The Reactionary: Gratitude Moments

Coming to the end of a trilogy is a little like crossing the finish line of a half marathon. The only reason I felt amazing at that time is that I’d prepared and trained with friends. Others cheered me on, even though they may have secretly thought I was crazy.

This Tuesday, The Reactionary publishes, and I want to start the week with gratitude by saying thank-you to everyone who made crossing this finish line not only possible, but truly unforgettable. My family has been my constant support, and some new faces have joined those ranks throughout this journey, including my sister-in-law Brooke.

Pictured with my brother Dave and sister-in-law Brooke

I also want to say a special thanks to my fiancé, James Parnell, for wanting to join this bandwagon and encouraging my writing.

Photo credit: Aja Skye Photography

Members of my writing family include fellow author Ashley Jones, my Word Weavers group, members of my book tribe (You know who you are!), and more recently, my colleague Maria Constantine whose family roots go back to Italy. At one point, I mentioned to her that my heroine travels to Italy in this final book and that in my dreams, I’d get to visit one day.

That’s when she said, “You have to go! Want to come with me?” As a result, she and I planned a spontaneous trip to some of the settings in this novel, and in a month’s time, I found myself walking the streets of Orvieto and then mapping out Portia’s entrance to the Port of Civitavecchia from just outside Fort Michelangelo. I can’t thank Maria enough for helping make this dream a reality!

Exploring Civita di Bagnoregio, Photo credit: Maria Constantine

In another sense, Kelli Sorg (Make It Snappy) traveled with me this whole journey as well. She made brainstorming and creating the final cover perhaps the most enjoyable design session of all time.

The leadership and talent at Write Integrity Press also deserve my heartfelt gratitude. My editor Marji Laine championed this book and made the production process as seamless as possible. I’m also grateful to my primary editor Brittany Clubine who grasped the vision of Portia’s story from the start and believed in it.

At the end of my half marathon, people asked me, “So, what’s next?” I told them, “I’ll keep running!” Those runs might be in my neighborhood, for my church’s Hope 5K, another half marathon some day … who knows! The same is true of my writing. Lord willing, I’ll keep composing the stories He gives me and then watch where He takes them.

~ Kristen

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Come Explore Orvieto with Me

The Reactionary, the final book in The Rogues trilogy, releases in 4 days! As I anticipate launch day and entrusting the last part of Portia’s story to you, I want to share some more snippets from my own journey to the Italian settings she encounters.

Portia’s mission to secure communications with a possible international ally takes her to Orvieto, a cliff-top Italian city with more charm and beauty than one visit can capture. My friend Maria and I decided we could live in our Air B&B indefinitely and never soak in everything this city has to offer. However, because I didn’t want my novel to be the length of War and Peace, I chose to highlight some of the city’s main attractions and tie them into the plot.

Exploring the streets of Orvieto with Maria

Orvieto Forever

The Orvieto 4Ever celebration is the reason I chose this setting for my story in the first place. It lauds the American ideals of independence and liberty on an international level, not just a national one. Moreover, it recognizes the Italian influence on the United States, including the contribution of Italian Phillip Mazzei, a friend and correspondent of Thomas Jefferson. Mazzei actually influenced some of the wording of our Declaration of Independence.

I so much enjoyed weaving this historic information into my fictional dystopian tale of a futuristic world trying to recapture the ideal of liberty for all. Though my Rogues (rebel forces) are fiercely independent and even proud to a fault, they must realize that the fight isn’t just theirs. The world, not just the ASU, needs to overthrow the Rosh League and its minions who are determined to uproot the last strongholds of freedom.

Duomo di Orvieto

The city’s centerpiece is a breathtaking cathedral that serves as the backdrop for the Orvieto 4Ever celebration. Getting to visit this beautiful cathedral in person was one of my most-anticipated moments of the trip! The outside itself is stunning and even more imposing in person than in pictures.

Purchasing our ticket to go inside was a must. The massive, pillared space has a sacred, quiet mood that invites reflection and reverence. I found a seat, closed my eyes, and envisioned how Portia would have felt inside this space while waiting for … Well, I’m not going to spoil the story.

Maria snapped this picture of me inside the cathedral.

The cathedral was everything I imagined and more. I hope as you read The Reactionary and Portia’s encounter with it that you can glimpse the beauty and my appreciation for the Duomo di Orvieto.

Orvieto Underground

What’s not to love about a city that has an underground cave system? During our last full day in Orvieto, I squeezed in a tour of the underground cave network. I didn’t realize almost every house has a cave! (It made me want to take the floor-length mirror off the wall in our Air B&B to see if there was a secret passageway behind it, but Maria wisely advised against this.)

Although the caves have served different purposes, the most common was storing livestock, drinking water, and food. They also served as bomb shelters or hiding places during war times.

One interesting feature of these caves are hundreds of little holes in the wall. What do you think these were used to store? Join my friends and me for The Reactionary Launch Party on February 19 on Facebook to find out!

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to explore a little of Orvieto with me, and I look forward to sharing more of my Italian adventure with you during the virtual launch party next week.

~ Kristen

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The Beautiful Doors of Civita di Bagnoregio

A few weeks back, I had a little heart-to-heart with  you about closed doors and open doors in my life. As we count down to book release day for The Reactionary, it seems only fitting to have a little fun with doors today!

When I traveled to Italy to do book research, one of my favorite places to visit was Civita di Bagnoregio. Aside from the pizza there, which was amazing, I also fell in love with all the architecture, namely, doors. In fact, my friend Maria snapped my back cover author picture in front of a vine-framed door I wouldn’t stop raving about.

Here are a few more of the imagination-inspiring doors we encountered, and all the photo credits go to Maria. (For more of her Italian stories and photos, visit her awesome website.)

Fictionalize It!

In The Reactionary, Portia doesn’t have a chance to explore this town like I did, but she does get to witness the city’s morning beauty from a distance. Here’s an excerpt from her point-of-view, inspired by my own:

The general and guard talk in hushed tones but at a rapid-fire pace. I turn away from them to watch the golden sun pierce through low-lying clouds. The hazy sky turns shades of purple and peach, forming the backdrop canvas to the sprawling landscape before us. It looks like a child scrawled a marker across the page, and nothing was left even, least of all that ragged remnant of a city.

How had I not seen it sooner? But I had been too intent on just taking my next step and learning to trust my stiff legs again.

I want to tell those two to stop talking. Silence seems more fitting for the tragic beauty of this dying place. Buildings jut out along the edges and top of an eroded mountain, now bathed in the dawn’s warm glow.

Join in the Fun!

I’m so glad you can share in my real life and fictional adventures! You’re invited to join my book launch party on release day, February 19, from 7-8:30 pm EST. It’s a virtual party on Facebook, so you can join right from your home! Even if you can’t stay the whole time, please pop in and say hello. We’ll have Italy trivia, book trivia, and maybe even talk about a little fictional and real-life romance … You won’t want to miss it. Click here to join.

One day, I would love to return to Italy to explore even more places (and doors), but for now, I’m content to enjoy my current setting. I hope you are too. Wherever we are, may we appreciate what we have while welcoming the possibilities God opens.

~ Kristen

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Skiing Life Lesson: Enjoy Going Downhill

Well, friends, I wish I could say my second time skiing began flawlessly, but it actually started with me falling as soon as I left the lift chair. The good news is that after half a day of practice, skiing started to click.

I transitioned from mental pep-talk that involved telling myself not to die to actually breathing and whispering, “Enjoy it.”

Yes, I’m all about self pep-talks, and I’ve discovered something: When we focus on enjoyment instead of failure, we relish the experience more. In other words, when we focus on fear, it steals our joy. When we focus on simply enjoying the moment, we do just that.

True, I did fall one other time when I was more relaxed, but for the most part, I anticipated reaching the top of the slope and starting the downhill descent. I looked forward to the challenge of practicing and improving my technique.

Skiing Parallels to Life

Isn’t that like life? I know for myself right now, I have two choices with wedding planning. I can get all tense and stressed, or I can take deep breaths and simply enjoy this special time of transition and preparation. I can focus on the unknown or all the expectations with anxiety, or I can gently take each moment as it comes and gradually enjoy the journey.

Now that sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes, the choice to let go and relax isn’t easy when my to-do list grows instead of shrinks. However, instead of anticipating problems, I can anticipate joy and focus on the blessings of today. That won’t mean problems will never come, but it does mean I’ll enjoy the process much more.

The Bible clearly speaks to where our focus should be and identifies two places: the present and the eternal.

In Matthew 6, Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to lay up treasures in heaven (eternal) and not on earth (temporary). We are also not to worry about tomorrow (the future) but live in the present (today).  When we do, we not only spare ourselves unnecessary worry but also live in obedience to the One who has a perfect plan for our lives.

Back on the slopes of Beech Mountain, I wanted to enjoy each moment of the ski run. Now, I want to live abundantly in the moment and make an eternal impact with my everyday decisions. What about you?

~ Kristen

Congratulations to our Bible Study winner, Faith! Please email me through my website this week with your mailing address so I can share this gift of God’s Word with you. May we all relish our time in the Bible more this year. Thank you to all who participated!

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Kristen’s Christmas Letter 2018

Hello, dear friends! I’m an old-fashioned girl at heart who loves sending and receiving Christmas cards in the mail. But since I’m preparing the largest bulk mailing of my life (i.e. wedding invitations), I thought maybe an electronic letter this year might be more prudent and achievable. That said, I hope you enjoy my Christmas letter and year-in-review. Please comments with your own favorite 2018 memories!

January: Ski Trip Adventure

Last January was my first time skiing, and no, this Florida girl is not a natural with anything having to do with snow. You may remember my first-time-skier takeaways post. However, I loved getting to see a winter wonderland, learn something new, and spend time with friends. My then-boyfriend, now-fiancé, actually helped teach me!

Church group ski trip

March Madness: The Revolutionary Release

March 20 was release day for The Revolutionary, sequel to The Revisionary. I celebrated with a Facebook party, giveaways, and all the fanfare that comes with a new novel. I hope you’re enjoying this series! If you haven’t started yet, there’s still time to catch up on the first two books before the final one releases next year. They’re available on Amazon.

Release day!

May and June: Blue Ridge & Alpha Omega Academy Graduations

In May, I traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and enjoyed a busy conference about all things writing. I had the pleasure of rooming with my writer friend Ruth, so naturally, we had a blast. Plus, I was honored and thrilled that The Revisionary received the Director’s Choice Award and Selah Award for Speculative Fiction.

Receiving my Selah Award

These months are always busy with school and grading, but this year was extra exciting because my principal asked me to deliver both the virtual address and Orlando ceremony address. Getting to share my heart and God’s truth with seniors ready to launch out into life is always an honor and pleasure.

Alpha Omega Academy graduates

Oh, and I sneaked in a girl’s trip to visit my dear friend Rachel and her sweet family in Georgia, which is always a treat!

My friends Rachel and Devon

July: St. Augustine Summer Getaway

Summer is my favorite time of year but always breezes by! My brother, sister-in-law, and James planned a weekend retreat to one of our favorite cities, historical St. Augustine. This place never gets old.

Nothing says St. Augustine like a lion statue.

September: Italy!

Looking back on this month and the one month of planning for it in August, all I can think is, “Wow! Did that really happen?” Even now, I have to pinch myself. Traveling to Italy with my friend and colleague Maria was such a gift. A GIFT. Until then, I had only dared to dream that I could visit some of the settings in my next novel. This trip helped make those dreams a reality, and I can’t wait for you to read about more of them in the new year (and in my next book)!

Maria and I lived on gelato in Italy. That’s only a slight exaggeration.

October: Best Friend’s Birthday & Engagement Trip

When I think of October, I think, “My cup runs over.” The month started with a bang as friends and I celebrated my best friend Devon’s birthday in St. Augustine. Yes, I went to St. Augustine twice in one year. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all! James taught my friends how to surf, and we splurged on donuts and coffee trips. Last, we toured the St. Augustine lighthouse, a gem.

Happy birthday to Devon!

Little did I know that James and Devon were already plotting my engagement! Later that month, James, Devon and I piled into his Subaru for a road trip to Beech Mountain to “see the leaves change.” There, in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina, he popped the big question, and I said yes! If you missed it, you can read all about that story here.

I said yes!

December: Wedding Planning, Book Release Prep, & Holiday Hush

Now, here we are in the few lingering days of 2018. As we prepare to start a new year, I’m busy getting ready for The Reactionary to launch in February, planning a wedding in March, and just … breathing. I want to enjoy this special time of year with my wonderful family and friends, so you may notice me offline and posting less this week and next.

I hope you’ll take some time as well to be still and grateful for God’s indescribable Gift, the very reason we celebrate Christmas.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas and New Year!

~ Kristen

 

 

Making the Manger Personal

Last September, I had the opportunity to travel to Italy with a colleague, work remotely, and research my next novel. During one of our day-tripping adventures, we visited a place called Civita di Bagnoregio, a place sometimes called “the dying town.” This city rests atop a hill that is slowly eroding, and the place itself is breathtaking.

As my friend Maria and I explored the city, I suddenly stopped short. There, to my right, were the remains of a manger.

A manger. The scene seemed taken right out of a nativity story set in Bethlehem, and yet here we were in Italy. As I soaked in the moment, a few realizations struck me. Though perhaps I’d already known them, I hadn’t taken them to heart before. Maybe you can relate.

The manger was a common place chosen for an anything-but-common Christ.

Jesus could have been born anywhere else. People expected that the Messiah would come as king and break Rome’s oppression. They expected a palatial birth with pomp and circumstance. As a result, they couldn’t even recognize His birth in a stable, among animals and dirt, to a simple girl and her carpenter-husband.

I get caught up in my expectations sometimes, too. I expect God to provide a certain way, and when He doesn’t, I feel confused and frustrated. Yet God’s uncommon methods are the very means He uses to accomplish His will back then and today.

The manger stands as a challenge for simplicity and personal humility.

For introverts like me, Christmastime can overwhelm the senses with programs, white-elephant gift exchanges, Sunday school parties, special services, shopping, and everything that we’ve come to expect. Granted, those things may all have a time and place, but they often distract from the main reason we celebrate.

When I looked at the manger, all I saw was a rickety feeding trough that did double-duty as the Messiah’s crib. Its bare simplicity reminded me what a humble birthplace Christ accepted. It reminded me of these verses from Philippians where the Apostle Paul challenged his writers to adopt the mindset of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7 NKJV).

Is that mind in me? Is it in you? If I’m honest, it often isn’t. I prefer things my way, on my schedule, for my convenience. Yet Jesus exercised humility even though He was equal to God! How much more should humility characterize my thoughts and actions?

Back in Italy that day, I felt reluctant to leave this manger-like scene. However, I don’t have to relegate the manger to once-a-year Christmas stories and pageants. I can strive to apply the truths it represents every day of the year. So can you.

May you experience the joy of God’s unexpected blessings this Christmas and always!

~Kristen

Thanks to DailyPS.com for hosting this week’s post on their blog. 

 

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Choose Life’s Travel Companions Wisely

My friend and colleague Maria and I traveled to Italy in September.

The last few months have redefined epic adventure in my dictionary. From travel hacking Italy with a colleague to a surprise engagement trip in the mountains of North Carolina, I’ve been overwhelmed with God’s blessings and the people He’s placed in my life.

However, there’s a difference between amazing people and iron-sharpening people. I’m grateful mine qualify as both, but as we’re choosing friends to do life with, we should consider some important questions.

Do they point you to Christ?

I went on a North Carolina hiking trip in October with my fiance James and friends Devon and Conrad.

There are plenty of people in this world who model ingenuity, bravery, kindness, and adventure. From the world’s standpoint, they personify the ideal. These charismatic people attract a crowd, and although they can be generous and inspirational, they’re missing the main thing.

Without a personal relationship with God, a person with everything the world has to offer has nothing of lasting worth.

Do the people in your tribe encourage you to have a closer walk with God? Do they keep you accountable and ask you to do the same for them?  Beyond that, do they pray for you and with you (James 5:16)?

We need to surround ourselves with Spirit-filled friends who strengthen our faith and won’t let us settle for status quo.

To read the complete post, visit DailyPS.com.

Who’s in your tribe? Do they build you up and make you better? Most importantly, do they point you to Jesus Christ?

~ Kristen

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