Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sharlene MacLaren: Dreams That Come True

Sharlene "Shar" MacLaren was a teacher, a wife of a banker, a mother (she became a grandmother in 2008) and a long-time Christian when she started having dreams, literal dreams, of being a novelist eight years ago. (Today is her 60th birthday--happy birthday, Shar!) While talented in music, she was thinking so much about what God would have her to do at this point in her life, she was working it out in her dreams.

She didn't need a dream interpreter to figure out what came next--she started writing novels--and continues today. While she brushed off her friends who clamored for her handwritten romances in high school, she could no longer brush off God's call.

Let's see what the birthday girl's life was back then that makes her into the superb romance writer she is today:

Childhood Ambition:

I always wanted to be a rancher’s wife! Must’ve been all those silly romances I read in junior high and high school! ‘Course, like most young girls, I wanted a horse, too, so I figured ropin’ me a handsome rancher would get me the horse. Hahaha. Today a horse sounds like way too much work, and the rancher—no thanks. I got me a handsome banker instead.

Once the whole rancher notion blew over, I started playing “teacher” by lining up chairs in my living room for my pretend students and writing on a big chalkboard my parents had bought me for a gift. That was the dream that took hold, as I wound up teaching second and fourth grades for 31 years. Oh, I almost forgot— in high school I wanted to be a nurse for about two weeks when I found out the future nurses’ club was taking an excursion and I could get out of school for an entire day. I joined the group then quickly dropped out after the field trip. Nursing was NOT for me. We visited a state mental institution, and it was 1964. Need I say more?.

Fondest Memory (then):

It’s very hard to come up with just one, but when I think of my childhood I can’t help but think about my dad, who was such a jokester and simply loved life! He and I spent time fishing together on foggy summer mornings when the sun was just peeking over the horizon and the lake shone like glass. We were supposed to sit quietly and wait for the fish to bite, but Dad loved making me laugh, so he’d do silly things like pretend he was falling out of the boat, or make believe he had a fish, or make a weird face at me, anything to get a giggle. Those memories stand out to me like diamonds on black velvet.

Proudest Moment (then):

One of the earliest recollections I have of feeling proud was when my second grade teacher singled me out to the rest of the class and showed them my beautiful penmanship. I remember glowing inside and out. (Oh, what an opportunity teachers have to make positive impacts on their students.)

Biggest Challenge as a Child or Teen:

I grew up in the 50s and 60s, graduating from high school in 1966. The biggest challenges I faced were plain silly compared to what kids face today. I probably worried that I didn’t have very nice clothes, but then most families were poor back then, especially in the town in which I grew up. My mom was a wonderful seamstress, so she sewed me all the latest fashions, but back then, girls didn’t care that much about name brands. We lived much simpler lifestyles. Perhaps one challenge that stands out was that I didn’t feel very “smart” compared to my classmates. I always had a low self-image when it came to learning subjects and studying for tests. I couldn’t remember facts worth beans—and I still can’t. Math was awful for me, as was chemistry, biology—all the sciences. Actually, history was no cup-of-tea, either, now that I think about it. ENGLISH, now that was where I learned to shine.

My First Job:

Most girls didn’t get jobs at young ages back then like they do today, so my first “real” job didn’t come till I graduated from high school. After graduation, I decided to delay college a year, so I did secretarial work in the office of a manufacturing company. A bunch of old women worked there (haha-they were probably in their 30s and 40s), I missed my high school friends, and I felt like a fish out of water, so after one year I applied for college and off I went to Spring Arbor University the following fall!

Childhood Indulgence:

I always volunteered to bake the cakes and cookies in my family, which my mom loved, so that I could snitch the batter and dough when no one was looking. Oh, yummmmmm…..

Favorite Outfit as a Child:

I still remember these summer shirts my mom made me that had these cool necklines. They were called “boatnecks”. When I was about 13, and just starting to think I was “cool”, one of the neighbor boys, who was about 16 or 17, told me I looked very nice in my new ‘hot pink’ shirt. Since I had a terrible crush on him…Larry Duram…I continued wearing it everytime I saw him!

Favorite Childhood Movie and/or TV Show:

Easy-peasy…favorite TV shows were: My Friend, Flicka, Howdy Doody Show, Mickey Mouse, Fury, Sky King, Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, The Red Skelton Hour, Lassie, and Candid Camera to name a few.

Favorite Childhood Book:

Elves and the Shoemakers, The Yearling, Black Beauty, Lassie, and later, anything by Victoria Holt and other fiction authors

Favorite Childhood Activity/Pastime:

Jumping rope, playing baseball, shooting baskets with my brothers, playing ‘house’ with all my dolls, jacks, fishing, swimming, exploring the woods across the road, climbing trees, catching turtles and frogs (I grew up on a lake—and with all boys!)

Childhood Hero:

It sounds cliché-ish, but I would have to say my daddy. What an amazing man of God—who had a way of showing his faith but in a completely unpretentious way. My mother, too—absolutely wonderful woman who served her Lord with fervency and sweetness. My parents lived consistent lives that mirrored Christ so powerfully that I never would have dreamt of going the other direction. I praise the Lord for such a fabulous heritage, one that rubbed off so thoroughly that now our children and their spouses have strong faiths too.

Shar's Mother and Shar's New Grandson

Where to find Shar:


Anything else you would like to share with readers about your childhood which affected the writer you have become?

When I was a child, I never would have believed I’d wind up an author with several PUBLISHED books. I had always enjoyed dabbling in writing, and in high school, I used to write ‘silly’ teenage romances that circulated amongst my friends. I had a wildly vivid imagination, and they always told me I had a talent for writing, but I laughed and brushed off their compliments.

Most of my life, music held my focus, as I sang in ensembles, choirs, duets and performed lots of solos. But after raising my children and winding down my lifelong career in education I began to pray about what to do with the last half of my life, still loving music, but no longer seeing it as my main ministry. I wanted whatever I did to count for Christ!

Writing was something that had fallen into a deep sea of forgetfulness for me, but in the summer of 2000, after turning 52, I started dreaming I’d written a novel. A novel?! It was a strange recurring dream, but one cloudless day, I took it to heart and sat down at my computer to try carving out a story. Let me tell you I could barely believe it when the “fire” started rolling through my veins, pouring out of me like hot lava. It was an experience I shall never forget—that day my writing passion grew wings and took flight! Even today, it remains somewhat of a phenomenon to me, but I’ve learned to accept it as my calling.

Since then, I’ve written countless manuscripts, many of which have found their publishing home in Whitaker House, and I have no one to praise for this but the Lord Jesus. He plants the passion in our hearts—but it’s our job to run with it!
And something else…God is simply not done with a willing heart until He says so, no matter the “age or stage” we may be in. And for that, I Give Him Glory!

More About Shar:

Her favorite Bible Verse: Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Born and raised in west Michigan, Sharlene MacLaren attended Spring Arbor University. Upon graduating with an education degree way back in 1971, she traveled internationally for a year with a small singing ensemble, then came home and married one of her childhood friends. Together they raised two lovely daughters, both of which are happily married. Recently retired after teaching elementary school for 31 years, ‘Shar’ enjoys reading, writing, singing in the church choir and worship teams, traveling, and spending time with her family, which now includes her very wonderful, adorable, precious grandson, and in 2008 -- two additional grandchildren.

A Christian for over forty years, and a lover of the English language, Shar has always enjoyed dabbling in writing—poetry, fiction, various essays, and freelancing for periodicals and newspapers. Her favored genre, however, has always been romance. She remembers well the short stories she wrote in high school and watching them circulate from girl to girl during government and civics classes. “Psst,” someone would whisper from two rows over, and always with the teacher’s back to the class, “Pass me the next page.”

Shar is a an occasional speaker for her local MOPS organization, is involved in KIDS’ HOPE USA, a mentoring program for at-risk children, counsels young women in the Apples of Gold program, and is active in two weekly Bible studies. She and her husband, Cecil, live in Spring Lake, Michigan with their lovable collie, Dakota, and Mocha, their lazy, fat cat.

Sharlene MacLaren's Awards:
IRCC finalist 2008
Reviewer's Choice Award 2007 and 2008 - "Road to Romance"
ACFW Finalist for Book-of-the-Year 2007

Leave a Birthday Wish for Shar in the comments and win Through Every Storm, an ACFW Book of the Year finalist! (Yes, August 26th is Shar's 60th birthday!)___________________________________

Shar's Latest Book:
Long Journey Home — IN STORES NOW

Book Description:
After divorcing her abusive husband, single mother, Callie May, is still nursing the scars of a painful past. The last thing she needs in her life is another man, so she’s less than thrilled when a handsome but brooding stranger moves into the apartment across the hall. Dan Mattson may be attractive, but his circumstances certainly aren’t; a former pastor, he abandoned his flock in Michigan and fled to the Chicago suburbs after the death of his beloved wife and baby daughter in a tragic automobile accident. Embittered by his loss, Dan turns his back on God. Callie mistrusts men, and the angry Dan often gives her good reason. Both are weighed down by the scars and disappointment in their pasts. When Callie’s ex-husband shows up to wreak more havoc in her life, Dan finds himself coming to her defense—and facing his own demons in the process. Will Dan and Callie be able to get past their baggage and give love another chance? Can they come to see life’s tragedies as part of God’s perfect plan? And most important, will they allow the power of God to change their hearts and mend their hurts

"Little Hickman Creek" Series — IN STORES NOW

Loving Liza Jane

Book Description:
The story follows 21-year-old Eliza Jane Meriwether from Boston to Little Hickman, Kentucky in the year 1895. Naïve, but full of confidence and zeal, Eliza will assume the job as Little Hickman’s schoolteacher. But when she first rides into town on a ramshackle buckboard, her initial thought is, “Oh, Lord, what have I done?” Kentucky is nothing like her native Boston. Will she ever grow accustomed to its rolling hills and wide open spaces, not to mention the lack of modern conveniences? Although filled with doubts, she is convinced God has led her to this point, and soon the new schoolteacher is beloved by all, including Benjamin Broughton, a handsome widower with two young children. Trouble is her contract implicitly states, “marriage or any other unseemly behavior by women teachers is improper and will thereby result in immediate dismissal”. Liza has a lot to learn about God’s perfect plan for her life.

Sarah, My Beloved

Book Description:
Sarah Woodward has come to Kentucky as a mail-order bride, contracting with the services of the Marriage-Made-In-Heaven Agency. However, when she steps off the stagecoach to meet her betrothed, he kindly informs her he has fallen in love with another woman. Sarah is disappointed, yes, but she feels strongly God has led her to this rickety place for a reason. If not to marry Benjamin Broughton, then to fulfill some other duty and, thus, she will stay firmly planted in Little Hickman until she discovers that plan.
Rocky Callahan’s sister has died, leaving him to care for her two young children. When he meets up with the fiery Sarah Woodward, he proposes the answer to both their problems—a marriage in name only. Sarah soon comes to love the children, but Rocky is afraid that she’ll never survive as a farmer’s wife with her privileged upbringing. Can he let go of the pain of his past and trust God’s plan for his life? Will she leave him or will they actually find a marriage made in heaven?

Courting Emma

Book Description:
Twenty-eight-year old Emma Browning has experienced a good deal of life in her young age. Sole owner and operator of Emma’s Boardinghouse, she is “mother” to an array of beefy, unkempt, often rowdy characters. Though many men would like to get to know the steely, hard-edged, yet surprisingly lovely, proprietress, none has ever succeeded. That is, not until the town’s new pastor, Jonathan Atkins, takes up residence in the boardinghouse, affecting not only her with his devout faith and strong convictions, but her clientele as well. Emma clings desperately to her stubborn ways, refusing to acknowledge God’s love—until all of Little Hickman witnesses a miracle—the conversion of her abusive and alcoholic father, Ezra Browning! Only then will Emma begin to experience God’s transforming power at work.

Through Every Storm (ACFW finalist for Book of The Year 2007!)

Book Description:
When tragedy strikes, can love survive? Struggling through the tragic loss of a child, Jeff and Maddie Bowman experience the immense pain and grief brought about by a broken heart and a marriage severely strained and headed toward divorce. Feeling completely hopeless, Maddie questions whether life will ever be normal again. Then, when faced with having to care for a precocious little boy, Maddie slowly realizes how to let God be in control even when life is crashing down around her. The love she finds will give her hope and strength to make it through every storm


The Daughters of Jacob Kane - (2009)

Other book by Sharlene
Spring's Promise

Book Description:
Michigan-born twin brothers launch a ski trip to the Rockies in mid-January. But elation turns to despair when one of the twin brothers is tragically killed on the slopes. In an attempt to appease his guilt and grief, Jake Evans, the living twin, sets out to make amends with his sister-in-law, Raychel, by offering his help with her two small children, doing odd jobs around her house, and generally easing her heavy load. Left to raise her three-year-old daughter and newborn son on her own, Raychel is anything but willing to be coddled by her brother-in-law, particularly since there is some ‘history’ between them. Determined to make it on her own, she is shocked to discover that God has other plans for her, and those plans just may land her in the arms of her husband's brother.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Unmasking the Woman: Vonda Skelton's When I Was Just a Kid

My mom and dad with me right after I was born. My mom was 17 and my dad was 20.

Vonda Skelton has a different way of looking at the world. When I asked her
Anything you would like to share with readers about your childhood which affected the writer you have become?, she had this to say:

I remember the day it dawned on me that God could use all these experiences—the love of the stage, drama, music, humor, and an active imagination—for His glory. For so long, I had viewed it all as a frivolous self-indulgence. But then God showed me that He had placed those gifts in me for a reason, and that reason is so I can speak and write and teach others through them. For example, if you’d like a good laugh, I hope you’ll check out my YouTube video, Solomon’s Beloved.

You can see that by watching it here, Solomon's Beloved:

This is just a small vignette from one of her speaking programs.

Vonda says: "Even though it’s funny and makes the women laugh, it helps break down the barriers that often separate 'us' from 'them,' and allows women to be open to hearing the message of grace and mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ. And, as we say here in the south, it just don’t get no better than that!"

Let's see how God designed the writer and speaker for both children and women that Vonda has become:

Childhood Ambition:

When I was a kid, all my friends wanted to be nurses or teachers or secretaries. Sissy jobs, I thought. Me? I was going to be a movie star, an investigative reporter, or an undercover detective. (Of course, once I became an RN, I realized nursing was no job for wimps!)

Fondest Memory (then):

I hate to be indecisive, but I have two favorite memories. One is helping my grandmother in her cloth shop. She allowed me to make price signs, sweep the floor, and make pot holders with my little loom kit. Whenever she sold a potholder, she gave me all the money—all 10 cents! After I finished a day’s work, she’d give me a whole nickel and I’d put it in the Coke machine for a six-ounce “brew.” Sometimes she also gave me a pack of peanuts, which I poured into my bottle of Coke. (I’d actually forgotten all about that until now. Thanks for the memory!)

This is my grandmother with me on my second birthday. I still have the table that’s there beside her chair. ;-) I had the piano, but sold it in my unenlightened 20’s for $90. Oh, what I’d give to have that piano back!

My other favorite memory is helping my daddy in his concession stand. We’d prepare for an event by setting up a production line in the kitchen, making cotton candy and candied apples. Then we’d head out to the fair or the lake or the local swimming hole and set up shop. Daddy and me. As we say in the south, it just don’t get no better than that!

Proudest Moment (then):

All of my proudest moments as a child had to do with entertainment. From the time I can remember, I’ve loved being on stage, whether that meant singing in church or acting in the school play. Although I dreamed of being Darla in The Little Rascals, I knew I’d never be able to because my mother would never, ever allow me to wear those short skirts! But one of the proudest moments was when I won first place in the 4-H Talent Show. I shared the stage with an upside down broom with a construction paper face as we sang “Side by Side” together. That eventually led to my being a guitar-playing, leather-vest-and-cowgirl-hat-wearing, country music-singing member of The Ramblers, a group of 5 old men and me. We were on The Ben Leonard Television Show every Saturday morning at 7AM. I was 12-years-old at the time and hated country music. But sometimes you just have to sacrifice for your art. (Sounds so much better than compromising for your goals!)

Me at 6 years old, wearing my Ruth Original dress that my grandmother bought. If it hadn’t been for her, I would have never had anything so nice. Hand-me-downs were my standard fare!
Biggest Challenge as a Child or Teen:

My biggest challenge was trying to cover up the fact that we were poor. And I did a pretty good job of it. When I as 10 years old, we moved to another town where I told my new friends that my dad was in the oil business (he was—he drove a heating oil truck) and that we used to live near Paris (we did—we lived at the foot of Paris Mountain in Greenville, SC). As you can see, I’ve been “writing” fiction my whole life!

This is my Uncle Raymond, who was the local sheriff and me. I thought it was so cool to have an uncle who had real handcuffs!

My First Job:

I never remember NOT working. Since my daddy always had two or three sideline businesses in addition to his real job, there was always work to do. So in addition to working the concession stand, I sold dresses in a dress shop when I was 13, carded cheap earrings for a jewelry line called Jewelry by Vonda Marie, and helped daddy with the record-keeping for his bread route. The first job I ever had where Daddy wasn’t my boss was as a cashier at Winn-Dixie grocery store—and he had gotten me the job since it was one of his stops on his bread route!

Childhood Indulgence:

Piling all the kids in the car (I was the oldest of four) and heading down to the Skyland Drive-In Theater. We’d bring our own popcorn and drinks, of course.

Favorite Outfit as a Child:

My Davey Crockett leather jacket and coonskin cap.

Favorite Childhood Movie and/or TV Show:

My favorite movies were anything with Shirley Temple. I was going to be her when I couldn’t be Darla because of the short skirts. As far as TV, my favorite program was—you guessed it—The Little Rascals.

Any Childhood Pets?

Yes, Teddy was my white spitz. I was heartbroken when he disappeared after we moved. But then a stray mutt miraculously “followed me home” and Lady became mine. A month or so later, Lady and I became the parents of 5 black and brown babies.

Favorite Childhood Book:

Although I didn’t grow up with many books in the house, when I was about 10, my cousin gave me her collection of Trixie Belden Mysteries and I was hooked. That’s when I developed a love of reading.

Favorite Childhood Activity/Pastime:

I never wanted to do little girl things. Instead of being a cheerleader, I played on the boys’ baseball team. Instead of running from the guys who pulled my hair, I chased them, threw them to the ground, and beat them up. Yep, life was good.

Childhood Hero:

My daddy. I couldn’t wait to marry him. It made perfect sense to me, after all, he was already in the family! I was heartbroken when my mother informed me he was already taken.

Can you share some things from your childhood that ended up in your books?

Oh my goodness, lots and lots of stuff ends up in my books. When I decided to start writing children’s mysteries, I took months and made lists of every childhood memory I had. I wrote on the backs of power bill envelopes, on paper plates, on napkins, notebook paper—you name it! Then, when I sat down to write my first book, I took out my notes and plugged scene after scene from my life into the life a Bitsy, a short, curly-headed 12-year-old tomboy from a poor family who loves to sing, wants to be a movie star, and sometimes struggles with the truth. Can you guess where Bitsy came from?

So now, when I visit schools to present my Writing is Fun! writing workshops, I share scenes from my books and the kids vote whether they think it was taken from real life or not. They’re constantly amazed at the scenes from real life that are in my books. For instance, the scene where the bully Ernie VanTache gets his head caught in the porch rail and Bitsy gets him out by smearing his head, neck, chest, and back with mayonnaise and butter. In real life, it happened to my brother! And yes, that’s exactly how I got him out.

Another one: When I was 10, Daddy invented a suntan lotion, mixed it up in a big pot in the kitchen, poured it into baby bottles and we headed to Tybee Island, GA so he could test it against Coppetone. He was going to make us rich! We put his TanTone on the right side of our faces, right arm, and right leg, and put Coppertone on the left side to see which one tanned the darkest. (In case you’re wondering, it was a tie. But we never got rich. He didn’t have the money to buy bottles to put the TanTone in.) And even my new women’s non-fiction book, Seeing Through the Lies, includes many stories from my childhood, like the time I tried to be Peter Pan and almost died dangling from a tree with a rope around my waist. In case you didn’t know it, it doesn’t matter if the rope is around your waist or around your neck, the end result is the same—you die. If my daddy hadn’t found me, I’d have been dead.

Vonda's latest book out for women is called, Seeing Through the Lies: Unmasking the Myths Women Believe.

You can read the first chapter here: http://vondaskelton.com/Books.html

WINNER OF THIS BOOK on this blog: MIMI! MIMI will be receiving this book from Vonda. Thank you for all the comments~

"Vonda helps us get a grip and find our footing...and she does it with giggles and grace. Her light touch combined with her deep heart make this worth embracing."
--Patsy Clairmont, author of Dancing Bones...living lively in the valley

Is your study group considering using Vonda's book?She will join in your discussion by phone! Contact her.
Besides writing for women, Vonda has a series of books for girls about a girl named Bitsey. You can order signed copies here.

Children's Fiction:

Bitsy and the Mystery at Hilton Head Island has arrived!
Bitsy and the Mystery at Hilton Head Island--the third adventure in the Bitsy Mystery Series--is now available.

In this new adventure, Bitsy (the only girl on her baseball team) heads to Hilton Head Island for a tournament, where Bitsy expects sun, fun, and a first place trophy. But her plans change when she discovers a loggerhead turtle egg thief is on the loose. Could he be hiding right under their noses?

Bitsy and the Mystery at Hilton Head Island (Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries)
Published: April 2008 (Overmountain Press)
Order Now: $8.00 (regularly $8.95)

Bitsy and her baseball team head to Hilton Head Island for a tournament, where Bitsy expects sun, fun, and a first place trophy. But her plans change when she discovers a loggerhead turtle egg thief is on the loose. Could he be hiding right under their noses?

Bitsy and the Mystery at Amelia Island (Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries)
Published: July 2005 (Overmountain Press)
Order Now: $8.00 (regularly $8.95)

Bitsy visits friends on Amelia Island, Florida, where her promise to live at peace with everyone quickly fades when she faces the neighborhood bully. After an abandoned house reveals some deep, dark secrets, the kids team up to help a city resource center. Could evil spirits prevent the center’s success? But Bitsy’s troubles are only beginning. Her new business fails, and she loses all the money she has saved for camp. With a bruised body and deflated ego, Bitsy’s only hope is to win the $100 first-place prize in the July 4th Talent Show. Although circumstances complicate her performance and compromise her chance of winning, her determination to solve the mystery changes the future for those who need help on Amelia Island.

Bitsy and the Mystery at Tybee Island (Bitsy Burroughs Mysteries)
Published: July 2003 (Overmountain Press)
Order Now: $12.00 (regularly $13.95)

Set on Tybee Island, Georgia, the story is told by Bitsy, a twelve-year-old tomboy whose imagination and curiosity repeatedly get her into trouble as she searches for hidden treasure, discovers a skeleton, and faces a kidnapper. This Tybee Island mystery was #5 on the Savannah Morning News Bestseller List August 8, 2003 and is in its second printing.

Vonda's Christian Writer's Den blog is a helpful and hopeful place to be. Be sure to check in on her thoughts and information.

Want to take a cruise with Vonda?

Register NOW!

March 30-April 4, 2009


Please join me as we sail from Jacksonville to the Bahamas. Free writing classes available, if desired. Free Christian entertainers, music groups, comedians, and speakers just for us!

Prices start at less than $600! Take a group and save even more!