Monday, September 18, 2017

This Undeserved Life by Natalie Brenner

Today I'm bringing you a new non-fiction book that looks fantastic if I'm honest. It's on grief and God. Before you say that doesn't apply to you, I urge you to think twice. If it doesn't apply now, it will someday, because we're promised hardship (John 16:33).

The first thing I have for you today is an excerpt from Natalie Brenner's book This Undeserved Life. Natalie has quite the story and you get just a glimpse of her heart in this passage.

   “I hope you’re not mad at God.” Helen’s words were expectant, thoughtful even, as we sat on the giant rock staring out over the ocean. Her eyebrows were raised, her posture stiff, a question on her face, imploring if I was indeed mad at Him or not.
   In my stillness, I thought to myself about taking caution to respond. I sat in a slouched position with my hands firmly planted beside my legs so I could stare steadily at the ocean. Steady but relaxed, I gave a half shrug and said, “I don’t think I’m mad at Him, so to speak, but I do think if I were He could handle it. You know? I think He can handle my anger. He seems pretty big.”
   She didn’t respond immediately. Our pastor’s wife was a dear friend in whom, for years, I had confided. A mentor and friend, we had grown close until my miscarriage because I had begun distancing myself. I found myself breaking away from many people since our miscarriage, even if they were gentle and kind; I immediately threw up protective walls around my heart at the sound of any invalidating statements such as this one. Grieving doesn’t have much room for you-should statements like this.
   She wasn’t the only human I loved and respected who said things like this, who tried to “lead me to the cross” or point me in the right direction or remind me how I should feel or think. Many people in our life responded to us with an array of cliché statements:
   “He doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” (I reject this—He allows more than we can handle; we are then driven to Him for comfort and grace).
   “It was God’s plan.” (Loss is never His plan).
   “Clearly there was something wrong with your baby, maybe it wasn’t healthy, and God wanted to prevent you from that.” (What?)
   “It wasn’t God’s time for you to be pregnant.”
   “He is in control.” (But what about free will and brokenness due to our choices in the Garden?)
   “Find joy in your trials.” (This often takes time).
   “At least you can get pregnant.” (This doesn’t help).
   “He gives and takes away life.”
   “Don’t be mad at God. Don’t blame God.”
   “It could be worse: think about Job,” said to me the day after I miscarried.
   The oxymoron of “he gives and takes away life” and “don’t blame God” are ridiculous to me. I get it, though. I had thrown those statements around in other peoples’ times of trial and suffering. I didn’t know how to respond to pain and assumed those words would help. Or did I? Was it for them or for me that I used those clichés in people’s true times of suffering? Was it to make me feel better like I had somehow spiritually pointed them towards God in their grief? I have learned to stop myself from saying much. I try to ask myself what the point is in whatever response I have loaded to release: is it to see their pain and validate or is it to show them I know where they should be emotionally? I don’t think we can ever really tell people where they should be.
   We sat on a rough, rocky ledge together with our legs and feet dangling high above the sand. Our eyes focused on the ocean’s vastness. I pondered these things and wondered why Christians felt the need to make such statements. I pondered why, even I felt the need to attempt salve with stinging salt to raw wounds of the heart. Why was there so much shame in just allowing ourselves to feel whatever demanded to be felt? To breathe in the reality of pain, grief, and sorrow? We give people the requisite day or two (or however long we feel is appropriate) to feel the sting of loss and then expect everyone to be “fine” and move on as though nothing was lost. Why is there so much judgement when we choose honesty through grief and grief takes time? Why are we shocked when someone is still sad about a loss years later?
   I decided again, there on that ledge, to continue to be honest. I would continue to find Him in the honesty even if it appeared ugly and “ungodly.” It was on that rock, staring out over the sand and the sea, I realized to the depths of me how different everyone is. People grieve, process, and heal differently. Which also means loving one person looks different than loving the next: we aren’t all the same. Our Christian (and quite possibly our culture’s) textbook liked to lay out a “10 Ways To Respond To Someone Who's Grieving” manual—but I was discovering maybe everyone is different. Maybe there isn’t a manual or a specific way to love people in grief: maybe the only way we can communally love people is by giving them permission to just be.
   I may not find permission from society to grieve and acknowledge our loss, but I am finding it in Him. I am finding a freedom in Him I had never experienced. The freedom of gut-wrenching, pain-filled, ugly honesty.
Today is the official release date for This Undeserved Life. The price will go up by $6 on September, 22, so purchase this one for your bookshelves now! :) You can find it on Amazon and Goodreads.

Haven't made up your mind yet? You can find out more about This Undeserved Life here.

Natalie Brenner is wife to Loren and mom to two under two, living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of This Undeserved Life. She likes her wine red, ice cream served by the pint, and conversations vulnerable. Natalie believes in the impossible and hopes to create safe spaces for every fractured soul. She's addicted to honesty. You can love Jesus or not, go to church or not: she'd love to have coffee with you. Natalie is a bookworm, a speaker, and a wanna-be runner. Connect with her at and join her popular email list.
What Christian living books have you read that tackled hard issues well or furthered your walk with Jesus?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How to Guest Post Like a Pro

I've been trying to work on a blogging schedule lately, and part of that has been looking for people willing to guest post. So I thought I'd work up a post on how to guest post!

First, a quick definition of what guest posting is: guest posting is when a person agrees to write a single article for another person's blog or website.
 Let me begin by saying there really is no definitive guide to guest posting. That's why people who agree to guest post for each other always ask questions: What do you want me to post on? When do you want me to post? How long do you want it to be? Guest posting is useless if the person you're posting for isn't pleased, so be sure to ask them what they're looking for.
Of course, you can figure out some of what they want for yourself by visiting the blog or website they want people to post on. When I'm looking for people to guest post for me, I always say that anything writing or book-related works. Why? Because that's what my blog is about. Anyone who visits could probably figure that out, as well as see what I've already posted on. You don't want to have a repeat post!
The question is, how do you write under the broad topic of the blog and still stand out from the blogger's frequent posts. This is a one-time opportunity! Simple: blog about a topic that the blogger can't. For example, Jonathan Trout guest-posted for me once and I suggested he write something about being a guy blogger ... I can never blog on that. He did an excellent job with the post because it's the most popular post this blog's ever had ... go figure xD
When you're guest posting, it's not usually the time for a medical update or a new announcement.  There are exceptions, but for the most part, things like that should be relegated to your own blog where you have readers that are already invested in you. :) So an article that matches the blog content with a strong title and clearly marked points is the better way to go.
At the same time, you don't want to be stiff. One of the main reasons people enjoy reading blog posts is for the person behind the content as much as the content itself. So you should be natural. Use your normal blogging voice. As I said before, pick something that you can write from experience (preferably an experience the person you're blogging for doesn't have). That's always going to be a bit personal.
One of the main incentives for guest posting is that you as the guest poster get exposure to a new audience! So consider including a photo of yourself or maybe even a bio. Ask the friend you're blogging for to introduce you in their way. And definitely include a link back to your blog! That's how readers from the blog or website you're guest posting on will find (and hopefully follow) you :)
While no one gets a true break this way, I've seen that each group of blog followers is more likely to look at both blogs if the bloggers have simply switched for the day. The audience gets a fresh voice on the blog they follow, but they have to visit this new person's blog in order to read a post from the person they're used to reading. It's a good strategy and a win-win.
  1. The primary blogger gets a week off // take a break without having to skip a post
  2. Readers get a new writer // it shakes it up a bit and readers are usually welcoming
  3. The guest poster gets new exposure // it's a direct way to reach an already dedicated audience
Have you ever guest posted before? Do you have any questions about guest posting?

I AM LOOKING FOR GUEST POSTS! So if you're interested, shoot me an e-mail: abiclaire98 at gmail dot com :)

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Why Authors Love Reviews More Than Chocolate

Have you ever noticed how many authors ask you to leave a review of their book? Have you seen authors say that reviews are the best thing you can do for them? I'm one of those authors and I agree. I might even love reviews more than chocolate.

Handing out virtual chocolate seems to be a thing today. It's a nice gesture, at no expense from the giver. But my research for this post has shown that authors have been known to love reviews even more than chocolate. Why?
Reviews provide insight and happiness. We all know chocolate can provide happiness, but insight?? Never had that happen. Because reviews, whether positive or negative, help a writer get to know their audience better and see what people think. Feedback is a good thing! And the warm fuzzies that come after reading a good review are pretty awesome! :)
Reviews can actually sell books. Do not question me on this: it's scientific fact. xP Lots of the big marketing places like BookBub will not agree to advertise your book at all unless you have a lot of reviews. Not just any reviews, but Amazon reviews. That number matters to them because it tells them how well you're doing on your own. Everyone knows people don't really write reviews unless prodded. So seeing a decent number (say 200) on a self-published book tells them a whole lot more than 1,000 Twitter followers ever could. Authors actually need reviews. :D
Reviews are rarer than chocolate. Yep, we authors admit it. We're selfish. Chocolate has become so commonplace that we want something rarer: reviews from our readers. Now honestly, that doesn't really make us gluttonous monsters, does it?

I think reviews are rarer than chocolate because:

// They require an investment. Time is in short supply today. Not shorter supply than reviews, but still. It's easy to shoot down this argument as laziness, because if you spent several hours (or more) reading the book, then you can take another ten minutes to leave a review.

// It's like schoolwork. Wait, I have to split a 300-page novel into likes and dislikes and then rate it using a dubious 5-star system? I know, it's hard. But if you can spend 14 years of your life in school, and then willingly subject yourself to spend another 4 years in school ... this assignment will not be the death of you. ;)

// Technology is difficult. I know. Amazon requires you spend ~$100 before you can write a review. It's a pain. Honestly, what I do is use my parents' account. So of all the Amazon reviews I've left people, not one says it's from Abigayle Claire. But I left a review! So I don't think the author will mind the change in identity. ;)

// Readers fear authors. I'm not kidding on this one!! Sometimes we read a book and our opinion is not positive. If we know the author, we really don't want our name associated with a 2-star review. (I'm telling you there are huge benefits to using your parents' account.) Even if we don't know the author ... do we really want to do that to them? The answer is YES.
In closing, negative reviews should still be written. While I expect all of you to be tactful, the author should understand that not everyone is going to connect with their book. That's actually impossible.

Martin Hospitality has received a one-star review on Goodreads now. I can't even tell you how grateful I am that it wasn't just a rating, it was a review. The reader told me exactly why she didn't like the book! And if I felt the way she did, I would have made it a 2 or 3-star review (way to make me feel better!).

The interesting thing is, that review had a ton of comments. 100x the interaction any of my positive reviews have garnered, and mostly from people I don't know. While several said they wouldn't read the book now, twice that many (guesstimating) said they were definitely going to read it to see if they agreed with the negativity.

As my dad said, negative press is still press.
Are you in the habit of writing reviews when you read a book? ((Amazon reviews carry the most weight, so I highly encourage you to do that for your author friends!)) If you read but have not reviewed either of my books, you can review Martin Hospitality HERE and Andora's Folly HERE. ^.^

What do you love reviews more than?

SIDE NOTE: Thanks to those of you who volunteered to be my reading accountability partner! So many good options!! I have selected Lisa // Inkwell to fill that role, but I'd love to keep up with the rest of you on Goodreads. :)

Saturday, September 2, 2017

So I Talked to an Agent (and what that means)

I talked to an agent!!! While at OCW, Ivy and I decided that we should pitch. Just do it. It'd be good practice, and we would expect nothing. So that's what we did. (Crazy best friend pressure. XP) The question is, how did it go and how did it change my writing life?

I really, really did not want to talk to an agent. I was stuck in Portland with limited internet, no pictures, no handouts. I had nothing that they recommended having in order to pitch to an agent. Not even a manuscript I'd begun. Why? Because I'd decided I was happy working on the Martin Series and didn't want to begin anything else. (HA!)

Then Bill Jensen of Willam K. Jensen Literary Agency said there were a lot of openings for agent appointments, and we should sign up even if all we had were ideas. Well then. That shot down every reason I had for not pitching.

After a little bit of research and are-we-really-doing-this?! nerves, Ivy convinced me to snag the last spot with Jensen. After all, he fit my overall genre the best. And she was right: I'd regret it if I didn't just go for it.

He was several minutes late to the appointment, which at first made me so nervous. I could have dashed out the door before he ever showed up and scratched my name off the list. But I didn't. So when he did show up, it put me at ease, because is there any other proof that someone prestigious is human, than them being late?? Not really.

Having never done this before, I really have no idea how the appointment went. He kept me from rambling and reassured me that he had taken on young authors (Rachel Coker!) before, and he had signed people from just an idea. I didn't say everything I think I should have said, but the ending to the conversation kind of stunned me.

Mr. Jensen asked to see the first three chapters once I was ready, and then he'd let me know.

For all I know, they could say that to everyone. I don't know what I was expecting. But I was not expecting that. 

So that brings me to the obvious change that now must take place in my writing. Since I have an agent expecting three chapters of a manuscript that at the time wasn't even fully plotted ... I can't keep plugging away at Martin Crossroads at the speed of a turtle.

I feel so awful setting the sequel aside and leaving all of my wonderful, expectant readers hanging!! But I have never been so excited about shaking up my writing life. :D So now that little story, Matinee Regulars, that I shared with you in this post, is being brought to life. Although several things in the description I gave you have already changed :P

I had brainstormed a little with my sister a few weeks before the conference, and that's the only reason I was able to pitch the story. Then Ivy and I brainstormed for several hours at her house, and the pieces just started falling into place. Let me tell you, that has not happened since writing Martin Hospitality last year. 
And that made me realize something. Writing Martin Crossroads next was my idea. Not God's. Did it make the most logical sense? Yes. But I have spent months on it and gotten literally nowhere. And now this little Pinterest-board-of-a-story idea flies out of my mouth in front of an agent, and guess what I'm writing?

I haven't enjoyed writing this much in over a year. So it feels so amazing to finally be writing a story that is working with me, not against me. And my only explanation for that is because God is working with me and my story as well.

So it's a little bit of good news and bad news. Despite how things continue to go with Mr. Jensen, I've taken the first step to becoming a hybrid author. The sequel to Martin Hospitality will be delayed. But the story you all demanded several weeks ago is under construction!
Now is that a crazy God thing or what?!