A Day of Filming

We’re getting closer! My newest novel, “Chasing Shadows,” will be released in just two more months, on June 8. So, a few days ago, my publisher, Tyndale House, sent a film crew to my home to interview me about the book. It was quite interesting to have my home transformed into a recording studio, with lights and cameras and complicated-looking equipment.

It seemed like there was a lot going on around me as I sat there smiling and talking and answering questions. It was hard not to get distracted as I described the novel, which takes place in The Netherlands during World War II. I talked about the inspiration for the book, and described my three main characters, Lena de Vries, her daughter Ans de Vries, and Miriam Jacobs, a Jewish refugee.

When the interview ended, we switched gears and moved to an outdoor setting. I live in Holland, Michigan, which originally was settled by Dutch immigrants, and our town just happens to have a beautiful park with a 250-year-old windmill imported from the real Holland. It’s the only authentic, working Dutch windmill in the United States. There’s a windmill in “Chasing Shadows” but you’ll have to read the book to find out more about it. My town of Holland also has millions of tulips, which are just beginning to bloom in time for the annual Tulip Time Festival in May.

I will announce the links to the finished interview when the film is completed and edited. But in the meantime, I’m giving away an autographed copy of my novel “Waves of Mercy,” which I wrote a few years ago. It tells the story of the Dutch immigrants who settled Holland, Michigan in 1857. The area was still a wilderness, but the settlers were escaping religious persecution in the Netherlands and were happy to be here. Simply leave a comment below and I will randomly choose a winner. Happy Springtime!

Bikes and More Bikes!

If you’ve read my blogs before, you’ll know that I’m an avid bicyclist. That’s why I’m thrilled with the cover of my newest book, “Chasing Shadows,” which releases June 8. The windmill reveals the novel’s setting in The Netherlands. The low-flying airplanes, the model’s clothing, and her concerned expression hint that it takes place during World War II when the Nazis invaded that peace-loving country. But best of all, in my opinion, is the bicycle!

I have loved cycling since I was a girl. I still remember my first bike, a clunky, secondhand single-speed with coaster brakes that I repainted red. My sisters and I would ride into the countryside in rural New York State where we grew up, or to the ice cream stand in a neighboring village, three miles away. And my love of biking has only increased with my age. One of the deciding factors in choosing our new house was the bike trail right at the end of our driveway. It goes for miles and miles in both directions. It’s an easy six-mile ride into town to go to the library or the farmer’s market or for lunch with friends. And only 1 ½ miles to the beach on Lake Michigan.

Our vacations are chosen with biking in mind. We spent the month of February in Florida where we accumulated 400 miles. Ken and I bought new bikes last August and already maxed-out the odometers at 1,000 miles. In 2019 we joined friends from church on a cycling tour around Lake Constance, traveling through Germany, Switzerland and Austria. My most memorable day was in the Austrian Alps where we ferried our bikes up Mt. Pfander in a gondola, then cycled back down the nearly 3,500-foot mountain. It was equal parts thrilling and terrifying! Of course, I want to do it again.

The Netherlands, where “Chasing Shadows” takes place, is filled with bike-loving people like me. The first time my Dutch publisher invited me on a book tour there, I was astonished to see how many bicycles there are in that tiny country. A huge tangle of them greeted me outside every bookstore, their owners all waiting inside to hear me speak.  Bicycles whizzed through every village and city, often at breakneck speed. Dutch bike paths even had traffic circles at busy intersections to keep people from crashing into each other.

I’m told that there are more bikes in Holland than people, and I believe it! It’s a common sight to see professional men and women commuting with briefcases strapped to their bikes. Thousands of bikes are parked at every train station, some perched in double-decker bike racks to conserve space. I can’t imagine how people ever find their own bike again at the end of the day.

Naturally, bicycles play an important role in “Chasing Shadows.” Lena de Vries relies on her bicycle to travel from her farm to the nearby village, often with children perched on the handlebars and rear fender in true Dutch fashion. Her daughter Ans rides home from her townhouse in Leiden to visit her family. Later, Ans uses her bike for her dangerous work with the Dutch Resistance. I traveled to The Netherlands to research this book, and my husband and I rented bikes in Leiden to ride out into the countryside like Ans would have done so I could research settings for the de Vries family farm.

Here’s a sneak-peek at the Dutch version of the cover. Naturally, it also features a bicycle.

I doubt if my bicycling hobby will ever coincide so perfectly with my novel-writing research again, but it certainly worked out nicely for this book. I hope you’ll enjoy journeying into the past in “Chasing Shadows” and visiting the bike-loving Netherlands. And watch for a great deal on pre-orders, coming very soon!

Companions for the Journey

A long time ago, before I had published a single word, a writer friend invited me to join a Christian writers’ group. Of course, I declined. I was much too uncertain of my calling or my future as a writer to accept. Eventually, my friend talked me into it, and I discovered the many blessings of partnering with other companions in the journey of faith. I grew a lot over the next few years, in confidence and in my writing ability. And then my husband’s work involved a job change, and we moved from Canada back to the United States.

At the first Christian Writers’ Conference I attended in our new area, the leaders encouraged participants to form a critique group with other attendees who lived nearby. I leaped at the chance. The group was large at first, but commitment and determination soon whittled us down to a faithful few. For more than twenty-five years now, Jane Rubietta and Cleo Lampos and I have been meeting to share our lives, encourage each other, and critique each other’s writing. When we began, none of us were published—and none of our children were married. Now we all have multiple books and publications to our credit—and multiple grandchildren!

We have cried with each other through our many disappointments, and joyfully celebrated each publishing milestone. We brainstorm plots and characters and titles together—and we laugh a lot. And eat a lot. Our writers’ meetings always involve great food. There were times when each one of us was ready to quit, but we always convinced each other to hang on to our calling as writers. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without Jane and Cleo.

You’ll get to know them a little better next month because I have asked them to blog in my place during the month of February. I will be on a much-needed sabbatical from writing to recharge my batteries. I wrote a Christmas novella this year in addition to my usual, yearly novel, and I need a break. They will tell you a little about themselves and their work—which I’m always thrilled to endorse!

Where would any of us be without our friends? I know my life would be much lonelier without them. But even more than keeping us company, we all need people in our lives who will help us discover our gifts, and challenge us to step out in faith, and hold us accountable to the ministries God has given us. We see Christ through these friends and experience His deep love for us, in spite of our faults and failures. If you have friends who are dear to you, I hope you’ll take a moment this week to tell them how much they mean to you, and to celebrate God’s gift of friendship with them. 

A Sneak Peek . . .

One of the most exciting moments for me as an author is when I first get to see the cover design for my newest novel. There have been some that I have loved, some that were so-so, and a few that I’ve really disliked. My publisher asks for my input and ideas, of course, but I never know what the final outcome will be. It’s up to the design team to choose an image and a “look” that best fits the characters, the story, the novel’s tone, and its theme. Not an easy thing to do! How do you capture the essence of a complex, 400-page novel with multiple characters and story lines in a single, compelling picture?

They say “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” but I’m not sure that’s true. I find myself doing it all the time. Some covers are so off-putting for a variety of reasons, that I’m not even tempted to read the back-cover copy to see what the book is about. Other covers look like books I’ve seen a hundred times before, making me wonder if the story is also one I’ve read a hundred times before. But then there are those very special covers that are so arresting that I want to turn to the first page of the book and start reading as quickly as I can. That’s the kind of cover I always want for my books!

Well, I may be slightly biased, but I think the design team at Tyndale House did an extraordinary job with the cover for my newest novel, “Chasing Shadows.” The book will be released next June, but in the meantime, here is a sneak peek, just for you . . .

What do you think? Do you spot any clues that tell you what the book is about, or when and where it takes place? The windmill and flat landscape will probably tell you the novel’s setting. And the three airplanes flying in formation across a stormy sky offer a hint of when it takes place. But what I love the most about this cover is the sense of movement and tension it portrays. This young woman looks like she has been on the move, and now something off to the side has captured her attention. She seems alert and perhaps a little uneasy, yet determined to push down on that pedal and continue her journey. I want to know her story, don’t you?

If you guessed that the novel is set in the Netherlands during World War II, you’re right. The young woman’s name is Ans DeVries, and when the Nazis invade and occupy her nation, her life will change drastically. Along with Ans, there are two other extraordinary women of faith and courage in this story, Lena and Miriam, who also will be forced to make life-and-death decisions. I won’t give away any more of the plot, for now, but you can read a preview of it on the final pages of my last novel, “If I Were You.”

In the meantime, I would love to hear your opinion of the cover of “Chasing Shadows”—and of book covers in general. Are there things you like seeing on the cover—the main character’s face, for instance? Or would you rather that her appearance be left to your imagination? Are there elements of a cover design that make you want to read the book? And anything that makes you decide to pass? I would love to know what you think about the saying, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Book Club Picks

I love book clubs!

I joined my first one nearly twenty years ago, and it was such fun to read new books that other members had chosen, especially when their reading tastes differed from mine. I loved hearing the variety of opinions on our monthly selections and discovering themes or insights that I had completely missed. Several books were ones I never would have chosen on my own, but I was glad I read most of them. I can also remember a few books that our club unanimously disliked. I once struggled through 3 or 4 chapters of a William Faulkner novel and just couldn’t finish it in time for our meeting. I went to book club anyway—only to learn that I had made it through more pages than anyone else! 

When my own books began to be published and were being chosen by other book clubs, it dramatically changed the book club experience for me. I was a little nervous, at first, but soon learned that book lovers are very kind and encouraging people. The leader of one club asked if I’d like to come anonymously and listen to the discussion before she announced who I was. I said yes, but told her if they hated the book, just say I’m your cousin from Australia. It turned out they loved the book and I didn’t have to converse in my fake Australian accent.

Reader Insight

I really enjoy talking about my plots and hearing how my characters have “come alive” for readers. It’s very helpful to know what readers like or dislike about my books so I can write with future readers in mind. And I love to answer questions about the book or about my writing process. Most of all, book clubs are a wonderful way to socialize with other book lovers.

Whenever I’m able, I like to visit in person, especially if there’s food! Some clubs are very creative with decorations and treats that relate to the story in some way. But when distance (or Covid-19) makes it impossible for me to meet with a book club in person, I sometimes visit via Skype or FaceTime or Zoom to answer readers’ questions. Afterwards, I like to question them and ask which other books have been club favorites. It’s a great way to add to my personal reading list. 

If you belong to a book club and are compiling this year’s list of titles, I’m very excited to announce that my novel, “If I Were You” has been chosen by Books-A-Million to be a Book Club Pick for the month of August. My book will be sold in Books-A-Million stores and their online website. 

Here’s the link for the Books-A-Million Book Club group you can join on Facebook. I’ll be checking in this month to answer your questions and read your comments.

Book Club Kit Available!

And if your book club decides to read “If I Were You,” my publisher, Tyndale House, has put together a fun Book Club Kit with some special recipes and quizzes for your members to enjoy.

Do you belong to a book club? What are some creative things your group has done? Are you still “meeting” in new ways because of the virus restrictions? I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

Be Prepared

There’s no escaping the news, the fear, the warnings. The Coronavirus is coming! Beware! Be ready! I understand that I should be worried—after all, I’m over sixty and that puts me at a greater risk of dying if I do contract the virus. But strangely, I’m not worried. While I would like to live another dozen years and watch my grandchildren grow up, my philosophy is the same as my heroines’ motto in my novel “Where We Belong.” Whenever their lives were at risk they would say, “God knows when the end of our days will be; we have nothing to fear.” The question that should concern me is not “how or when will I die,” but “how will I live in the meantime?” How well will I represent Jesus?

I keep wondering what Christians are doing in China, where the outbreak began. Or in Iran, another hard-hit country where Christians make up a tiny minority. Naturally, they must hope to survive this epidemic—we all do. But I’m guessing that believers in those hard-hit nations are reaching out to their sick and dying neighbors with the love of Christ in spite of the risk to themselves. I’m certain we’ll hear stories of their courage and faith in the days to come. And of the lives they saved.

The Apostle Peter urged us to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). And non-believers are never hungrier for the hope that we have in Christ than when they are facing death. Perhaps that’s why God allows Christians to suffer through the same plagues and wars and disasters as non-Christians, side by side—so we can proclaim His love and hope to the lost.

While this particular virus is unusual, the fear and uncertainty it brings to people around the world is not. Every generation has faced life-threatening disasters, natural or man-made. In my novel “If I Were You” (releasing June 2), the main characters live in London during World War II, and experience the relentless Nazi bombings known as The Blitz. In the passage below, Eve is worried for her mum’s safety, and tries to persuade her to quit her job in London as a maidservant to Lady Rosamunde and go to a safer place.

“I don’t understand why you’re so loyal to her, Mum. Lady Rosamunde demands so much from you, working all hours of the day and night, yet she doesn’t have an ounce of consideration for you.”

Mum sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. “It isn’t easy to explain, Eve. I suppose . . . I suppose it’s because of what the vicar once said in one of his sermons. He read a Bible passage that said servants should do their work joyfully, as if serving the Lord. Jesus said if we’re ordered to go one mile, we should go two. And I feel sorry for Lady Rosamunde. For all her wealth, she is a sad, lonely woman . . . But she gave me a job at a time when I badly needed it to support you. So I’ve always thought that God must have a reason for wanting me to work for her.”

I don’t believe there are any “accidents” with God. Whatever disaster may strike us—a Nazi bomb, a deadly virus, or a heart attack—we can know that it is firmly under God’s control, and that it will serve His greater purpose. We already have eternal life, and so “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). We can face the end of our days with nothing to fear.

If you’d like to learn more about “If I Were You,”  follow this link to see a fun video with more information: http://bit.ly/3828FZS

 

Many Plans

This past week, my publishing company invited me to attend the Public Library Association conference in Nashville. Librarians are among my very favorite people because they share my passion for books and reading. And the librarians I met were a warm, dedicated bunch who knew their patrons and were focused on finding the very best resources for them. I had a wonderful time. I also made a fabulous new friend, Robin W. Pearson, who was signing copies of her debut novel “A Long Time Comin’” right beside me as I signed Advance Reader Copies of my newest novel, “If I Were You.” (Releasing June 2.)

But in the days leading up to the conference, the weather reports predicted a snowstorm that threatened to derail my plans. Would the roads to the airport be clear? Would the planes be able to take off? Would the storm cause a cascade of delays and cancellations that would strand me in Chicago and make me miss the conference? I anxiously checked the weather reports several times a day before realizing that my endless worrying accomplished nothing—except to unsettle me. I vaguely recalled a scripture verse about making plans, and finally decided to look it up. It’s Proverbs 19:21:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Why is that such a difficult concept for me to grasp? As much as I hate having my plans scrapped, why can’t I remember that the delays and interruptions that change my plans might be exactly what God purposed all along? If I’m stuck in an airport waiting lounge, maybe there’s a lesson He is trying to teach me, or another weary traveler He wants me to reach out to. If I’ve given my life to Him, I shouldn’t be surprised when He calls me away from my plans on a mission that He has chosen.

Paul and Silas’s preaching tour of Philippi was going great until they were arrested, beaten, and thrown into jail. Late that night, God added in an earthquake for good measure. Talk about a change of plans! But these “disruptions” were all under God’s sovereign control and ultimately led to the conversion of the jailer and his entire family. The Lord’s purpose prevailed.

In the end, the snowstorm I had dreaded bypassed our area. I didn’t encounter any delays or flight cancellations. I had spent three days worrying for nothing. It reminded me of one of my characters in my novel “If I Were You.” She takes matters into her own hands after her life veers off in a direction she didn’t plan, instead of trusting God. Her schemes and lies cause a chain of consequences that make matters even worse for her. As I was writing her story I had to sigh and shake my head and say, “If only she had put her trust in God.”

Yes, Lynn, if only you would remember to trust God’s plans.

At a Loss For Words

Monday is coming and I have to write my regularly scheduled blog. The problem is, I’m all out of words. I have no more stories to tell. That’s because the deadline for my next novel is two weeks away. I’ve been writing it for a year, and it has turned out to be 130,000 words long. That’s a lot of words—which is why I’ve run out!

The novel is finished but I’m spending the final month editing and tweaking and putting in all the final touches. That means I haven’t gone anywhere in days. My friends think I’ve become a hermit. My family forgot what I look like. I have nothing cute or funny or interesting to say in a blog because I’ve been holed up in my office, working. But the day after I turn in this manuscript, I get to leave my work and cold, snowy Michigan for a vacation in Florida with my husband and our friends.

So, what’s my point? I have two. First, there are seasons in life when we need to dive into our work with everything we’ve got. As the scripture says, “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” Work isn’t a curse that we’re doomed to perform like slaves. When God enables anyone “to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God.” But it shouldn’t consume our lives all year long, either.

Which leads to my second point—rest. God ordained rest, too. My Puritan ancestors would like me to feel guilty for sitting on a beach a few weeks from now when I should be working hard, giving my all, all the time. I’d like to remind those workaholic ancestors that God rested from His work on the seventh day. He wove the rhythms of work and rest into the fabric of creation. He doesn’t mind at all when we rest from our labors. Truly!

In case you’re wondering, the yet-to-be-named book that I’m racing to finish will be published in June of 2021. I know, that’s a very long time from now. But I’ve also completed another novel entitled “If I Were You,” which will be out in June of THIS year. It takes place in London during World War II and has a bit of a “Downton Abbey” feel to it.

So, here’s my advice. Work hard at what you do right now so when my book comes out next summer you can sit on a beach somewhere and read while you rest from your labors. And now . . . I need to get back to work.

Little Women

My husband and I went with friends to see the new “Little Women” movie, last night. It was wonderful, but, oh, the memories and emotions it stirred up for me! I could so relate to Jo’s longing as a young writer to create stories and to be published.

I cried with her when her sister burned her manuscript in the fire. I once lost several chapters after a power outage in the days before computers had automatic back-ups. I stormed down the street to where a team from the power company was working and screamed at them in outrage. “Ma’am . . . ma’am . . . we didn’t cause it,” they pleaded. I still wonder if they lied, fearing for their lives.

I felt Jo’s pain and humiliation as she listened to a blunt critique of her work, remembering the first time I sat down with a professional editor at a writers’ conference and heard him critique the first chapter of my novel. I felt as though he’d run my manuscript through a paper shredder! Both of those editors were probably right in what they said, but their words had the power to pierce a writer’s fragile heart. I confess that even after twenty-some books, I’ve never gotten used to critiques, and still have to steel myself to hear them, even though I know they may improve my work.

I watched the magazine editor in the film draw slash marks through Jo’s short story, saying he would publish it if she made extensive cuts, and I knew how she felt as she struggled to decide. The first article of mine that a publisher ever took an interest in was about 1400 words long. This editor (of a very well-known magazine) said he would publish it if I cut it down to 250 words and turned it into mere bullet points. It was a difficult decision, but I finally agreed. Painful, but I was a published author at last!

I understood Jo’s broken heart when she burned her own work and decided to give up writing. I gave up, too, after waiting nearly a year to learn whether or not a publishing company would print my manuscript, only to have it rejected and returned to me in a garbage bag. The garbage bag wasn’t the publisher’s idea—the mailing box had disintegrated on the return trip and the post office had dumped the pages into a trash bag for the remainder of the journey. Even so, I tossed out the bag and all 400 typewritten pages and gave up writing.

Tears ran down my face when Jo clasped her newly-published book to her chest as if it was her beloved child. I did the same when holding my first book in my hands for the first time. In fact, I carried that book with me everywhere, barely able to take my eyes off of it. I put it on my nightstand before I went to bed so I would see it first thing in the morning and know that it hadn’t been a dream.

Yes, I could relate to Jo’s roller-coaster ride as she wrestled with her calling as a writer and pursued her dream of being published. Her sisters, who had different dreams, also struggled to pursue them in a culture that diminished and marginalized women. Nourishing our dreams and becoming the person God created us to be is a favorite theme in my novels and inspirational speeches because I know the joy of discovering and living into God’s calling, even when the journey is long and painful and offers many opportunities to give up. But whether you’re a writer or not, I urge everyone to see the movie and to think about your own dreams. The start of a new year is the perfect time to partner with God and renew your resolve to pursue them.

The Story Behind the Story

I am so pleased to announce that this week, Tyndale House is offering a special ebook sale of my novel, Fly Away. The story takes place in 1987—a time period too recent to be a historical novel like my other books, but too far in the past to be a contemporary novel. That’s because Fly Away was one of the very first books I wrote—and the year really was 1987. I was just starting to dream of being a writer back then, and my first published book was eight years in the future. The story came to me so effortlessly that I remember writing it out longhand on a yellow legal pad in my living room. Later, I typed it into my Atari computer and saved it on several 3½-inch floppy discs. It was published by Beacon Hill Press in 1996 and has been out of print until this year.

 

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 helping to care for my grandmother, so without his help, she had to be moved to a nursing home. My father-in-law also had a stroke and was moved to a nursing home where he later died. And then my mother-in-law was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer.

Mom Austin wanted to spend her final weeks of life in her own home rather than in a hospital.  My husband and I and our three children lived in Canada at the time, but when we learned that Mom had only a few weeks to live, we drove down to Michigan to take care of her. We had just welcomed our daughter, Maya, into the world, and she was less than two weeks old when we arrived in Michigan. For the next month, 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. Both were being nurtured and comforted by the presence and love of our family.

People had asked if we were concerned that our children would be traumatized by watching their grandmother die. I had never been present when someone died, so I confess I was a little worried about what the experience would be like when the moment of death arrived. Then I recalled that I had been just as worried about what it would be like to give birth for the first time, yet giving birth turned out to be a beautiful, miraculous part of life. Thanks to a wonderful hospice nurse, we were coached in what we needed to do to care for Mom, just as our birth coach had helped us when giving birth. Still, I wondered what Mom’s final moments would be like.

One night at about 3:00 AM, the baby woke up crying. While I checked to see what she needed, my husband went to check on his mother. He came out of her room saying, “Lynn—she’s gone.” Mom had passed away peacefully in her sleep. Almost immediately, the baby fell back to sleep as if she had awakened only to let us know her grandmother had passed away. Our oldest son, Joshua, who was nine, wanted to go into Grandma’s bedroom to say goodbye. He was able to see and understand that she was no longer in her body, but was now in heaven. It was a tender, holy moment for all of us. After so recently experiencing the miracle of birth, we all learned that death is also one of God’s holy moments.

With so many losses in less than a year’s time, writing Fly Away became part of my grieving process. As you read the novel, 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 had 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 good-bye. I learned that death is also an important part of life. We will all lose loved ones to it. We will experience it ourselves. So why not explore the mystery of it by making it a theme of a novel? Writers like to ask “What if?” and “Why?” As I wrestled with my own grief, I began to ask those questions.

Telephones still had cords when I wrote Fly Away, and hung on kitchen walls. Shag carpeting and Star Wars figures were all the rage. I was in my thirties, and my two main characters, who are 65, seemed “old” to me. Now I’m a senior citizen like those “old” main characters. But like Wilhelmina Brewster, I don’t believe in retirement. And like Mike Dolan, I want to keep living life to the fullest, right up until the moment when Jesus calls me home.