Wednesday, July 10, 2024

 I’m so excited to interview award winning author, Amanda Cox, today! If you’ve been lucky enough to read “The Edge of Belonging”, “The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery”, or “He Should Have Told the Bees” you already know what a treat her novels are. I’ve been privileged to read her new release (which releases in August), “Between the Sound and Sea,” and trust me . . . it does not disappoint. Without further ado, here’s Amanda!

Amanda Cox is the author of the 2021 Christy Book of the Year, The Edge of Belonging and the 2022 Christy Book of the Year, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery. She is a Carol Finalist for her 2023 ECPA bestselling novel, He Should Have Told the Bees. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology and a master’s degree in professional counseling. Her studies and her interactions with hurting families over a decade have allowed her to create multidimensional characters that connect emotionally with readers. She resides in Tennessee with her husband and three children.

First let’s learn a little bit about you. Can you share a few things about yourself that have nothing to do with writing?

I am a homebody who also loves to travel. Zermatt, Switzerland is my favorite place that I’ve explored. I have three fun, creative, and wacky kids who always inspire me. As their mom and their teacher, I feel like I am always learning. In just a few months my husband and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary while we are in the midst of a two-week family trip to Europe with my three kids and my mother-in-law and father-in-law. I know we will have tons of stories to tell after that trip!

That’s amazing! I hope to travel Europe with my family as well someday. What drew you to write?

For as long as I can remember I have been drawn to stories. I read everything I could get my hands on as a child. I never imagined myself as a writer, but I’ve always processed my thoughts best with pen on paper. About twelve years ago, those two elements of my life collided when I felt like God laid a story on my heart. I fell in love with writing Christian fiction.

We are all so thankful you did! What’s your writing process? 

Whenever someone asks me that question, I always tell people that I don’t recommend my method! It is something that I have been in the process of settling into as I learn more about the way I think about stories. I consider myself a discovery writer. Neither plotter nor pantser really fit my process. When I start writing, I generally have a good idea of who my characters are, who I think they should become, and what it will take for them to make this type of change. Little by little as I discover the plot, and dig deeper and deeper into my characters, I build in the layers of the story.

That sounds similar to the way I approach stories as well. Sometimes the characters surprise you! How do you come up with your story ideas?

Stories are everywhere! My stories usually unfold out of some little detail that gets my wheels turning. These are a few things that have sparked my books: A baby bouncer in the median of a highway and the idea for a character, a small family-owned grocery inspired by a personal connection to my family history, my personal passion for honeybees, and an article about a little known piece of history.

A baby bouncer in the median of a highway! That IS a story waiting to be told. I loved The Edge of Belonging, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery and He Should have told the Bees. Tell us about your new release. 

Thank you so much for reading my books! I am so excited to share Between the Sound and Sea with readers. 

Between the Sound and Sea is about a woman named Josephina Harris who becomes a temporary keeper of a decommissioned lighthouse on a North Carolina island for a brief escape from drama in her hometown in Tennessee regarding a scandal that’s been associated with her family.

As the work on the lighthouse begins, "Joey" discovers strange notes tucked deep in the crevices of the old stone walls--pages torn from a lighthouse keeper's log signed by someone named Mae who recounts harrowing rescues at sea. Fascinated by a woman lighthouse keeper, Joey digs into the past only to discover there's never been a record of a lighthouse keeper by that name.

When things start to go amiss on the island, locals are convinced that it is the ghost of the lighthouse keeper and his daughter who were lost at sea during World War II. As Joey sifts through decades of rumors and legends and puts together the pieces of the past, what emerges is a love story--one that's not over yet.

Are there certain themes explored in the story?

Themes found in Between the Sound and Sea include handling regrets, second chances, and restoration.

Do you have any favorite characters in your books?I know I have a few :)

I always have a favorite! Harvey in The Edge of Belonging, Glory Ann in The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery, Fern in He Should Have Told the Bees, and Walt in Between the Sound and Sea.

What are you working on now?

I’m hard at work on my Summer 2025 novel. It is a dual-timeline story about a young woman named Ana who ends up in a little known town in Tennessee trying to privately process a traumatic experience that derailed her life. She ends up being adopted into a ragtag group of birdwatchers a little against her will. Together this group of people find hope and healing from their various struggles as they discover life-changing lessons exploring God’s creation. Along the way, Ana hatches a plan to reunite two childhood friends who, though they are neighbors, have been estranged for sixty years after devasting circumstances left one girl fatherless and the other girl’s father in prison. Not only does Ana uncover a surprising familial connection, but also that forgiveness and restoration can be more complicated than they seem.

You’ve definitely peaked my interest! When you’re not writing, what do you enjoy doing?

When I’m not writing, I keep bees, fail at gardening, and dabble in playing the ukulele. I also like to sketch and paint, but I would never consider myself a visual artist.

Every family has its secrets. Josephina Harris wouldn’t mind if her family still had a few of their own after a lawsuit tarnishes their name. When an opportunity opens to become a temporary keeper of a decommissioned lighthouse on a North Carolina island, she jumps at the chance to escape her small town to oversee its restoration. 

As the work begins, “Joey” discovers strange notes tucked deep in the crevices of the old stone walls–pages torn from a lighthouse keeper’s log signed by someone named Mae who recounts harrowing rescues at sea. Fascinated by a woman lighthouse keeper, Joey digs into the past only to discover there’s never been a record of a lighthouse keeper by that name.

When things start to go amiss on the island, locals are convinced that it is the ghost of the lighthouse keeper and his daughter who were lost at sea during World War II. As Joey sifts through decades of rumors and legends and puts together the pieces of the past, what emerges is a love story–one that’s not over yet.

Between the Sound and Sea releases August 6 and will be available on Kindle, paperback, hardcover and audio book.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Author Staci Stallings's New Book Hits the Shelves

Drop that phone, abandon that tablet, toss that brush on your dresser, hide that bag of fireworks, and set that caffeinated drink aside my friendly reading multi-taskers! Author Staci Stallings has got you covered for the next few minutes. She's a multi-tasker extraordinaire, and she's pumping out book after book while keeping all those other plates spinning. (So jealous as my plates crash and burn!)  And in a few weeks, her newest release Chasing Hearts will hit the shelves. Let's find out more!


PT: Welcome back Staci! We love to see what you’ve been up to. Remind us of your background and how you landed as an author of Christian Fiction. 

SS: When I first started writing fiction around 1996 after I had my first child, I was told, “Write what you know” and “Read what you want to write.” So, I set out to read contemporary Christian romance, and people in the bookstores laughed at me saying, “You mean historical, right? There’s no such thing as CONTEMPORARY Christian romance. That’s not even a thing.” I realized pretty quickly that what I wanted to write (what I knew in life) wasn’t even a thing in the real world. 
Shortly after that, I had decided to write but maybe not write Christian; however, in my first novel, my character was in freezing water after a plane crash with a wrecked leg and nowhere near the shore. What would I do in that situation? I would PRAY! So, even though there was no evidence that anything I wrote from that point forward would ever sell or even be marketable, I found that ultimately, I had to write what I knew, and what I knew was I don’t want to walk this journey without God. 

PT: I so understand! A person’s faith journey is just ingrained in your life. Inseparable. So, you write in several different genres. Tell us why and what your favorite is. 

SS: Part of me wants to say, “My favorite is whatever I’m writing at the moment.” Part of me says that’s a lie. 😀 I think I don’t really write genres or ages so much as I write the characters that show up. I don’t really have hard and fast parameters of what I think a particular character “should be.” I’ve had characters that were 15 and barely in high school and some that were in their 40’s and trying to find life again after a divorce or death. I learn and I’ve learned from every single one. I think that might be the answer... it’s not my favorite genre... it’s that I get to learn about life from many different perspectives and from each perspective that I write. I’ve never been in an abusive relationship, but I had to learn to navigate one in my book Always. I’ve never been a big city cop, but I had to learn what that was like for I Know What I Love You Means. Each character, each situation teaches me something I couldn’t have learned any other way. That’s what I love about what I write. 

PT: I love how you put that! We readers become that person and live their experiences. Ground us and tell us what region do you live in and do you like to set books in the areas you lived or visited or somewhere totally new? 

SS: I live in the Texas Panhandle, the flattest, driest (other than the actual desert) area on earth. I don’t actually have many books set here although I do have a few that look a lot like Lubbock which is an hour and a half south of here. For settings, they usually just happen naturally. I “see” mountains, or I “see” ocean. Then I pick out an area that’s close to what I’m seeing, give it a name, and go for it. I have written settings of places I’ve visited. For example, I went to a family party in Kansas once, and I wrote that area into the story The Long Way Home.
My dad called when he was reading that book and said he thought he recognized the area, but he’d gone to look at a map and couldn’t find the town I mentioned. I was like, “That’s because I made it up!” I find it much easier to have a general setting—say North Carolina. Then make up a town so that I don’t have to worry about if I named a street the wrong thing. I can make it look like whatever I need it too. I have learned to let my imagination override practically everything else, and I don’t really want to beholden myself to whatever is actually there. 

PT: Since we are so near Independence Day, are you an all-in fireworks planner, a few-sparklers-here- and-there, or do you hover in your house, covering the dogs ears (or somewhere in between?). 

SS: Well, my area LOVES fireworks. For a while, I was allergic to the smoke, so I was a stay-inside-and-try-not-to-die kind of person. Then my son and daughter, who do Christmas light shows started doing a 4th of July show at my house to test out whatever crazy thing they were planning to do for Christmas. So, I’ve had pixel sticks, a screen on my roof, and even a mega-tree in my yard one year for 4th of July. That meant I could go out and sit in a car and watch the show every night for like ten days. I don’t know why that cleared up the breathing thing (or what happened in there to help it), but now I can go out and watch all the fireworks again. Strange how life works like that. 

PT: Let’s get bookish. How many books do you have out now, and what are you working on now? 

SS: Right now I have 71 books on Amazon. Some are nonfiction, but most are fiction. I finished up a 12-book series last year and decided to put out a book I wrote in the early 2000’s. The problem was that with that book when I wrote it, I had truncated the story to get it to end “all nice and neat and tied with a bow.” Unfortunately, I’ve grown so much as a writer and author that it really felt wrong because the characters had found love but not healing. So, I went back and revised the ending of that one and added a second book that is more about the characters healing through their trauma. Those two books were The Love Series , I Know What I Love You Means and Moving Mountains.
Then, last year like a bolt of lightning, the idea for a spin-off series from that one where Pete and Abby the main characters in The Love Series are kind of mentors for Pete’s niece and three nephews as they start to go off to college and have to navigate life showed up. There was a LOT of trauma that was dealt with by Pete and his brother in the first two, and it’s been really interesting to see how the parent’s trauma affected the kids without us probably really realizing it when we were reading The Love Series. So, the new series is called The Perspectives Series as each child comes at life and healing from a vastly different perspective. The first book in that series is Chasing Hearts, and the book I’m working on now is the next book in that series called Picking Wildflowers

PT: Tell us a little about Chasing Hearts and where the idea for this book began.

SS: In The Love Series, I really enjoyed the character of Justin, the oldest son. He was very much like my own nephew—very steady and wanting to do things right. Last year as I was finishing up The Love Series, I happened upon a picture of an actor (don’t remember which one now), and I thought, “That guy really looks like Nick (the second brother).” I was a little bored so I wondered if I could find a picture of Justin, which I did, and then of course, I had to find one of Bailey. Once I had those three, I couldn’t leave Noah out. I started thinking about what a book about the siblings might look like, and all of a sudden I knew the story of Chasing Hearts and the title which I didn’t even understand until ¾ through the book. 
When I first started, my biggest challenge was getting the other three siblings—especially Bailey to BE QUIET and let me write Justin’s story. Bailey was the most excited character I’ve ever experienced in my head. She kept showing me pictures and pieces of her story. “Ugh! Bailey, STOP! I have to write this story first!” Now that I’m on her story, she’s so funny because she’s so shut down as a character because of things that have happened to her. However, I know her secret. That is NOT the REAL Bailey. She’s in there somewhere. I’ve just got to find her! 

PT: Oh, know all about bossy characters—Rhapsody—in my head too! And it is SO hard to write someone else’s story while they are yelling to you in your head, LOL. Does Chasing Hearts have a Bible theme or verse that accompanies the storyline? 

SS: Although not Biblical per se, the theme is how we so often try to live our lives to make others “happy,” and how that just does not work. It is finding God and letting Him be your center, your rock, the One Who gives you love so you can give love to the world—rather than trying to get love from other people and the world. It’s a huge rethink that has made so much difference in my life and in many lives around me.

PT: That is a great concept to center on. What Bible verse speaks to you currently? 

SS: I have a verse from The Message Bible on my wall that is 2 Corinthians 13:10: “The authority the Master has given me is for putting people together, not taking them apart.” Recently I’ve really been on a quest to help people learn to heal trauma and set them on a good path where they aren’t fighting their past so much that they can’t face the future or even live in the present. So, right now, that one’s speaking pretty loudly. 

PT: Tell 5 things about Staci Stallings that have nothing to do with writing. 

1. I started teaching middle school and high school a few years ago after about 28 years of only teaching Sunday school. I teach some English writing, Life Skills, Creative Writing, Personal Finance, Quantum Growth (how to gain and use personal growth tools and couple them with Christian living), and this coming year, I’m scheduled to teach a Classic Film class. In the Quantum class, I get to help juniors plan their college journeys and get them set up for that. It’s awesome to be there as they learn to “adult” in a way that empowers them rather than stifles them. 

2. I have a YouTube Channel @StaciStallingsAuthor where I share stories on audio. Okay, technically that is about writing too, but if you had any idea all of the stuff I’ve had to learn to be able to do that, and NONE of it has to do with writing! Right now, I have three full books on there for people to listen to for free. I’m in the process of putting a fourth book with plans for the fifth to start in a couple of months. 

3. I love to read. Nonfiction is by far my favorite, and I’m reading three different books right now. Two on the toxic achievement culture monster we’ve created in high schools and the other about How We Heal. 

4. I have three wonderful young adult kids and one wonderful husband, and we just celebrated 33 years of marriage in June. My kids are out there making the world a much better place. My oldest daughter is a campus minister at our local college. My middle daughter is a Cranial-Sacral therapist, and she also helps my son who owns his own Christmas light show park and now a drone company. They are my inspirations! 

5. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I own two businesses and do all of the bookkeeping for each one. As the guidance counselor at my school said one day, “Do you ever sleep?!” To which I replied that I feel like all I do is sleep. If I didn’t have to sleep, I could get so much more done. 😀 (Probably God put that whole sleeping thing in place to force us to slow down at least once a day. At least that’s my theory!) 

PT: Whew! That's an amazing list. And, you have an amazing list of books. Thanks so much for stopping by, Staci.

SS: Thanks so much for the opportunity to visit! God bless everyone!

Staci is graciously offering one blessed reader (who leaves an email or leaves your email on our contact form) a copy of I know What I Love You means. Please don't miss this opportunity! Leave a comment and your email or enter on our contact form.