Can You Judge a Book by its Cover? Guest Post from Elizabeth Camden

It’s an old question: Can you judge a book by its cover?

My answer: Yes! Especially if it is a book by Bethany House.

A book’s cover is the first thing a potential reader will see and it should make a lasting impression within the space of a few seconds. A great cover will help the reader instantly recognize the genre, tone, and setting of a book. For example, if you look at the covers below, you can probably tell which novels are in a genre you are interested in:

An Elegant Façade is falls directly into the regency romance category and is likely to appeal to Jane Austen fans. A Dangerous Legacy is still a historical, but the tone is a little more turbulent and promises a stormy romance. A Love Like Ours is clearly a contemporary, with a vibe that blends both humorous and a down-home western feel. Return to Me communicates a traditional biblical fiction novel with an epic feel to it.

Once upon a time cover designers could pour a lot of detail into the cover image, but with the rise of online shopping, it is essential a book cover look good both on a bookstore shelf and a thumbnail image on a smart phone. The physical copy of a Bethany House novel is 8 ½ inches tall. If a potential reader is looking at the same book on an iPhone, the cover will only be ¾” tall. That presents a huge challenge for the designer. It means the titles need to be shorter, details are streamlined, and backgrounds can’t be too busy.

With all those limitations, it is amazing that designers can still produce such diversity that communicates a genre and vibe so quickly.

Although authors rarely have much say in our covers, the team of professionals in a publishing company are experts in picking out color palettes, symbolism, and design elements to convey these messages in the space of only a few seconds. The cover is making a promise to the reader about what sort of experience they can expect once they open the page, which is why Bethany House puts so much attention on designing that image. People really do judge a book by its cover!

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! (Here she is becoming part of her latest cover.)

What about you? What is your favorite book cover in recent memory?

The Real Setting of a Novel…and a Giveaway!

An art theft, organized crime, the Stone Arch Bridge and more…all in the same novel! Today, we have a guest post from Todd Johnson, who chose to set his latest legal thriller, Fatal Trust, in Minneapolis (home to both Todd and Bethany House Publishers). Read on for his explanation of the fascinating real-life history and setting of the novel.

The building with the clock tower stands alone in a suburb of Minneapolis, sandwiched between a busy mall and a nearby highway. It looks like it might once have been a bank. Perhaps it was. But in the late 1970s, it was an art shop, Elayne Galleries. On a winter day in 1978, that gallery was the site of a robbery which would prove to be the greatest unsolved art theft in Minnesota history, and the inspiration for my third novel, Fatal Trust.

I visited the gallery on a fall day in 1977 shortly before that theft, dragged to a Norman Rockwell exhibition by a girlfriend with genuine taste. The paintings were like the Rockwells you see in magazines, only wonderfully more vivid, and I recall the gallery owner explaining to us that the paintings and lithographs on display, including the iconic “The Spirit of ‘76”, would soon be worth much more than their current value because of the painter’s advanced age. The point seemed a bit morbid, though almost certainly true, and it has stuck with me through the years.

Leaving the gallery that afternoon, I had no idea that, within a few months, seven of those Rockwells would be stolen. The thieves might even have been among us that day, casing the exhibit, its security system and the single Pinkerton guard. The FBI suspected the crime was carried out by organized crime figures. They never determined if they were right.

Fatal Trust is not really about Minneapolis’s gangster past, though the likes of Kid Cann, David Berman, John Dillinger and others who once walked Hennepin Avenue echo in the background. Rather, it is a modern novel about two young lawyers, Ian Wells and Brook Daniels, drawn into a maelstrom birthed from that history. The book examines how even people we believe we know well–even those closest to us–can have secrets we do not suspect. And how even people of good intentions can’t escape the simple spiritual truth that actions will have consequences–for us and those we care about, extending much farther than we may suspect.

Click on the cover to read an excerpt!

Ian Wells is one of the protagonists of the story, a young criminal defense attorney struggling to build a Minneapolis law practice he inherited from his father while caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s. Burdened nearly to breaking, one day Ian gets a break. A new client calls offering a simple case: determine whether three men qualify for over nine million dollars of trust funds. To qualify, none can have been involved in criminal activity for the past twenty years. Ian’s fee for a week’s work: the unbelievable sum of two hundred thousand dollars.

Ian accepts the job. But he is quickly dragged deep into a mystery linking the trust with a decades-old criminal enterprise and Minneapolis’s greatest unsolved art theft. As stolen money from the art theft surfaces, Ian finds himself the target of a criminal investigation conducted by his closest friend, Brook Daniels, a prosecutor and companion since law school. He realizes too late that this simple investigation has spun out of control and threatens his career, his future, his life, and the live of those he loves.

As the mystery unfolds, the book follows Ian and Brook through the “grand rounds” of some of my favorite places in the Twin Cities: from the Lynnhurst neighborhood where Ian grew up to the State Fair Grounds near his Fremont Apartment.

Tangleton Water Tower in Lynnhurst

The Stone Arch Bridge is also featured on the cover of the book.

From the Stone Arch Bridge arcing gracefully over the Mississippi to the outdoor patio thrust from the Guthrie Theater toward the same. From Kieran’s Pub to Victor’s 1959 Café; Summit Avenue in St. Paul to the old clubs fronting Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. And through it all, the layers of the mystery keep peeling back to reveal more inside.

The first scene in the novel takes place on the Guthrie Theater patio.

Non-fiction writers search for the interesting truth; novelists for the interesting “what ifs”. Fatal Trust was just that: a product of my imagining the consequences of a distant crime through the decades and generations that follow. I hope you enjoy this story and the “what ifs” it conjures from the history and setting of my own hometown.

You can explore Todd’s fun map of the real locations in the book here! Is there a news item you know of that would make a great novel? Tell us about it below and I’ll pick two commenters next Thursday to win a copy of Fatal Trust.

Expedition: Still Life – Dani Pettrey’s Tour of Federal Hill!

Welcome to the Expedition: Still Life blog tour! And thank you to my wonderful publisher for joining in!

If you aren’t familiar with this exciting blog tour, or the fabulous grand prize you can win by taking part in it, please visit Expedition: Still Life‘s main contest page for all the details.

Click on the cover to read an excerpt!

Today’s stop is Federal Hill where Avery Tate, the crime scene photographer heroine of my latest release, Still Life, lives. Fed Hill has a rich history. It is one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods and was noted by Captain John Smith on his voyage up to what is now Maryland, referring to Fed Hill as the “great red bank of clay.”

Fed Hill has continued to grow, becoming the center of the city’s bustling maritime port and growing industrial hub. Today the once red bank of clay is a grass-covered hill where picnickers and stargazers can be found. The neighborhood is filled with cobblestone streets, eclectic shops, art galleries, and yummy restaurants. At the heart is the Cross Street Market—an old-fashioned fresh food market, which opened in 1846.

Some fun facts about this trendy Baltimore neighborhood’s rich history:

    • Federal Hill earned its nickname during a parade celebrating Maryland’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
    • It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
    • It served as a defensive stronghold during the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
    • The hill on which Federal Hill Park resides has several tunnels and passageways (from the 1800’s) beneath its present parklike setting.
    • It was the destination of hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
    • Famous residents include/have included: Former first daughter Jenna Bush Hager and her husband, Henry; The Wire’s David Simon and his wife, writer Laura Lippman, and writer Tom Clancy.

Here’s a video tour you can take of the area. I hope you enjoy seeing where Avery Tate lives!

Avery loves living in such an artsy and historic neighborhood. This Pinterest board will give you an idea of what her townhouse looks like.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this inside peek at Avery Tate’s neighborhood and home. This is the third stop on the Expedition: Still Life Tour. Be sure to collect your passport stamp to be entered to win the Grand Prize here. (Don’t worry if you get an error message on the entry box. Your entry is still going through!)

To also be entered to win a LifeWay gift card, just answer the question below. After answering the question, visit danipettrey.com/stilllife-contest/ to see all the other stops and giveaways on this tour.

Avery’s home is rustic nautical. How would you describe your home’s (or dream home’s) style? Mine is beachy shabby chic.

Novellas and Harper’s Station with Karen Witemeyer!

I have the lovely Karen Witemeyer with me today to chat about her latest series! The setting is an unusual one: an all-women’s colony in rural Texas called Harper’s Station. No Other Will Do and the upcoming Heart on the Line are full-length novels in the series, but this month, Worth the Wait released, a novella-length romance of fiery general store owner Victoria Adams.

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I asked Karen to share more about the story and her writing process for it with our blog readers.

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Amy: What’s the hardest part of writing a novella? The most fun part?

Karen: The hardest part is also the most fun. Fitting a complete story into a word count that is one-fourth of a standard novel is a challenge, but it is also what makes it so much fun because I get the satisfaction of reaching The End in a quarter of the time! By necessity, I keep things simple and focus on the main story line. With Worth the Wait, the entire novella actually takes place in a single day—the pivotal day that transitions a platonic business relationship into one of romantic courtship. Secret revelations, life-threatening accidents, and little boys with adopted puppies all play a role in bringing Tori and Ben together.

Amy: I hear readers had a role in helping give you idea for the novella. How did that come about?

Karen: Because I’m a rather slow writer, I have very little wiggle room between deadlines. So, as soon as I turn in one manuscript, I must immediately start on the next. Usually, I try to have an idea of the main plot points before I begin, but with Worth the Wait, I was missing several key pieces. My tired brain could only come up with ideas that I’d already used in previous stories. I needed something fresh, but my creative well was dry. So I turned to my readers. I wrote a blog post on August 20, 2015 asking for help. I gave the background of the main characters, then opened it up for brainstorming. Comments poured in and sparked my creativity. There were four ideas in particular that helped shape my final plot. In thanks, I dedicated the novella to the four people who left those comments. Love my readers!

Amy: I saw that original post and thought that was a great idea. Hooray for brainstorming! So, about your main characters. If Tori and Ben had a day entirely to themselves with no obligations, how would they spend it?

Karen: I picture them having a quiet picnic down by the river. Ben teaches Lewis to fish while Tori lays out the blanket and food. After eating, the adults will laze around, cuddling on the blanket while Lewis romps with his pup. When they eventually get back to the store, Tori will put her son to bed then retire to the porch with Ben. They’ll snuggle up together on the bench outside the store—him with his coffee, her with a cup of chamomile tea—and they’ll talk of the future as Ben’s large hand comes to rest on Tori’s rounded belly.

Amy: Do you have any pictures of what you imagine Harper’s Station or Tori’s store to look like?

Karen: Tori’s store isn’t large, since Harper’s Station itself is such a small community. But since it’s the only store, it is filled with a large variety of items. I found a few pictures that fit fairly well with what I had imagined.

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How fun! Thanks so much for joining us, Karen! If you’d like to find out more about how Ben was able to win the headstrong general store owner’s heart, check out Worth the Wait.

Readers, what are some interesting elements (plot, character, setting) that you’ve always wanted to see in a novel? Maybe one of our authors will use your comment as inspiration for a future story!

Guest Post: Elizabeth Camden!

Today on the blog, Elizabeth Camden is joining us to talk about the theme of her newest novel, From This Moment…and a subject that many romance readers and writers are interested in: true love.

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Do you agree with the quote above?

While it may not be the most romantic of sentiments, I think most happily married people will affirm it. As people go through life their needs deepen and change. A good marriage requires the strength and flexibility to adapt to these changes… and to keep falling in love anew as life unfolds over the years.

Romance novels typically celebrate the triumph of early-stage, idealistic love, but in From this Moment I wanted to try something a little different. I wanted to explore the qualities of an enduring relationship, with all the exuberant hope and heart-rending choices that sometimes come into play. Is the joyous infatuation of first love enough to sustain a lifelong commitment?

SummerofDreams_novella.inddFrom this Moment features two distinct love stories: Romulus White is a charming womanizer who is secretly terrified of marriage, and for good reason. Then there is Evelyn and Clyde, whose early courtship was shown in the free novella Summer of Dreams. The main novel picks up ten years later with these three lifelong friends at a turning point in their lives. Clyde and Evelyn’s marriage is unraveling, and Romulus is about to meet his match in Stella West.

The two romances couldn’t be more different. While Evelyn and Clyde got married very young on an impulsive rush of infatuation, Romulus believes such feelings are dangerous, and avoids any woman who might rock his carefully won equilibrium. He and Stella ignite in a combustible mix of shared intellect, high-flying flirtation, and overwhelming attraction…precisely the sort of dazzling chemistry that terrifies Romulus. Meanwhile, Evelyn and Clyde are confronted with changes neither saw heading their way. It will either draw them closer together, or split them apart for good.

From This MomentI loved the chance to explore the meaning of love, marriage, and enduring friendship in this novel. Sometimes we have to fight hard to keep falling in love with our spouse, and sometimes it seems to come effortlessly. I hope you will see plenty of both in From this Moment.

Thanks for joining us, Elizabeth! You can follow her on Facebook or visit her website for more. Now a question for you, readers: what is the best advice you’d give to a couple approaching marriage about relationships that last?

An Interview with Cold Shot’s Hero

Want to meet the good-looking guy on the cover of Dani Pettrey’s new release, Cold Shot? Well, he’s answering a few questions on the blog today. Enjoy getting to know a little bit about the story of Griffin McCray, Gettysburg park ranger, and Finley Scott, forensic anthropologist.

Cold Shot

Griffin, you’ve been harsh with Finley since she arrived at Gettysburg. Why all the hostility?

I’m not hostile. I’m…straight to the point. She’s digging up soldier’s graves—soldiers who should be honored and left in peace. She has no business being in my park.

Yes, but she’s a forensic anthropologist. It’s her job to help identify the unknown victims, to bring closure to the family. You certainly can understand that?

The soldiers died two hundred years ago, I’m pretty sure their families are way past closure. Besides, that’s not the source of my frustration, not really.

Oh? What is the real source of your frustration?

Between us, my park was nice and quiet before Dr. Finley Scott showed up, looking stunning and somehow adorable in those silly coveralls she wears for work. If you tell her that, you’re dead. The point is she’s disturbing the ground, waltzing all over the place with her bouncy little walk and talking to me when I’m on patrol. She should focus on her work and leave me be.

Rumor is she finds you attractive and intriguing.

Really? That can’t be right. I mean, I’ve been nothing but gruff with her. Lecturing her on not disturbing hallowed ground. Not encouraging any further attachment. Continue reading

Celebrating Teen Read Week with Dina Sleiman and Bonnie Calhoun!

Next week, October 18-24 is Teen Read Week, according to the American Library Association. Many libraries have special programs or events to celebrate—check out your library to see if there’s something you can get involved in!

To celebrate, we’re chatting with and Bonnie Calhoun, author of the STONE BRAIDE CHRONICLES, and Dina Sleiman, author of the VALIANT HEARTS novels, both young adult series.

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Amy: What made you want to write a young adult novel?

Bonnie: I decided to write YA because young people are more interested in fast-paced plots and slightly wild scenarios. They tend to like more action than adults, and they don’t want to be talked down to, so there is no need to alter the language level for understanding. And the best part . . . the imagination of a YA reader is a wonderful thing! They are much more willing to suspend disbelief than adults.

Dina: Writing instructors say to picture one person you’re writing your novel for. I always pictured a young woman in her late teens or early twenties—a struggling Christian or searching unbeliever in need of guidance and inspiration. When I learned that the typical reader of adult Christian fiction is middle-aged, I realized YA might actually be a better fit for me. Young adult readers are looking for something more real and raw than their adult counterparts. They are hoping to see the world as it truly is and learn and grow through fiction. All of that makes YA a great fit for me. And to top it off, the medieval period, which I love, has traditionally been more appealing to young adult readers. Continue reading

Inside the Writing Process: Critique Partners

I’ve written a few posts that deal with the behind-the-scenes of what goes on at Bethany House, but I know many of you are also interested in a sneak peek at the actual writing process. For that, I have to turn to my authors, and this month we have something extra-special: two critique partners with novels releasing the same month! I asked Roseanna White and Dina Sleiman to share a bit of their revising process with us.

That's Roseanna on the left, Dina on the right. Thanks so much for joining us, ladies!

That’s Roseanna on the left, Dina on the right. Thanks so much for joining us, ladies!

Amy: What does being a critique partner involve? How do you and Dina manage the process?

Roseanna: Critiquing is the process of giving advice on your partner’s work—sometimes feedback on the overall concept, brainstorming, what works and doesn’t, lines that are confusing, and so on. Our critiquing has varied over the years based on what we need at a given time. Recently, we’ve sent each other complete manuscripts; we then read and provide comments in the document, replying via email. Dina and I don’t critique every book for each other, but we’ve done quite a few together over the years.

Amy: When did you and Roseanna become critique partners, and how did that happen?

Dina: I didn’t get involved in writers’ circles until 2009, and I quickly discovered that many writers had these wonderful people in their lives called critique partners. For a while I kind of sat back and checked out a number of women in my European historical writers group. Roseanna was one of the writers who I admired and thought might be a good fit for me. Then in early 2010 we were both working on projects with Muslim characters, and we decided to try critiquing for each other. As I suspected, it was an awesome arrangement! And since Roseanna was a little further ahead in her writing journey than me, I learned so much just by studying how she did things.

Amy: Why would you say having a critique partner or group is valuable?

Roseanna: Oh my—sometimes we just need that step-removed perspective! Often we know something’s off in our story but can’t quite identify what. Other times we think it’s right on, but we want to make sure…and there’s usually something that doesn’t strike readers quite the way we hoped. Plus when you add in another writer’s take on everything from craft to plot to fine points of history, they always catch things you’ve missed or that you just didn’t know.

Dina: Critique partners catch so many problems that a writer just doesn’t have the perspective to see. For example, often a writer knows some pertinent information, but they don’t remember to put it down on the page or they don’t describe it in a way that is clear to the reader. I now have a variety of critiquers that have different fortes. Some are good at big picture elements, some are good at scene development, and some focus on details. And of course now I have my wonderful Bethany House editors as well.

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And their September releases, The Lost Heiress and Chivalrous.

Continue reading

Q&A with Cliff Graham: Leaving a Legacy

“We, as followers of Christ, have a chance to build a genuine and lasting legacy that can be carried on by other generations behind us.”

This thought from Cliff Graham really stood out to me—it’s a line from his series of devotionals that will be sent out via email starting on Father’s Day.You can sign up for them here. It’s also the theme of Cliff’s new novel, Shadow of the Mountain: Exodus, which released last month.

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For any of you readers who aren’t aware of Cliff, his novels, and the message he’s passionate about, I decided to welcome him to the blog today.

Amy: What do you hope readers take away from this novel?

Shadow of the Mountain.EXODUS.inddCliff: Shadow of the Mountain: Exodus is the gritty, intense portrayal of the journey from slavery in Egypt through the wars of conquest in Canaan through the eyes of Joshua and Caleb. It’s about the nature of masculine friendship over a lifetime and an indictment of the idea that once you reach a certain age, you can just retire and take it easy. After working many years in ministry and speaking at conferences, churches, and to men’s groups, I noticed the older men in the crowd tended to feel left out of what was happening, and as a result had begun checking out to spend time on the golf course. I thought it was time we had a look at a biblical character who defied the idea of “retirement.”

Amy: What does living like Caleb look like in the modern world?

Cliff: Whenever I hear men in the church complain that there are “no more great battles to fight” and use that as an excuse to disengage, I have to take deep breaths. Last I checked, there are still orphans and widows in the world. Last I checked, there are still Graham_Cliffpeople drowning in despair who need hope. I became involved over the past year with several organizations, including Operation Underground Railroad and Breaking Chains Ministries. These groups, and others like them, fight the evil of child sex trafficking by conducting undercover, government partnership-based rescue missions. It’s more than just raising awareness; it’s about taking action to live out the principles in James, chapter 1, about defending the weak and oppressed. It’s what men ought to be about.

I have been blessed to be a part of the rescue of over 150 children through these organizations through undercover work and sting operations. A drop in the ocean of the problem, but action nonetheless. The duty is to fight and not to give up because the problem is overwhelming. I donate a large percentage of everything I sell to help fund these missions and organizations. It’s a good battle, and not one we should retire from.

Amy: Tell us about your podcast. What do you want listeners to take away from it?

Cliff: On the Good Battle podcast, I sit down with people advancing the kingdom of God in brave and audacious ways. Every man, no matter his past or his occupation, is expected to threaten the Enemy with his life. There are no longer Philistines or Amalekites to battle, but there is still a spiritual Enemy who seeks to steal, kill and destroy. We are designed to make war on this Enemy in the power of a Holy God. The guests I host are waging “Good Battle” to advance the kingdom of God through compassion, love, and righteous ferocity.

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Do you have a biblical character who inspires or challenges you?

Guest Interview and Giveaway: Historical Fiction with Susan Anne Mason

***Update: Here are the randomly-chosen winners of the ARC of Irish Meadows! Winners, please email agreen@bethanyhouse.com with your mailing address so I can send you your ARC!**

IrishWinners

Today, we’re welcoming Susan Anne Mason to the blog! Susan’s very first historical novel, Irish Meadows, will be releasing in July. Since she and her books might be new to you, I thought I’d invite you to get to know her a little better.

Amy: Every author has a unique how-I-got-published story. What’s yours?

Susan Anne MasonSusan: Getting published was a long and winding road, taking over ten years! That being said, I realize now that I wasn’t ready to be published earlier on in my career. I needed to learn and grow.

I entered Irish Meadows in a writing contest called “Fiction from the Heartland” — mainly because I saw that editor Dave Long of Bethany House was a judge in the finalist round. I hoped my entry would make it to the finals, mainly to get feedback from a Bethany House editor. I thought this would help me get a feel for the type of writing they were looking for. In the meantime, I pitched the story to agents and editors at a national conference and got a lot of blank stares and negative feedback. So I really didn’t have high expectations for the contest.

To my great surprise and delight, Irish Meadows won the contest and Dave requested the full manuscript! Not long after, he told me he loved the story and was going to present the book at an upcoming acquisitions meeting. About a week later, I got an email indicating they wanted to offer a 3-book contract. Final approval was given and the rest as they say is history!

So I can’t stress enough the importance of entering contests! It only takes one person to love your work!

Amy: What has been the hardest part of the writing or editing process so far? What have you enjoyed more than you expected?  

Susan: As far as actually writing the story, getting the plot nailed down is the hardest thing for me. Characters come easily, but getting the timeline and plot right remains a challenge.

As far as the editing process goes, I have been very lucky with my edits. However I just finished a round of revision for the sequel to Irish Meadows, called A Worthy Heart, which were extremely challenging. I had to change some key plot elements which meant following these changes through the whole story. For instance, moving a scene from the middle of the book to the beginning changes many little details throughout the rest of the story. This was quite daunting, and I only hope I did the story justice and that my editor will be happy with them.

Amy: With Irish Meadows, what came to you first? A bit of the plot, a character, a theme, a particular situation or line of dialogue?

Susan: To answer this, I had to go back and look at my initial notes for this story! I had written down: Ideas for an Irish Family Saga along the lines of The Thornbirds!  I loved the premise of The Thornbirds, where a priest falls in love with a young woman in outback Australia— the classic forbidden love scenario really appealed to me. I had also recently read a book that included two complete romances, and I loved that format. So I decided to concentrate on two of the O’Leary daughters and their intertwined paths to romance. Both fall in love with men who are deemed ‘forbidden’ by their father and must defy him to find their happily ever after. So, I suppose the idea of the family came first, and I built a plot around them.

IrishMeadows_mck.inddAmy: When readers finish Irish Meadows, what would you be excited to hear that they took away from it?

Susan: I would love it if the readers fell in love with the whole O’Leary clan! I would also love it if readers got a sense of the theme of the book — that of being true to oneself. Each of the characters struggles with having to do things to please someone else, things that might go against their own individual values, and each one has to come to terms with this in his or her own way.

And thirdly, the message that I love to get across in all my books is the unconditional love of God for every one of us. A message of hope and love and worthiness.

Amy: Any encouragement you’d like to give to other aspiring writers out there?

Susan: My advice to aspiring writers is to never give up! If you really want to be an author, it takes hard work. Persistence and perseverance are key. Learn the craft and keep writing, because the more you write, the better you’ll get. Eventually you will find your own path to publication!

Obviously, since Irish Meadows doesn’t release until July, we can’t give away any copies of the final book. However, we’re doing something extra-special and giving away Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) to two readers! (That means you get to read it a month before anyone else!) To enter, please comment below with the time period of history you’d most like to live in (besides our own), and why. Winners will be posted at noon Central on Tuesday, June 2, so check back then to see if you’ve won!