Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Story Keeper

The Story Keeper
Lisa Wingate
(Tyndale House Publishers)
ISBN: 978-1414386898
August 2014/448 pages/$14.99

When successful New York editor Jen Gibbs discovers a decaying slush-pile manuscript on her desk, she has no idea that the story of Sarra, a young mixed-race woman trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the twentieth century, will both take her on a journey and change her forever. Happy with her life in the city, and at the top of her career with a new job at Vida House Publishing, Jen has left her Appalachian past and twisted family ties far behind. But the search for the rest of the manuscript, and Jen’s suspicions about the identity of its unnamed author, will draw her into a mystery that leads back to the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains . . . and quite possibly through the doors she thought she had closed forever.

Read an excerpt


Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, speaker, and the author of nineteen mainstream novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses, now in its eighteenth printing. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, and a two-time Carol Award winner. Her novel Blue Moon Bay was a Booklist Top Ten of 2012 pick. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others, as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. When not dreaming up stories, Lisa spends time on the road as a motivational speaker. Via internet, she shares with readers as far away as India, where her book, Tending Roses, has been used to promote women's literacy, and as close to home as Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the county library system has used Tending Roses to help volunteers teach adults to read.

Lisa lives on a ranch in Texas, where she spoils the livestock, raises boys, and teaches Sunday school to high school seniors. She was inspired to become a writer by a first grade teacher who said she expected to see Lisa's name in a magazine one day. More information about Lisa's novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

In her trademark style, Lisa Wingate has written another tender novel that will touch your heart. Compelling characters give a glimpse into a lesser-known segment of Appalachian culture and history. Wingate skillfully alternates between the modern-day tale and the historical account which Jen endeavors to publish if she ever finds the author. Jen's own background and personal issues will resonate with anyone who wrestles with a difficult past and how to balance love, forgiveness, and boundaries. Nuggets of truth, which speak to the reader's heart, are scattered throughout the book. I especially loved this quote:
It's so easy to make assumptions, passing by other people's homes at a distance. To be so certain that the goings-on inside mirror the exteriors--that glittering facades and squeaky-clean windows equate to perfect families, yet the reality is that containers often tell nothing of the contents.

Hardship finds its way into every life. It's just much easier to see our own than other people's. (p. 162)
Grab your copy today of the The Story Keeper, a keeper indeed!

Q&A with Lisa Wingate

The Story Keeper tells such a powerful tale. What would you like readers to learn from this book?

The Story Keeper is in many ways an examination of identity. It’s about the masks we wear, where they come from, and whether we can leave behind the masks and become authentic. So often, in rejecting the roles our childhood experiences may have forced upon us, we only put on other masks. In the story, Jen believes she has left behind the girl who was raised in poverty in Appalachia and forced to comply with the brutal and cultish faith of the tiny Church Of The Brethren Saints. But in reality, even hundreds of miles away in New York city working her dream job as an editor, Jen’s in hiding from her past and all the painful questions of her childhood.

When she discovers the partial manuscript of The Story Keeper on her desk, she comes face-to-face with the tale of a young girl living a similar life over 100 years ago. That discovery breaches the mask. What Jen really finds in that manuscript isn’t the story of a 16-year-old Melungeon girl trapped in Appalachia at the turn of the century; it’s her own story. That’s why Jen is compelled to go back to the Blue Ridge Mountains in search of the rest of the story. She’s looking for her own truth, for the self she abandoned due to the wounds of her childhood.

That’s what stories can do for us. They can break us open in ways we could never have imagined. I hope that people take away two things away from The Story Keeper. First, on a basic level, I hope that the historical thread in the novel is a reminder of the value of stories and their truly life-changing potential. Our stories shouldn’t go untold. They shouldn’t be lost.

On a deeper level, I hope Jen’s experience resonates with readers who have in some way surrendered to the wounds of a painful childhood. Life behind the mask amounts to slow suffocation. It’s another form of allowing other people to dictate who you are and what you believe. Letting go is a risk, but on the other side of that process lays light, freedom and the glory hour Jen finally senses in the end of the book. I hope that’s what people take away from The Story Keeper. Our lives have purpose, but to fulfill that purpose we must first claim ourselves.

How did your experience as a published author help you to write a character who works in the publishing industry? That must have been a fun aspect of Jen Gibbs’ story to create.

For me, writing about New York publishing from an insider’s point of view was the most fun part of the novel! Over the years, I’ve written for publishers based in New York and several other cities. Every house is different, but there are certainly commonalities in any kind of publishing. It’s an interesting world – a mix of glamour and achingly hard work, of mundane tasks and the Eureka of discovering occasional gold nuggets.

While I had fun dreaming up the uniquely powerful, yet family-owned publishing company that is Vida House in the novel, I’ll admit it was also a little intimidating to write about the secret inner workings of editors’ lives, all the while knowing that when I was finished, I’d have to turn the manuscript over to… gulp… an editor!

Fortunately, the manuscript passed the agent-and-editor test. Not only that, but friends in publishing loved the idea of tripping over a mysteriously wonderful submission that’s been languishing on a slush pile for 20 years. A fascinating manuscript written by a mysterious author who lives somewhere in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains is the ultimate literary gold nugget.

The Appalachian setting is a character of its own in the book. Why did you set the book there?

Appalachia is a place where the air fairly whispers with stories. So much of the world has grown too fast paced these days, too busy for sitting and listening, too preoccupied with the future to devote effort to retelling the past. But in Appalachian culture, there’s still a reverence for it. There are still storytellers who can entertain a crowd at a ramshackle cafĂ©, on a back porch or at the kitchen table over coffee. That tradition of the passing down of stories is part of The Story Keeper.

Appalachia is filled with mist and mystery. It lends mood to a story. The mountains are dotted with isolated communities where people can live differently, undisturbed by outsiders. It’s also the place where mysterious “little races” like the Melungeons lived historically, and in some cases still do. I knew that the historical tale of Sarra would have to do with her Melungeon blood and the myths, legends and prejudices that sort of heritage would bring. Even today, the heritage of “blue-eyed Indians” discovered in the Appalachians by the first English and French explorers remains a mystery. What were the origins of their Caucasian blood? Were they descendants of shipwrecked sailors? Journeying Norsemen or Turks? The progeny of the Lost Colonists who vanished from Roanoke Island without a trace, decades before the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock? The mystery fascinated me, and it pulled the story from me, and yes, the place became a character in itself in the book.

Your latest release tells a story within a story. Was this a challenge to write?

It’s always a challenge to balance dual time frames and a story within a story. It falls in the category of double-the-work and double-the-risk, but also double-the-fascination and double-the-reward. There’s twice as much research, but in doubling the research, you also discover twice as many interesting historical facts, unanswered questions, and nearly-forgotten bits of history. Those things weave new threads into the story loom. For me, the biggest challenge was balancing the two stories, ensuring that both would be fully satisfying, and that the historical story would serve a purpose in modern-day characters’ lives.

What’s on your nightstand?

Endorsement books, usually! One of the best things about being an author is having the chance to read and discover new books before they travel out into the world. Aside from early read copies, there’s usually some research material on my nightstand for other books I’m planning. Also on the stack is a journal given to me by a reader, where I write down quotes and story ideas I don’t want to forget.

Right now, I’m spending time with several nonfiction books about the Melungeons, the mystery of the Lost Colonists on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Appalachia during the depression years, as I create the third novel in the Carolina chronicles, which ties together a historical mystery interwoven in The Prayer Box, The Story Keeper, and this third book.

How did you write 20 books in 12 years with kids at home?

I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t get serious about freelance writing and selling until after I’d graduated college, married, and started a family. I wrote and sold various smaller projects in between naps, diapers, and playgroups. And when the boys were older, during soccer practices, in carpool lines, while helping with homework, and in all sorts of other situations.

People often ask me if I need quiet in order to write. With boys in the house, if I’d waited for quiet, the writing would never have happened. I learned to lose myself in a story amid the noise of life and I loved it that way.

I asked myself what makes a story last, what really makes a story worth telling and worth reading? I wanted to write books that meant something, that explore the human soul.

One day, I came across a notebook in which I’d written some of my grandmother’s stories. I’d never known quite what to do with those stories, but I knew they were significant in my life. When I rediscovered the notebook, I had the idea of combining my grandmother’s real stories with a fictional family who is like and unlike my own family. That little germ of an idea became my first women’s fiction novel, Tending Roses.

Now that the boys are grown and the house is quiet, I’m redefining the writing routine again. Just as in books, life is a series of scenes and sequels, beginnings and endings, and new discoveries.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale House and JKS Communications. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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Monday, September 1, 2014

ACFW New Releases!

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


The Promise by Beth Wiseman -- Mallory Hammond is determined not to let her boyfriend, parents, or anyone else get in the way of her #1 goal-to save a life. A new friend she met online offers her the chance, but she'll have to leave behind everyone she loves to take it. Tate Webber has loved Mallory for years. He begs her not to go, but Mallory embarks on the dangerous journey to Pakistan anyway, only to discover how swiftly and easily promises can be broken. And Mallory can only pray she'll make it out alive. Inspired by actual events, this riveting story will take you on a wild journey and have you asking yourself: How far would I go for love? (Action/Adventure from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Amish Romance:

A White Christmas in Webster County by Laura V. Hilton -- Mercy Lapp relocates from Shipshewana to Seymour, Missouri to heal after the death of her beau. Abner Hilty flees Shipshewana to Montana to work on a ranch after he and his twin brother witnessed a murder. Now that the killer is safely behind bars, Abner decides to visit his brother Abram in Missouri. Mercy is surprised to see Abner there, and equally surprised by how much he's changed physically since she's last seen him. As Christmas approaches, an unexpected heavy snow lets Abner and Mercy spend a lot of time together in wintertime fun. Abner hopes to interest Mercy in a more permanent relationship. But then Mercy has a potentially life changing discovery. Will she return to Shipshewana to answer the summons of the past? Or settle in a new place? (Amish Romance from Whitaker House)

Biblical Fiction:

The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queen by Tosca Lee -- There is the story you have heard: A foreign queen journeyed north with a caravan of riches to pay tribute to a king favored by the One God. The tale of a queen conquered by a king before returning to her own land laden with gifts. That is the tale you were meant to believe. Which means most of it is a lie. The truth is far more than even the storytellers could conjure. In the tenth century BC, the new Queen of Sheba has inherited her father's throne and all its riches at great personal cost. Solomon, the brash new king of Israel famous for his wealth and wisdom, will not be denied the tribute of the world-or of Sheba's queen. With tensions ready to erupt within her own borders and the future of her nation at stake, the one woman who can match wits with Solomon undertakes the journey of a lifetime in a daring bid to test and win the king. But neither ruler has anticipated the clash of agendas, gods, and passion that threatens to ignite-and ruin-them both. (Biblical Fiction from Howard [Simon & Schuster])

Contemporary Romance:

Christmas Comes to Bethlehem - Maine by Lorraine Beatty, Elizabeth Ludwig, Sandra Robbins and Virginia Vaughan -- This year, spend Christmas in Bethlehem, Maine, as the town prepares for annual living nativities. Will stepping into the roles of Mary and Joseph help empty nesters David and Kate Walters discover the joy of becoming parents again unexpectedly? Can a young pastor and a pretty choir member convince the town to be like three wise men of long ago when a devastating hurricane threatens tradition? Can veterinarian Leesa McElroy survive working alongside a man more at home with camels than Christians? Will the truth about singer Angeline Monroe's abandoned career come to light at Christmas? (Contemporary Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Her Hometown Hero by Margaret Daley -- Home to a Cowboy In a split second, a tragic accident ends Kathleen Somers's ballet career. Her dreams shattered, she returns home to the Soaring S ranch...and her first love. Suddenly the local veterinarian, Dr. Nate Sterling, goes from her ex to her champion. With the help of a lively poodle therapy dog, the cowboy vet sets out to challenge Kathleen's strength and heal her heart. He'll show her there's life beyond dance, even if it means she leaves town again. But maybe, just maybe, he'll convince her there's only one thing in life worth having...and he's standing right in front of her. Caring Canines: Loving and loyal, these dogs mend hearts. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Campaigning for Love by KD Fleming -- For Katherine Harper, running for city council is about protecting children from the kind of grim childhood she had. And she won't let privileged politician's son Nick Delaney ruin her chances. Like he once ruined her dreams of true love and a family of her own. Nick has his sights set on public office, not on rekindling a star-crossed romance from years ago. Yet as he and Katherine spend time together on the election circuit, his competitor compels him with her beauty and heart of gold. Falling for the opposition was never in his plans, but Nick will give anything to earn Katherine's forgiveness and renew their love. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant -- Kat Varland has had enough of chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. At twenty-six years old, Kat is still working shifts at her Aunt Maggie's bakery in Bayou Bend, Louisiana. Still wondering what to do with her passion for baking and her business degree. And still single. But when Lucas Brannen, Kat's best friend, signs her up for a reality TV bake-off on Cupcake Combat, everything Kat ever wanted is suddenly dangled in front of her: creative license as a baker, recognition as a visionary . . . and a job at a famous bakery in New York. As the competition heats up, Lucas realizes he might have made a huge mistake. As much as he wants the best for Kat, the only thing he wants for himself---her---is suddenly in danger of slipping away. Lucas is faced with a difficult choice: help his friend achieve her dreams . . . or sabotage her chances to keep her in Louisiana. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)


Last Family Standing by Jennifer AlLee -- Twenty-five years ago, Monica Stanton gave up a baby girl for adoption. Now, Jessica is willing to meet her birth mother, but she wants the reunion to air on a reality TV show. Monica would rather chew glass than appear on TV. But she'll swallow her pride-and a few other unsavory items-if that's what it takes to reconnect. As if getting to know her grown daughter while competing on a remote island isn't hard enough, Monica is further confused when Jessica's long-lost birth father shows up, complicating both her relationship with her daughter and the attraction Monica has to the hunky reality show host. The fruit-basket upset of emotions, accusations, and regrets might make for good TV, but will it destroy the family in the process? (General/Contemporary from Abingdon Press)

Driftwood Tides by Gina Holmes -- When Holton lost his wife, Adele, in a freak accident, he shut himself off from the world, living a life of seclusion, making drifwood sculptures and drowning his pain in gin. Until his late wife's illegitimate daughter, given up for adoption without his knowledge, knocks on his door. Together Holton and Libby form an unlikely bond as the two struggle to learn the identity of Libby's father and the truth about Adele, themselves, and each other. (General/Contemporary from Tyndale House)

Chapel Springs Revival by Ane Mulligan -- With both the town and her marriage in need of restoration, Claire and her best friend embark on a journey of mishaps and miscommunication. (General/Contemporary from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

Historical Romance:

Ozark Wedding by Helen Gray -- Gavin is determined to bring his sleepy hometown of Deer Lick, Missouri, into the electric age. But he doesn't count on his wayward brother's schoolhouse hijinks getting in the way-or the lovely teacher who sends Gavin's heart into a tailspin. Teacher Irene Delaney is a talented pianist who dreams of making music far beyond her small town. As the electricity humming between her and Gavin begins to grow, she worries falling for the striking man will douse her big-city plans. Can Gavin convince Irene she can keep her dreams-and they can still have forever? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

A Bride In Store by Melissa Jagears -- Unfortunate events bring mail-order bride Eliza Cantrell to her fiancé's town a week early with no dowry. But Axel, her groom-to-be, isn't even in town. When his friend's mail-order bride arrives in town with no money and no groom in sight, William Stanton feels responsible and lets her help around the store--where she quickly proves she's much more adept at business than he ever will be. The sparks that fly between Will and Eliza as they work together in close quarters are hard to ignore, but Eliza is meant for Axel and a future with the store, while Will is biding his time until he can afford medical school. When Axel finally returns, both Will and Eliza must decide what they're willing to sacrifice to chase their dreams--or if God has a new dream in store for them both. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker Publishing Group])

The Christmas Brides Collection by Kristin Billerbeck, Lauralee Bliss, Irene B. Brand, Lynn A. Coleman, Kelly Eileen Hake, Vickie McDonough, Tamela Hancock Murray and Therese Stenzel -- Journey back into history to experience Christmas alongside nine brides-to-be whose wedding dreams are overshadowed by doubts and troubles. Meet an English immigrant wanting to return home. A ranchero's daughter being forced to marry a despicable man. A soldier's fiancée facing the realities of war. An optimist who believed a lie. A snowbound woman near death. A do-gooder fighting for orphans. A bride sought only for an inheritance. An orphan protecting her father's land. A motherless daughter wishing for yesterday. Will love shine its light of hope and truth into each life? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Westward Christmas Brides Collection by Wanda E. Brunstetter, Susan Page Davis, Melanie Dobson, Cathy Liggett, Vickie McDonough, Olivia Newport, Janet Spaeth, Jennifer Rogers Spinola and MaryLu Tyndall -- Take the journey into the American west alongside nine women who are chasing their dreams-Cynthia, for security; Beryl, for a new family; Adeline, for freedom; Molly, for marriage; Beth, for a new start; Belinda, for a place to heal; Suzette, for adventure; Carolina, for peace; and Caroline, for a future for her children. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Grand Teton Sleigh Ride by Elizabeth Goddard and Lynette Sowell -- Four Generations of Wyoming Ranchers Celebrate Love at Christmas. Wyoming's spectacular mountains have drawn many, from trappers to ranchers to skiing enthusiasts. This Christmas, spend the holidays with the Covington family, who have called Wyoming home for generations. Rough, bristly rancher Zebulon sets his sights on eastern lady Belle Murray. Forward-thinking Emily would rather stay a dog musher than become a bride. Outfitter Sam wants to make his name in Wyoming, not say, "I do." Hayley's quest for her father's approval goes sour when she takes an interest in a local ski bum. Will four festive sleigh rides rein in romance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)


The Lyre and the Lambs by Sydney Avey -- Modernity and tradition clash as two newlywed couples set up house together and their young relatives begin to show up; when a body is found in the backyard, the life they are trying to build comes undone. (Historical from HopeSprings Books)

Romantic Suspense:

Hidden in the Stars: Quilts of Love Series by Robin Caroll -- Following an attack that killed her mother and stole her ability to speak, 21-year-old Sophia Montgomery has no choice but to accept her estranged grandmother's offer to return to their family home. Detective Julian Frazier is working hard on the case, but Sophia's silence frustrates him and thwarts her eyewitness evidence. The fact that Julian is undeniably attracted to Sophia doesn't help either. Little do they know, the clues to solving the case may be right in front of them, displayed in Sophia's mother's "special" quilt design. When the truth comes to light, will Sophia find her voice again? Or will the murderer-still at large-silence her forever? (Romantic Suspense from Abingdon Press)

Under A Turquoise Sky by Lisa Carter -- When Aaron Yazzie is assigned to protect the only witness to a drug cartel execution, he hides high-maintenance Southern belle Kailyn Eudailey in the safest place he knows-the vast, untamed wilderness of the Navajo Nation. (Romantic Suspense from Abingdon Press)

Nowhere to Turn (Hidden Identity) by Lynette Eason -- The day Danielle Harding takes her 11-year-old son, Simon, and flees from her abusive husband, is the same day Kurt Harding dies. A relieved Dani believes she and her son are finally safe--but in reality, the danger has just begun. When Kurt was alive, he took something important to a mysterious person. That person wants the item back and believes Dani now has it. As she and her son run for their lives, they have nowhere to turn, until she hires Adam Buchanan of Operation Refuge and goes into hiding. Unfortunately, she won't be able to hide for long. (Romantic Suspense from Revell [Baker Publishing Group])

Sunken Treasure by Katy Lee -- Shipwreck diver Gage Fontaine is used to modern-day pirates chasing after his boat and the buried treasure he salvages. But when he unknowingly leads a dangerous criminal to the waters off Stepping Stones Island, he puts a beautiful fisherwoman in grave danger. Rachelle Thibodaux has spent the past year hiding on her boat to avoid the town's censure for her father's crimes. But when she comes face-to-face with a gun-wielding pirate, she becomes a new kind of target. To save her own life, she'll have to work with Gage to find the treasure before the pirates do. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Rancher Under Fire by Vickie McDonough -- Jackson Durant would go to any lengths to protect his young daughter and his ranch. He knows the puzzling incidents on his homestead are no accidents. Someone is after him...but who? And why? Reporter Mariah Reyes is determined to find out. She never expected her pursuit of a story on the reclusive rancher would endanger her life-nor that she'd fall for the cowboy. But when Jackson's daughter is kidnapped, she'll do anything to help save the little girl-even if it means becoming a target herself. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Danger at the Border by Terri Reed -- When a mysterious toxin threatens lives and livelihoods near the border between the U.S. and Canada, Dr. Tessa Cleary is called to trace the source. But when the no-nonsense doctor is forced to work with border patrol agent Jeff Steele, she finds the lone wolf's dedication to his job-and country-chipping away at the walls around her heart. Just as Tessa and Jeff are about to uncover the toxin's deadly source, armed thugs kidnap them in the forest. Now they must trust each other to survive before time runs out. (Romantic from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The Marshal's Pursuit by Gina Welborn -- When her brother is arrested for a gangster's murder, Malia Vaccarelli is plunged into danger. Hiding Malia on his grandparents' Tuxedo Park estate may not be the best idea, but U.S. marshal Frank Louden is determined to do anything to protect her. As their romance blossoms, will Malia's criminal connections force her to choose between her family and her heart? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Speculative Fiction:

Seek and Hide (Haven Seekers #1) by Amanda G. Stevens -- Six years ago, the government took control of the church. Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations. Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment—including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent. Aubrey Weston recanted her faith when the Constabulary threatened her baby. Now released, she just wants to provide for her son and avoid government notice. But she's targeted again, and this time, her baby is taken into custody. If only she'd never denied Him, maybe God would hear her pleas for help. When Aubrey and Marcus's lives collide, they are forced to confront the lies they believe about themselves. And God is about to grab hold of Marcus's life in a way he'd never expect, turning a loner into a leader. (Speculative Fiction from David C. Cook)

Women's Fiction:

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate -- Successful New York editor, Jen Gibbs, is at the top of her game with her new position at Vida House Publishing -- until a mysterious manuscript from an old slush pile appears on her desk. Turning the pages, Jen finds herself drawn into the life of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in the turn of the century Appalachia. A risky hunch may lead to The Story Keeper's hidden origins and its unknown author, but when the trail turns toward the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place Jen thought she'd left behind forever, the price of a blockbuster next book deal may be higher than she's willing to pay. (Women's Fiction from Tyndale House)


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Home to Chicory Lane Plus B&B Weekend Getaway!

Home to Chicory Lane
A Chicory Inn Novel
Deborah Raney
(Abingdon Press)
ISBN: 978-1426769696
August 2014/272 pages/$14.99

Landyn longs for home, but her mother may have other plans.

Audrey Whitman’s dreams are coming true. Now that their five kids are grown, she and her husband, Grant, are turning their beloved family home into a cozy bed and breakfast just a mile outside of Langhorne, Missouri.

Opening weekend makes Audrey anxious, with family and friends coming from all over to help celebrate the occasion. But when Audrey’s daughter, Landyn, arrives, the U-Haul she’s pulling makes it clear she’s not just here for a few days. Audrey immediately has questions. What happened in New York that sent Landyn running home? Where was Landyn’s husband, Chase? And what else was her daughter not telling her? One thing was for sure, the Chicory Inn was off to a rocky start. Can Audrey still realize her dream and at the same time provide the comfort of home her daughter so desperately needs?


Deborah Raney’s books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas—the setting of many of Deborah’s novels—for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita, where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away. Visit Deborah on the web at DeborahRaney.com and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Deborah Raney is one of my must-read authors and she kicks off her new Chicory Inn series with a wonderful novel. Raney has a special gift for crafting characters with authentic issues, wrapping them in a heart-warming and tender story that touches the heart and inspires the soul. Like real-life families, the Whitman clan has not reached perfection in their interactions with each other or within their marriages, and the faith journeys of the family members will encourage many readers. I'm already looking forward to the next book in this series!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advanced copy of this book free from Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity as part of a blog tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The first book in Deborah Raney's new Chicory Inn series, Home to Chicory Lane, introduces us to Audrey Whitman, a mother who has launched all her children into life and now looks forward to fulfilling some of her own dreams during her empty-nest years. However, not all of her children are ready to stay out of the nest quite yet.

Deborah is celebrating the release of her new series with a $200 B&B Weekend Getaway and a Facebook author chat party.

One winner will receive:
  • A B&B Weekend Getaway (via a $200 Visa cash card)
  • Home to Chicory Lane by Deborah Raney
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 9th. Winner will be announced at the Home to Chicory Lane Author Chat Party on 9/9. Deborah will be hosting a heartfelt book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at the next book in the Chicory Inn series!

So grab your copy of Home to Chicory Lane and join Deborah on the evening of September 9th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today.Tell your friends via
 FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning.
Hope to see you on the 9th!


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interview with Hannah Alexander and a Giveaway!

Update Monday, 9/1/14 WINNER!

Random Integer Generator
Here are your random numbers:
Timestamp: 2014-09-01 19:38:38 UTC

Congrats to Beth! Email me your address, Beth, and I'll send the book your way!
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I'm happy today to introduce you to Hannah Alexander. I was thrilled to meet her in Atlanta at ICRS back in June, as I have enjoyed her books for years, long before I ever heard of blogging or dreamed I'd ever get to review books! Hannah Alexander is actually a pen name of a husband and wife team, as you will learn in the interview below. Their most recent release is Hallowed Halls, which I reviewed here. I have an autographed copy of this book to give away at the end of the interview!

I'm so excited to meet you. I discovered your books in the library and read them long before I started blogging and reviewing books. I enjoyed the Girls Write Out blog when you blogged with Colleen Coble, Diann Hunt, Denise Hunter, and Kristen Billerbeck, but y'all aren't doing that anymore..

No but I'm blogging at Christians Read. I blog every other Tuesday there. Vicki Hinze started that, and it's really growing. There are 16,000 people on it now.

Wow! How have I not known about that? I'll definitely check that out. Hannah Alexander is your pen name and you do all your writing and correspondence as that, correct?

Yes. We even have a mailing address, a post office box, that is in another town because people have come to my front door and knocked on the door!

I've noticed that recently you've been more upfront about saying "Hannah Alexander is the pen name of Cheryl and Mel Hodde."

We did and now I'm not doing it as much, but everyone knows anyway so why even bother? I tried it with this book that just came out, Hallowed Halls, and just said "husband and wife writing team." But part of what people like about us is that we tell our love story. Our pastor introduced us. I'd been through a horrible time. My husband divorced me for another woman – the whole bit. I'm very open about that. Then our pastor introduced us. The first time we met, we started talking on this arranged date, and I asked him how to paralyze somebody! He looked rather shocked and stammered a bit and I said, "Oh, just temporarily." I finally realized I had scared the guy to death, that he didn't know I'm a novelist. Once I explained that and that I wanted to do it just temporarily in a book, we started talking and he got really involved in it. That's when we started collaborating. He gives me all the medical information. He doesn't do the writing. He can't even figure out what I'm doing until I'm done. Then he reads it and helps me with the medical scenes, which I'm not doing as much now because I can't keep up with him and he's working too hard.

I've loved that because it drives me nuts when a book has inaccurate information. It's like watching a TV show and there's an IV hanging but it's not connected to the patient or it's not dripping.

That's why Mel can't watch medical shows on TV. He'll say, "you just killed that patient!" You have to have the realism because there are so many medical people that read. I've had so many people tell me, "Your books are really realistic." They're right! That's because my husband's a doctor. He'll make me get it right.

That's why I love your books and Harry Kraus's. He's still on my bucket list to meet in person, although we've connected by email and on FB.

Harry, yes! And now he's writing more about some of his experiences in Africa and I'm loving that. He was my favorite author long before I was ever published, when Mel and I first got married. We were at a marriage retreat and I met this woman and as we talked I mentioned he was my favorite author and she said "He's my cousin!" I told her I loved his writing because I love medicine. This was way back when during his early years of publishing They were third cousins and she went home and told him. Then we met him and his wife through writer's conferences and just loved them.

Your recent release is a new venture with the Jerry Jenkins Select. Is this potentially how you will do your books in the future? What publishing house have you previously worked with?

We were with Bethany House and then we did a couple of books with Barbour. When Steeple Hill Women's Fiction line began, we helped launch that. Our editor came in when we did and she retired last year. We had worked together ten years and I thought, "That's it. I can't work without Joan." So everything has changed. They've discontinued that line, which was long Women's Fiction, so the first book in the new series –I had ten books published in the Hideaway series, and one book was orphaned and just fell through the cracks. I had one book with Summerside, and it fell through the cracks because they lost their marketer and sold to Guideposts. I'm doing a few of the shorter ones, but there are so many restrictions. I have one set in 1855 and I can't use whisky, which was medicinal. The Jerry Jenkins Select was a great opportunity.

So will you do it like this again or go out on your own?

He [Jenkins] has so many different choices that you can make. I think I will probably do my e-books myself. But Jerry Jenkins is only going to be doing fiction once a year. From what I understand, he's doing fiction in the spring and non-fiction in the fall. And these are people who have been published forever, not new authors. I would like to continue, I think. It's been a rough learning experience for everyone and we're working out all the kinks, but I'm thinking it will be a good option and it looks like it's going to continue. I would like to work with him again. I'm already working on the next book in the series with Hallowed Halls. I'm all excited about it and I'm going to put it out as an e-book long before they get any hard copies out.

That was going to be my next question, what you are working on next!

I've had the title that I've wanted to write forever, A Class Act or A Very Class Act or something along those lines because it's a class of medical students.

This is the follow-up to Hallowed Halls.

Yes, and one of the secondary characters becomes the main character. When the book opens, she's in a fugue state and doesn't know why. Throughout the book we find out what horrible things have happened to her. She's a psychiatrist and gets too involved with her patients. Joy – the main character in the first book – is her best friend, so they work through it and find out what happened. I'm really excited about it and about the third book. It's women's fiction with some medical aspects and there will always be some mystery to it, but it won't be a murder mystery.

Do you plot or are you a pantser or both?

I do both. I used to sit down and think about exactly what I wanted, and write a scene out on a Post-it notes. I have a long dining room table, and I would write my scenes and then put them on the table and move them around and write from that. That would be my outline. Now, I just sit down and start writing. I go from character. I have to have my characters first, so I write a character sheet for each person. Then I write their stories and intermingle them. So it's character-driven but their plots are involved and I can weave them together. I usually have three vocal people that we are in their minds, three points of view.

Do you have the voices in your head that authors talk about?

No, but I have seen some of my characters on the street. Went running after one! (Laughs) And Mel went right along behind me. I said, "Mel, that's Lauren!" Lauren McCaffrey, from one of our old medical books. I said, "It's Lauren, it's really her!" Then I said, "Wait a minute! I can't go up and talk to her. She's going to freak out!"

Do you stay in control of your characters or do they sometimes surprise you?

I'm not surprised because I've been making up stories since before I could write. The creativity is just a part of me, and I just follow it along wherever it goes. Then I come back and I can edit because both sides of my brain work. My biggest problem is not to edit while I'm writing. I let my characters just lead me along. I have cried with them. And I found myself praying for one of them.

Oh, yes, I've read books where I think, "This is ridiculous. These people aren't even real and I feel like I need to pray for them!"

I know. It's really creepy when you think about it!

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

Read! But I used to hike all the time. Then I developed fibromyalgia and my mother got sick, and I started taking care of her. She passed away and I kept getting sicker because of the emotional impact. I'm an only child and I have no children of my own, so the realization that I'm the only one left was hard. It's been a very difficult couple of years. I used to hike every week, and now I hike maybe twice a year. When Mel gets home from work we're both so tired from trying to get his new clinic started and so many things we're working on, we just sit down and watch television, shows like NCIS that will make me think about something I want to write. I'm just tired right now.

I've been wondering about your pen name. I read something that said you combined your names, and I can't figure out how you get Hannah Alexander from Cheryl and Mel!

We chose our names, and I chose the first name since I'm the one who does the writing. I chose Hannah because six months after we got married, I went through early menopause at 40. We wanted to have children. He was the man who would have been a wonderful father. So I identified with Hannah in the Bible before Samuel was born. Her hope was in the Lord, so I used Hannah because I identified so strongly with her. Then Mel liked Alexander because it means servant of mankind, and he feels that, as a doctor, he serves mankind. A plus is that it puts us up with Randy Alcorn on the A shelves in the bookstore and people can see us easily.

Thanks for sharing that. That makes your name so special. And thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It's been wonderful to get to know you!

Learn more about Hannah Alexander and her books at her website www.hannahalexander.com and connect with her on Facebook.


I have an autographed copy of Hallowed Halls to give to one of you! To enter, leave a comment on this post by 11:59 pm Sunday (8/31/14) and I will draw a winner. Continental US residents only, please. You must include an email address. Void where prohibited. Winner will have 48 hours to respond when notified or another winner will be chosen.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

A Grand Design

A Grand Design
(Quilts of Love)
Amber Stockton
(Abingdon Press
ISBN: 978-1426773471
August 2014/208 pages/$13.99

A getaway on a charming island may be just what Alyssa needs—if only she can let go of her past.

When Alyssa Denham, a single career woman, wins a fun getaway for two on Mackinac Island where her grandmother lives, she gives her carefree best friend a call. Together, they tour the old shops and hidden treasures of the quaint island while helping Alyssa’s grandmother piece together an heirloom quilt. Their quest gains them entrance into the homes of many longtime residents of the island, parts of the city that are otherwise off limits to tourists.

As the quilt’s story takes shape, Alyssa gains amazing insight into her grandmother’s life . . . and attracts the attention of the handsome Scott Whitman, an island resident in charge of hotel transportation. Will memories of her past keep Alyssa from letting go? Or will the quest to piece together the heirloom quilt restore Alyssa’s fractured heart—and bring healing to her entire family?


Amber Stockton is an award‑winning author, a national speaker, and a direct‑sales brand partner with Nerium International. She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have a daughter and a son, and an Aussie/retriever mix named Roxie. Three of her novels have won annual reader’s choice awards. Find out why readers love her by visiting her website AmberStockton.com and connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter.


This is a delightful addition to Abingdon's Quilts of Love series. Amber Stockton has created a charming story with engaging characters and placed them in a setting that makes me want to visit quaint Mackinac Island. And while I loved the story of Alyssa overcoming her past and the budding romance between her and Scott, perhaps my favorite part of the story is the loyal and long-time friendship between Alyssa and Libby, different though they may be. Don't miss A Grand Design!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received an advanced copy of this book free from Abingdon Press and Litfuse Publicity as part of a blog tour. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Don’t miss this month’s Quilts of Love book, A Grand Design by Amber Stockton. Who hasn't struggled to let painful memories go and move into God's healing? You’ll be sure to love this heartfelt and encouraging tale set on historic Mackinac Island.

Celebrate August’s release by entering to win a Kindle from Quilts of Love and RSVPing for the "Fall into Fall" Facebook author chat party.

Quilts of Love Kindle HDX Giveaway, Amber Stockton, A Grand Design

One winner will receive:
  • A Kindle HDX
  • A Grand Design by Amber Stockton
  • Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 16th. Winner will be announced on the Quilts of Love blog. Plus make sure you RSVP to the October 7th author chat party with Amber Stockton and Robin Caroll for an evening of book chat, quilting tips and tricks, prizes, and more!

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase
your chances of winning.
Hope to see you on October 7th!


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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Meet Alan Powell of Anthem Lights and The Song

Anyone who is around the younger crowd, especially girls, has probably heard of the group Anthem Lights. I had the privilege of meeting lead singer Alan Powell at ICRS in June and talking to him about their music as well as the latest project that is near and dear to his heart: the movie The Song, releasing in theaters September 26. Alan plays the lead character, Jedi King. Here's the blurb about the movie:

Aspiring singer—‐songwriter Jed King is struggling to catch a break and escape the long shadow of his famous father when he reluctantly agrees to a gig at a local vineyard harvest festival. Jed meets the vineyard owner’s daughter, Rose, and a romance quickly blooms. Soon after their wedding, Jed writes Rose “The Song,” which becomes a breakout hit. Suddenly thrust into a life of stardom and a world of temptation, his life and marriage begin to fall apart.

THE SONG was filmed on location in Nashville and Kentucky – known for American music and family. Both figure heavily in the film. Music is more than a score in THE SONG, it is the backdrop from which the story unfolds. Viewers who love American music, indie singer-songwriters or dream of the allure of the road, will especially love THE SONG.

Produced by a top-notch group of story tellers who believe in love, faith and family, THE SONG is opening nation-wide including resources to strengthen couples and families.


Here is my interview with Alan Powell:

It's great to meet you, and I know my daughter and her friend were particularly excited I had this interview scheduled! I understand you are a "preacher's kid." Did you have all the "PK" issues growing up, either the rebelliousness or the spoiled "do no wrong" issues?

I didn't. My parents are great and made sure I was pretty grounded. I'm just used to people paying attention to what I'm doing, for good or for bad. I'm not saying that's a good thing. People have always asked what I was doing and why I was doing it. That did prepare me for being an artist and now an actor. There's a lot of that. to realize there's a responsibility, that people are watching you, where are you leading them? I grew up with it, so that was pretty valuable. But my parents are great, and they weren't just teaching me the rules but the "why" for the rules. I think that's the difference. Kids who just know, "Don't touch the fire! Don't touch the fire!" They're going to touch the fire. But if you tell them why you don't touch the fire, then they may n ot touch it. That's a very elementary example, but I credit my parents. They're awesome people and they're more vested in God than the ministry, which is also a big delineation which is important.

Did you grow up always wanting to do music?

My sisters and I used to travel and sing Southern gospel, all the way through high school and even into college. I didn't like that kind of music, so I moved away from it and was actually studying to be a New Testament professor in college and fell in love with Greek and New Testament Greek. I was walking down that path and God used some very specific people in my life to tell me "I know you've moved away from it but you've got a thing over here in this music and I'd love to work with you." That opened the door, which eventually took me to L.A. I was there for a couple of years. As far as I can see, I've always had a passion for films, so when I was in L.A. I got an agent and met with some managers, and I would share with them my faith and what that means as far as what I will do and what I won't do. The response was always positive – "oh, that's so great! It's so refreshing to hear something like that." Than the very next day they'd send me on an audition where I would read the lines they would want me to read and ask "Didn't we just talk about this?" I can't tell you how many times I would leave an audition room , not even going into read, and call the newest manger and say, "Maybe I wasn't clear." Eventually, I decided that I can't act because I'm not willing to walk down those roads that someone has to do to act. Eventually, music took me to Nashville. I was in Nashville doing music and I got an email about The Song.

Anthem Lights does covers of other artists' songs, right? Do you sing any original material?

We do both. When we first got started we did the traditional form of marketing, basically playing everywhere all the time. We did 150+ shows a year for two years. I had one child at the time, and we were just gone way too much. We just decided that we were either going to stop or we were going to find a new way to garner an audience. We had done one cover on YouTube at that point, and it was doing really well. People were responding well to it. So we thought, what if we make this a thing? What if, instead of going on the road and leaving our families, we attempt to build an audience online? One of the strongest ways that we have been able to do that is through covers, singing other people's songs. The goal of that is just to garner an audience so we can introduce the original material, which is the message that we believe and that we want to infiltrate to those new fans and to those listening now because of those covers. So that's a large, large part of what we do and what has allowed us to continue doing that.

Is that a hard thing? Do you have to get permission to record?

No, it's a lot of legal stuff, but essentially, the short answer is no, it's not hard. If someone has recorded a song initially, anyone has license to record it. We just have to pay the publisher's fee and we pay the songwriter ten cents every time we sell one of them, and everybody's happy! A lot of legal stuff and we pay Bill to take care of it for us.

You don't do concerts anymore, then?

We do. We just don't do them nearly as often. We probably play three shows a month, which is much more manageable. I'm not kidding when I say we played over 150 shows a year. There are only 365 days in a year and there's travel time between those shows. So you're looking at being gone two-thirds of the year. And this is a schedule that most of the artists you know, that you hear on the radio, are forced to maintain. It's just really difficult.

I don't see how they do it. When they're on stage, it looks like this glamorous life, but it's not.

It is not at all. Not at all. They sleep in beds that are about as soft as this (he raps the table) on a bus moving 80 miles an hour. It's a calling and what they do impacts lives, and I respect that, for sure. But it's very, very difficult, no doubt. I drew from that experience in this movie. It's about a musician who's touring and gone, and all those things. I've been there.

And the temptations that come because they are away from their families so much. Some of them take their families with them.

But you can't do that every time. And Jed in the film asks Rose to come with him on multiple occasions and he's attempting to do everything he can to hold this thing together and it goes awry, if you will. But I drew from those similarities and conversations I've had with my wife and frustrations and ongoing issues we've had and what that does to a relationship. It was very, very exciting for me to be able to use those experiences to help encourage other people to prioritize their marriage in the way that they should.

Tell me about your family.

I am married and my oldest daughter, who I mentioned earlier, is almost four now. That's crazy to think about. And our youngest is fifteen months.

That's really hard, too, for the wife, being home with the baby.

That's the thing, too. That's what I love about the film from a marriage perspective. There are two sides to the story. There is the struggle that Jed certainly has, which is being gone and he's trying to get his wife out there. She won't come and he's out there doing what he feels like he's supposed to do to provide for the family. Then he comes home and there's the flip side of the story, which is "I've been there taking care of the child, taking care of the house, I haven't talked to you enough." Things that those of us who travel a lot – we get it! Those are conversations we've had and still do. I'd be lying if I didn't say that even to this day, when it's a week like this and I'm gone all week, when I'm not drawing from things I've learned from The Song, when I see her again, it would be easy to walk in and pretend like I haven't been gone. There's a settling in time. I still learn from this film in that regard, and I think people will as well.

Will there be other products besides the film?

The film is the flagship item and it will be supplemented with resources hosted by Kyle Idleman. There will be a DVD Bible Study with scenes from the film and teaching by Kyle Idleman from the Song of Solomon and briefly on Ecclesiastes. And it's not just for couples. It's for anyone interested in ever getting married, too. It does teach how to do the romance and the relationship up to marriage itself.

And there is a book coming out?

Yes, a novelization. We've been talking with the author, Chris Fabry, and he's been coming up with some back story. The theatrical release is September 26, and his book will come out between that release and the DVD release.

That sounds great. I can see his style of writing fitting the story.

That's what we've heard from many people. I'm excited to see what he does.

What's next on the horizon for you?

Between now and September I've cleared a lot of my schedule for this. I believe in this project, and I want to give it as much of a chance as we can and that means a lot of my time. Musically, I'm always creating content and doing video. I do have a few shows. It's fun for me to bounce back and forth between the film and my music. I feel very, very blessed, honestly, that I wake up in the morning and have the opportunity to provide for the family that I love so much doing things that I love, which right now is promoting a film that I'm passionate about and doing music that some people are enjoying.

So now for the awkward question. You're a Christian. This is not the secular world. But there are a lot of young girls who get all excited about you and Anthem Lights. I think about how girls used to act when they'd pass out and throw themselves at the Beatles.

That's a very stark contrast! (He laughs and shakes his head.) "You know, like the Beatles!"

Anyway, I know some girls who thought it was so cool that I was going to meet you. They aren't over the top, but girls do get crushes on celebrities. And you are a married man. Yet men have egos and like having women fawn over them and think that they are handsome and sexy, for lack of a better word. And it's got to be hard for your wife, too. How do you handle that as a Christian and not go the wrong direction and handle it appropriately?

Great question. It's interesting. No one had ever asked that before but in the last couple of months, I've gotten it a few times. I'm curious to know if something's changing about the brand that all of a sudden people are interested about it.

No, I just see the teen girls respond and I know how the secular world encourages it. And we're more aware not of the potential since several Christian musicians have been caught up in affairs.

That's true. And the secular world does play into it. Ultimately, it's a matter of perspective. It's really something God has been teaching me in life across the board recently. I mean, it's part of the gig, and I think that's totally okay, if I can be really blunt and honest. Part of the reason that I'm Jed in The Song is the appearance. That's what you need for Jed. And I had nothing to do that. I don't really understand physical appearance compliments. I just say, "Listen, I just showed up. I've got a mom and a dad and I look like a combination of them." I mean, I appreciate it but I had nothing to do with it! So it's understanding who you are.

Does your family keep you grounded and tell you you're not "all that?"

Yeah, they don't care! But from the stage every night, when I'm sharing between particular songs, I say, "We're not here because of us. We didn't come here so you would think these guys are awesome with a cool leather jacket. My wife thinks I'm cool, so I'm good." And I really mean that. Like I said, God has been teaching me some perspective. I appreciate the fans. I appreciate their admiration, for lack of a better term. I'm hoping that that turns into a response to the music or a response to the film. But I'm okay if the reason you came to the show is some sort of adoration in your mind. Whatever got you there. But if that's what you leave with, then I haven't done my job. So how I deal with it is just a matter of perspective. I love my wife and that goes so much deeper than physical. Don't get me wrong, she's HOT! But she's the mother of my children and the lady I'm going to do life with. I've been married for almost nine years now and I feel kinda like an old man at 29.

Oh my! You're only 29! (I shake my head and laugh, feeling very old!)

I am. I don't want to act like oh, that's not an issue for me because that's not true for anyone. The first step is denying that it's an issue. But my response is just perspective. They're gonna do what they're gonna do. I just have to ask daily that God will continue to help me see the world the way He sees the world. So that's what we do.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, Alan. It's great to meet you. I look forward to seeing the movie The Song!

Thank you. It's been a pleasure!


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