The Final Judges

I had the honor and the privilege, recently, to serve as one of the final judges for a prestigious Christian book award. The judging criteria that I was given served as a great reminder to me of the qualities that I hope to include in my own novels. I’m nearing the final stages of my current work-in-progress, and it has been a great exercise for me as I edit my own novel to compare it to these award-winning criteria. Here are some of them:

Does the book tell an interesting, entertaining story? Is the writing excellent and picturesque, the story well-paced, the dialogue realistic? Are the characters complex and memorable? Does the book address significant issues with God at the center? Is there spiritual depth and a sense of greater meaning for the reader?

A lot of important balls for a writer to juggle!

Coincidentally, I was invited to be a guest at a local book club in Zeeland, Michigan the other night. They had all read my latest book, “Legacy of Mercy.” The ladies were very gracious and sweet, and I’m sure, if it so happened that they didn’t like the book, they would have followed my grandmother’s sage advice, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” They said some very nice things in fact, and were very encouraging and enthusiastic. They also gave me this beautiful planter to show their appreciation.

One of the most satisfying things for me was to hear the ladies talk about my characters. I keep a bulletin board next to my computer with pictures of my characters, and when I begin, they are flat and two-dimensional. It’s up to me to flesh them out and turn them into living, multi-faceted characters. I know that I’ve succeeded when I hear readers chatting about them as if they were real people who they had actually met and gotten to know. Thanks, ladies, for cheering for my heroes and booing my villains!

I enjoyed listening to their discussion with the award-winning criteria fresh in my mind. Yet these women were final judges in the sense that matters most—they were readers. They don’t know all the writerly buzz words like point-of-view and hooks and backstory and viewpoint characters. But they do know whether or not they enjoyed the book. Whether or not they found it so compelling that they stayed awake until after midnight to see how it ended. And they know if the author has given them something to think about after they finish the book.

Awards are nice. I’ve won a few over the years, and they were always an enormous source of encouragement to me. But knowing that my book has touched the heart of just one reader and made a difference in her life, is a reward that no contest can ever give me. Thank you, Zeeland Book Club!

What do you look for in a good book? Are there any criteria you would add to the book award list?

Launch Day

There are two days I look forward to the most in my writing life—the day I turn in the finished manuscript of my novel, and the day the novel is finally released to the public. Tomorrow is launch day for my newest book, “Legacy of Mercy.”

The novel is a sequel to “Waves of Mercy” and features the same main characters. Geesje DeJonge is a 67-year-old widow who told her story of immigrating from the Netherlands in 1847 in the first book. Anna Nicholson is a wealthy 23-year-old woman from Chicago who is engaged to a wealthy banker, and is just beginning her walk of faith under Geesje’s guidance.

I never planned to write this sequel. Aside from my biblical fiction, my books have all been stand-alone novels. But since Anna is only 23, readers of the first book begged me to write about what happens next in her life. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to find out what happens next, too.

As part of my book launch, I have several fun events planned. If you’re in the area, I would love to meet you at one of them and sign a brand-new copy of my book for you.
• On October 2, I’ll be speaking at Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Michigan at 7:00 pm about my writing process and the inspiration for both books.
• On October 4, I’ll be speaking on those same topics at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, Michigan at 7:00 pm.
• I’ll be at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Holland on Saturday, October 6 from noon until 2.
• And I’ll be at Georgetown Township Public Library in Jenison, Michigan at 7:00 pm on October 9.
• Last but not least, we’re planning another luncheon and bus tour to visit some of the sites around Holland that are mentioned in my books. (Contact Tam Velderman for more information about the tour at tamvelderman@yahoo.com)

So, how do I entice you to want to read “Legacy of Mercy” without giving away the plot? Well, there’s a mystery that Anna will be trying to solve with a little help from the Pinkerton detectives—a real agency founded in 1850. You may enjoy solving it along with her.
The story takes place in the Gilded Age when society women wore beautiful gowns like these and the one shown on the book cover.
The Gibson Girl hairstyle was a popular look.
And wealthy Chicagoans were building over-the-top mansions to replace the homes destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire.
And staffing them with servants at their back and call.
Every good novel needs a love story, and I hope readers will enjoy the one I’ve created in “Legacy.” Sorry, I can’t tell you who the lucky lovers are, but I hope you’ll be surprised.

I doubt if many of us share Anna’s extravagant lifestyle, but many of us have shared her journey to find God’s purpose for our lives. It’s a theme that’s very dear to me because it also took me a long time to discover my purpose. I love to share my story whenever I’m invited to speak at events because it’s the story of God’s faithfulness. I don’t have the time or space to share it here, but I hope that Anna’s journey will inspire readers who are still seeking.

Finally, I’m giving away two free copies of “Legacy of Mercy” to help celebrate launch day. One winner will be randomly selected from among my newsletter subscribers (go to www.lynnaustin.org to subscribe.) The other winner will be chosen from those who leave a comment below. Good luck! And I hope you enjoy “Legacy of Mercy.”

A Labor of Love and Friendship

I had no idea! When I asked my dear friend, Jacki Kleinheksel, to record the audio version of my novel, Fly Away, I had no idea how much work would go into making it. Fly Away has been out-of-print for several years but I recently made it available again in print and e-book formats. Many of my readers also enjoy listening to recordings of my stories, so I wanted to make an audio version especially for them. With Jacki’s extensive background in drama and musical theater, I figured she would be the perfect person to record Fly Away—and I was right!

Jacki has been active in musicals and community theater productions nearly all her life. Her debut, she told me, began in third grade when she walked down the aisle at church in her bathrobe for a Christmas program, portraying one the three kings. She was hooked! Her early career involved starring in talent and variety shows in junior high where she always volunteered to sing a song. Starstruck by Hollywood, Jacki’s love of theater was launched when she won the leading role in Guys and Dolls in high school.

What followed were years of fun and hard work, performing in plays and musicals as part of community theater groups. Her favorite role? Performing Anna’s soliloquy from The King and I. “I loved that role!” Jacki told me. She especially loved performing characters who were multi-faceted. “There is such joy in working in a theater production with a good script and an excellent director who brings out the best in you. And I love the teamwork of performing with others.” Jacki has also done a one-woman show portraying blind hymn-writer, Fanny Crosby. She performed the play 24 times— “With my eyes closed, since Fanny was blind.”

Fly Away was Jacki’s first audio book. “I loved the challenge of being able to emote 27 different characters.” (I wrote the book and I had no idea there were that many!) She read through the book three times in preparation; first for the pleasure of the story. The second time to make notes and a list of all the characters. The third time she read it aloud, rehearsing all of the characters’ voices. Once she had a sense of them, she divided the book into 4 parts so she could record one part each day. The night before each recording session, she would practice reading that section again. The first studio session took 4 ½ hours. The longest day took 8 hours. At the end of each day, she would go home and review the next portion. “It was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time!”

“The biggest surprise was how still I had to sit. Every sound showed up, including turning the pages. It was like a play without costumes or scenery or makeup—and I was the whole show!” There were do-overs if she made a mistake, something you don’t get in live theater. Her only audience? Her husband Paul and the sound engineer. Would she do another recording? “Absolutely!”

I’ve listened to recorded versions of some of my other novels and I haven’t always been happy with the way the actresses portray my characters. But Jacki’s narration was spot-on perfect! She put so much emotion into the ending that she made me cry—and I wrote the book! I am so thankful for all her hard work and professionalism, and I’m thrilled to announce that readers can now purchase the audio version of Fly Away. I know you’re going to love it!

Hint! Hint!

Greetings from Europe! I have now finished my book tour in the Netherlands and I’m off to speak and sign books in Germany tomorrow. If you’ve been following along with me on Facebook and Instagram, I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures I’ve sent of all the wonderful places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. Here are just a few:

The “parking lot” at the book store. We just can’t get over all the bicycles.

Speaking at a bookstore in Katwijk.

Oh the cheese! Here we are in Gouda, NL

A mixture of old and new, isn’t that amazing?

A beautiful castle in the country.

Houseboats on the canals.

Life and death. This butterfly landed on the lock to a railroad car like the ones that transported Jews.

In between my tours to those two countries I decided to use my free days off to do some research for my next book. Not the one that will be released this coming October. That one is called “Legacy of Mercy” and has already been written and edited and is in production. For readers who enjoyed “Waves of Mercy” you’ll be happy to know that this is the sequel. You’ll get to find out what happens next when Anna returns to Chicago to marry William, and Geesje settles back to her life in Holland. Here’s the cover:

As soon as I finished writing “Legacy of Mercy” I started writing my next book—after treating myself to a short vacation, of course. I’ve already decided where and when that novel will take place and I’ve done a lot of the research. I’ve created my characters and have begun to write their stories. But for me, one of the best things about being a writer is the chance to travel and do on-site research. It helps bring the story to life if I can get a feel for the colors and smells and sounds (and tastes!) in the novel’s setting. That’s what I’ve just finished doing this week. I don’t want to give away too much—it’s too soon for that. But here are a handful of pictures that may offer a hint or two of where my next novel will take place:

Anyone care to guess where I will take readers in my future book?

Don’t forget to enter my contest! I’m shopping for souvenirs and I’d love to send you one of them. Be sure to join my mailing list and like me on Facebook and Instagram to enter. This contest closes when I get home in two weeks. This contest is limited to US residents only.

Tot Ziens!(See you soon.)


				
			
			
			
			

					

Life-Changing Books

I’ve been thinking about my spiritual journey lately, along with my journey as a writer. The two are closely entwined. And I realized what a powerful, life-changing effect books have had on those journeys. Space doesn’t allow me to list all the books that have influenced me, but four stand out.

The first is “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her family lived uneventful lives in The Netherlands until the Nazis invaded. Then their faith in God and deep love for Christ compelled them to hide Jews in their home, trying to save as many people as possible. Corrie, her sister Betsy, and their father were arrested and sent to prison camps. Only Corrie survived.

I read this book when my husband and I lived in Bogota, Colombia. We had everything a young couple could possibly want; we were newly-married, working our dream jobs, and our first child, Joshua, was born there. I had been raised in a Christian home with godly parents and grandparents, yet when I read “The Hiding Place,” I realized how weak my faith was. I wouldn’t have had the courage to risk my life as Corrie did. Her story convicted me, and I hungered for what she had. I began to seriously pursue a closer walk with God.

I read the second life-changing book shortly after we returned to the United States. “Anointed for Burial” by Todd and DeAnn Burke tells the true story of missionaries to Cambodia in the final, life-threatening years before the nation fell to the Communists. Again, I was impressed by their tremendous faith to endure fiery trials. For months, they lived in such perilous conditions that they needed to hear God speaking on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. They developed the habit of reading scripture three times a day, and God miraculously spoke to them through the Bible, offering wisdom and guidance when they needed it most.

Jesus said, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” “Anointed for Burial” convicted me of my need to feed on the Word of God every day. I was faithful to feed my physical body three times a day, so why didn’t I see the greater need to feed my spirit with His Word? I found a daily scripture-reading plan that enabled me to read through the Bible in a year. I began that very day and have continued ever since.

The Bible is the third life-changing book. Like Todd and DeAnn Burke, I have found it to be a comfort and a source of wisdom. But best of all, the picture of God and His eternal plan that emerged as I read it, accomplished what I had longed for back in Bogota—to draw closer to Him, to get to know Him, and to strengthen my spiritual walk.

Next, my husband’s work took us to Canada. My plan had been to have a second child around the time Joshua turned two. But we celebrated his second birthday, then his third and fourth and fifth—and I still wasn’t pregnant. He turned six and started school, and God didn’t seem to hear my prayers. I read the fourth life-changing book, “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok as I wrestled with unanswered prayer. This beautifully-written novel tells the story of an Orthodox Jewish father who, for reasons that aren’t told until the end, stops speaking to his beloved son. When the father finally speaks, he tells how his heart broke the entire time he had kept silent, and how he feared his son would turn away from him forever. But he did it because of the son’s arrogance and self-sufficiency, which needed to be broken. The son needed a loving, compassionate heart so he could understand other people’s pain and accomplish the work God was calling him to do.

I saw in “The Chosen” an allegory of God’s inexplicable silences. And I realized that through my longing for a child, God had led me to become active in the Right-to-Life movement and to help start two crisis pregnancy centers. Through this novel, I discovered that God speaks powerfully through fiction. And it also created in me a longing to write novels like this from a Christian perspective. Christian fiction as we know it today had yet to be born, but I sensed that this was the calling God had for my life. I signed up for a creative writing course at a local college—and a month later, I learned I was pregnant with our son Benjamin. Twenty months after he arrived, our daughter Maya joined us.

My spiritual and writing journeys have been long and satisfying. I have published 25 books, now. Glowing reviews and royalty checks are great, but to me, the most gratifying rewards are letters from readers telling me how one of my stories has impacted their life.

So, how about you? What life-changing books have you read?

The Bus Tour

I’ve done some unusual things during the course of my writing life, but my upcoming bus tour next month will be a first. The idea came from my friend Paul, who thought readers would enjoy touring some of the interesting sites from my novel, “Waves of Mercy.” The novel is set in the town of Holland, Michigan where Paul has lived most of his life, and it tells the story of the Dutch immigrants who founded the town in 1847. Paul happened to mention his idea to a friend from church who leads the 55+ Seniors’ Group—and the “Waves of Mercy” bus tour was born.

I imagined maybe a dozen of us climbing onboard the church van for a spin around town. Ha! I had no idea how popular this tour would be! The group has had to hire two chartered buses carrying 56 passengers each—plus the church van. The “Waves of Mercy” tour will begin at the church with a lunch of Dutch pigs-in-the-blankets and pea soup, then we’re off to see the sites. Here are just a few of them:

A typical settlers’ cabin from 1847

The first church built in 1856

The original light house on Lake Michigan

The Hotel Ottawa Resort on Black Lake

The town’s founding father, Rev. Albertus Van Raalte

I’ve been trying to figure out what makes this tour so appealing to so many people. The sites we’re visiting aren’t unusual ones, but places that can easily be seen in Holland every day. I’ve concluded that it’s the settlers’ courage and faith that makes their story so compelling. They left their homeland of civilized cities to carve out a town in the wilderness because they longed for religious freedom. Their boat caught on fire and was delayed for repairs. The delay kept them from their goal and forced them to spend most of the winter in Detroit. They walked through knee-deep snow to reach the town site because there were no roads. They ran out of food and starved. Their first summer here, so many people died from malaria that they had to build an orphanage to house all the children. But they worked hard, cleared the land, and built farms and businesses. Then, only twenty-four years after the first settlers arrived, fire destroyed the town.
I’m guessing that many of us would have given up—or at least questioned where God was in all these disasters. Had He really called us to settle here or not? It’s so easy to feel like our work is in vain when our carefully made plans start to fall apart. But the settlers’ faith remained strong. Today, there are more than 70 churches in this town of 33,000 people. What an example of perseverance and faith! If they had a life-verse, I think it would be this one:

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you.
Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
Because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
1 Corinthians 15:58

That verse will give us something to pause and think about on our “Waves of Mercy” bus tour.

A First for Me

They say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but I learned a new one this past year. After writing twenty-four novels, I just completed a sequel to one of my stand-alone books. The sequel wasn’t planned. In fact, I wrote and published a completely different book, “Where We Belong,” in between the original and the sequel. I had believed that the story I told in “Waves of Mercy” was finished. It seems that it wasn’t.

I created “Legacy of Mercy,” at the request of hundreds of readers. They weren’t satisfied with the way the first book ended, and they begged to know what happens next in the life of my main character, Anna Nicholson. Does she find God’s purpose for her life as a wealthy Chicago socialite? Will she marry her rich fiancé, William? Will Geesje continue to play an important role in her life? And what about her friendship with Derk Vander Veen? Here is the cover of the new book:

At first, I was a little nervous about writing a sequel. Every good novel needs to have characters who grow and change over time, and both Anna and Geesje had done that in “Waves of Mercy.” A satisfying sequel should feel fresh and new, and not like a warmed-over episode in a never-ending soap opera. Yet I have to admit that I was as curious as my readers to find out what happens next in Anna’s life—because I had no idea!

I’m one of those authors who never plans out the plot of her novels ahead of time. It’s much more fun for me to make up the story as I go along. I keep writing to find out how everything will turn out, with the hope that my readers will keep reading for the same reason. If I’m surprised by the story’s events, then readers will be, too. And I hate sugar-coated endings that are too predictable or cliched, with everything tied up in a neat bow.

So, will readers be happy with the way “Legacy of Mercy” ends? Well . . . I can’t give anything away, but I will say that I’m happy with it. And I can promise you this, there really won’t be another sequel to the sequel!

“Legacy of Mercy” will be released in early October of 2018. I hope you enjoy it.

Coming Soon!

The excitement never grows old. In less than two weeks, my newest novel, “Where We Belong” will be out in bookstores. This is book #25 for me (unbelievable!) yet its release is as exciting to me as book #1 was. I have spent a year working on this manuscript, researching, writing and rewriting, editing and revising. It has required a lot of hard work and many long, lonely hours. And now, readers will probably devour it in a week or two. But that’s okay. More than anything else, I want to give my readers an enjoyable story. Personally, I love to read a book that makes me laugh, makes me cry, and makes me think—don’t you? I hope this one accomplishes all those things.

Chapter One begins in the Sinai Desert in the year 1890. Here are the first two lines, just to whet your appetite:

“Rebecca Hawes lay awake in her tent, convinced that the howling wind was about to lift her entire camp into the air and hurl it to the far side of the desert. The desolate wasteland of the Sinai Peninsula lay beyond her tent door, thousands of miles and a world away from her home in Chicago.”

So, what is this book about? Here is a brief synopsis (without any spoilers. I hate spoilers!):

In the city of Chicago in 1890, the rules and expectations for Victorian women are strict, their roles in life limited. But sisters Rebecca and Flora Hawes are not typical Victorian ladies.Their love of adventure and their desire to use their God-given talents have taken them out of society ballrooms and delivered them to the Sinai Desert—and into the teeth of a sandstorm. Accompanied by Soren Petersen, their somber young butler, and Kate Rafferty, a plucky street urchin learning to be their lady’s maid, the two sisters are on a quest across the desert, chasing rumors of an important biblical manuscript. As the expedition becomes ever more dangerous and uncertain, all four travelers sift through memories and adventures of their past, recalling the events that shaped them, and the journeys and providence that brought them to this very time and place.

There is adventure and romance in this armchair journey into another era. But mostly it’s the story of two unique sisters whose faith leads them to follow God along a very unconventional path. Thirty-three years ago, my life veered away from the ordinary when I left my teaching career to write books. It was a risk I’m glad I took.

So how about you? Have you been on any unusual journeys as you’ve followed God? What risks have you taken?

Be sure to check my blog again in two weeks for a chance to win a free copy of “Where We Belong.”

Time to Fly Away

It’s nearly time for lift off! I’m happy to announce that my novel, “Fly Away” is coming soon on June 15 in both print and ebook versions. Since one of the main characters, Mike Dolan, is a pilot who owns a small, charter airplane business, I visited a local airport with my friends Susan, Bruce, and Doug Formsma to celebrate. Doug was kind enough to let me pose in his airplane.

The first thing you’ll notice about “Fly Away” is that it takes place in 1987. That time period is too new to be a historical novel like most of my other books, but too old to be a contemporary novel. That’s because “Fly Away” was one of the very first books I wrote when I was just starting to dream of being a writer. The story came to me so effortlessly that I remember writing it out longhand on a yellow legal pad. Later, I typed it into my computer and saved it on several 3 ½ inch floppy discs. It was published by Beacon Hill Press in 1996 and has since gone out of print.

I remember very well the genesis of the story. Within a short period of time, our family struggled with a series of losses. My father, a World War II veteran like the main character in “Fly Away,” was hospitalized with a stroke and died a few months later at the age of 62. Dad had been caring for my grandmother so she had to be moved to a nursing home. My father-in-law also had a stroke and was moved to a nursing home because my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer. Mom and Dad Austin both passed away within a few months of each other.

My husband and I and our three children drove down to Michigan from our home in Canada to take care of my mother-in-law in her final weeks so she could remain at home rather than be hospitalized. Our daughter Maya was a newborn when we left Canada and one month old when Mom died. We took care of Mom and Maya simultaneously, one at the very beginning of her life, the other at the end; one growing stronger each day, the other weaker. After just experiencing the miracle of birth, we learned that death is also one of God’s holy moments.

As you read “Fly Away” you’ll probably see how my own thoughts and emotions became intertwined with my plot and characters. The book deals with dying and loss, but I didn’t want it to be a sad book. All of my beloved family members had loved life and lived it well. They taught me that our faith in Christ gives us the strength and courage we need to face whatever plans He has for us—even when it means saying goodbye.

Telephones still had cords when I wrote “Fly Away” and hung on kitchen walls. Shag carpeting and Star Wars figures were all the rage. But I hope you’ll find that the themes of God’s goodness and love are timeless. Enjoy!

Click here to pre-order.

Read to Me!

One of the things I love about being a grandmother is reading books to my granddaughter. Lyla is sixteen months old and already has her favorites. One of them, “Hand, Hand, Fingers Thumbs” by Al Perkins and Eric Gurney, used to be one of her mother’s favorites, too. I never liked this book when my daughter was young because it didn’t have a plot. My daughter now understands why I got tired of reading it over and over, and has even resorted to hiding the book from Lyla. Ironically, I could read it to my granddaughter all day!

When Lyla gets a little older, I’ll introduce her to another of her mother’s favorites, “Millions of Cats” by Wanda Gag. It’s about a sweet husband who sets off to find a kitten for his wife and, when he can’t make up his mind which one to choose, returns with “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats.” His astounded wife says, “But we can never feed them all!”

I have a theory that the books we love as children offer hints about the adults we’ll later become, and also help to shape us. My daughter still loves cats, and she visits the local animal shelter often. Like the husband in the story, she would gladly bring all of the cats home if not for the problem of feeding them. A few years ago, she agreed to foster a cat for a few days because he was too rambunctious for the tiny shelter—and Dexter is now a beloved family member.

So I started thinking about my childhood favorites and why I liked them. “The Boxcar Children” by Gertrude Chandler Warner, tells about a family of orphans who make a home in an abandoned railroad boxcar and learn to fend for themselves. I was never orphaned but my mother did become gravely ill when I was a child and had to be hospitalized. My sisters and I lived with my grandparents until she recovered. I wasn’t wise enough to realize it then, but I think “The Boxcar Children” appealed to me because the children not only survived the trauma but even flourished. And how fun to make over a boxcar! Just like my favorite TV show, “Fixer-Upper!”

Another book I enjoyed was “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton. It’s about the little people who live in the walls of our houses and “borrow” objects from us to furnish their own homes. It explains why so many things go missing, like buttons and spools of thread. The borrowers needed that button for a dinner plate and the spool for a table! Even now, the borrowers provide a handy explanation for all the items I lose. And this book either fed into or created my love for “repurposing” items that others discard. Like a giant-sized “borrower,” I love to scour thrift stores and garage sales searching for treasures to fix and paint and resurrect—like this broken-down bedside table that I turned into a filing cabinet. The plant stand was also a thrift store find.

Another favorite book that I’m eager to share with Lyla is “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter. Peter and his siblings are warned not to go near Farmer McGregor’s garden lest they be caught and made into rabbit pie. The good little bunnies heed the warning and stay home. Peter doesn’t. As a child, I almost always obeyed the rules and was horrified by those who didn’t. I shouldn’t have liked this book—yet I did. Peter gets caught by the farmer and only narrowly escapes. He’s punished for disobeying, which appealed to my sense of justice and fairness. But oh, what an exciting adventure Peter had that day! The story provided a way for me to break the rules and be naughty, risking danger and adventure—and yet remain safe.

And isn’t that what reading good books still do? They take us to exotic places and time periods where we meet dangerous people who live extraordinary lives—without ever leaving our armchairs. I can’t wait to read all the books I once treasured to my granddaughter, and relive those adventures all over again!

So, what were your favorite books as a child? Can you see how they may have influenced who you are today?