June 19, 2017

Oh Pittsburgh, My Pittsburgh

Around this time last year I had just returned home from a ten-day vacation to Southport, North Carolina spent with my family. I was restless as all get out and hated to leave. This Northern Belle could've seen herself living in the South, y'all.
Now though? This Steel City I claim proudly as my own.
Perhaps it was the excavation work of healing and renewal God's been doing this last year in me.

My Pittsburgh is both the skyscrapers of steel and glass, the pothole riddled hills and valleys and wide rivers. It is as much its landscape and topography and our colloquialisms as it is my memories, and my heritage in every family story.

Family stories that come to mind with more frequency, and in one sorely-missed voice nowadays. Someone who'd always tell us the same stories of growing up in Hazelwood, how in his boyhood he'd go fetch his grandfather at the beer garden after a long day's work at the mill. And he'd always point out where on the hill the turnpike sat on, where his house used to sit. Or he'd recount a Pirates game as if he had been just yesterday.
My Pittsburgh has such a beautiful history. Now, I didn't say perfect. At the present, it is known as an epicenter of health and science and learning and making a friendlier environment, but its roots are steel and soot colored alongside the black and gold.
Charles Dickens called my city hell with it's lid off when he visited.

This city has depth and backbone and is a melting pot of brilliantly varied cultures both historically and presently. And I love it. I've been exploring it so much. Little bits and pieces at a time considering it takes me almost an hour to drive seven-ish miles into the city from my suburban bubble I'm ever ready to escape. Driving places like the North Side or Oakland or going through Hazelwood to get to Downtown alongside my sister en route to get tattoos earlier this year at the most sketchiest/stereotypical tattoo parlor ever. Memories like that, of daring to get out of my bubble, to breathe deep and blare music driving the streets of my city, seeing the sights both as tourist and native? Priceless.
Adventuring in my city has captured my heart, added miles to my trusty PT cruiser, and has only made me want to learn more and more about this great city I call mine.
Especially it's history. Because I am doing a ton of local research for a new story; both love and bittersweet nostalgia for my city and my family are swelling my heart even now. I freely admit to crying writing a paragraph of this post. 
So, dear reader, stay tuned.

June 15, 2017

True Southern hospitality in this debut {Book review & Interview}

Welcome to the Blog Tour for Someplace Familiar by Teresa Tysinger. I’m posting today about this heartfelt, beautiful novel, a contemporary southern romance with themes of faith, hope in new love, and grace. It’s the first in a series of books set in Laurel Cove, a fictional town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. I’m joining other bloggers this week to tell you a little about the book and spread the news about the giveaway Teresa is hosting! Be sure to enter to win a signed book and more from Teresa at the end of this review/interview. And leave your comments and questions below—Teresa will be stopping by to visit with us!

With a true Southern gentility, this debut is a breath of fresh air, yet reminiscent of the classic Nicholas Sparks. A heartfelt romantic journey from beginning to end, this novel will wrap you up in Southern hospitality, offer you a cup of sweet tea and make the reader not want to leave the colorful world of Laurel Cove, or say goodbye to Jack and Livy. The journey these two take of individual healing, and a mutual opening of hearts, is powerful in its revelations of grace, trust in God first and foremost before trusting a budding love for another person. The And oh, the sweet romance as pieces of their hearts fall back into place—together. As if they were meant to be together all along. It's rare you come across a couple like that, who the reader stays with for the duration of the book, but it was as if they were just waiting for each other until just the right time. Through every up and down along the mountainous roads, the charmingly familiar and endearing venues of Laurel Cove, and too, even when both of their pasts come back to haunt them. This book is a beautiful example of fiction mirroring real life—that the sweetest of loves undoes shame, washes over mistakes, and is carved with grace. A grace that mirrors the love of Jesus. A grace most fervently present in Jack and Livy's story, in their romance.
For fans of Nicholas Sparks and Pepper Basham, or who need an escape to a sweet Southern town—pick this novel up, and prepare to be whisked away to Laurel Cove, and have your heart touched.
*Disclaimer: I received an early copy of this book from the author with no expectation of a review. These are my own thoughts and opinions. And I loved it so much, I'm absolutely buying a copy, too.

Find Someplace Familiar on:

Artist Livy Johnson needs a fresh start. That's what a broken heart and forgotten dreams can do to a person. On little more than a whim, she reclaims her grandmother’s old home in quaint Laurel Cove, North Carolina and vows to restore its original charm. When she literally collides with childhood friend, Jack Bowdon, Livy wonders if she’s back for an entirely different reason.

Jack can’t believe his childhood crush is back. As the owner of Bowdon's Supplies, and once again the town's most eligible bachelor, he offers to help Livy with repairs. Together they embark on the project—and an undeniable whirlwind romance.
But it’s not all smooth sailing. Can they survive the destructive pain of their pasts to discover God’s grace waiting to renovate their hearts?

Teresa, my friend! Thank you for stopping by to share all about your debut novel and the journey it took to get to here.

So we know this Southern sweet-tea romance is your debut. Tell us a little about yourself and how you first started writing.

Teresa: Well, I am a faux-southerner. Meaning, I grew up in Central Florida (not considered part of the Deep South – it’s more a multicultural melting pot) then transplanted to North Carolina when I attended college at a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. That’s where I fell in love with the culture, slow pace, and traditions. I then married a North Carolinian and we spent ten years there. Jobs have since moved us to North Texas, but writing stories set in the Blue Ridge keeps me connected.
I first began writing as a child. I’ve always been a voracious reader, which led to wanting to tell my own stories. The first story I recall writing was in second grade, called The Bunny Family. I went on to be the editor of my high school newspaper, wrote for a teen section of the Orlando Sentinel, and have two advanced degrees in English. But it wasn’t until about four years ago that I began playing with the notion of writing a novel. The rest, they say, is history.

What, way back when, sparked the idea for Someplace Familiar? And did it have a former title?

Teresa: Someplace Familiar is a patchwork quilt of various inspirations. The cottage readers will see at the center of Livy’s move to Laurel Cove is inspired by my own great-grandmother’s charming cottage (though hers was in West Palm Beach, FL). The town of Laurel Cove itself is inspired by my college best friend’s hometown of Burnsville, NC – down to the town square, quaint inn, scenery, and coffee shop. 
When I began writing the first draft, formerly called Good Graces, it was simply my desire to give readers a sense of the charm, simplicity, and virtues of my memories and this place. Throw a little (or a lot) of romance in, and there you go!

Give us a glimpse into your process from that earliest draft, to following God’s lead to indie-publishing.

Teresa: Oh, gracious, I’ve only got so much time. Ha! I’ll try and keep it brief. The first draft of the book was written during November 2013 for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer’s Month), at the urging of a friend. That was quite the sprint – 30 days to birth a novel. After many, many, many edits, rewrites, critique partner sessions, and conference workshops, it’s where it is today. 
I never anticipated self-publishing. But after much prayer and consideration, I realized that this route gives me the opportunity to work on my books at my own pace. With a full-time day job, a young daughter, a husband, and all the other life responsibilities, I feel confident that this route gives me the most flexibility. It is a real test of my endurance and discipline though. I have learned so much about the process and will undoubtedly making several mistakes. But the self-pride and confidence I’m gaining is priceless. And, at the end of the day, the story will get out into the hands of those whom I trust God wants to speak to about his love and grace.

Easiest/best part of writing a novel, and the hardest? Go!

Teresa: Easiest – Coming up with ideas to get excited about! I currently have at least half a dozen plot ideas in my head. 
Hardest – Actually getting (and keeping) my rear in the writing chair and getting the words down on paper! 

What’s one of the biggest lessons you took away from writing the novel?

Teresa: Oh my, that God is faithful and steadfast. He’s been with me every minute on the journey. I’ve never felt closer to God than when I’m deep in the writing zone. He’s my co-author. When the words have been hardest to draft, he’s there. When the characters struggle, he’s there to help me pull them out of the pit. When I don’t think I have what it takes to keep going, he reminds me that his power is perfected in my weakness. 

And now, what’s one of the biggest lessons you took away from publishing this heart story?

Teresa: I’m still in the midst of learning this lesson. But it is to open myself up to the kindnesses and expertise of others. I can’t possibly learn everything about self-publishing during this first go at it. And there are SO many brilliant self-published authors who have paved the way for me. I’ve been astounded that 100% of the time, when I’ve asked someone a question or for help, they’ve willingly given it without so much as a slight hesitation. This is a village I’m so thankful to be a part of.


ENTER HERE to win a signed paperback copy of Someplace Familiar, a custom 8x8” canvas painting by artist Cyndi Browning (in honor of the book’s heroine, Livy, who is an artist), and $10 Amazon Gift Card. Winner will be announced on Teresa’s website on June 18 once the tour wraps up. (Open to continental US residents only; sorry international readers!)

Teresa Tysinger is a wife and mother transplanted from North Carolina to North Texas. When not working as the Director of Communications for a large downtown church, she writes charming southern romances inspired by grace. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Religious Communicators’ Council, and the Association for Women in Communications, Teresa has spent over a decade committed to telling stories of faith through written word. 
She loves coffee, caramel, and stories with happy endings.
Connect with Teresa on:

June 9, 2017

When Dating a Man... {A Love Life & Lit Post}

The pink sticky note came up tiny in the notification banner on my phone. Just a blip in an ongoing conversation with me and one of my best friends who lived across the state.
I pulled up the photo and zoomed in a little, and it hit me straight in the Freaking Tired of Dating part of my heart:

  1. Does he have a teachable spirit?
  2. How does he respond to getting riled up or embarrassed?
  3. Does he have a tender heart? Is he gentle?
  4. Does he have a steady mind?
  5. Are your souls seeking the same thing?
  6. Does he make you laugh?
The sticky note was copied from the pages of a book by a dear friend—a wonder-woman favorite author. One whose fictional love stories are so filled with ribbons of truth, whispers of reality, and so very much grace, that the way they hit my heart? And those of many of my friends both single, and married?
Nothing short of God-inspired and incredibly special.
Much like what the Ultimate Author is penning for us right now. But there are infinitely more valleys and hills to go through than even the lengthiest of paperbound romances, in real life.

Beyond the simple lesson of Patience whilst being single is the sub-heading of "Not Settling." Oh. My. GOSH is it hard. We were just talking at lunch with some friends about this and hilariously enough the biggest point we drove home over pizza and wings and grilled cheese (because I am a child at heart), was that we cannot try and force it. Now, this applies to not trying to force a relationship with a guy, but it also goes along with (and I dare say even foremost!) not to try and force attraction. No matter how badly you want to feel something other than a flatlining pulse, a weird but good calm, and a breezy, carefree attitude while out with a nice-enough guy.
Out of every guy I've gone out with (suffice it to say I still have fingers to count on after numbering them), I have only genuinely been attracted to one. Everyone else? Zilch. And I felt terrible! Just how my mind works, here, y'all.
Retrospect is 20/20, however.
Looking back? The main reason I wasn't attracted to these nice-enough guys—besides physically not having any type of a reaction/attraction— was that our souls were not seeking the same thing. (Re: point number 5 on list above)
And that same thing must be Jesus.

There comes a point in every romance novel. The Do or Die point. The Dark Moment. Just before the plot begins to coast downhill to the Resolution/Happily Ever After. More often than not, that point in a story is when the Hero and Heroine stop seeing each other for a time. An argument perhaps, or forced apart, or circumstances that carried them physically apart, and they think they cannot go on. That it'd be better to just forget all about Him/Her and move on.
And then a light of revelation begins to pierce through, spurring them onto health, happiness and wondering about that Special Person.
That time apart is necessary for the character's growth, both emotionally and spiritually. And to realize Who must hold their heart first before giving it to another human being.
And so the life-season of singleness is. Sure it's not as tied up pretty in the space of a few chapters before the Happy Ending. But when two souls are seeking the same thing?
That is when there is ample blank pages for God to write the meetcute, the first dates, the hard conversations—and the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime with who He had for us all along.