Saturday, April 28, 2018

Porch Swing Girl by Taylor Bennett

I don't do author interviews very often, so I'm excited to present one to you today! I've had a lot of fun getting to know Taylor online and I thoroughly enjoyed her book Porch Swing Girl which releases May 1. Come to find out, we actually brushed shoulders at the OCW conference I attended in the summer! With a name like Taylor Bennett, how could she not become an author?

What if friendship cost you everything?

Stranded in Hawaii after the death of her mother, sixteen-year-old Olive Galloway is desperate to escape. She has to get back to Boston before her dad loses all common sense and sells the family house. But plane tickets cost money—something Olive gravely lacks.
With the help of Brander, the fussy youth group worship leader, and Jazz, a mysterious girl with a passion for all things Hawaiian, Olive lands a summer job at the Shave Ice Shack and launches a scheme to buy a plane ticket home before the end of the summer.

But when Jazz reveals a painful secret, Olive’s plans are challenged. Jazz needs money. A lot of it. Olive and Brander are determined to help their friend but, when their fundraising efforts are thwarted, Olive is caught in the middle. To help Jazz means giving up her ticket home. And time is running out.
Just for the record, I did not invent these questions, but I'm thrilled to be sharing Taylor's answers. Without further ado, I'll jump into the Q+A!

Taylor, tell us about your debut book.

A contemporary YA novel about faith and friendship, Porch Swing Girl captures the mystery and beauty of the island of Maui and delivers a poignant and powerful message about faith, friendship, and sacrifice.

Where do you get the idea?

My debut novel, Porch Swing Girl, was inspired by two things—my love of Hawaii and a mysteriously vague title that popped into my head one dreary February morning. Those three words—Porch Swing Girl—wouldn’t leave me alone, and I couldn’t help but start brainstorming a story to go along with them.
I’ve been absolutely in love with Hawaii ever since I visited for the first time. Homesick for blazing sunsets and crashing waves, I decided that there was only one thing to do—write about the magical islands. Later, I ended up taking a few “research trips.”

Did anything strange or funny happen while writing it?

Well…it depends on what you consider strange or funny. Is it funny that I entered it in a writing contest? When it was only half finished?
Then maybe you’d find it funny that I queried several publishers (when the book was still unfinished) and actually got interest. In fact, I met my dream publisher (who now IS my publisher) after submitting the first few chapters of a half-completed manuscript. When they expressed interest, I scrambled around a bit, trying to finish it before the publisher lost interest.
Thankfully, I managed to get it done—and the publisher was still interested! I ended up with a three-book contract, actually…and all through a query for an unfinished novel!

Did you always want to be a writer?

Though I never really thought it was possible or even realistic, I always dreamed of being an author, even before I could read or write myself. I was born with a love of books, and, as a toddler, I would sit at my mom’s old electric typewriter and peck out pages of gibberish. As soon as I knew my alphabet, I would scribble out strange little stories, staple them together, and call them a book.
As I grew and matured, I began to get more serious about my craft. I studied the market, started reading a few writing blogs, and discovered that my dream COULD become a reality after all.

Where do you write: a coffee shop, attic nook, or a cave? Describe it, please.

I write at an old Singer sewing machine table-turned-desk in my bedroom. It sits right in front of a huge window and a dollhouse-shaped bookshelf hangs on the wall to my right. There, I keep some of my favorite books about writing.
On my desk, I keep several old-fashioned, writerly articles—an old dip pen and an ornate Victorian letter opener—as well as a pot full of succulents and a few encouraging quotes. It’s a fantastic place to write!

Of all your characters, which was your favorite and why?

My favorite character is my protagonist, Olive Galloway. She’s got a unique way of viewing the world and a slightly cynical personality. People that know me who have read Porch Swing Girl are surprised at Olive’s snarkiness, because I’m…not snarky. But for whatever reason, Olive and I get along well, and I dread the day that I stop writing books in her “voice.”

Share a few of the techniques you learned that changed the way you write.

Two techniques have really stood out to me.
First—write! I used to spend ages plotting out stories, making complex character profiles and writing pages of backstory during freewriting exercises. But I got so burnt out that I never actually finished a book! When I wrote Porch Swing Girl, I used more of a pantsing approach, and it really worked well for me. I might have pantsed a little too much when it came to the plot, but I highly doubt I’ll ever fill out one of those 50-question character discovery charts again!
Also, I learned to be consistent. Because I had a publisher interested when I was writing the second half of my book, I knew I had to write quickly and efficiently. Up until that point, I had been writing for fun, so learning to treat writing as a job was a bit of a challenge. Now, I’ve learned that it is immensely helpful to set word count goals and schedule time specifically for writing.

Since typing “the end,” what has surprised you about the publishing process?

How much editing there is!!

Then again…my book was about as rough as one could imagine. It was my first true attempt at a novel, and I’d built the entire story around my main character—NOT a strong plot. I went through copious rounds of developmental edits before my plot was solid enough to keep a reader engaged.
Then there were content edits…

Emergency-attitude-adjustment edits… (I guess Olive had gotten a bit TOO snarky!)
More proofreads…
It was all worth it in the end, though. I couldn’t be happier with my book now!

Now for the fun: Tell us 3 things your readers might not know about you.

I play violin, viola, cello, string bass, and piano AND I’m an assistant conductor with my local youth orchestra. Playing and listening to music inspires me so much! I especially love conducting and teaching private lessons…watching students grasp new techniques is so rewarding.

I’m not “writerly.” I don’t have coffee running through my veins, chocolate is NOT my kryptonite. I’m not obsessed with Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, the Hobbit, or any other “fandom.” In fact, I’m not even sure what a fandom IS. All I know is I’m fueled by English muffins and decaf tea (when water is unavailable) and I can’t make it through 99.9% of the world’s most beloved fantasy books.

My mom is my best friend. Never mind the age gap—she and I shop together, cook together, laugh together, talk together…I’m an old soul! Even when I was younger, I was more comfortable around adults than “kids” and I’m still the same today.

If you were a musical instrument, what would you be and why?

I would be a violin—delicate, old-fashioned, and versatile—I dream of writing in several different genres, just as violins can be used in both classical and contemporary music. I have an old soul and I wear my heart on my sleeve, just as the violin can be used to convey every emotion under the sun.
Homeschooled since kindergarten, Taylor Bennett is the seventeen-year-old author of Porch Swing Girl, which will be released by Mountain Brook Ink on May 1st. When she’s not reading or writing, Taylor can be found playing her violin or taking walks in the beautiful Oregon countryside. She loves to connect with readers via her author website, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (her favorite!), Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Again, you can visit her main website here. She also has a YouTube channel.

Porch Swing Girl releases May 1st! You can pre-order it HERE. It's a fun, fresh, lovely story that you won't want to miss! You can find my 4.5-star review here.

And it's Abi again! Was that not a gorgeous interview?! I already like her ;) Do you want to be swept away to Hawaii? Pre-order Taylor's book!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Christian Checkbox Scenes

I watched the movie The Magic of Ordinary Days on YouTube the other day. It's been one of my favorites forever and is the reason I love slice-of-life stories. Rewatching it, I was pleased to see similarities in theme with Martin Hospitality, but some "obligatory scenes" stood out, too. It struck me for the first time like the director (writer) was just checking boxes. I guess it's been a while since I've watched something older and specifically Christian. ;P I mean, it was a Hallmark.

Here is a list of scenes that strike me as little checkboxes. Why? Because you can find them in almost any older Christian movie (and, yes, even some Christian books). Especially slice-of-life stories. There's absolutely nothing wrong with using them--you can find quite a few in Martin Hospitality. It's just a new discovery to me that they're so overused, almost like they're sitting on a list somewhere of must-use-scenes. ;) Beware of slight sarcasm and exaggeration below.

singing in church

Wow. I think this first stood out to me in the TV series  Little House on the Prairie. They had one hymn they'd sing several times a season while it showed all the horses and wagons outside. For what reason? I guess to show that they went to church and set up some theme or character interaction.

bonus: write out the lyrics

Obviously, this is a book feature. Yes, I've done this, and yes, I will skim this in every book. If it's a well-known hymn, there's no way I'm reading all twelve verses. :P It's almost like brownie points, though. Don't just talk about or show people singing. Provide the words. It makes your chapter longer!

double bonus: sermon snippet

Pollyanna is the movie comes to mind. The longwinded hellfire and brimstone sermons to show the pastor's character arc ... yeah, I'd skip those as a kid. Fast forward on my VHS player. xD These are good opportunities for more natural spiritual bits, so I did do this once or twice in my book.

holiday celebrations

This is one that I love. Think about it, though. Almost every family-centric story has this. Whether it's a kiddo's birthday party or a big family gathering for Christmas ... it's a really basic requirement. I mean, surely you can't have a sweet, fluffy story if there's not hot chocolate, cake, or presents at some point?

family meal

Sometimes this is included in the holiday scene and that's definitely extra points! It's often separate, though, just to draw out the family scenes. In all honesty, though, this is a good tool because it gets all your characters around the same table. If you need everyone to know something or want someone to embarrass themselves in front of everyone, this is the spot to do it. ;)

panoramic scenery shot

This doesn't have to be specifically Christian, I suppose, but it's a guarantee in little slice-of-life stories. Which means you're getting sunrises and wildflowers and cricket noises even though it's ten am. (You know, like the picture I used above.) These can be distracting in books if they take too long or take away from the story, but they're sneaky in movies! Goes to show the importance of setting.

reflection scenes

These get tricky. Modern writing is really picky about these, and I suppose modern movies, too. But older movies? Laden with these. You know, the ones where the movie starts and the character just stares out a window or whispers things to themselves for the first scene. It's not all bad because it sets the tone and gives backstory.

bonus: actual heads and voices appear

Yeah, by this point it's forced. xP Let's add the little cameo-shaped heads of a different scene above the character just so you really get the idea of how things went down. In books, this is where the character starts "thinking" about something and it takes three pages of an entirely different story before they're snapped back to the present. Definitely a pet peeve of mine. This goes to show how important it is to weave in backstory. All at once is always a little cumbersome. ;)
Thoughts on this? xD I promise I'm not actually mad at people who do any of things (because I do) so I hope I didn't step on any toes. There are plus sides to some of these. It's just funny to me how common and overused they are! Do you have any checkbox scenes to add?

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Bibliophile Sweater Tag

It has been ages since I've posted a tag on my blog. Lately I've been answering them in my newsletter, which is where this one was supposed to go ... but I'm writing this at 11:09pm on Friday night and no blog topics are speaking to me. PLUS, this is no ordinary tag. This tag is not only 10000x cuter and more loveable than most, it was created by my friend Mary. I first saw the tag when my other friend Katie Grace did it and was all aesthetic and everything.

Yes, I know it's nowhere near sweater weather right now (*cries*), but I can dream. There's a thunderstorm going on outside so it at least gets me in a cuddly sweater mood even if it's more humid than a sauna. ;)

Fuzzy sweater

(a book that is the epitome of comfort)

Some Kind of Happiness by Clare Legrand

I know this may seem like an odd choice if you've read it because it's anything but fluffy. I don't think I've related to a book so much in my life, though! And it's kind of all about finding comfort and figuring things out. :)

Striped sweater

(book which you devoured every line of)

The Out of Time Series by Nadine Brandes

These books have everything I could ask for and so much more, including keeping me up late and having the most powerful spiritual themes  in the history of spiritual themes. The whole series received 10/10 shrooms from me.

Ugly Christmas sweater

(book with a weird cover)

Entwined by Heather Dixon

I feel like I just made enemies. *hides* Don't get me wrong, this is another 10/10 shrooms book, but the cover does not match anything I had in my head while reading it. Plus, there's just a little too much happening for my taste. But the book is really good. ;)

Cashmere sweater

(most expensive book you've bought)

Write Great Fiction Series by various (Writer's Digest)

I know the series was on sale, but I still think it was a lot of money. Like ... a lot. Or maybe it came with a magazine subscription or something?? There was a special, OK? xD I'm still working my way through these and hope to get the editing and revision one I'm missing from the series at some point.


(favorite classic book)

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

I mean, I just never tire of it. It's got history, action, espionage, heroism, mystery, and it's so utterly witty and romantic. I've gotten two of my siblings and my mom to read it after hearing I enjoyed it so much which is probably a record. ;)


(book that you bought on impulse)

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull

I grabbed this one off Thriftbooks for cheap because it had a cute cover and sounded neat. And was cheap. I haven't read it yet! *hides* I hope it's a fun one. If it's not my cup of tea, you may be seeing it in a giveaway here at some point xD

Turtleneck sweater

(book from your childhood)

Bread and Jam for Francis by Russel Hogan

What kind of horrible decision-making question is this?! xD The Alphapets, Runaway Ralph, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Newton ... they're all ingrained in my childhood.

Homemade knitted sweater

(book that is Indie-published)

The Sorceress and the Squid by Emily Mundell

I felt like picking one of my own is cheating and I cannot say enough good things about this book. All of you must read it!!! It's so whimsical and clever and fun, I can't even handle it. Another 10/10 shrooms for sure.

V-neck sweater

(book that did not meet your expectations)

The Divergent Series by Veronica Roth

I promise I did try to come up with something more original here ... but alas. This is one of the most disappointing  book series I've ever read. And yes, I did wade through the entire trilogy hoping it would get better. It didn't. Maybe 4/10 shrooms? I loved the premise, but that was about it.

Argyle sweater

(book with a unique format)

Me: *sees pretty purple hardback in Barnes & Noble*
*opens book and finds pretty formatting*
*reads inside cover flap and is beyond intrigued*
*shelves other books and spends entire gift card*
(Yes, this could also count as an impulse buy!) I get to read this starting next week and I'm SO EXCITED!!! It sounds like Victorian England meets futuristic, sciencey England and dude I'm all for it. Really hoping this is at least an 8 shroom read. It's got some dividers, quotes, "web pages" and other neat things I'm looking forward to diving into.

Polka dot sweater

(a book with well-rounded characters)

The Sentinel Trilogy by Jamie Foley

Her characters are gold and make her epic universe even more awesome. She nails a bunch of character arcs and even mulitple POV really well. Right up there with Hunger Games and Harry Potter in my book!
All of those books were either very highly recommended or very highly not recommended :P SUCH A FUN TAG! I'm lame, so I'm not going to tag anyone, but I'd love to hear your answers on your blog or in the comments. :D What are your thoughts on books, sweaters, and this adorable tag?? ^.^

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Writing about Hardship from Inexperience

I've seen some interesting things lately about young authors, writing what you know, and walking the line of "authenticity" in Christian fiction. So I'm going to break down some of my thoughts on all of that based out of my own convictions and experience as a young Christian author. Prepare yourselves for some strong thoughts ...

Caveats: I am young. I am fairly inexperienced as far as things go on a worldwide, lifelong scale.

Disclaimer: That does not make me any less of a person or any less of a writer.

This post is also fairly subjective; there's not much right or wrong here. (So feel free to politely disagree--that's basically what I'm doing in this post.)

I'm sure we've all heard the "write what you know" writing rule by now, and I already spent some time disagreeing with that in this ask the author post by Savannah Grace.

There also seems to be a trend in the culture (especially the Christian fiction culture) to be "real and authentic." What this means is that a lot of "Christian" fiction now has gratuitous content that I am not OK with. I think part of the issue is that this is a fairly subjective issue as well and each author has to set their own standards. Readers, too, for that matter. How some things can be called Christian I'll never know.

However, on the other end of the spectrum is the mushy, preachy Christian fiction. I dislike that just as much because while I don't view it as harmful, I don't find it helpful or worthwhile either. So what's the point?

That's what I look for in a book: a point. Meaning. It doesn't matter whether I'm writing or reading it.

I am a young, Christian writer who has to find the balance in the Christian market and with my own conscience. I really feel like I've already found that sweet spot, and that enables me to say I'm confident that what I'm writing will touch people and won't be too much for my readers in a harmful way. Otherwise the Holy Spirit would be telling me to do things differently than I am.

And yet I write about hard things. Things I haven't experienced. Things I will probably (hopefully) never experience in my life. I don't think that excludes me from writing about teen pregnancy, blackmail, abuse, married life, and the internal struggles that comes with those any more than that excludes me from writing about WWI because I didn't live then.

I can confidently write about those hard things while being young, Christian, and inexperienced because:
  • Young does not mean I haven't gone through something comparable in my own experience. Just because my bad choices haven't left me pregnant doesn't mean I haven't made bad choices or lived with guilt and regret. 
  • Christianity by definition is difficult. We are promised persecution and hardship and we live in a broken world. So of course I'm going to include those things in my stories.
  • Inexperienced does not mean I can't empathize with a situation. Again, I can envision a situation different than mine based on mine. My experiences give me a starting point from which to relate to my characters. I don't think writers are called to write their precise story, but almost all end up writing a version of it if you look closely at the themes.
I'm writing about difficult things to show God's glory and saving grace through them, not merely because it's juicy and attention-grabbing. I am sure there are people out there who write about hard things for headline's sake. But I am not one of those people and I don't think any of you are either.

To me, writing about hard things is like killing a character. To a certain level, it's my job to manipulate as a writer: I want my reader to cry. I do. And that's because to me that means I've gotten the gravity of the situation across and the moment of glory to God will be that much more glorious.

I'm not going to apologize for writing about hardship from inexperience. I have prayed and prayed over the level of content I include in my stories and ultimately have set the bar as low as I believe I feasibly can and not come off prudish or embarrassed of my own topic. Ultimately I'm not going to stop tackling hard things because that's what I believe I'm called to do. 

So when my friends marvel at my apparently unusual ability to shrug at a negative review, that's why. All of my negative reviews have been because I'm young and inexperienced and writing about hard things too graphically for the Christian genre. I'm truly sorry some of my readers have felt that way, but quite frankly I disagree because that's not what God told me when I asked.

I have been very blessed that my writing from inexperience has, for the most part, reached more people and touched more lives than I ever could have otherwise.
I'm not going to lie, I feel like I've opened a can of worms here! I really do want to hear your honest thoughts. What do you agree and disagree with? Give me your take on this issue! All I ask for is polite discussion which I doubt will be a problem with you amazing people. :)