I’m excited to introduce this month’s guest, T.I. Lowe. T.I. is something of a unicorn in publishing… her novel, Lulu’s Cafe, went on to sell over 100,000 copies! She’s back with the first volume of her new Carolina Coast series, Beach Haven…whose cover pretty much guaranteed I would read the book even before I read the back cover copy. Join me as T.I. talks about the southern roots behind her fiction. And be sure to read to the end to win your own copy of Beach Haven!
My Southern Roots of Storytelling, by T.I. Lowe
Growing up in rural South Carolina during a time when there were more dirt roads than paved, my writing roots were cultivated in the fertile soil of Southern storytelling. Weathered farmers, crazy great-uncles, and wise grannies were a few of the schoolmasters. I earned my education within the walls of a clapboard gas station heavily scented with the aroma of boiled peanuts, on a front porch lined with pink azalea bushes, in a tobacco field in the middle of summer, and during social gatherings at the church fellowship hall where a mighty feast always added seasoning to the curriculum.
Some of the liveliest lessons came from a group of men who claimed the front corner of that old gas station and were led by an old man wearing dingy overalls and a mischievous gleam in his eyes. There was always a chaw of tobacco poking out his whiskered cheek, but it never slowed the telling of the tale any more than his Southern drawl already did. From his perch on a wooden stool, he shared yarns about battling rabid animals or ghostly encounters or folklore or whatever subject he got a wild hair to yammer about with the circle of listeners. Neither Moon Pie wrappers crinkling nor the bell over the door jangling slowed the man’s animated prattling as he tossed in embellishments and truth-stretchers to liven up the account. Sure, most knew the rascal was spinning out a mostly fictitious tale, but it didn’t deter them from leaning closer to catch every fabricated detail.
Why? Because it was entertainment at its finest.
Us Southerners tend to gild the lily when it comes to storytelling, but the story will be so compelling that it won’t matter how often a root of the historical recollecting is twisted a little to produce a new shoot in the tale.
I approach my writing in much the same manner as pioneers of Southern storytelling have done for generations before me. I want to emulate that old farmer at the gas station who knew how to capture the imagination of those around him with outlandish yarns not easily forgotten. I want to reflect the wisdom of my grandma in her floral housecoat and rolled-down knee-highs with a glass of iced tea in hand, rocking in her favorite chair while telling us how her kinfolk would caravan to the coast to fish and dig for clams and how they had to make do with a three-wheel horse cart to get back inland one time. These schoolmasters made me fall in love with the gift of story so well-crafted that it pulls readers in to grow a sit and ponder the tale for a spell.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an articulate novelist, but I consider it an honor each time a blogger or reading fan refers to me as a Southern storyteller. I value having an authentic voice unique to my stories. All authors, Southern or not, should find and cultivate their unique voice to help set themselves apart. Blending in is boring, if you ask me. I never want to settle for telling a story simply to hear my own Southern inflection. My goal is to be sensational enough to pull a reaction out of the recipient of my tale, hoping that they experience the words with their soul.
At the end of the story, if I’ve poured my heart into it and given my very best to my readers, then the need to apologize will never arise. I say to all authors, Own your voice and make no excuses for being your authentic, unique self. It’s okay not to be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are genuine, then your reading tribe will find you!
Bestselling author T. I. Lowe sees herself as an ordinary country girl who loves to tell extraordinary stories. She knows she’s just getting started and has many more stories to tell. A wife and mother who’s active in her church community, she resides in coastal South Carolina with her family.
For a complete list of Lowe’s published books, biography, upcoming events, and other information, visit tilowe.com, and be sure to check out her blog, Coffee Cup, while you’re there!
Welcome to the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt! If you’ve just discovered the hunt, be sure to start at Stop #1, and collect the clues through all the stops, in order, so you can enter to win one of our top 5 grand prizes!
- The hunt BEGINS on 3/12 at noon MST with Stop #1 at LisaBergren.com.
- Hunt through our loop using Chrome or Firefox as your browser (not Explorer).
- There is NO RUSH to complete the hunt–you have all weekend (until Sunday, 3/15 at midnight MST)! So take your time, reading the unique posts along the way; our hope is that you discover new authors/new books and learn new things about them.
- Submit your entry for the grand prizes by collecting the CLUE on each author’s scavenger hunt post and submitting your answer in the Rafflecopter form at the final stop, back on Lisa’s site. Many authors are offering additional prizes along the way!
I’m Carla Laureano, and I’m an author of clean and inspirational contemporary romance and fantasy! If you want to learn more about me, feel free to browse around my site or follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Bookbub. I’m not a chef, but food always plays a prominent part of my books…so it was only a matter of time before I wrote a series that was completely devoted to foodie goodness! My newest release is The Solid Grounds Coffee Company. Here’s a little bit about the story:
Analyn Sanchez can handle the long hours and arrogant clients that come with her job as a crisis management associate at Denver’s largest publicity firm. The high-powered job, expensive condo, and designer wardrobe are all part of her plan to prove to her family that her life choices haven’t been in vain. But when she’s asked to cover up a client’s misdeeds with serious moral and legal ramifications, she can no longer sacrifice her conscience for her career . . . and the cost is no less than her job.
Ever since a devastating climbing accident in South America eight months ago, and a bad decision that dried up his sponsorships, professional rock climber Bryan Shaw has found himself at similar loose ends. When the opportunity to buy a coffee farm in Colombia arises, he jumps on it—only to discover his wandering ways have left him utterly unprepared to run a business.
When Bryan returns home and offers Ana a role in his company as a solution to both their problems, she’s desperate enough to consider working with the far-too-flippant and far-too-handsome climber, even though he’s the polar opposite of her type A nature. As they delve deeper into the business, however, she begins to suspect there’s much more to Bryan than she’s given him credit for . . . and that sometimes the best plans are the ones you never see coming.
There definitely is more to Bryan that even I gave him credit for… but the process of transforming from womanizer to heart-melting hero wasn’t necessarily a smooth one…
Redeeming the Hero
I usually find the third book in a romance trilogy the easiest to write. The characters have already been established in the first two books, as has the setting. It’s just a matter of deciding which kind of story I want to tell and then writing it.
But when I approached The Solid Grounds Coffee Company, I found I had written myself into something of a corner. When I first introduced Bryan Shaw as Alex Kanin’s best friend in the first book, I had no idea that I was going to give him his own story. I liked the foil of the politically incorrect, blunt, and commitment-phobic climber against Alex’s almost rigidly moral perspective on life. Through The Saturday Night Supper Club and Brunch at Bittersweet Café, he both provided comic relief and said the things that everyone was thinking, but no one dared speak aloud. From the very beginning, he was always one of my favorite secondary characters, but I thought he was going to remain that way. Until Ana took a liking to Bryan, and their flirtation started to escalate.
But that posed a problem for me. I’d written Bryan as a slightly flighty womanizer, and while the flighty part was a nice contrast to Ana’s structured nature, it does not do to have a hero whom the heroine—and the reader—doesn’t trust. So I set about to redeem Bryan as a hero and make him worthy of my heroine, Ana. Clearly, he needed a wakeup call and plenty of time to make changes to his life’s direction.
That let me to what was a somewhat risky play for the opening The Solid Grounds Coffee Company: a dramatic prologue that contained the inciting incident for his change… and an event you don’t see very often in Christian fiction. But it was the wakeup call that Bryan needed, and it provides much of the dramatic conflict in the book. The fun part is that the reader gets to evaluate whether Bryan’s change is real, just as Ana does.
The redeemed bad boy is one of my favorite types of hero, but this is the first time that I’ve actually shown that transformation on the page. Risky? Yes. But the Christian life, inside and outside of stories, is all about transformation as we seek forgiveness for our sins, turn from our former ways, and become more like Christ. And the reader who is willing to go along for the ride may find herself looking at her own past—and her present—in entirely new ways.
Here’s the Stop #19 Basics:
Clue to Write Down: other
Link to Stop #20, the Next Stop on the Loop: Susan May Warren’s site!
But wait! Before you go, I’m offering an additional giveaway to three entrants: choose any book from my MacDonald Family or Supper Club series. All you have to do is sign up for my mailing list, which goes out a few times a year or note that you’re a subscriber. And there are extra entries to anyone who follows me on Facebook or Bookbub!
I’m very excited to introduce my first guest in my new format, the Author Spotlight! While I love the guest blogs that authors write for my site, I thought it would be fun for us to get to know these fabulous folks on a more personal level. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome Nicole Deese! I feel like I’ve known Nicole for absolute ever, though I’m guessing it’s more like seven years…and I’m super excited for her new novel, Before I Called You Mine.
Without further ado, let’s get to know Nicole!
CL: Thanks for joining me today, Nicole! Let’s start with a tricky question: which is your favorite book that you’ve written so far?
ND: My newest release, Before I Called You Mine, will likely hold the “Nicole’s Favorite Book” badge for decades to come simply because it’s so deeply rooted in my own personal journey and experiences as a woman, wife, mother and, most importantly, as a Christ follower. After we adopted our daughter, Lucy Mei, from China in 2017, the idea for this story began to sprout wings in my heart. I met several single adoptive mothers when we traveled to China to meet our daughter for the first time (as a 6.5 year-old orphan), and the stories I heard there both intrigued and inspired me.
Though adoption is only one of several layered storylines in this contemporary Christian romance, the overall message is much broader. It really comes down to the choices we make, the fear that so easily entangles, and the courage we need to take the next right step despite the sacrifices we endure. These characters—Lauren and Joshua—became like extended family members to me during the writing season of BICYM. I smiled and laughed and cried through their many of their ups and downs and wasn’t totally ready to send them off into the real world… but now I’m so glad that I did. I hope you enjoy their story even half as much as I enjoyed writing it.
CL: I can’t wait to read it for myself. You’ve been fairly prolific over the last couple of years. How long does it take you to write a book?
ND: I’ve written a novel in as little as three months, but my sweet spot is closer to the six-month mark. I really like to have time to iron out all the little details and connections as I go.
CL: That leads in perfectly to my next question, then. You say you like to iron out the details as you go… does that make you a plotter or a pantser?
ND: I’m a mix, actually. I like to have an idea of where I’m going before I start so I don’t end up in Chicago when I’m supposed to end up in California (and as I’ve mentioned previously, I’m terrible with directions so yeah… in need some kind of GPS!) Also, since I’m a verbal processor, I usually have approximately 238 conversations with Tammy Gray and Connilyn Cossette before I actually start my first chapter. (I’m also involved in an annual plotting retreat with the brilliant minds behind Coast to Coast Plotting Society: Christy Barritt, Amy Matayo, Tammy Gray and Connilyn Cossette. I’d be lost without this crew!)
CL: What’s the easiest part of the writing process for you?
ND: Talking about my book to writer friends and daydreaming about the romantic scenes I’ll write while I drive around town. (It’s truly no wonder why I have THE WORST directional sense known to mankind!)
CL: I’ve definitely missed my turn while working through a plot point before! If the easiest part is the daydreaming, what’s the most difficult part?
ND: Literally everything else–haha! Honestly, sitting down and writing words as part of my daily routine is the hardest thing for me to do (a.k.a. Nicole vs. Self-Discipline). I’m easily distracted by all things social, so at times when the story I’m writing feels a bit too sluggish in my head, it can be a real challenge for me to just sit down and write the words.
CL: I get that! There doesn’t seem to be too many of us extroverts in the writing world. I’ve had to shut down my internet connection before just so I’ll get off social media and hit my daily word count!
Let’s move on to the lightning round portion of this interview… a little game I love called This or That? Ready, set, go!
Coffee or tea? Coffee (Nespresso!)
Coke or Pepsi? Neither, Bubbly, please!
Cold drink or hot drink? COLD drinks!
Action movies or dramas? Dramas for sure.
Comedies or thrillers? Comedies (I love to laugh!)
Movie at home or at the theater? A movie at home (while wearing my pjs, and with all the popcorn and snacks I want.)
E-books or physical books? Both. Always, both. J
Board games or video games? Board Games (I love Apples to Apples!)
Play or musical? Musical
Massage or facial? Massage
Makeup or blowout? Makeup
Movie date or walk on the beach? A walk on the beach please (At sunset <3)
Mountains or beach? Mountains (The number one reason we live in Idaho!)
Winter or summer? Winter (I love being cozy while it’s snowing outside!)
Spa or gym? SPA!!!
Tent or RV? (I’m a Glamper… RV life for sure!)
Nature or indoors? Indoors (with a view!)
Group travel or alone? Group Travel (I’m an extrovert!)
Driver or passenger? Passenger (So I can talk with my hands without risking lives!)
Surprise party or theme party? Theme Party (Though I’ve never been to one so please invite me!)
Don’t forget to add Nicole’s new novel, Before I Called You Mine, to your reading list and mark it To Read on Goodreads! It’s available everywhere books are sold on March 31, 2020. Scroll down for your chance to win an autographed copy for your very own!
Lauren Bailey may be a romantic at heart, but after a decade of matchmaking schemes gone wrong, there’s only one match she’s committed to now–the one that will make her a mother. Lauren is a dedicated first-grade teacher in Idaho, and her love for children has led her to the path of international adoption. To satisfy her adoption agency’s requirements, she gladly agreed to remain single for the foreseeable future; however, just as her long wait comes to an end, Lauren is blindsided by a complication she never saw coming: Joshua Avery.
Joshua may be a substitute teacher by day, but Lauren finds his passion for creating educational technology as fascinating as his antics in the classroom. Though she does her best to downplay the undeniable connection between them, his relentless pursuit of her heart puts her commitment to stay unattached to the test and causes her once-firm conviction to waver.
With an impossible decision looming, Lauren might very well find herself choosing between the two deepest desires of her heart . . . even if saying yes to one means letting go of the other.
Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! Given the holiday, I thought I would do something different for my Friday Five this week. I’ve been married for a long time, so it’s been a while since I’ve spent Valentine’s Day alone, though my husband and I really don’t celebrate anymore. (I’m of the opinion it’s more of a Hallmark holiday.) However, before the coronavirus hit China, my husband was supposed to be in Asia for work this week, so I was already planning on having my own little V-Day party after the kids went to bed. Better yet, I probably should have grabbed some friends and had a good old-fashioned slumber party.
Hence, I give you Carla’s top five necessities for the perfect Valentine’s/Galentine’s Day!
Movie: Kate & Leopold (2001)
Meg Ryan at her cutest (and most stressed out), Hugh Jackman as a 19th century duke, and time travel. What’s there not to like? For us writers, there’s the extra bonus that this movie has literally perfect narrative structure–so it’s pretty much a master class in plotting a rom-com, whether in screenplay or book format. I always end this movie wishing for more 1867, too, or at least Hugh Jackman in a waistcoat.
I’ll try not to overstate my case, but Lucy Parker is literally the only general market romance writer who has permanent auto-buy status for me. It’s no secret that I love London (the home of my heart), so a series of witty, flirty slow-burn romance novels that take place in and around London’s West End theater culture pretty much has “Carla” stamped on it. Oh, did I mention that every single one is an enemies-to-lovers story (my favorite)? By current romance standards, these books are pretty tame, but cautious readers should know that there are varying levels of sexual content and language in all five volumes. (If I recall correctly, book #1 was the “cleanest” and #3 and #5 were the spiciest…but it’s been a while since I read the early books in the series, so don’t quote me on that.) Overall, though, the character and relationship development happen outside the bedroom, so you don’t need to worry about missing a lot of plot if you skip those sections.
Chocolate: Green & Black’s Milk Chocolate (34%)
What Galentine’s Day celebration would be complete without chocolate? It’s harder than you think, though, when you only buy Fair Trade Certified and preferably organic… most of the bars taste like chocolate-flavored wax. Green & Black’s European style chocolate is made in Poland and reminds me of what Dairy Milk used to taste like before Mondelez bought Cadbury and changed the formula. (Ironically, Cadbury bought Green & Black’s about 15 years ago and is now owned by Mondelez as well, so they better not mess with my G&Bs.) For those of you who prefer darker chocolate, they also have 70% and 85% bars that are just as tasty.
I’ve become somewhat (okay, completely) obsessed with macarons in the past few years, and while most of the delicate French almond cookies that are available in the US are just okay (run, don’t walk, away from the big box of Tipiak cookies in Costco), there are a few commercially available frozen brands that are worth shelling out for. Both Sprouts and Kroger have their own private-labeled macarons that are pretty good; Trader Joe’s are excellent but only available sporadically (I buy them out when they’re in stock, because they’re only $4.99 a dozen, which is a steal). None of them live up to the fabulousness of Ladurée, but until I can hop on a plane to Paris for dessert, I’m more than happy with the compromise.
Nail Polish: Essie On Mute + Luxeffects Topcoat in Summit of Style
I struggled with coming up with a fifth necessity. To be honest, I could be happy with a cup of tea, the chocolate, and a book. And then I remembered that every time the boys are otherwise occupied and my husband is gone, I paint my nails. This is my favorite holiday color combination: a non-sparkly charcoal gray with a quick sweep of gold glitter topcoat. The contrast is gorgeous, and it’s fancy without being sweet. (Because of all the things people might call me, “sweet” is not one of them.) Just be sure to use a good base coat and top coat, because the dark gray will stain and the gold is hard to get off if not bonded to a thicker top coat.
There you go! Tell me in the comments below– what are your necessities for a quiet Valentine’s Day in?