Words hold weight. Let’s be wise in how we use them.

I was born a people-pleaser. When I was a little girl I wanted everyone to think I was the smartest, the sweetest, the cutest, the most talented. It’s the reason my poor brother endured endless amounts of torture at my hands when he was an infant and toddler. Jealousy. Pure and simple. He was stealing my spotlight, and I didn’t like it.

As I got older my need to be liked got me in a lot of trouble. It drove me into the arms of a boy who seemed to love me but ended up hurting me. It took me down the road of drug abuse and co-dependency.

I had no idea who I was, what I thought, what I valued. I was a chameleon. I liked what those around me liked. My opinions matched theirs. I couldn’t stand the thought of thinking differently. Of having people displeased with me for even one moment.

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Luckily, God redeemed me of all that. He healed me, and then took me on a gentle, grace-filled journey. One where I learned who I was, and what I valued. As I grew and matured, I cared less and less about other people thought of me, and more and more about what God thought of me. Now my opinions match his, and I’m not afraid to speak my mind. It’s okay if people are displeased with me.

Everyone won’t like me or agree with me, and that’s okay.

But there is one area in my life where I still struggle with this need to please – my writing. Clearly when I release a book I want people to like it. Honestly, it wouldn’t make sense to write and publish a book if I didn’t. However, I also know there will be people who won’t like it, and sometimes that’s hard to swallow.

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When I finish writing a book I go through many emotions. First, I feel relief. Second, I get excited. Third, the doubts start to set in. My mind whirs through all of the possible things readers will hate about the book. I panic and desperately wrestle with myself, wondering if I should take things out, tweak the plot, etc. In the end, I almost always keep everything the same. I surmise that no matter what I change, someone will be unhappy.

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So I release the book as is, and inevitably there are readers that love it, and readers that hate it.

I write romances and typically they have an HEA. I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve gotten over the years, saying how predictable my books are. How they are unrealistic. And since I usually write in the young adult genre, I always get the reviews by the readers who are irritated at how “high school” or “juvenile” the book seems. As if it’s somehow my fault they bought a book without paying attention to the genre it was in.

In For the Win, there were those who were upset with my happy ending and how I made everything tie up neatly for London.But then Until the Sun Burns Out releases and there are those that are angry about the sad ending. Angry that things didn’t tie up neatly. Angry that the ending isn’t predictable.

It reminds me that I can’t win. I can’t please everyone.

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I don’t know why the bad reviews are the ones I remember over the good ones. But I suspect it’s because the little girl inside of me; that one that aims to please, is rising up and waving her fist.

But I also think it’s because I’ve never been that kind of reviewer. I’ve been an avid reader all my life. I used to have a blog where I reviewed the books I read. And I used it as a way to spread the word about books I loved. I never once wrote a scathing review of a book I hated.

The books I didn’t like, I simply didn’t share about.

And when I became an author I sort of thought every reader was like me. Boy was I surprised the first time I got a mean review. And, let me tell you, my first bad review was a mean one. The reviewer not only tore apart my book but she tore apart me as an author. Literally. Like she said mean things about me. I was floored. I didn’t know people did that, and I didn’t understand why someone would do that. If you love to read, don’t you love authors? Don’t you get that writing is subjective? That what you hate someone else might love?

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But I had to move past it. To get thick skin. To realize that readers are entitled to their opinions, even if they’re mean. Now when I see a mean review, I turn the other way and remember that I can’t please everyone. That one bad review doesn’t make me a bad author. That for every bad review there are dozens of good ones. 

This takes practice.

And I still will never understand someone’s need to tear down my books or me as an author. But it’s part of the deal, and I get that now. So I’m working on this. In truth, I mostly just don’t read my reviews much anymore. If I do, I try to stick to the five-star ones.

Years ago, I did the love languages study. I did it once with my husband and once with my kids. In it, I learned that my love language is “words of affirmation,” so it makes sense that reviews hold weight with me.

Words matter.

If you take anything from this post, it’s this: Don’t only share about the things you don’t like. Share about the things you love. Don’t only tell people when  you’re upset. Tell people when you’re happy. I feel like there is so much negativity in our world. Let’s spread joy.

And when it comes to the books you read, review the ones you like. Share with others when you read a book you love. Let the author know what it meant to you, and leave an awesome, glowing review. We need them. We cherish them. We hold them close.

I’m not saying you can’t review the ones you don’t like, but I would challenge you to think of the author as a real person when you do write the review. I’ve had negative reviews that were well-thought out and helpful, and I’ve actually made some changes in my writing because of them. So you don’t have to be mean. You can give constructive criticism. Don’t be a reviewer that tears a book or author down. Be a helpful, kind reviewer.

Words hold weight. They have power.

Let’s be wise in how we use them.

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He called me his summer girl

Usually the book idea comes first and then the cover is birthed out of that idea. But not with UNTIL THE SUN BURNS OUT. The idea for this story came to me after seeing a premade cover designed by the incredibly talented Alivia Anders. I loved this cover so much I paused, staring at it and wishing I had a book for it. As I looked at the four photographs, three of the couple and one of a drawing in the sand, it hit me. I was flooded with the story of Mina and Austin. Also, fun fact: You might have noticed that the couple on this cover is the same one I have on THE SUMMER WE FELL.

I’m so excited about this release. I’ve been dying to share this story with you for months! Pick up your copy today. Exclusive at Amazon currently. The paperback should release in a couple of weeks. Kinde copy is only $2.99 or FREE with Kindle Unlimited.

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We spent three perfect summers together.
He called me his summer girl, and said that was all I could ever be.
But that didn’t stop me from wanting so much more.

Click HERE to purchase from Amazon!

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To those who think I’m a potty mouth….

Sometimes it’s hard to be a Christian, and the author of secular romances. It can be a challenge to hold true to my values, but also write authentic books for a mainstream audience. I never want my books to be “cheesy” or unrealistic. That’s the reason I address sex in my books. It’s the reason my books have some colorful language. Because a teenage boy isn’t going to say “Darn it” when he screws up a play on the baseball field. And, whether we want to face it or not, teenagers think about sex. If they don’t, it’s not realistic. If they don’t, they’re not relatable, and no one wants to read their story.

I’ve written over twenty young adult romances, and I’m proud of every one of my books. I know some people don’t get how writing romances can be my calling in life,  but it is. I’ve been specifically designed for this job and I love it.

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But, as with anything in life, there is a margin for error. We all make mistakes. And I’m here to confess to a mistake I’ve made and apologize.

If you read my books you enjoy “clean romances.” You’re looking for a good story with a lot of passion, maybe some heat, but not anything more than that. And I’ve held true to that mandate.

However, there is one area that I’ve allowed to slip a bit, and recently I’ve been called on it. That’s the area of bad language. As I’ve said before, I want my books to be authentic, and some of my characters cuss. I’ve written jerks. I’ve written good guys. I’ve written competitive guys. I’ve written bookworms. I’ve written rockstars. The point is that all of my characters are different and they all have their own language. If a bad word is called for, I use it. No excuses.

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For instance, if there is a heated exchange between two ball players, and the guy says, “I’m gonna kick your ass” I’m not going to change that to “I’m gonna kick your butt.” No one would say that in the heat of the moment. Unless, of course, I’ve already written that character to be someone who never cusses. That being said a guy who threatens to beat someone up probably isn’t going to be my goody two-shoes character.

Anyway, my point is that as clean as  my books are there will be some foul language. That won’t ever change. However, it was brought to my attention by several readers that my language has escalated in the last year and a half. I still have never used the F-word, but the amount of other cuss words has multiplied to a level that makes some of my readers uncomfortable.

This bothered me because my books should never make anyone uncomfortable. Not in that way, anyway. Sometimes my subject matter is sensitive, but even so I always promise a “clean” reading experience. And if some of my readers aren’t feeling like my books are “clean” anymore that’s something I have to take seriously.

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So, first off, I’d like to apologize.  I’ve gone through my books with a fine toothed comb and I’ve identified the books in question. What’s weird is that I hadn’t even noticed this shift until it was pointed out. But now that I have noticed it is very obvious. My books went from a handful of bad words per book to a handful every page. I’m not sure how this happened. My only defense is that my characters feel like real people to me, so perhaps the shift happened with a potty-mouthed character and escalated from there. I know that the baseball books have a lot of scenes on the baseball field where guys are razzing each other, so the language became more colorful in those scenes.

Whatever the reason, I am fixing it. So far I’ve gone through and changed FOR THE WIN and FOR THE GAME. I am working my way through the remainder of the books. I am only taking out the unnecessary bad language. There will still be some, just not as much. It will take awhile to get through all the books since I also have to stick to my current release schedule. So I appreciate your patience in this.

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To those that have been offended  by the language in my books, please accept my heartfelt apology. Those who don’t care about the bad words, carry on.

To all of you, happy reading!!

 

What I learned from the girl that I was

Yesterday I was scrolling Facebook and one of my friends had posted an article about a college aged girl who had died of a drug overdose. She’d been using drugs with her boyfriend and when she started to overdose he was too scared to get help, and he let her die. I paused at my computer, my hands hovering my keyboard, physically unable to scroll past the horrific article. And the truth hit me like a sucker punch.

I was that girl.

And that could have been my fate.

My mind flew back twenty years to the drug addicted young adult I once was. It traveled back to the night I overdosed. I can still see the terrified eyes of my ex-boyfriend, still remember the dread I felt, knowing that he was too scared to get help for me. My mind also relived countless other nights. Nights I shouldn’t have lived through. Nights filled with hopelessness and fear.

But for some reason night always turned to morning, and I was still here.

I learned later that in all those situations my dad was across town on his knees, fervently praying for me.

I write romances. I read romances. Love is something that we all crave. That we all need. But the truth is that the greatest love story ever is one I didn’t write. However, I’ve lived it. And yesterday, I was reminded of this in a tangible way.

As my mind skated over the unsavory memories something new popped up. There was someone in these memories I’d never seen before.

I wasn’t alone.

I was never alone.

Even when I felt I was.

When I overdosed, my hand wasn’t empty. It was being held by my savior. When I stood in the middle of a desolate field with a stranger and a knife, Jesus stood in front of me, shielding me.

And it didn’t end there.

Recently, in moments not quite as dramatic Jesus revealed to me visions of his presence. Like the first time my son didn’t give me a kiss when he exited the car to go to school. While I sat in my car, crying over the fact that my baby was growing up, He draped an arm over my shoulder, pulling me close. When I lost my house to foreclosure and walked through each empty room, tears streaming my face, He held my hand. Walked each room with me. He didn’t leave my side. Didn’t leave me to face it alone. And He helped me gather myself, helped to lift my head, so I could be strong when my kids saw me.

When I had surgery, He stood by my bedside, watching over me. And when I was so scared I could barely lift my head, he stroked my hair and held me.

Many of you know that during the past three years, fear had me bound. So bound, that shame and guilt choked me. So much so that it was hard to see Him through it all. But now I have. I’ve seen that He was with me in those moments. Not judging or angry. But whispering that he loved me over and over again.

There’s a song that I’ve been obsessed with lately. It’s called “Love You More” by Nichole Nordeman and some of the lyrics are:

“You’ve been loving me since time began, You’re behind my every second chance”

I will never be able to write a romance as amazing as the one I’ve experienced. It’s impossible. But I can share it. And the amazing thing about my love story, is that it’s yours too.

He’s with you even when you don’t feel it. Even when you don’t know it. And when your reach is too short, his is long enough. So reach as far as you can and trust him to bridge the gap.

I promise it will be worth it.

FOR THE SAVE releases!

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Addison West is broken.

Last year tragedy struck her family, destroying everything she loved. Now she’s trying desperately to pick up the pieces after her brother’s suicide, hiding her wounds behind piercings and a tough, aloof exterior. But she knows she’s fighting a losing battle.

Sawyer Ridley is lost.

After witnessing his teammate’s murder, he’s plagued by nightmares and panic attacks. With the nickname Riddles, Sawyer was always one for a joke, but he can’t find anything to laugh about anymore. He’s devastated, and not even football offers him comfort or solace.

On the outside, Addison and Sawyer have nothing in common. But when they meet in group counseling, their shared grief immediately bonds them. As their relationship grows, the walls they’ve built around themselves begin to come down.

But just as old wounds begin to heal, new, more painful ones emerge.

Can Addison and Sawyer save each other from the grief that threatens to destroy them both?

Click HERE to purchase today!

When fiction is dangerous

When I first started writing teen romances my kids were much younger. My son was just entering middle school and my daughter was in elementary school. They still played outside, got dirty and skinned their knees. They weren’t interested in the opposite sex, they hadn’t gone through puberty, hadn’t developed at all. It was easy to separate them from my characters.

Now my daughter is thirteen, and so gorgeous it scares me. But scarier than that is the fact that my son is almost sixteen. That’s the same age as some of my characters. And my characters are dating, kissing, and falling in love. I don’t want to picture my son doing any of those things. And I definitely don’t want to picture a boy doing those things with my daughter (although I don’t feel as strongly about this as my husband does, trust me). I’m not saying that I’m naive enough to think that my kids aren’t or won’t do these things. I just don’t want to encourage it.

As my kids get older it’s harder to separate them from my characters. I’ve always taken my responsibility as an author seriously. But I take it even more seriously now. When I write a scene I think: Do I want my kids to read this? Or: Do I want my kids doing this? Don’t get me wrong. My books aren’t filled with perfect characters who do nothing wrong. That would be boring. But I do always think about the message my books are sending.

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Since I write teen romances, I also read teen romances. Lately I’ve read numerous books with an alarming trend. In the past two weeks I’ve read three books about good girls who fall in love with gang members. Now, I love the bad boy/good girl type of romance as much as the next person. Who doesn’t love reading about the tortured boy who needs saving and the girl who saves him? And these books were great. I read them swiftly, some even in as little as a day. They were filled with swoony romance and heart thumping action. But I’m an adult. A married woman. A woman who isn’t looking to fall in love. I’ve already done that. I’m just looking for a great story to get sucked into. I know these books aren’t real. They’re written by an author like me. They’re made up. I get that.

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But I can’t help but worry about the impressionable teenage girl reading these books who is looking to fall in love. Because, let me tell you, falling in love with the bad boy who deals drugs isn’t going to end well for anyone in real life. It may play out well in a novel, but in real life it’s going to destroy you.

In all three of these books the characters snuck around behind their parents’ back and even went against their better judgment and the advice of close friends. And in two of the books the characters had sex. To make matters worse, the sex happened before the guy even admitted he cared for the girl. In both books the girl practically threw herself at the guy in an effort to make him like her.

And it’s fiction. I understand that.

However, what kind of message are these books sending? In all of these books the boys were redeemable. They had big hearts underneath that tough exterior. And by the end of the book they had given up their criminal ways. It was beautiful, and made me feel all tingly inside. But I’m not innocent enough to think it would ever happen like this in real life. In my experience if a guy is a jerk, he doesn’t suddenly become the sweetest guy ever in the span of 300 pages. That’s the beauty of fiction.

But is it also the danger of it?

I’m certainly not trying to deter you from reading these books. I’m just trying to get you to think. I’m only making a point: Girls, you are precious. You were made in the image of God. You deserve kindness and respect. Fall for a boy who treats you well from the very beginning. Don’t hold out hope that you can change him, because chances are you can’t. Life is not a romance novel.

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But you can find love. You just have to find the right guy.

And I know you will find him. Hand picked by a God who knows you inside and out.

For me there are no shades of grey – it’s black and white

Since I’m known as a writer of clean romances I’ve been bombarded with messages from readers asking what I think of the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. I’ve responded to each message personally but decided it might be good to publicly put this out there.

The truth is I’ve never read 50 Shades and I haven’t seen the movie, nor do I plan to do either. Therefore, I can’t in good conscience share an opinion on it. My only knowledge of the material is from blogs and articles I’ve read about it, and I don’t feel that is enough for me to form an accurate opinion.

That being said, my readers know that I write clean romances for a reason. I believe that as an author I have a responsibility to portray healthy and loving relationships in my books. I truly believe that words have power. I don’t think that an author can hide behind this idea that novels are fiction so all bets are off. Our fantasies can easily escalate into reality.

For me the issue of what I want to read and what I want my children to read is black and white. There are no shades of grey. I want to read wholesome books that portray healthy true love, and I suspect if you are a fan of mine then you want to do the same.  So while I won’t slam or condone 50 Shades of Grey, I will only state that I will continue to release clean fiction. I will continue to publish books about upstanding guys who treat girls like they are treasures, and girls who are strong enough to stand up for what they believe.

I will continue to write about the kind of relationships I want my children to experience. The kind of love that always heals, never hurts.