Blog Archive

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

It's Beginning to Read a Lot Like Christmas: Featuring Gina Kirkland

How did you come up with the idea for your book? Could you give a short synopsis on the book for my readers?

My greatest dream (second to motherhood) is to write. I’ve painstakingly plotted an adult fantasy trilogy. However, I had to pause working towards my dream when I was extremely busy being pregnant, juggling a toddler, and moving to a new state. It crushed my soul a little to shelve the series in my head that I desperately wanted to put on a physical bookshelf. 


One night I prayed to Jesus asking for help with my writing aspirations. I didn’t see how I would be able to do it all. I asked, and He answered. An idea for a Christmas children’s book about Jesus fell into my head upon waking up from a pregnant-woman nap.


“Surely this has been done before,” I remember thinking about my idea. I researched and was saddened to see that it had not. So I wrote it. 


My prayer was answered in the most surprising and wonderful way. I didn’t have the time or energy to write a trilogy, but I could write a poem. I never in a million years thought that I’d write a children’s picture book, but here I am. 

What's been even more incredible is that Christmas Begins With Christ won the gold medal Literary Titan award and has been number one on Amazon's best seller list three times since its release last month. It's been the ultimate dream come true for a new author. I'm so grateful that Jesus put me on this path. 


Christmas Begins With Christ is a rhyming concept book that introduces how Jesus is always present in our lives. It speaks about how Christ’s supportive spiritual light is constantly around us, and we emit our own light through acts of love and joy. Children learn their numbers by counting how happiness grows from the true spirit of Christmas. 

I wanted to introduce the core reason why we celebrate Christmas that went beyond retelling the story about Jesus’s birth. No other books out there are quite like it, so I had to write it. 

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?

We attend a big family Christmas Eve party every year. Everyone opens up their presents then, and it’s all around just lovely. I don’t have too many Christmas traditions from my own childhood, but I’m excited to create some with my three-year-old and one-year-old as they grow. Watching It’s A Wonderful Life is an old favorite of mine to get me into the Christmas spirit. 

What’s next for you in writing? 

I’m currently writing another children's book about Jesus in addition to my adult fantasy trilogy. I recently signed a contract with my incredibly talented illustrator, Marissa Napolitano, to team up again for my next children's book. It deeply fulfills me to do this work. It definitely isn’t my last foray into the publishing world. Once you start, it becomes addictive! 

You can follow me on Facebook and Instagram for updates about my next children's book. Hopefully it will be released in the winter of 2023 or early 2024. 

What’s the best writing tip you’ve learned or been given you’d like to share?

It’s cliche but true: Just write. My favorite writing adage is that you can’t edit a blank page. I’ve learned that you can only daydream, plot, and brainstorm so much. I have to let my perfectionism take a back seat and write without editing myself along the way. It’s the only way to move forward with my writing dreams.

What do you know now about writing and publishing you wish you had learned sooner?

Self-publishing a picture book is a huge learning curve. You have two options: You either bulk print your books ahead of time via an offset printer, or you do print-on-demand, which is when one book is printed every time a customer orders it. 

I've had a rollercoaster experience with the print-on-demand route. Despite doing in-depth research about both printing methods, I still had to learn things through real life experience. Going forward, I will be using an offset printer for my books and encourage all self-published picture book authors to strongly consider that route. However, I know that we all have our own preferences for how to do business. There is no right or wrong way, but I've learned what will work best for me going forward. 

Any last words or tips?

I don’t want to look back on my life and feel like I didn’t give it my all chasing my dreams. If you have a dream to write, do your best to find a way. I make it a habit to carve out an hour a day after my kids go to sleep to write. The first year of my oldest’s life was surprisingly very productive because of this habit. I set an alarm to stay focused. I was a tired, new mom but somehow managed to plot my trilogy that year. I still try to adhere to this schedule, although now that time is used to market Christmas Begins With Christ. My nightly habit keeps me productive and motivated.

Are there any other books that you’d like to tell my readers about?

I really love reading to my three-year-old Alphabreaths: The ABCs of Mindful Breathing by Christopher Willard. I think it's great to teach young children the power of breathwork. I notice that when I do it with her, I'm also more relaxed. 

I think the most special kind of books are when they can positively impact both the parent and child simultaneously. I hope that my book, Christmas Begins With Christ, will do that. Not only does it teach children about the love of God, but I hope it reminds parents who might be struggling to pause and remember how connected we are with God’s love and support. 

That's all for today's interview. Hope you'll check out her book. Here's how to do that.

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Saturday, November 26, 2022

It's Beginning to Read a Lot Like Christmas: Featuring Sydney Betts


How did you come up with the idea for your Christmas book?

One of my favorite mystery writers has published Christmas novellas, which I have enjoyed as much, sometimes more, than her other books. I wanted to do something similar, so I combined the Christmas theme with a favorite plotline - that of an old-fashioned large extended family waiting for an older relative to die to gain an inheritance.


 Could you give a short synopsis on the book for my readers?

Phoebe Farrell has one distinguishing talent: listening. When a wealthy, if vinegary, widow employs her as a companion, Phoebe becomes acquainted with a variety of people upstairs and downstairs, in and outside of the household. Some are caustic and greedy; some are generous and kind. A few are tender. One is planning a murder. While Phoebe unearths their secrets and desires, can she uncover the truth before it is too late?

 What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions?

We have many, but my all-time favorite is making shortbread cookies and decorating them with royal icing. This inspired my favorite gift idea for family and friends: Polymer dough cookie-cutter ornaments. We’ve made gingerbread men, kittens, bunnies, and bears.

What’s next in writing for you? 

God willing, I intend to write a short, free prequel to my People of the Book series, and I also have a rough outline for a fourth Phoebe whodunit that I plan to start writing soon.

What’s the best writing tip you’ve learned or been given you’d like to share?

The best? I’m torn between three, but if you want only one it is to make yourself a promise to write for 15 minutes per day. The very hardest thing for a writer to do is sit down and start. If you force yourself to do the aforementioned, the writing will begin to flow.

Here are my other three favorites... Find someone (or several) with high standard but who are not simply critical by nature to read each chapter after you write it and offer content feedback. They should be willing to tell you if a circumstance is unrealistic, if a character's response is odd or insufficient, or if something just doesn't make sense.

The second one is to read each completed chapter or book to someone for their immediate feedback. Errors just show up better when you read it aloud.

The third one is somewhat similar. Have your writing program read the novel to you. MS Word has this feature, and I’ve found it invaluable.

What do you know now about writing and publishing you wish you had learned sooner?

Listen to your critics. When I was writing my first book, I had a friend who was older than I with a bent toward criticism. Although she liked my book, she told me it was confusing in parts. Other pre-readers had not made those comments, so I sloughed off her comments as typical either of her age or her nature. I was horrified when I set the book down and went back to it some time later. I had not wanted to write a book that read like, “Mary said, and then Joe said, and Mary said, and then Joe said…” but I clearly needed to attend better to my pronouns and antecedents.

 Any last words or tips?

Yes, in hope that others won't make the mistakes I’ve made. Try not to head-hop. Stay with one person in their thoughts and actions. Don't jump from one person's words to another's thoughts on the same page. In our age of film, it is easier to convey simultaneous responses between two people.  This is more difficult to avoid than it appears, especially if the tension in the scene is created by two characters’ thoughts in real time. One way is to portray character B’s expressions or reactions as they listen to character A, but that too can be problematic. As a reader, I’ve found myself trying to imitate the facial or body movements the author has described, trying to figure out what they meant.

That's all for today's interview. If you'd like to learn more about Sydney's books, here are some links to get you started.