Remember the photo shoot a while back? I mentioned a project that I was very excited about. At last I can tell you about it!
I know that I’ve talked about Home Educating Family Magazine and The Well Planned Day planner. The folks at Home Educating Family, who publish both of those fantastic products, have some tremendous projects in the works! Some of it won’t be revealed until next year, but their fabulous new review site is in beta testing right now! Want a sneak peek? You know you do. Take a look here.
This review site is easy to navigate and search! All of the products reviewed have been thoroughly tested by home educating families. These are not “I took a look through the teacher’s manual and it looks pretty good” reviews, but an in-depth look at the product written by someone who has used it! Reviews list both the positives and the negatives of the product, so you get the whole story. These are honest reviews, not just marketing puff pieces.
New reviews will be posted weekly, so this is one website that you will want to bookmark and visit often! There is also a section specifically for products for special needs children. There are so many things that make this site a fresh addition to the online home education community!
I am so thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of their review team!
I hope that you will take a look at the site. If you do, then let me know what you think of it!
I recently had the opportunity to interview author Karen Andreola. She’s the author of several homeschooling books and two novels. Karen’s books helped to introduce me to Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. I know that some of my fellow homeschool moms have been looking forward to this interview!
Interview with author and homeschool mom, Karen Andreola:
Christian Fiction Book Reviews: Prior to writing Pocketful of Pinecones, you had done some non-fiction writing. What led you to write a novel?
Karen Andreola: It’s strange. I’ve never been the sort to tell anyone what I’ve dreamed the night before, or make up stories to tell by the fireside or fill notebooks with stories. I concentrated on non-fiction for a good many years in my efforts to share the educational principles of Miss Charlotte Mason. The thought of fiction crossed my mind because I wanted to convey the wonder of nature study through the experience of a family who took part in it. Realistic fiction seemed a good way to illustrate a “how-to” I had previously written about in my book, A Charlotte Mason Companion.
My first attempt was a disaster. My editor/friend was honest. “This isn’t working,” she gently told me. Months of work were cast aside. I lay on the floor by the wood-stove that gray winter afternoon, heavy with disappointment. But the next day I got up and tried again. I decided to put the story in first person. Months later when my editor/friend received again a first set of chapters, she said, “This works.”
CFBR: You chose New England during the depression as a setting for the books, why then and there?
KA: Our family lived in Maine at the time I wrote Pocketful of Pinecones. Therefore, I made the nature we observed month by month to be the same nature that my characters observe. New England is a beautiful region of America and ideal for its four distinct and picturesque seasons. I spent my girlhood a little further south in New Jersey and loved being outdoors. In autumn I’d crunch upon fallen leaves to walk to the school bus stop wearing one of my mother’s hand knit sweaters and the traditional red plaid skirt. Winter had us bundled up and booted for sledding in snow. Spring brought welcomed rays of the sun, red tulips and yellow daffodils, caterpillars and inchworms. Summer gave us a neighborhood of thick green grass to run on top of, noisy birds, orange butterflies, and the rhythmic evening serenade of crickets.
Although chores were constant the 1930s seem to be a time of simplicity. I wanted a story free of television and computer. We had neither in the house when I taught our girls to read in the 1980s. We listened to some audio and music daily. Comparatively my fictional family listens to the radio.
The 1930s were a time when to be a stay-at-home mom (which is what I’ve been) was normal. She dutifully and lovingly contributed to the economy of the home with non-income work from sun up to sun down. This is something I could relate to and I knew my fellow home teachers could, too. My main character, Carol, hasn’t a car but walks to destinations with her children. Sometimes nature observation is accomplished along the way. Her husband Michael takes the family car to work. This is reminiscent to our year in England where I walked daily to the park and green grocer with my children or took the red bus to the library. Today walking to destinations is only doable in the oldest of neighborhoods in America where blocks of houses are connected by sidewalks to Main Street. In the 1930s Main Street filled the needs of the community.
CFBR: Was much of your material drawn from your own experiences as a homeschooling mother?
KA: Yes, very much so, but fact and fiction have a way of intermingling. It would be difficult for me to accurately distinguish between what has its source in pure imagination and what comes closer to fact. The kinds of things I did with my children my character Carol does with hers. When my son read portions the sequel while he was illustrating it he said, “Mom you’ve made the kids too good.”
“But you were pretty well-behaved children for the most part,” I tell them. “And so my fictional children are, too.”
I did use my imagination, for instance, to create a Carol’s brother Bob and her sweet sister-in-law Dora. But I incorporated the qualities of people I’ve known into the domestically enterprising Bob and Dora. I created these book friends for myself as much as for my readers. I know that a kindred spirit can be a rare find in the life of a homemaker/home teacher. We had recently moved from Maine to Pennsylvania, away from our friends. I understand that household relocations mean finding new friends because I’d been in this situation often. But with little time to spare in one’s day this isn’t so easy. Book friends are a consolation.
CFBR: I think it’s pretty common for many of us to fall into thinking that only non-fiction books can be educational. What are your thoughts on this?
KA: Good Fiction engenders in the reader a “moral imagination” which enables you “to put yourself in his place.” It shows cause and affect. It reveals what is in the heart of man and how he responds to conflict. In this way it gloriously brings to our notice intangibles. A bold example is the plays of William Shakespeare. Courage, faithfulness, pity, mercy, self-sacrifice, dedication, hope, patience, truthfulness, perseverance, and their opposites are demonstrated through the lives of characters. We can all do with a dose of Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen or Louisa May Alcott. I think it was Queen Victoria who claimed that Dickens did more for social awareness (and consequently social reform) in London than any institution in the 19th century. Jane Austen’s morals and manners are a refreshing oasis in our modern day culture of coarseness and indecency. I am happy that Jane Austen’s stories and the films based on her writings are so popular. It means that someone is giving the message besides the preacher – and in a way that people are open to hearing it.
CFBR: When did you decide to write the sequel Lessons at Blackberry Inn?
KA: Just after our two daughters were married – months apart from each other – and it was the year our son – our last student – graduated from home school, I gathered notes for a sequel. It kept my mind occupied. I missed my girls and was going through a transition in my life.
CFBR: What are some favorite books that you recommend to parents for reading with their children?
KA: Perhaps giving you sampling of the books I know our children have enjoyed will be of interest – some of these they have read again after graduating from home school. I place them in order for young readers to mature readers.
Frog and Toad (series) by Arnold Lobel
My Father’s Dragon (series) by Ruth S. Gannett
The Adventures of Tintin (series) by Herge
Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Gentle Ben, but especially Walt Morey’s other stories.
Lassie Come Home by Eric Knight
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (series) by C. S. Lewis
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (trilogy) by J. R. R. Tolkien
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The stories by James Herriot
Son of Tarzan (and series) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Sherlock Holmes (short stories) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My son enjoyed biographies of scientists. I un-ostentatiously curtailed my girls’ reading of modern romance novels by keeping an array of good books on hand. All my children are reading adults and to this day their taste is varied.
CFBR: Do you have any upcoming books projects?
KA: It encourages me to receive letters from my readers requesting that my stories continue. It is heartwarming to hear that they are ministering and soothing to home teachers, that they are valued for their practical ideas on home education. But because paper books have become a more risky investment these days it is debatable whether I will write another. While my supportive husband Dean, who is my publisher, is weighing things out I need to rebuild our websites. I’d like to take advantage of the help of our web-designer son while still lives with us. It’s my writing of the text “just so” that is holding up the works.
CFBR: When you write, do you prefer to have music playing or quiet?
KA: Generally I like absolute quiet. I can’t have any music playing. When my children were little I was used to writing while hearing the sounds of their playing in the background. This didn’t distract me at all. I only wrote an hour a day. Much more recently, I didn’t mind the tweeting of a pair of cardinals, which kept me company daily while I wrote Lessons at Blackberry Inn. They were comforting companions – sort of like little children playing in the background – now that I think of it.
CFBR: Do you have any particular words of wisdom for homeschooling moms?
KA: Yes. I think I have something important to say as an “older woman.”
The home teachers I’ve meet over the years are exceptionally dedicated. They are self-sacrificing and conscientious to a T. I admire them for it. The love a home teacher has for her children is expressed in the day-to-day activities of chores and lessons. She needs to be aware, however, of her enemies. Fatigue is one. It will drag her down. All work and no play is another. It can cause her to become disheartened, disinterested or after an extended period – depressed. Here is my remedy:
Mix some of what you “have” to teach with some of what you “like” to teach, each day.
Mix the business of bringing up children with pleasure. This helps to retain needed enthusiasm for the work required. This “enthusiasm” is why I invite the home teacher to take part in what I call, “Mother Culture,” for moments of recreation and refreshment. Perhaps she desires to knit that red yarn that had been pushed to the back of a closet. She may wish to listen to “Mommy’s music” for a change, or read a book just for Mommy so she can explore her own avenue of stimulating thought. I found that taking a solitary walk after my husband came home was a good time for me to pray, reflect or sometimes to toss pent up emotion to the wind. The important thing to remember is that the homeschool mom is a person. Her small moments taken for Mother Culture are necessary for her to not stop growing into the person God is creating her to be. The advantages of growing and of being refreshed with a little Mother Culture will fill her cup. And her cup will runneth over into the family circle – which includes her husband. So you see, this is not a selfish thing to do.
CFBR: It’s been lovely talking to you Karen! Thank you!
KA: Thank you for inviting me for a chat. I hope that I’ve shared not just bits about myself but some hopeful and curious ideas for readers to ponder.
And why did the typically camera-shy writer consent to posing for photographs? Because I needed a photo for my bio. Not for a book, not yet anyway, but for something exciting nonetheless. Alas, further details will have to wait another month or so…
I recently reviewed Messages by John Michael Hileman. He also agreed to an interview! Both the review and interview were first published on www.christianfictionbookreview.com. Be sure to visit the website for even more reviews and author interviews!
Christian Fiction Book Reviews: You’ve written two novels that have been published so far. Was the writing process pretty much the same for both books, or did you find it different the second time?
John Michael Hileman: Most of VRIN took place in a Fantasy world of my own creation. It’s pretty easy to write about a world that doesn’t exist. No one can say, “Hey! There aren’t any stairs in front of the Blah Blah Blah museum!” When you’re writing about a man hunting for a dirty bomb in the streets of Boston, you need to have a working knowledge of Boston and the surrounding area. Since part of my childhood was in the suburbs of Boston, I have a good idea of how things work. The internet filled in the blanks.
CFBR: What drew you to the speculative fiction genre as a writer?
JMH: I like being able to create scenes no one has ever created before. Speculative fiction offers a canvas for that kind of out of the box thinking. Plus, alternate realities allow you to examine the principles and precepts of God from another perspective.
CFBR: What has the publishing process been like for you?
JMH: Lots and lots of waiting. Writing a book is merely the beginning of a vast journey. If you set foot on the road, prepare your heart to enjoy the walk, because there aren’t’ many rest stops on the way.
CFBR: What’s been the most difficult part of the writing/publishing process for you?
JMH: Overcoming doubt. When I started as a writer, I wanted success, and I feared failure. God has shown me that success is not in the quantity of people who love you, but in the quality of people who love you. It is fair to say, my readers have given me more than I could ever give them. I no longer wonder if I was meant to write, because I have a stack of e-mails from dear friends, who remind me how important what I do is.
Just last night I got a letter from a concerned mother who asked whether or not my latest novel would transform the heart of her Atheist son. I shared this insight. A stonecutter was once asked, “which strike of the hammer broke the stone?” The stonecutter replied, “The first. The last. And every one in between.” I don’t know if my book will be the strike that breaks her sons hard heart, but knowing that I am partnering with someone of such great character, gives value to the work I put in to writing it.
CFBR: There has been the suggestion that Christian authors should not write any sort of fantasy/science fiction type novels. What are your thoughts on the topic?
JMH: I don’t think most Christian outright object to fantasy and science fiction. It is more of a cautious apprehension–at least towards science fiction. As Christians we must guard our minds against the enemy of our souls. He is continually pleading his case through all forms of media. He wants to sow seeds of doubt in our minds, and turn us away from the truth. Since truth is so important, most Christians stick to stories that are grounded in reality. Most science fiction starts with a premise that is a lie, like: in thousands of years mankind will take to the stars and meet other life forms. This premise is silly and fanciful as Gene Roddenberry wrote it. But Christian authors tend to put Biblical truths into everything they write. As soon as you turn Star Trek into an Allegory, you’ve lost your Christian readers. They cannot take the story as pure fiction, because you’ve injected the real God into it.
As for Fantasy, that is more of a witchcraft/magic issue. God tells us to avoid such things. And yet, most fantasy stories have some form of it mentioned.
I believe science fiction and fantasy are like firearms. They are only as dangerous as the person wielding them. I don’t know about you, but I’m thankful police carry firearms.
CFBR: What are your favorite books? The ones you read over and over.
JMH: I did most of my heavy reading before I was right with the Lord. The only books I read over and over–lately– are mine.
CFBR: When you write, do you prefer background music or quiet?
JMH: I like it quiet. I’m easily distracted.
CFBR: Any words of wisdom for aspiring speculative fiction authors?
JMH: Tread carefully. You will be accountable for your actions.
CFBR: Do you have any other novels on the horizon that we should be watching for?
JMH: Yes I do. But I can’t tell you about it. It’s super duper top level secret stuff. All I can say is, I’ve been working on it for the past eight years, and it has one overriding theme: the holiness of God.
CFBR: We will be looking forward to it! Thanks for the interview John!
David chance sees messages. They tell him what will happen. One of the messages saved his life, but now they are directing him to take action that could end up costing him his life. Are these messages from the dead? Is it some genetic mutation? Or, could it possibly be God speaking to him? David is just an ordinary guy with a family, but these messages have landed him in the middle of a conspiracy. Will David follow them regardless of the cost?
I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give the story away! If you enjoy supernatural thrillers, drama, intrigue and action then Messages is right up your alley.
In the very first chapter, David begins seeing messages in the words around him. The story takes off from there and continues its fast pace through to the end. There are enough clues to give us a hint of what’s really going on, but enough twists to still keep us guessing. I stayed up late two nights because I was so intrigued by the story that I couldn’t put it down!
The main character is the type of “average-Joe” that most of us can identify with. David is not a believer, but the messages that have embroiled him in extraordinary circumstances also lead him to search for answers. The book is as much about his spiritual journey as it is about his quest to unravel a terrorist plot.
Messages fits into the “speculative fiction” genre, as does John’s first novel, VRIN: ten mortal gods. Even so, it will appeal to those who enjoy dramatic thrillers as well. Messages is a solid second novel for John, and we’ll definitely be watching for his third!
Both of his novels are available through Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. Click on the book titles to go the Kindle edition pages and start reading immediately! To keep up with what John is writing, visit his blog.
As a teenager, I said many times that I would never get married. I had some deeply personal reasons for saying that. I truly meant it. But God had different plans. God gave me a wonderful husband. Why does my husband rock? Because he holds my hand.
There was still snow on the ground, and a snow bank between me and a better view of the fireworks. I was trying to climb over that bank when he offered me his hand. It was the first time that he held my hand. It was before we were anything more than simply friends, but it showed me that he was a gentleman.
Months later, we went to my cousin’s Bible school graduation for our first “date”. On the drive home late that afternoon he told me, “There’s something that I’ve wanted to do all day.” And then he held out his hand to me. I slipped my hand into his as I would do again so many times in the years to come.
Whenever we pray together, he holds my hand.
On our wedding day, shortly before the ceremony, I stood there in my white dress dealing with an attack of nerves. Not because I was about to marry this incredible man, but because I’d have to stand in front of a crowd of people to say those vows. He was so very handsome in his navy blue tux as he took both of my hands in his. His firm, yet gentle grip reassured me more than words ever could have.
When I have the occasional meltdown, he again takes both of my hands in his and gently tells me that I need to calm down. He does this with such love, that my frayed nerves can’t help but be soothed.
He held my hand the night that my Mom died unexpectedly. On the way to the hospital, he held my hand as he drove and I prayed. Then on the way home, when there weren’t any words that could take away the ache, he simply held my hand. And that comforted me more than words.
I can’t begin to guess how many miles we have walked together in the past twelve years, but whenever we take a walk together he holds my hand.
He has held my hand through three miscarriages. He was there at the doctor’s appointments and hospital visits each time. And through all of it he held my hand. And I felt safe with him there beside me.
I’ve held onto his hands with a painful grip during the births of each of our children. He never once complained! And when our fourth planned homebirth became a trip to the hospital he held my hand. I looked at him with tears in my eyes and whispered, “I’m just so scared.” He squeezed my hand back and said, “I know,” before wrapping his arms around me. I knew that whatever we were facing, he would be with me to hold my hand.
Every time he raises my hand to his lips and tenderly kisses it, I feel like a princess.
At night when all four kids are tucked in and our heads finally rest on our pillows, he reaches out his hand to hold mine. And I sleep easier knowing that he is there beside me.
His hands… Those are the hands that I’ve watched move across piano keys with precision and grace. The hands that work countless hours to provide for us. The hands that have held each newborn child with such care. The hands that guide our children as they grow. The hands that have held so many books, but the Bible more than any other because he knows that wisdom starts with God’s Word. The hands that help out when I’ve gotten myself in over my head once again. The hands that set an example of service to others. Those are the hands that hold mine.
Holding my hand might sound like such a small thing. But when his hand catches mine, there are years of memories in that simple touch. Because he holds my hand, I know that a good man loves me.
CFBR: Have you always been a fan of speculative fiction?
Kathy Tyers: I first read SF as a fifth grader, browsing the junior high section of the Dana Branch Public Library in Long Beach, California. I read Ben Bova’s The Star Conquerors and was hooked! And one of my friends gave me a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time that summer. I didn’t know exactly what that book was—I didn’t think it was science fiction, since there weren’t any rocket ships—but I loved that too.
CFBR: You have a degree in microbiology. So what led you to write fiction?
Kathy Tyers: I’ve always been a reader. To me, getting carried away reading a good book was the finest of pleasures. I even wrote some little books as a young child, stapled them together along the left side and drew my own cover art. When my son was two years old and I wanted to do something “just for Kathy” during his naptimes, I started writing a Star Wars fanfiction novel … just for fun … and found myself hooked again by writing.
CFBR: When you wrote Firebird, did you always intend for it to be part of a series?
Kathy Tyers: I think I always knew she wasn’t the kind of person to peacefully “live happily ever after.” I liked her—and Brennen—well enough to want to know what adventure came next.
CFBR: You have a new edition of the Firebird trilogy coming out with Marcher Lord Press this year. For those of us who own the one published through Bethany House, what will be different about this new edition?
Kathy Tyers: The new edition will include beautiful maps, adapted by the gifted Jamie Upschulte from my hand-drawn originals. It also features annotation notes throughout: comments on word origins, bits of music that inspired me while drafting certain passages—and lots of writing-craft remarks, since I’m also a teacher (I mentor apprentices through the Christian Writers Guild). It’s second nature, for example, to point out my own struggles with the process of “how much information to reveal at what part of the story.” Crown of Fire also got a significant copy-edit. It was originally written and published almost simultaneously with my second Star Wars novel, and with two deadlines looming I simply ran out of time to give Crown a loving, careful last look. I’ve learned a bit about dancing in the last year, too—so there are some slight but satisfying changes in the choreography of Esme’s ball. Oh – and the cover art is (IMO) spectacular.
CFBR: Can you tell us a little bit about the two new novels that you will have published over the next two years?
Kathy Tyers: Wind and Shadow was written in partial fulfillment of my Master’s degree in Christianity and the Arts at Regent College in Vancouver BC. It’s more theological than the first three novels, since I was a theology student when I wrote it! WS skips ahead to the saga’s next generation, and it introduces a new cast of characters. For those who have wanted to know what Kiel and Kinnor would be like as they reach adulthood—here it is! The final Firebird novel—Daystar—will finish the series by introducing one more generation. Our Heroes have starring roles, though! I enjoy writing “older” characters, showing that the adventures in life don’t end when we hit thirty. Or even fifty.
CFBR: Marcher Lord Press is a rather unique publisher. How has it been different working with them as opposed to working with the more “traditional” publishing houses?
Kathy Tyers: I’ve enjoyed both experiences. Since MLP is an independent house, the feeling is particularly close and friendly—not just with editor/publisher Jeff Gerke, but also with other MLP authors.
CFBR: One of the challenges of writing science fiction is coming up with and keeping track of various worlds, technologies, ships, etc. How do you deal with this?
Kathy Tyers: I have a fat looseleaf notebook full of notes on topics ranging from “Sentinel Families and history” to “word derivations.” I drew on that notebook for many of the annotations, maps, and charts that will appear in The Annotated Firebird.
CFBR: Are you more of a plot-driven writer, or a character-driven writer?
Kathy Tyers: I consider myself character-driven, since I believe that strong Point of View creates a story that’s satisfying for both the writer and the reader. I plot thoroughly, though, before I write anything. The exception was Wind and Shadow. I simply sat down and started writing that at the beginning. About 1/3 of the way through, with all three main characters (Kiel, Kinnor, and a love interest for one of them [enough spoilers for now!])in mortal danger, I stopped and outlined a possible plot for the rest of the novel. Working with three main characters made it a more complex novel—and I wasn’t sure which, if any, of the three would survive.
CFBR: Do you have a specific “message” in mind for each book, or does it develop during the writing process?
Kathy Tyers: I find purely message-driven fiction (in my hands, anyway) too sermonic. My job is to tell a good story. After finishing the first draft, a book’s main theme often becomes clear. During the second draft (and successive drafts—I take much longer to self-edit a book than to write it) I make a fairly conscious effort to bring the theme forward. Never at the expense of the story, though.
CFBR: It’s been suggested that speculative fiction (fantasy, s/f, etc.) are not appropriate genres for Christians to write. What is your response?
Kathy Tyers: My studies at Regent College pretty much put that suggestion to rest. Let me recommend the fine books on the topic of Christianity and the Imagination by Dorothy L. Sayers, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Maxine Hancock, Jeremy Begbie, Madeleine L’Engle, James L. Sire and others –these people say it better than I could. Roughly quoting Sayers, my standard answer is that we are created in the image of a creative God, and so we are never more truly ourselves—nor more truly living in His image—than when we are engaged in creativity. I strongly believe that includes the big what-if questions of speculative fiction. Paraphrasing again—C.S. Lewis, this time—what we are will come through in our writing whether or not we consciously try to put it there. Lewis wrote extensively about sehnsucht, the longing for an unseen world that God put in our hearts. The true fulfillment of that longing will only happen in God’s presence—but we can explore aspects of that longing, along with other deep hopes and fears, in speculative fiction.
CFBR: What are some of the speculative fiction titles that you have enjoyed enough to read over and over?
Kathy Tyers: Lord of the Rings, of course. More times than I care to confess. Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan novels. C.S. Lewis’s deep space trilogy and Narnia Chronicles. Karen Hancock’s Guardian King series and Zenna Henderson’s stories of the People.
CFBR: What advice would you give to Christian authors who want to write science fiction?
Kathy Tyers: Respect your readers. Everything else is part of that, including good research. For example, if you’re going to write about an evolutionary biologist, then find out what they really believe, how they talk, what they do during the day, and what their personal (and research) goals truly are. Never write a character who’s a two-dimensional doof, but be fair to all viewpoints. Read as widely as you can within your field. Yes, it’s impossible to keep up with what’s being published these days—but do read some of the books your readers will be familiar with. It’ll refresh your mind, suggest new ideas, and give you something to talk about when you get together with your own readers. Finally, just as with any profession, keep your writing in perspective. Your relationships with God and your family come first.
CFBR: Do you prefer to write with music playing, or with only quiet?
Kathy Tyers: Since I’m a musician, music has a deep effect on me. The right music can help propel me through the difficult process of writing a rough draft by setting just the right mood. I need quiet when I edit, though, to make sure the emotions I’m feeling come from what’s on the page—not the background music.
CFBR: Thank-you for the interview Kathy! I’m looking forward to reading the annotated edition of the trilogy as well as the next two novels in the series!
I reviewed the book Issym a while ago on my blog. You can read the review here. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview the author, Jessie Mae Hodsdon, for Christian Fiction Book Reviews.
CFBR: How old were you when you started writing Issym?
JMH: I came up with the idea for Issym the summer after I turned fourteen. Almost immediately I began to draft it.
CFBR: What inspired you to write Christian fiction for the fantasy genre?
JMH: I enjoy reading and writing in a variety of genres. In fact, when I started writing Issym I had to put down a book I was working on in the science fiction genre. I wrote fantasy for my first book simply because that was the story I was passionate about and completed first. I hope to offer a variety of styles in the future. As far as the Christian genre, I am a Christian and it would be impossible for me to leave the biggest aspect of my life out of my writing. I think it is the most important part of all life and books are no exception.
CFBR: What was the process of trying to find a publisher for Issym like?
JMH: I did some research through the internet and one very helpful book on what publishers expect. Then I purchased a list of all the major publishers, looked for the companies that would accept manuscripts without receiving them from an agent and searched for what types of books they were interested in. I did specific research about the companies and tried to adhere to their guidelines. I learned to write a query letter, an entirely different form of writing, and had several people look it over. Then I sent it in.
Looking for Christian publishers was very disheartening. There were not many companies, less that would take work without an agent, and even fewer that would touch fantasy. The ones that would look at it seemed to have their open slots for the genre filled up very quickly. In my experience the market for Christian fantasy is big and the volume of authors and books is also large. It is the publishers that are in short supply.
CFBR: Why did you decide to start Rebirth Publishing?
JMH: The concept of forming a publishing company at seventeen scared me away for a long time. As supportive as the people around me were, forming a company is a big step and is not one to be entered into lightly. I had to be sure before I asked people to invest their time, energy and money in it. That was why I first sought out a traditional publisher.
As I did the research on the publishing world, the companies and books that existed and what my market audience (pre-teens, teens and young adults) was reading I became very sad. The filth that seemed to fill the shelves of the teenage literature section was appalling and God gave me a heart to change it. He picked me to give a just-as-exciting alternative and to ask Christian families to put down the trash.
That was no easy calling. I understood the basics of just how hard it would be. It took me a while to convince myself and other people, but Rebirth Publishing was formed in October of 2009 by the grace of God. I am glad it was.
CFBR: You have a new book coming out in November. Can you tell us a little about it?
JMH: Issym’s sequel, Asandra, Book Two of the Xsardis Chronicles, will be released next month. Issym took place on the continent of Issym. This second book will take place on Asandra so there is a fairly different cast. But Issym’s three main characters will be back. The continent of Asandra is made up of Rachel’s imagination so there will be new creatures and a new environment and, of course, a new struggle but with an old enemy—Sasha the shape shifter.
I was fourteen when I wrote Issym. I was seventeen when I wrote Asandra. I now have a better idea of writing, where I want to go and how to get there. I think this book offers the same clean fun and adventure of Issym in an even more enjoyable way!
CFBR: Did you always intend for Issym to be the beginning of a series?
JMH: When I started writing Issym all I wanted was to pick up a cool hobby. It was never even supposed to be finished, but when I went back and added the introduction to the book I fell in love with the world I had created. As the book came to a close, my mind just kept imagining and before I knew it I had the plot for both the second and third books. I was writing the sequel before the editing had been finished on the first. My characters just wouldn’t leave me alone.
CFBR: There is sometimes debate over whether Christians should be writing fiction in the fantasy/science fiction genre. What do you think?
JMH: One of the biggest initial struggles I faced was getting the Christian community to understand why I was writing fantasy. It does seem to have a bad connotation and I understand why. As believers we must hold ourselves to a high standard of purity and keeping away from the occult. Fantasy in people’s minds often has a link to impurity and the occult.
Paul says in 1st Corinthians 8:13, “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” In an effort not to cause my brothers to fall, I have completely removed the use of magic from my book. ‘Special powers’ such as the ability to shape shift are not ‘magical’ but just the way God made the creatures. God and His power are paramount in my novel, not man’s capabilities. Personally, I do not have a problem with non-spell-driven magic, but I am careful to keep my books clean for readers of all ages—something I have instilled in my company. I hope this allows a broader audience to enjoy and feel comfortable with the content of my books.
CFBR: What advice would you give to young aspiring authors?
JMH: Write! Don’t be afraid of how the sentence sounds or letting people read it. Just write. Write everyday if you can, because it helps build yours skills. If you read something you like, stop and think about why you like it and see if you can plug it into your writing. Watch your friends. What things about them make them special?
Anything is possible! You are never too young to pursue your dreams!
Visit the website to order Issym and to keep up with latest news about the upcoming release of Asandra.
At one point in my life, I wrote quite a bit of poetry. Poetry is a funny thing for me. I can’t write it on demand, and I very rarely write in rhyme these days. I’ve heard of musicians who write music when they cannot find the words they want to say. Perhaps the rhyming lines in stanzas of four are the only way that I can find to pour out my heart.
Friends and loved ones long gone,
The children never known;
Yet all reunions pale in comparison,
When you bow before His throne.
Out of pain and finally whole,
With no more tears left to cry.
God brings His faithful children home,
But their earthly body must die.
I sorrow not for you,
For you may rest at last.
Laying all your burdens down,
Your suffering is finally past.
And then you met your Savior.
What a sight that must have been!
Someday I’ll join the choir with you,
And worship Him together once again.
Until that day, forgive my tears;
I know you’re in a better place.
I’ll walk on in faith without you,
But only by His grace.
By: TJ Priest 2/3/2011
For Mom and Aunt Pam
Please pray for my Mom’s sister, Pam and her family. Aunt Pam is drawing close to the end of her life here. Please pray that she will not be in a lot of pain, and that God would grant His strength and comfort to her family.
(OK, so story a week might be stretching it here on my blog, but have I got a story for you! Read on!)
The dust was oppressive. Fine grains of sand and thousands of years of dust sent me into a fit of violent sneezing. I was far more suited to a clean research laboratory than some primitive archeological dig.
“Come on Don!” my companion urged impatiently.
“It’s… Donovan…” I reminded in between sneezes.
Trevor rolled his eyes and replied, “Whatever,” before continuing down the claustrophobic tunnel that we found ourselves in.
After the sneezing subsided I picked up the thread of our conversation once again, “So why on earth did you insist that I fly all the way out into the middle of absolutely nowhere? I’m a theoretical physicist for goodness’ sake!”
“I know that,” Trevor answered calmly, “But like I told you a few minutes ago, what we’ve discovered appears to be a method of time travel. That’s why I need a theoretical physicist. Who better than you?”
“Flattery won’t impress me, so don’t attempt it,” I grumbled, “And I already told you, good grief, I’ve BEEN telling you for twenty years that time travel may be a theoretical possibility, but it’s practically not feasible. This is just one more colossal waste of time.”
“This time is different, I can feel it,” he declared confidently.
“Irrelevant. Facts are what matter, Trevor. I’ve already told you the facts.”
“Isn’t it just a little arrogant to assume that we know everything there is to know scientifically? After all, people once took the idea of the Earth as the center of the universe as fact.”
“Primitive idiots,” I muttered, “This is entirely different…”
My ratings were interrupted by our arrival in a surprisingly large room. I took a deep breath, glad to finally be out of the cramped tunnel. The carved squiggles on the walls might make this an archeologist’s dream, but I was wholly unimpressed.
Trevor glanced at me and spoke quickly, “I know, it doesn’t look like much, but what I’ve been able to decode has really caused some excitement! This stone arch seems to be the key.”
I looked at the carved stone arch. It was polished to a glossy sheen and there appeared to be small tiles here and there, but I failed to see how it was anything other than an historical artifact.
“None of this means anything to me,” I sighed, “It’s just ancient ruins.”
“I know that’s what it looks like, but trust me on this. It really is a way to travel through time!”
“Trevor, why am I here?” I asked sternly, tired of being out of the loop.
He refused to make eye contact with me as he answered hesitantly, “Well… we won’t know for sure until someone tries it out. Rumor has it that someone else is coming in to take over the whole site first thing in the morning. After that, I’ll probably be totally locked out, along with the rest of my team. This is my only chance to find out if I’m right.”
“By doing what? It’s just a polished hunk of rock!”
He didn’t speak another word, but went to work tapping the tiles in a certain order. A sharp crackle of energy echoed in the empty chamber and the arch began to glow a color that could not be described. The middle of the arch shimmered slightly, as if a distorted reflection in an old mirror.
I was astonished, but had the presence of mind to grasp Trevor’s arm and ask, “You’re not seriously thinking of going through there?”
“Yeah,” he spoke softly then announced more resolutely, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
“You can’t. You know absolutely nothing about it. For all you know that distortion could kill you. You don’t know what it is!”
“Well, I’m pretty certain that it’s a distortion in space-time and that it will allow me to access other times when I step through.”
“Whatever made you think that?” I asked in disbelief.
He gestured to the walls, “What I read there.”
“Trevor, you can’t do this. There is certain testing that needs to be done before anyone even considers what you are about to do. It’s not safe! This isn’t how a reputable scientist works!” I tried frantically to dissuade him. We’d been friends since college, and I was genuinely concerned for him.
“I know Donovan, I know. But this is my last chance, my only chance, to find out if I’m right. In five hours I’ll be on a plane back to the states and likely never be back. I know that it’s a huge risk. But I have to take that risk. I have to know if I’m right!
“We’ve rarely seen eye to eye. I don’t expect you to endorse my actions, but I had to let someone know where I was going. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it back to this time, or even if I’ll survive this. So, someone had to know, and you’re the only friend I could trust.”
He looked at me beseechingly, hoping that a small part of me would understand. I made the first utterly foolish and impulsive decision of my entire life.
“I’ll accompany you.”
Clearly, this was not the response that Trevor had expected. His face paled slightly and his eyes widened.
I cut him off before he could continue, “I’ve made up my mind, if you’re going then so am I. Now get on with it before I change my mind and drag you out of here to prevent us both from doing something foolhardy.”
He nodded and placed a hand on my shoulder. We each took a deep breath and stepped through the arch. The distortion winked out and the glow instantly dissipated. All that was left, was a silent room.
So, what happened to Donovan and Trevor? Will we hear from them again? Well, that’s up to you dear readers! Has this caught your interest? Would you like to read just a bit more? If so, or even if not, leave a comment and tell me!