Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Since the covers of my books aren't typical for the CBA market (i.e. they don't depict the main character) one of the questions that I am continally asked by readers is: What does Julia look like??? Of course, I describe her in After the Leaves Fall and Summer Snow, but some people still want to see her. "Compare her to a Hollywood actor," people implore me. But for some reason I can't imagine Julia as anyone in Hollywood. "Sketch a picture," someone else recommended. Are you kidding me? I hardly do stick people.

Well, I think I've finally found Julia. I refused to peg her as anyone until I found the perfect picture of her--the photo had to absolutely nail the Julia I had envisioned when I was writing her. And this young woman is it. Here is my interpretation of Julia De Smit, lovely but just a little awkward, tenacious yet uncertain, strong but scared. What do you think? Is this Julia?

Friday, September 26, 2008

One Body, One Hope

Check out the new logo for our non-profit organization. Isn't it cool? A good friend of ours just completed the design and I had to share it with you.

For those of you who don't know, One Body, One Hope was founded over 18 months ago after Aaron and I became friends with a wonderful Liberian pastor named Robert Bimba. Robert and his congreagation at Abide in the Vine (just outside of Monrovia) support an orphanage called Christ Our Hope. The 53 kids at Christ Our Hope depend on the generous monthly donations of our sponsors for their food, education, medical care, and other needs. It has been such an awesome experience to be involved in the lives of these beautiful children.

Anyway, over the course of the next few weeks I'll be sharing a bit more about our organization. In the meantime, if you'd like more info feel free to email me. And if you'd like a One Body, One Hope t-shirt, they'll be for sale soon!

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Favorite Season

I love fall. Though you may hear me confess that I love spring the best after a long, hard Iowa winter, don't buy it. Autumn is my first love, and I'll claim it when I'm thinking clearly and my brain isn't muddled by cabin fever. Today was warm and lovely, hot in the sun but cool in the shade. The sky was searingly blue, the leaves are just starting to change, and I spent the whole day with my boys outside. I took some pictures of my favorite fall things...

It's so much fun to decorate in the fall. I adore pumpkins--they're so satisfyingly tactile, you just have to reach out and touch them. And I like being surprised by new colors, unexpected shapes. There are pumpkins all over my house right now. This pretty green one greets you when you walk in the front door.

Of course, as a pumpkin-lover, I'm also crazy about pumkin bars. Cream cheese frosting... What could be better? They're the perfect cool weather dessert.

And my garden is so pretty in the fall. I have a Pee-Gee hydrangea that is so heavy with flowers the branches hang on the ground. A bunch of cut blooms in a glass vase makes the prettiest centerpiece I've ever seen.

My kids love fall, too. Especially making squirrel soup, a Baart family specialty and an autumn tradition. (FYI, the soup is for the squirrels, not filled with squirrels.) We take my turkey roasting pot outside and fill it with whatever we can find by walking around the neighborhood. This year the squirrels feasted on red berries, phlox flowers, mushrooms, cut grass, leaves, bark, sticks, and rocks. I think there might be a few mystery ingredients also, thanks to my two-year-old. Lucky squirrels.

One last, sweet picture. Though I hate to admit it, I like it when the weather cools off and my kids need to start wearing warm jammies. They seem more snuggly in the fall, somehow... Anyway, I thought this was the sweetest picture--they're head to head, reading a book at the kitchen table in their pajamas. I couldn't resist capturing it on film.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Books Among Friends

One of the neatest things about this whole writing gig has been the chance to meet people who share my passion for words. Granted, I've only been in the industry for a year, so I can hardly claim the sort of bond that Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw shared. All the same, I have met some amazing people who I definitely consider my friends, and I'd love to take a few minutes today to introduce you to them and encourage you to read (buy!) their books.

Travis Thrasher was one of the very first people I met after I signed my contract with Tyndale. A few months after the papers were complete, I flew out to Chicago and spent a few days with my editors and all the other fabulous people at Tyndale House. At that time, Travis was the Author Relations Coordinator. He was funny, well-spoken, and very understanding when I made a fool of myself by not knowing that he was an author, too. Since then, Travis and I have continued to keep in touch via email, and we were able to spend some time together at ICRS this summer.

One of the things that I like best about Travis's books is the fact that he's not afraid to try new things. Often authors get pegged in a certain genre and never leave. Travis writes romance, adventure stories, horror, you name it. Since I don't always feel as if I know myself as an author, it's nice to know that someone like Travis likes to experiment, too. His most recent book, Isolation, has just been released from FaithWords. If you like Stephen King, you'll love this book. I read it on the plane home from Florida this summer and was scared to death. I think that was the point. :)

Lisa McKay and I met online. How very modern of us. Anyway, it all started with an email, and from there Lisa and I have built an incredible friendship. We spent four days together at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, and had such a wonderful time that we did it all over again at ICRS in Orlando. Lisa is brilliant, witty, and a great conversationalist. Our complete lack of sleep whenever we're together attests to our ability to talk and talk and talk... Mostly we talk about the fact that we are both debut novelists and have no idea what we're doing!

To date, Lisa only has one book out, but it's a doozie. My Hands Came Away Red is gripping, fast-paced, and beautifully written. I couldn't put it down. Apparently, neither could the judges for this year's Christy Award for excellence in Christian fiction. Hands was nominated for a Christy in the suspense category. If you haven't read this book, you're missing out.

Last, but not least, I'd like to introduce you to Chris Fabry. It might be a bit of a stretch to call him a friend since we only met briefly this summer during ICRS. But he made an impression on me and I love his book, so Chris is a friend. (Can I just claim him like that?) The few times we spoke at ICRS, Chris struck me as a very happy, genuine, fun-loving guy. He's the sort of person you just want to be around.

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I'm not familiar with Chris's earlier work. He is the author of more than 50 novels for children and young adults, but Dogwood is his first adult novel. And I just devoured it. The prose is beautiful, the story is heartbreaking and multifaceted, and the ending will leave you breathless. It's one of those books that you want to read twice just to make sure you caught all the clues and innuendo. A very fun read.

Well there you go. Click on the links, buy the books. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Writing Partners

People often ask me what sort of advice I have for writers who aspire to be published. Honestly? That question often makes me feel a bit uncomfortable--I'm hardly a seasoned veteran. And who's to say that what works for me will work for you? My mind feels fresh and ready to write after a hour of yoga and a cup of strong coffee. You may not be the yoga type. (I won't even comment about not being the coffee type. If that's the case, we gotta talk.) Besides, when I've received writing advice in the past, I have to admit that it hasn't always been that helpful to me. I think the best thing you can do is try it all, keeping what you like and chucking what you hate.

However, I do believe that there are a few things about writing that apply across the board. One of them is the necessity of a writing partner, critique partner, partner-in-crime, whatever you want to call it. My writing partner and first draft editor is the single most influential person in the production of my manuscript. He listens to me babble endlessly about my ideas (in the planning stage) and offers sage advice and words of wisdom when my big dreams go a little overboard. Then he edits and encourages me through the writing of every chapter of the book. Because he is not immersed up to his eyeballs like me, he can see things in plot and characterization that I can't. Sometimes his analysis of my work catches me a bit off-guard, but when I have a little distance I usually find that his observations are bang on. Finally, he bounces ideas off me, helping me see plot twists that I didn't even pick up on myself, and getting rid of the non-essentials. I don't know what I would do without him.

Anyway, I was thinking about Todd today, wondering if he's ready to jump into another book with me, or if he's had enough of editing my first draft drivel. I hope not. If you're reading, Todd, cheers. You'll have a chapter in your in-box soon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I've been such a homebody this week. Yesterday I mothered three children, made chocolate chip cookies, roasted a chicken for supper (with mashed potatoes, sweet corn, stuffing, and homemade gravy), and managed to do it all with a smile on my face. (Okay, so that was a normal day in the life of my grandmother. Sue me.) Ready for more today, I undertook the laborious task of fixing nasi goreng, a Dutch-Indonesian rice dish that is a personal favorite of mine. It's sort of like fried rice, but there's chicken and pork, as well as a hot Indonesian spice called sambal oelek. Very yummy, but very time consuming. Anyway, between running my Big Boy to gymnastics, preschool, play dates, and hockey, then cooking, cleaning, and trying to keep my family sane, I'm starting to feel very "super-momish." This morning I was chatting with some friends in the parking lot of my son's preschool and it hit me full on--I'm not a super-mom, I'm a soccer mom. Or, a hockey mom. How Sarah Palin of me.

Okay, this is not new news. I've been a mom now for nearly five years. But for some reason this summer I felt much more "authorish." There was lots going on in my professional life and my days felt more tipped toward the work scale. Now I've hardly touched a pen (or my computer) for weeks. I'm feeling so out of it! Like an athelete who's taken a too-long vacation. It's time to get back in shape.

Although I haven't written any chapters, I have been doing something that I've never done before: I'm plotting. My fourth book (I'm calling it Bridgewater right now) is already well established in my mind, and for the first time ever I'm doing extensive character sketches, plot diagrams, and chapter plans. It's so unlike me. I hardly know this woman who's taken over my writing life! But it's exciting, too. I'm having lots of fun trying to write a different way.

And not only am I writing differently, I'm swimming into uncharted territory: romance. Well, not romance. Someone once told me that the rough definition of a romance is a happily-ever-after story, and a love story has much more tragic elements and leans more toward the literary. So I guess Bridgewater has elements of a love story. Fun for me, but my critique partner and first-draft editor is quite nervous. Not much of a romantic, I guess. Hey, maybe that's why I'm not getting emails from him demanding the next installment... Either way, I'm afraid the story is set. Hopefully once all is said and done, I'll have converted him. My fingers are crossed.

In the meantime, I'm afraid supper tomorrow is going to be hamburgers on the grill thanks to the heroic efforts of my spatula-weilding husband. I hope he doesn't mind--I have a date with my pen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Birthday Winners

So I just drew two numbers and the winners of the autographed copies of After the Leaves Fall are Scrappy Kay and Angi! Please email me with your home address and I'll drop the books in the mail ASAP. Thanks for your interest. I hope you like the book.

I'd write more, but I happen to a mother of three today. My cousin's husband is in Iraq and I'm watching her baby for the day. He's absolutely adorable, and I've done way more than my share of smooching. But life is busy with three boys ages four and under! Gotta run.

Have a great Tuesday!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Birthday Contest!

Guess what day it is today?!? The birthday of my very first novel! How exciting is that? I'd sing, but you wouldn't hear me anyway, so instead of baking a cake and doing all the other regular birthday stuff, I'm going to give away some books. I'll send a signed copy of After the Leaves Fall to two people who leave a comment on this post. On Tuesday (Sept. 9), I'll randomly draw two names to win a copy of a book that happens to be a very good fall read... I love reading novels that coincide with the season I'm in. And in many ways Leaves is like a pumpkin spice candle--it just goes with the crisp air, colorful leaves, and soft fall wind. Anyway, good luck to you!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wine Tour, Take II

Well, today my Big Boy is officially a preschooler. I dropped him off this morning, prepared for an emotional display and a little mommy-clinging. Uh, no. We were two feet in the door when my sweet son took off without even saying goodbye. I did a pathetic lunge and tried to catch him for one last hug, but he shrugged me off. Can you believe it? My four and a half year old is a fully functioning (not to mention independent) human being. The nerve. I pined for him all morning, but when he came home at lunchtime, it was obvious he hadn't given me a second thought. Everything was "Cody-this" and "Cody-that"... Apparently my Big Boy has a new friend. Although, I guess I can't claim that this yet-to-be-seen young man has usurped my role in my son's life. Sadly, it has never been "Mommy-this" and "Mommy-that" around our house. Oh well, who am I kidding? I want my son to be happy, well-adjusted, normal, etc. I guess this is just one more small step in his maturation.

Anyway, in an effort to get my mind off my ever-changing life, I'm going to post a few more wine tour pics. I consider the Okanagan my "happy place" right now. He-he-he!

This is the view from the second-story deck of our fabulous bed and breakfast, Okanagan Oasis. The little patio with the grass umbrellas is where we enjoyed our first bottle of Okanagan wine. Then we went for a swim in the heated salt-water pool, and out for supper on a dock over the lake. Amazing.

Here I am with my beautiful mom right before our Mission Hills viticulture tour. Everything at Mission Hills was very well cared for and lush.

Sampling the fare... :) I believe this was the Cabernet Franc. Yum.

A view of the amazing cellars at Mission Hills. This particular cellar is a cave that was blasted out of the side of the mountain that the winery is perched atop. It was spectacular.