My Friend . . . Terri Kraus

My Friend . . . Terri Kraus

When I was writing my Chicago-based historical, Mafia Princess, I needed a little help. Okay, a LOT of help, lol. My experience with Chicago was confined to one awful night at O’Hare (nothing like standing in a line for three hours when you’re six months pregnant!), and that obviously wasn’t something I could draw on. So I put out a call on my writing loops, asking for native Chicagoans to answer a few questions.

With my first round, I got several people willing to share some basic information. Among them was Terri Kraus. I knew her name from my historical group, which has a small-ish membership–and because I had just sent her book, The Restoration, to one of my reviewers. What I learned over the next couple months is that Terri also has a passion for her heritage and a heart happy to share it and help others.

As I wrapped up my novel, I had a few more questions that needed answered, so I sent out another email. In addition to some more simple “do you know?”s, I jokingly (sort of) offered to “let” (ha ha) a native read my manuscript to check for setting issues. I honestly didn’t expect any takers. So you can imagine my surprise when multi-pubbed author Terri raised her hand after asking a few questions of her own (like “Why did you choose Chicago for your setting?” and “What research have you done?”).

Terri blessed me hugely by sharing her Italian heritage as well as her knowledge of Chicago, offering insight into my characters, and providing those priceless words of wisdom like “Chicagoans would never say that.” LOL. Obviously, it got me curious about who “my Italian Chicagoan helper,” as I referred to her to friends outside the loop, really was.

Terri has a slew of books to her credit, some of them co-authored with her husband Jim, some written solo. Her solo series is published by David C. Cook and combines her love of design with her love of old things. One of my most trusted reviewers had requested The Renovation the moment I listed it and begged for its sequel, The Renewal when it was available. Her excitement about the first book is palpable in her review. (She’s sent me the review for the second one, but my ancient Word can’t open it . . .) The final book in the Project Restoration series, The Transformation, will be hitting shelves the end of the month (August ’09).

When I asked Terri to share about her writing, she confessed that she still adores the first books she ever coauthored with her hubby–and why not? Pirate books–hello!! She loved digging into the research for a historical, and is currently working on a book about Italian women during WWII. Can’t wait for that one!

Terri tags her work as “Passionately Inspirational Fiction,” and I gotta think that’s appropriate. Maybe it’s the 100% Italian blood coursing through her veins, but I know firsthand that Terri is a woman who pursues her interests with passion and inspires other with her generosity and spirit. And that, to me, is a woman you want to know. Terri’s an author I’m going to watch and I wonderful person I pray I get to meet someday soon!

Check out her website at

My Friend . . . Nikki Arana

A few years ago, I replied to something on the ACFW loop about how I like a story with grit in it. You know, one that really digs deep into the heart and isn’t afraid to show the ugly along with the pretty. A woman named Nikki Arana replied to me privately, saying I may enjoy her upcoming release As I Have Loved You. She sent a digital press release, and I promptly emailed her publicist to get a copy. Not long after, I had devoured the book and was in awe of the author.

Nikki holds the distinction of being one of the few writers to make me cry. Not just almost cry, but actually cry. (I’m not a tearful person—ask anyone who knows me. Usually “almost” is all you get from me, and even that is a feat.) I wrote a review of the book and sent it to her and the publicist.

Nikki replied with a compliment to make my reviewer’s heart preen. She said I was the only reviewer thus far to truly get the story, to touch on all the major points. Now, at the time I had just expanded the Christian Review of Books to include author interviews, and I decided in a heartbeat that Nikki was a woman I wanted to talk to. We set up a time to chat on the phone later that week, and I did an interview whose transcript can be read here. Also wrote an article.

But what you won’t find in the interview is that Nikki Arana touched me as a writer just as her book touched me as a reader. I’d been working with authors for quite a while at the CRoB, but she was the first to ask me what I was working on. The first to speak encouragement to me as a novelist. And every time I want to try something new at the Review, she’s always willing and eager to serve as a guinea pig. (You’re such a good sport, Nikki!)

I’ve checked in with Nikki periodically to see what she’s been working on, and yet again this woman has awed me. While researching a novel about a Muslim who converted to Christianity, she got involved in ministering to those of Islamic faith. In an email that poured out her heart, her mission, and her goals, she made real to me a movement I’d never even paused to consider. The novel hasn’t yet found a contract that stuck, but I had the honor of reading the prologue and first chapter of this unpublished book, and I can tell you it’s powerful. I’ve come to realize that any words that flow from Nikki’s fingers are going to be touched by the Spirit.

Nikki’s now funneled her research into a nonfiction book, Through the Eyes of Christ. This book focuses on how Christians can talk to Muslims to open their eyes to the truths of our Savior. I haven’t yet had the privilege of reading it, but I will. I live in a small community where I’m not so sure I’ll be able to put the lessons to use, but I want to know. I want to understand.

And I trust Nikki. When she believes in something, I know it’s something the Lord has shown her. Given that I’ve never even met her, I think that speaks pretty strongly to the power of her vision and the force of her words.

If you’re looking for an awesome novel (or four) that has spiritual depth and heart-rending characters, definitely check out this award-winning author. And if you want to see someone with true vision, read about her work with Muslims on her website at and check out her new book, Through the Eyes of Christ.

My Friend . . . Julie Lessman

My Friend . . . Julie Lessman

It was my first morning at the ACFW conference (after that first night where I met my now-best-friend), and I stood in line for breakfast. I’d left my room early so that I could be gone by the time my 23-month-old daughter woke up (hey, we avoid those “Don’t leave, Mommy!” scenes whenever we can!), but already there was a line outside the banquet hall where we ate.

In front of me stood a lovely woman who turned around and struck up a conversation with another nearby attendee. In typical me-fashion, I more or less twiddled my thumbs and pretended I wasn’t eavesdropping–like I could help it, lol. Then the woman drew out bookmarks for her upcoming release, handed one off to the woman she’d been chatting with, and passed one to me, too, along with a grin. “I’m Julie Lessman,” she said.

I introduced myself and looked at the thick plastic bookmark in my hands. “Nice,” I said in reference to the giveaway. “One my daughter won’t be able to destroy in three seconds.”

Julie laughed and confessed that the printer had messed up, and she’d been concerned about them. We started talking about the book featured on the mark, her debut novel A Passion Most Pure. As the breakfast-line started moving, she asked to pray for me and the other lady beside me. We told her what we were pitching, and she took our hands and prayed then and there for us and our projects.

As we moseyed in to breakfast, I offered to review her novel for her when it came out. I’d been praying that morning that the Lord show me a way to give back at conference, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. Especially when Julie gave me a blank look. “I know reviews are important,” she said, “but I’m not sure why.”

Since I’d started the Christian Review of Books a few years before, I was well able to expound on that topic. She further endeared herself by saying, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look really young to be so well versed in the industry.” Is there any quicker way to make a woman your friend? LOL. We chatted all the way into breakfast, I gave her a card . . . and then conference went on. I didn’t see Julie again.

But soon after I got home, I sent an email to her publicist asking for A Passion Most Pure when it was available. Not long after that, I received an email from Julie asking for my book, A Stray Drop of Blood. We emailed back and forth a few times, and when I confessed that I read both CBA and ABA romances, Julie got very excited for my opinion on her novel, since it was a little more risque than CBA usually published. Which made me all the more eager to read it. =)

Since then, Julie and I have formed a unique kind of friendship born of mutual respect and appreciation. As each of her books have come out, I’ve written reviews and raved to everyone I know (I can’t help it–they’re sooooooo good! My sister always threatens to fight me for them when she sees me with Julie’s latest release). She was kind enough to write a review of Stray Drop for me too. We email now and then for updates on each other’s projects, and she assures me she’s praying that my manuscripts find favor with the publishers.

Remembering that lovely woman who prayed for two strangers during the first full day of conference, I don’t doubt it. I have found in Julie an author of amazing talent, yes, but more importantly, a woman of deep faith and such a beautiful, giving spirit.

The third book in Julie’s Daughters of Boston Series hit shelves this summer, and it’s a fantastic “ending” to the saga. (The quotes are earned because her next series will pick up with the remaining O’Connor siblings–I can’t wait!) Check out more information about her books at her website, and click on the pictures of them for my reviews.

My Friend . . . Stephanie Morrill

Back at the ’07 ACFW conference, I walked into my very first session, sat down, and thought, “Wow. I know nobody.” It was an agent panel, one where we turned in one-sheets on our projects and had them dissected, so I was already a little nervous. Plus, I got there really early, so there was lots of time to twiddle my thumbs. Then, after a minute or two of “Now what?” thoughts, I heard “Hey, nice bag” from behind me.

I had a nice bag (about which I was very excited), so I turned around to find a grinning-twentysomething sitting with an identical red leather bag. A, might I add, pregnant twentysomething (I was also a pregnant twentysomething, so this was instant bonding material). We started talking, and I ended up moving back to sit beside her.

Thank the Lord for red leather bags! The young woman I was chatting with is Stephanie Morrill, who has since joined my critique group and become one of my all-time best friends. Stephanie writes Young Adult fiction and is awesome at it. And since she’s the first member of our critique group to get published, it seemed fitting to dedicate my first My Friend Friday to her.

Stephanie’s first book from Revell just hit the stores July 1st. Me, Just Different is about a girl who had it all–and wasn’t so sure she wanted any of it anymore. With a light, engaging tone and an honest look into the heart of a teen whose world is shifting, Stephanie pulls the reader into Skylar’s life and never lets go.

Yes, I’m slightly biased, given that I had the honor and pleasure of working with Stephanie through every step of this–but as I remind her from time to time, I read the book before we were super-good friends and loved it then too. =)

Since September of ’07, I’ve been there praying as Stephanie submitted to agents and eventually signed with Kelly Mortimer. I’ve been there praying as Kelly submitted to every publisher under the sun. I was on Stephanie’s To Call list when she heard back from Revell and did a happy dance with her when they said, “Yes!”

When the book finally arrived in my mailbox, I jumped for Joy and said, “My niece is here!” I can’t quite call it my baby, but since Stephanie is a sister of my heart, “niece” is totally appropriate.

I’ll probably post more about Stephanie on later Fridays (when I don’t have other people begging to be highlighted, lol) and as her other books come out. But for now, check out my review of Me, Just Different and all the fun bonus matieral up at the bottom of it, including an interview with Stephanie, an article I wrote about her book and Young Adult fiction in general, and character sketches. Also be sure to check out Stephanie’s website and blog.