Sunday, August 17, 2014

Author interview: Melissa Tagg

Today I have the blessing of being able to share a guest post with you in the form an interview with one of my favorite new authors! Melissa Tagg is her name and I instantly connected with her life story because she too has worked for a newspaper as a reporter and is now following her creative dreams as a novelist! So as you may guess, I was so happy to learn that Melissa had time to answer my questions about her career, life experience and faith in God.

Read my interview with Melissa here:

Welcome to my blog, Melissa! Thank you for taking time to answer my questions about your career and faith in God. Let's begin the interview...

When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Share the story.

I honestly can’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer. I started reading at a young age and I’m pretty certain the second I realized books were written by people, I decided to become one of those people. I did go through phases of wanting to be a teacher, a lawyer, and most notably, a rock star (I am still convinced I would make an awesome addition to the band Needtobreathe), but I’ve always wanted to write.

Would you say your life thus far has turned out exactly as you planned? Why or why not?

Oh, I wouldn’t say exactly as planned. In fact, I think the older I get, the more I realize life is at its best when it’s really not going as I’ve planned. It seems like every time I say I’ll never do something, I end up doing it and it ends up being awesome. Which convinces me God has a pretty great sense of humor.

Probably one of the most surprising things about my life has been my publishing journey. God opened doors I never would’ve expected—which is a great reminder to me that he’s always working behind the scenes, even when I can’t see it.

Do you consider yourself a Christian? If yes, how does your faith in God play a role in your everyday life, especially your creative career?

Yes, I definitely consider myself a Christian and that can’t help but play a role in my everyday life and my writing. My faith is the lens through which I see life—it’s definitely not always a clear lens. Things get blurry. I get as confused or tripped up as anyone. But I can’t help but filter life and thoughts and plans and stories through that lens.

When it comes to writing, specifically, I don’t tend to start out with a faith message or firm spiritual takeaway in my stories. In other words, I don’t say, “I’m going to write a story about forgiveness” and then proceed to come up with characters and plot. Instead, I usually start out with characters and a hook…and I start them on a journey. I always think I know where that journey is going and it always ends up somewhere different. And the spiritual takeaway emerges from the story, usually in bits and pieces.

To me, that’s pretty comparable to my everyday life. Yeah, sometimes we have these big spiritual highs or great experiences where some huge truth falls into place. But more often than not, for me, faith is made up of little moments, whispers and nudges from God rather than shouts and pushes.

Where did you grow up?


In a little town called Webster City in Iowa.

What college did you attend and what degree did you receive?

I attended Northwestern College in Iowa, a private, Christian liberal arts college, and received a bachelor’s degree in Writing & Rhetoric.

What was your first job and where was it?
My first post-college job was as a reporter at the Sioux Center News in Northwest Iowa.

How did you get into journalism? What was your life as a reporter like?

Remember above where I said I usually end up doing the things I said I’d never do? I remember sooooo clearly in college saying I never wanted to be a small-town reporter. And of course, right after college, I ended up as a small-town reporter. A college professor recommended me for the job.

And I ended up loving it! I’m convinced small-town reporting is the best job ever for an aspiring novelist because of the variety of experiences you get. I got to do everything from interviewing almost every candidate in the 2008 presidential election to flying a plane to riding in a hot air balloon to interviews in barns surrounded by llamas, cows, horses, etc. I once walked into a shed looking for the cowboy I was supposed to be interviewing and instead ended up face to face with a buffalo.

So my life as a reporter? Sure, it included some less than thrilling moments—like covering school board meetings (I’m so well acquainted with Robert’s Rules of Order, it’s not even funny)—but it included a LOT of cool moments.

Do you miss the newsroom?

I do. I have a great day job now, working as a grant writer and communications coordinator for a wonderful nonprofit—and that’s rewarding work. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss the variety and all the people I got to meet while reporting.

Why and how did you make the transition from journalist to novelist?

Well, I actually first made the transition from journalist to my current day job. And in my new job, I did a lot less writing during the day. I was also in a new town where I knew pretty much no one. I missed writing and I realized this was the perfect time to start pursuing my writing dream for real.

What is your favorite feature of being a novelist?


Finishing a book. LOL! But seriously, I love writing The End. I also weirdly love revisions. I like taking a messy first (or second or third) draft and turning it into something pretty. And I really love hearing from readers!

Where do you get the inspiration for your characters?

Oh, all over the place. I can’t say I’ve ever specifically based a character on a family member or friend, but traits of people I know definitely show up in characters. My main characters tend to reflect pieces of me, for sure. And classic movie characters tend to inspire me as well.

How do you plot your stories? Give my readers insight into your creative process.

I use Susan May Warren’s My Book Therapy (MBT) methods to plot. I usually start with a hook. In Made to Last, the hook was a homebuilding TV show host who has to pretend to be married—everything else grew from that. In Here to Stay, my hook was a prodigal son finally returning home and a heroine who’s desperate to finally leave.

I like to start knowing what my hero and heroine’s goal or noble quest is. Then I start fleshing out the characters. What are their greatest dreams and greatest fears, what dark moment in their past shaped who they are today, what lie do they believe—this is all MBT terminology. And for me, it’s the absolute best way to go about shaping a story.

From there, I decide what the inciting incident is, what my characters’ big goals are and what obstacles are standing in their way.

I used to plot out each scene in great detail. And I still do create a plot spreadsheet—but I’m learning more and more to hold that plot with a loose grip, to let the characters and story do their thing.

How do you think of names for your characters?

Unlike many authors, I’m not too hard core on picking out names. I don’t get baby name books or look up meanings or that kind of thing. Honestly, the names just tend to come out when I’m writing.

What can you tell my readers about your next book project? When will it be released?

Next spring I have a novella releasing called Three Little Words. It’s a bridge between Here to Stay, my last book, and From the Start, my third novel. From the Start releases in April 2015 and kicks off my new series, The Walker Family series. I’m really excited about it!

What is the most challenging aspect of being a creative professional?

The most challenging aspect is definitely juggling my writing with my day job with my family/friends/social life. That’s really hard for me and it’s something that has tripped me up quite a bit this year, actually. I’m still learning how to balance, that’s for sure.

What is the most rewarding aspect of being a creative professional?

I think the most rewarding thing is simply the joy of telling stories—and knowing those stories have the potential to entertain, encourage, maybe even inspire readers. I know how stories impact me as a reader. I hope the stories I tell have that same impact on others. Plus, I feel like I’m doing what God made me to do—and that’s a good feeling.

Did you go through a “starving artist” phase? If so, tell me about it and share how you emerged.

I didn’t really go through that phase simply because I’ve always had a day job in addition to writing. I have had thoughts of quitting my day job and focusing solely on writing, but the time hasn’t been right for that yet.

How do you make ends meet? Do you have other work or are you making a sufficient living as a novelist?

Yep, I have a full-time day job—so any income from my writing is supplementary at this point. Very few novelists are actually able to live on the money they make from writing. Many supplement advances and royalty checks with other freelance writing or, like me, have another job altogether.

I do love the idea of writing full-time, but I also love being able to pay all my bills and have health insurance and all that. LOL! Plus, with writing income as supplementary, it frees me up financially to do things I might not be able to do if I was the proverbial starving artist. I can travel and go to writing conferences, etc.

What advice do you have to aspiring creative professionals?

Definitely, definitely, definitely find a writing community. For me, that has been MBT and ACFW. Also, I suggest finding a craft partner or group—these don’t have to be people who critique your work so much as people who hold you accountable, support your goals and pray with you.

Embrace revisions! Drafting a book can be fun and exciting, but for me, it’s the rewriting process where the real magic happens. Whoever said writing is rewriting had it spot-on.

Finally, pray and trust God to open doors at the right time. Which sounds simple, but I’m convinced it’s the best thing we can do.

Your creative dreams have come true. Is there any other dream you hope will come true for you?

I’m still holding out for that rock star dream.

But seriously, I have a lot of other dreams—and weirdly, they tend to conflict with each other. Sometimes I dream of getting married and having kids and settling down. Other times all I want is to travel and speak and go off and live somewhere exciting. I have no idea which of these things God has for me. So I think maybe my biggest dream, at this point, is to be cool with whatever He does have for me…to take each day as it comes…and to stay open to anything.

Complete this sentence: At the end of the day, I am ________________ because _______________.

At the end of the day, I am grateful because God’s got this…all of it.

Thanks for the interview, Melissa! Is there a question you’d like my readers to answer? If so, please write it here so my readers can address it in the comment section.


I love hearing about other people’s dreams. So my question for readers is, What dream of yours has come true and what dream are you working toward?


~*
Author bio: Melissa Tagg, author of Made to Last and Here to Stay, is a former reporter and total Iowa girl. In addition to her homeless ministry day job, she is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. She’s passionate about humor, grace, and happy endings. Melissa blogs regularly and loves connecting with readers at www.melissatagg.com.

Notes from Melissa: 

My books are available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other online retailers and at bookstores near you.

My social media links:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AuthorMelissaTagg

Twitter: @Melissa_Tagg

Instagram: melissatagg

Google+: +MelissaTagg

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/MelissaTagg

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My reflections on the movie God's Not Dead

Dearest of hearts,

Today, I watched a movie that renewed my outlook on life. A movie that encouraged me, inspired me and made me smile. It's a movie with several deep subplots connected to the main story which is about college philosophy Professor Radisson's curriculum which starts with the professor keeping his tradition of bullying his students on the first day of class into believing his primary profession which is"God is dead." But this time, Professor Radisson's proclamation against God is challenged by his new student Josh Wheaton who is a Christian and believes God exists. The writers of this movie dig deep and I found it interesting to know that this movie was based on a true story! 

So without much further ado, here are my reflections shared through three major highlights in the movie, God's Not Dead ...

Pivotal scene #1: Marc Shelley, a self-absorbed yet very successful business man visits his mom in the hospital
Marc says to his Mom: I don't even know what I'm doing here. I mean it's not like you even know who I am. You prayed and believed your whole life, never done anything wrong, and here you are you're the nicest person I know; I'm the meanest; you have dementia; my life is perfect. Explain that to me.

Mom: Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn't want them turning to God. Sin is like a jail cell except it's all nice and comfy and there doesn't seem to be any need to leave and the door is wide open until one day, time runs out. The cell door slams shut and suddenly it's too late.

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Pivotal scene #2: Reporter Amy Ryan storms past security with her media pass, into backstage area of Newsboys concert for an unscripted interview

Amy: So in a few minutes you guys are going to go out there and you're going to sing about God and Jesus as if they're as real as you and me. How can you do that?

Newsboys (taking turns): Well to us, they are as real. As a matter of fact, even more so. I mean, we exist in the here and now; they've existed forever, think about that. Yeah, you know in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.

Amy laughs abruptly and says: So I see! So when you're pressed, you quote a bunch of ancient scribblings and say, "Don't worry, it's all in there."

Newsboys (taking turns): Well they may be ancient but they're not scribblings. I mean, we believe God gave us an instruction manual and it's where we draw our strength and it's where we find our hope. So where do you find your hope?

Amy: I'm dying.

Newsboys drummer: Hey Amy, you're not here to trash us, are you? I think that's what you might have done but I think you're here kind of wondering, kind of hoping that this stuff is for real, aren't you?

Amy: How do you know that?

Newsboys drummer: Well I just felt that's what God was saying and just wanted you to know.

--

SPOILER ALERT! The following dialogue from this scene may or may not give away part of the movie's ending...


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Pivotal Scene #3: Professor Radisson hit by a car while walking to the Newsboys concert at night, in the rain. Reverend Jude and Reverend Dave see the accident happen and leave their car, rushing to help Prof. Radisson

Reverend Jude takes a look at Prof. Radisson and tells Reverend Dave: His ribs are crushed. His lungs are filling with blood.

Reverend Dave asks Reverend Jude: Are you sure?

Reverend Jude: Yeah

Professor Radisson: I can't die. I'm not ready.

Reverend Dave: Do you know Jesus?

Professor Radisson: I'm an atheist.

Reverend Dave: I believe it's God's mercy that brought me here right now.

Professor Radisson: I'm dying! How could you call that mercy?

Reverend Dave: because that car could have killed you instantly and I'm sure right now you probably wish it did but I'm here to tell you that it's a gift. The God you don't believe in has given you another chance, another chance to change your final answer.

~*~

There's really not much more I can say without spoiling the entire movie. So if you have not seen it yet, please go check it out! It's a new release (2014) and it's available on Amazon.com and perhaps your television service provider carries it in the movie rental section. 


It is a truly beautiful, well done movie with a message that's hard-hitting yet incredibly uplifting! I believe this movie reaches out to everyone--atheists, Christians, Muslims and other people of faith--and touches their heart in a way that makes them think about what they believe (or do not believe). God's Not Dead is a movie that I can see impacting generations of today and tomorrow.

So if you're looking for a movie that will hit the spot, watch God's Not Dead and be inspired! :)

God bless you!

Love,

Alexis

P.S._ Here's the theme song/official music video for the movie:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Small Actions = Big Differences: A Guest Post by Austi Garrett

Summer 2014 Guest Post by His Yes Girl, Austi Garrett

These days there are so many campaigns going on that are meant for us, to promote and help one another: bullying, hunger, self-image, suicide, acceptance, abuse, disease, and the list goes on and on. It is simple for us to join these campaigns on social media sites, we just change our profile pictures, ‘like’ pages, share ad-slogans, etc. But what are we really doing to help and make a difference? Praying? Begging God to help?

I heard such a beautiful and inspirational song a few weeks ago called “Do Something” by Matthew West. (Listen to it HERE!) The lyrics go:

“So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t you do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”
If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something”

Most of us can’t go out and speak at functions, travel across the world to feed the hungry, donate a bunch of money to causes, or treat the sick. But what we can do is reach out to the people around us and be the type of person that people need & depend upon (even in small ways). The type of person who makes a difference (big or small) in the lives of every single person around us.

We can never know the difference a simple smile or a kind word can make in someone’s day. I have heard a few stories where people were in desperate situations contemplating suicide and because a stranger smiled and asked how they were they didn’t go through with it.

I cannot tell you the amount of times that I have been to a church or a ‘religions/Christian’ function where I was made to feel like a pariah. The members of the church or function had already developed their little cliques and groups. Honestly, many of the people there seemed like the most unfriendly and unwelcoming people I had ever came across.

We, as Christians, claim that we want to show everyone the grace of God, lend a helping hand, love everyone equally, and welcome with open arms. But how often do we actually act upon those things? When was the last time that we went out of our way to speak to a complete stranger just to see how they were doing? Stepped out of our comfort zone to help someone else?

Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? Luke 10:30-36

30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”

This parable is a beautiful example of a kind hearted and compassionate person helping a fellow man. However, the fact that the man needed help was very obvious, and sometimes the ones that need the most help are not entirely apparent. That is why it is so important that we constantly show love, kindness, and compassion to everyone around us.

Just Remember, the smallest of actions that take little to no effort can make the biggest of differences in the lives of others! That is living a Christ-like life!!!! So get out and Do Something!!!

Blessings,














Fulfilling His Purpose | Philippians 2:13 His Yes GirlAusti

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Living in Time

“Welcome to a world where time has become the ultimate currency. You stop aging at 25, but there's a catch: you're genetically-engineered to live only one more year, unless you can buy your way out of it. The rich "earn" decades at a time (remaining at age 25), becoming essentially immortal, while the rest beg, borrow or steal enough hours to make it through the day. When a man from the wrong side of the tracks is falsely accused of murder, he is forced to go on the run with a beautiful hostage. Living minute to minute, the duo's love becomes a powerful tool in their war against the system.” ~Written by Twentieth Century Fox

In Time is a movie that unsettled me. I mean seriously unsettled me. Why? Find out by visiting His Yes Girls blog where you will find my summertime guest post.