Author Chat with Sarah Rexford on her Publishing Journey and Passion for Helping Other Writers

One of the greatest privileges of being an author is connecting with other likeminded writers and learning from their journeys. Today, please join me in welcoming Sarah Rexford to the blog! Her agent is currently pitching her projects to publishers, and in the meantime, she’s investing in others who likewise feel called to write.

Q: What do you hope readers will one day take away from your books?

A lot of people want to feel heard because then they feel seen. I try to write characters that have their specific purpose in the story and move the plot forward, but also face personal questions that show their humanity. At some point we all probably wonder if we’re enough, if we’re too much, or if we’d be brave enough to make the hard choice when it matters. And we’ve all messed up in different ways. Many of my characters are more of the anti-hero type, walking away when it matters. Putting themselves first when they need to help someone else. Letting fear control their choices. But that’s where character arc comes in. You can’t have character arc if your protagonist starts out a hero. I hope when readers see their character growth, they realize the smallest change sometimes makes the biggest impact not just in fiction, but in life.  

Q: When did your writing journey begin, and how have you seen God use it in unexpected ways?

In third grade I received a homework assignment to write a story. I spent so much time on it, creating a title, folding my wide-ruled notebook paper to look like a book, using black string for binding. You would think I would have realized there might be some correlation between that love and my future, but I didn’t write my first full-length book until my sophomore year in high school. Even then, I didn’t take my writing seriously until my junior year of college when I had the opportunity to sit down with a best-selling author. After that conversation I realized I should get some training. When author Jerry Jenkins launched his writers guild, I joined as a founding member, and in 2017, when he launched Your Novel Blueprint, I beta tested it. To test the course, I had to write a complete manuscript in nine months, and that’s what really pushed me to see if I could write on deadline. During this time I attended a writing conference and an acquisitions editor expressed interest in my book. This encouraged me that maybe I had something worth pursuing, and it’s been a lot of fun and hard work since!

Q: You are a finalist for the “Writer of the Year” award through Serious Writer. That’s a huge accomplishment! How has this experience been affirming for you?

Entering contests feels like trying to win the lottery in some ways, because writing is so subjective. To make finalist is so humbling and such an honor. It’s definitely affirming. Writing is an art form with a lot of rules, and I didn’t realize that until I started writing in college. At first, following the rules can feel daunting, but then you realize following the rules highlights plot and character. Making finalist is super affirming that the hours of work I’ve put into learning the craft are starting to pay off. However, the more I learn the more I realize how far I have to go!

Q: Your website provides resources to help and inspire other writers in their journeys. Please share about your Writer’s Toolkit and how readers can get their copy.  

Having a website is critical for writers today, as publishers want to see your visibility before they consider offering you a contract. Diving into the publishing world can feel like diving into the ocean when you should have floaties in the kiddie pool. There’s so much to learn. When I started my blog, I decided since I was also starting the writing journey, it would probably be most helpful to share my ups and downs so other writers could learn from it too. It’s a very vulnerable blog because if you look through my years of posts you’ll see when a publisher requested my manuscript based on the elevator pitch, but then rejected it after I spent the months writing so I could submit to them. But you’ll also see that almost two years ago an agent offered me a contract. It’s definitely highs and lows! My blog basically gives you the how-to behind everything I’ve been through so far, and the Writer’s Toolkit is a free, condensed version of my process. Just go to itssarahrexford.com, sign up for blog updates, and you’ll get your free copy.

Q. In light of the challenges 2020 has presented, what is a message of encouragement you can offer writers?

What a year to be a writer! It’s easy to feel like writing stories is so trivial compared to everything going on in the world. I’ve thought about what author C.S. Lewis had to stay about studying in wartime: “He must ask how it is right…to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art… To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues, but not under the shadow of a European war, would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.” C.S. Lewis, Learning in Wartime (1939).

To choose to focus on something that impacts others, despite so much is pulling at our attention, is a deliberate sacrifice. I could watch the news all day but taking in information doesn’t create change. Doing something about that information is what’s so important. For writers, telling stories of humanity that inspire hope is not a waste of time. There’s an intimacy to writing. It inspires quiet change as readers turn the pages in their living room or finish chapter four on their lunch break or at the beach. It’s an honor to think that a phrase of dialogue or a character’s arc could inspire someone to approach 2020 in a way that focuses not so much on fear or anxiety but on hope and bravery.

For writers, telling stories of humanity that inspire hope is not a waste of time. ~ Sarah Rexford on @khogrefeparnell

Q: What has been the most challenging and/or most rewarding part of being a writer?

Integrity is huge, especially when it comes to writing. My writing mentor always says to treat the writing deadline as sacred, and so this is something I’ve tried to do since day one. Writing has taught me how to balance life and live in the moment. When I’m writing, I need to focus on writing. When I’m not writing, I need to focus on my family or friends or whatever else I’m called to do in that moment. It can be challenging, but I want to control my writing, not let it control me. It’s so rewarding to meet a deadline and show that integrity to myself, my agent, the publisher, readers, whoever it is. It’s really inspiring and humbling to see how my writing impacts others and reminds me the power stories have, written or lived, in our lives. No matter how many or few read my work, it’s a really unique experience to know I’m made in the image of Creator God, and I get to create as well. It helps me understand Him better, and that’s rewarding to say the least!

Q: How can readers follow your publishing journey and receive updates?

Meet Sarah Rexford who talks about her publishing journey and her passion for helping other writers. Interview by @khogrefeparnell

About the Author

Sarah Rexford is a Content Specialist, currently working for best-selling author Jerry Jenkins. With a BA in Strategic Communications, Sarah equips writers to communicate their message and build their platform through branding and copywriting. She writes fiction and nonfiction and offers behind-the-scenes tips on the publishing industry through her blog itssarahrexford.com. She is represented by C.Y.L.E Young Literary Elite and actively growing her speaking and writing career. 

Stay Connected

Subscribe to Kristen’s newsletter for monthly book buzz about Christian fiction and non-fiction for teens and adults, plus be the first to learn about giveaways and personal takeaways for your everyday adventures. 

When you join, you’ll receive a free copy of Kristen’s novella, A Cord of Three Strands, the prequel to her award-winning novel, The Revisionary. 

Author Chat with Tessa Emily Hall on Her New Book for Teens

Tessa Emily Hall is one of my go-to authors for young adult inspirational fiction, and when I heard she was releasing a non-fiction devotional for teens, I wanted to know more. Today, she shares about Love Your Selfie, her new devotional designed to help teen girls gain a biblical perspective of their worth in Christ.

Q: What need do you see present in the lives of teenagers today that you hope Love Your Selfie will help meet?

The issues of self-shame, insecurity, and comparison is nothing new amongst teens; however, I believe the measure in which teens have dealt with these issues have increased. It’s been less than ten years since I, myself, was a teen, but I feel like the pressure to be perfect has since reached new heights.

These days, teens desire to attain the polished perfection that they are exposed with on social media through the aid of filters. Their measure of worth fluctuates day-to-day as it’s often attached to the number of likes on their posts and followers on social media. And, of course, there seems to be no escaping from the cyber bullying that runs rampant on Instagram and YouTube. Because of this, I don’t believe there has ever been more of an identity crisis amongst youth than there is today.

I hope that, by drawing from my personal experiences with self-shame and insecurity, I can help these girls seek God and His Word along their quest for identity and confidence. Through the use of Scriptures that proclaim the truth about who we are in Christ, girls will be challenged to view themselves through the eyes of the Word rather than the eyes of the world. Then, as they rise up in confidence, they will be better equipped to utilize their God-given gifts to reach out and extend God’s Kingdom.

“Girls will be challenged to view themselves through the eyes of the Word rather than the eyes of the world.” ~ Tessa Emily Hall on @khogrefeparnell

Q: What experiences from your own life impacted the writing of Love Your Selfie?

This devotional comes from a vulnerable place, only because self-shame was an issue that I personally wrestled with as a tween/teen as well. I often felt like people were secretly judging me for my “flaws”; because of that, I would often keep myself hidden. But as I drew closer to Christ and rooted my identity in Him, His love enabled me to rise back up with boldness. He helped me learn how to embrace my uniqueness rather than condemning myself for being “different.”

Throughout this journey, I discovered why the enemy wants to keep us paralyzed with insecurity: because he doesn’t want us to reach out. He wants us to remain hidden rather than being like a “city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). Because if the enemy can cripple us with self-shame and insecurity, then we will never gain the confidence we need to step up, to speak out, or to extend a helping hand. We will never come to realize the full potential God has placed within us—gifts we should use to build the Body of Christ.

Q: Selfies, selfie-sticks, photo filters, and more—All these tools have become commonplace today. How can teens find a balance between sharing about themselves and not becoming overly self-focused?

Great question. The message of self-acceptance can often cause Christians to cringe—and, really, I get it. We don’t want to preach the wrong message of pride; after all, pride is the root of all evil. We have been called to die to our flesh, to bear our cross, to focus more on others rather than ourselves, to live as Jesus lived. And, yes, there is potential danger for the message of self-acceptance/love to be taken too far.

But from my perspective, self-acceptance is different from self-pride. Self-acceptance involves being confident (not proud) in your own skin. In the way that God has designed you. When we grow in confidence and understand our worth in Christ, we will then be motivated to treat ourselves with care (which is scriptural). It’s hard to care for something or someone when we don’t see the value of it. Then, as we step into our identity in Christ, we will become unashamed to embrace the unique ways in which we have been called to share the gospel.

Isn’t this partly why Christ paid such a high price for us? So that we could grasp just how much we are worth in His eyes? So that we could live in freedom from condemnation, including the kind that comes from self-shame?

The Bible makes it clear that there is only hate and love; light and darkness; hot and cold. No in between. This makes me wonder—if we aren’t loving ourselves, then are we hating ourselves? And if so, is that really the behavior in which we should treat a creation of our Creator?

I believe it comes down to the state of our hearts. The journey of self-acceptance should never be taken apart from God’s Word; if it is, then, yes, we’d certainly become at risk of idolizing ourselves. We’d become at risk of living for ourselves rather than for God and His children. But if this journey is taken as a result of our time spent with God and in His Word, then our hearts will remain in the right place. Our hearts will then remain focused on what matters to Jesus: loving God, loving others, and living in total surrender to Him.

Freedom is simply a byproduct of drawing closer to Christ.

Q: With social media, we often see only people’s “best faces.” How can this reality lead to an unhealthy comparison, and what should young people remember when viewing content online?

Exactly! Social media is yet another means by which we mask our insecurities, considering it presents us with the temptation to create a persona. We can hide our true selves behind the disguise of photo filters. We can post pictures that reflect our best adventures in life and toss out photos that reflect our everyday difficulties.

Yet even though we remember this when it comes to hiding our insecurities, we tend to forget this as it applies to other people. In other words, we tend to compare our “flaws” with the filtered versions of others on Instagram. This is what has created an unhealthy trap of comparison amongst teen girls—resulting in even more of a self-hatred issue.

This is why it’s important for girls to remember that reality is only found in real life. Not on social media.

When we draw closer to Christ, we build spiritual muscles and are less likely to give in to the temptations of the flesh. I believe this applies with the temptation to compare as well. Because, yes, I do believe that comparison is a sin, considering it comes from a place of both pride and jealousy. Yet this relationship with Christ enables us to focus less on ourselves and embrace our God-given identity; therefore, that trap of comparison will eventually becomes less appealing as we scroll through Instagram. 

Q: What is one takeaway you hope teenagers will hold onto after reading this book?

I hope teen readers will discover that God has designed them in a unique way for a reason, as a way to help them fulfill the specific calling He has placed on their lives. A calling that is centered on furthering God’s Kingdom. 

Meet award-winning author Tessa Emily Hall, who challenges teens to embrace their God-given identity in her new release, Love Your Selfie.

About the Author

Tessa Emily Hall is an award-winning author who writes inspirational yet authentic books for teens to remind them they’re not alone. She writes both fiction and devotionals for teens, including her upcoming release, LOVE YOUR SELFIE (October 2020, Ellie Claire). Tessa’s passion for shedding light on clean entertainment and media for teens led her to a career as a Literary Agent at Cyle Young Literary Elite, YA Acquisitions Editor for Illuminate YA (LPC Imprint), and Founder/Editor of PursueMagazine.net.

About Love Your Selfie

The truth is: the Creator of the Universe stamped His approval on you far before anyone ever had the chance to disapprove. In this 52-week devotional, you will be guided through a journey of embracing the unique way you were created. Author Tessa Emily Hall shares her personal struggles of dealing with insecurity and self-shame as a teen, then she invites you to reflect on the weekly message through journal prompts and social media challenges. You will be taken on a journey to understand what Scripture says about your identity, discover how you can tap into your God-given potential, and learn to love who you are inside.


Stay Connected

Subscribe to Kristen’s newsletter for monthly book buzz about Christian fiction and non-fiction for teens and adults, plus be the first to learn about giveaways and personal takeaways for your everyday adventures. 

When you join, you’ll receive a free copy of Kristen’s novella, A Cord of Three Strands, the prequel to her award-winning novel, The Revisionary. 

Author Chat with Kristen Young on Her New YA Dystopian Release

I first met Kristen in a Facebook readers group and discovered we share two things in common. First, we spell our names the same way. If you’ve ever had someone misspell your name, you know how exciting it is to meet someone else who has the same spelling as you.

Also, we both write young adult dystopian fiction from a Christian worldview. I’m thrilled to share an interview with Kristen today where she talks about her new release, Apprentice, now available on Amazon.

Q: You’ve written several nonfiction books for teens. What prompted you to also branch into young adult fiction and the dystopian genre, in particular?

As a kid I was always reading, so fiction has been a life-long love for me. I have a bit of a soft spot for books like Brave New World, the Hunger Games and so on. I love a good story — one that keeps you on the edge of your seat reading to the end. It was fun to try and write one of those stories for myself.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from this dystopian adventure?

First and foremost, I hope they’ll be entertained by the story. But I guess I hope people will also enjoy the themes it raises as it investigates the question of love: what is love, really? What does the word mean? How do we know love when we see it? The dystopian aspect of the story looks at the question of how love and power intersect. What happens when a political power takes a word we all care about and uses it for their own ends?

Q: You’ve lived in the UK, Sydney, and currently live in New South Wales. (That’s in Australia, for my American friends). Have any of the places you’ve lived or visited impacted the setting of this book?

Not for this one. There is another series I’m working on that was inspired by my local region. But this one was more inspired by sterile environments I’ve seen in images than by anywhere I’ve lived.

Q: When did you first start writing for teens, and why do you think reaching this age group through both fiction and nonfiction is important?

I started writing for teens when I was one (quite a long time ago!). For teens, I think they’re living through an age where life can be super threatening – where they are processing issues of identity and purpose and a general sense of “where do I fit in the world?” Fiction gives teens a safe space to explore those questions in a way that non-fiction doesn’t always manage as well. Fiction helps us to process issues that are often too threatening to deal with in real life. In fiction we get to see characters triumph over adversity. We watch the characters experiment with different actions and consequences, and make choices that we might not be brave enough to make. So through fiction, we learn to orient ourselves in the world even while we’re being entertained.

“Through fiction, we learn to orient ourselves in the world even while we’re being entertained.” ~ Kristen Young on @khogrefeparnell

Q: As writers, we often don’t get to see how our writing influences others. However, sometimes readers do reach out and share with us. What has been the most encouraging feedback you’ve received?

I received feedback on one of my books from a non English-speaking reader a few years ago – they tracked me down through Facebook to say that they’d managed to get a copy in their country. It was a little mind-blowing to find that my work had travelled so far around the world. That was super encouraging!

Q: What has been the most challenging and/or most rewarding part of being a writer?

The most challenging part is the waiting. The concept of ‘overnight success’ is a complete furphy (as we say in Australia). That is, it’s non-existent. It took me several practice novels and a lot of writing before Apprentice was born. In between, there were long, painful periods of waiting to hear from publishers and other professionals.

Q: Can you hint when readers might expect to see the sequel to Apprentice?

2021 is going to be a good year. Is that enough of a hint? 🙂

Meet Author Kristen Young whose new Christian dystopian novel for young adults is the latest extension of her heart for teens.

About the Author

Kristen Young was born (and spent a memorable first few months of her life) in the UK, grew up in Sydney, but now lives in the Central West of NSW with her husband, three children, and slightly neurotic dog. She has been involved in church-based ministry for over 20 years, and loves helping people of any age to see how awesome Jesus is. Kristen has had a number of books published, beginning with The Survival Guide series of devotions for teens. What if? Dealing with Doubt is a book for anyone from high school age onward, and aims to help anyone struggling with doubts about God, Jesus, or faith. In more recent years she has been writing fiction, and Apprentice, the first book in the Collective Underground trilogy is being released through Enclave Escape in October, 2020.

About Apprentice

The Love Collective is everywhere. It sees everything. Be not afraid.

Apprentice Flick remembers everything, except the first five years of her life. And for as long as she can remember, Flick has wanted to enter the Elite Academy – home to the best, brightest, and most loyal members of the Love Collective government.

Flick’s uncanny memory might get her there, too … even if it is the very thing that marks her as a freak. But frightening hallucinations start intruding into her days and threaten to bring down all she has worked so hard to accomplish. Why is she being hijacked by a stranger’s nightmare over and over again?

Moving to the Elite Academy could give Flick the future she’s always wanted. But her search for truth may lead to a danger she cannot escape.

Author Chat with Laura Thomas on Romantic Suspense and Her Heart for Readers

Laura Thomas is one of my new favorite romantic suspense authors, and once you get to know her, you’ll see why that’s no surprise! She is not only a gifted writer, but also someone whose desire to provide heart-warming encouragement to her readers shines through the pages.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did! Also, Laura has graciously offered to give away one e-book copy of her latest release, The Orphan Beach.  To enter, simply leave a comment below or share this post on social media.

Q: How did you first discover your writing ability, and how have you seen God use it in unexpected ways?

I really didn’t know I was a writer until I was in my late-thirties, when my husband discovered I had been harboring a secret writing dream for twenty-five years! He encouraged me to begin by taking some courses with The Institute of Children’s Literature, and I fell in love with writing and realized I needed to pursue the author life.

Of course, it didn’t go the way I expected, with me being content to write stories for young children. No, it seems God had other plans—better plans. He has given me the opportunity to write for children, teens, and adults in multiple genres and continues to open surprise doors along the way! It’s never, ever boring…

Q: What prompted you to first write Christian romantic suspense?

Although I started my writing journey with children’s books and stories, I always enjoyed being able to share non-fiction words with women readers via my blog. It was almost like when you have little kids at home all day and then go for coffee and conversation with adult friends! The initial idea for my first Christian romantic suspense novel, The Glass Bottom Boat, was inspired after a trip to Jamaica where my imagination ran amuck and I had the sudden urge to share a faith-based, nail-biting story for women. I adore reading this genre and was up for the challenge of blending faith, romance, and some page-turning suspense into a novel for grown-ups… even though that “sudden urge” took six long years to come to fruition!

Q: You also write Christian teen fiction and non-fiction as well. Tell us about your other books.

The Tears Trilogy comprises of three Christian teen fiction books for girls: Tears to Dancing, Tears of a Princess, and Tears, Fears, and Fame. Each story of hope delves into relatable issues including friendship, forgiveness, family, and faith—with ample drama, of course!

The Candle Maker is a short middle-grade novel set in Victorian England, where a ten-year-old ragamuffin boy learns to face his fears in order to discover the truth and save a life.

Pearls for the Bride is a non-fiction marriage books for newlyweds and brides-to-be, packed with humorous anecdotes, practical tips, and Biblical principles from the mother-of-the-bride’s point of view.

Q: As writers, we often don’t get to see how our writing influences others. However, sometimes readers do reach out and share with us. What has been the most encouraging feedback you’ve received?

I love hearing from readers! All feedback is encouraging and incredibly useful, but I think one of the most precious emails I received was from a newsletter subscriber who won a copy of Tears of a Princess, one of my teen fiction novels in my monthly giveaway. She offered to forgo her prize as I had to ship it overseas but I was more than happy to pay a little extra. When I heard from her a few weeks later, she had read the book and then passed it on to her pre-teen granddaughter who was battling an eating disorder—the exact topic this book covered. We both agreed it was God’s providence and timing and I’m humbled and excited to think my words might bring hope and healing in some small way to readers anywhere in the world.

Q: Your blog talks about your desire to provide heartwarming encouragement through your writing. How might readers be encouraged through your books? 

“Heartwarming encouragement for your soul” is the lens through which I attempt to write all my books, stories, articles, and devotionals. Even though most of my books are fiction, I believe people ultimately crave hope not only in a good storyline but in real life. As a Christian author, I love to be able to weave faith through my words and particularly in my romantic suspense novels, it’s my desire that readers will find the flawed characters relatable and see how God can work in them and through them in the most breathtaking ways.

Q: Can you hint about what next project you have in the works?

Absolutely. I’m thrilled to be writing the manuscript for my next Christian romantic suspense novel. I can share that it’s a brand-new series and is set in the idyllic English countryside… I’m going back to my roots with this one!

Also, my literary agent is currently working on my picture book, Bonbon the Frenchie: Lost in Paris, and my middle-grade novel, Black Diamonds.

Meet Author Laura Thomas whose Romantic Suspense novels not only entertain, but also provide heartwarming encouragement. @Laura_Thomas_ with @khogrefeparnell

About the Author

A published Christian author, Laura writes heartwarming encouragement for your soul—especially in her romantic suspense, teen fiction, marriage, and children’s books. Laura is a chocoholic mom of three, married to her high school sweetheart. Originally from the UK, they live in Kelowna, B.C. as audacious empty-nesters.

About The Orphan Beach

Life is spiraling out of control for pediatric nurse, Juliet Farr. Heart-broken, grief-stricken, and experiencing a crisis of faith—now she is the prime target for a crazed killer. When her ex-boyfriend, detective Max Bennett, returns to work the case in the Oregon Coast, he knows sharing the truth behind their break-up will destroy any possibility of a second chance together.

A manuscript, a maniac, and a mother’s love propel Juliet’s flight to a beach in Mexico as she desperately pursues hope and healing. Will she ever find freedom from the ache of abandonment? And when a troubled soul chooses Juliet as his perfect victim, can Max prove his love for her by risking his own life? Or will Orphan Beach be the end of their story?

To enter for a chance to win an e-book copy of The Orphan Beach, simply leave a comment on this post. You may also retweet my post on Twitter or Facebook. Just be sure to tag me!


And the Book Giveaway Winner Is …

Congrats to Sarah K. Butterfield on winning an e-book copy of Laura’s latest release, The Orphan Beach. Thanks to everyone who commented and shared, and a special thanks to Laura again for being our guest on the blog!

Writing with Purpose: An Interview with The Correspondent Evelyn

Some conversations leave you feeling energized, like you just finished chatting with a best friend over coffee and are now ready to continue all the tasks at hand. That’s how my interview at The Correspondent podcast with Evelyn Corral felt.

I would love for you to take a listen to this episode. Whether you’re a writer or pursuing some other calling, you’ll be encouraged to persevere and embrace new beginnings, no matter how small.

Some of my favorite takeaways from our chat include the following:

  • Appreciate closed doors since they might be blessings in disguise.
  • Remember we have to start somewhere, no matter how small.
  • Be faithful to your calling.
  • Struggles are part of pursuing any passion. What can you learn from them?
  • Your little is not too little for God to use.

Which one of these takeaways resonates most with you? Or did a different takeaway stick with you?

Live in abundance and keep pursuing those God-given dreams.

~ Kristen

Whether you’re a writer or pursuing some other calling, be encouraged to persevere and embrace new beginnings, no matter how small. @khogrefeparnell

My Writing Journey: An Interview by L.C. Helms

I so much enjoy chatting with authors here on the blog, and today, it’s my turn to share! I’m so grateful to my friend and gifted writer L.C. Helms for inviting me to be her “author spotlight” on her beautiful website.

Below is an excerpt of our conversation. For the full interview, visit lchelms.com.

Lori: How old were you when you started writing?

Kristen: I discovered my love for writing when I was nine or ten. My older brother had a creative writing project in school, and he shared it with us and our best friends. We all got excited about his short story and expanded it, each one of us taking turns writing a chapter. Although my brothers and friends eventually lost interest in our pet project, I didn’t and kept writing. I kept those early stories and laugh when I read them because they are so poorly written. But everyone has to start somewhere!

Lori: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer, and what kind of writing do you do?

Kristen: By the end of high school, I had finished my first novel and knew I wanted to be a writer. Thankfully, that novel didn’t see the light of day until after many more revisions, but it later became the first book in my Wings of the Dawn young adult trilogy. In college, I majored in English to grow as a writer and resumed my quest for publication after graduating.

Since then, I’ve published two young adult suspense trilogies (one contemporary suspense and the other speculative/dystopian). I also have an adult Christian romantic suspense novel completed as well as a young adult spiritual growth in the works. Books aside, I blog regularly on my website KristenHogrefeParnell.com where I challenge readers to find faith in everyday adventures.

Lori: What is your favorite kind of writing to read and your favorites from what you’ve written?

Kristen: My favorite fiction books to read are young adult fiction (contemporary or speculative) and Christian romantic suspense. I guess it’s no surprise that both are genres I write! In addition to my published young adult trilogies, I have a new romantic suspense project I am so excited about. I’ve read authors like Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, DiAnn Mills, and more for so long that it only seems natural to write in this genre that I love so much. Stephanie Alton with the Blythe Daniel Agency is representing me on this project, and I look forward to the day we find the right publishing home for it.

Choosing a favorite book that I’ve written seems like choosing a favorite child, which a parent should never do! I will say that my latest release, The Reactionary, holds a special place in my heart, because I was able to travel to Italy to do research for it. What an adventure that trip was! My friend Maria and I had several misadventures along the way (including getting lost in a rainstorm on a steep mountain road), but the whirlwind experience is one I will always treasure.

Lori: Has anyone inspired you?

Kristen: We would be here all day if I tried to list all the people who have inspired and impacted my writing career. One person who immediately comes to mind is Bruce Brady. He was a godly mentor through Word Weavers International, and I met him at the Florida Christian Writer’s Conference what feels like a lifetime ago. Though I was new to the conference and a seeming “nobody,” he was so excited to meet me and said he couldn’t wait to read my books. The interest he took in me and the enthusiastic way he believed in my writing was incredibly touching. God took Bruce home after a long fight with cancer, but I will always be grateful to him for believing in me.

@khogrefeparnell: I’m honored to share part of my writing journey today in a special interview with my friend and gifted writer @lchelmsauthor.

Author Chat with Ashley L. Jones on Modern Cast Iron

This author interview is special for so many reasons. I met Ashley during a writer’s conference several years ago, and we formed an instant friendship. She is such a godly friend and gifted writer, and I am so excited for you to learn about her new release, Modern Cast Iron. It’s a guidebook to choosing, using, caring for, and cooking with cast iron.

Q: What prompted you to write Modern Cast Iron?

It was totally a “God thing”! I had been using and researching cast iron for years for the health benefits and nostalgia of it, but it wasn’t until I met the publisher (Red Lightning Books) at a book expo and saw their amazing lineup of books that I thought, “A book about cast iron would really fit here!” In a moment, God gave me the complete idea for the book—and it came out just as He planned!

Q: Why do you think cooking with cast iron is relevant and beneficial for today’s generation?

We’ve been using lightweight aluminum and chemical nonstick pans since their introduction in the 1970s, and now we’re becoming aware of the potential health issues associated with those products. In contrast, cast iron doesn’t leach or off-gas any harmful chemicals or fumes. It only leaches iron, which is something our bodies need anyway.

Plus, I think there’s a “back to basics” movement going on right now where young women are looking to capture the simplicity and wholesomeness of past generations. Cooking in cast iron is a way great way to do that because we’re able to recreate the recipes our grandmothers made and enjoy the nostalgia that comes along with them.

Q: You shared that Modern Cast Iron isn’t a cookbook but a guidebook. Explain what you mean by that.

Most cookbooks these days are filled with hard-and-fast recipes featuring the trendiest ingredients that are only available at specialty grocery stores. It may be fun to watch chefs prepare those meals on TV, but it’s not so fun to shop for them or prepare them on a busy weeknight.

Instead, Modern Cast Iron is a guidebook to all things cast iron, from selecting the best pan for your kitchen to cleaning and seasoning your pan. Of course, the book includes a bunch of recipes—fifty, to be exact—to pique your interest and get you started. However, those recipes are rather simple and can be easily modified to fit your diet and nutritional needs.

Q: What would you tell young adults who don’t feel confident in the kitchen? How could this book help them?

My primary goal in writing this book was to encourage readers to gain confidence in the kitchen by using cast-iron cookware—because that’s how I gained my confidence. If you tend to use your smoke detector as the oven timer, take note of the following ways cast iron can help.

The texture and flavor of many traditional dishes, especially Southern food, can only be recreated if they’re cooked in cast iron. (Ever tried to make cornbread in a glass dish? The texture is all wrong!)

Even if you’re not trying to make Southern food, you’ll appreciate cast iron’s superior heat retention and its ability to heat evenly. This is what allows you to sear a steak to perfection without burning it (so you can give that smoke detector a rest).

Another benefit of cast iron is that you can take it from the stove top to the oven and back again—something other cookware just can’t do. So if you can’t get that steak to cook all the way through on the stove top, you can pop it in the oven for a couple minutes. Voila!

Don’t see your pain point listed here? There are many more advantages of cast iron listed in the book, so be sure to check it out.

Q: Our culture leans toward “fast food” and “instant meals” for quick and easy satisfaction. What problems does this mindset present in the present and in the long run?

Eating out—even if you’re grabbing dinner from the hot bar at the grocery store—can present health issues because that food is usually loaded with salt and preservatives. If you make food at home, you can still suffer from the same health issues if you’re merely heating up prepackaged food. While these are alright in moderation, cooking more wholesome meals at home should be a health goal for all of us.

Devices like instant cookers, pressure cookers, air fryers, and even slow cookers are intended to help us cook faster or at least have dinner ready when we get home. All of these gadgets have their place, but they make it difficult to understand the process of cooking—how foods come together and how to create different textures and layers of flavors. For some of them, you can’t even smell the food cooking!

When I cook with cast iron, I have control over the ingredients and the entire cooking process, and I appreciate the results more—it’s like I’m being more “intentional” in the way I prepare food. And with few exceptions, it doesn’t actually take any longer to cook in cast iron than it does in those other kitchen gadgets.

Q: Do you have a special memory of cooking with your grandma? If so, please share!

My grandmother was always cooking something, usually from scratch. It seemed that she used her hand mixer every night, whether for mashed potatoes or for baking a cake for my grandfather. The sound that mixer made as it bumped around the bowl—vroom, va-va-vroom, varoom—was such a happy sound to me! Every time I get my hand mixer out, it takes me back to her kitchen.

Q: How do you think cast iron cooking will become a legacy for your own family?

Ever since I learned of the health benefits of cooking with cast iron, I’ve challenged myself by asking, “Can I make this in cast iron?” That’s why we use cast iron at nearly every meal. I plan to teach my son Gordon (now 20 months old) to cook on cast iron at an early age because I want him to feel confident in the kitchen, too. I also want him to be conscientious of what he puts in his body so he can make wise decisions when he’s an adult.

Q: How did you first discover your writing ability, and how have you seen God use it in unexpected ways?

I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I never thought it could be a career for me. In 2003, God gave me an idea for a faith-based nonfiction book, Girls with Gusto, which is still looking for a publishing home. However, it wasn’t until I went to my first writers conference in 2015 that I really felt like I had the tools and knowledge to pursue a writing career.

I never intended to write a book about cast-iron cooking, but God is using this book to develop my writing platform and to enable me to reach people I would never have reached otherwise. And what do those people find when they visit my website, BigSisterKnows.com? Lots of articles about God and faith. I pray those help to plant seeds!

Next year, my children’s series, “Big Answers” (Little Lamb Books), debuts with Who is God? I can’t wait to share this one with moms around the world!

Q: Can you hint about what next project you have in the works?

I’m working on some new children’s books, and I’d really like to find a home for Girls with Gusto. I also have an idea for a powerful nonfiction book that explores the secret lives of the Appalachian people.

Be sure to follow me on BigSisterKnows.com and on social media so you can follow along on these projects. There’s no telling what God will do next!

Author Chat with Ashley L. Jones on Modern Cast Iron with @khogrefeparnell

About the Author

Ashley L. Jones is an author and blogger, but she prefers the title of Big Sister. A firm believer that we all know something worth sharing, she started the blog Big Sister Knows as a way to encourage other young women to live with gusto. Her upcoming releases — Modern Cast Iron (Red Lightning Books, 2020) and the children’s series Big Answers (Little Lamb Books, 2021) — are a continuation of that mission. Ashley lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her uber-patient hubby and one busy toddler. Find your encouragement and follow Ashley’s journey at BigSisterKnows.com.

About Modern Cast Iron

In Modern Cast Iron, self-proclaimed cast-iron connoisseur Ashley L. Jones recaptures the ease and joy of cooking with cast-iron cookware. Jones introduces readers to the best brands and types of cast-iron cookware to fulfill any cook’s needs. She offers detailed tips and tricks for rescuing old, rusted pans and keeping them properly seasoned, and she shares recommendations for the best cooking oil for every recipe. With Jones’s help, both experienced and beginner cooks will be able to rival grandma’s cooking. Chock-full of stories from Jones’s own childhood growing up with cast-iron meals, as well as recipe after tantalizing recipe―from breakfast quiche to gluten-free meals and beautiful blueberry cobbler―Modern Cast Iron explores the countless ways that cast iron benefits health and happiness.

A comprehensive guide to all things cast iron and home-style cookin’, Modern Cast Iron offers a new way for cooks to spice up the kitchen using all-natural tools and ingredients.

Get your copy.

Author Chat with Hope Bolinger on her Modern-Day Daniel Series

You all are in for a treat today! Hope Bolinger is a literary agent and multi-published YA novelist who has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. She’s an inspiration for young writers (and “young at heart” writers too), and today, she shares about her latest release in her modern-day Daniel series.

Q: What prompted you to write a contemporary fiction series on Daniel?

It all started in a college class. We were going over the Old Testament in a semester, and during the unit on Daniel, the teacher said, “Daniel and his friends would’ve been 14 or 15 when they were taken into the Babylonian captivity.” That always struck me. I’d thought of them as being 20 or 30. But these teens are standing strong in their cultural identity and are thriving. I wanted to see what that looked like now.

Q: Danny and his friends deal with serious drama and trouble from the schools they attend. Did any of your own experiences shape some of their situations?

Legally, I’m not sure how much I can spill on this, but in short, yes. One of the schools I attended, which shall remain nameless, contributed a great deal of content in the book. It’s so funny because when I talked with high schoolers on the book, they asked, “Legally, how is this possible?” And I said, “Actually, a great deal of what goes down happened on some level in my own experience.” All three books in the trilogy have a kernel of truth in what I experienced at said school.

Q: Who is your favorite character in this series and why?

Oh, Hannah. She’s basically Tumblr and Hot Topic meets Christianity. She never minces words and is everything I wish I could be if I didn’t have a filter.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from this series?

I hope they walk away with some form of a discussion. This series tackles relevant topics from cyberbullying to school shootings to mental health. I know I don’t go easy on readers in this series, but teens deal with this stuff every day. If we don’t talk about the problem, the problems will never get fixed.

Q: What advice would you give aspiring young writers?

So many things I could put in this answer! The most obvious is, obviously, don’t give up. You’ll be surprised just how many steps it takes from writing that first draft to getting it in front of readers.

And second, learn everything you can about publishing. I started querying at 17 years old, only having written books for a year, and I did NOT know what I was getting myself into. It takes a lot of time, a lot of practice, and a lot of learning.

Q: In addition to Den, releasing this week, you have another book scheduled to release next year. What can you tell us about it?

Yes, ma’am! So I have a superhero chat-fiction “Dear Hero” releasing with INtense Publications this September 2020. It follows the story of a Hero and Villain as they meet on a Nemesis-pairing app. Basically Tinder for heroes and villains. They fight, but they don’t expect to fall in love.

The sequel for that is projected to come out in April of 2021, and if the publisher gives the green light, the final book in the Blaze trilogy should release in August of 2021.

Meet Hope Bolinger, a multi-published novelist and literary agent whose Modern-Day Daniel series challenges young adults to confront the lions in their own lives.

About the Author

Hope Bolinger is a literary agent and multi-published YA novelist (Blaze, Den, and Dear Hero). When she isn’t busy racking up 60+ bylines, she loves to connect with readers at hopebolinger.com

About DEN: If You Don’t Want to Die, Don’t Sleep with Lions

Danny Belte barely survived his sophomore year at King’s Academy, having to deal with horrible initiation practices, stomach-churning cafeteria food, and the constant threat of arson.

His junior year doesn’t start off much better. Facing a series of mysterious suicide attempts that begin on day one–and a disturbing pattern that appears to connect them–Danny has a feeling something far more sinister is at play. He tries to narrow down a list of suspects as those closest to him disappear, one by one.

Can he protect his friends from a possible murderer on the loose? Or will he find himself trapped in a fate worse than a lions’ den?


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Author Chat with Bryan Davis on his New Christian Science Fiction Series

I met Bryan Davis at a writer’s conference several years ago and enjoyed getting to know him and his daughter Amanda (also an author). His books are favorites among the students I teach, and I’m honored to have him be my guest on the blog. In our author chat feature today, he shares about a brand new Christian science fiction series, with the first book releasing today.

Q: What prompted you to write this new series, or what was your inspiration?

This story began as a dream about a dystopian society with a tyrannical regime and a rebel faction trying to bring it down. In the dream, two rebels posed as fake doctors to deliver a toxic vaccine to regime troops, and the novel sprouted from that seed.

Q: What are some science fiction elements in the story that help drive or enhance the storyline (if you can share without giving away spoilers)?

The story has hovercraft drones, a scanner that can see a soul in the brain, a portal in the sky that has been breached by an alien race, weapons that shoot plasma spheres, and a missile designed to destroy a cross-dimensional conduit.

Q: Fiction often mirrors reality, even if the setting, time period, and characters are other-worldly. What aspects of the story might readers find paralleling their own experience?

In this case, the parallels are all too real. The story includes the threat of a contagion that will kill millions and a requirement to take a vaccine that is touted to be helpful but might be hazardous. I wrote the story long before the COVID-19 situation, and the current-events elements came to pass after I completed it.

Q: What message do you hope readers will take away from this story?

I try not to reveal specific story themes that I intended, because I want readers to glean for themselves, but in all of my stories, including this one, I hope to promote faith, courage, and self-sacrifice in my readers.

Q: You’re a household name for fans of young adult Christian fantasy. How is this new series different from some of your other books, and/or how is it similar?

It’s different in the target age—for older teens and adults instead of for middle-graders and younger teens. It is more science fiction than fantasy, though there are some fantastical elements. It is similar in that I continue to feature characters who display sacrificial heroism and other virtues, and the Christian world view never wavers.

Q: How have you seen God use your writing journey in unexpected ways?

In too many ways to describe here. For myself, I have seen God provide in miraculous ways during the lean years, which has helped me more fully understand His sufficiency as I practice contentment. For readers, I hear from them nearly every day that my books have helped them in their faith as well as their physical lives. For example, more than 20 readers have told me that my books kept them from committing suicide. Some have given my stories credit for helping them with drug abuse, sexual exploitation, and self harm. The feedback has been a huge blessing and an overwhelming one.

Q: I know you’ve taught teen track courses at writer’s conferences. What do you enjoy most about talking to teen writers, and what is the best advice you would give them as they work on their own stories?

Teen writers often have great story ideas, and their energy and passion are invigorating and inspiring. Most are ready to listen and learn, and they are looking to make a positive influence.

I encourage teen writers to learn the craft and to exercise patience. It can take years for a new writer to a create professional-level novel. Some, when they are unable to acquire a traditional publisher, jump to self-publishing even though their stories might not be ready to publish. I am not opposed to self-publishing, but I urge young writers to be ready for that step before leaping in.

Q: When can we expect to see the next book in the series?

I don’t have an exact date, and I don’t have a title yet, but it will probably come out early in the spring of 2021.

Enjoy this interview with best-selling author Bryan Davis who talks about his new Christian science fiction series. @khogrefeparnell

About the Author

Bryan Davis is the author of several fantasy/science fiction series for youth and adults, including the best-selling Dragons in our Midst series. He and his wife, Susie, have seven adult children, and they work together as an author/editor team.

About Heaven Came Down

In the chaotic aftermath of apocalyptic war, the strange lights in the sky heralding the coming of unearthly beings seemed like an answer to prayer. When the heavenly visitors entered selected people and transformed them into angels who demanded obedience in exchange for the restoration of order, the majority accepted their new rulers.

But Ben Garrison and his siblings, Jack and Trudy, have seen a dark side to these so-called angels. They join a rebel faction with one goal: destroy the invaders and free the world from their tyranny.

When the rebels catch wind of an angel plot to invade the resistance region and spread a deadly contagion, the Garrisons embark on a crucial mission to swap the angel troops’ vaccine with a fake injection, stealing the real vaccine to save the rebels. The catch: Ben and Trudy, in disguise as doctors, must volunteer to become implanted by angels and fake their implantation.

The rebels’ plan, however, is soon exposed, jeopardizing the mission and their lives. Their only hope for rescue lies in an odd bounty hunter, a young angel priestess, and a mysterious spy embedded among the angels—a woman whose identity the rebels have yet to discover.

Author Chat with Jerusha Agen on Romantic Suspense, Fighting Fear, and Her Next Release

I’m excited to introduce you to today’s featured author, Jerusha Agen! This gal has been such a blessing to me as we’ve gotten to know each other through our writing journeys, and today, it’s your turn to be blessed by her. I hope you enjoy this author chat as much as I have!

Q: What prompted you to first write Christian romantic suspense?

The first novels I wrote, which became the Sisters Redeemed Series, were romantic women’s fiction. But a curious thing happened as I was crafting those stories—each book in the three-book series leaned increasingly toward suspense! I realized when I finished that series that I might as well stop fighting the urge to add suspense to everything and embrace it instead!

Since then, I’ve written suspense novels that allow me to revel in the excitement, danger, and fear-fighting courage of the genre. I especially love how suspense stories delve into intense, sometimes dark issues—the places where the love and hope of Christ shine the brightest.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

I hope and pray readers will always find in my stories a greater understanding of Who God is and where He is in the midst of suffering. I want my readers to come away with an unshakable hope from the realization that even in the darkest, most difficult circumstances, the Redeemer is there, is in control, and is always good.

Q: How does your Fear Warrior Blog tackle the topic that plagues characters in suspense novels—and many people in real life too? How does your faith shape the way you approach fighting fear?

The Fear Warrior Blog is dedicated to helping people fight against fear in their everyday lives. And you’re right, Kristen, this is an issue that does plague the characters in suspense novels, as well as all of us in real life! Everyone experiences fear at some point in their lives, to varying degrees, and I love to write realistic fiction that depicts that authentic struggle in the lives of characters too.

The characters may face a more palpable or overt danger than many of us do in our lives, but their deepest fears are the same as ours. And the only way to gain victory over fear is the same for us too.

You pinpointed that answer when you asked how faith shapes the way I approach fighting fear. Faith in God is the only way anyone can truly obtain victory over fear and break free from the prison of anxiety, worry, and all forms of fear. The good news is that this faith isn’t a pie-in-the-sky make believe or ignorance of reality. And the other good news is I don’t have to muster some heroic degree of faith myself.

“Faith in God is the only way anyone can truly obtain victory over fear and break free from the prison of anxiety, worry, and all forms of fear.” ~ @SDGwords on @kjhogrefe

This faith that gives us victory over fear is simply acknowledgement of and belief in the truth. And this faith, thank the Lord, isn’t something I have to conjure or force, but rather is a gift from God Himself.

So my faith, the faith God enables me to have, is also the means by which He gives me victory over fear. This fear-fighting weapon is available to everyone who belongs to Christ!

Q: How have you overcome fear in your own life, and how has this experience helped you encourage others?

Since God started me on this journey of fighting fear years ago, He has granted me so many victories, but many of them are in the small steps forward on my path to eventual conquering of that fear.

The most remarkable fear God has enabled me to overcome is my stage fright. I shared the complete story of this victory and how others can beat their own stage fright at the FW Blog, but the short version is that God gave me the faith, wisdom, and radical shift in perspective that enabled me to break free of stage fright. Ironically, this breakthrough happened when I gave a live presentation on fighting fear!

I knew we as Christians could have victory over our fears because the Bible tells me so. However, this experience has equipped and encouraged me to speak this truth to others with even more conviction because I’ve seen the evidence of victory over fear in my own life.

Q: As writers, we often don’t get to see how our writing influences others. However, sometimes readers do reach out and share with us. What has been the most encouraging feedback you’ve received?

I wouldn’t have thought to receive feedback on my writing during a pandemic, but I got a hand-written note from an elderly reader the other day who shared that one of my books gave her comfort and helped her pass the time in an enjoyable way while she was quarantined alone.

I never expected a story I wrote would bring encouragement to a sweet woman alone during such a time. But God knew how it would be used, just as He knows how He will use each of the posts I write for the Fear Warrior Blog, where I have often been astounded and encouraged by feedback from readers who were strengthened for their battles against fear.

I am awed by the privilege to have my words used by God to help others!

Q: Can you hint about what next project you have in the works?

I’m delighted you asked this, Kristen, because I’m currently working on getting my debut romantic suspense novel ready to launch with Love Inspired! I’d like to share with your readers the official title, for the first time in public: Rising Danger.

Rising Danger, which will be among the first books published with Love Inspired’s new trade line, is slated to release in July 2021. The novel tells the exciting story of a woman and her explosives detection K9 who stand between a city and a bomber.

That’s all I can say for now, but I’ll be sharing more exclusive updates and insider peeks with members of the Fear Warrior Suspense community (my awesome newsletter subscribers) in the coming months. I hope you’ll all join me by visiting FearWarriorSuspense.com.

Meet Romantic Suspense Author Jerusha Agen whose Fear Warrior blog equips readers to fight fear in their everyday lives and whose suspense novels remind them of the One who provides the victory. @kjhogrefe

About the Author

Jerusha Agen imagines danger around every corner, but knows God is there too. So naturally, she writes romantic suspense infused with the hope of salvation in Jesus Christ. Her debut romantic suspense novel, Rising Danger, releases in July 2021.

With a B.A. in English and a background in screenwriting, Jerusha is a speaker, writing instructor, and author of the Fear Warrior Blog, where she writes about fighting against fear in our everyday lives.

You’ll often find Jerusha sharing irresistibly adorable photos of her Furry Fear Warriors (three big dogs and two little cats) on social media.

Visit Jerusha at www.JerushaAgen.com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

About Introverted

Jerusha is giving away Introverted, a free romantic suspense story, to anyone who signs up to join the Fear Warrior Suspense community! Follow this link to get your free story at FearWarriorSuspense.com!

She never invites visitors. But visitors sometimes invite themselves.

When a winter storm brings more than snow, May Denver is forced to flee from her home and fight for her life. Can she trust an unwanted neighbor and risk her greatest fear in order to survive?