Books + Stories

Books + Stories
If you’re looking for your next novel, enter to win Katherine James’ prize-winning one!
February 27, 2018 at 6:00 am 0

Friends! Books are totally my BFF's.

Kate James's novel, Can You See Anything Now?, is one of those novel BFF's. You will not want to miss it. For forever, I have lamented the sad state of Christian novels -- or most novels that have any Christian storyline. Many don't reckon with real feelings, real people, and real doubts. Kate James' book totally delivers -- it's a book that takes faith seriously with full-bodied, broken and beautiful characters. You won't want to miss it!     Katherine James has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University where she received the Felipe P. De fellowship and taught undergraduate fiction, and while her concentration was in fiction, she enjoys writing poetry and essays just as much. Some of her poetry and narrative non-fiction is published in various anthologies and journals. You can find her at her website, and purchase her book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.  

And I get to give away a copy!!!

I'm switching things up -- all you need to do is COMMENT ON THIS POST TO ENTER.

  Want to know more about Katherine James's debut novel? Did I mention it won the 2018 award at Christianity Today for fiction?! Can You See Anything Now? follows a year in the small town of Trinity where the tragedy and humility of a few reveal the reality of people's motivations and desires. This is a story without veneer, and for readers who prefer reality to sanitized fiction--this book is unsentimental, and yet grace-filled. The characters here are complex and intriguing -- the suicidal painter, Margie, who has been teaching her evangelical neighbor, Etta, how to paint nudes; her husband, the town therapist, who suspects his work helps no one; and their college-aged daughter Noel -- whose roommate, Pixie, joins them at home for a winter holiday, only to fall prey to tragedy.     My take -- (I ate it up in a few days):

Dear reader, if you want a calm, cool, collected veneer of a story this is not it. There's real stuff in her novel: cutting, attempted suicide, curse words. But you know what else there is? There is an honest look at real life as well as a hopeful, redemptive narrative of the lives of men and women (and a town). Go buy this book.


Want in on the process of writing a novel? Kate James was kind enough to answer some questions about the book.

So you wrote a novel. Why? There were certainly moments when I asked myself this very thing—especially when I was a few chapters in and my characters were about as exciting and complicated as astro turf. However, when something I'm working on starts to gain traction and the characters, rather than standing in line waiting their turn to make it to the page, begin splitting off in their own directions to do their quirky things—for example, one guy takes a leak in the middle of a street at midnight, another can't stop applying for a spot on The Cupcake Wars—I honestly start to have a blast. It's fun. I like writing.   What was the inspiration for Can You See Anything Now? It began with an image. There's a lake in the neighborhood I live in now. It's a small lake and I pass it every afternoon when I take a walk. I usually try to pray while I'm walking but sometimes my mind will wander because there’s so much beauty around me. About half a mile into my walk, there's a short bridge that crests at a hill and once over it a valley suddenly appears and you see the lake, like an enormous silvery puddle, before you. There's also a swimming raft in the middle of it. So there it was, the beginning of Can You See Anything Now?    Whats next? Good question. I’ve just completed a memoir, Notes on Orion, so as far as writing goes, I’m in a short stall at the moment. Presently, I’ve enjoyed spending more time teaching and leading writer’s workshops. As far as my next writing project, I have a manila envelope full of notes for another novel. I think a lot about what the general plot will be and what the characters will be like. The novel will take place in Trinity, the town I wrote about in Can You See Anything Now? and includes many of the same characters.

Get yourself a copy on Amazon now.

The opening scene is amazing. Haunting, enigmatic, tersely written.

Enter the giveaway by commenting on the post! Give Kate James some love on social media, too.


Books + Stories
Win a book every mom needs! Catherine McNiel’s Long Days of Small Things
February 21, 2018 at 6:43 am 0
Friends, I'm so excited for you to read Catherine McNiel's book: Long Days of Small Things. I've introduced you to some great books by my friends Dorcas Cheng-Tozun (on start-ups and marriage) and Beth Bruno (on raising girls). Catherine McNiel writes to open eyes to God’s creative, redemptive work in each day—while caring for three kids, two jobs, and one enormous garden. Catherine is the author of Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline (NavPress 2017), and loves to connect on TwitterFacebook,Instagram, or at  

Her book, Long Days of Small Things, is a must for every mother who has felt the beauty, the monotony, and the blessing in doing small things on many long days.

I don't know about you, but I am hungry for words to help me live this mothering life well. You'll find that in Catherine's book.   Long Days of Small Things is a book that looks at the real life work we do in our everyday lives, and finds God right here in the midst of it. It’s a book for moms (or dads…or grandparents…or caregivers…) who know they don’t have any extra time or energy, but still want a way to connect with God and discover how to find Him.  In each chapter Catherine tells stories from our real lives—the seasons and stages of motherhood, pregnancy and delivery, infant days, sleepless nights, caring for children of all ages—and the tasks that fill them. She looks at spiritual tools that already hide there—like sacrifice, surrender, service, perseverance, and celebration—and considers how we can open our eyes to the spiritual boot camp we walk through every day. Without adding anything extra to our live or to-do lists, we practice so many disciplines every moment of the day.

Guess what friends? I get to give a copy away!!

Here's what you need to do: simply put in your email here (or comment if you're already a subscriber) and you'll be entered to win! Giveaway ends in one week.

Win a copy!!


Want to hear more?

Catherine was so kind to answer a few questions about her book:

  How has motherhood impacted your understanding of spirituality? We think of spirituality as something that happens in our minds, in silence. We are taught that our bodies, our mess and complications and noise hold us back from being with God. That doesn’t leave a lot of hope for moms, whose pregnant or post-partum bodies, newborns, toddlers, and van-full of carpool kids have no end of loud, messy, physical, chaotic needs. But God made us, didn’t He? Genesis describes Him getting in the dirt and forming us from the dust by hand, then breathing His own breath into our mouths. That’s pretty physical and messy! Then He actually took on a body Himself. The King of Kings wiggled around in a woman’s womb, surrounded by amniotic fluid. He entered the world through her birth canal. God was born, you guys. That’s our Good News. All this physical stuff that we feel keeps us from Him is the same stuff He used to meet with us, to speak to us, to save us.  So Long Days of Small Things is a book for moms “who have neither quiet nor time” as the cover says—or dads, grandparents, and other caregivers.   Describe an experience that first caused you to understand motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline. I was shopping with my three kids. Can you imagine the scene? Lugging my infant in one of those terribly unwieldy baby-carriers. Holding my toddler by the hand, while my preschooler zoomed around the store. The diaper bag was falling off my shoulders, and I clenched the grocery bags with the same hand that grasped my toddler. And then…the door. I couldn’t figure out how to get us all through. The baby was wailing for milk and a nap, the toddler and preschooler needed lunch (and a nap). I wanted lunch and a nap too, truth be told. But mostly I just wanted to get us out the door. No one held it open for me, but plenty of people watched me make a fool of myself trying to wiggle us all through without banging any heads or pinching any fingers. It felt like a hero-feat, an epic win. When I finally got everyone home, fed, and sleeping, I sat down to read an article I’d been saving; a short biography of a favorite Christian teacher. The biographer described this hero of the faith as so spiritual, he radiated peace just by walking through the door. This stopped me in my tracks. The memory of how I looked going through a door was so fresh in my mind. I realized that if spiritual growth entailed developing an aura of peace and radiance, I was never going to arrive—at least not without getting rid of these precious babies! The contrast between this teacher and myself was so stark, and I realized he and I were simply on two separate paths. I was seeking God through the chaotic but life-giving seasons and tasks of motherhood, and this was going to look entirely different from the classic spiritual practices. “Results may vary” as they say.   How is this book different from all the other books and conversations out there regarding motherhood today?  There are so many books out there for moms on the topic of devotion and spirituality.  Almost all of them have this in common: after admitting that moms are exhausted, stretched too thin, without any margin or time or energy, they look for a few extra minutes here or there which might be harvested for God; or offer a Bible study or prayer list that might fit in the tiny slots. Get up at 4:30am before the baby wakes at 5am! Read two minutes of the Bible each day! I’m all for doing these things when it works, but I’m convinced that we don’t need to exit motherhood to have a spiritual life. Our children are what we create, and this is where our Creator God meets us. I’m certain of it. Without adding more “should’s” or “to-do’s” to our days, we can open our eyes to a unique spiritual journey, made just for us—and find him here. We’re already doing it. All that waits is for us to breathe deeply and being to drink.

Win a copy!!


Giveaway winner will be emailed within one week.

Books + Stories
Start, Love, Repeat: A Book for Entrepreneurs!
February 6, 2018 at 6:00 am 0
    You met one of my writer friends, Beth Bruno, author of A Voice Becoming. Today, I can't wait to introduce you to Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, author of Start, Love, Repeat   Dorcas Cheng-Tozun's book, Start, Love, Repeat, is a practical, empathetic, smart look at the life of entrepreneurs and their families.      

How do we combine what we love to do and those whom we love without sacrificing either?

Start, Love, Repeat is specifically for couples in which one or both partners are entrepreneurs, but don't worry if you're not an entrepreneur -- the research and advice are applicable for any couple who struggles to balance the work they love with the people they love. And who has got this thing called "balance" figured out?
  Dorcas wrote Start, Love, Repeat because there weren't any books out there that dealt with what it looks like to nurture both a demanding career that can eclipse life outside of work as well as family life. Start, Love, Repeat is organized by the phases of start-up life and it's a smart book that combines research, personal stories, and helpful information for entrepreneurial couples. We tend to stereotype entrepreneurs as uniformly young and single, but the truth is that nearly 70 percent of business founders have spouses, life partners, or children—all of whom, whether they like it or not, are living the start-up life.1 Those who choose to be with entrepreneurs invite things into their lives they may never have wanted: financial instability, uncertainty, stress, and the nagging sense that they are always playing second fiddle to the greater lure of their partner’s business. You need a guide to making it and Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is just that.       

Let me tell you one little secret...

Start, Love, Repeat isn't just a book for entrepreneurs. It's a book for adults. For anyone who lives a real life and is trying to figure out what and how to prioritize personal lives with work lives. It's a fabulous resource for ministry families. I've felt the dearth of good books to help a pastor and their spouse weather the challenges of always being available for ministry. Starting a church is a whole lot like starting a business. We need good resources to help give us language to know what's going on, that we're not alone, and some tips to keep moving forward. This should definitely be on your to-read list for 2018.

Dorcas was kind enough to answer a few questions about her book, Start, Love, Repeat:

  Why is the start-up journey so difficult for couples and families? There is nothing quite like starting a business from nothing. It requires entrepreneurs to lay almost all of what they have and who they are on the line: financially, professionally, but also emotionally. They’re signing up for a heavy load of uncertainty, stress, and responsibility. Significant others, whether or not they are entrepreneurial themselves, are inevitably pulled into these risks. Being with an entrepreneur forces you to confront your own issues around security, money, quality of life, self-confidence, control, and more—all at the same time. Unsurprisingly, such couples almost always have challenges around conflict, communication, and decision-making, even while neither partner is operating at their best because they’re so stressed. In addition, spouses often feel like they’ve been demoted or replaced because running a company is such an all-consuming vocation. Imagine: the person you considered your life partner has entirely dedicated him- or herself to another entity. More than one therapist I interviewed said it was comparable to your spouse having an affair. That feeling of betrayal can lead to deep, longstanding wounds if not proactively addressed.   How did writing this book change your perspective on your own marriage? As a perpetual pessimist, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the hardships of my marriage. I find myself counting the sacrifices, the inconveniences, and the ways in which I have been hurt. But as I reflected on our last twelve years together, I saw how—even though there were plenty of ugly episodes along the way—our relationship has matured and been positively transformed because of all that we’ve been through. Ned and I were forced to confront personal weaknesses, mismatched expectations, and conflict early on in our relationship. Thankfully, we were both willing to make adjustments along the way, and we have been able to move closer toward a healthier and more fulfilling relationship. I also saw how profoundly Ned cared for me each step of the way, even when I felt isolated and neglected. I realized how he had done so many things, big and small, to try to make things easier for me or to respect my wishes. He has made plenty of sacrifices as well, like booking crazy flight itineraries so he could get home twelve hours earlier, or saying no to amazing business opportunities so he would have more time to spend with our kids and me. Being married to Ned has also pushed me to live with more boldness and courage, and to take more risks. I don’t think I would have been able to write this book without Ned encouraging me and cheering me on along the way.   What are some of the most important things that an entrepreneur can do for his or her significant other? Many entrepreneurs’ spouses live with an underlying worry that their partner loves the business more than him or her. Anything an entrepreneur can do to counter that belief, to communicate, “I love you and I appreciate you” is important. This could come in the form of choosing to leave work and turn off your phone at a decent hour so you can spend the evening with your family. Or perhaps you intentionally seek advice from your significant other on aspects of the business to show that you respect his or her opinion. It could be intentionally helping around the house or demonstrating your affection through words and actions. One therapist I interviewed used the word loyalty, which I love.  Loyalty, to me, means that you are committed to this relationship now, as opposed to some distant future when you think you’ll have more time. Loyalty means that you, my spouse, are essential in my life, and I am willing to take the necessary steps to make sure you know that.

Pick up a copy of Dorcas Cheng-Tozun's book, Start, Love, Repeat, today! 

Books + Stories
Win a Copy of Beth Bruno’s New Book: A Voice Becoming!
January 31, 2018 at 6:00 am 0
Friends! I'm so excited to introduce you to Beth Bruno, author of A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Living. Her book is a beautiful introduction to how we help our daughters grow up to be passionate, purposeful women.   You'll get to hear more from Beth and enter to win her book!  

What does it mean to be a woman? How do we help our daughters past the tween and teen years where everyone else says obsess with boys or create drama with your girlfriends?

  If you're looking for some big ideas and practical wisdom (and a ton of practical how-to's) about raising women to love God and love others, this book is for you.  

Here's a bit about the book and why I can't wait for you to read it:

  A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Living is a year-long exploration of what a womanly rite of passage might mean. It's not meant as a cheesy way to talk about the birds and bees, but rather an intentional message of hope, agency, beauty, truth, and extending the goodness of the gospel to all corners of the earth as we work out justice on behalf of women. Even if you're not a mom to a daughter, this is an important book to consider if you care about half of humanity. As a mom to four (one of whom is a daughter), I'm desperate to have some intentional, life-giving parenting resources to help my children through the tween and teen years. This book, along with Beth's husband's book (Man Maker Project: Boys are Born. Men are Made.), will be a terrific start.  

Can you imagine how beautiful a legacy we could give to the next generation if we could help our children answer: Where have you come from? And where are you going?


Beth was so generous to answer a few questions about A Voice Becoming:

  1. Why did you decide to write this book?   I did not set out to write a book like this. While my husband researched and designed the year that became the Man Maker Project: Boys are Born, Men are Made, I did my own research. Even less had been written about rites of passage for girls. And what I found felt insufficient given current culture and the realities youth face. My girls did not fit the archetype described in many existing books and I knew I would miss their heart if I employed those models. That, paired with the enormous expectations they had after my son’s “man year,” meant creation of our own journey was inevitable. 2. Tell us a little bit about you and your girls. What is your relationship like? We are some pretty independent women! Once we got over the initial toddler Sunday school tears, my girls marched confidently away from me toward every new adventure. The youngest started overnight camp at age 7 (which I still can’t believe we did!) I’d say we’re close, but not intertwined. As in, I never struggled with being a helicopter mom. We share the passion gene and get fired up about strong women doing cool things. They play along with my quirky interests, but the older they get, the fiercer their sarcasm and teasing gets. I give them a lot of fodder, but down deep, I sense they love it. 3. Can you share about a difficult time parenting your tween daughter? How to choose one? Lest you think all is easy and swell all the time in our household, believe me when I tell you I have been called “dictator of the universe.” My kids are still kids and I am still a very human and fallen parent. The biggest challenge for me is sustained empathy. There are a few themes on repeat in each child’s life and I tend to go through cycles of mercy and exasperation. In the Appendix, I write about Ella’s theme with friends and I have to tell you, this is one of those cycles for me. Deciphering between truth and perception, emotion and reason, makes it difficult to navigate problems with tweens. My challenge was to show up every time she needed me to. To be present in the pain and not checked out in fatigue. I did not always succeed. 4. How did your daughter feel about the year during the year? After? Ella ate up my intention toward her. Honestly, it made me realize how much she needed my attention. She understood it was a big deal to “become a woman” and knew to take serious each thing we did together. I even think she was proud to tell her English teacher the books she brought to class were “assigned” by me. Since completing the year, I’ve noticed a beautiful, albeit difficult, by product: She is more mature than peers. Recently, she articulated this by saying “I’m going to run for President and make it mandatory that all girls have a Becoming year.” 5. How does your work to prevent human trafficking intersect with raising strong girls?   I spend most of my time addressing two different types of girls: “at-risk” and overly active. With community service providers, I am working on intervention models with vulnerable kids, response protocols, and prevention tools for those most at risk of being exploited. In high schools, I speak to the whole student body, but it is often the overly involved, good students who want to take on leadership. These two groups have something in common however: girls who live small stories are often more vulnerable to traffickers. It doesn’t matter if she comes from a chaotic home or a church-going family, if a girl has a gaping hole in her heart and she fills it with whatever feels good at the time, she is easier to manipulate. My passion to cast a vision for a bigger story, to lift girls’ eyes out of the daily obsession with bodies, boys, and besties, to a life of purpose and passion is my antidote to exploitation and ultimately, human trafficking.  
  I'm sure you can't wait to read A Voice Becoming. Scurry on over to purchase it or enter to win a copy right here. (Or better yet, buy a copy for a friend and win one for yourself!)


All you need to do is enter your email address here.

Leave questions in the comments for Beth!


GIVEAWAY CLOSES on Sunday, February 4 at 12pm Pacific.

Winner will be notified by email. 

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Books + Stories
I wrote a book.
June 22, 2017 at 6:00 am 0
It's a pleasure to be back at The Mudroom this month. I submitted the manuscript for my first book just weeks ago and it feels good to get some words down on paper again. Fortunately, this month's theme is all about books and reading, so I naturally wrote on completing my first manuscript. Here's an excerpt:
A few weeks ago, I turned in the manuscript for my first book to my publisher, Finding Holy in the Suburbs. I suppose there had been others -- scrawled words in composition notebooks and spiral notebooks, abandoned stories where I gave up writing and thought I could only write about writing, and a PhD that approximately 4 people in the entire universe will ever read all the way through (2 of which examined me on it, 1 was my supervisor, and 1 was, of course, me). It's an odd sort of pleasure and pain to write a book. I began with pretty words and sentences, intoxicated by the blank page, by all the stories that needed telling. By the very art of stringing words together to affect transformation. But morning after morning, at 5 a.m., I'd wake, drink my tea, and stare off into the middle distance for awhile. I'd plop down on my green couch, curl my legs under a blanket, and begin the writing. It didn't dazzle, not usually anyway. But I showed up, day after day, when the world was dark to write. Somewhere along the way, it became less about crafting sentences and more about utility. Less about beauty, more about substance. After all, I just wanted to be helpful to my reader. I imagined my readers sitting in their granite-countertopped kitchens, eating takeout and drinking a glass of wine after circling the suburbs in their SUVs. They'd stare at their noodles, slurp them up with a fork and bemoan their children's chaos in the other room, the latest headline on the TV, take a big breath, and get to helping with homework. They were ragged, worn, busy, supposedly full, but empty. It's the sort of discontent I felt from moving from place to place -- from trading mountain vistas for ocean ones, for trading city for suburb, for trading a long-standing community for a new one. I understood it.  
Head on over to The Mudroom for the full story.  
Two take-aways: 
  1. I'm thinking of starting a writing workshop online. Comment below or email me if you're interested!
  2. Make sure you've subscribed to get updates on my book, giveaways, and my little booklet for chasing beauty right where you are!