinking about it. Really. Amazing. Stuff. (How’s that for eloquence?)

And if that isn’t enough, I think I might have talked Cole Parker into guest writing this blog in the next couple of weeks. That is, if Camdyn isn’t driving him too crazy!

Camdynly yours,


My First Camdyn Thoughts

Okay, so technically these aren’t my first Camdyn thoughts – those have been happening for a while now.  And as far as Camdyn actions, I think I am picking those up, too.  Yesterday I burnt my hand on a hot dog.  Yes, you read that correctly – a hot dog.  My first thought was, “I’m becoming Camdyn Taylor.”  I suppose if you spend enough time with any person you start to resemble them a little, right?  Does that count for fictional people, too?  If so, then let the tripping commence.

As far as book news goes, the writing is going beautifully.  Marketing…eh.  It’s not my forte.  It is just really strange to walk around to people saying, “Hey, will you like me?  Buy my book?  Pretty please?”  It’s not natural.  It feels narcissistic.  It’s definitely not me.

(Seriously, though.  Please like me.  Please buy my book.)

Weird thoughts aside, I have had a lot of people ask me where I got the idea for Camdyn and Cole.  I’m pretty much a daydreamer, to be honest.  That’s about all I can give you.  I can, however, tell you where I got the idea for Willa.

This winter I was working on some genealogy research for my dad, and I came across my own fifth great-grandmother Hannah Youree, who traveled from Virginia to Tennessee.  Her headstone fascinated me.  It said, “A pioneer; the first white woman to cross Hatchie River, settling one mile east of this place in 1820.  A woman strong of character, and many Christian virtues.  Loved by her children, respected by her friends.”  That headstone was enough to bring Willa to life in my mind.

Hannah Moore <i>Yeary</i> Shinault

In other living people news, I did something today that I never thought I would do again in my life.  My editor is completely jealous of me, I am sure of it.  I will get a text from her soon telling me so.  Since it involves book two, details will be forthcoming soon…

Speaking of book two, tentative release date set for November 12.  Can’t wait for you to read all my Camdyn thoughts.

Until then, I will continue to focus on not burning myself again.

Camdynly yours,