National Reading Month

nationalreadingmonthAs a writer, I wonder where to start blogging about this wonderful month, designed to raise our awareness of reading.
To be honest, as a mom to two elementary aged girls, I only need stand in line with them at the grocery store to be VERY aware of reading. But my awareness is of them, reading the tabloid headlines while I try to distract them, because who really wants to explain the that Queen isn’t really an alcoholic, hasn’t banished Camilla to the Caribbean and that Princess Diana really wasn’t murdered by the heir to the throne. Oh it makes me think back fondly to the days when they could barely hold a board book.
But then as I consider those simpler days, not permeated by “what’s Alzheimers mummy and will the Queen be alright?” – thanks to another headline – I remember that without their ability to read the tabloids, they wouldn’t be reading Anne of Green Gables with me (we take it in turns) and that Harry Potter Clue would be meaningless without the context of seven trips to Hogwarts together.
Reading is one of the keys to a happy life. Even a housebound person can visit exciting, strange, distant places; they can get wrapped up in a whirlwind romance, fight in a war, or teach school in a frontier town while falling in love with a dashing Mountie (sorry, couldn’t resist).
Reading makes stronger families. Without those 15 minutes where we snuggle up on the sofa to visit Green Gables each evening our days would be so diverse we might not all be in one place and together, but when Mummy opens the book, the girls and even their military father stop what they are doing and come running.
Reading makes better students and workers. Research seems to suggest that if children are reading at grade level by the end of first grade, they will continue on that path, but if they aren’t doing so by then, they are far less likely to by fourth grade. Reading is a muscle and needs to be exercised just like any other. It needs a varied diet of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, silliness, (David Walliams or Roald Dahl anybody) and then something a tiny bit over our heads (Tim Keller or CS Lewis for the grownups, perhaps?)
So as there’s a whole month dedicated to reading, I wondered if I might challenge you to, well, do some reading? It occurs to me that many of us read ourselves to sleep. This has been my MO since I was able to hold a book. But why as authors do we leave a very important part of our work until we are about to nod off? Here’s the challenge – carve out 15 minutes to read during daylight hours. Maybe even write in a reading journal for the month. You could challenge yourself to read out of your traditional genre of choice. Maybe you could jump to nonfiction? Or choose a book of the Bible and a good commentary. It is Lent after all.
As Christian authors, it’s worth remembering that reading the Word also draws us closer to The Lord. Something I consider vital in my writing journey. A dear friend of mine laid down a reading gauntlet just yesterday. She suggested we open the Bible and leave it on our kitchen countertop so as we are moving around we can snatch a few verses here and there. Adding a journal to jot down thoughts on what you read is also advised. The hope and belief is that the more scripture we ingest, the more ammunition we have when in a tricky situation. If we’ve read some, the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we find ourselves needing some words.
One of the most challenging talks I’ve ever given was when I was asked to speak on Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Oh my! I had read it before, but not paid a ton of close attention. If you haven’t, I would firmly encourage you to do so. It paints a picture of Holy Scripture as a living, breathing, fluid document, and every bit as relevant today as when Jesus walked the earth. This is truth that we are to hide in our hearts, use to bring light to darkness and allow to transform us fully into children of the King. That sort of reading is our legacy and our birthright and available to everyone.
So if nothing else this Lent, be aware of the gift of God’s Word as well as your words and other peoples. The printed page changes lives.
“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit down and relax, all you need is a book.” Dr. Seuss

debbhackettDeborah Hackett is a British member of ACFW’s Virginia chapter. A career radio journalist, she is now enjoying ‘making it up as she goes along’, something that the BBC frowned upon. Deborah lives just outside Washington DC with her husband Willy, a Royal Air Force Pilot and their two daughters. Deborah plays bass, teaches Bible study, loves to take road trips and ski.

Member Spotlight: Sarah Hamaker

Thanks for stopping by the ACFW Virginia Blog today!

Today we’re focusing on our member, Sarah Hamaker. Grab something warm to drink and sit down to learn about Sarah.

sarah-hamaker-squarePlease tell the readers about yourself:
I’m Sarah Hamaker in Fairfax City, a small community just outside of Washington, D.C. I’ve been writing since I was a child and was thrilled to learn that you could go to college to be a writer! As a freelancer, I now write about parenting and the convenience store association (yes, I can tell you why gas prices fluctuate), among other topics. I’ve had two nonfiction books published and am working with my agent on publishing a romantic suspense (which won the ACFW Genesis contest in 2015).

What’s a fun fact about you?
I had a paper route from age 12 to 17, delivering the local afternoon newspaper on my bicycle or walking with my border collie to around 60 or so customers in our neighborhood. One customer got a kick out of saying to me that she tells people, “My paper boy is a girl!”

What book(s) have you had published?
My two nonfiction books are Hired @ Home and Ending Sibling Rivalry.

What is your favorite writing tip?
You can write in any amount of time, no matter how small. I’ve been freelancing since my oldest was a baby, and it’s amazing how much writing you can cram into five, 10 or 15 minutes of time. Don’t focus on the time you have—focus on the writing you want to do.

What has been the hardest thing/things you have faced on this writing journey?
Waiting. I think that’s the hardest thing we face as humans. We can’t hurry so many things up when we want something to happen, and the same is true for publishing. I’m much better about this now, but I still have to give myself those pep talks about not getting discouraged because I haven’t heard about X piece of writing or Y book. Waiting is one of those things we must figure out how to handle as writers.

Is there one tip from your personal experience that you think would encourage your fellow authors in the area of writing, publishing, marketing, building a platform, a series, etc.?
Most authors hate marketing, but we shouldn’t. I call myself a “reluctant marketer” because it’s outside of my comfort zone and it’s just plain hard. But that doesn’t mean I don’t give it my all! View marketing as essential to your writing as actually writing. Because it is. Without marketing, no one will read your words. Don’t constantly try new things, but stick with ones you like doing, and add one new marketing thing a year. Make sure you can quantify your efforts and have a clear goal in mind, otherwise, you’ll be putting effort in without any idea what you want to gain. So embrace it, learn to like it and have patience—it takes many campaigns for success.

Thank you so much for being here today, Sarah! You can visit Sarah on her Website.

Flash Fiction: A Dream by Toni Shiloh

martin-luther-king-jr-2028448_640Penny stared down at her patent leather Mary Jane shoes. They were shined up bright, gleaming blacker than the pavement. Her white socks rose above her ankles. Mama had used bleach to make sure they would gleam in the sunlight. Her blue-and-white plaid dress was starched, fanning out at the knees. Even though it wasn’t Sunday, she had her best outfit on.

Mama said she had to look nice because they were going to hear Doctor King speak. She wasn’t so sure how he could be a doctor and a king. Mama had laughed when she asked her. Said his name was King and he was a doctor.

He had to be a very special doctor. Whenever he spoke, all the grownups would gather around the television afraid to miss one single word. She didn’t know anything could be better than cartoons. Her brother Johnny called her stupid and said lots of things were better than cartoons.

Mama said to pay him no mind because teenagers were odd, whatever that meant.

“Penny! Johnny! Time to leave.”

Penny took one last look at her outfit and walked out of her room. Johnny came out at the same time. He had on a tie. She giggled.

“What’s so funny?”

“You look like Daddy.”

He puffed up his chest. “That’s cuz I’m a man. You don’t no nothing.”

“Johnny, that’s no way to talk to your sister.”

Johnny frowned at Daddy’s words. I gave him a hug. Johnny called me a daddy’s girl. He always said it mean like, but I don’t know why. He was my daddy and I was a girl. Why wouldn’t I be his?

We walked down the sidewalk. Lots of people were out, all dressed up like we were. Daddy smiled at Mama happy we were all going to see Doctor King. Daddy said history was being made and one day, we’d be proud to say we heard him speak. Johnny smiled at Daddy, like he knew something I didn’t. Sometimes I wished I was older.

When we got there I was surprised to see how many people were there. I thought it would be a lot of people from out neighborhood, but it looked like the whole wide world came outside that day. We weren’t really close but Daddy said Doctor King would use a microphone.

The principal used that on assembly days. Finally, something I understood. Daddy put me on his shoulders so I could see. I stuck my tongue out at Johnny. He was too big to sit on Daddy’s shoulders and kept jumping up trying to see. He stuck his tongue out right back. I covered my mouth, trying to hide my giggle.

There was silence and then I heard him speak. I would know his voice anywhere. Like I said, the grownups were always listening to him on the television. But there was something different in his voice today. It rose up and down, kind of like the swing does when you’re high up and low down.

I leaned forward, gripping Daddy’s head. I wanted to get closer. Hear what he had to say. He was talking about freedoms. About all of us being friends. I nodded and noticed everyone else doing the same. They were probably tired of getting spit on like me. Some of those white kids sure were mean. It was the only time Johnny was nice to me and he would even defend me.

I wonder if his dream came true, would I be able to go anywhere I want. Sometimes I wished we could sit closer to the screen in the movie theater. Daddy always said we had to sit up top.

His speech seemed to last awhile, but everyone clapped and cheered when it was over. I even saw some white people there. They must be the nice ones. When we got home, Daddy and Mama couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone seemed so happy. I knew Doctor King was a special kind of doctor.


doctormartinlutherkingjr“Grandma, why are you crying?”

Penny looked down at her granddaughter. “Doctor King was a special man, Penelope. I got to see him when I was around your age.”

“He was a real person? Why they make him into a statue?”

Penny looked at the white marble statue of Doctor King. Faces of all ethnicities snapped photos of the monument in their nation’s capital. She looked at the granddaughter named after her. “Well, Penelope, he was a great man. Wanted all people to have the same freedoms. Get the same education regardless of their color.”

“Ohhh,” she intoned. “We have lots of kids in my class that are different colors, Grandma. Is that what you mean?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

She stared at the statue once more. Daddy always told her they witnessed history. Funny how clear things became once you hit a certain age. Never in a million years would she have imagined having a Black man in the White House and a statue of Doctor King in the same city. Guess some dreams come true.

toniToni Shiloh is a wife, mom, and Christian fiction writer. Once she understood the powerful saving grace thanks to the love of Christ, she was moved to honor her Savior. She writes to bring Him glory and to learn more about His goodness.

She spends her days hanging out with her husband and their two boys. She is a member of ACFW and the president of the Virginia chapter. You can find her on her website.

Member Spotlight: Melissa Henderson

Thanks for stopping by the ACFW Virginia Blog today!

Today we’re focusing on our member, Melissa Henderson. Grab something warm to drink and sit down to learn about Melissa.

melissa_hendersonPlease tell the readers about herself:
Hi, I’m Melissa Henderson residing in Mechanicsville, VA. My Husband (Alan) and I have been married for over 37 years. We have one son (Mike) who is married to sweet daughter-in-love (Christine).

What is a fun fact about you?
Stories are constantly flowing through my mind.  I can laugh at myself and at plenty of experiences in my life that bring laughter and joy. That is why our family motto is “It’s Always A Story with The Henderson’s.”

What’s your favorite genre?
I enjoy reading Christian inspirational fiction, and that is my favorite genre to write.  Children’s stories are also a favorite of mine to read and write.

Please share about your writing:
Currently, I am writing my first Christian inspirational fiction novel. Scheduling a specific time to write each day gives me focus and helps me be dedicated to the story I am creating. Attending writing conferences and workshops have given me courage and excitement about writing.  I learn something new at each event.

What has been the hardest thing you’ve faced on this writing journey?
The hardest thing about being a new writer is having a feeling of not being a “good” writer. Thankfully, there are many writers who are encouraging me along the way. Their wisdom and knowledge are great comfort.

How do you spiritually prepare for writing your stories?
I spiritually prepare for writing my stories by praying first and asking God to give me the words that He wants me to share with others.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about Melissa. You can follow her on her Blog.

Thanksgiving: Sitting at the Little Table by Melissa Henderson

I love Thanksgiving. The truth is, I just plain love holidays. My life is full of special memories and some of those memories are from when I was a little girl, about age 8.

My parents and I often visited my oldest sister and her husband and their boys. They lived about 2 hours away from us and visiting them was always fun. My tom boy ways could really be expressed while playing with those nephews of mine. Actually, the boys were more like brothers, since we were close in age. The word “nephew” was never thought about until we were older in age.

My sister would prepare a meal of delicious, mouth watering food each Thanksgiving. Some of the most memorable meals included corn pudding, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes and the tastiest turkey and of course, there was always dessert. The table was so full, that there was hardly room for silverware and napkins.

The food was placed on the big table, where all the adults ate the meal. Then, there was the little table, where all of the children sat to eat the meal. My nephews and I sat at that table and enjoyed our own world. We could giggle and have the best conversations.

Sometimes, the adults would “fix” a plate of food for us and bring the plate to our table. Other times, we were allowed to hold our plate and walk around the table while making our choices. Someone would ask us which item we wanted and then, they would spoon a helping of that food on to our plate. Carrying our own plate didn’t always work out, as we tended to lean our plate to one side while gazing at the food and then, spill the food on the floor. Truly, the plates felt very big to us.

Our table enjoyed the most fun. The occasional green pea or spoon of mashed potatoes may have been seen flying through the air, in an attempt to make each other giggle. Also, burps and other body sounds were alive and well at our little table.
Hardly ever were we caught misbehaving, because the adults were having their own conversations. Maybe they knew what was happening at the little table and didn’t want to draw attention to our shenanigans.

After we finished eating the delicious meal, we could go back outside to run and play and be full of joy and laughter.

As I grew a little older, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I wanted to sit at the “adult” table. I felt that I was too grown up to continue dining with the little kids. So, that special Thanksgiving day arrived, and I was given the news that I could sit with the grownups. The excitement was overwhelming. Now, I truly was a grownup and didn’t have to sit with those little boys anymore.
My seat at the table allowed me to view the bowls of food up close and personal. Yummy to the tummy was my motto.
This was going to be great.

Strange thing, once I was allowed to sit at the grown up table, all I could do was look over at the little table and feel lonely. All of the adults were having their own conversations. Yes, they enjoyed laughter, too, but, I didn’t understand what they were talking about.
I was shocked to realize that I missed the little table and all the fun there.

My parents looked at me with the “I knew you would feel this way” look when I asked to go back to the other table. They knew I missed the fun at the other table.

My nephews welcomed me back to the table as if I had never left. Back to pea throwing, mashed potato launching, armpit sounds, burps and most of all, a table full of laughter and love. Yes, this is where I belonged, at the “little table”.

As I matured in age and mind, my spot at the adult table was ready and waiting for me. As the nephews matured and grew older, the little table and it’s four little chairs were put away and room was found for all of us, around the big table.

These memories remind me that God has a place for all of us, young and old, at His table. You are welcome just as you are. Come, come, just as you are. He is waiting to welcome you. His arms are open wide.

I am thankful for all the blessings from God. Blessings that include memories of sitting at the “little table” and sharing love and laughter with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving!

melissahendersonMelissa Henderson lives in Mechanicsville, VA. She was born in Hampton and has lived in various cities in VA. She and her husband, Alan, have been married for over 37 years and have one son(Mike) who is married to daughter-in-love(Christine). Melissa was taught the love of reading and writing at an early age, from her parents. She is now working on her first inspirational fiction novel. Her passions are volunteering, Bible Studies and reading and writing. You can find her online at

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month by Melissa Henderson

Yes, you probably have heard the same message over and over again. “Ladies, get your mammograms.” Maybe you are tired of seeing and hearing that message.

Well, let me tell you. I will never, never tire of seeing and/or hearing the message that tells women to get their mammograms.

In 2005, I went to the doctor to get my yearly exam. The normal tests. I schedule the routine exam each year. I was determined to keep on top of things with my health.

My doctor discussed all the regular things with me. She asked questions like, “How are you feeling? Is there anything odd going on with your body? Do you have any concerns?”
That was the extent of the conversation.

I mentioned that my yearly mammogram needed to be scheduled and asked her to sign the form for that procedure.
Her response amazed me. “You don’t really need to have a mammogram each year. You are only 44 years old.”
Trying not to be angry, I proceeded to tell her that I felt in my heart that this is a test that I should get every year. My Mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer years ago. So, yes, there is a history of breast cancer in my family.
The doctor finally signed a form and left the room. My yearly mammogram was scheduled.

On the day of the mammogram, I walked into the building with a happy bounce in my step. This would be over soon and my husband and I would go out to eat.
The technician called me back to the waiting area. I was asked to change into a hospital gown and wait for someone to call me. Everything was done as usual. After a few minutes, the mammogram was done and I headed out to the car.

After a couple of days, the phone rang and a very nice lady from the test center explained that my images were distorted and I needed to come back and have the mammogram done again. No problem.

Next day, another mammogram. Only this time, the technician came and told me that the radiologist would like to speak with me. Wondering what that was all about, I sat and waited patiently. Finally, a nice nurse came in and explained that an ultrasound needed to be done. This was because the radiologist saw something suspicious.
That was when my heart started racing faster. What could this mean? Certainly this had to be a mistake.

While the ultrasound was performed, I chatted with the technician. We were having a great conversation, until all at once, she became quiet. She explained that she would be right back and she left the room.
When she returned, the radiologist was with her.
He gave me the news and showed me the screen that gave him concern.

The tumor sat right on the chest wall.

The world started spinning. This couldn’t be happening to me. What? Why? How?
The radiologist explained that I would need to see a surgeon right away.

After scheduling an appointment with a surgeon, meeting with her and discussing my tumor, surgery was scheduled.

The surgeon told me something that has stayed with me always.
“You never would have felt a lump. The tumor is on your chest wall. Thank goodness you had a mammogram.”

Surgery and removal of lymph nodes showed cancer. I went through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and 5 years of anti-cancer medicine. I am still here today and able to help others going through the cancer experience.

My message to every woman is to listen to your body and get your MAMMOGRAM. I am an 11 YEARS CANCER SURVIVOR! 🙂

melissahendersonMelissa Henderson lives in Mechanicsville, VA. She was born in Hampton and has lived in various cities in VA. She and her husband, Alan, have been married for over 37 years and have one son(Mike) who is married to daughter-in-love(Christine). Melissa was taught the love of reading and writing at an early age, from her parents. She is now working on her first inspirational fiction novel. Her passions are volunteering, Bible Studies and reading and writing.

Fall as a Season of Life by Megan Whitson Lee

Fall is my favorite time of year.
First of all, ten years ago this month my husband and I got married. It was 65 degrees that day and it was an outdoor wedding, but we were surrounded by changing leaves, Tennessee mountain sunsets, and warmth of family and friends.
A second reason I love the fall is the weather. I really do love the foggy, gloomy atmosphere created by damp, cooler temperatures. It’s my favorite time of year in which to write. There’s something about the setting that increases inspiration.
Finally, fall correlates to the timeline of life. I am in the autumn of my years—middle age, seasoned. There’s something refreshing about the acceptance and embrace of that fact. Although there may be times when I long for the taut, fresh
complexion of youth, I understand that the wisdom I have now comes from my current season. I could not go back to the spring of my years and have the understanding of hardships, trials, and grief that I have now—nor would I wish to relive those times.
God made our years to reflect the changing leaves on the trees. He made each season to be fleeting, lest we take anything for granted. I am thankful for the pains that came in the summer and spring of my life, so that I might truly appreciate the autumn and look forward to the winter. I see no reason to mourn the flowers and leaves, for even the winter is a time of expectation—just as the winter of our lives should be lived in anticipation of our rebirth after death. Soon the snow and ice will melt away revealing new earth and new life.
How do you feel about your current season?

MeganLeeMegan Whitson Lee is passionate about tough, relevant topics that leave room for the redemptive power of God. Her self-published novel, Captives, was the winner of the 2016 Blue Ridge Mountain Writers Conference Director’s Choice Award and a Selah Award finalist. Her most recent women’s contemporary novel, Suburban Dangers, has been contracted by Pelican Book Group. Currently, she is an editor for Pelican and teaches high school English in Virginia where she lives with her husband and two greyhounds.