This week, I’m sharing my review of The Open Letter by Marysol Ramos Moreira! Read on and find out where you can get a copy for yourself 🙂
Madison and her young daughter, Mady, have only just moved into a new neighborhood, but an unexpected event has already led them to friendships that will change their lives for the better. After meeting these new friends – Tommy, Milo, Hope, Xavier, and Audrey-Ana – Madison learns that they are homeless, and, try as she might, she can’t convince them to share their stories with her.
But one day, Madison finds a gift box, full of broken eyeglasses, in her apartment, and this gift is bound to change everything…
The Open Letter is a story quite unlike any other. With prayers shaped into beautiful poetry, this story offers readers the chance to meet characters who are willing to bring their fears and thanks, victories and doubts, to God, and it challenges the readers themselves to embrace that same vulnerability.
While there were editing issues that distracted from the story itself, The Open Letter is an important reminder to look beyond a person’s appearance and circumstances, to love fearlessly and unwaveringly, and to bring everything to the heart of the Father, who truly cares for each one of our prayers.
The Open Letter is available on Amazon and you can connect with Marysol on Instagram!
Tomorrow, I’ll be sharing my interview with Marysol 🙂
This week, I have the pleasure of featuring YA historical fiction author Stephanie Daniels! She shares more about her current work-in-progress, The Uncertainty of Fire (excerpt coming this Thursday!), her passion for the historical, and advice for aspiring authors!
Read on and follow along on Stephanie’s writing journey below!
Tell us about your current work in progress!
First of all, thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. I’m so happy we’ve been able to connect over on Instagram and I’m really looking forward to reading your work. My current finished manuscript is entitled The Uncertainty of Fire. It is the first book in my planned trilogy called The Uncertain Riches series. It’s a Christian YA historical (with romance) that takes place during the Great Chicago Fire. My main character, Whimsy Greathart, has lived a privileged life. But her heart is tender toward those who have not had her advantages. Throughout the book she learns to deal with the choices she makes. Sometimes those choices are in good faith, even with good will, but because she makes them in her own strength and her own wisdom, God teaches her some things. And sometimes those lessons stem from heartbreaking circumstances.
What do you think makes YA fiction such an important and necessary genre?
Young people are bombarded with far more challenges than I ever had as a teen and college-aged adult. And I feel like I saw and dealt with a lot. But in all areas of the arts, it is becoming more difficult for young people to find characters that believe as they do. And that can be a lonely place. I think the popularity and rise of faith-based films and television programs is evidence that young people want those mirrors–characters who face the same decisions and trials they do. But I think we may be failing them in our books. Parents and young people are reaching back to the classics because of the faith and morals those books embodied. Those same things are lacking in today’s books. We have plenty of faith-based books that are clean and may have some element of faith. But I’d like to see more. More characters committed to their faith. I believe readers want to reach forward and find those faith and moral elements in today’s books. Even though my story takes place in a historical setting, the themes of forgiveness, not trusting our own heart, trying to understand God’s plan, are still timeless themes.
You’ve spoken on social media about your love for the antique and the historic. What sparked your interest and how did both become part of your writing?
I’m not sure when my love for history and antiques really began. I didn’t even like history much in school–until I went to college and had some professors who made Bible history come alive for me. I was fortunate to live in places where history was all around me. Washington D.C., Italy, Hawaii (not far from Pearl Harbor), Fairfax County, Virginia. I remember as a child exploring the replica ships at Fort McHenry, visiting Pompeii and Rome, and touring Mount Vernon so many times I could probably have been a guide. My parents thought it was important for us to see these places even though most of the time I never made the historical connection of what occurred in those places. And then I loved books. Since we moved around a lot, I think my fictional friends sometimes became a comfort to me. I’m not complaining about the fact that I was able to live in so many amazing places, but I was shy, and making friends every time we moved could be a challenge. Maybe I began to like old things because of the roots they represented. My roots have always been family-based, not place-based. Even now, when people ask me where I’m from, I always struggle to form an answer. I’m from a lot of places. And they’ve all made me who I am.
Do you have any advice and/or encouragement for aspiring authors who are daunted by the publishing process, whether they go traditional or indie? What keeps you going when faced with discouragement?
As someone who is still deciding between the two, make sure you pray a lot. And surround yourself with writing friends at all stages of the journey. You need your unpublished friends who understand where you are because they are going through it too. If you have the chance to find a mentor, someone who has published and can weigh in on the wisdom they’ve gained, take advantage of that. I feel like I really started viewing myself as a writer when I joined the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). If there is a professional local group you can join (Word Weavers is another good organization), do it as soon as you can. Veteran writers have a lot to offer. And if you’re willing to learn from them, it will help grow your craft exponentially. But always remember that this gift God has given is uniquely yours. Don’t fret about an idea that’s already been done. Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. So that brilliant idea you came up with has been done before. But it has not been said the way you can uniquely say it. Because there is only one person in this whole world that has your exact unique viewpoint. Discouragement and feeling like giving up, bad reviews, unfavorable feedback are all the hard parts of this journey. But if you can remember why you felt God led you to your story, it can help buoy you through those disappointments and keep you committed to the task He has set before you.
Do you have any books by indie authors that you’d love to recommend?
I wish I could say I had a long list, but because I’d always planned to traditionally publish, I have usually read traditionally published books. But I have been reading more indie authors lately and have made some wonderful friends in the indie author community. I’ll concentrate on YA authors in the Christian market, since that’s the genre I write. Amanda Tero is an indie author who has written in many genres but concentrates on Christian historicals for YA. If you would enjoy fairy-tale retellings without romance, you will want to check out her Tales of Faith series. And her latest novella, A Strand of Hope, a Depression-era historical, released last summer. I’m privileged to be on two launch teams for two indie YA authors. Careena Campbell has just written a 17th century Christian YA historical entitled Free. I’ll be reading it in the coming week. Another author I’ve come to know is H.A. Pruitt who has written a Christian YA fantasy entitled Anathalien. Her sequel to the series is called Earth Quaking and will be coming out in the next few months. I’m looking forward to forming friendships with more indie authors and reading their books. And it may just be that God is leading me to publish indie too. We shall see.
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for doing this interview!
Enjoy this special excerpt of Jessica Smith’s upcoming novel, Evergreen and the Silver Tree.
Evergreen looked at the table Abby was pointing to. The table reserved for the Senior prom king and queen’s crowns. There were two crowns sitting on the table. One was a fairly plain black metal crown for the prom king. But the other crown was a golden band speckled with striking emerald stones in the shape of small leaves.
The Senior Class President came up to the table, appearing frazzled even in her sleek, black dress. “Don’t ask me how that emerald crown got there. I have no clue. The school ordered a silver tiara with some fake, I repeat, fake diamonds for the prom queen. That fake tiara was sitting right there only a few minutes ago, and now it’s gone, and I’m pretty sure these emeralds are real, and I don’t know what to do. I’ve looked everywhere for the tiara the school bought and paid for, and I’m responsible for it, so if you see it…please let me know.” With that, she turned on her heels.
Evergreen and Abby focused their attention on the emerald crown.
“Well, I think this is much prettier than the other tiara would have been,” said Abby.
Evergreen nodded and mumbled, “It’s very pretty.”
Whoever designed this crown was a master of the art. The emerald leaves were gorgeous. Evergreen was captivated, unable to peel her eyes away from the emerald stones. She resisted the urge to touch it, to pick it up and place it on her head.
“Pretty green leaves,” Evergreen said.
Green. Her nickname—the nickname her first-grade teacher, Ms. Nell, had called her.
Oh, poor Ms. Nell.
And Madeline. And Henry.
Missing. Lost. Gone.
Mrs. Dale. Heartbroken. Hurting.
“Um, Evergreen?” Abby’s voice sounded faint, like she was a long distance away. “You’re zoning out. Is everything okay?”
Evergreen tried to come to, but even the loud music inside the auditorium began to fade, until all was quiet. She felt herself being pulled, sucked through a tunnel inside her mind. Her vision blurred, and then—
“Where am I?” She sat upon a familiar rock upon a cliff overlooking a forest of pine trees. Only a few feet in front of her were her first-grade classmates. And Ms. Nell.
She was back at Purple Fire Park.
She looked down at her clothes. The same clothes she had worn the day of the field trip. And suddenly, she realized she had been shrunk into a first-grader again.
Looking to her right, Evergreen saw a boy isolating himself from Ms. Nell’s class. Henry!
Henry. Mrs. Dale’s son. He was quietly eating his lunch.
Evergreen looked down at her classmates. They, too, were eating their lunches, smiling and laughing and as happy as they could be. Every part of them, from their features, to the texture of their hair, to the precise color of their clothing was right there in front of Evergreen’s eyes.
She had dreamed about this before, but never so vividly. The memory of her former classmates had always been hazy, but now, it was as if she had crawled into the dark corners of her mind and unlocked the memories of the field trip completely.
Evergreen heard crying and turned her head. It was Henry. Tears streamed down Henry’s face.
This didn’t happen at the field trip, she thought.
Evergreen stood up and walked closer. Henry wasn’t just crying; he was speaking.
“Help me. Help me. Please, somebody help me.” Henry’s voice was weak. So weak.
“Henry?” Evergreen asked. “Wh—what’s wrong?”
She gasped and took a couple of steps back when Henry locked eyes with her own. His gray eyes pleaded. “Help me. Help me. Please, somebody help me.”
Another nightmare. That’s what this had to be. Except this was a nightmare Evergreen had never had before.
Like in a lucid dream, Evergreen could control what she said and where she went. “I can’t help you,” she told Henry. “You’re—You’re gone. You’re not really here.”
“Help me,” Henry said with more strength. “Help me. Please, somebody help me.”
“But I can’t,” Evergreen said.
“Help me, help me, please somebody help me! Help me, help me, please somebody help me! Help me, help me, please somebody help me! Help me, help me, please somebody help me!”
Again and again and again, Henry yelled.
Evergreen covered her ears. “Stop shouting at me. Stop it!”
Henry fell silent. Once more, he whispered, “Help.”
Evergreen’s vision and hearing became clear again. The music blared, and she found herself standing in front of the table where the emerald crown lay. However, her hands were pressed firmly to her ears, as though she really had heard Henry’s pleas for help. Had it been a dream? It couldn’t have been a dream. Evergreen hadn’t been sleeping. What happened? What was that?
Longing to know more?
Evergreen and the Silver Tree is not published yet, but you can support Jessica on her writing adventures (and find out the moment it’s available!) by following her on Instagram or her blog, Christine’s Smithereens!
Next week, I’ll be sharing an interview with Stephanie Daniels! If you know anyone who loves YA historical fiction that’s deeply rooted in faith, please let them know!
I hope your weekend is filled with wonderful books!
Happy release day to Free, a YA Christian historical fiction novel by Careena Campbell!
To celebrate, I have the pleasure of sharing my interview with Careena, where she shares what led her to write YA historical fiction, tips for authors curious about cover design, and what she hopes readers will get out of reading her debut novel!
Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a writer and published author! What first inspired you to pick up the pen?
As a little girl, a pen was just another outlet for my ever-active imagination. As I got older, I wanted to write so I could create the kinds of books I had always wanted to read–books full of adventure that featured main characters that would set a good example of character to me. I wanted young people like me to go on wild adventures that inspired them to live closer to Jesus.
Of all the genres you could write in, what drew you to YA historical fiction?
I have always been fascinated by the past. The way people lived, how they thought, and how it was similar or different to me always filled me with wonder and curiosity. I chose YA because I was the same age as YA protagonists. I will soon be beyond the YA age myself, but I still have a special place in my heart for teen readers. Adolescence is such a moldable time, and teen minds are like a sponge. I want to give them good, wholesome stories that they can “soak up” with excitement, that also help build their character into that of strong adults.
Top three tips to help cure writer’s block! Go! 🙂
I feel like this is cheating because I actually did a YouTube video on this topic a while back. I’ll try not to quote it though! My best two tips are taking a break or reevaluating your outline. If you feel void of any inspiration on what to do next, a short break can help. If that doesn’t work, there may be a piece of the story missing from your outline. Of course, not everyone uses an outline to plan their story, but I personally find it a great way to avoid getting “stuck”!
You designed your own cover for Free. Do you have any advice for other independent writers who are looking to venture into the world of cover design?
Look at lots of different book covers. While it’s good to pay special attention to those of a similar genre to your own, look at other genres too. You might see a useful design element that was less common in the genre you had previously been looking at. Also, don’t be afraid of creating “mock-up” book covers by collaging a bunch of pictures together. I’ve lost count of the exact number, but I created at least five different versions of the book cover for Free. While you don’t want to use Pinterest and similar sites for your final cover, they can be very useful for finding images to practice with. I searched for and downloaded ocean and person pictures so I could practice getting the right layout.
Today is release day for Free! Congratulations! What do you most hope readers get out of reading this story?
I want to remind readers of their identity in Christ–that, no matter the circumstances, if we remember Whose we are, there is an unlimited spring of hope and courage available to us. We are free to shine for the Lord, no matter what may happen, and free to celebrate our identity in Him.
What are some of the books you’ve recently read and enjoyed?
I know I’m behind on the classics, but in January I finished Pride and Prejudice! I thoroughly enjoyed the worlds Austen created and can’t wait to explore more of them. Her characters were so funny, lovable, and–at times–embarrassing, they felt like they might really be your neighbors in the next manor over. I also recently enjoyed the Tales of Faith series by Amanda Tero. It consisted of three novelettes, each a Christian retelling of a different fairy tale. They were so clean and uplifting, and yet at the same time riveting and full of adventure. I will certainly be reading more of her books in the future!
Next week, an adventure begins. Chip and the Book of Rose Leaves publishes this spring, and the Kickstarter officially opens next week! My heart is overflowing with expectation for how God is going to restore our reassurance in His heart and His intent, listening ear for our prayers.
I hope you’ll join me in the next chapter of 21:25 Books’ story. It’s my greatest desire to fill the world with books about Him and the good things He does, and I hope I get to continue doing just that all of my days.
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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Do you want to see wonder sweep away the chill from even the most bitter days?
After a devastating loss, Penelope Grace longs for nothing more, but a persistent shadow clings to her family, draining them of hope and the desire to fight.
Desperately, she tries to revive their sense of wonder, until, on the bleakest of nights, she is robbed of all she holds dear.
Yet, hope isn’t lost, and Penelope Grace finds herself following an unexpected friend through the freshly fallen snow, hoping for the restoration of all she has lost.
But the fight for wonder is just beginning, and the battle promises to grow more dark and fierce.
So, the question remains…
Will Penelope Grace hold onto wonder? Will she help those she loves do the same?
And what of you, dear reader?
When wonder is slipping through your fingers and the nights are cold and dark, will you allow despair to claim you?
Or will you see the glimmer of the sun on the snow and begin to understand how winter can be the springtime of the soul, if only you’ll let it?
The answers await you under snow-laden boughs, on a winter carousel, covered in snow.
I’ll meet you there ❄🎠
If you’d like to receive a unique, manuscript copy of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel, I would love to share it with you!
This special edition of the story is done in beautiful manuscript form, printed on paper from The French Paper Co. and bound with waxed thread imported from Northern Ireland, giving readers a unique, collector’s first edition.
I’m so excited to share with you an excerpt from Installment Ten of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel! I’ve loved sharing this story and my heart for wonder to be reignited in people’s hearts.
I hope you enjoy it, and be sure to read the news below about a manuscript edition of the story!
As Penelope Grace stepped beneath the arch and pushed the gate open, a creak from rusting hinges filled the air, nearly disguising the soft growl coming from behind her. She turned, dreading whatever new danger awaited, and found two wolves with hackles raised.
Penelope gasped when she saw them, not for fear of what they might do, but for the shock of seeing that their bodies were formed entirely from rough stone.
She knew they must be Denagon’s servants, though she wondered if that were by choice or force. Every inch of their carved frames made their ability to harm her clear, but Penelope’s attention was drawn to their eyes. Even as these creatures bared their fangs and began to advance, their eyes held something more than the hatred she had encountered in Denagon’s other slaves: a plea and real despair. The longer she looked, the less convinced she was that the wolves truly desired to harm her.
Knowing this was possibly her most foolhardy choice since arriving in Ellura, Penelope Grace reached out a hand to the nearest wolf, hoping against hope that she might cool his anger with a friendly touch.
Her fingers were nearly brushing against his muzzle when he lunged at her, jaws snapping. She jumped back with a yelp, while both wolves came closer, knowing she was trapped.
“This way, lass!” she heard a familiar voice shout.
There was no time to question the little fox’s appearance or how she had snuck past the wolves. She was here and had found a way for Penelope to escape the jaws of Denagon’s sentinels.
Just as both wolves lunged forward, Penelope Grace darted out of reach, and together, she and Tilly ran for the twisting pathways of a wilted, frozen garden, praying they might lose the wolves there.
Bare, rigid hedges lined the nearest pathway that Tilly led them down. Penelope did her best to keep up with the nimble fox, but she was already worn from her ordeal in the maze, and she could hear the scrabble of the wolves’ claws against the paving stones as they closed in. She risked a glance back; one wolf was directly behind, while the other sought to head them off to the right.
With a frustrated growl, Tilly took a sharp turn onto a curving path that, she hoped, would help them lose their pursuers.
But the wolves never missed a step and Penelope was left with the uncomfortable feeling that their pursuers were herding them. The feeling only hardened into belief when they reached an enclosed grotto that offered no escape. Penelope and Tilly whirled round to face the wolves…
Only a few more weeks remain before this wintry tale comes to a close…
But it’s not too late to join the adventure. If you’re longing for your sense of wonder to be renewed, please follow Penelope Grace on her journey through the land of Ellura, where wonder may yet prove victorious…
To subscribe and receive weekly digital installments (along with illustrations and the chance to win an art print!), click below.
Or, if you would prefer a print copy, I’m releasing a manuscript edition of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel and would love to share this unique copy with you! This edition of the story is done in beautiful manuscript form, printed on paper from The French Paper Co. and bound with waxed thread imported from Northern Ireland, giving readers a unique, collector’s first edition.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive the manuscript edition!
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!
What will you receive when you subscribe? I’m so glad you asked! 🙂
Four weekly installments of Penelope Grace and the Winter Carousel
Illustrations to accompany the story
A chance to win an art print of your favorite illustration (read all the details here)
Unlimited access to all past and future book releases, as long as you remain a subscriber!