Welcome to the next behind-the-scenes peek at the making of Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves!
Let’s pick up the adventure where we left off, shall we?
Once I started jotting down story notes and ideas, I knew a very different story from the one I’d first imagined was taking shape.
Chip’s friends – Riley and Sara – disappeared as God helped me see that this was an adventure that Chip had to set out on alone (at least, at the start 😉)
But what was the point of the adventure?
I still didn’t know, until I read a beautiful devotion early one morning.
Prayers are instantly noticed in Heaven…. Oftentimes a poor broken-hearted one bends his knee, but can only utter his wailing in the language of sighs and tears…. He may only look up with misty eye; but ‘prayer is the falling of a tear.’ Tears are the diamonds of heaven…”
Oh, when I read that, I knew God was telling me something. But He wasn’t finished speaking just yet…
Our God not only hears prayer but also loves to hear it… wherever there is a heart big with sorrow, or a lip quivering with agony… He marks it down in the registry of His memory; He puts our prayers, like rose leaves, between the pages of His book of remembrance, and when the volume is opened at last, there shall be a precious fragrance springing up therefrom.”
I was captivated. I now knew what the title of this unexpected story was meant to be, and, while I didn’t know what would happen to Chip along the way, I began to understand where the adventure was leading him.
God is spectacular, isn’t He?
He knew the shape and breadth of this story, and He patiently led me, revealing bits and pieces of it at the perfect times.
This is part of what I love most about being a writer. At the end of the day, I’m not the one creating these stories. God is the Author. He knows every word of these tales, and He’s given me the privilege of being the first reader, the one who gets to put pen to paper as the Creator of the universe takes the time to tell me a story.
I’m so thankful for this indescribable gift.
Next week, we’ll explore the unexpected way God gave me character names and how the heart of this story kept taking shape!
If there’s anything you’d like to know about the making of Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves, please share in the comments!
And don’t forget to add Chip on Goodreads and please leave a review once you’ve finished reading!
I’m so excited to share my interview with Erica Richardson, author of Luna’s Rescue! She offers insights into finding a balance between writing and parenting, what inspired her to write middle-grade books, and what readers have to look forward to as The Cottonwood Chronicles continue!
Have you entered the giveaway for a print copy of Luna’s Rescue?! There’s still time left! Head to my Instagram to enter, and I’ll announce the winner on Friday. This is an adventure you won’t want to miss out on 🙂
Share with us a little bit about Luna’s Rescue and what inspired you to write it!
The transition to parenthood was a lot harder for me than I had expected (especially being a stay-home mom). Being a mother to my kids has been very natural in so many ways, but “staying home” has been a lot less natural! It’s a tricky balance because staying home with my kids is important to me and I really love being their primary care giver. I spent the first several years of motherhood searching for an outlet that would help me recharge, grow intellectually, and connect with other people. I did a lot of praying and searching to find something that would be a good fit for our family. One of the things I eventually tried was getting a pet! I have adored animals for as far back as I can remember. Long story short, we ended up getting a crested gecko, which I named Luna. Through some miraculous combination of having Luna in our home and reading some middle-grade books I’d gotten ahold of, I felt inspired that I could write a book. I had tried to write books when I was a teenager (Lord-of-the-Rings-never-ending-journey types of books), but I had never considered writing a book as an adult.
The One and Only Ivan really inspired me because it was a beautiful story with a simple plot and loveable animal characters. There is something so pure about animals. Animals and children have that in common. I started getting ideas about the things Luna would do if she were to go on an adventure. From The One and Only Ivan and Hello, Universe, I learned that a storyline doesn’t have to be complicated to be beautiful and worth reading. That encouraged me.
I’m a writer—a long winded one—so I apologize for the long answer! But one more thing that might be useful to someone… I’ve dealt with some mental health issues throughout my life but couldn’t quite put my finger on what they were until several years into motherhood. I learned that I have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Before learning about my own diagnosis, I had never met or talked to anyone with OCD. I just thought of it as an adjective that people use when they describe themselves as very organized (which I now understand is a disservice to those who actually have the disorder). I now understand that OCD made college very challenging for me. I got great grades and excelled in my classes, but I would go through phases of intense anxiety where I would change my major again and again and again! It was very stressful. I have changed my major 7 or 8 times in school (probably more), which has made it very hard to finish! After leaving school to be home with kids, then going back to school, then having to stop due to health problems, my self-confidence took a pretty big blow. I started to feel like I couldn’t finish anything! I wanted to finish something or accomplish some kind of goal so badly!
Writing children’s books has brought me so much peace in that sense because it is something that I can finish! Finishing my first book, Luna’s Rescue, left me in a bit of a shock. I kept thinking to myself, Did I REALLY finish? Is it done? Did I actually do it? I actually got really stressed out after publishing my book because I was convinced that I hadn’t really finished! I still haven’t fully processed the fact that I’ve finished and published books!
Anyways, it was such an answer to prayers to be led to writing—an outlet that I could focus on to channel my mind in a productive way, rather than letting my mind obsess over stressful, unproductive things. Writing has been a great blessing to me and definitely an answer to prayer.
What do you love most about writing for middle grade readers? What do you think makes middle-grade fantasy an important genre?
I’m 28 years old on the outside and 10 years old on the inside. Writing for young kids feels natural to me because I share the same interests and sense of humor as many of them. I’ve loved writing for a long time, but it has been so thrilling to finally have found a niche that really fits me.
I love that kids are honest. When I give my manuscript to my test readers, I know that the feedback they give will be honest. And when they say, “I loved it” or “I couldn’t put it down!” I know they are being genuine and not just being polite. It’s really rewarding.
I think that writing fantasy for middle-grade readers is important because these kids are in a very formative time of life. Whether or not they have access to books (and whether or not they enjoy those books) can have a big impact on their educations and reading throughout the rest of their lives. I also feel it’s important to teach good values and lessons in middle-grade literature. I want my readers to finish my books feeling entertained, but even more importantly, inspired. There are so many different messages being thrust at young people in today’s world. I feel honored to have the chance to share messages with young people through my books, and I take the responsibility of providing clean content with good moral lessons very seriously.
Do you have any advice for fellow writers who are balancing a writing career and parenthood? How have you seen motherhood and writing influence each other?
Firstly, my kids inspire me! They are full of creativity, light, and—putting a shameless plug in for Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel here—wonder! My kids are examples to me every day of seeing the wonder and beauty in the world. They see it in everything—bubbles, macaroni and cheese, playing in the grass, etc!
As far as advice… If any of you figure out how to balance a writing career and parenting, please contact me and tell me your secret! Honestly, trying to find a balance is one of the constant challenges of mortal life, in my opinion.
A few thoughts are:
1.) Let your kids be involved (to an extent!) with your writing process. My kids respond better to me being on my computer when I explain to them what I’m doing. I’ll tell them what book I’m working on, what the storyline is, and about the characters. I’ll talk through what I’m doing as I design covers. They especially like seeing the covers being made. As far as the actual writing, they lose interest pretty quickly, but they are more likely to be satisfied with giving me time and space if I give them a chance to hear about what I’m doing than if they just see me on the computer and have no idea what I’m doing on it. (My kids are all too young to be able to read, by the way.)
2.) For me, as a stay-home mom, it can be so ridiculously hard to respect myself, my time, and my space. I’ll fight down a dragon if it calls my kid a rude name, but if my kid disrespects me, it can be easy to just take it and shrug it off. I’ve learned that for my well-being, and the well-being of my whole family, I need to take care of myself. I have to set healthy boundaries and teach my kids to respect me. So, on that note, it’s so important that as parents who are also writers, we are able to teach our children healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries makes life so much better. My kids need to know that there is time for me to be totally present with them, and that there is time for me to be able to work on my writing. Before learning that, I often felt that my kids had to have my undivided attention ALL. THE. TIME. …That left me feeling like an oatmeal-brained zombie who then felt excessive amounts of guilt for not being a great mom (because I HAD NO ENERGY OR SPARK!) It’s so important that parents, especially stay-home moms, recognize that their personal pursuits are of value. Being a writer has made me a better mom. And my kids need that healthy, happy mom! So, I need to keep up my writing, which will in turn keep me feeling healthier and more balanced, which will enable me to be a great mom.
What are you reading right now?
Right now, I am reading The Last Rabbit by Shelley Moore Thomas. The Trebors by Caroline C. Barney is on top of my current reads pile. And Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel will be leaping straight to the top of my reading pile once I receive my copy! Looking forward to it! (The word “carousel” is surprisingly hard to spell!)
You’re currently working on your next book! What do readers have to look forward to as The Cottonwood Chronicles continue?
This is really exciting, but I actually just recently finished Hoover’s Horn, which is the second book in The Cottonwood Chronicles (Luna’s Rescue being the first). I’m in the very final stages of having this book ready for publication. The readers of The Cottonwood Chronicles have a wild ride ahead of them. They can definitely look forward to going on some unexpected adventures and meeting some very unique, lovable characters, including a garden gnome named Terracotta Glaze who is a very restless spirit.
Want to follow along on all of Erica’s writing adventures? 🙂 Head to her Instagram so you won’t miss out on any exciting updates!
Thank you again to all of the wonderful authors who have joined me for excerpts, interviews, and giveaways (Oh my!) over the last few weeks! It has been such a delight to get to know all of you and share your stories with readers! I can’t wait to see all the wonders God does through the words you write over the years to come 🙂
Do you have a favorite author you’d like to see featured on the blog? Please let me know! I’m always looking for recommendations!
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!
Last year, I had the pleasure of exploring the world of Anelthalien for the very first time.
Now, I’m so excited to help my friend and fellow author, H.A. Pruitt, celebrate the release of book two, Earth Quaking!
We’re only a few short months away from the book’s release (it can’t get here soon enough!), so to tide us over until then, I’m sharing my review of this wonderful fantasy novel again!
Read on and grab a copy for yourself. This is a world you’ll want to return to again and again.
“To be a hero, Tad, you must be a shield for others; you must be the very thing that stands between a people and death and stabs back that death. Sacrifice makes a hero.”
Kindle never asked to be a hero. But when an unlikely discovery sweeps her away to an unfamiliar land called Anelthalien, she finds that is exactly what is being asked of her.
She and three other young adults – Tad, Ella, and Andrew – form an unlikely group as they travel throughout the land, trying to understand why the fate of Anelthalien is resting on their shoulders.
In their travels, they are taken in by a mysterious farmer, Azildor, who remembers much that others have long forgotten. He passes on his wisdom to the four heroes-in-the-making, believing as he does that, when the time comes, they will be willing to sacrifice what they must to keep Anelthalien safe from the dark powers seeking to overthrow it.
But whether or not they will embrace their identities as heroes remains to be seen, and all the while, Anelthalien’s fate hangs in the balance…
H.A. Pruitt has succeeded in creating an altogether unique world that readers will want to return to and explore again and again. Full of rich characters, adventures galore, and stunning illustrations, this is one of those truly important books that remind you of this: no matter your past, no matter your circumstances, you have a God-given purpose.
Perhaps, you’ll uncover what it is in the pages of Anelthalien.
Words are insufficient to express how dearly I love this story and how much it will always mean to me.
You can follow H.A. Pruitt’s writing (and guinea pig) adventures on Instagram and on her website.
The final excerpt from Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel is here, and the last stand against all that seeks to destroy wonder is about to take place.
Are you ready for one last adventure?
Then read on.
The next two days passed by in a haze of preparation for others and confusion for Penelope Grace. Please do not misunderstand me, reader; Penelope helped where she could, refusing to sit idle because of her fear of the coming confrontation, but fear it she did.
All others in the camp seemed so assured to her eyes, so confident that they would meet their foes head-on, no matter the cost to themselves. And Penelope fully intended to join them in their efforts.
She thought not at all of turning back, only of failing.
As the hours passed, she became more and more convinced of her own inability to face Denagon and emerge victoriously. She was too weak, too inexperienced, too young. How could they ask this of her and expect any other outcome but defeat?
Denagon’s power was too immense in comparison to her little strength, and whatever Apricity she carried, Penelope dared not believe that it was enough.
Even as she served alongside others, her thoughts swirled around this doubtful center, and her fear grew, and her faith dwindled.
Aira noticed the change in her but chose to wait still, knowing that it was something Penelope would have to understand in her own time. Tilly, likewise, noticed the girl’s darkening mood and decided that enough was enough.
She plopped down next to Penelope Grace on the darkening evening of the second day and looked her squarely in the face. “Don’t ye think it’s high time to stop feelin’ sorry for yerself?”
Penelope flinched at the reminder of the fox’s harsh words in the tower room of Svarthol and had no answer for the bold fox.
Tilly pressed on, undeterred. “Well? What’s troublin’ ye so?”
She stared at Tilly for a moment more before the words flooded out, her words only whispered. “You said it yourself, Tilly. ‘Fool of a girl.’ And you were right. It was foolish to barricade us in the tower, thinking we were safe, that I had somehow outsmarted him.
“It was foolish to believe that I could best him.” She paused. “You should have seen it, Tilly, the way the darkness swept over the land.”
For a moment, Penelope Grace stared into the fire before them, and Tilly waited, knowing they’d yet to reach the heart of the matter. “I was so relieved when we made it here, Tilly. But over the last two days, I find myself wondering. Our camp seems so large, and there are so many here who are willing to fight for Ellura. But having seen the darkness, having seen Denagon face-to-face, I can’t help but wonder, is it enough? Am I?”
Are you wondering along with Penelope Grace?
You can read the story by subscribing below for digital installments OR by clicking here to receive a special manuscript edition of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, printed on beautiful paper from The French Paper Co. and bound with waxed thread imported from Ireland.
GIVEAWAY: Through this Friday, Feb. 26th, everyone who purchases a copy will be entered to win an art print of one illustration from the book! You can see the artwork on Instagram.
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This week, dangers abound and Penelope Grace and her friends are desperately seeking refuge.
Do you suppose they’ll find it?
The companions were just reaching the rise of a crisp snowbank when the other snow sprites appeared, speaking so quickly in their small voices that Penelope Grace failed to catch the words. But Aralie understood their warning, and she turned to the others. “Denagon’s creatures are ahead, moving to cut us off. They must have spotted us from above. We must change course. Follow me!”
She darted to the right, and they rushed to keep pace with her as she flew ahead. Penelope could hardly breathe for the biting wind and her own exhaustion. Her legs felt weak beneath her, but she pushed on, knowing that if she could reach the camp, she could rest. But the thought of rest only made her feel more sluggish, and she stumbled despite her best efforts.
Immediately, Aira was there, speaking encouraging words and helping her to stand once more. “Think of Georgie, Penelope Grace. Think of your family, and run with me.”
With a ragged breath, she nodded, praying that the camp was not far and that her feet would carry her the distance. She barely made it several paces before a cry sounded from above, alerting them all to the presence of Denagon’s winged slaves.
Penelope risked a glance up just as the creature swooped down towards her. Though she dodged in time, its jagged claws snagged on the hood of her cloak, and she lost her balance in the deepening snow.
Scrambling to her feet as the creature screamed in frustration, Penelope whirled around to face the next attack just as the snow sprites shot past her. Penelope Grace’s eyes widened as she watched their remarkable work, unaware until now what the sprites were capable of.
Before her, a wall of thick, swirling snow appeared, blinding the enemies pursuing from behind and affording Penelope and her companions safe passage, if only for a short time.
Aralie came to hover before Penelope’s eyes. “Hurry now! The camp is not far from here, but the further away we fly, the more fragile the wall will become.”
With that, they were off. Penelope could see Elafry and the others racing ahead of her through the trees. They ran a great distance, yet Penelope still saw no sign of the camp. The trees nearby looked hazy, and it was not long before she could hardly make them out at all. In fact, the whole forest about her was fading from sight, hidden by a blanketing of white.
Nevertheless, she could clearly see the faint blue light of the snow sprites flying just ahead, which proved enough. Moments later, the snow sprites halted, and the others along with them. Penelope Grace could see nothing but white in front of them, and for a moment, she could not comprehend what she was looking at.
Understanding came in a flash. Though the snow was spinning so quickly that it seemed to be at a standstill, moving it was, in an impossibly high wall in front of them. It was similar to the wall of snow that the sprites had conjured to throw off their pursuers, but what rose before them seemed altogether impenetrable in comparison.
Briefly, Penelope caught sight of flickering blue light through the swirling snow. “What is this, Aralie?” she asked.
The snow sprite flew so near to Penelope that she could feel the breeze created by her beating wings. “This is our camp, Penelope, hidden by snow. No slave of the enemy can pass through this wall. You and your friends may pass through without fear.”
Tilly trotted through with no hesitation, her courage undaunted by the impressive sight. Penelope, however, remained still. Noticing her hesitation, Aralie said, “The snow will not harm you. It only prevents our enemies from entering.” And with that, the snow sprite flitted through the snow, as if to prove the truthfulness of her words.
Taking a deep breath, Penelope Grace passed through the snow. For a minute, the world was purest white, and then she stepped through into a sprawling camp that must have stretched two miles at least.
Everyone from the stronghold was here, and more. Fires were blazing at regular intervals, and the smell of warm food soon reached her. Penelope Grace nearly collapsed with relief. The war against Denagon was far from over, but for the moment, she was surrounded by friends and roaring fires, and she was safe.
Installment Eleven publishes this Friday, and then only one more installment remains.
I would so love for you to embark on this journey of wonder with us. It’s hard to believe wonder still exists in all the madness of the world right now, but I believe we need wonder the most when it’s most difficult to feel.
This year, I’m sharing a unique manuscript edition of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, printed on beautiful paper from The French Paper Co., and bound with waxed thread imported from Northern Ireland. If you’d love to have a physical copy of this winter tale of wonder, please head to our contact page and get in touch.
Dangers abound for Penelope Grace and her friends.
Only one question remains.
Will you brave the dangers with them, reader?
Below them stretched a dark, endless valley that no sunlight seemed to reach.
Nothing grew there. The valley was stunted and barren, its flat expanse only broken by the twisted stronghold that rose up in its center like a scar on the land. Its towers, made of black, implacable rock, rose up. Ice smothered every surface, and in this view, Penelope Grace could see what people feared in her favorite season.
Svarthol was the long, dreaded march of endless winter, without the promise of new life to come.
Tilly interrupted her thoughts. “Are ye ready, Penelope Grace?”
“Yes,” she whispered, taking a deep breath as she continued to gaze down into the valley. “I don’t suppose daylight will be too helpful to us in there.”
“Aye. But ye have Light of an altogether differen’ sort to guide ye. Let’s be off,” Tilly concluded, not explaining her words as she trotted down the only rutted path to Svarthol.
Once they entered the valley, Penelope Grace was horribly on edge, though there were none of the dangers she had anticipated. None of Denagon’s creatures lurked behind the dry husks of once tall trees. Nothing stalked them or sought to prevent their progress on the long stretch to Svarthol’s entrance.
The valley was desolate and still, and Penelope was all the more terrified because of it.
Something was not right.
A vast expanse of land still separated them from Svarthol’s gates when Penelope Grace stopped short and whirled around, knowing that she had heard the whisper of something behind her.
The fox saw it and barked a warning that was drowned out by the roar of bursting earth and the dull murmur of creeping vines.
They were separated before a thing could be done.
Nearly choking on the dusty earth clouding the air, Penelope cried out, “Tilly!”
She spun about, peering through the dust-choked air for some sign of her friend. Reaching forward to keep herself steady, Penelope’s finger scraped against something sharp, and she jerked back in pain.
She stood still, breathing hard, listening, and waiting.
But when the dust at last cleared, Penelope Grace was alone, just as she had feared, shut in by a twisting maze of bracken and thorns.
What awaits Penelope Grace in the maze will be uncovered this Friday in Installment Eight of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel. You can subscribe below to receive installments of the story!
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Four weekly installments of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel
Illustrations to accompany the story
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Unlimited access to all past and future book releases, as long as you remain a subscriber!