Laurie Stroup Smith Tue, 21 Aug 2018 18:05:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 112807394 Her Story, My Prayer Tue, 21 Aug 2018 18:05:59 +0000 In recent weeks, I’ve been having doubts about this calling I have to be a writer. Why?

  1. I made writing a priority in my life over two years ago, but there hasn’t been much interest in my books from traditional publishing houses. Will I ever get published?
  2. I’m a stay-at-home mom with kids in middle school, and I have college degrees in unrelated fields not being used. Maybe I should go back to work?
  3. I’ve completed five manuscripts, yet I continue to wait for the right story to cross the right desk at the right time. I’m trying to be patient, but how do I know if this is what God wants me to do in this season of my life?

My identity and my worth are not determined by my works, and these doubts are not from God. Nevertheless, they have caused concern. Within the last month, I started visiting our church’s app where people can anonymously post prayer requests. My goal was to be more intentional when I prayed and, if I’m being completely transparent, less self-centered during my conversations with God. When I shared with my husband the doubts I’d been having about pursuing publication, he encouraged me to post my own prayer request. Two weeks ago, I did, but I felt guilty. Other people were reaching out for prayer as they struggle through some really tough times, and my prayer was basically for someone in the publishing world to notice my writing (which means they’ll notice me).

We’ve been part of our church community for 13 years, and the current series Off the Grid is by far my favorite. This past weekend, we observed the transformation of Kip and Ashley, two women who took a chance and went to Woman Camp. Watch the message here. While sitting in that dark auditorium, God used someone else’s story to answer my prayer. Let me explain…

In February 2017, I had this idea for a story where a mother grieves the tragic loss of her young daughter Violet. This pain leads her through a series of incidents which have significant consequences for her, her marriage, and her community. The main character needs forgiveness and healing, both of which are strongly tied to this little girl.

In October 2017, I took a bold step of faith and attended Woman Camp to spend 48 hours sleeping under the stars with a group of strangers. As shown in the video, there’s a significant moment at camp when we identify the veil we are wearing. For many, these veils are burdens God wants us to surrender to Him. We then have a chance to burn our veils in a bonfire and take steps toward freedom. This was a profound experience for me, but that’s a story for another day.

In February 2018, I finished revisions for the book mentioned above with plans to enter it in the ACFW Genesis contest, but I wasn’t satisfied with any of the titles I had considered. Since the main character’s conflict stemmed from the loss of her daughter, I thought maybe there might be a scripture containing the word violet that would offer inspiration. Through an online search, I found 2 Chronicles 3:14 (NASB)

He made the veil of violet, purple, crimson and fine linen, and he worked cherubim on it.

In another search, I discovered 2 Corinthians 3:14 (NLT)

But the people’s minds were hardened, and to this day whenever the old covenant is being read, the same veil covers their minds so they cannot understand the truth. And this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ.

The book was then named The Veil of Violet, and I was thrilled and honored to be named a Genesis Semi-Finalist for this novella earlier this year.

Aside from revealing one important detail that ties Ashley’s story to my journey, I’m not going to retell her story in this post. But I will say that she, like many of us, was a grieving woman who yearned for forgiveness and healing, who identified the veil she had been wearing, and who took off that veil and threw it in the fire. As Sunday’s service ended, goosebumps pricked every inch of my skin.

Why? Months after the filming of Woman Camp, Ashley gave birth to a baby girl, whom she named Lavender.

I once read that coincidence is God’s way of letting us know He’s near, and I’ve felt His presence, His affirmation, and His guidance more in these past few days than I have in quite awhile. This time next month, I’ll be in Nashville at the ACFW Conference, pitching my books to editors. I don’t know what the future holds for my writing, but I do feel like God has confirmed I’m heading down the path He’s laid out for me.

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Girlfriend Getaway Giveaway Mon, 18 Jun 2018 21:48:55 +0000 At the end of the school year, my daughter’s teacher gave me this “vintage” wooden Amish family (dated 1985) and encouraged me to host a giveaway. While in Sugarcreek for the Girlfriend Getaway this weekend, I asked the participating authors to sign the back of each piece. Pictured below from left to right: Amy Clipston, Molly Jebber, Kelly Irvin, Amanda Flower, Ruth Reid, Kelly Long, me, Kathleen Fuller, Cathy Liggett, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Shelley Shepard Gray, and Jennifer Beckstrand.

I invite you to participate in this giveaway for a chance to win this sweet set. It will be the perfect addition to your Amish collection!

Enter for your chance to win one of two signed copies of Life with Lily here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway begins Monday, June 18, 2018, and ends Sunday, June 24, 2018, at 11:59 PM EST. Open to Residents of the US only.  Prizes cannot be shipped to PO Boxes.  One winner will be selected by Rafflecopter and be notified by email. In addition, the winner will be posted on on Monday, June 25, 2018.  Winners have 48 hours to respond before a new winner is selected. The product offered for the giveaway is free of charge, no purchase necessary. My opinions are my own and were not influenced by any form of compensation.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest are in no way associated with this giveaway.  By providing your information in this form, you are providing your information to me and me alone.  I do not share or sell information. 

Thank you in advance. Good luck!

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#FictionFriday: If I Run Series by Terri Blackstock Fri, 09 Mar 2018 14:32:27 +0000

When I selected my seat for the 2017 ACFW Conference Gala, I discovered a copy of Terri Blackstock’s If I Run in my chair. Intrigued by the book’s back cover, I packed it in my carry-on and headed home. My TBR pile was quite large, so a couple of months passed before I opened the cover.

If I Run is the story of Casey Cox, a young lady who discovers her best friend’s body, her DNA covers the crime scene. Since the police have failed her in the past, she’s forced to flee to avoid being arrested…or worse. Dylan Roberts has been hired by the victim’s family to find her, but his diagnosis of PTSD after returning home from war proves to be an obstacle. As events unfold, he wonders if she is a psychopathic killer or a selfless hero.

I read the first chapter to see if Blackstock’s writing style piqued my interest and then finished this book in less than 24 hours. Needing to know what happened next, I borrowed a copy of If I’m Found from our library and was thrilled to follow Casey across the country as she dodged those who chased her. I turned page after page desperate for the exchanges between Casey and Dylan – secret emails laced with truth. You must read to find out if she finds light in the darkness.

Though Blackstock is a multi-published, best-selling author, I’m new to her works. As a student of her craft, I tried to dissect her writing, but I devoured chapter after chapter. I couldn’t slow down. Soon I will reread the books and study how she drew me in and kept me turning the pages. Though I’m writing romance, good writing is good writing, and I want to continue to improve.

I got my hands on a copy of If I Live, the thrilling conclusion to the series, which was released on March 6th. Thankfully my schedule is relatively light tomorrow. I don’t expect to get any sleep tonight. Grab your copy today!

2017 in Review Thu, 04 Jan 2018 13:45:50 +0000 Happy New Year! As we celebrated the holidays with extended family and friends, I was asked about my writing journey. I thought I’d share some of this year’s highlights here.

In January, Literary Agent Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency offered to represent me. She has provided endless encouragement and guidance throughout the past twelve months. Her excitement for my book ideas motivates me to continue to improve my craft, and I’m grateful to her for giving me a chance.

In May, I received my first rejection letter, and I embraced it. Writers often wait months to learn what industry professionals think of their work, and this waiting has been the highest hurdle for me. As I hold onto the hope that my manuscripts will fall on the right desk at the right time, I continue to write.

In September, I attended the ACFW Conference in Dallas. I met an amazing group of authors, including Laura C. Brandenburg, a 2016 Genesis Semi-Finalist and a 2017 First Impressions Finalist. We had critiqued each other’s writing through Scribes, ACFW’s online critique group. After hanging out together in Dallas, we agreed to be critique partners. I hope 2018 is a great year for both of us!

In November, I participated in #NaNoWriMo for the first time. Though I didn’t meet the 50K word goal, I learned a valuable lesson – I can write (almost) anywhere. Up until the #NaNoWriMo challenge, I needed to have a block of time in a quiet space. I would write and edit along the way, striving for perfection instead of excellence. But during #NaNoWriMo, my word count grew despite a multitude of distractions. I focused on getting the words on the page – there would be plenty of time to revise later. Now I lug my laptop or a printed copy of my manuscript with me if there’s a chance I’ll get to spend a few minutes with my characters.

Later this same month, I was named a Finalist in the ACFW First Impressions Contest. I was thrilled to see my name listed alongside these other talented writers. Congratulations to the winners!

In December, I wrote a short story – an Amish twist on O. Henry’s popular “The Gift of the Magi” – based on the hero and heroine in my First Impressions submission. Huge thanks to Faith, Hope, and Love Stories for publishing the story on Facebook.

I also reworked a novel I had written earlier this year. Over the next couple of months, I plan to polish the manuscript to submit in the ACFW Genesis Contest. Please check back – I’ll keep you posted.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2018. Dream big!

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#FictionFriday: Shelley Shepard Gray Fri, 03 Nov 2017 11:58:40 +0000 Congratulations to my friend and mentor Shelley Shepard Gray! On November 7th, her 39th Amish title will be available for purchase.

The Gift is the third book in The Amish of Hart County Series.

The Schwartz family purchased property from the Vances in Hart County, Kentucky. They are happy to be spending Christmas on their new farm until a string of accidents causes them to believe someone wants them gone. Susanna Schwartz has fallen in love with Neil Vance, a man her father is convinced is responsible for their trouble. Her family is ready to pack up and move, and time is running out to uncover the truth before someone gets hurt…or worse. (paraphrased from the book’s back cover).

This story takes place in and around Horse Cave, Kentucky. If you are ever in the area, it’s worth a visit!

In addition to Amish Romances, Shelley writes Western Fiction and Historical Fiction. Love Held Captive, the third book in A Lone Star Hero’s Love Story Series, hit store shelves in October.

“After the War Between the States, a Confederate officer longs to heal the heart of a beautiful woman—but first he’ll have to right the wrongs that were done to her.”

Want to read more from Shelley? With over 60 published books, I imagine it may be difficult to know where to begin. I highly recommend the following two series:

  1. The Secrets of Crittenden County Series: Missing, The Search, Found, and Peace, a Crittenden County Christmas novella.
  2. Families of Honor Series: The Caregiver, The Protector, and The Survivor. Don’t forget A Christmas for Katie, a Christmas Families of Honor novella.

I would love to know which Shelley Shepard Gray book is your favorite. Please share in the comments below.

Christmas is just around the corner, and books make great gifts…Happy Reading!

#FictionFriday: The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell Fri, 06 Oct 2017 14:00:00 +0000

When Julie Cantrell won a 2017 ACFW Carol Award for The Feathered Bone, I thought I’d check it out. I read the book’s premise and was hooked: “In the pre-Katrina glow of New Orleans, Amanda Salassi is anxious about chaperoning her daughter’s sixth-grade field trip to the Big Easy during Halloween. And then her worst fears come true. Her daughter’s best friend, Sarah, disappears amid the magic and revelry—gone, without a trace.”

In this book, Cantrell addresses many hot-button topics that plague our world today. The author wrote with raw emotion, which drew me deeper into the story. Whether or not I have faced the trials presented on these pages, I could relate to the characters as a child of God, a woman, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a friend, a working professional, and of course, a chaperone. Through various plot twists, I forced my eyes to read on because I was invested in the lives of these fictitious characters, and I wanted to see if and how they relied on their faith to get through the darkest of days. I chose to highlight this book here with the hopes that the story’s message may shine light in the darkness for readers who are feeling their way through the shadows of life.
“What good is it to have feathers if you don’t fly? You are worthy of being loved. You are worthy of being free.”
The book’s back cover reads, “The Feathered Bone is Julie Cantrell’s master portrait of love in a fallen world.” And it’s true. We live in a broken world where darkness seems to grow with each passing day. But where there is love there is hope. I cling to this hope and my faith in God’s promises. Wishing you and your loved ones many blessings.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” – John 1:5
Preparing for ACFW 2017 Fri, 15 Sep 2017 16:59:52 +0000 In five short days, I’ll board a plane a head to Dallas for the 2017 American Christian Fiction Writers Conference. As I polish my pitch and print materials, I’ve been reflecting on my experience at last year’s conference in Nashville. Throughout that weekend, I was a sponge, noting various tips and tricks on the pages of my notebook. Aside from the writing wisdom I gained, I noticed three common themes in the other lessons I learned during my time away from home. 1. Get Connected. 

Volunteer. Those who know me understand I value service to others. When a friend suggested I consider volunteering for a couple of hours at the conference, I jumped at the chance. I signed up as to work at Registration, which gave me a chance to interact and connect with other volunteers and attendees before the event even started. And it was fun! I will work at Registration again this year.

Be Intentional. The publishing world is about relationships, and networking is important. Business cards are a great way to get your name and face out there. However, I suggest exchanging cards with people after having a conversation. After parting ways with someone, I jotted little notes on the back of the card so I could remember our interaction in the future. While this may seem like common sense, I wanted to mention it because I recall two different occasions when I gathered with a group of writers during the conference, and someone suggested exchanging cards. Everyone shuffled their cards around the circle like we were getting ready to play Hearts. When I returned to my hotel room, I tried to remember something about them, and I couldn’t because there was no interaction to remember. Business cards are not baseball cards – don’t collect them for the fun of it.

Remember not every interaction will be positive, and that’s okay. I’m an extrovert, and I’m not afraid to start a conversation with a stranger. There have been times when I’ve had to remind myself that not everyone is wired like me. For instance, one morning at breakfast in Nashville, I asked the man beside me a couple of questions: Where are you from? What do you write? Easy questions. He answered with one word, took two bites of his sausage, rose from the table, and left the room. This upset me, but I thought maybe he was going to have explosive diarrhea. It happens. I forgot about him and his odd behavior until I ended up alone with him in the elevator later that same day. In my friendliest voice, I reminded him that we sat next to each other at breakfast. He said “Yep” and exited the elevator as soon as the doors opened. At this point I was mad, and after venting to my roommate, she told me not to take it personally. And it’s true. How many times have I preached the same words to my daughters? As I initiate conversations this year, I will try to be more mindful and not expect to have a connection with everyone I meet.

2. Research, Research, Research. 

In preparation for agent appointments last year, I scrolled through the ACFW Conference links and noted what each professional required for the meeting. I had a copy of character lists, the first 10 pages of my book, the first three chapters, and the full manuscript. I had also created a one sheet for the pitch. I attended Agent Panels and learned what to do and what not to do. During my meetings, the agents didn’t wish to see any of the copies I had made. They preferred to talk about the book, but they did look at the one sheet when I offered it. I have created one sheets for the projects I am prepared to pitch next week.I also researched the agents and their agencies by reading their bios on the ACFW and individual agency websites. I scrolled through their websites and checked out their social media profiles. I knew they would assess whether or not I’d be a good match for their team, and I wanted to know if they might be a good match for me. I’m doing the same this year as I prepare to meet with editors.

3. Pray.

I saw evidence of God’s hands at work multiple times during the conference. Two quick examples:

  • There were around 600 people attending last year’s conference, yet I kept passing the same faces in the crowd. There was one individual in particular, and I was prompted to introduce myself to him. During our conversation, I learned his flight home had been changed, and he had no ride and limited funds. Turns out he was from the same city as a woman I’d spent time with earlier in the day. I was able to connect them, and she was able to help get him find a way home from the airport.
  • Every time I entered the large ballroom, I’d pray God would go before me. I’d arrive early and choose a seat at an empty table. I was surprised how He surrounded me with the right people. Give it a try, and if you don’t think that’s the case, maybe you’re the right person for person seated beside you. Check out this blog post to learn how God’s hands were at work, crossing Serena Crompton’s path with mine.
My Top 10 Favorites in Ohio Amish Country Sun, 03 Sep 2017 18:56:02 +0000 Over the past four years, I’ve visited Ohio Amish Country about a dozen times. People often ask me for recommendations as they plan their own trips, so I created a list of my top 10 favorites in Ohio Amish Country.

10. Rebecca’s Bistro      If you’re not in the mood for Amish fare, head over to this restaurant in Walnut Creek. Breakfast and lunch are served daily (Monday through Saturday). The lunch menu changes weekly, and Rebecca uses locally grown, seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables.

9. Dutch Valley Restaurant – Sugarcreek    Interested in a meal of Amish favorites? This restaurant serves hearty meals, but be sure to save room for their delicious desserts. The Der Dutchman in Walnut Creek and the Berlin Farmstead in Berlin are similar establishments.

8. Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery in Millersburg, Ohio     Cuddly puppies and a variety of farm animals used to draw our daughters in the door, but now they’re just as interested in the farm store, flowers, and fry pies.

7. Walnut Creek Cheese     A one-stop shop which includes grocery, deli, bakery, and bulk foods departments as well as a gift shop and a café.

6 and 5. Wendell August Forge     Craftsmen hand-etch and hand-wrought functional and decorative metalwear from ornaments to jewelry to home décor and table pieces. Stop in for a free workshop tour and browse through the store.

When we visit Ohio Amish Country, we reserve a room at the Berlin Grande Hotel. I like its location – just a 5-10 minute drive to the other places included on this list and a scenic 15-20 minute drive to Sugarcreek. As an added bonus, guests are given a voucher for a complimentary Amish-themed ornament from Wendell Forge. The year’s design changes each April. (picture from Wendell August website)

4. Helping Hands Quilt Shop      Located in Berlin, this fabric store sells handmade quilts made by Amish and Mennonite ladies. Amish women may be working on a quilt during your visit, so you may wish to call ahead.

3. Behalt Cyclorama at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center (picture from their website). This mural-in-the-round “illustrates the heritage of the Amish and Mennonite people from their Anabaptist beginnings in Zürich, Switzerland in 1525 to the present day.”

Take a minute to browse in the gift shop for crafts handmade by members of the Amish and Mennonite communities like baskets and wooden and fabric crafts. There’s also a bookstore and a reference collection of genealogical resources.

2. Yoder’s Amish Home in Millersburg. Interested in learning more about the lifestyle of Amish people? Tour both homes, a schoolhouse, and a barn on the property and take a ride through the field in a buggy. Stop in the bakery for jams and jellies, fresh-baked breads, cinnamon rolls, and cookies made on site.

  1. Mt Hope Auction  in Mt Hope, Ohio     Hosting livestock, hay, and produce sales on a weekly basis, Mt Hope Auction also welcomes a variety of special sales throughout the year. If you’d like an immersive Amish experience, check the schedule on their website and plan to go during your stay.My daughter and I attended one of these special auctions in Mt Hope this weekend. One hundred percent of the Haiti Benefit Auction proceeds benefit missions in Haiti. I recorded the winning bids for 32 quilts (listed on two pages in the booklet), and they raised over $30,000 on those sales alone. There were three additional pages of furniture listings, one page of specialty items, several large-ticket items (like outbuildings, playsets, and lawn care equipment), and a silent bidding board. What an amazing event!

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.” Matthew 25:35

During future trips, I hope to visit the following places which have been highly recommended by our Amish and non-Amish friends:

Lehman’s in Kidron, Ohio

Keim Lumber in Charm, Ohio

Mrs. Yoder’s Kitchen in Mt Hope, Ohio

It’s been fun sharing this list. I’d love to know where you enjoy spending your time when you visit Ohio Amish Country!

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Keep Moving Forward Tue, 15 Aug 2017 12:52:54 +0000 While packing for a week’s vacation in Michigan, I received an email from my agent. She had heard from The Editor, the one who had expressed interest in my writing after reading my novella, and she wanted my thoughts about his reaction to my first full-length novel. This was the moment I’d been waiting for – the feedback I’d been craving.

And I had been rejected.

But it’s okay. I’ve been doing my best to maintain realistic expectations along this journey, so I wasn’t devastated. That being said, the rejection still stung.

At first, I wondered what I could do in the future to impress this editor? How could I have worded my synopsis to make him believe he could sell this story? But then I caught myself and remembered an email I had received from Jeff Gerke, an industry professional I had contacted earlier in my journey. He wrote, “Always keep in mind that, no matter whether anyone loves or hates your writing, none of it has any bearing on your identity or worth as a person. Your identity is that you are a beloved child of God. Everything else is just…props and costumes and roles we play.”

With these words in mind, I reread the editor’s email with a different perspective and really focused on his message. He hadn’t rejected me – he had rejected the book. I embraced this rejection as a great learning opportunity. As I listened to the feedback, I began to brainstorm ways to improve the story. I listed these ideas for my agent, and she thought they would be easy edits. Once we had returned home from Michigan, I revised both the manuscript and the synopsis and sent them off to her to resubmit.

Right before and right after receiving the editor’s email, I noticed rejection was a recurrent theme in my world. Four different experiences helped me embrace his rejection, learn from it, and look ahead:

  1. Our church’s summer series was called Spark, and we heard from a variety of speakers who shared “new ideas to ignite your life.” In this short video, Natasia Malaihollo explains how God shows up in the midst of rejection with something bigger and better.

2. A few days later, my husband encouraged me to listen to the first part (Commandment 1) of a podcast he’d heard during his commute:  The 10 Commandments of Startup Success with Reid Hoffman. I was shocked to learn that Kathryn Minshew, co-founder and CEO of The Muse, a career development website, faced rejection 148 times before she had success. From the conversation, listeners learn how to interpret rejection and how to embrace it as a gift.

3. The day before we left for Michigan, it was suggested our family watch the Walt Disney movie Meet the Robinsons. We borrowed a copy from the library and watched the movie once we returned home from vacation. Lewis, the main character, is an orphan whose attempts to be adopted have failed and an inventor whose inventions end in disaster. He learns he needs to let go of the past and keep moving forward to achieve the greatness he desires.

4. I’ve been working through an Armor of God Bible Study by Priscilla Shirer. The morning after we watched Meet the Robinsons, I flipped to the next lesson in the study – Shoes of Peace. On page 114, I read “…victory has already been won for us by the cross…we are to plant our spiritual feet on that hard-won ground and secure our post. But standing firm is not only about digging in; it’s also about moving forward.”

Got it. And just in case I had lingering doubts, we heard another related message at church. Want greatness? Ask these two questions: Who can I learn from? And who can I serve? As I begin writing my next book, I will continue to ask these questions, work for peace, and keep moving forward.

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The Creation of a Novel Mon, 14 Aug 2017 18:24:13 +0000 I attended the Christian Fiction Readers Retreat this weekend in Cincinnati. My favorite part of the event was the presentation by inspirational authors Becky Wade and Dani Pettrey. While speaking to us about planning, writing, revising, and publishing a book, Becky illustrated the creation of a novel with M&Ms. When I asked for permission to share the activity on this website, Becky told me she could not take credit for the activity. Instead, she explained she first heard about the “M&M game” from author Karen Witemeyer. Becky created her own version to fit this event and shared her lists with me to include in this post. Thank you, Becky!

To begin, participants pass around a bag of M&Ms, removing one piece for each of four rounds. In Round 1, the color of our M&M determined the genre of our novel. We learned the setting of our story in Round 2. The professions of our heroine and hero were discovered in Rounds 3 and 4.

RED Amish Israel Florist Firefighter
ORANGE Contemporary  Hollybrooke (fictitious) Princess Cowboy
YELLOW Romantic Suspense Pennsylvania Innkeeper Farmer
GREEN Speculative Switzerland Astrophysicist Billionaire
BLUE Biblical The Arctic FBI Agent Jedi
BROWN Historical Romance Texas Teacher Detective

We then spent a couple of minutes brainstorming different events that could bring our heroine and hero together. In the next step, we listed her story goal as well as his. Then we wrote and revised the first sentence of our story.

This activity could be a fun way for writers to get those creative juices flowing before diving into the pages of a WIP. I wonder if it could help beat the dreaded writer’s block, though I don’t wish to find out on my own. And I think this would be a great way to entertain students during a classroom holiday party. I spent a few minutes jotting down possible characters and settings for Halloween and Christmas stories, and I invite you to take a peek at them HERE.

Talking with authors and readers at the retreat this weekend motivated me. With about five weeks until this year’s ACFW Conference, I’m inspired to continue planning and plotting my next book. I hope to provide an update on my novella and first full-length novel in my next post. Thank you for reading.