June 26, 2017

A romantic adventure awaits in this debut {Book Review & Interview}

This novel has all the makings of a classic romantic comedy. Fiery chemistry, laugh out loud endearing moments between the leads—and so very much heart within every chapter.
The "opposites attract" trope is utilized in a refreshing way with Tyler and Allegra because on paper, they don't work. What is unique in how Ms. Dawn spun their love story was that they in actuality needed time apart to continue their growth, before they got back together in what I can only say was a very agonizingly stressful few chapters for this reader! There was such realness in this romance, between Tyler and Allegra. Neither of them had to settle or completely change their personality to be with the other person. Instead, they grew together into complementing each other in a bright and lovely way. A way that, I hope someday, I can do with a special guy of my own. A takeaway upon finishing a book that I am endlessly grateful for: wait for the one who sees the best in you, and challenges you with grace, just like Tyler and Allegra did.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Allegra Spencer has been living a careful life. Her safe job as an accountant is bookended by going to church and the gym. Okay, sometimes the gym. Fine. She goes to church. And the coffee shop. She avoids risk at all cost, preferring to stay safe in her cozy condo. Until her accounting firm goes belly up and she's out of a job. 

Tyler Hawk had a glorious career as a star NFL tight end. He retired on a high note and now lives a second dream of owning his own business and leading others on extreme outdoor adventures. But he needs help with his books—and his heart. When Allegra takes the job, sparks fly. 

It’s a case of safety zone versus danger zone, and in their minds, never the two shall meet.

Mikal, I am so glad you’re here—though I wish it were in person to get one of your legendary hugs, my friend! Thank you for stopping by to share all about your story and the journey it took to get to here. 

Mikal: I adore you and miss you like mad!!! Thank you so much for having me. This is surreal and crazy and wonderful, and so like our Lord. ❤ 

So we know this adventuring rom-com is your debut. Tell us a little about yourself and how you first started writing.

Mikal: Well sure! It was a cold, wintry night when I was born—oh. That’s not what you all want to know. Huh.

I grew up wanting to be a ballerina, astronaut, lawyer, missionary…and writer. My friends would probably say I achieved astronaut early on—I’m always spaced out. HA! But writing, that was my first love all along. I was one of those nerds who loved writing papers in school—even if I did leave them until the last minute. I wrote lots of “books” growing up, and went through a poetry period in high school and the first year of college. My mum and husband encouraged me for years to write before I really started taking it seriously a couple of years ago. And lo and behold… 

What, way back when, sparked the idea for Count Me In? And did it have a former title, different character names?

Mikal: So, believe it or not, the idea came from a course through ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers). The exercise was to write a sentence for each part of a story (inciting incident, black moment, denouement, etc.). When I’m not given much time, I can just write and the story comes out. Catch Me (the original title), with Tyler and Olivia (whose name changed to Allegra), was born out of that.

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

Mikal: You mean I’m supposed to have a process?!?! Whoops. 😉 

I started writing Count Me In last year during that class. It wasn’t until another person who was in that same class emailed me and said she’d read that story if I wrote it. But I was fighting God on that.
I was in the middle of writing a contemporary romance with some pretty serious issues in it. I wanted (still want) to write it, but I was struggling. I started thinking of that class and what the other writer had said to me, and thought it might be fun to make it comedic. But I didn’t want to write “fluff.” I wanted to be taken seriously, to move people, have them see God in my work, and maybe do some healing of their own. But yeah. The struggle. 
I went to a brainstorming session with some author friends in town one afternoon and told them of my struggle. One of them, Jennifer Slattery, told me she would rather give her mum-in-law, who was battling cancer, a lift-me-up, lighthearted book than a deep, raw story to read during her chemo treatments, that there was a place for lighthearted books. That conversation gave me the courage to go for it.
Last summer, I was blessed by a bunch of friends and strangers to attend the ACFW conference in Nashville. In order to get some editor appointments, though, I needed a finished manuscript. So I worked hard to get it done, and wrote The End with only a week to spare. Talk about cutting it close! Anyway, I met with an agent and two editors, all of whom asked me to send the manuscript to them. When I got home, I was conflicted about sending it to them. I started praying, talked with my husband numerous times, and called my mum to seek her wisdom. About a month later, I realized that the thought of indie publishing brought me complete peace. I don’t know that either road would have been wrong in the Lord’s eyes—probably either would have been okay and good—but taking the indie road, while difficult and a lot of work, allows me to write the stories God lays on my heart in the time I need (because husband, kids in all the sports, older kid, work, and a chronic health issue all keep me busy).
I am truly blessed. And excited!

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

Mikal: The easiest and best part is that writing is NOT a solitary career!!! I thought it was, but much to my introverted chagrin, it truly isn’t. The friendships I’ve made and the fitting in has done my heart a world of good, especially being so far away from family and friends (in person). 

The hardest part? That proverbial sagging middle!! I get to the middle and stall. I’m so thankful for critique and brainstorming partners who help! Not to mention an excellent editor. She’s the bomb.

What’s one of the biggest lessons you took away from writing Allegra and Tyler’s story?

Mikal: I wrote this story not really thinking of overcoming fear with God as a theme, but there it is. I struggle with anxiety, and it was amazing how the lessons Tyler and Allegra learned were lessons I keep needing to learn (and relearn). Stepping outside my comfort zone and relying on God was the biggest lesson. And guess what? I’m publishing a book! ←That would be outside my comfort zone.

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

Mikal: Honestly? The biggest lesson and the biggest blessing both collide. The lesson? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For years, I’ve been honored and thrilled to support authors, giving them shout-outs on social media, sharing about their books, and just being excited for them. The biggest blessing? They’re now doing just that for me. ME. They don’t have to, but they do it because we’ve formed friendships. 

They’re a blessing to me, though, not because they’re sharing about Count Me In, but because they’re genuinely loving, sweet, compassionate, beautiful friends. Just like you. ❤

Thank you so much for having me, Meghan!! And I promise, my editor and critique partners toned down the italics in the book, so there aren’t as many there as there are here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mikal Dawn is an inspirational romance author, wedding enthusiast, and proud military wife. By day, she works as an administrative assistant for an international ministry organization, serves in her church’s library, runs her kids to football, Tae Kwon Do, and figure skating, and drinks lots of coffee. By night, she pulls her hair out, wrestling with characters and muttering under her breath as she attempts to write. And drinks lots of coffee. When she isn’t writing about faith, fun, and forever, she is obsessively scouring Pinterest (with coffee in hand, of course!) for wedding ideas for her characters. Find Mikal on mikaldawn.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

June 23, 2017

Any Man of Mine

This is an installment of our series, Love Life & Literature: Romance in Real Life. In this series, we (myself and Rachael) will be delving into the ups, downs, frustrations, butterflies, and everything in between as career women who love romance, but are still searching in a world that isn’t all Mr. Darcy’s and Prince Charming’s.

Once upon a time, a decade ago, three girls sat on a careworn back deck. The aspiring author and faux secretary typed away at lists on her new laptop. The summer breeze swung through the green leaves lush with life, and they almost sounded as if they were laughing. At the three young women who thought they were oh-so-mature eating ice cream sundaes and discussing their Ideal Men.

Strict requirements such as no tattoos, must be over six foot tall, want to homeschool children—oh and welcome as many children as God would want, were just a few of such high ideals they purposed not to settle on. Other things made the lists (one numbered over fifty) included being a strong spiritual leader, and must have good foot hygiene.

Oh, how times changed for these three girls. The lists are lost to oblivion (thank the Lord), a few relationships and a few too many awkward singular dates are under their belts now. The aspiring writer/taker of the lists is now published, and is learning continuously that what she thought she needed in a guy—Jesus already is.

But at the same time—there are a few things still leftover from those incredibly lengthy ridiculous lists that hold up today. Things that, through the trial and error of dating with an open mind, and less and less pressure on myself/The Guy to be The One—are still things I am not settling on.

Any man of mine...
{ Post inspired by the classic Shania Twain song)

  1. Better be respectful. Of himself, of me and my time, and his parents. Self deprecation, blowing off replies or plans, and borderline ranting about his parents are all instant turn-offs.
  2. He'd better be positive. I'm realizing I need that, because I'm not naturally positive. Now, if he leans more on the negative side that's fine—so long as he's aware of it and strives to be more positive.
  3. Better smile and laugh. Easily. Now I get that this is more on an attraction level than a hard and fast rule, but man. SUCH a world of difference when, even if there are nerves or awkwardness, it's superseded by an easy smile and comfortable laughter—even if it's at one's expense by not taking yourself so seriously.
  4. Better ask about my day—and share his in turn. Or vice versa. Even in the small talk I'm daily employed in (with, yes, admittedly, some handsome guys who come into my office), it leaves a good impression on me when anyone just takes that second to ask about my day. I appreciate it big time.
  5. Better walk the walk he talks. In all areas. I'll be the first one to say I love Jesus but I fail Him daily and that yes, I often do fail at walking the walk of what I talk. But even if it's one step forward, one step back—eventually there's progress. And...
  6. Humility. (see point above). And honesty. These two go hand in hand and make a relationship work. Or so I hope so, someday.
We want to hear from you. What are some things on your Man List? And for y'all married—did your husbands fit your criteria you stood fast on?

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.