Tuesday, February 24, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast: Discerning Truth in a World Filled with Lies by Ron Leonard


Discerning Truth in a World Filled with Lies By Ron Leonard

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About the Book:

Are you tired of being lied to? Not sure you can trust anyone outside your immediate family (and you're even keeping a close eye on them)? Do you hate it when you discover that you've fallen for a lie? Then you're in the right place. This book is dedicated to the belief that the truth can be found and is worth any price. The author shares insights and anecdotes from his various adventures in spotting lies everywhere from our culture to our co-workers. Whether the lies come to you from advertisers, journalists, politicians, economists, friends, or even the church pulpit, this book will teach you how to question and counter the avalanche of lies you experience every day. Additional case studies are presented that tie together the various concepts in easily understood vignettes. A bonus section shares insights on truths learned from counseling with real-live individuals and couples. Key points are highlighted by personal stories from the author's life. Available on Amazon, Kindle, and Smashwords or signed copies are available at www.truthorcounseling.com.


Ron Leonard The author is a Christian therapist, MBA, and Mensa member. He has been married 25 years and has two, yes two, teenagers. After spending four years writing this book he swore not to think about writing another one for many years. Three months later, he has the rough outlines of a fiction book with two heroes, one of whom has schizophrenia.  

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Go Deeper! Character Development

In theater, I love it when my actors take their characters deeper. “I couldn't believe that was Sarah!” an audience member told me. “I came to see Ben perform, but I got lost in the story and forgot about him.” These compliments mean Sarah and Ben walked in their characters' shoes so convincingly, the audience was transported into the story through suspended disbelief. And that means my actors did good. (The director smiles.)

As a writer, I want my characters to be rich, deep, and real. So multi-layered that a reader is pulled into the story, mind and heart, at least, for a little while.

In the first week of theater practice, actors don't “get” the person they'll eventually portray. But after many hours of deepening exercises, talking in character, and reciting lines, someone new emerges—a mixture of the character AND the actor. If you saw the same play in two venues, each performance would be different because of that unique blend of actors and characters.

To reach that place of “becoming,” we do exercises to deepen characterization that an author can use to take characters deeper in writing also. Here are a few of my favorites:

Write a letter.
My first assignment to the actors, besides memorization, is to write a letter in character. Sometimes the letter is addressed to me. Other times it'll be to a person in the story. The mayor. The Baron. The cousin. This process helps the actor take a peek inside the character's head and see what drives him, what makes him sad or happy, what he wants in life. As a novelist, I've used this technique to dig into a character's reasons for doing a certain thing. Maybe the protagonist writes her grandmother and shares her frustrations with her husband. The antagonist could write “Dear Abby” and explain his horrible upbringing. Writing a letter in the hero's viewpoint takes the character's journey to another level. It deepens the backstory. It improves internal dialogue. It makes me understand my characters.

Talk in character.
One of my favorite warm-up exercises is for two actors to go to the front of the class and talk in character. “Talk about chocolate.” “Debate the Baron's rudeness.” “Gossip about Miss Mable.” This is perfect for improv, but it's also a great stimulation for deepening characters in writing. Go off-script. Take a few minutes and have a gab session between two people about a problem in the story or let them yak about another character. This gig isn't for inclusion in your story, but simply to deepen characters' thoughts and personalities. Of course, you never know, this dialogue might be perfect for your manuscript. Let yourself go and talk in character for a while and see where it leads.

Get your shoes on!
I ask my actors, "Do you have your shoes on?" This doesn't mean their tennies. This question refers to them “becoming” their characters. Sometimes, I have them leave the area when I tell them, “Get your shoes on.” They step out of the room and return in character. As writers, we have to do this also. We answer a telephone and get pulled from our work, maybe even come away discouraged. We have to think about bills, dinner, marketing, whatever. Sometimes, it can be difficult to get back into our character's head. And we must do that for deep POV. It can help to step out of the room for a moment, whether physically or mentally, and reenter with “our shoes on.” Now, I'm Ty. I rock my eyebrows like him, sag in the chair, etc. Whatever it takes, I want to stay in that character's thoughts and feelings until I'm ready to switch.

Ask questions.
I love interacting with my actors in character. In fact, I rarely call an actor by his real name. I refer to each one as his/her character's name. This helps them stay in character, and helps me direct from a different perspective. I want actors to know the characters they're becoming inside and out. I want Ben to understand why the Baron acts the way he does. What hurt him in the past? Why is he mean? What did he have for breakfast? What are his dreams? I stand at the head of the class and ask questions. Students answer in character.

Writers can do the same thing to go into deep POV. You can start by making a list of questions to ask a character. Why are you treating her that way? What were you thinking? What were you doing last night? What did you have for dinner? Spend a few minutes free-writing answers as if you are the character. This isn't a goal-oriented exercise. It's not even for use in the story. Although, an idea might pop up that will bring a whole new twist to your tale. The real purpose is to deepen your character. To explore his thoughts and dreams and pursuits. To think and breathe like him. Anyone can write a simple story. It takes work “becoming” that character.

Have fun with backstory.
Before I write a play, I write a description and brief backstory for each character. It's enough to get me into the characters' difficulties and strengths while writing. But when the actors receive their parts, they explore how they're going to bring deeper backstories to their characters. The way one actor portrays Griff Cardingham is different than the way another actor would. So it is with writing. Backstories make the difference in taking characters deeper. In acting class, when someone tells a backstory, I often have an aha! moment. “I didn't know he was Irish!” (Even though I'm the playwright.) And, I laugh. Later, when that character isn't as believable as I'd like, I remind him of his story. I inquire how that character would respond based on growing up in Ireland.

The need to deepen backstory may hit you midway through your writing. You have your pre-write-up about Clay. You know these things: he had a rough relationship with his father, he sank a boat, he robbed a bank. You know the basics. But maybe you reach a point where the writing glugs. Now's the time to explore Clay's backstory. Take it deeper, ask questions, and find those tidbits of his history like you or I would have in real life. Maybe Clay nearly drowned in the swamp by his grandmother's farm at age six, and a snake was floating in the water. Ever since, he's had a fear of snakes--and the unknown. We all have a backstory. What's your character's tale? Again, this isn't to dump a bunch of information into the story. It's to make the characters real and dimensional in our minds.

Sometimes I tell my actors, “Make me believe.” That means they aren't being passionate, they aren't getting into character, they're portrayal is shallow. What do they do? They'll have to draw from some of the above exercises to go deeper. As writers, so do we. We need to find a place where the character comes alive in us. She isn't just someone I'm talking about. For a little while, I need to become her, know her thoughts, her heart, her way of walking, and why. It's not that I've lost myself. No, I've become the character to such a degree that it's a mixture of her and me, a blending of personalities, just like my actors do onstage.

Is your character weak? Take him/her deeper. If you come to a place where you can't get over a hurdle, the protagonist seems too selfish or inept or shallow, try writing a letter in his voice. Explore through questions what the guy is thinking and feeling about seeing his old girlfriend after ten years. Or leave your writing area and return as if you are your antagonist . . . for a few minutes.

Our goal is to make the reader--or the audience--believe. It's a process of becoming. Of going deeper. Always deeper. In doing so, we make our characters live, whether it's onstage . . . or on the page.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast with Staci Stallings: More Than This

More Than This

More Than This By Staci Stallings

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About the Book:

Liz Savoy has no plans to date anyone—least of all the dark handsome mystery man who sometimes inhabits the corner table at the coffee shop where she’s working to get through school. But plans change, sometimes in ways no one expected. Jake McCoy is the next mega-millionaire author, or at least he would be if he could get the stories in his head down on the ether. With no good place to write, he resorts to dark corners in Wi-Fi hotspots, knowing no one in the world cares about him or his comings and goings one way or the other. However, there is one waitress at The Grind coffee shop with a cute smile and kind eyes who doesn’t seem to think he is as invisible as he likes to think he is. Can reality with her ever hope to match the fantasy world where his imagination has him living?

Staci new haedshot 

Now a #1 Best Selling Christian and Inspirational Romance author, Staci Stallings, a stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. Although she lives in Amarillo, Texas and her main career right now is her family, Staci touches the lives of people across the globe with her various Internet and writing endeavors.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Here's My Baby!!

Today is Celebration Day!!!
I get to show you my baby.

For the first time on this blog, let me introduce . . .


Today is Launch Day for April's Storm, the second book in my 2nd Chance Series! It's a very exciting day for me. It kind of reminds me of having a baby. Finally, my friends and family get to see (read) the story that's been living and growing in my heart for over a year.

As I release this book into the vast world, I'm saying good-bye to my time spent with Chad and April, characters who have become dear to me, and, in many ways, real. While April's Storm isn't my personal story, to read my work is to know my heart. I want to thank you for doing that, and for joining with me in cheering for Chad's and April's second chance at love.

For a limited time, April's Storm is 99 cents on Kindle!!

Get your Kindle copy today: Kindle copy of April's Storm 

Like to hold a paperback? Paperback of April's Storm

Sometimes our paths cross for a reason.

April Gray is fed up with lectures on how to become the perfect pastor's wife, and her husband's around-the-clock vigilance to the church is driving her crazy. Has he fallen out of love with her? Is he having an affair? After months of parsonage warfare, April is sure there's only one thing left to do—leave!

Being a pastor means everything to Chad. He thought April knew that when he married her. Why can't she see he's doing the work of ten men? He doesn't have time for romance when he barely has time to eat.

As a last ditch attempt to rescue their marriage, April and Chad attend a marriage seminar where Ty and Winter Williams, second-time-around newlyweds, are sharing their journey of forgiveness and second chances. Reconciliation sounds fine to Chad, but what price will he have to pay?

“In April’s Storm, Mary Hanks follows up Winter’s Past with another stellar read and gives us a front row seat to witness God mending broken hearts, restoring shattered dreams, and reviving a crumbling marriage.” Paula McGrew

Here's the main setting for April's Storm: Ketchikan, Alaska. 
The mountain in this photo is Deer Mountain, where April and Chad hike.
I've been to the top a couple of times myself.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CrossReads Book Blast with Paula Rose Michelson


No Other Choice: The Naomi Chronicles, Book One 

By Paula Rose Michelson

About the Book:

Naomi will be sent back! She left her family and all she held dear, traveled half way around the word while accompanying a blind, old grandmother because they promised to help her enter America and find her uncle. Instead they handed her over to immigration. What she does now, she does because there is no other choice! This is Naomi’s journey from adolescence to womanhood, from frightened isolation and captivity to the noble status of heiress. Trapped in a life where all who know her think her a saint, saddled with a mission and responsibility many would shirk from placed upon her shoulders, Naomi agrees to marry because that seems to be the easiest way to sidestep more issues. As timely as the immigration debate of today is, author, William Struse’s endorsement says, “Duty, sacrifice, and faith are carried in the arms of love by a courageous young woman, who rises above her own flaws to help others.”

Paula Rose Michelson0011

Paula Rose Michelson As a Messianic Jew, Paula Rose Michelson wanted to write about life, love, choices, and forgiveness. She researched what befell the Jews baptized into the Catholic faith to survive the Inquisition, and when she began to write The Naomi Chronicles, Naomi told her the story you are about to read. Because of her extensive background in recovery as a Chemical Dependency - Lifestyle Disorder Councilor, her work with The Rubicon Center, and as the founded LAMB Ministries in 1988, where she continues to mentor women suffering from trauma and abuse the way God mentored her, the author knows that though her heroine’s story is unique, Naomi’s issues of fear and hiding are universal, for they are seen in anyone who is masking their real pain. Paula Rose Michelson is the wife of Lutheran Pastor and Chosen People Field Missionary, Ron Michelson. The mother of two married daughters, and grandmother of seven grandchildren, when not involved in ministry, writing, speaking, or teaching the effective use of scripture, you will find Paula researching her next book or meeting with friends.  

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

I Failed

I confess . . . I failed to reach my goals for the past year.

Maybe they were too big and unreachable. Although, I really hate to say that. I believe in setting high standards for myself, and sometimes others. For better or for worse, we live up (or down) to expectations. On January 1, 2014, I wanted to try something I'd never done before, so I set a big goal. I was really excited about it too. I decided in 2014 I would write and publish three books—April's Storm, Stage Woes, and a book on faith.

But . . . (gulp) . . . I failed.

I honestly did work hard and faithfully on April’s Storm, but it took most of the year. It will be released later in January, but, still, none of those three things I'd hoped for happened in 2014.

So, on this shining, brand new day in 2015, I'm wondering, should I set any goals for the year? What if I fail again? Maybe if I hope for the best and see where things lead me, I'll be okay. Perhaps, I'll even be surprised. Things might work out better than in years past. I could see some success. Maybe. If.

That reminds me of how I feel about cleaning my house. It's one of my least favorite things to do. Especially the bathrooms. If I don't have a plan in advance to clean house, or do a certain task, I can pretty much guarantee it won't get done.

I used to be way more motivated and driven. Now that we live in the country and don't have kids in the house, things easily fall by the wayside. “I've got to give the dogs a bath,” can be said many days in a row. Something smells “strange” in the fridge, but it goes untended for a week. Days morph together, and suddenly, it's Sunday again, and I don't know how that happened.

I definitely need a list. A goal. A plan. But what if I don't succeed?

I've heard some scoff at New Year's resolutions. “I'm going to lose ten pounds.” “I'm going to quit ______________.” “I'm going to write a book.” Those doubters don't believe people will follow through with their commitments. And, maybe they won't. Maybe I won't. But the thing is, what will we (I) accomplish without a goal? For me, New Year's Day 2016 would show up, and I wouldn't have finished much of anything.

Is there something you'd really like to see happen this year? A trip to Europe? Writing a book? Moving to a different house? Going on a mission trip? Living by a budget? Why not make a list of goals to work toward? Sure, you can be afraid that you won't stick to your plan. Or, you can look yourself—and your list—in the eye each day and say “I can do it. With God's help I can do anything.”

Even though I failed at my goals last year, I've decided to make another list today—January 1, 2015. The thing I'm going to do differently, that I didn't do in 2014, is post my goals in a prominent place where I can see them every day. I'm going to recite that verse “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” over them. (Philippians 4:13) And, because I'm following the Lord, I'll add “Your will be done,” because I want His will to be done in all areas of my life.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

And even in the areas where I think I failed, did I learn something through the process? If so, then I probably didn't fail as much as I thought I did. And that is good news.

Got a list?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Through the Eyes of a Child

A Christmas tune plays on the radio and the words draw me back to another time and place. I can almost taste Mom’s sugar cookies, with crushed peppermint candy sprinkled over the top, fresh from the oven. I can still see the blue color-coordinated decorations and lights twinkling on  my aunt’s white tree—I’m sure that’s why blue gives me so much pleasure to this day. And I can recall the joy of trying to guess what might be in a certain package.

For me it happens with “Silent Night” and blue lights and snow. Maybe everyone has a special place they travel back to when the fragrances are just right, when the sounds pull you in, or maybe, all it takes is seeing a child grinning from ear to ear, wishing for Christmas Eve to hurry up and get here, and suddenly, you remember . . .

And for a few moments you get caught away.

Can you see yourself as a child? For those of us with children, it’s easy to remember the times when they were little. But what about you? What makes you reminisce to a time in your youth when life was simple and fun and filled with anticipation over Christmas? When the joy of looking forward to Christmas morning—or Eve—consumed you. Not just about the gifts, although there was that. But, also, to hearing the Christmas story. To reliving the journey of the wisemen and angelic visitation to the shepherds. To the awe of the moment when the lights on the tree were first turned on in the dark. To lying on the floor and staring up at the glowing colors and tree decorations as if you’d never seen them before. Tasting candies you were only allowed to have at Christmastime. Hearing laughter in the house. Family. Presents. Candles. Twinkling stars. Watching. Waiting.

Close your eyes for a moment. Don’t think too hard. Just relax and smell the evergreen scents, hear the soft Christmas melodies playing, the jingling of a bell, packages being shaken and felt. Does a little anticipation race up your spine? When you were a kid, did you lay awake in bed trying to go to sleep on Christmas Eve, but you couldn’t? Did you think . . . Christmas is tomorrow? It’s coming. Somehow, I’ve got to go to sleep so I can wake up and then it will be . . .


Remember? Oh, let yourself feel. Think of the happiness. The laughter. Did you count down the twelve days before Christmas? Maybe, the twelve days before that? Then, before you knew it, tomorrow—the one perfect day of the year when dreams might come true—was almost here. Did you get so happy you felt like dancing? Or maybe you were wishing for a hula hoop to twirl in, and those thoughts were prancing in your mind. Or a doll. Or a new book. Did you hope for a Tonka truck or a new bow and arrow? Could you imagine yourself in buckskins like Davy Crockett?

In our busy adult world, with jobs and bills and responsibilities and stress and pain, sometimes we forget to love Christmas like we did as a kid. To see and smell and touch the beauty and traditions of celebrating Jesus’s birthday. When you closed your eyes a moment ago, what did you see? Did you remember something special?

I recall how one year, I shook a beautiful red-wrapped present, listening for any sound that might give away the contents. Was that briefest of clatters the sound of a miniature washing machine? Oh, I hoped so! I couldn't wait for morning to come so I could find out if my mom had gotten me the thing I longed for—a toy machine to wash all my doll clothes. Can you imagine a seven-year-old wanting that? Ha! After a lifetime of washing clothes, I wonder, what in the world was I thinking? Why would I want such a gift? But I did.

Another year, when I was older, we got a long wooden toboggan as a family gift. We spent days and days sliding down the hills in Ketchikan, Alaska. One time, a bunch of snow fell in the middle of the night, and one of my brothers woke me up, and the three of us and our cousins bundled up and went outside and played in the snow, building all kinds of sculptures—before it could melt away.

Oh, the treasures and memories we have inside of us. Have you thought of your childhood Christmases lately? What smells take you back to those carefree days? Cinnamon rolls? Fudge? Hot chocolate cooking on the stove?

“Silent Night” brings back warm feelings for me, because my mom and I used to sing that song while we washed dishes. It was the first song where I learned to hold the melody while someone else harmonized. Each time I hear the song, I remember her.

Of course, we can’t live in the past. We have the privilege of making new memories this year, and in the coming year. But, every now and then, it’s a blessing to go back and remember the special times we experienced in our youth. These memories are part of our story in the book of our lives.

We’re supposed to become like a child in faith. That brings to mind the verse . . . “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3) To me, that means being free and joy-filled and full of anticipation in what God can do. A child sees the moment and enjoys it. He’s open and full of belief. His joy hasn’t been diminished by disappointment. Nothing holds a child back from expressing happiness over the smallest things. A child who is belly-laughing isn’t a bit concerned over how he looks or sounds or who might care. In that moment, he’s absolutely free. And it’s beautiful. I love hearing a child’s laughter. It’s contagious and makes me laugh too.

We get caught up in too many “serious” things in this life. I know, there are plenty of serious things to consider. But, let’s take a few minutes and remember what it’s like to see Christmas through the eyes of a child. Let’s remember. Starting with Jesus. Loving those around you. Taking it all in. Truly feeling again.

A child really can lead us. In fact, He already did.

Merry Christmas!!