Welcome to my next author interview with Jessica Smith! It has been such a joy to get to know her and learn more about her upcoming novel, Evergreen and the Silver Tree!
Below, Jessica shares about the books that ignited her love of reading, what writing teaches her about God’s character, and lots more!
Most writers start out as avid readers. Which books ignited your love of reading and your desire to create worlds of your own?
I used to loathe being forced to read in grade school, until I picked up The Secret of the Old Clock, one of many in the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene. Suddenly, books weren’t just for school but for transporting myself to other places and times. I also loved C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew and, of course, his beloved The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. As a child, I would often pretend I was Lucy finding the entrance to Narnia or the White Witch creating Turkish delight. Playing pretend was essential to me as a child but is also just as essential today, and I’m thankful I can use drama and writing to keep childhood alive.
Tell us a little bit about your book, Evergreen and the Silver Tree! What inspired this story?
Writing has always been a solace for me, but I had never considered writing a full novel until after graduating from college, during a transition period in my life that was both scary and lonely. Spiritually, I was in a desert land, and the Lord provided me with a stream in the desert: An idea for a story. The idea started out as a picture of a giant evergreen tree with a prophecy engraved upon its trunk. It didn’t matter how small and unformed this idea was at the time, it ignited such a joy within me, that I knew I had to brainstorm, plan, and finally, write.
In a nutshell, Evergreen and the Silver Tree points to Hope for the hopeless, Truth in a world of deception, and Light that darkness will never overcome. Ten years after Evergreen’s first-grade classmates disappear from Purple Fire Cavern, Evergreen is called into Ezra City to find her classmates, to break deception’s spell by restoring truth, and to battle a dragon king in a war for freedom. In meeting Silverman, the dragon king’s faithful servant, Evergreen finds his bitterness and his cold silver hands are uninviting, but she learns he might be the key to unravel the lies coiled around this enchanted realm.
What’s your favorite thing about writing in the fantasy genre?
The FREEDOM and the JOY! I will never tire of exploring different worlds, different kinds of magic and creatures. In another world, I can defy gravity or create birds that glow or a tree that turns silver in the sunlight. Writing fantasy is just as Willy Wonka puts it: “A world of pure imagination.”
Writing stories is such a beautiful way of drawing closer to God. What is the most meaningful thing you’ve learned about His character through the writing process?
Through writing, I have learned and experienced so much of His mercy! He is the Creator, but the fact He would allow me or any of us to have even the smallest taste of creating art, whether it be through writing or drawing or inventing, is just…mercy. Art is a joy, a breath of fresh air, a stream in the desert lands of life, and the Lord is so kind to not only allow us, but to desire us, to be “miniature” creators.
Will readers get to explore Evergreen’s world soon? I know I absolutely can’t wait!
I hope so! I am currently working on finishing a book proposal and also querying literary agents in order to traditionally publish. I’m thankful for you, Alexandria, and our friendship. I really had no idea Instagram was such a wonderful place for writers to form friendships and encourage one another until recently. Thank you for interviewing me, and I look forward to reading Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel!
Thank you so much, Jessica, for sharing such thoughtful answers! Having your friendship and encouragement has been such a blessing the last couple of months, and I’m also so grateful for the writing community on Instagram!
If you’d like to follow along on Jessica’s writing journey and hear all the latest news on Evergreen and the Silver Tree, follow Jessica on Instagram or on her blog, Christine’s Smithereens.
This Thursday, be on the lookout for an intriguing excerpt from Evergreen and the Silver Tree!
This is the week! The first installment of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel publishes this Friday, December 11th! Here’s a sneak peek to tide you over until then.
Penelope Grace was a remarkable girl.
Of course, that word – remarkable – can mean many different things, depending on whom you ask.
Upon entering the Saris household, you would first be taken to the kitchen for a warm cup of tea to fight off the early winter’s chill. There, Nurse Sasha – who oversaw everything – would happily offer you her opinion. She could hardly find it less than remarkable that a girl of sixteen could behave so like her nine-year-old brother as to be nearly indistinguishable.
Once welcomed and enlightened, you might continue to the living room and find a comfortable chair near Penelope’s mother, Mary, who is patiently mending the latest torn and dirt-stained dress. She would share with you how her daughter is remarkably and admirably unconcerned with what others think of her.
Over the years, her friends marveled to find that Penelope was just as likely to pick up an imaginary sword as an intricate piece of embroidery. Growing serious now, Mary would tell you of the many encouragements she has received to rein her daughter in.
But it is too rare a gift to see a child’s spirit endure into adulthood. As Penelope’s mother, she would ask, how could she do less than safeguard it?
But just then, young George would come bursting in, his great-uncle Alex not far behind, and insist on knowing what your conversation was about.
“Well, George,” Mary would ask with the warmest of smiles, “what do you think makes your sister remarkable?”
He would think hard about it for a minute or two but, his nose crinkling up as he grinned, would soon reply with a firm, “Two things.”
And then, leaning forward as if to share with you a very great secret, George would tell you a story. Just last week, Penelope had, remarkably, succeeded both in assembling an entire regiment of nutcracker soldiers in the foyer and in vanishing from sight before Nurse Sasha could certainly accuse her of having done it.
“And the second,” you would ask, sincerely eager to know.
“She is the only grown-up who isn’t only teasing me when she says she still believes in Father Christmas.”
Equally impressed by both these reasons, you might then turn to great-uncle Alex, whom you would find no less willing to join in the conversation.
He would have to say that Penelope was remarkable for her persistent delight in all things simple, yet extraordinary. Even now she remains as enchanted with his magic tricks as she was on the day he first arrived from Greece to share them with her.
But of all her family, acquaintances and friends, only her father, John – who has been listening by the crackling fire all the while – could tell you with absolute certainty what it was that made Penelope Grace genuinely remarkable:
To read more, subscribe below! For $3.99/month, you’ll receive a new installment each week, along with a special illustration to accompany the story and the chance to win an exciting gift in the coming weeks! See you Friday 🙂
Welcome to the third week of Author Spotlight Month!
It was such a joy to interview Lisa! Below, she shares more about what inspired her story, A New Beginning, what resting in the Father’s love looks like for her, and what to do when you’re caught in a creative slump.
Lisa Robinson-Howeler is a writer and photographer from Northeastern Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and two children. She is a former small-town newspaper reporter who decided to write her first novel in 2019. Her fiction focuses on issues of personal failings and triumphs, romance, and personal growth through faith and life lessons. Lisa has had her writing and photography featured in newspapers, magazines, and online nationally and internationally. In addition to being a new novelist, she is a blogger and a homeschooling mother.
What inspired you to write a story that deals with forgiving yourself and finding freedom from your past?
The inspiration for A Story to Tell, the first book I wrote, was my great-grandmother and great-grandfather’s story. A New Beginning is a sequel to A Story to Tell. In other words, A New Beginning was still inspired by my great- grandmother and great-grandfather’s story.
My great-grandmother sort of “ran off” with my great-grandfather around 1910 and got married, but I didn’t really want to write a book based in the early 1900s so I moved the story up to the 1950s and, of course, changed the story slightly. I kept the names of my great-grandparents in a way. Blanche was my great-grandmother’s name, but my great-grandfather was Howard. In the book, the characters are Blanche and Hank.
In real life, Blanche moved away from her hometown to live with Howard about an hour away. They were only married a couple of months when Blanche became pregnant. She returned to her family when my grandfather was about a year old and not long after she divorced my great-grandfather and my grandfather was given my great-grandmother’s maiden name. No one in the family was allowed to talk about my great-grandfather Howard and for much of my life that was still the way it was, even though Howard did make contact with my grandfather to try to make some sort of amends after my great-grandmother passed away.
As I got older, and after hearing this story a few times, I started to wonder what Howard had done that made Blanche leave him and eventually divorce him. I also started to wonder what it had been like for Blanche in the aftermath of it all – if she was able to forgive herself for running away with Howard, for trusting someone that family lore says wasn’t very nice or trustworthy, and then having a child with him. Or was it more of a struggle for her to forgive Howard for whatever he had done? And as she worked through those struggles, did she also wonder if she would ever find happiness, or love, again?
In my books, Howard’s character, Hank, is abusive and an adulterer. In real life, I don’t know that Howard was abusive, but family legend says he was an alcoholic and a womanizer and most likely an adulterer. So, while I pondered Blanche’s life and the role of forgiveness for her, I also began to ponder the fact that my grandfather was eventually able to forgive his father, in a way, by at least talking to him before he died. There were redemption and forgiveness all over the story of my great-grandparents, mixed in with what had to have been a lot of bitterness for betrayal, broken hearts, and rejection.
That same redemption and forgiveness have been peppered throughout my own life as well. These are subjects that have been conquered for me in some ways and are a work in progress in others.
(An aside: While researching for the first book, I also learned that my great-grandfather ran away with his nephew’s wife shortly after divorcing my great-grandmother and that woman abandoned her husband and daughter to be with him. Even more betrayal, yes, but even more opportunity for redemption and forgiveness I hope came for them all before they passed away.)
Shame and regret are weapons that the enemy so often uses against us. What helps you rest in God’s love and forgiveness?
This is a hard one for me in some ways because I don’t always trust in God’s love and forgiveness. Isn’t that awful? I know that I have been taught he forgives us and sees us as his child, no matter what we do, but when I make a mistake, I will dwell on that over and over. There are times I struggle to forgive myself almost more than I struggle to forgive others. I am quicker to make an excuse to understand why someone else acted the way they did than I am to understand why I acted the way I did. If that makes sense.
What helps me remember that Christ loves me as I am, though, is the very fact he died on the cross for me – for us. He died not because I was perfect, but because he is. When God looks at us he doesn’t see our mistakes – he sees Christ. God also sees his child, who he loves, and who he grieves for when he sees us make mistakes.
Many people dream of writing a book but are held back by the fear of not being good enough. What encouragement would you offer them?
First, don’t look at it as writing a book. Look at as writing a chapter. Then another. Then another. Then another until your story is done and you have a book. It’s such a daunting task when you think you are writing “a whole book.” I shared chapters for my first book on my blog and my readers wanted to know what happened next so I just kept writing the story for them. Before I knew it, I had a book completed. It wasn’t the best book ever written and I’d love to rewrite that first book someday, but it was a book and it was a story I wrote. I knew I wanted to try it again.
I definitely don’t feel good enough, but one thing I’ve reminded myself is that every reader has different tastes, likes, interests so what I’m writing may not be one reader’s “cup of tea” while it will be exactly what another reader enjoys. Plus, I remember the saying “practice makes perfect.” The more I do this whole “writing a book” thing, my hope is I’ll keep getting better. Will I ever be an award-winning author? I don’t know and I’m not worried about that. I’m simply having fun telling stories. The bottom line of this whole writing thing for me is to have fun. I worked for 14 years as a newspaper reporter. It’s what my degree is in. By the end, writing wasn’t fun anymore. I was also a photographer after I left newspapers and tried to make a career of it. It killed my love of photography for a few years. Once I gave up on the idea that I needed to make money from either of those things, I loved them again.
Life is so short. You never know what will happen if you simply sit down and just start writing. My main advice is to not look at writing as a way to make money, but as a way to share what you want to share – whether a story or encouragement or advice. Whatever it is, your goal should be connecting with people more than connecting with a paycheck because it’s never guaranteed you will be paid, or at least paid well, for what you write.
If you find yourself in a creative slump, what helps you get out of it and find inspiration?
Creative slumps happen often to me. For writing slumps, I either read a well-written book or watch a well-made movie. I need a good story to ignite ideas for my own stories. And sometimes I even watch a bad movie or read a not-so-great book to remind me what I don’t want to create.
Sometimes during those slumps, I walk away from whatever piece I’m working on for a while to give my brain some time to detox and recover. Then there are other times I keep writing through the slump. Whatever I’m writing during that time may be awful, but I hope that I will eventually write myself out of the slump.
Talking to people is another way I pull myself out of a slump. I’m a people watcher and there are times something I see or hear in real life will trigger an idea for a future story.
Can readers hope to see another book that focuses on Blanche’s story? Are there any projects that you’re currently working on that you’d like to share with readers?
I do have plans for another book that will be a branch off from Blanche’s story. It is going to be called Related by Blood and will focus on Blanche’s son Jackson and his relationship with his biological father Hank.
I’ve also started a story that will either be a novella or a full-length novel about Lily, who is mentioned in A New Beginning. The book will simply be called Lily and will be a little more challenging to write and read (for some) than some of my books because it will deal with difficult subjects like child abuse, teenage pregnancy, and addiction.
I just published a novella dealing with rekindling the passion in marriage called Rekindle and it is currently available on Amazon and Kindle, as well as through Kindle Unlimited. I hope to have it available through other sellers this winter as I figure out how to offer books places other than Amazon. The book focuses on Liam and Maddie Grant who are in the midst of a divorce when they are forced into quarantine after Liam comes in contact with someone who has a rare virus (yes, I wrote this during the onset of the COVID situation). The book also follows the story of Liam’s brother Matt, a United States Senator, who is also forced into quarantine and begins to think about how much he has neglected his marriage and family to pursue his political career. This book may be the basis for a future series, but I haven’t decided that for sure yet. I’m also in the middle of writing The Farmer’s Daughter, the first in a series. The book should be out sometime in February 2021. It is about Molly Tanner, a 26-year old woman who is still living on her family’s farm but wonders if she should start her own life by leaving the farm and finding out what else is out there in the world for her. While the book does include a romantic element, it also follows the story of the Tanner family, who is fighting to keep their family farm and store from going under during hard economic times.
I can’t wait to read more of Lisa’s books. She is a truly talented writer, and you won’t want to miss any of her novels!
I had the privilege of interviewing Richard Spillman, author of The Awakened, and I’m so excited to share the insights he offered into his inspiration for this fantastic novel.
You can read Richard’s author bio and my full interview with him below.
Richard Spillman has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and has taught Computer Engineering for over 30 years retiring five years ago.
Since a university professor has summers off, he used that time for mission work. In 2004 he founded the Kingdom is Near (KIN) Ministries. Though KIN he has supported an orphanage in Uganda as well as a church/school for kids from conflict zones in the Philippines. The primary call of KIN has been to take individuals, who other ministries would not consider, on short term missions overseas that is, people who have come to Christ but have a history of drugs, prison time or homelessness. He has also taught in DTS for YWAM in Mali, South Korea, India and the Philippines.
The Awakened is such a powerful story. What real-life events and/or personal experiences inspired you to write it?
In 2014 my team was ministering in the jungles of the Philippines when ISIS discovered we were there and got hold of our cell phone numbers. For a week, they called us telling us to stop, turn over a pastor to them and leave the area or they would hunt us down. We took precautions but didn’t obey any of their commands.
It was a scary time but one in which we all felt the protection of the Lord. When I got home I was moved to write my trilogy which plays out the conflict between good and evil on a world wide scale.
Writing a book can be extremely intimidating for someone who is just starting out. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
The number one thing to do is go to book conferences. There you can take classes but even more important you can meet authors in every stage of writing. You will find that what you learn from other authors can be invaluable in helping you to recognize and get over the bumps in the road we all face.
Which authors or stories have inspired you the most over the years? Why?
As I grew up I immediately fell in love with science fiction especially the Dune and Foundation series. The way these books made alternative universes come to life, to be places I’d love to visit impressed me. Later in life I discovered my all time favorite story in The Lord of the Rings. Not only did it also bring another world to life, the people (and others) seemed so real. Finally I ran into the writings of C.S. Lewis. The way he brought God into his stories touched my heart.
When it came my turn to write a story I selected something where I didn’t have to create an entirely new world, never-the-less I wanted the way I tweaked our world to appear in every sense real. I wanted my characters to be real to deal with real struggles. Most of all I wanted God to appear as a natural part of the story in a way that could grab the heart of the reader.
What led you to write a story that specifically revolves around end times?
That wasn’t my goal but it turned out to be a natural consequence of my goal. I wanted to write something that dealt with the nature of the absolute evil I encountered in the Philippines. I wanted to explore its motives and its methods. It just turned out that the moment in history when evil of this scope will be easiest to see is the end times, hence my time period.
When can readers hope to see book three of The Lazarus Chronicles available?
That’s a good question. I wish I could say soon but every time I would make progress something freaky would happen to slow me down. I fell and broke a couple of ribs. Once they healed my wife fell and broke her arm. I’ve had issues from my childhood rise up and terrorize me. I’ve never had so much difficulty writing. It’s required a lot of prayer to get through all this. But recently there has been a turn around (I’m sure thanks to many people around the world praying for me and my family) and I seem to be on the right track to get this turned in early next year and out before December. I’m real excited about it because there are some big surprises coming.
While you wait for the third book to release, you can grab a copy of The Awakened and book two, The Ascension, on Bookshop, which supports independent booksellers with every purchase!
This week, I have the privilege of sharing my review of The Awakened by Richard Spillman. I can’t think of enough good things to say about this novel! You can read my full review (and grab a copy for yourself!) below.
“Perhaps faith really is trusting that something meaningful lies beneath the surface of the senseless, that purpose exists in the randomness of life, that joy is independent of your circumstances….”
Lazarus, who goes by L, has been holding onto faith for 2,000 years. As an Awakened – one whom Jesus resurrected from the dead – his purpose is to faithfully serve God as he takes part in the spiritual warfare raging around the world.
Demons, known as UDs, who have taken up residence in human bodies, are everywhere, and they want nothing more than to distort and destroy the image bearers of God, proving once and for all that humans are irredeemable.
Though L is growing weary, he refuses to give up. But the battle is growing more complicated. More often, L wonders if the end times are approaching and if he is equal to the task appointed to him.
Still, with the help of a few unexpected, but not unwelcome, friends, L finds that his faith is rekindling, and he is more certain than ever before that the Light has overcome the darkness.
But the battle isn’t over yet…
With heart-pounding action and believable characters that quickly feel like old friends, Dr. Richard Spillman has created a story that is resonant, fast-paced, and timely, not to mention impossible to put down. Reminiscent of Frank Peretti’s novels, The Awakened is full of suspense and the timeless truth that, even in the midst of so much uncertainty, there is a steadfast Hope we can rely on.
You can purchase a copy of The Awakened at Barnes and Noble or Bookshop, a wonderful site that supports independent booksellers with every purchase! It is also available on Amazon.
Be sure to leave a review on Goodreads! Reviews are a great way to support authors.
Later this week, I’ll be sharing an interview with the author, Richard Spillman!