Monday, August 26, 2013

Inspiration For (And From) Made to Last -- by guest Melissa Tagg

When I asked Melissa Tagg to write an article to guest on Writing to Inspire, I expected a glimpse of her humor. I've come to realize she's a witty woman. What I didn't expect--but totally got--was a peek at her spiritual journey with God. Each book a Christian author writes takes her relationship with God to a deeper level, while she hopes her words help her readers do the same. Today, we're honored to get a little look at the making of Melissa's debut novel, Made to Last.

What inspired Made to Last…and how Made to Last inspired me.

When Andrea invited me to write this guest post, she gave me a few topic suggestions, including the inspiration behind my debut novel, Made to Last.

Made to Last is about a DIY guru who’s out to save her homebuilding TV show—which means posing with a hilarious pretend husband. (Yeah, there’s a reason she’s in a fake marriage. Read the book and you’ll see. ;) ) And in the meantime, a somewhat desperate and nosy but awfully sweet reporter is digging into her secrets.

A lot of people hear that first part—about my main character being a homebuilding TV show host and ask me if I was inspired by that 90s TV show Home Improvement. Dude, remember Jonathan Taylor Thomas? I won’t name names, but I know some girls who looooved him.

But no, JTT, Tim Allen and their fellow cast members did not inspire Made to Last.

Instead, my story idea was sparked by the classic holiday movie Christmas in Connecticut. It’s such a fun movie starring Barbara Stanwyck—all about a magazine writer who has lied about being the perfect housewife. When her boss and a returning war hero make sudden plans to spend Christmas with her, she has to come up with a pretend husband, pretend house, pretend kid, pretend domesticity, all of it.

So yes…my story was inspired by a movie.

Which doesn’t make me as a Christian author sound all that deep and poignant. After all, wouldn’t it have been better if I’d been inspired by a Bible passage or a message from God? Sheesh, it took me like half the book before I even realized what the spiritual thread in this story even was…

But the evening when I did, when this story’s underlying spiritual theme finally became clear to me, it ended up being one of my coolest moments as a writer.

I was working on a scene about halfway through the book and my hero and heroine were having it out. One character’s lies had finally caught up to her and the other character demanded an explanation. And I realized as I wrote, this character’s lies weren’t just about saving her career….

But saving her identity. Because to her, without her career success, she didn’t know who she was or where to find her worth or purpose in the world.

And the truth in that moment of heady realization felt like a whisper from God: Melissa, she’s you.

Which is funny, really, because I can barely put up a tent much less build a house and should probably never be trusted around power tools.

But seriously, she’s me. Me. The person constantly tempted to define herself by her achievements or lack thereof. Her performance or success. Who hates the thought of whatever little talent she might have being stripped away. Who finds it just waaay too easy to tie who she is to what she does.

But as I kept writing that night—and really, from then on in the story—the reminders were everywhere. Reminders that who my character is, who I am, is not so much about the things I do or don’t do—but about who I belong to. And just like my character, that need to hold onto accomplishments or career success or relationships as definers of my identity diminishes when I’m confident of the simple truth that I’m created and cherished by a loving God.

So yes, Made to Last was inspired by a movie. But the story and I, we found new inspiration along the way.

Melissa Tagg is a former newspaper reporter and total Iowa girl. Her first novel, Made to Last, releases from Bethany House in September 2013. In addition to her homeless ministry day job, Melissa is also the marketing/events coordinator for My BookTherapy. Melissa blogs regularly and loves connecting with readers at

Melissa may be found at these locations:

If you’re a writer, has your character’s spiritual or emotional journey ever become your own? And both writers and readers, are you ever tempted to find your identity in what you do? 

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Spunky Adventure -- Awakening by JoAnn Durgin

Spunky adventure.

That’s the only way I know how to sum up JoAnn Durgin’s Awakening. Her witty sense of humor shines in the banter between Sam Lewis and Lexa Clarke, two characters I know you’ll love getting to know. This book is a refreshing read that will have you believing TeamWork is a real organization . . . and you’ll want to join their next mission!

Lexa Clarke may be running from her past, but it might just catch up to her while she’s helping as a volunteer for a two-month summer mission with TeamWork. As she assists in rebuilding houses destroyed by flooding in San Antonio, trouble seems to follow her around in all shapes and sizes. Sam Lewis quickly realizes he’s got to keep his eye on Miss Lexa Clarke if he’s to keep trouble from interrupting his work as director of this TeamWork mission. Watching the petite woman with the long blonde braid proves to be a challenge worth accepting, even if it means facing his own haunting past. Will Sam and Lexa let the problems they’ve never dealt with drive a wedge between them as they discover a passion for serving the Lord in new ways? What will become of the TeamWork group when trouble turns combustible?

Sam tells Lexa in chapter two, “I’m saying He [God] allowed it to happen. He has His reasons. It’s up to us to try and figure out what He’s trying to tell us.” It’s neat to see how Sam’s and Lexa’s differing levels of faith play such huge roles in their lives during their work with TeamWork and in the other parts of their lives, as well. Each character has their own trials to face, and they depend on their faith in God in such unique ways that it really does inspire the reader to take a good look at their own faith life and reconsider where they are with God. Are we following His will for our lives? Are we making a positive difference in the world around us? Is there something more we can do to better serve the God who loves us so completely? Is there something from our past that we need to face in order to be a vessel God can use to spread His message?

JoAnn Durgin
Awakening is a book worth reading for its sense of adventure, plot twists, witty humor and a glimpse at what it means to live what you believe. It’s the first in JoAnn Durgin’s The Lewis Legacy Series. I’m eager to add to my collection, and I have a feeling you will be too, after reading this first adventure. JoAnn sure has a knack for storytelling, and her pacing is spot-on. Just when I thought everything was wrapped up, she brought back yet one more loose end . . . and another one . . . and left me wanting to read the second book in the series to find out what adventure the TeamWork crew will find themselves in on their next mission.

Thank you, JoAnn, for sending me a complimentary copy of Awakening for my honest review. I enjoyed it immensely and hope those reading this will also find a little adventure when they pick up their copy of Awakening.

When was the last time a book took YOU on an adventure? What was it about the book that transported you to a different time or place? Is adventure something you look for when reading for pleasure?

Monday, August 12, 2013

What Once Was Lost

A fire destroys the kitchen of Brambleville, Kansas’ poor farm house, displacing Christina Willems and her charges. The townsfolk open their doors to provide refuge for each one—except young Tommy Kilgore, a blind boy. Christina wonders, “Why did people find it so easy to turn him away?” (page 12) As a last resort, she approaches the town hermit about harboring the boy until she can get the poor farm house repaired.

Levi Jonnson doubts the woman’s claim that the inconvenience will be temporary, but he begrudgingly agrees to give sanctuary to the youngster. How is he to know this one decision will change his life forever?

Will an adversary from Christina’s past stir up enough trouble to permanently discourage her? Will the mission board provide the funds needed to rebuild her beloved home? Will Levi hold onto the reasons he became a hermit and refuse to open his heart to the little boy now in his care? When trials of great magnitude block Christina’s path, will she have the courage to embrace help, or will she tighten her grasp on her independence?

These and many other questions plagued my mind as I read What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer. By the end of the book, I had laughed and cried and felt my heart lifted up in gratitude. There’s nothing quite like reading about someone’s sorrows to make you count your blessings and thank God for them. (I do this anyway, but I found myself praising God for His kindnesses a lot more while reading my advanced reader copy of Kim’s latest book.) Such poignant writing that tugs the heartstrings book after book is difficult to find, but this author delivers! I’ve loved her books since I first read My Heart Remembers many years ago, but her last two books (Sweet Sanctuary and What Once Was Lost) have proven (again) to me that Kim Vogel Sawyer is at top form, writing books that will forever have a place on my book shelves.

Particularly, I was quite impressed with her descriptions while in Tommy Kilgore’s point of view. Her vivid use of the boy’s senses—with the exception of sight, since the boy is blind—made me want to close my eyes to fully experience Tommy’s world. Of course, when I did that, I couldn’t keep reading! A conundrum like that I’d gladly face with a great book like this one.

If you’ve never read one of Kim Vogel Sawyer’s books, What Once Was Lost is a fabulous one to begin with. There is also a prequel entitled The Grace That Leads Us Home that is available only on eReaders. You won’t want to miss that either!

There are many ways to let Kim Vogel Sawyer know how much you enjoy her books. You may visit her website, Facebook page and Twitter account. You may also order her books here. If you enjoy her writing, be sure to stop by her blog to learn more about her and nine other women who write such touching historical fiction novels.

Thank you, Kim, for selecting me as a member of your Hope Harbingers influencer team. I appreciate the advanced reader copy of What Once Was Lost and the fellowship with you and the other members of Hope Harbingers. Blessings to you all!

Have YOU ever read a book that made you stop reading to count your blessings? What was it about the book (or books) that had you feeling extra thankful?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Breathing Life With Words - by guest Reba J. Hoffman

On numerous blogs lately, I've been following Reba J. Hoffman's journey across country on her bicycle and have been touched by all the ways God is using her to help women break free from the fears that bind them. She has graciously agreed to share a piece of her story with us here on Writing to Inspire today. Thanks, Reba!

Loading the gear--all 50 pounds of it!
I’ve written for as long as I can remember. I’ve spoken for as long as I have a voice. And I’ve ridden a bicycle for half a century. I never thought combining those three activities would change lives.

On July 13th, I set off on a bicycle ride of sorts. I packed fifty pounds of gear onto it and set off in the direction of the west coast. God has commissioned me to travel around the country on my bicycle talking about women who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of a violent assault.

I never know where I’ll end up on any given day. I have no specific direction in mind, other than eventually the west coast. I pray and trust God to lead me to women (and now men) that I can encourage, minister to and help take steps to overcome the fear they face while in the clutches of PTSD.

Not a day has gone by that I have not met women who live in fear. Through tears they tell me their stories. I validate them. I also tell them that, no matter what they have been led to believe, they really are women of incredible value and worth.

One such woman had not been out of her home in seventeen years. She never left the four walls of her house after being attacked. When her cousin told her I was in town and what I was doing, she asked, “Why in the world would she do something like that?”

Her cousin simply said, “She’s doing it for you!”

Reba shaking hands with Steve Beavers,
a reporter for the Daily Corinthian newspaper
On wobbly legs, this prisoner of fear in her own home ventured out. She allowed her cousin to bring her to the town square where I was waiting. As she slowly made her way toward me, I stood with outstretched arms. I knew I could not go to her. She had to come to me.

When she finally closed the distance, she fell into my arms and sobbed for what seemed like years. She was purging herself of all the anguish. I then took her by the hand and said, “Let’s take a victory lap.”

Arm in arm she and I made our way around the town square. One by one, women joined us. We walked and cried in unity for the huge step this woman took in coming out of her safe haven.

I felt the strength returning to her frail body with each step we took. Finally, she turned to me and said, “Your words breathed life back into me.”

When the victory lap had been completed and women slowly began to walk away and back to their own lives, I was reminded of how powerful our words are. The spoken word. The written word. They all have the power of life and death in them.

I’m so grateful to have the privilege of riding my bicycle across country alone to help these women take back their life. Each day I see lives transform right in front of me. Women who had been held prisoner in their own homes after surviving a violent attack finally let go of the fear and move forward in life.

Dakota (my bike) and I are on a mission to set women free. We are not in a dress rehearsal. This is our one shot at life as we know it. I don’t want a single woman who survived being attacked to get to the end of their life, look back and realize they only existed through the life they should have abundantly lived through.

There really is life beyond survival. Through words of encouragement and healing, it breathes the breath of life back into someone. I urge you to join the life-saving mission. Help a woman overcome by speaking life into them. Tell them about my story and encourage them to follow my journey… the Road to Freedom Tour.

Reba J. Hoffman is the author of Facing Fear and Finding Freedom. She is currently on a solo cross-country bicycle tour to help women who suffer from PTSD. You can follow her epic journey at

What fear have YOU faced lately? How have you felt God's freedom since facing it?