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Will and BonnieI have been writing for publication since 1998, when I sold my first novella, “Miracle on Beale Street,” to Tyndale House. The next one to appear was “Reforming Seneca Jones,” which released in the fall of 2000, in the anthology Prairie Christmas. PrairieChristmasCoverFourteen years and fifteen books later, I’ve begun to get back the rights to those early novellas and republish them as ebooks, giving them another editorial polish and fresh covers.

“Seneca” is one of my favorite stories, both because of its western Pony Express setting and its irresistible hero. Seneca Jones is an orphan cowboy who grows up wild and adventurous in a land and time full of such self-made men, just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. He loves his horse and his gun, he’s loyal to his friends, impatient of pretenders, and he’s protective of women and children. He also has a penchant for mischief and flirtation.

Bonnie displaying a bit of diva temperament

Bonnie displaying a bit of diva temperament

So after updating the manuscript and preparing it for upload to Smashwords, my e-publisher, I began to plan the cover. This was no easy task, since I live in South Alabama, where snowy prairies and rough-hewn cowboys are about as common as…well, prairies at the beach. I considered hiring a marketing company to design the cover. But I figured I might wind up spending a lot of money on a generic romance cover, featuring some stock-photo sissy masquerading as the one-of-a-kind Seneca Jones—or, worse yet, a middle-aged, grizzled cowboy with a cigarette dangling between his lips.

Um, no.

So I decided to shoot the cover myself, using one of my nephews as a model, my niece’s horse and my sister’s rural property as background—but schedules, weather, costuming, and all sorts of challenges prevented the project from coming together. The season for releasing the book passed, and I slunk back to Square One. Nearly a year passed.

Then I met Will Dorminy.

Will and Bonnie

Will and Bonnie

Will recently came on staff at our church as one of our music and worship leaders. He’s a talented musician, sings and plays guitar, and has a gift for leading people into the presence of God—which is amazing enough. But the first time I saw him, I did a double-take. He’s in his early twenties, blond and blue-eyed, with an infectious smile and a killer dimple—Seneca Jones come to life. Will probably wondered why the crazy lady in the orchestra kept staring at him, but I was just thinking, What if I could put a cowboy hat and duster on him, and get him on a horse? There’s my cover!

For a long time, I didn’t say anything to Will about my nutty idea, because where was I going to get a realistic cowboy outfit? Where was I going to get a horse? And I’m not a photographer, except with my handy iPhone, so who was going to man the camera?

Those horses were...big!

Those horses were…big!

My daughter Hannah is my favorite photographer, but she lives inconveniently far away, so I asked my friend Jan Johnson to do the actual shoot. She agreed, with the stipulation that Hannah do the artistic editing and design of the cover. Boom. Photography issue solved.

Meanwhile, I’d been checking costume shops, both online and in Mobile. Everything I found looked both fake and cheap. One night I mentioned the project to my friend Billy Graham (no, not that Billy Graham), our missions and evangelism pastor at North Mobile. Billy has always been one of my greatest prayer warriors and cheerleaders, and I probably should have gone to him at the beginning. Within twenty-four hours I got a phone call from Billy’s friend Roy Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church Satsuma.

HorsesRoy owns four horses and a stable. Roy’s son is a professional horseman who has a gospel-centered “horse-whispering” ministry (with the charming title “Spurs“) and owns all kinds of vintage cowboy clothing and accoutrements. Roy and Chance were both thrilled to help me out. Super-score!

So I finally called Will and asked if he’d ever done any modeling. He’s a very modest guy and kinda laughed at me, but agreed to give it a shot. With a little back-and-forth texting we found a time when model, host, photographer, and I could all get together. And this past Tuesday afternoon, in spite of seasonal torrential rain in our area, we got together at the Hill Hacienda in Satsuma, Alabama.

Donkey and German shepherd

The Hills’ donkey and friendly German shepherd checking out the strangers

You never know how these things are going to go.…But we got Will all togged out in cowboy gear, from hat to spurs, even a gunbelt and chaps, and trekked out to the barn. Jan and I spent a few minutes choosing a horse (what do I know about horse color?) and picked a buckskin named Bonnie, Pastor Roy’s personal mount. Bonnie wasn’t real excited at first about her new modeling gig, but a bucketful of oats enticed her to cooperate. You can see in the photo above that the Author was a little nervous, due to a Traumatic Horse Experience some forty years ago. And Jan’s Chocos got a little, um, coated with manure, but she was a good sport about that too.

Saddle

Antique saddle

Here’s a shot of a hundred-year-old saddle that we would have used, except it’s missing a stirrup. All the rest of Will’s gear is well-used, real-life tack and clothing from Chance Hill’s Spurs Ministry. We spent about an hour trying various backgrounds and poses, and wound up with over two hundred shots that Hannah will be able to pick from. Fortunately, Will has some experience with horses, and dealt well with Bonnie, the mud and manure, and two bossy women. He now has a random entry to his resume that may or may not give him credibility as a musician and minister—but at least will make great conversation one day.

The shoot is a wrap! Whew!

The shoot is a wrap! Whew!

In any case, I’m grateful for friends who are willing to go along with my sometimes oddball adventures in publishing. If I can ever return the favor…

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Sophie Frangos is torn between the love of two men and the promise that binds them all together. Markos Stavros loves Sophie from afar while battling his thirst for vengeance and his hunger for honor. Dino, his quiet and intelligent brother, simply wants to forget the horror that drove them from their Greek island home to start a new life in America. One of these “sons of thunder” offers a future she longs for, the other—the past she lost.

From the sultry Chicago jazz clubs of the roaring twenties to the World War II battlefields of Europe to a final showdown in a Greek island village, they’ll discover betrayal, sacrifice, and finally redemption. Most of all, when Sophie is forced to make her choice, she’ll learn that God honors the promises made by the Sons of Thunder.

Read an excerpt here.

About Susan:

Susan May Warren is the RITA award-winning author of twenty-four novels with Tyndale, Barbour and Steeple Hill. A four-time Christy award finalist, a two-time RITA Finalist, she’s also a multi-winner of the Inspirational Readers Choice award, and the ACFW Book of the Year.

Susan’s larger than life characters and layered plots have won her acclaim with readers and reviewers alike. A seasoned women’s events and retreats speaker, she’s a popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation and the author of the beginning writer’s workbook: From the Inside-Out: discover, create and publish the novel in you!. She is also the founder of www.MyBookTherapy.com, a story-crafting service that helps authors discover their voice.

Susan makes her home in northern Minnesota, where she is busy cheering on her two sons in football, and her daughter in local theater productions (and desperately missing her college-age son!) A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Connect with Susan on Facebook here.

Buy the book here.

Enter Susan’s Memory Prize Pack contest:

Each one of us has a wealth of stories from the past – while they might not all be as sweeping and dramatic as that of Sofia and the Stravos brothers (swoon), your family history is a treasure nonetheless.

Well – let’s hear them! Were your great-grandparents ‘fresh off the boat’? Was your great uncle a war hero? Did your grandmother make unbelievable sacrifices to help or protect the family? Did your father harbor a family secret until his death? Are you related to someone famous (my assistant is related to presidents Harrison and Jackson – wow! Who knew?) Do you have a family treasure? Maybe you just have some lovely memories. Whatever it is that is unique in your family history – share it with us.

Have a photo to go with your story? Even better!!!! Email those to amy@susanmaywarren.com !

One grand prize winner will win a Memory Prize package containing a gift certificate to create your own hard cover photo book, a 6 month membership to Netflix (to satisfy that flick fix!) and a signed copy of Sons of Thunder! 5 runners up will also win signed copies of Sons of Thunder! Contest ends March 31st. Winners will be announced April 2nd.

TO ENTER THE CONTEST VISIT THE SONS OF THUNDER WEBSITE AND CLICK ON THE SHARE PAGE!

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My friend Leanna Ellis has a new book releasing this month, and I wanted to tell you about it. Here’s the scoop:

Once in a Blue Moon
ISBN: 978-0-8054-4988-4 B&H Publishing

Faith is the first step to soaring.

The day Armstrong stepped on the moon has special memories for most Americans, but not for Bryn Seymour. It’s the day her mother died. Despite death defying feats, guilt has always pulled Bryn down time and again. But a perfect love shows her taking a leap of faith is the first step to soaring. But it only happens … once in a blue moon.

About Leanna:

‘Leanna Ellis takes a back seat to no one,’ says Debbie Macomber. But Leanna hopes she allows God in the driver’s seat as she taxies her two children to and from all their activities, lets her menagerie of pets in and out … in and out …, figures out what to cook for dinner (or where to order takeout), and at the same time keeps those quirky characters in her head from bothering others. Winner of the National Readers Choice Award, Leanna writes quirky women’s fiction with a splash of romance. From a long line of southerners and patriots, she lives with her family in Texas.

To buy the book from Amazon click here.

To read an excerpt of Once in a Blue Moom, click here.

To check out Leanna’s website click here, and her blog here.

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For those of you who enjoy Love Inspired romances, here’s a new offering from my good friend Gail Martin. Highly recommended.
Groom In Training
by Gail Gaymer Martin
Second book in the Man’s Best Friend Series from Steeple Hill Love Inspired
Friends, Four-legged Friends and Love.
A widow with a sad past, Steph Wright, finds comfort in her faith and her adorable Border Collie, Fred. When Fred becomes enamored with the neighbor’s pedigreed Bouvier, Steph meets Nick. With a broken engagement and a busy job, Nick isn’t open to love and romance. But when Nick steps in to defend Steph, long talks ensue during dog walking, and both begin to learn that God has plans for each of them, especially Steph who sees some unexpected “groom-in-training” going on.
Gail’s Bio:
Multi-award-winning author, Gail Gaymer Martin writes fiction for Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing, where she was recently honored by Heartsong readers as their Favorite Author of 2008. Gail has written forty-four contracted novels with three million books in print. She is the author of Writing the Christian Romance, a Writers Digest Books release. Gail is a co-founder of American Christian Fiction Writers. She is a keynote speaker at churches, libraries and civic organizations  and also presents workshops at conference across the US. Gail has a Masters degree and post-master’s classes from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and is a licensed counselor.  She lives in Michigan with her husband.
Groom In Training available where books are sold or click here.
You can find this book and the first book in the series, Dad In Training, here.

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A fan named Alexandra wrote to ask about which books are connected in a series. I wrote this little article a while back and stuck it on the “Books” page, but it seems to be hidden where people can’t find it. So I’m re-running it to make it a little more obvious. Here you go, Alexandra…

One question I get from readers fairly regularly is about the characters who appear in several books, which makes it seem as if I write series. Well, not exactly. The only true series I did, meaning on purpose, was the Texas Gatekeepers Border Patrol series for Love Inspired Suspense. They’re stand-alone love stories, but they’re linked in setting and theme, and Bernadette Malone appears as a secondary character in the first two and as the heroine of the third. Those books in order are:

  1. Under Cover of Darkness
  2. Sounds of Silence
  3. On Wings of Deliverance

But if you have read all my books, you’ll notice that Bernadette first appears as a teenager in my very first novella for Tyndale’s HeartQuest anthology series—”Miracle on Beale Street” in Dream Vacation. And that Miranda Gonzales, the heroine of “Beale Street”, shows up in “The Trouble With Tommy” in Sweet Delights. And on and on. I didn’t mean to drive anybody crazy…but for the benefit of those who like to follow characters from book to book and know all there is to know about them, here’s my list (in story order) of the characters in my little world. And if I’ve made a mistake, I’m sure somebody will correct me. But as one of my favorite authors, Lois MacMaster Bujold, once said, “the Author reserves the right to have a Better Idea.”

If I had to give it a title, I guess I’d call this the Gonzales Family Saga:

  1. “Miracle on Beale Street” in Dream Vacation
  2. “The Trouble With Tommy” in Sweet Delights
  3. “Will and a Way” in Chance Encounters of the Heart
  4. Fireworks
  5. Fair Game
  6. The Texas Gatekeepers mini-series (see above)

The remaining three Zondervan titles form a loose series as well, with a completely new set of characters, mainly from the Kincade clan:

  1. Off the Record
  2. Controlling Interest
  3. Tour de Force

On the historical side, “Reforming Seneca Jones” in Prairie Christmas has no prequel or sequel—except in my own imagination. I’ve started a consequent story about Annie’s brother, Marshal Micah Fitzgerald. It’s a Christmas romantic adventure set on the Nebraska prairie and has been taking shape on the pages of this blog.

And, obviously, the two Love Inspired Historicals are related. Crescent City Courtshipis a 15-years-later sequel to Redeeming Gabriel. I’ve got a couple of other sequels outlined—one about Tess Montgomery and one about Winona—but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them yet. Stay tuned.

I’ll answer Alexandra’s other question about where to get my books in a later post.

Everyone enjoy the MLK holiday. Great man who deserves to be remembered.

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I’d like to introduce a new book by a longtime friend in the writing biz. Cheryl was reading and promoting Christian fiction long before she sold her first novel to Steeple Hill…and she has become quite an accomplished writer. I think you’ll like this one.

ABOUT A Soldier’s Devotion

ISBN-10: 0373875754 Publisher: Steeple Hill (January 1, 2010)

U.S. Air Force pararescue jumper Vince Reardon was headed to a lifesaving mission. Until a too-pretty lawyer crashed her fancy car into his motorcycle—sidelining him for two weeks. Vince can barely accept Valentina Russo’s heartfelt apologies. Ever since his brother was wrongly convicted—and killed in prison—Vince has lost respect for lawyers. But wait—is that Val volunteering at his refuge for underprivileged kids? If Vince isn’t careful, this lady of the law might just earn his respect and his heart.

ABOUT Cheryl

Born Valentine’s Day on a naval base, Cheryl Wyatt writes military and rescue romance. Her Steeple Hill debuts earned RT Top Picks plus #1 and #4 on eHarlequin’s Top 10 Most-Blogged-About-Books, lists including NYT Bestsellers. She is a Reviewers Choice Award Nominee. www.CherylWyatt.com

Amazon PURCHASE LINK

Christianbook.com EXCERPT LINK

AUTHOR WEB SITE & BLOG

Sign up for her quarterly newsletter here.

www.seekerville.blogspot.com

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Jacqueline awakened in the gray predawn, suddenly aware that, despite her knotted stomach, she had closed her eyes and gone out like a snuffed candle.

And because of last night’s fit of modesty, she desperately needed a trip to Charlie’s outhouse. She lifted her head and peered around the belly of the stove.

And bolted upright. Fitzgerald’s bedroll was gone and him with it. Had he left her alone? She’d cursed his presence, but once she’d gotten used to the idea of such solid protection, losing it filled her with terror.

She wildly looked around the cramped interior of the cabin. Then it dawned on her that the stove was still going. Fitzgerald hadn’t been gone long. Probably he would be back any minute.

Now was her chance to take care of necessary business without enduring his prying questions.

She scrambled out from under the blanket and shoved her feet into her boots. Snatching her hat off the table, she wound her brown woolen scarf around her throat and stumbled outside. The blast of frozen air on the other side of the door nearly made her forget the pain of a full bladder and head back to the warmth of the stove. Gritting her teeth, she put her head down against the icy wind and trudged toward the rear of the cabin.

A few minutes later, frozen of backside but otherwise considerably more comfortable, she headed back to the front door. Maybe she should check on Celeste, though. No telling where that nosy Micah Fitzgerald had got off to. She hadn’t heard a sound that would indicate his whereabouts.

He was a very quiet man.

Inside the barn, with the bite of the wind on the other side of the door, Jacqueline paused and listened. The snuffle and blowing of the animals drew her into the dim interior.

“Celeste? You all right?” She shuffled her way down the inner aisle as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.

The mule poked her bony head over the stall door and lipped Jacqueline’s shoulder.

She laughed. “Hungry, huh? I’ll find you some hay, hang on.” Shivering, she ducked into an empty stall, where she’d found clean hay yesterday. She picked up the pitchfork leaning in the corner, jammed it into the pile and took an armload back to Celeste’s stall—and halted. Fresh hay was already scattered on the dirt floor. Fitzgerald had beat her out here.

Uneasy, she glanced around. Was he hiding somewhere, watching her to see what she would do when she thought nobody was looking?

But there wasn’t another sound, except for the blue roan gelding in the other stall, munching on his own breakfast.

Jacqueline put the hay and pitchfork back where she’d found them and walked to the gelding’s stall. He ignored her as she rested folded arms atop the door.

“You’re just as quiet as your boss, big boy. Wonder what’s your name.” Fitzgerald hadn’t said, she would’ve remembered, but the horse was clearly cavalry stock. “Probably something military. Sarge or Major maybe.” The gelding looked up, sudden interest in the big dark eyes. “Major? That it?” Whuffling, the horse moved toward her and nuzzled her arm.

She petted him for a moment, enjoying his warm breath and body heat. It occurred to her that she had an opportunity to shake her unwanted companion. She could ride out, leaving the scout with her rickety mule, and he’d never catch up to her. The horse was nearly sixteen hands, much bigger than typical Pony Express stock, but she thought she could handle him.

Still, she’d have to hurry.

“Where’s your saddle, Major? Wanna go for a ride?”

She looked around the barn and found the gelding’s tack neatly piled at the far end. Hurriedly she gathered the bridle and blanket, leaving the saddle for the second trip. When she went back for it, she staggered under its weight, barely managing to heave it over the horse’s withers. But Major was well-trained and stood patiently while she tightened the girth.

She patted the winter-thick coat of his neck. “You’re a good boy.”

For a moment she stood holding the bridle, shivering, indecisive. Horse thievery was no small matter. If, as she suspected, Fitzgerald was a lawman rather than a telegraph scout as he claimed, she could be in big trouble.

If she got caught.

And she was a Christian. The right thing to do would be to go back into the cabin and face whatever consequences befell her.

On the other hand, she had no way of knowing what this stranger’s goals and motivations might be. Every man she’d known in her short life had focused on his own selfish aims—with the possible exception of her brother, and even he had his shortcomings. Didn’t the Bible say that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”? How could she trust a man she’d known less than twelve hours, no matter how steady and gentle his eyes and voice?

Perhaps taking Micah Fitzgerald’s horse would be forgiven in the light of self-protection. Surely God didn’t expect stupidity out of her. And she could always leave the horse for him when she got to the next station—where, surely, she would find traces of Neil’s whereabouts.

Pressing her lips together, she gathered the reins and led the gelding to the door. She pulled the latch and pushed it open, gasping when a gust of wind yanked it outward with a thump against the outside wall of the barn. Major flinched but held steady as she whispered to him and stroked him. “Good boy,” she repeated, over and over, calming herself as much as the horse.

She peered outside and saw nothing but dark, still, silent prairie. The sky looked like gunmetal, heavy with snow clouds that smothered the rising sun. She hoped Micah Fitzgerald would stay occupied for long enough that she could get away.

“All right, then.” She sucked in an icy breath. Keeping the reins in her left hand, she put her foot in the near stirrup and grabbed the pommel.

She was off the ground, halfway in the saddle before the gelding reared. Caught completely off-guard, balance shattered, Jacqueline hung on as best she could as the horse danced like a circus performer. Jigging one way, slamming to all fours again, rocking to the left and heaving into a demented silent bucking, Major threw his would-be rider off in less than ten seconds.

Wheezing, Jacqueline lay flat on her back looking up at the horse. Apologetically he dipped his beautiful small head to lip her hair.

Without warning she started to cry. Just rolled over on the dirt-and-straw floor and buried her face in her arms.

That was where Micah Fitzgerald found her.

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