The Long Walk to Publication Comes to an End…or Begins?

3543When one journey ends, a new voyage is sure to start. It’s no different in the world of writing and publishing, and today I am thrilled to announce that I’ve reached a major stop on the long walk of life as an aspiring author. In 2016 my Young Adult novel, BENEATH WANDERING STARS, will be published by Merit Press (F+W Media). I am thrilled to have the tenacious bestselling author Jacquelyn Mitchard as my editor and look forward to seeing what adventures await beyond the next bend in the road!

Many thanks to all the friends, family members, and fellow writers who helped me reach this special dot on the map. If you would like to join me on my publication pilgrimage, please pick up your passport HERE!       

Signing the Contract


It’s official! My publishing contract arrived while I was visiting my best friend, #1 beta reader, and one of the most beautiful writers I know, D.M. Stinson. The timing could not have been more perfect!

Golden Aspens and Ghost Towns

3543Every once in a while it’s nice to escape the city. This weekend my husband and I did just that, heading to the mountains for a 12 mile bike ride at 10,600 feet around the Mineral Belt Trail in Leadville, Colorado. My YA novel OUT OF NOWHERE features an appearance by the Titanic’s “unsinkable” Molly Brown, and Leadville is the old mining town where she and her husband struck it rich! After our bike ride, we drove up Clear Creek Canyon to the see the turning aspens and the ghost town ruins of Vicksburg. We ended the nearly perfect, 75-degree day with a stop in the quaint downtown of Buena Vista for wood-fired pizza at Eddyline Brewery and a tasting at Deerhammer Distillery (which makes yummy gin that tastes like rose petals!). The only thing we didn’t do this time is stop for a dip in one of several natural hot springs in the area, which is always relaxing.  If you live in Colorado Springs or Denver, this part of the state makes for a great day or weekend getaway during the less-crowded Fall!







What I’m Reading This Summer

Ah, Summer! I once saw a funny T-shirt that said something like, “Why am I a teacher? JUNE, JULY, and AUGUST.” Of course that’s not really why I te20150701_150400ach, but having a summer break is definitely one of the perks of the job. One of my favorite things about summer is all the extra reading time. If you follow this blog, I’m sure you also have fond memories of lounging in a hammock or on a beach with a good book. We just moved into an apartment in an old Victorian and I’m thrilled that it has a big front porch for reading on, but when there’s a thunderstorm brewing (as there is right now…we’ve been getting a lot of those in Colorado lately), I can also retreat to my new reading nook, or what my husband calls my “Dr. Freud sofa.” Reading, at least, is a lot cheaper than therapy, and here’s what I hope to curl up with for Summer 2015:


The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge

I just started this book last week and I love, love, LOVE it. The atmosphere is so rich and the prose is beautiful; it feels like an adult version of The Secret Garden. If you love country manor houses, quirky characters, and all things British, it’s a must-read!

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

It seems that I’m on a bit of an Edwardian/World War I era kick (this tends to happen in between seasons of Downton Abbey), so if you’re looking for a sweeping historical told from multiple viewpoints, this first novel in an epic series doesn’t disappoint!

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

I loved Donnelly’s YA novel REVOLUTION, and I’ve heard even better things about this one!

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

After teaching A Tale of Two Cities to high school students this year and falling in love with it all over again, I’m eager to read this classic novel by Dickens for the first time.

The Year After by Adrianne Noel

Adrianne is a friend from my local writing group, so I’ve read and commented on many sections of this beautifully written novel set in a Colorado mountain town…and I’m so excited to finally read the finished product!

Caught Up in a Story: Fostering a Storyformed Life of Great Books and Imagination with Your Children by Sarah Clarkson

Another book by a friend I met in Oxford last summer, and a title I’m so excited to read. If you’re interested in the powerful ways stories can shape our imaginations, especially as children, I recommend you check out the resources on her website Storyformed.

Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen

Don’t worry, the title is meant to be ironic. I’m almost finished with this nostalgic, hilarious, scathingly satirical book on the nature of contemporary childhood and how we can easily destroy a child’s natural, God-given imagination if we’re not careful and intentional.

Image & Imagination by C.S. Lewis

Lewis is one of my all-time favorite authors, so I had to add a new title to the list.

Are you sensing a theme here in the nonfiction section? Yes, this is definitely the summer of IMAGINATION, in part because I’m currently in the midst of launching a new website that’s all about fostering imagination through great stories and meaningful journeys. If that sounds at all interesting, please check out THIRD CULTURE CARAVAN.

What will you be reading this summer? I’d love to hear your book selections and suggestions, so please leave a comment below!


Indie Book Review: LOGOS

frontcoverMy Review:

Please see plot summary and author info below.

LOGOS definitely took me back to my biblical studies days as a Religious Studies major. Fans of complex and detailed historical fiction will appreciate the way Neeleman brings the many colors and complexities of first-century Palestine and the rest of the Greco-Roman world to life. The author truly does an amazing job weaving history, philosophy, and theology into an epic story that follows Jacob, a Jewish intellectual and author of the “Q gospel”—the lost text that many biblical scholars believe was the main source for the four canonical gospels: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.

While I appreciated the story as historical fiction, religious readers attracted to the topic should be aware that this is not a “Christian novel” and it may ruffle some feathers. LOGOS is an extremely ambitious debut historical novel (the author only tackled the most influential story in human history!), and the research that went into the creation of this dynamic world was no doubt extensive. I also enjoyed the descriptive prose and the realistic characters. That said, as a student of history and theology, I don’t agree with the novel’s overall premise that the creation of the Gospels was part of a “conspiracy” intended to make Jesus the man into Christ the myth, and readers should know that the novel’s approach is merely one interpretation of a complex historical record that still has a lot of missing pieces. There are many well-trained biblical scholars—who also happen to be religious believers—who have no problem accepting the “Q gospel” theory and understand that the four canonical Gospels were compiled by human beings over time (in other words, the New Testament didn’t just fall from the sky, nor were the Gospel writers journalists who recorded Jesus’ words and actions in “real time”). Additionally, the conspiracy presented in the novel does not consider some of the strangest and most intriguing questions concerning the Gospels; questions other Christian biblical scholars have dealt with. For example, there are martyrs in almost all religious traditions (as well as for other causes), but I’m having trouble thinking of an example of a group of martyrs who sacrificed themselves for something they knew was a lie. In other words, if the earliest disciples of Jesus “made up” the miraculous aspects of the Gospel stories and did not actually believe Jesus was God Incarnate, then they willingly died for a lie. That isn’t noble; that’s certifiably insane. Furthermore, if the authors of the Gospels intended to create a believable tale that would turn a regular human being into a divine myth, why not change or remove some of the more “inconvenient” details, such as the fact that Jewish women were the ones who discovered Jesus’ empty tomb? In first century Palestine, women were not seen as qualified to serve as witnesses in a court of law. And yet in the canonical Gospels, they are the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. If the writers of the Gospels really wanted to create a new religious movement based on their own political motives, rather than on what actually happened, making women your primary witnesses—given that their testimony meant almost nothing to the surrounding culture—probably wasn’t the smartest move! And yet that’s exactly what the Gospel writers did…so the really interesting question is WHY? If it’s all just propaganda, why not remove the stuff that’s likely to hurt your cause instead of help it?

Are many of the ideas presented in this novel controversial? Yes. Will they make some religious readers uncomfortable? Probably. Yet that—along with beautiful writing and engaging storytelling—is what makes it an interesting read, so long as readers don’t trade one “conspiracy” for another and are aware that the ideas this story touches on are ones the Church (at least the Roman Catholic Church) has not avoided, but engaged for centuries.

About the Book – About the Author – Prizes!!!

About the prizes: Who doesn’t love prizes? You could win one of two $50 Amazon gift cards or an autographed copy of LOGOS! Here’s what you need to do…

  1. Enter the Rafflecopter contest
  2. Leave a comment on my blog

That’s it! One random commenter during this tour will win the first gift card. Visit more blogs for more chances to win–the full list of participating bloggers can be found HERE. The other two prizes will be given out via Rafflecopter. You can find the contest entry form linked below or on the official LOGOS tour page via Novel Publicity. Good luck!

About the book: While novels and cinema have repeatedly sought after the historical Jesus, until now none have explored what may be a more tantalizing mystery—the Christian story’s anonymous creator. Logos is a literary bildungsroman about the man who will become the anonymous author of the original Gospel, set amid the kaleidoscopic mingling of ancient cultures. Logos is a gripping tale of adventure, a moving love story, and a novel of ideas. None of this should be regarded as out of place or incompatible in a novel about Christianity’s origin. Dissent, anarchism, and revolution—and incipient Christianity was no less these things than the Bolshevik, the French or the American revolutions—inevitably have involved ideas, adventure, and romance.
In A.D. 66, Jacob is an educated and privileged Greco-Roman Jew, a Temple priest in Jerusalem, and a leader of Israel’s rebellion against Rome. When Roman soldiers murder his parents and his beloved sister disappears in a pogrom led by the Roman procurator, personal tragedy impels Jacob to seek blood and vengeance. The rebellion he helps to foment leads to more tragedy, personal and ultimately cosmic: his wife and son perish in the Romans’ siege of Jerusalem, and the Roman army destroys Jerusalem and the Temple, and finally extinguishes Israel at Masada. Jacob is expelled from his homeland, and he wanders by land and sea, bereft of all, until he arrives in Rome. He is still rebellious, and in Rome he joins other dissidents, but now plotting ironic vengeance, not by arms, but by the power of an idea.
Paul of Tarsus, Josephus, the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even Yeshua, the historical Jesus himself, play a role in Jacob’s tumultuous and mysterious fortunes. But it is the women who have loved him who help him to appreciate violence’s dire cycle.Get LOGOS through Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

NeelemanJAbout the author: John Neeleman spends his days working as a trial lawyer in tall buildings in downtown Seattle. He lives in Seattle with his wife and children. He also represents death row inmates pro bono in Louisiana and Texas. As a novelist, his editorial model is historical fiction in a largely realistic mode, though there are hallucinatory passages that reflect Neeleman’s concern with philosophical and spiritual matters, in part a residue of his religious upbringing. He was raised as a seventh generation Mormon, and rebelled, but never outgrew his interest in metaphysical concerns.
Connect with John on his publisher’s website, Facebook, Twitter,or GoodReads..


a Rafflecopter giveaway

What Teens Really Want to Read (or Lessons Learned from Teaching High School Lit)

9748274The school year is coming to an end, which has caused me to reflect on all the works we’ve read in my classes this year and the stories my literature students have enjoyed the most. I’ve also been reading blogs and articles about what’s “in” in YA fiction at the moment (now that vampires, ghost boyfriends, and dystopian societies are decidedly not), which has me wondering: when writers and publishing professionals speak about what will “sell” in today’s competitive environment…sell to whom? It can be easy for writers to forget that we are ultimately writing for kids (a.k.a. people, not “a market”) and what kids want to read matters far more than what happens to be hot or trendy at any given moment. Besides, are young adult readers truly the ones demanding these trends (“We want more books about eating disorders and suicide!”), or do we adults have a tendency to thrust certain issues and messages onto our teen audience, rather than take the time to discover what they really want to read?

My high school students are wise, analytical, and introspective readers. This isn’t the result of high tuition costs or a privileged neighborhood (I teach at a public charter school open to all)—it’s the result of a school culture where reading is taken seriously and good stories are viewed as one of the keys to a good life. As a result, we take the time that’s required to work through some of the best literature our civilization has to offer. This year I’ve had the privilege of teaching Hamlet and Sonnets by William Shakespeare, Paradise Lost by John Milton, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Persuasion by Jane Austen, The Odyssey and The Iliad by Homer, Oedipus by Sophocles, Medea by Euripides, The Aeneid by Virgil, and a few short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and others. And by “teach” I mean that each day my classes of 15-17 students move their desks into a circle and crack open the book we are reading. Then we proceed to talk about characters, motivations, conflict, ethical dilemmas, universal truths, human nature, and beautiful language for the next 40 minutes or so.  There are no teacher plot summaries and very few lectures—we read and discuss these challenging works line by line, from cover to cover. Do students love every chapter or even every work? No (Paradise Lost is a particularly tough sell). Do our conversations sometimes get sidetracked, so that one minute we’re talking about Madame Defarge and the French Revolution, and the next we’re discussing how human beings would really behave during the zombie apocalypse? Yes, all the time. Ultimately, what I have learned from teaching teens is that young readers can be just as shrewd as adult readers (if not more so!), even if they find some plots more interesting than other. If I had to choose a “winner” based on student enthusiasm, Dickens takes the prize with A Tale of Two Cities, but after reading and discussing any of these works, my students were able to articulate strong opinions on what makes a character heroic and what makes a story great.

So here’s what I’ve learned about what teens love in literature, and what they really want to read.

1) Stories with Strong Heroes, but Complex Heroes

Achilles starts out as a pouty jerk and most of my 9th graders can’t understand why Homer seems to consider him the hero of the Iliad over the noble Hector, but they start to come around after Achilles avenges the death of Patroclus and reconciles with Hector’s father, the King of Troy (though ultimately I still love Hector more!). Similarly, Sydney Carton receives little student interest until the very end of A Tale of Two Cities, but by then most of my 10th graders think he’s the greatest hero ever because he started out as an unmotivated, drunken loser. The key concept here is growth.  For all the talk I hear about the importance of writing “sympathetic, likable characters,” I really don’t think most teens care that much about likeability (after all, very few of them probably feel “likeable” most days). They don’t want “everyman” characters. What they want are interesting, unusual, and complex characters with strong convictions; characters who grow and change; characters with an edge or a major flaw; characters who are not born heroes, but become heroes. In A Tale of Two Cities, Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay are practically perfect the entire book—both as individual people and as a couple. Students recognized their virtues and do not dislike them per se, but they also don’t care about them as much as they care for and admire Sydney Carton by the end of the book.

2) Love Wins

Even if teens want heroes who overcome obstacles and are not squeaky clean from start to finish, they also want Good to defeat Evil in the long run. Who doesn’t? Of course this doesn’t mean that all YA books must have a happy ending where loose ends are tied into a perfect little bow—far from it. But the stories they truly love do seem to end on a note of hope or moral triumph. To again use A Tale of Two Cities as an example, the ending is sad and bittersweet (spoiler alert): the hero dies, but he sacrifices his life for something greater—love—and so you are left with the satisfaction that he ultimately triumphed. Think of all the YA/MG bestsellers that will probably be considered “classics” years down the road (e.g. Harry Potter)—the concepts may be fresh and the characters unique, but the stories themselves are not avant garde and follow a Hero’s Journey that has captivated readers for centuries.

3) Romance—It Isn’t as Big of a Deal as You Might Think

One of the “rules” for YA fiction seems to be that romance is a must. Sure, teens love a good love story, but based on what I’ve learned from my students’ comments, there also needs to be a bigger picture. The romance that develops between characters is far more appealing if it occurs in the midst of a larger struggle with higher stakes. The characters “in love” must realize there is actually a world beyond the two of them, and their ennobling romance enables them to confront the challenges of this world head-on. Teens get accused of being self-centered and narcissistic all the time, and they live in a world of constant media that encourages them to be this way. Yet that doesn’t mean they want it or like it. Many desire a purpose and long to devote themselves to something greater. As a result, they admire characters who realize they are not the center of the universe, and neither is their love story.

4) Cliches and Copycats—Avoid At All Costs

One of the things that surprised me about teaching smart, savvy teens is how annoyed they get at some of the trends and tropes that exist in YA fiction—love triangles, stories where the hero discovers he is a “chosen one” with magical powers, dead parents, the girl who is somehow overlooked by everyone, but is actually smoking hot—these have all been done a million times before, and teens are getting tired of reading the same old thing. Now of course it’s true that “there is nothing new under the sun,” but the crucial piece of advice here is that when you are writing for teens (or anyone really), you should avoid chasing trends and instead chase after a good story that will stand the tests of time.

5) Beautiful Writing

As a literature teacher, I know that teenage students sometimes struggle with “the classics” because many of them initially seem dry and slow, especially when compared to what they typically read for fun.  Yes, a gripping, page-turning plot is likely to attract more young readers in this age of fast-paced everything, but I also know that kids can and do appreciate beautiful writing. When I told my best friend (since age 15) that I would be teaching A Tale of Two Cities, she immediately quoted her favorite line from the story—“the vigorous tenacity of love, always so much stronger than hate”—which has stuck with her ever since she read the book in high school. Whether it’s “Sing, O Muse, of the rage of Achilles,”  “To be or not to be? That is the question,” or “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known,” these poetic lines are what we remember years later. So if you want to write books that shape souls and stick with young adults long after they put them back on the shelf, write honest stories that matter and always make beauty a priority.