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.

A Sneak Peek!

After several years of debuting my novels in the fall each year, I’m sorry to say that changes in my publishing schedule mean you’ll have to wait until next spring to read my latest book. In the meantime, I’m excited to show you what the gorgeous cover looks like, and to tell you a little bit about the story. “If I Were You” takes place in London during World War II and is a story of friendship and self-discovery—with a few splashes of romance that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

The idea for the book came from a true story about a British war bride who moved to America after the war. Of course, writers always like to elaborate on a simple story by asking, “What if…?” and so the plot took a few twists and turns along the way. As I dove into the research, I discovered how greatly the two world wars altered everyday life in England, putting an end to the divide between the upper classes and their servants. Being a huge fan of the TV series, “Downton Abbey,” I knew I wanted to take my story in that direction. My two heroines, Audrey Clarkson and Eve Dawson quickly sprang to life. Then all the rest—their friendship, their rivalry, their loves and losses—fell beautifully into place as these two women searched to redefine who they really were.

One of my favorite parts of writing each novel is researching it. My husband and I wandered around London in June of 2018 so I could put myself in my characters’ shoes, soaking up the sights and getting a feel for what my characters might have seen and experienced some 75 years ago. London is a beautiful, old city with buildings that haven’t changed much in centuries—although, the red, double decker buses do look a bit more modern these days.

We rode everywhere on the underground, and I tried to imagine what it would have been like to sleep down there with thousands of other people every night during The Blitz while bombs pummeled the city. No one knew what the landscape would look like in the morning or if they would even have a home to return to.

I learned that even Buckingham Palace didn’t escape the relentless bombing, and suffered damage along with several other famous buildings in London. Here I am near the palace gates, with the Victoria Monument in the background.

And now, I’m proud to show you the intriguing cover of “If I Were You.” It’s one of my favorite covers ever! I’m curious to know what you think?

Sightings

I am thrilled to announce the release of my newest book, Sightings—Discovering God’s Presence in our Everyday Moments. This non-fiction devotional is a collection of my thoughts and ponderings as I’ve learned to look for “God sightings” in the simple moments of life.


One of the most amazing and comforting promises that Jesus gives us is this: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). But in the busyness of our daily lives, in the challenges and surprises we often face, we don’t always have a sense of Christ’s nearness. We forget to notice all of the little messages He sends to remind us that He is right beside us, watching over us, weaving all things together into a glorious tapestry for our good and for His glory.

Instead of leaving God behind after our Sunday morning worship or our daily devotions, what if we tried to cultivate that sense of His presence in our ordinary moments? What if we watched for Him at home and at work and everywhere we went? This book is a product of my attempt to do just that. I’m learning to see patterns of His redemption everywhere! And to see myself as He sees me—precious and worthy of His love. It’s my hope that readers will learn from Sightings, so that they too, will begin to notice all of the times and places where Jesus shows up in their everyday lives.

Of course, there’s a story behind this book. Earlier this year, my publisher in the Netherlands asked if they could create a devotional from a selection of my blog posts from the past few years. Many of my Dutch readers can’t easily read my posts in English. I said “Yes!” and went to work with their editors to add extra material, creating a devotional entitled “Altijd in God’s Hand” (Always in God’s Hand).

I was so pleased with the final result that I asked my Digital Marketing Assistant, Christine Bierma, to help me publish a version of the book in English. The beautiful cover was designed by Ken Raney at Raney Day Creative (who happens to be author Deb Raney’s husband). Here is the result of our combined efforts.

 

Each chapter in this ten-week devotional includes a daily scripture reading and closing prayer. The Something More section at the end of each week provides an extra challenge or activity to encourage readers to dig deeper. Together, I hope these readings will make an inspiring addition to a daily quiet time with God.

Sightings is now available in print, and the pre-sale e-book format will be released on October 29. Click here to order your copy of Sightings—Discovering God’s Presence in our Everyday Moments today.

If you would like to be part of my launch team, please use this link to apply. The application link will be closed on Friday, October 25, 2019.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I was seven or eight years old, growing up in a village in rural New York State, when I learned my first lesson about racism. My mom, my two sisters, and I had traveled to a nearby city on a shopping trip. For a treat, we went to the lunch counter at the dime store for grilled cheese sandwiches and French fries. That’s where I saw the two signs, one labeled ‘Whites Only,’ the other ‘Coloreds.’ I asked Mom about them. Her impassioned explanation made it clear to my young heart that discrimination on the basis of race was a terrible injustice.

As I grew older, news of the Civil Rights Movement appeared on the front pages of the newspapers and in nightly newscasts. I knew that a great war was being fought, with soldiers and guns and the deaths of innocent civilians. The battle divided our nation. I was a teenager when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, his death the result of hatred and racism. In spite of all the laws and amendments our government had passed, the injustice I had glimpsed as a child continued. Sadly, some fifty years later, it still continues.

I recently read an eye-opening book entitled “I Will Not Fear” by Melba Pattillo Beals. It details her lifelong battle against racism and how it shaped her deep faith in God. In 1957, fifteen-year-old Melba was one of nine African American students chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Her account of the abuse and torture she suffered at the hands of her fellow students and their parents is chilling. It required faith and enormous courage for Melba and her family to endure harassment, violence, and death threats on a daily basis, simply for the right to attend school.

Melba met Dr. King during that time and poured out her suffering and fear to him. He listened kindly, then told her that perhaps God had assigned this task to her. “You’re not doing this for yourself,” he said. “You are doing this for generations yet unborn.” His words were life-changing. Melba writes, “I had been waiting for white students to change, extend kindness, and welcome me, when maybe it was my task to change.” She became a warrior for God, setting aside her own comfort to serve Him.

After one year of forced integration, the Little Rock school board decided to close Central High School and open a private, all-white school rather than educate their children alongside African Americans. But Melba and the others had made history. In 1999, she and the other eight Little Rock students were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their role in the integration of Central High School.

Today, Dr. King’s words to Melba inspire me. What task requiring courage and faith might God be asking of me? Would I be willing to suffer injustice for the sake of generations yet unborn? The early Christians suffered much more than I will ever have to endure as they spread the Gospel throughout the world. Dr. King’s advice to Melba reminds me of God’s words of encouragement to the early Christians, and to me: “…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)