I’m excited to introduce you to my guest blogger and dear friend, Tamara Bundy. Tammy and I both have four kids (two girls and two boys each), husbands who work at Miami University, a love for coffee, books and Jesus, and a passion to write stories. Tammy’s newest title releases January 14, and in the blog this week she writes about something God taught her while writing Pixie Pushes On and she's giving away a free copy of her book (keep reading for details).
Only God could turn a trip to the hospital into an uplifting trip down memory lane. My dad had been in the hospital with, yet another case of pneumonia caused by his compromised lungs due to his Inclusion Body Myositis. We had gotten used to this rotation of hospital stays–at least as much as one can get used to it. But no matter how used to it you pretend to be, sitting with someone you love in a hospital room, while they are hooked up to beeping machines, looking older than you remember them to be, is hard.
My mom and dad both grew up on farms during the 1940’s, but they moved to the city when they got married. Because I grew up a city-kid, I remember being amazed at the farm stories they told—stories about my dad driving tractors as soon as he could see over the steering wheel. Stories of my mom’s favorite lamb, Buster. When it came time to write my second middle grade novel, I knew I wanted it to take place in that setting –and I knew it would have a lamb named Buster.
As I added the fictional elements to the story –such as my main character’s sister having polio, I wanted to ground it in more realities of my parents’ childhoods. That’s when I realized how poorly I’d been listening all those years. Sure, I’d heard their basic stories –but when you’re growing up, you assume you’ll have your parents (and their stories) your whole life. You imagine you’ll always be able to ask them important (and unimportant) things.
My parents lived in Columbus and my family lived two hours away in Cincinnati. Our moments of being in the same room at the same time were few. That day in the hospital was a moment I knew God put in front of me. And so, on that winter day, with my worried mom stationed beside Dad, who didn’t want the attention on him, I tried to distract them. I told them about the new book I was writing. And then, in that scary hospital room I asked my mom and dad to tell me about when they were children.
I wanted their day-to day details of life on the farm. What did they have for lunch at school? How did they get to school? Did they have bathrooms? Electricity? These were all questions that younger-me never bothered to ask, but older-me not only wanted to take the time, but also desperately wanted to slow it down.
Then, amidst the din of the machines helping my dad breathe, another sound blissfully prevailed. This sound of youthful stories of milking cows, gathering eggs, tending gardens. Mom and Dad were no longer 80-something-year-old’s watching their lives slip away. My mom became, again, the ten-year-old chasing the fuzzy little lamb she bottle-fed. My dad, once more, was in fifth grade having to eat the cold, slimy fried-egg sandwich he didn’t like, but had to eat because, as my grandma told him, “If the chickens are laying eggs, we’re eating eggs.”
My parents remembered. They talked and talked. I swear, they even giggled. If possible, they physically grew younger in front of me. And I wrote down every exquisite detail I could manage through the happy tears gathering in my eyes.
My dad passed away not long after that treasured afternoon.
On January 14, the book I was writing, Pixie Pushes On releases from Nancy Paulsen Books. And yes, I am thrilled to have readers meet Pixie, her Granddaddy, Grandma, Sissy, Daddy –and her lamb named Buster. But most of all, I am filled with joy that if I look closely between the lines of this story, I can see traces of my parents’ childhoods. And within those pages, they will stay young forever.
My dad wouldn’t mind that attention at all. I imagine he would even say, “That’s fine and dandy.”
(click here to listen to the song "Fine and Dandy" written and performed by Tamara's kids a.k.a. The Bundys, in honor of Tamara's dad)
If you are blessed to have older people in your life – ask them about their childhoods, their special memories. You don’t have to be writing a book. You just have to ask. And then listen. Listen as the years melt away. Listen to their stories. Maybe you’ll even decide to write some of the memories down.
It’s never too late. Start today, start now. Ask God to guide you. Afterall, He managed to turn a hospital trip into an uplifting trip down memory lane, leaving me with a precious memory that is, indeed, one for the books.
To win an autographed copy of Tammy’s Pixie Pushes On leave a comment in the comment section below of the blog. One winner will be selected by number randomizer on January 13. Open to continental U.S. residents only.
Tamara Bundy is a children’s book author as well as the author of several non-fiction inspirational books. A former columnist for the Cincinnati Post, she currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Miami University. You can follow her on all social media platforms as well as at www.tamarabundy.com
You were created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27)
You are Christ’s masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10)
God has His hand on you for something special. (1 Thessalonians 1:4)
All of this is true. And easy enough for me to list in my head or on the page. Harder to hold onto in the throws of real life. Especially the days when we’re being evaluated, when we’re auditioning for something in this world.
In the past week my son had a try-out for a play, my oldest went through sorority rush, and I was waiting to hear back from a publisher on a proposal. In all of these arenas we are being evaluated by the world on some sort of input we presented--my son’s stage presence, my daughter’s conversational skills, and my writing. My son loves to act. My daughter’s personality is amazing. My writing is the thing I feel God has called me to do. And so, how we “perform” at these things is going to reflect how God made us to be—take them or leave them, but honestly none of us want others to leave them.
But it happens. We put ourselves out there. We audition for the things we long for, hope for, to propel our dreams. We get examined under someone else’s magnifying glass, because that’s the only way to take next steps, to get from A to B. And when we submit ourselves for review, we will be judged. That’s the nature of the beast. Was my son loud enough? Was my daughter witty? Did my writing pull the reader in? And just because one person checks the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box next to these items doesn’t mean they’re true or not true. It is one person’s opinion on any given day. And although we know better than to let the world’s opinions influence us, they still do.
Is there anything you’re auditioning for today? Anything about your performance you’re waiting to hear back on? Are you maybe evaluating or judging yourself?
It’s the excruciatingly long waiting period that seems to be the worst for me. I’m guessing I’m not alone. Did they like me? Did I presented enough? I can go crazy town in the waiting space imagining all of the possible endings, the yeses and the nos, even the maybes and what that would mean and look like, and what I’d have to do from there. I waste my time and energy and stress out about imaginary scenarios in my head that might never even play out. And because I have this tendency, I need to work at getting out of this space. I have to be intentional. I need to shift my thoughts and focus on truth.
The Apostle Paul instructs the Galatians, “Don’t compare yourselves with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life” (Galatians 6:5). Meaning it doesn’t matter what monologue someone else read, what story someone else told, what rave reviews another author’s book is getting. It also doesn’t matter what she wore, what her hair looks like, how many goals he scored or achieved, how much he gets paid, how many likes their post got, if they got invited or chosen, or what their grade or performance review said. It doesn’t. What matters are OUR inputs.
Did my son prepare for his audition?
Yes, he did.
Was my daughter brave enough to be herself?
Yes. She thrives at it.
Did I edit my work, get others to review it, and run spellcheck before I submitted?
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Did I pray over all of it? Yes.
Cool. Then we did our part.
Time to let go.
Because this is all God’s work in the first place. As it says in Proverbs 16:9, “The Lord establishes our steps.” God gave my son the desire to act, knitted each beautiful facet of my daughter’s personality into her soul, and placed in me a love of words and stories. God set us in these particular places in these particular times. And God made you exactly as you are, able to do the things you do, and He placed you exactly where you are—in that office, on that team, in that neighborhood, in that classroom, in that small group. And so…we bring our best, maybe or maybe not the world’s definitions of best, maybe not a specific director/sorority girl/editor’s/fill in the blank’s definition of best, but the best version of our true selves, of the people God created us to be in the first place. And that is a beautiful offering. This is all we need to bring.
When we do, we can trust that things will work out as they’re supposed to. “God not only loves you very much but also has put his hand on you for something special.” That means He wants the best for you. He’s looking out for you. He has amazing plans for you. And if this role, sorority, book, house, job, team, relationship, move, position is the one He wants you to have, by all means it will come to fruition. Yes, God asks us to do our part, but then we need to trust that He is the God that invented stars—burning masses of energy millions of miles away and that He put one star in particular close enough to earth to give us the exact amount of light and heat to live without freezing or combusting. Since He can do that, I’m pretty sure He can make the tryout or interview or test go as He planned.
Sigh. Such sweet relief in this spot. Now to stay there.
Even if things don’t work out as we hoped or thought they should, we are still exactly who God intended us to be when He created us. And He will still use everything for His glory. Hmm. So I don’t have to rethink the whole thing?
If God had wanted us to be more or less melodic, more or less of a jokester, less or more intense, better at geometry, saltier, sweeter, taller, shorter—He would have. But instead, He designed us exactly how He envisioned us to be. This means we don’t even have to impress God. This leaves me speechless.
When we really let that sink in, it doesn’t matter what the results of the evaluation are, because, the One whose opinion matters most is that we’ve already got the part. Breathe that in today. Whatever you’re waiting for. However you’re being graded or rated or judged. You were handpicked by the Almighty.
You don’t have to prove yourself. You’ve already been chosen. Cling to that while you're trying out, while you're waiting, and most importantly once the cast list is posted--whether your name does or does not appear on the list.
...if you’d like more reminders about how amazing and loved you are throughout the week, follow me on:
When I was on my high school’s dance team, our motto was “Teamwork Makes It Happen”. Not very catchy, but there’s a lot of truth in that phrase. On dance team it wasn’t about an individual’s abilities, it was about dancing in sync, together. The perfect example was the kick line. Everyone’s kicks had to be the exact same height, so it appeared as if one giant leg was going up then down, while the other giant leg followed suit. Shorter girls had to stand on tiptoes to make their legs reach. Uber flexible girls actually had to lower their kicks to line up with the team.
Have you ever been part of a softball team? A play? A fundraiser? If so, you know the risks of putting yourself out there. You’ve had to rely on others. You understand the challenges of working collectively for a common good.
I haven’t been in a kick line for a looooonnnnggg time, but this past fall I was invited to be on a team to launch a new line of young adult fiction books. By now, you’ve probably heard me chat about Playlist Fiction. Ever wonder what authors talk about when they get together? Everything, really. But recently, one of the other Playlist authors, Laura Kurk, and I were chatting about the excitement and uncertainty of banding together to create something new. Here’s an inside peek at our conversation.
LS: I remember when our agent suggested forming a team of authors to launch a new line, to include your novels, my novels, Jennifer Murgia’s latest title, Stephanie Morrill’s newest book and debut author Rajdeep Paulus. I know what was going through my mind. What was on yours?
LK: Writing is a lonely profession. It takes physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries to maintain the integrity of our thoughts and ideas while we work.
I’m usually okay with this, being an introverted soul. But sometimes I feel too alone. I’ve dreamed of having a team of like-minded people who would offer support, guidance, and friendship. I said yes, without hesitation.
LS: Me too. It was an incredible idea to have a support network within the solitude, to not have to go these books alone. But there was still a major unknown. None of us had worked together. All of our writing styles were a little different. What were your concerns?
LK: The same all students have when they hear the dreaded words, “Group Project.” I was always the kid who took on the biggest part—because I wanted the project done right. But, it turns out, I think we were all the kids who took on the majority of the work for group projects.
LS: So, was that because we were overachievers, or because we enjoyed writing essays?
LK: Ha! Both. But the great thing about our team is we overachieve for each other. I’ve never really been on a team, so this is my first experience with seeing other people sacrifice their time and talent for each other. It’s overwhelming. Makes me wish I had played t-ball or something.
LS: T-ball was not my best experience. Let’s just say I sat the bench. A writing team uniform fits me way better. I think the two major factors that have led to the success of our team are communication and a common desire to succeed as a whole.
LK: We’ve avoided any of us carrying all the weight.
L S: Right. We share it. Our communication from the get-go was key. Remember the dozens of emails about expectations and content for the line?
LK: Back and forth, plus the conference calls. We agreed on a mission and a feel. We agreed our books would be unique, real, and match the rhythm of our readers’ lives. We incorporated that into everything from our plot lines to the Playlist Fiction website.
LS: And once we identified ourselves, we all took responsibilities based on our strengths. You developed our Twitter account. Jennifer worked with the designer. Rajdeep created the count down graphics and manages our Playlist fan mail. And what would we do without Stephanie who writes the newsletter and runs all the spreadsheets? It was remarkable to watch everyone play to her areas of expertise. We had all poured ourselves into our novels. We longed for them to reach readers who would identify with our characters and gravitate to our plots. The more readers engaged with the Playlist Fiction brand overall, the more opportunities we had to touch those readers.
LK: We were all invested.
LS: All for one and one for all. What hopes did you have for the team?
LK: I hoped I would develop relationships with people who shared my faith and my goals. I hoped for friends who would understand why writing is spiritually fulfilling for me, and who would hold me accountable with the words I choose. We’re not just a team. We’ve found friendship, validation, accountability, a louder voice, a bigger splash. We’re even prayer warriors.
LS: It’s awesome isn’t it? It’s powerful for me to see how much stronger we are together than alone. But when you gain something, you tend to give something up. What did you sacrifice to be part of a team verses publishing your novels under a solo contract?
LK: I think there’s a misconception that publishing solo with an existing publisher means you can sit back. Authors have to market themselves constantly, so the team has been a blessing. The sacrifices I’ve made have been easy. The amount of work we’ve done to build recognition for this debut line of fiction has been mind-blowing. We’ve worked a lot of late nights.
LS: Which resulted in a lot of late night e-mails. Some of them made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants. Others brought tears to my eyes. We swapped lyrics from everything from the Mickey Mouse Club House theme song to old Depeche Mode tunes. We shared stories about our siblings and children, admitted indulgences and weaknesses. We became good friends.
LK: I love how we support one another. Often you see writers who grab attention, because attention translates into sales. Our team members are more concerned with making sure we all find success. We work like this because we believe in the message of hope and healing we each have for our audience. We write for young adults. We found each other because we all felt there was a lack of hopeful fiction for teens.
LS: I’m praying we’ll provide some of that much needed hope.
LK: I believe we are. But despite the encouragement from one another, it does take maturity to keep this team in tact.
LS: Definitely. All teams do. None of us can be scorekeepers. We can’t say, “she did this and she didn’t do that while I did this.” Just like soccer player can’t say, “I scored and she missed my pass and she should have stolen that ball.” Each author has the integrity to give our team her personal best. As a team, we respect and honor the time and way we each achieve this. On any given day one author could be promoting the line, while another is dealing with family issues and yet another is frantically editing her next novel. The following week those roles can and do switch. What’s beautiful is how much we lean on one another, draw from one another, learn from one another. Like you said at the beginning, writing can be a lonely endeavor. But our team offers a community to share the writing journey.
Jesus didn’t leave one disciple high and dry to share the gospel. He introduced them to one another, had them dine together, travel together, so when it was time for Him to ascend, the disciples were prepared to work as a team. I believe God brought our Playlist Fiction team together to share the stories He’s put in our hearts.
Are you part of a team? How do you think God’s equipped you to be an important team member?
Today I'm talking with Laura Anderson Kurk. If you know me, then you probably know by now, she and I are kindred writing spirits. Although she lives in Texas, and I live in Ohio, there are times when I grab my phone and start dialing before I've even thought about it, because I NEED to talk to her. And almost daily there are instances, when my fingers fly across my keyboard consulting, celebrating and commiserating with her over "writing stuff". Tomorrow she releases Perfect Glass, the sequel to her novel, Glass Girl. You will fall in love with it! Today we discuss how Perfect Glass came to be, so tomorrow you'll be ready to dive into a book that will absolutely absorb you.
You write Perfect Glass from two point of views, Henry and Meg. Was this difficult?
When I first wrote Perfect Glass, the entire story was from Henry's POV. I loved it. My agent and editor didn't. They felt the book would be enjoyed by more readers if I added Meg's voice. That's why you'll find the switching narration. And now that the book is done, I see how much stronger it is to have both points of view. Both stories show the development in Meg and Henry and allow readers to see Meg through Henry's eyes and to see Henry through Meg's eyes. Getting to write Henry's words as he describes Meg's beauty and how much he loves her, was my favorite part of writing this book.
Readers wonder if writing from multiple POVs is difficult. The difficulty (as you know) is in making sure you're staying true to each character's voice and tone. Readers are sensitive to the pitch of a narrator's voice and if they sense something off-key, it pulls them out of the story. Making sure I had the voices just right was the trickiest aspect of writing this book.
How did you stay in character?
I wrote Henry's entire story first and lived in his head for a few months. Then when I had it perfect, I wrote Meg's entire story. That way, I didn't have to force myself in and out of character. I think that would've made me crazy. Once I had both stories the way I wanted them, I joined them. Chapter by chapter, I wrote in connecting elements that made the two stories interlocking. The common ground came in the fact that both Meg and Henry are learning what it means to love people who are considered unlovable. They're both learning to put away selfishness and grow up. They're both struggling with ego, but learn a lot about themselves. The novel's epigraph is an old quote (paraphrased) "calamity is the perfect glass in which we can truly see and know ourselves." The calamity Henry and Meg each face becomes the mirror that lets them finally see themselves clearly.
Was one of their voices easier for you to write?
Believe it or not, I'm more comfortable writing Henry. I have a theory about this . . . I think it's because there's more of me in Meg and I've never been great at understanding the nuances of my own personality. Meg -- holy cow. She's just complicated and because she's a lot like me, it was hard for me to see her objectively. That dilemma actually lends a lot of truth to Meg's character, though, so I think she comes off as honest and raw and real. As an observer, I've known so many guys who are like Henry. I've studied them. I know their mannerisms and speech patterns. I know how their brains work and what affects them. So I was able to construct Henry with a really objective eye.
Meg and Henry are dealing with a long distance relationship. While Henry is out of town, a new student, Quinn (who is clearly interested in Meg) arrives. If you were Meg, which boy would you choose and why?
Oh, there's no question my heart would remain with Henry. But...can I be real? I have a weakness for boys who understand literature and poetry and songwriting. Boys who get Whitman and can talk to me about the Harlem Renaissance in easy conversation. In the same way, Quinn is definitely interesting to Meg. He reminds her of the urban, sophisticated kind of guys she knew in Pittsburgh. And he reminds her more importantly, of the brother she lost. She wants Quinn in her life, but she knows Henry is her future. Henry opened a new world up for Meg, and she's head over heels in love with him.
Most high school stories would be incomplete without the school dance, including yours. There is so much hype surrounding homecoming, prom, etc. Do you have a distinct high school dance memory?
Oh my lands. Yes, I do. Dare I dredge it up and share it with your readers? What to do...what to do...
I was a late bloomer. A wallflower. Not noticed by guys. Ever. But for some reason, my junior year, the best looking but most dangerous boy in my class took an interest in me. He would laugh now hearing how I describe him. He was tall, blonde, cocky, and WILD. At least that's my memory. He made me so nervous. I was timid, rail thin, and naive. You know, the girl who'd never been kissed.
He asked me to prom and I almost didn't say yes because I thought I'd die of nerves. My best friend talked me into saying yes. I was nervous the whole night and, when he drove me home, I was so afraid he'd try to kiss me goodnight that I almost threw up in his car. In fact, I had dry heaves sitting in his passenger seat. Loud, dry heaves that went on and on. Is there anyway to recover from that? Nope. You gotta live with that nightmare the rest of your life. No sanctuary from a dry heaving past.
What's your dream prom dress?
I'm not a follower of fashion, to be honest. I like when I see girls who dare to look different because it seems like, these days, every girl is trying to look like the same person. When I see a girl brave enough to look a little indie or alternative, I silently cheer for them in my head. (not out loud because indie types do NOT want to be noticed in that way.) My favorite formal dresses are always very vintage. I dress Meg and her friend, Abby, in vintage dresses for Winter Dance. I just think it's important to look like a class act, because you'll stand out in the sea of too tight, too short, too low cut dresses. And take care that you don't look like you're headed to a pageant, either, with the overdone makeup and stiff hair. Imagine how that looks from a guy's perspective. I think guys probably prefer soft makeup and natural, soft hair. Anything more and you just look plastic.
If I were seventeen and shopping for prom, I'd be looking for a dress like this.
I love the relationship Meg has with a painter in this story. I understand your mom is a painter. How much of her did you pour into this book?
My mom does paint and she's really good, but it's a hobby for her. So some of Jo Russell's thoughts and attitudes came from my mom, but the deepest and greatest parts of Jo Russell came from one of my best friends--Mara Schasteen. The book is dedicated to Mara. Our lives intersected in Texas when we were young moms together. I can't begin to tell you how indelible an impression Mara made on my heart and soul. We survived a lot of things together, but more than that, we met each other in a place where we were starved for beauty and art and kindness. We were able to enrich each other in a lot of ways.
Mara is a brilliant painter. I want people to see the world through her eyes. It's a beautiful, wondrous, God-filled place. I describe one of Mara's paintings in Perfect Glass. Henry dreams that Meg has painted it.
Much of the artistic words and phrases and technical aspects of painting that you find in Perfect Glass came from Mara. She's the one who described the wet dog smell of a studio full of primed linen canvas. She's the one who once pointed out that everything in the world has just a touch of ultramarine violet in it. It's not that I interviewed her. These are things that came to me from having a relationship with her and knowing her heart and her art. Jo Russell, the artist in Perfect Glass, is seriously one of my all-time favorite characters I've created. I could live in her world for a long while and never get bored.
What have you learned about the art of writing from Mara's and your mom's art?
I've learned all art is the impulse to create. That's an impulse given to all humans by the original Creator. Even Eminem was given the impulse to create by God. He may not realize it or acknowledge it, but that's where he got that desire.
From fine artists, I've learned that beauty is there for the taking and it's everywhere -- even in the things that look ugly at first glance. I've learned inspiration comes in the act of creating.
I've learned writers build stories in exactly the same way fine artists build a painting. If you watch an artist, you think they're crazy when they first start working on a canvas. They're staring at a waterfall and painting random crooked lines. But if you watch a while, it clicks. And you finally see what they've seen in their heads the whole time. Then it builds and builds. Mara says her favorite part of a painting is when she's almost done and she's adding the magic. Suddenly things move and shine and shimmer. Suddenly eyes look alive and faces look warm. Suddenly nature looks energetic like you could walk right into her trees. All this happens with calculated brush strokes.
It's the same with writing. I start with the bones, spare and barely there. Then I build the muscle and fat and skin. Then I add the curves and the meeting places, where parts of story meet like parts of a body meet. And finally I add the magic - the precise rhythm and heart of the story. The singular words that make a reader stop breathing for a second so she can hear me. That connection right there, between me and a reader, is beautiful and tender. It's a shared experience. Readers don't often realize that they're giving me as much as I'm giving them. Just imagining their thoughts as they read my thoughts blows my mind.
To experience Laura Anderson Kurk's magic first hand, download Perfect Glass by clicking on it's title or cover.
I don't know everything
and I don't have all the answers.
But God knows just what I need,
and He keeps on showing me.
“Don’t Have Love” by Holly Starr
Holly Starr is an up and coming star in the Christian music industry with a God-given voice, soulful songs and a passion for music and Christ that are contagious. To hear her sing is a chance to focus on the Lord’s love. To watch her perform is an opportunity to escape the busyness of daily life and take time to focus on Christ. While on her current tour, I had the blessing to meet and interview Holly.
Laura: You write most of your own songs, what inspires you?
Holly: God is always the reason I write and the purpose I do what I’m doing. But my focus changes all the time. My first CD was based on my relationships. My second CD was more about my relationship with God. My new CD, Focus, has been about my desire to focus on Christ in the midst of every day life. How do I balance family, friendship, ministry, studying and praying and still find focus in Christ?
Laura: So have you found a way to find focus?
Holly: Life on the road is crazy. But, I need to trust God and beat down negative thoughts with the truth, remembering God created me. And since He created me, He knows everything about me. Focusing on that allows me to rest, knowing He’s in control.
Laura: What part of the process is your favorite; the writing, rehearsing, recording, performing?
Holly: As far as the music goes, my favorite part is when the initial idea for a song comes. That moment of, “Oh my gosh I think I’ve found something! I can’t wait to see what it turns into!” But even more than music, I love telling people about Jesus. I’m fulfilled because my concerts are my vehicle to direct people towards God. I love the fact that I get to write these songs, so when I’m on stage, I worship Him to show others how awesome He is.
Laura: Thanks for the tour of your RV. Describe life on the tour bus?
Holly: Smelly at times (laughing). Although challenging, living on the bus with the rest of the band is the best part of my life right now. It’s very small and simple. You can’t take a lot with you. There isn’t room for it. You can’t buy a lot. It makes us live on just enough all the time. The small space is hard sometimes, but it helps the band communicate and work through issues – it’s hard and rewarding. Everything comes from His hand.
Laura: What keeps you energized and sane on the road?
Holly: I need to recognize that I need down time, alone time, and that’s okay. I need personal space to regroup and stay in The Word – to focus. That keeps me sane.
Laura: Your new CD releases October 2. Explain how it came about.
Holly: As soon as Tapestry released in October 2010, I started writing for this new CD. My heart is to write whatever’s going on in my life, then look over the songs and find a theme. All of the forty or so songs I wrote in this time period were about me needing to stop and Focus, the theme rises out of the songs. We picked the ten that worked best together to record.
Laura: What’s your favorite song you’ve ever recorded?
Holly: There are two. Psalm 23 – Obviously I didn’t have anything to do with the lyrics, but my senior year of high school, God was showing me how real the book of God is - that He is literally in those words, that reading the Bible is spending time with The Creator of the Universe. So I knew I wanted to write a song to just scripture, and I opened the Bible to Psalm 23. I started recording different melodies on the computer. Days later, the Hallelujah chorus just popped in my head. God just gave me this song.
You can download Holly's song, “Psalm 23” FREE here: https://www.facebook.com/hollystarrmusiconline/app_190322544333196
I Love You Anyway is the third song I ever wrote. It’s not correctly written according to song writing guidelines. I was just a fourteen year-old farmer’s daughter when I wrote it, but that song has had more ministry than any song I’ve ever written.
Laura: What’s on your iPod?
Holly: I love Shawn McDonald. He’s super real. I love it when people are transparent. I also love Bethany Dillon, Matt Hammitt (lead singer of Sanctus Real), One Republic, Brooke Fraser (part of Hillsong), Jon Foreman (lead singer of Switchfoot), and Chris Tomlin inspires me.
Laura: Do you have any advice for a young musician?
Holly: Serve the best you can and invest yourself where you are. Take the opportunities you have, don’t wish for more. God will open the doors to what He wants you to do. You don’t have to worry about it. He’ll open them. Stay focused on Him.
“We were made to be courageous,” The Casting Crowns belt out in their song. But what does it mean - to be courageous?
Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines courage as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
My lovely friend, Amy Parker, co-authored the new book, Courageous Teens (click on the picture to order) with Michael Catt. In the book they delve into not only what it means to be courageous, but also how to attain that courage. I had the pleasure of interviewing them about the challenge to be courageous.
Laura: Courageous Teens focuses on people in the Bible who displayed great courage when it would have been easier to play it safe. Which one of these characters do you most identify with or are most inspired by? Why?
Michael: I think Daniel, especially when thinking of teenagers and the next generation. They are the future of the church, our future leaders, pastors, and missionaries. We need a generation of Daniels if we are going to take back the culture.
Amy: Esther is such a powerful, inspiring role model for women. Here is an orphaned girl who is able to influence an entire kingdom, to save her people, simply because she was brave enough to stand in courage. When I’m faced with a difficult situation, I can hear Mordecai telling Esther, “Maybe you were chosen for such a time as this.”
Laura: In what areas of life do you think teens need to be courageous?
Michael: There is little difference between teens and their parents—it’s the “fear of man” which is “a snare.” Peer pressure, what others think, is it cool, are all subtle forces that cause us to cave in.
Amy: Wow. In every area! We don’t realize it when we’re young, but so many decisions made in our teen years shape the rest of our lives. That’s why it is vital to train and educate teens and young adults to make courageous decisions now. From this point forward, they must learn it’s okay—encouraged, actually!—to make choices that dare to go against the grain of popular society.
Laura: But that can be so difficult. How do you advise teens to stay strong and be brave when it seems like everything is against them?
Michael: Read the Word, get their examples from people that God marked out as Courageous.
Amy: In Courageous Teens, we help readers start small, to make one courageous decision today. While Michael and I hope the content will help teens think more courageously in general, we also put that courage to work. After every chapter, we give readers a prompt that helps them decide one thing they can do to apply that chapter’s principle to their lives. Right then and there. By the end of the book, they will have done at least ten courageous actions. Actions become habits. Habits form behavior. Before you know it, you’ve got a whole society of courageous teens, standing strong together, making a better world for us all. “Courage is contagious.”
Laura: The book is divided into four sections; Courageous Faith, Courageous Leadership, Courageous Priorities and Courageous Influence. Which one do you think is most important?
Michael: I don’t know if one is more important than the other. I rather think it’s about the flow. You have to have faith if you are going to be a leader. Leaders set priorities, and those who have faith, lead. Leaders set priorities and are influencers.
Amy: I think they all work hand-in-hand, but you’ve got to start with courageous faith. It has to start within you. From there, you’ll build your priorities and lead and influence others. Each part strengthens the other.
Laura: Where do you find courage?
Michael: From The Word of God, from the indwelling Holy Spirit and from reading the biographies of great men.
Amy: This book was just as much a reminder for me as it is for anyone who reads it. It’s a daily quest. I know that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18 HCSB). And I know where to find that perfect love. But I have to seek it. Every day. Every day I’m faced with something new, something that scares me, and I have to look perfect love in the face before I have the courage to stand up and step over my fears. I remind myself who and what I’m fighting for. I’m not doing this for me. And I’m not doing this alone.
Joshua 1:9 This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
What one thing can you do today to be Courageous?
1. Fixed by Force is your breakthrough novel. What got you started writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
My writing started with my five-page, fully illustrated stories from childhood, called, “Blue Man vs. Green Man”. ;) I have no idea what they were about, but the characters always became friends at the end! Now I enjoy writing stories, poems and even songs. I try to write something daily. Writing is one of my favorite things to do, although all the editing, spelling, and grammar can be exhausting. Being able to watch something come together out of nothing, creating something that others can be affected and inspired by...that's an awesome feeling!
2. What advice do you have for others who have a dream in their heart, but aren't sure how to go about making it a reality?
I think what keeps a person from chasing their dreams isn’t necessarily fear of failure, but uncertainty of “how” to go about it? I remember feeling that way often, especially when I was receiving hordes of rejection letters from literary agents! Personally, I found it helpful and encouraging to seek others in my position— some who were striving for similar dreams, and some who had achieved theirs. By joining groups and clubs, and even mailing lists, I was introduced to others with the same goals and ambitions...and questions. I was able to communicate with people who had experience and knowledge I lacked about writing, and who encouraged me to keep moving forward in the pursuit of my dream.
3. Why did you choose the topic of steroids to center your novel around?
Steroids are a topic I am familiar with, in a similar capacity as the story's protagonist, Spencer. My struggles with steroid abuse occurred from ages 16 to 18, and were driven by many of the same feelings as Spencer's use. For Spencer and myself, steroids were not a vice specifically for athletic reasons or bodybuilding, as most people seem to assume of steroid users, but for a self-esteem makeover, mainly, internally, where lacking courage, and fading self-worth could somehow be “fixed” by using these chemicals.
4. How did you personally escape this addiction?
My personal escape from the belief that I 'needed' the steroids, unfortunately, took much longer than Spencer's, but it was by similar means. I had some very positive and uplifting people in my life, but I separated myself from them during my use, mainly because I was afraid they would try to make me stop. But I let one person in, my wife, who was my girlfriend then, and her strength, encouragement, and faith in me and in God, was the catalyst for my change. She reminded me of my value, which is something so many young people struggle with. What I learned, is that if you can somehow let one person through the barriers you put up, they may be the person who has been placed in you life for a reason.
5. Are you ever tempted to resume use? If so, what keeps you strong?
I have been tempted several times throughout the years, even recently, when self-image struggles creep back up. But when I think about my life, there is nothing that is worth risking for the temporary and artificial effects of the steroids.
6. Your main character is an athlete. What's your favorite sport and/or favorite team?
Well, being a native northerner and living across the lake from Chicago, I've always been a fan of the Bears, Cubs, and Bulls. Football is my favorite sport to watch and play, which may be why I added it to the story.
7. Without giving away the plot, do you have a favorite scene or chapter in Fixed By Force?
Can I pick two? ;)
I really like the scene when Spencer uses for the first time, since it illustrates the desperation of his use, and the “change” that occurs in the first moments of his addiction.
Also, the most affecting scene for me, personally, is his desperate late night injection into his triceps, when he 'battles' against his own body.
8. I write for and speak to predominately high school and college-aged women. We talk frequently about pressures to be thin, to wear the right clothes, to do well in school, to have a boyfriend, etc. What kinds of pressures or expectations are put on young men in today's society?
There are a lot of pressures on young men to be 'masculine' and 'tough'. And societal expectations often say this means having six-pack abs, never crying, or liking only so-called 'manly' hobbies, like sports. I remember feeling incredible pressure to be muscular and attractive, like every 'desirable' male celebrity on magazine covers. Young men often forget their value for things like their creativity, sense of humor, thoughtfulness, empathy, etc. I am hoping this story may inspire young men to focus on those traits more than the societal pressures of 'being a man.'
9. What one thing do you think young women should understand about the psyche of a young man, that they probably don't get?
I think young women should consider that young men are often just as insecure as they are. Young men can be just as negatively affected by hurtful insults about their self-image.
10. What are the traits you were looking for in a wife?
I love that my wife can be silly and laid-back. I was really drawn to her confidence in her personality and her drive to accomplish her goals. And she is beautiful, but her true beauty has always shined brightest in her love and empathy for others.
11. Your website is incredibly cool! I love the audio as soon as you enter. Who did the narrating of the chapters? Is it you?
Thanks! Yes, all of the audio is my voice. I used Wix Website Builder for the site, which is an easy to use Flash website creating software, and I use audacity (free recording software), for the audio recoding.
12. Do you have another book in the works we can look forward to?
I actually have several in the works, but which one I finish and release first may depend on what readers are looking for!
I have been working for some time on a book based on Janelle's life, who is a main character from, Fix by Force, and also on a YA book, which is a realistic, take on the “superhero” genre. I’ve loved this subject since being an avid comic book reader in my youth
Thanks, Jason, for taking time to chat with us today. Okay, readers, what do you think Jason’s next book should be about?
Laura L. Smith