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Month: October 2018

Interview with Author Mary Lou Cheatham and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I’m pleased to introduce you to Mary Lou Cheatham. I had the pleasure of spending some time with Mary Lou at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference this September, and I’m so excited that she asked to be on my blog!

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Hello, Hallee. Thank you for this opportunity. I grew up in south Mississippi between Hot Coffee and Taylorsville on a hill farm.When I was a child, we didn’t have television. For entertainment and edification, my family listened to the radio, read, played games, and visited relatives. In the evenings, my siblings, cousins, and I sat by the fire or on the front porch and listened to tall tales my parents delighted in sharing. They were two of the best story tellers who have ever lived.

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher used to let me go outside and sit on the walkway if I finished my work before some of the others. She encouraged me to write poems. In the sixth grade I decided to write novels, but I didn’t get back to my writing plans until I was fifty something.

At every opportunity I took college courses. I taught high school English, as well as other grades and subjects. At the age of forty-two I became a registered nurse. My late husband, who was a musician and college band director, suffered from Guillain Barré Syndrome. Permanently paralyzed, he required constant nursing for five years. After he passed away, I devoted my time to writing.

Here are a few personal notes about my relationships. My daughter and her husband are agricultural advisors. She consults with dairymen throughout the nation about their calves and heifers. He works with farmers in Texas. Three years ago I married John Cooke, a retired petroleum landman. I inherited four stepchildren, their mates, and four grandchildren. John and I live in north Louisiana.

I’ve never been so happy about my occupation. I spend every minute possible writing novels. When I self-publish, it is necessary to contribute book covers. John has designed some of these.

Tell us about your current release: As Doves Fly in the Wind, was published in October 2017. It is available in paperback, audible, Kindle, and Nook forms. Here’s a synopsis:

Jessica Boudreaux Hays, a retired music professor, has recently moved to Rousseauville to open a bed and breakfast in her grandparents’ house. An attractive and talented fifty-five-year-old widow, Jessica loves to cook, entertain, and play the piano. Her life is filled with problems. Emmie, her younger sister who lives with her, cannot be left alone. The sisters recently lost their parents in an automobile accident. The residents of the village are charitable but superstitious. For some mysterious reason, they refuse to go near her or the bed and breakfast. Another frustration in Jessica’s life is her cyber romance with a mysterious stranger. 

Dale Bonnier, a fifty-five-year-old widower, pastors two small churches in rural south Louisiana. He inspires the people in Rousseauville with his compelling sermons. He is considerate and approachable but at times disorganized and impetuous. His parishioners, especially Jessica, find his preaching inspiring. 

Dale has a recurring problem with his past. In the 1980’s, when he was an intense young man, he destroyed his home and family as he sought to satisfy his cravings for illicit drugs. Thirty years have passed. God has forgiven him, but the past has left indelible scars. Can Dale forgive himself? He cannot turn his past around, but he hopes it will be used to influence and inspire others. 

Jessica tries to start over in Rousseauville, but she encounters unpredicted stormy times. Can she find acceptance? Will she ever find a man she can love and trust?

Do you have a particular character that you fell in love with and keep them alive in your mind? Trudy Cameron—I wrote a series, The Covington Chronicles. The third book, The Dream Bucket, has become the most popular. Trudy, a ten-year-old girl, loves Papa morethan anybody else until she hears him slap Zoe, her mother. Trudy is so angryat him she wishes he’d die. When he accidentally sets fire to the familymansion and dies in the fire, she is not prepared for the shock. In The Dream Bucket, Trudy is a spunkyred-haired girl who thinks she can fix any situation. My readers tell me theylike Trudy. In reviews people have asked for a sequel.

The next book in the series, Manuela Blayne, features Trudy telling a story in her own words about an African American friend who is sexually abused.

The following book, Travelers in Painted Wagons on Cohay Creek, shows Trudy in her young teen years as she becomes a love interest for her best friend Jeremy, who suffers from the stress of watching his mother die and being abused by his father.

One of these days, I plan to return to the series and write a love story about the grown-up Trudy during World War I. Did I say that this series occurs in the early twentieth century, a time I love?

If you knew ahead of time your book would benefit only one person on their spiritual journey, would you still write it? Yes. My daughter asked me to write a daily devotional book for her. It was a delight to sit down and write all the things I wanted to tell her. Maybe I’d shared some of what I wrote, but it was good to give herthis book for Christmas. She thought of the title: Do You Know How God Loves You? This devotional book has touchedlives of readers, mostly missionaries, throughout the world. It has not soldwell, but readers download it when I give it away.

What is your personal, most effective way to get past writer’s block? Writer’s block is not, in my experience, a problem. I have countless books in my head waiting to get out. If I’m stuck working on one, I go to another and come back later. Also, if I’m not feeling creative one day, it’s okay. That’s a good day for editing.

Isthere a book you wrote that you didn’t think would do well and it did?The Dream Bucket is a book I wrote the way I wanted to. I didn’t expect anyone to want to read it, but I didn’t care. I tell it from two different heads at once. The first few chapters are ten-year-old Trudy’s story. Then abruptly I hop over to her mother’s head and tell the story in Zoe the mother’s distinctly different voice. I was surprised when it won a prize from International Writers Alive, received a stipend from ACX, and sold enough copies to give me QIP (qualified independently published) status with ACFW.

Doyou feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a largeraudience or be more successful? I don’t compromise my moral standards to reach alarger audience. A novel I’m writing now may be a little edgy to be accepted inChristian Fiction, but I am a Christian writing fiction, not a ChristianFiction writer. So far, as an independent publisher, I’ve written whatever Iwanted, but now I’m seeking a traditional publisher. Who knows how my writingwill change?

Back to The Dream Bucket, some reviewers have thought it was young adult fiction, but it is family fiction. It seems sad that some readers write reviews without reading the entire book.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?  Spend more time in the chair in front of a page foryou to fill it with your unique words.

Develop a thick skin.

Where can people find your books?Any bookstore can order them.

All my books are available on Most of them are available at

Secret Promise is available on the Lighthouse Page of Westbow Press. As Doves Fly in the Wind is also available at Westbow Press. These two books are available at Barnes and Noble.

Create Space sells several of my books in paperback form.

I use the name Mary Lou Cheatham, because I started signing with that name before I became a Cooke. At some point, I may start writing as Mary Cooke.

Find Mary online:

Facebook, Collard Patch Blog, Website, Amazon

Mary is giving away a paperback of The Dream Bucket. Here’s how you can enter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway halleeLOGOspinefinal

Monday Morning Coffee and Chat 10/29/18 – Writing Tortured Heroes

  Hello! Welcome to Monday morning coffee and chat! I really appreciate all of the questions that I get from my readers. Today I’m answering the question, “What is your favorite thing to write about?” I hope you learn more about me through my response:


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Thank You to My Community

For the last two weeks, Gregg and I have been battling Type A flu and pneumonia. He started feeling bad on a Monday night, and I started feeling bad on a Wednesday morning. By Friday, I nagged us both to urgent care. Come to find out, we not only had flu, we had pneumonia, and he had bronchitis as well.

We were totally flattened by this. Fevers, aches, coughs, no sleep, headaches. Early this week, I developed a sinus infection and added more medicine to my daily arsenal. It’s been a rough ride.

I posted about it on social media, and within an hour, I had a friend text me and ask if she could bring us dinner. I was a little overwhelmed by the request. Why, you ask?

I’ve had three babies, two of whom were in the NICU for a combined 38 days, two pregnancies that required bed rest, a husband who was in Afghanistan for 2 1/2 years when the boys were toddlers, lots of life happening in those years, and through everything, Gregg and I have never had a meal brought to us.

I’ve been actively involved in churches, delivered countless meals to new moms, new residents,  people recovering from surgery, for funerals — and with all of those meals delivered, I’ve never received one.

I have to tell you – not having to think about what to make for dinner, having everything just show up — I have a hard time creating the words to explain how much stress was relieved for me. It may seem like a small thing. It’s not. It’s a big deal.

Topping that off, every single day, I’ve received a text or phone call asking if I need anything or need any errands run. Here’s a character flaw of mine: I don’t ever ask for help. I’ve needed help lots of times, but I don’t ask. Part of it is a fear of rejection (I’m not kidding). If I don’t ask, I don’t have to deal with the emotions of not receiving help. Part of it is a stubbornness. I can do it. I’d rather be the helper than be the one helped.

But, when I got the first text asking if I needed anything, I thought about the empty milk carton in the recycle bin and knew that going out with Type A flu and pneumonia would likely be frowned upon. Assuming I’d even make it to the store without passing out. So, I asked for milk. An hour later, I got a text saying it was on the front porch.

I sent friends for bananas, to pick up Jeb, to bring more milk. I made myself consider every offer and forced myself to accept the help because I needed i

Gregg and I have regularly proclaimed how much we love living here at Fort Knox. We have good friends. We have a great chapel. I have an amazing women’s Bible study group. But I don’t think we totally understood the level of community we have here. Until it was there for us.

Now we understand.

A friend texted me about it and I told her that I’ve never really felt loved and accepted in a community before. I know I have friends, I have had good friends wherever I’ve lived. But I’ve never had a true community. She replied with, “You are treasured here.”


It’s us who treasure this community. I am so very thankful for all the help we’ve received, for all the prayers given up for us, and for the support we have.

My plan today, other than trying to get a grip on a household that has received only cursory cleaning for two weeks, is to write thank-you notes. I feel blessed to have so many to write.

If the opportunity is available for you to bring a meal to someone, to send a text to check on them, to write a card, to run an errand — understand that you will be doing so much more for them than you can ever comprehend. Seriously.


Interview with Author Richard Spillman and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I am so happy to bring you author Richard Spillman. I have always pondered the question, What if Lazarus didn’t die after Jesus resurrected him?” Richard took that question, mashed it together with inspiration from a run-in with ISIS, and wrote a novel! How intriguing is that? I hope you enjoy his interview as much as I did. AND — he’s giving away an ebook of his latest release! See below how you can enter to win a copy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself: Richard Spillman is a retired Computer Scientist who typically writes Christian non-fiction (Do What Jesus Did is available on Amazon) as well as a Christian blog ( His latest passion, however, is Christian fiction. His first novel, TheAwakened, will be released on October 1. The story asks the question: “What if Lazarus didn’t die a second time?” He was led to write it after avoiding being kidnapped by ISIS in the Philippines and then receiving death threats (to behead him in standard ISIS fashion) during the rest of his missionary service there. Besides the blog he is active web at, on Facebook at, on twitter ( and instagram ( where you can see pictures from his missionary travels around the world.

How do you push past the fear of your writing being average and be bold enough to sell it to a publisher)?  The answer is I push. I have moments of self-doubt as I’m sure most writers have but I do not let them take over. In a way, I close my eyes, grit my teeth and send it out. Right now my editor has the second book in my trilogy and some days I wonder how much she is going to hate it.  But at those times I tell myself that when I finish making the changes she will ask for the book will be better.

Tell us about your current release: It’s called The Awakened published by Mountain Brook Ink and released on 10/1/18. I started it by asking the question: “If Lazarus didn’t die a second time what would he be up to today?”  This is the result:  Everyone dies once. But what if a chosen few were raised from the dead? 

Two thousand years ago Jesus resurrected his friend, Lazarus, who founded a secret organization: SOAR. Since then Jesus has added to the resurrected—The Awakened—to aid Lazarus in SOAR’s battle against Satan’s slaves, the UnVeilers. The threat is escalating. The UnVeilers have stepped up their attacks on mankind through a charming leader and a devastating series of bombings in Dubai and Tel Aviv. 

But the invasion doesn’t stop with international terrorism. The UnVeilers are searching for a secret that Jesus embedded in Lazarus’ journal that not even Lazarus knows—and it will determine the fate of mankind. After a failed cyber-attack against SOAR’s computers, Lazarus and his team of experts must find the secret before the UnVeilers do. What clue is he overlooking that could turn the tide of this ageless conflict? 

The souls fighting with Lazarus are weary, but the war against evil is far from won. Can Lazarus and his team set aside their longing for heaven and put a stop to these satanic attacks before it’s too late?

Do you have your plotline and character development already laid out before you begin writing a book, or do they develop as you write?   When I sit down to start I know two things: (1) The beginning of the book, and (2) the ending of the book. The rest of the process is to find a way to link (1) with (2). Most of the time I end up with scenes that I never imagined until I sat down to write them but they ended up necessary to connect the beginning with the end. I surprise myself and it’s kind of fun.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Three things: (1) read a lot, (2) write a lot, and (3) go to book conferences. The first two isolate you while the third allows you to get to know other authors, hear their stories, and benefit from what they have done.

What made you take the plunge and finally do it? I always wanted to write a novel but I also wanted to teach at the university level. I selected Computer Science and Engineering as my field and went on to get a Ph.D. in the subject. That is a field that is constantly changing and as a professor you are expected not only to keep up but to publish as well. So I did all that and had no time for writing a novel. As soon as I retired I started my novel.

Do you have pre-determined length in mind when you first begin a book? I shoot for 90,000 to 100,000 words. That being said The Awakened came in at 130,000+ so I had to do some serious cutting. It was a lot of work but I managed to get it down to 96,000 words and while it was difficult to cut so much I had to admit that in the end the book was much better.

What is your inspiration for writing?  For The Awakened, it started with a run in I had with ISIS while on a short term mission in the Philippines. It’s a long story but they found out I was there working in some remote churches and they got the phone numbers of our team. As soon as I arrived they started to call and tell me to stop or they would hunt me down and kill me. I didn’t stop but when I got home I wanted to explore the nature of the evil I was exposed to, so I came up with The Awakened which is a story of a major conflict between good and evil.

Find Richard online:


Find Richard’s latest release online:

Richard is giving away an ebook of his latest release. You can enter with the Rafflecopter here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Autism and Food Struggles

When my 21-year-old daughter was born, my mother gave me some advice I’ve never forgotten:

Children will try to control you with two things: sleep and food. Don’t let them control it. Train them. You’re in charge. When they learn they can’t control you through those two things, you’ve won a battle so many parents struggle so hard with.

I took that to heart. I have three children: 21, 12, and 10, and all three eat well. With all three, there was a period of time we struggled, and it was at about the same age with them. It stands out most in my mind with my daughter, because she is the oldest so by the time the other two came around, I already had the experience.

She was about 2.5 to 3-years-old. I’d made something new for dinner. She looked at me from her high chair, picked up her plate, and dumped it on the floor. I reprimanded her, made her a plate with the veggies, salad, and bread from dinner thinking the main course was what she objected to, and she dumped her plate again. I said, “You’ll eat a big breakfast,” then got her down from her high chair and didn’t give her anything else to eat that night.

The next night, I intentionally made something she liked – like spaghetti. Again, she picked up her plate, looked at me, and dumped it on the floor. I didn’t give her a second chance this time. I just reprimanded her, reminded her breakfast would be a meal she’d consume, and put her to bed.

We went through this one more night. I was actually surprised. I thought she’d eat the third night, but she didn’t.

By the fourth night, she ate everything on her plate and asked for more. After that, if she didn’t like something (we required tasting all foods on plate but not consuming all foods), she was allowed to get extra salad, sides, or bread to supplement.

Even now, she has a well-defined palate and is a good cook in her own right.

With the boys, I had a similar experience at about the same age with the same results. My boys will taste anything, eat almost anything, and have good palates and good appetites. They know how to order from a restaurant menu, and know how to eat what they serve themselves.

I say all that to say that when our son Scott  (who is now 12) was 2.5-3, we didn’t know he had autism. If we had known, we likely would have done food completely differently — and done it to a detriment to him.

Even with him, with texture sensitivity, enhanced smell capabilities, and OCD tendencies that make it hard for him when food touches other food, he will taste anything on his plate and usually eat it. If he doesn’t like it, there isn’t a big deal made. He simply piles the food on his plate from the dinner offerings that he does eat and later will get a slice of cheese or an apple as he prepares for bed.

I never make him something special outside of what we’re eating. Back when the OCD was really bad, he would even deconstruct things like pot pie (now one of his favorite meals) and wipe the gravy off of the implements, separate them on his plate, then eat them.

The only exception I make for him is when I make chicken or steak fried rice. White rice is his favorite food. Seriously. That boy could consume nothing but white rice for the rest of his life and be happy as a clam.

He came into the kitchen one night and saw cubes of steak that had marinated in soy and ginger sizzling in sesame oil and saw the pan of white rice cooking on the stove.

“My favorite foods!” he exclaimed.

When he asked what was for dinner, I told him steak fried rice with veggies. His whole body fell and his countenance grayed. Finally, he said, very dramatically and morosely, “All my favorite foods are going to get mixed together in a terrible way.”

I contemplated what he said, and after he left the kitchen. Then, I made him a plate with all of the elements of the fried rice but separated. For the rest of the family, I mixed it all together and fried/seasoned the meal as originally planned. When he came to the table and saw his plate, everything about him exuded joy.

From then on, whenever I make fried rice for dinner, I always set his elements aside and just give him a plate with them separated. I’ve never in my life as a mother made a “special” meal outside of what was for dinner for a child. But this occasional special treat fills him with joy and he completely cleans his plate. In a Chinese restaurant, he even knows how to order so that everything comes separated, too.

I think as often as he has to make concessions and compromises to just cope and function as a human being in this neuro-typical normal world, giving him this little treat is the very least I can do.



Interview with Author Christa MacDonald and a Giveaway!

Welcome to Readers Write to Know! I asked you, my readers, what questions they would ask their favorite authors if given the chance, and the authors visiting my blog answered them! This week, I am very thrilled to have Christa MacDonald as my guest. While doing this interview, I absolutely fell in love with Christa’s heart for believers and, as she has termed them, aspiring believers. I feel like she and I could sit for hours and discuss Christ, love, and people. Plus she loves U2, so there you go! I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did. And — Christa is giving away an ebook of her latest release! Read on to see how you can enter to win!

Tell us a little bit about yourself: I’m the mom of three and wife of one, a full-time manager at a media company, and an amateur, but enthusastic gardener. Late autumn/early winter is just about my favorite season. All the crafting, baking, gift planning is seriously fun for me.

Tell us about your current release: The Redemption Road is the third and final book in the Sweet River Redemption series. It’s a contemporary romance set in a small town in Maine. It has dramatic tension, romance, a bit of mystery, small-town life, the natural beauty of Maine, and a barmy cat named Hobbes. If that’s not enough to entice you, it’s the story of a woman willing to pay any price to help the man she loves find redemption.

Do you feel pressured to compromise your standards in order to reach a larger audience or be more successful? There’s no question that writing books with a Christian perspective, even if they don’t deal with a conversion story, narrows the audience. It’s still a big audience though and in it are believers and aspiring believers as I like to call them. There’s a lot of folks out there without a saving faith. People are led astray by some bad theology out there. There are many who end up worshiping a pale imitation of Christ thinking they’ve got the real thing. It’s a concern that weighs heavily on my heart so it weaves its way into my writing almost without me trying. If something I’ve written reaches even one person on the wrong path and directs them to the right one? That’s a greater success than hitting the bestseller lists.

What do you think is lacking in Christian Fiction? Reality. I don’t mean ‘gritty’ realism though. Authenticity. Depicting humans as they are, and importantly, Christians as they truly are. Christians are not perfect. As a reader I don’t enjoy idealized characters, folks so good they seem two-dimensional. We all still struggle with sin. Good Christian fiction needs to show sin, repentance, forgiveness, and the sheer joy and beauty of being redeemed by grace.

With all those characters in your head screaming to get out how do you write fast enough to get it all down? I type 80 words per minute so that helps.

What’s the first major news headline that you can remember and what do you remember? Ronald Reagan being shot. My family was in California staying at my aunt and uncle’s house for a visit. They had a big TV in their den and a lazy-boy recliner right in front of it. My sister and I would fight over that seat to watch whatever was on. I had won the last tussle only to get tossed out as my uncle rushed in and turned on the news. I remember how quietly tense the adults were. Now I know they had already lived through the assassination of civil rights leaders and the Kennedy brothers, so they’d unfortunately had practice dealing with political violence.

Who was your first Screen/Musical Crush? U2 was my first real musical crush. The music really spoke to me and the lyrics had a sort of Christian bent to them so my mother didn’t ban them from the house.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? If you’ve never written anything of length before, I’d advise trying NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s an online community of writers all trying to get to 50k words in the month of November. There’s a lot of encouragement and tips. After that, whether you hit 50k or not, I’d suggest finding a writing group to join and seeking out seminars or online resources to learn the basics of outlining, plotting, etc. Sometimes it can be easier to learn the basics after you’ve tried to do it yourself. There’s something there for reference.

What is one thing that you “never saw yourself doing” and either do it now or have done? Outlining. I never saw myself as a planner. I was pretty committed to the romantic idea of sitting down at the keyboard and writing whatever came to my heart. What I found in practice is that leads to half-finished books or starts that never go anywhere. Now when I get a great idea, I write it down and come back to it when I have more, slowly building it up until I’m ready to write a full outline.

Find Christa online:

Find Christa’s latest release online:

Christa is giving away an ebook of her latest release Redemption Road! Enter here!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
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