Saturday, September 15, 2018

Who's Hand Are You Holding?

One of my earliest memories of my Daddy is of his hands. I remember being in our small Nazarene church in Santa Fe, New Mexico, sitting on the pew between him and Mom. At some point during the preaching, I took Daddy's big hand in my tiny ones and played with his fingers. I remember turning his hand over and studying the lines there, bending fingers back and forth, and basically entertaining myself. Daddy was an Engineer for the highway department by day, but on the weekends he used his hands to build a beautiful Santa Fe-style adobe home our family lived in for 55 years. His hands were not soft and smooth, but had calluses and strength. Daddy wasn't showy with his affections, but those hands comforted me and told me I could trust him to take care of me. He never let me down.

The above picture not only brings back that sweet memory, but it also reminds me that my "Daddy" in heaven wants to take me by the hand. His scars are available for me to touch, to run my fingers over, and to know the love that spilled out of him for me as he hung on that cross.

"But I'll take the hand of those who don't know the way, who can't see where they're going. I'll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I'll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don't fall into the ditch. These are the things I'll be doing for them--sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute." Isaiah 42:16 The Message

As I'm preparing to attend the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference next week, I'm thankful for these words. God has all my tomorrows in his hands. He knows the roads I need to take and the roads I need to avoid. He already knows the books I'll write and the book ideas that might not ever make it into print. I trust him to open doors that will lead to new opportunities and close doors that should remain closed for my good even if I don't understand. His plans and purposes for me have been in place since before I was born. The work he has for me to do is already prepared. I don't have to do anything more than take his hand and walk into them. Isn't that great news?! No struggles! No forcing my way onto a road I wasn't supposed to be on. No fear and no regrets. Just peace, joy, and fulfillment, knowing I'm exactly where God wants me to be, doing exactly what God wants me to do.

Have you fallen into a ditch because you weren't holding fast to Abba's hand? I've been there too, friend. Thankfully he doesn't leave us there to wallow in the mud and muck. He'll offer his hand over and over, until we finally understand that holding onto his hand is the ONLY way to travel through life.

Tomorrow is unknown to every single one of us. Like the passage above says, it's "unknown country." When we travel to places we've never been, it's so much better when we have a knowledgeable guide who knows the area, the attractions, the sketchy and dangerous places where we shouldn't go. That's exactly what our Father is offering. He'll show us the roads to take, and he'll protect us along the way. 

All we have to do is take our Father's hand!

Who's hand are you holding?



Sunday, July 15, 2018

What is a Friend?

If you look up the definition of the word friend, this is what you might find:

a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection.

Over the years I've been blessed with many, many wonderful friends. My first friend was my older sister Kim. Just two and a half years older than me, there's no telling how many hours we spent together playing, reading, arguing, loving. We were lucky to have two little girls our age live across the street and another one next door, despite living out in the country on a dirt road. I cherish sweet memories of summer days spent with Paula, Valerie, and Lori, riding our bikes, having water gun fights, and sleeping under the stars. 

When I started school, God blessed me with a friend who would be a rock in my adolescent life. Kathy and I were in the same 4th grade class and became best friends. We lost touch during our junior high years when we went to different schools, but once we hit high school the friendship was reborn and continues to this day. She even put up with me as a roommate our freshman year of college. 

After I transferred to a college in Oklahoma, where I knew not a living soul, I had to trust God to bring me some new friends. He did, in a mighty way. My roommate Sherry and our neighbor in the dorm, Susie, remain two of my dearest friends. We try to get together for a girls' weekend every few years, and oh, the wild and crazy fun we have!! To top it off, each of us married tall, handsome men named Brian! Another college friend, Teri, and I shared our first apartment together. I can't even tell you how many boxes of mac and cheese we ate that year! 

Of course, the greatest blessing that came out of my college days is meeting my bestest friend and love of my life. Brian and I have been together 34+ years. I can't imagine life without his solid strength and love. Now that we're empty nesters, we've enjoyed becoming a couple again. Our Friday night burger date is a highlight of our week. He truly is my best friend and favorite human on the planet!

Some of the sweetest friendships I've made as an adult have come from my church family. We have friends we've known for 30 or more years and still enjoy hanging out with them. Our Texas gang --Tim, Terri, Eddie, Rhonda, Bob and Tamera-- will always be our treasured friends despite the distance that separates us now. When we moved, we knew making new friends was a must. Our co-worker Brenda has become a dear friend, and we're gradually meeting folks at church. I also cherish the friends I've made in the writing world, like Pam and Paula. 

So THANK YOU, THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHOM I'VE CALLED FRIEND! I hope I've been a good friend to you too!

But looking back at all the friendships I've enjoyed over the years, I realize there is one that is far different from all the others. It's a friendship that began before I was born, really. This Friend will never, ever let me down. He will never grow weary of my presence, he'll forgive my mistakes immediately, and he'll always be available when I call. He listens to me whine, cry, laugh, and sing. He picks me up when I fall and carries me when I'm too weary to walk. When I'm afraid, he's right there, ready to comfort and do battle if necessary. He even thinks I'm cool enough to be his neighbor and has prepared an eternal home for me. In fact, he loves me so much he willingly took the punishment for my ugly, horrid, despicable sin. He literally died for me. Would any of the friends I've listed above do that for me? Would I do that for them? If we're being honest, I believe the answer to both questions is no. 

Is Jesus your friend? He can be. He wants to be! One of my favorite hymns growing up was "What a Friend." It may seem a bit old fashioned to some, but the words of it are still as true as the day it was written. I'll leave you with it and pray that each person who pops into the blog today will know Jesus as their very best friend! 


Thursday, March 29, 2018

I am Peter. Are you?

Image result for picture communion wine and breadToday is Maundy Thursday.

It's the day Jesus ate the Passover meal, or the Last Supper as we call it, with his disciples in an upper room. Maundy refers to Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, preparing them to go out into the world and serve. John 13 and Luke 22 tell the story so beautifully, and I encourage you to read it sometime in the next few days as we remember the love Jesus willingly poured out for each of us on the cross.

As I think about that long-ago Thursday, one disciple always stands out in my mind.


Peter had been with Jesus since the early days of Jesus' ministry. We meet him in Luke 5 while he is washing his fishing nets. He'd been fishing but hadn't caught anything. Jesus stood on Peter's boat to speak to the crowd, and when he finished he turned to Peter and basically said, "Let's go fishing." It would have been easy for Peter to say no, but look what he says in verse 8:

"Master, we've worked hard all night long and haven't caught anything. But because you say so I will let down the nets."

Wow! Did you catch that?


That is obedience! Immediate, unquestioning obedience!

The story continues and we read how Peter catches a boatload of fish. We also see in verse 11 that as soon as they reached the shore, Peter "left everything and followed" Jesus!

That is the kind of passion Peter had. He was eager to obey, eager to follow. He's the one who first acknowledged that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah in Luke 9:20, and he's the one who climbed out of the boat to walk on water with the Lord in Matthew 14:29.

I see myself in Peter.

I'm passionate about Jesus, although it can be a bit misguided sometimes. I'm eager to follow the Lord, though I lose my footing every now and again.

Peter's shame came on the night Jesus was arrested. On Maundy Thursday, while the disciples shared the Passover meal with the Lord, Passionate Peter declared he would go to prison or even to death with Jesus, yet we all know that isn't true. Jesus knew it too. He told Peter that he would deny even knowing the Lord three times that very night.

My heart aches for Peter as I read Luke 22:54-62. When Jesus was arrested, Passionate Peter couldn't leave like the others, but unlike what he'd said a few hours before, he was not willing to be arrested. He lurked near the place where they'd taken the Lord, staying to the shadows and trying his best to blend in. Three times someone recognizes him as a disciple of Jesus. Three times he denies knowing the Lord.

"Just as [Peter] was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him. "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times." And he went outside and wept bitterly."

Oh, Peter.

Don't you know his heart was pierced when the Lord looked right at him?

I see myself in Peter.

Have you ever denied being a Christian?

Have you ever avoided using the name Jesus?

Have you ever had your heart pierced by the Lord?

I think there's a little bit of Peter in all of us at some point in our lives.

Thankfully Peter's story doesn't end with his shame. He is there when Jesus is crucified. He is there at the empty tomb. He is there when the resurrected Jesus appears. Jesus himself tells Peter to "feed my sheep." And that's exactly what Peter does beginning in Acts 2:14.

Like Peter, my story didn't end with my shame and sin. Like Peter, I'm striving to serve the Lord with everything that I am. I'll make mistakes. I'll have misguided passion. But I'll do my best to be a servant of the Most High. It is the very least I can do knowing what Jesus was willing to do for me.

May you and yours have a very Blessed Easter as we celebrate our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ!


Sunday, March 11, 2018

Authentic Civil War Molasses Cookies

I have a confession.

I love cookies!! More than any other snack, quite honestly. I think it's because they are easy. Easy to grab. Easy to hold. Easy to eat. And for the most part, easy to make. 

In my new historical novel, The Widow of Rose Hill, cookies make an appearance a couple times. Specifically, molasses cookies! Harriet, a former slave and the cook for Rose Hill plantation, makes them in Chapter Seven. Natalie, our heroine, serves the treat to Colonel Maish and Corporal Banks on the manor house porch despite the fact that the Colonel and his men have just delivered a message that completely turns Natalie's world upside down!

You might remember that I made Prince of Wales cake when my first book, The Planter's Daughter, released in March 2017. Aunt Lu and Adella Rose were attempting to make it, although the recipe seemed a little strange to them. I figured I needed to keep the tradition going, so today I'm making authentic molasses cookies just like Harriet made in Book 2.

The Widow of Rose Hill takes place in Texas in June 1865. The Civil War has been raging for four long years. Union blockades prevented supplies from entering Texas and kept cotton growers like the Ellis's from selling their products. Common staples like coffee and sugar were hard to come by, but other ingredients like flour and salt were still available. 

With that in mind, I searched for a simple recipe Harriet might have used. I opted to use butter instead of shortening because I think Harriet would have used butter. I'm also using brown sugar, which she may or may not have had access to. 

First, cream together the butter (or shortening), sugar, egg, and molasses. It won't look pretty, but that's okay. We're on a mission to deliciousness. A little ugly is expected along the way. 

Next, stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger, all common ingredients for that time period. 

I used my handy dandy Kitchen Aid mixer (thank you, Daddy & Mom!) to mix it all together. Poor Harriet would have had to mix it by hand. I'll bet she would have loved a Kitchen Aid! 

The dough will look a little crumbly once it's all blended well. 

Scrape out all the dough onto a clean surface and form it into a big ol' ball.

The recipe suggests putting it in the refrigerator for an hour to chill, for rolling purposes I guess, but I didn't do that. Harriet didn't have a refrigerator and would have rolled them out right then, so that's what I did too. 

I used a light coating of flour on the rolling pin and on the parchment paper and didn't have any issues with the dough sticking to either. 

Use a cookie cutter ... or a glass, like I did 'cuz I don't own cookie cutters ... and cut out your cookies. It's just like making sugar cookies!

I love to bake cookies on my Pampered Chef baking stone because it's never failed me yet. These cookies don't spread, so you can get quite a few on the sheet. Bake for ten minutes and then let 'em cool a little ... but you better keep an eye on them!!! Or someone might sneak a bite!

And wa-la! You have some delicious, authentic Civil War molasses cookies to enjoy while you read The Widow of Rose Hill

Here's a little sneak peek of the scene where Natalie serves the cookies to Colonel Levi Maish:

...Natalie returned, her hair freshly combed and free of the hat, bearing a tray with two glasses of water and a plate of dark cookies. That she carried the refreshments herself surprised him. He'd expected her to fetch a maid for the task. 

"Harriet baked a batch of molasses cookies yesterday," she said, setting the tray on a small table. Settling on the sofa, she looked up at the men. "She's a master at turning the simplest ingredients into something quite delicious. Please, help yourselves."

Banks looked like a kid, all big-eyed and licking his lips, but he kept himself in check, waiting for Levi to give permission to indulge in the sweets. When Levi gave a nod, the corporal snagged a large cookie, grinning.

Civil War Molasses Cookies

1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup shortening
1 egg
2/3 cup molasses
2 ¾ cup flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Cream together shortening, brown sugar, egg and molasses. Stir in flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ginger. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Heat oven to 375 degrees and roll dough out to ¼”. Cut out cookies with a round cutter. Bake for 10 minutes.

Enjoy the cookies AND the book!


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Kathleen Y'Barbo

I'm excited to host bestselling Author Kathleen Y'Barbo on the blog today! What do you do when you make a mistake? Read on!   ~Michelle

Making Mistakes: Takeaway from The Mail Order Mistake

By Kathleen Y’Barbo

Have you heard the joke about the guy who thought he made a mistake? Well, turns out he was wrong.

We laugh at that joke, but the truth of it is sobering. We’ve all made mistakes, whether we acknowledge that fact or not. Maybe you put your trust in the wrong person. Or perhaps you made a choice that you were certain would fix all your problems only to have the situation end in disaster.

What then? Do you wonder where God was and how He allowed that to happen? To those of us who believe He controls everything, such a mistake can cause us to ask hard questions of Him.

When May Conrad moved in with her kindly neighbor after fire destroyed her home, she certainly didn’t expect to be thrown into the center of a Pinkerton investigation and be considered a prime suspect in a string of mail fraud crimes involving mail order brides. After all, she felt God was taking care of her. But was He? May certainly doesn’t think so when an infuriating Pinkerton detective insists her next choice is between helping him capture that kindly neighbor or be tossed into jail.

Can you think of a time when you were forced into a situation where none of the options were good? Maybe you had an idea of what your life was going to be like, and then God came in and did something totally different. Something unexpected. Something uncomfortable. I know I’ve been there. And while you’re in the middle of that something unexpected and uncomfortable, you might be wondering where God is and why He’s allowing this to happen. You may even wonder if God has turned away and forgotten about you.

Good news! He hasn’t forgotten. In fact, He is absolutely and certainly using this unexpected and uncomfortable thing. What’s He using it for? Sometimes looking back that answer is obvious. Other times there may never be an answer this side of heaven as to why He has allowed something into your life.

Through it all, there is one thing that never changes and is always true: God never makes mistakes. He’s never wrong. And he never leaves you when you do. If you get nothing else from The Mail Order Mistake, please do not miss that.

I know May didn’t. I hope you won’t.

The Mail-Order Mistake by Kathleen Y’Barbo
1855, Texas
Pinkerton detective Jeremiah Bingham is investigating a mail-order bride scam bankrupting potential grooms. When unsuspecting orphan May Conrad answers his false ad, she becomes the prime suspect in the case.

Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee with more than ninety novels, novellas, and nonfiction books to her credit, and over two million copies of these books in print in the US and abroad. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she is the winner of the Inspirational Romance of the Year by Romantic Times magazine and a number of Reader’s Choice awards as well as a nominee for an RT Career Achievement Award. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Novelists Inc. Kathleen loves interacting with her fans and with book clubs. To connect with her through social media or send her an email, check out the links on her website at And don’t miss signing up for her newsletter so you’ll be the first to know about new books.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Noelle Marchand

Today, Author Noelle Marchand shares about the important role secondary characters play in our stories! Enjoy!          ~Michelle

By Noelle Marchand

Imagine the sound of a single cello playing a melody—deep, rich, vibrant. Now, imagine two violins and a viola joining in. Suddenly, what was once simple becomes complex with each instrument bringing out a new quality in the others. This is exactly what secondary characters do for main characters. I always try to create well-rounded characters to interact with hero and heroine.

However, in writing The Outlaw’s Inconvenient Bride, I gained a better understanding of the importance of secondary characters within a novel. Never before had I tasked these characters with so much responsibility. With a huge portion of the story taking place in an outlaw gang’s secluded hideout, the six outlaws who lived there needed to provide external conflict, help set the tone of the story, and make the time period seem believable.

It was also paramount, due to the short nature of a novella, that these characters be immediately distinct from each other. I ensured this by researching accounts of real outlaws who lived during the old west. Inspired, my imagination went into overdrive. I created six characters complete with a list of their past crimes, endowed with a weapon of choice, unique character traits, motives for mayhem, and outlaw monikers. Meet all six members of the Renegade gang in The Outlaw’s Inconvenient Bride.

The Outlaw’s Inconvenient Bride by Noelle Marchand
1881, Wyoming
After a gang of outlaws uses a mail-order bride advertisement to trick an innocent woman into servitude, an undercover lawman must claim the bride—even if it puts his mission in jeopardy.

Noelle Marchand is an award-winning author and a proud Texas-native. She enjoys spending time with family, dancing, and going on daytrips.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Liz Tolsma: Researching a Book

Author Liz Tolsma continues our Blog Tour of the authors of The Mail-Order Brides Collection by sharing some of the fascinating historical tidbits she learned while researching her story! Enjoy!                ~Michelle

By Liz Tolsma

My story, A Fairy-Tale Bride, is set just after the Civil War in the make-believe town of Cuento, Texas. Nora, the main character, is a Southern war widow who has lost her husband, her home, and her land. She is impoverished and has no means to support herself. The only respectable option she has is to become a mail-order bride.

As I researched the story I wanted to write for this collection, I found it was very common for war widows, especially those from the South, to enter into such marriages of convenience. Most of them had lost everything during the conflict. Some of the surviving Confederate soldiers left the Southeast to begin new lives in the cotton fields of Texas. This air of familiarity helped with their transition back into civilian life.

The Texas cotton industry boomed around this time. With their former homes and crops razed and slaves gone, many men turned to Texas as a place to start fresh. The land was fertile, crops were good, and they were able to tap into the now-freed slaves as a work force familiar with growing cotton. Texas quickly became one of the leading producers of cotton in the nation. With the new plantation owners thriving, it was natural for the Southern war widows to go to Texas to enter into new marriages and to start new families.

While I considered not having the sharecroppers appear in the story because of the oftentimes unsavory aspects of the institution, in the end, I decided to show them because sharecropping was a way of life in the South after the war. The hero and his friend would not have been able to sustain their large plantations without this means of getting workers. Neither of the characters is unkind to the sharecroppers, and I don’t dwell on it because the characters wouldn’t have. It was part of daily life.

As I researched this book, I learned so much about what life was like for some Southerners following the Civil War. When you read it, I hope you learn a little something too.

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Liz Tolsma

Author * Editor * Speaker

The Melody of the Soul coming January 2018

Romantic Times 4 ½ stars top pick

Second Chance Brides, Matchmaker Brides, Rails to Love now available

Mail Order Brides coming February 2018

The Amish Widow’s New Love coming May 2018

What the Heart Sings coming August 2018

Monday, February 12, 2018

It's RELEASE DAY for The Widow of Rose Hill!

February 12, 2018 is a VERY HAPPY DAY in the Shocklee household!

First, today is my son's 27th birthday! Whoop! CanNOT believe that child is 27! What an amazing young man he has become. God has wonderful plans for you, my son! I can't wait to watch them unfold.

Today is also my sister's birthday! Happy Birthday, Sis!! Love and miss you!!

And now ...drum roll, please .....


Widowed during the war, Natalie Ellis finds herself solely responsible for Rose Hill plantation. When Union troops arrive with a proclamation freeing the slaves, all seems lost. How can she run the plantation without slaves? In order to save her son’s inheritance she strikes a deal with the arrogant, albeit handsome, Colonel Maish. In exchange for use of her family’s property, the army will provide workers to bring in her cotton crop. But as her admiration for the colonel grows, a shocking secret is uncovered. Can she trust him with her heart and her young, fatherless son?

THANK YOU to all those who read and loved the first book in the series, The Planter's Daughter. I sincerely hope you fall in love with Natalie and Levi too! 



Sunday, February 11, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Jennifer Uhlarik: Inspiration

The Blog Tour of the authors of The Mail-Order Brides Collection rolls on. Author Jennifer Uhlarik is with us today talking about inspiration and how stories develop in an author's mind. Enjoy!                                                                                                                   ~Michelle

Hi all! Jennifer Uhlarik here. I’m so excited to share with you the story behind the story on The Brigand and The Bride, my selection from The Mail-Order Brides Collection. So…where did the idea for this story come from? As I pondered the idea of a mail-order bride story, I knew it needed to be different than a previous mail-order bride story I’d done (Wedded to Honor from The Convenient Bride Collection). I began thinking of different scenarios and quickly struck on the idea of a woman marrying a stranger to escape her outlaw family. Probably not the most original of ideas—but then, every story’s been told a million times already. It’s the fun twists you add that makes a story unique. So as I pondered the heroine that was taking shape in my mind, I saw a scene begin to unfold.

The heroine hurries through town, anxious about being caught by her brother. Rather than heading straight to the church, she stops in the seamstress’ shop to pick up a suit for her mail-order groom—something they’d pre-arranged through their letters. Suit in hand, she goes to the church, lays out the clothes and grooming supplies for him, then waits in the sanctuary. A bit later, the hero rushes in, shaves and cuts his hair, dons the suit, and steps out of the room, where the pastor’s wife shoves him down the aisle, scolding him for his lateness.

The scene played so vividly in my mind’s eye that I knew I had to write it and find out how the rest turned out. From the couple’s first awkward face-to-face meeting to the “quickie” wedding that ensues, I was giggling and grinning ear-to-ear. I sure hope you’ll read The Brigand and The Bride to find out why!

The Brigand and the Bride by Jennifer Uhlarik
1876, Arizona
Jolie Hilliard weds a stranger to flee her outlaw family but discovers her groom is an escaped prisoner. Will she ever find happiness on the right side of the law?

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Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won and finaled in numerous writing competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Megan Besing: Lies Characters Believe

The blog hop continues with Author Megan Besing! Have you ever believed a lie? Megan shares how her characters had to overcome many obstacles to get to the truth. Enjoy! 

By Megan Besing

As we all know, lies are a part of everyday life—and every good book. Whether it’s one we tell ourselves for years or one someone else makes up, lies consume our time. In my story, Perfect for the Preacher, lies, gossip, and assumptions nearly become main characters themselves.

Despite his age, Pastor Amos Lowry believes he’s the man to fill the pulpit at Hilltop Chapel. He’s certain he’s qualified and longs to be hired. Wouldn’t a congregation with such generosity be a preacher’s ideal church? At least that’s what he tells himself.

Those on the council assume Pastor Lowry is too young and immature, and they believe marriage for Amos could be the answer to all their problems. Except no one asked for a mail-order bride with a sketchy past to apply as Amos’s wife. After all, won’t an ex-saloon girl ruin Hilltop Chapel’s reputation?

Sophie Ross was told she could be a pastor’s wife. Except when gossip mixes with the dreadful experiences from her past, Sophie fights the doubt in her head. If a man of God can’t love and accept her, what kind of future does that leave?

Behind every deception, whether in real life or story form, is the truth waiting to save the day and set us free. I hope you discover and enjoy the truths buried in the lies of Amos and Sophie’s happily-ever-after. What starts off as an unlikely match might just become a marriage built on unconditional love and a ministry for a renewed congregation. Lies may win a battle, but like the characters of Perfect for the Preacher, let’s not allow evil to claim victory of our lives.

Perfect for the Preacher by Megan Besing

1897, Indiana

Fresh from seminary, Amos Lowry believes marriage will prove to his skeptical congregation that he’s mature. If only his mail-order bride wasn’t an ex-saloon girl, and worse, pregnant.

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Megan Besing adores reading, writing, and reviewing stories with happily-ever-afters. Her own writings have received many awards, including being a multi-category finalist in ACFW’s Genesis and a winner of MCRW’s Melody of Love contest. Her debut Perfect for the Preacher releases February 1, 2018 in Barbour’s Mail-Order Brides Novella Collection. She lives in Indiana with her husband and their children where she dreams of the beach and drinks way too many Vanilla Cokes. Connect with Megan on Facebook and at

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Sherri Shackleford: Villains!

Today on the blog we'll hear from Author Sherri Shackleford on why we love our villains. Enjoy! ~Michelle

By Sherri Shackleford 

The most important thing to remember when creating a villain, is that villains don’t know they’re villains. In my story, Mail-Order Proxy, the heroine is interviewing a notorious outlaw for her local newspaper. And why does this outlaw agree to the interview? He craves fame and attention, of course, but he also wants people to understand him. He wants people to know his motivation.

Generally, most villains are sociopaths. They lack a conscious. While most sociopaths do not become predators, most predators are sociopaths. They may not feel guilty for hurting someone, but they are aware of the consequences of their actions. They are aware of how they are perceived in society.

As an author, when I’m creating a villain, I use a regular person as inspiration, and embellish their flaws and weaknesses. Villains shouldn’t simply be twirling their mustaches while lashing the heroine to the railroad tracks. The outlaw in my story does some bad things, but he feels completely justified in doing these things: Why should the banks have all the money when he’s just a poor, working stiff trying to get ahead?

There should always be a reason for the villain’s actions. In Mail-Order Proxy, the outlaw is perfectly cordial to the heroine until she stands in the way of what he wants. That’s when she sees the darker side of his personality. Most folks aren’t entirely good or entirely evil. A well-written villain has human foibles and weaknesses.

It’s also important to remember that villains are often very charming and engaging individuals. The outlaw in my novella, “Mail-Order Proxy”, has convinced the heroine of his sincerity. Part of her growth is learning to discern the difference between a charming villain and a cantankerous hero.  As the old proverb states, ‘The lion is most handsome when looking for food.’

I hope you enjoy my story, “Mail-Order Proxy!”

Sherri Shackelford is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance novels for Harlequin/HarperCollins Publishers. A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. She doesn't live on the prairie, but she can see the plains from her house. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul. Look for her exciting new romantic suspense novel this fall! 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Ann Shorey: Why Washington Territory?

It's Day 3 of our blog tour for The Mail-Order Brides Collection! I'm thrilled to host Author Ann Shorey on the blog today. Find our how Ann used her family's history to enrich her story. ~Michelle


Some of my readers know that I’ve often used my family’s history as a source for inspiration in writing my novels. For instance, The Edge of Light uses many details from the life of one of my great-great aunts. In The Promise of Morning, I went to my great-great grandparents’ lives for the storyline. The rest of my novels all contain tiny bits of family lore as well.

The takeaway here for new writers goes beyond “write what you know” to “write what you can find out.” What I know isn’t always a whole lot, but with an inquiring mind and a willingness to dig a little, I’ve learned that there is a world of story material out there, waiting to be pressed into a manuscript.

So, moving forward to my most recent publication, The Mail-Order Brides Collection from Barbour Publishing— here’s a bit of background for my contribution, “Miss-Delivered Mail.”

As far as I know there are no mail-order brides in my family history, so that part is fiction. But in “Miss-Delivered Mail,” the main character finds herself in Washington Territory in the 1880’s, where she meets the Halliday family. I chose this setting because the “Hallidays” in this novella are my great-grandparents. They are not the main characters, but they play an important role in the story. In real life, they homesteaded in eastern Washington in the 1880’s, settling there in the Coulee breaks long before the Grand Coulee Dam was ever imagined. Many of the descriptions of their lives and surroundings come straight from my grandfather’s memoirs.

So, now that you’re armed with insider information, I wish you happy reading! I hope you’ll enjoy “Miss-Delivered Mail,” as well as the other eight excellent novellas in The Mail-Order Brides Collection. 

"Miss-Delivered Mail” by Ann Shorey

Helena Erickson impulsively decides to take advantage of her brother’s deception and travels to Washington Territory in response to a proposal of marriage intended for someone else. 

The Mail-Order Brides Collection can be purchased from your local bookstore, or online at the following sites:

ANN SHOREY is the author of the At Home in Beldon Grove and Sisters at Heart series. She also has novellas included in the Sincerely Yours and The Oregon Trail Romance collections. Ann and her husband make their home in southwestern Oregon. She may be contacted through her website,, or find her on Facebook at

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Traveling West on the Santa Fe Trail

Our blog tour of the authors of The Mail-Order Brides Collection continues! Today is my day to tell you a little bit about my story and how my heroine traveled in 1866. Enjoy! ~Michelle

In To Heal Thy Heart, my novella in The Mail-Order Brides Collection, Phoebe Wagner travels from her home in Kansas City to the rugged New Mexico Territory to meet the stranger she intends to marry. But in 1866, train travel was not yet available in that part of the country, so Phoebe—or any mail-order bride of that day—would have been left with little choice. She must board a dusty, uncomfortable stagecoach for the 700-plus mile journey that would take nearly two weeks, assuming they didn’t encounter problems with the coach, the horses, or the weather. Luke, her intended groom, would have paid approximately $250 for her fare, and the route she would have taken is the famous Santa Fe Trail.

From 1821, the Santa Fe Trail served as a trade route between the United States and Mexico. Settlers used it as well, often facing terrifying situations including attacks from various Indian tribes, brutal weather conditions, and swollen rivers. But like Luke and Phoebe, those early settlers were willing to take the risks in order to be part of something new and fresh and exciting.

Growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I often heard stories about the Santa Fe Trail. My family took many drives up the trail, now a highway, passing the same tree-covered hills and grassy fields as those brave pioneers. Even as a child my imagination ran wild, and I’d wonder about the people who traveled in wagons whose wheel ruts are still visible in some places. Who were they and what drove them to leave their homes and loved ones to come to a wild, untamed land?

Although Phoebe and Luke’s story is fiction, I would not doubt that many mail-order brides took to the Santa Fe Trail in search of true love. 

Did they find it?

To Heal Thy Heart by Michelle Shocklee
1866, New Mexico
When Phoebe Wagner answers a mail-order bride ad that states Confederate widows need not apply, she worries what Dr. Luke Preston will do when he learns her fiancé died wearing gray.

Purchase from your local bookseller or online at:

Michelle Shocklee is the author of The Planter’s Daughter and The Widow of Rose Hill, the first two books in the historical romance series The Women of Rose Hill. She has stories in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books and writes an inspirational blog. With both her sons grown, she and her husband of thirty-plus years enjoy poking around historical sites, museums, and antique stores near their home in Tennessee. Connect with her at

Friday, February 2, 2018

Guest Blogger Author Donna Schlachter: The Story Behind the Heroine & Hero

Welcome to Day 1 of the Blog Tour of the Authors of The Mail-Order Brides Collection

I'm so excited to host Author Donna Schlachter on the blog today! Donna is one of the authors in The Mail-Order Brides Collection, the just released collection of 9 stories of marriage before love. My story, To Heal Thy Heart, is included in this book as well. For the next several days we'll hear from the other authors, so stay tuned! ~Michelle

The Story Behind the Story of the Heroine and the Hero in A Train Ride to Heartbreak

By Donna Schlachter

Coming up with likeable yet flawed characters is always a struggle. I find my first draft is usually full of perfect people who always get it right, or else they are so flawed, nobody likes them. Then I have to go back in and tell myself that nobody is this good and they need at least one little thing they need to fix, or there’s no story. Or I have to temper all their issues with at least one redeeming feature.

For Mary Johannson, she had so many good traits—hard worker, thinks of others before herself, obedient, loving—yet the scars on her neck and arm from a fire she survived as a child constantly remind her that nobody could possibly love her. The years in the orphanage fed that lie, as she was passed over time and again for adoption. The opportunity to marry, sight unseen, seems the answer to her problems. And even better, a covenant marriage for twelve years or so, nothing expected except to raise this stranger’s children. Then she would be free to go wherever she wanted. Not that she had anywhere to go.

For John Stewart, he’s another good person that bad things happened to. His wife died, leaving him with two young daughters to raise. He has so many good traits, too—loving father, loving husband, industrious, loyal—so why did God abandon him? Why didn’t the Almighty choose to answer his prayers? And if not his, why not answer his wife’s? She loved God right to the end. Convinced he will never love again, yet he knows he needs help with his children. A covenant marriage seems perfect. No love. No intimacy. Just duty. Kind of like his relationship with God.

These characters both believe a lie—Mary’s that nobody could see past her scars, and John’s that he has had the one love of his life. We all believe a lie about ourselves. It might have to do with our past, with our present, or even with the bleak outlook for our future. What I hope readers will take away about this story is that God is bigger than our past, bigger than our mistakes, and has great plans for us.

1895, Train to California

John Stewart needs a wife. Mary Johannson needs a home. On her way west, Mary falls in love with another. Now both must choose between commitment and true love.

October 1895

Mary Johannson has scars on her body that can’t compare with the scars on her heart. She is alone in the world, with no family, no prospects, and no home.

John Stewart is at his wit’s end. His wife of three years died in childbirth, leaving him with a toddler and an infant, both girls. Theirs was the love of fairy tales, and while he has no illusions about finding another like her, his children need a mother.

Though separated by thousands of miles, they commit to a mail-order marriage. But on their journey to Heartbreak, they meet another and realize the life they’d planned would be a lie. Can they find their way back from the precipice and into the love of God and each other, or are they destined to keep their word and deny their heart?

Buy link:

Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid author who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters In Crime; facilitates a local critique group, and teaches writing classes and courses. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Rocks, Words, and a New Year


Wow! What an amazing year we've had! I look back and see God's fingerprints all over it, and that truly makes me smile! We went through some rough waters and made some major changes, but God was with us through every minute and every mile, and folks ... it doesn't get any better than that!

Last year I decided to join the "word picker crowd." You know, the people who choose a word to sort of represent the year ahead. Of course, it shouldn't just be any ol' word, but rather a word that is impressed upon you by the Lord through prayer and Bible study. A meaningful word just for you. As I thought about what my word would be in the days leading up to the new year, "Trust" kept coming to mind. I trusted the Lord, but I sensed He wanted to take me deeper. As the old hymn says, "Oh for grace to trust him more." Psalm 34:8 was perfect to go along with my word: "O taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man that trusteth in him." On New Year's Day I found a rock and wrote my word and my verse on it. I've kept that rock where I can see it every day of 2017. It serves as a reminder that my trust is in the Rock. When our jobs ended in August and we were unemployed for eight weeks, we trusted God had a plan. When that plan was revealed, we knew we could trust it. I never dreamed I'd be writing a blog on January 1, 2018 from a cozy little farm house in Tennessee, but here we are and we love it! Trust took on a whole new meaning for me the past year, and I'm ever so grateful for the faithful lessons God is teaching me.

A new year means a new word, and I'm already ahead of the game. Back in November I was reading in Hebrews 4 out of The Message Bible. The word "rest" is all over that chapter. I felt the Spirit telling me that was my word for 2018: Rest. So despite the frigid temperatures outside yesterday -- 17 degrees with a nippy wind! -- hubby and I set out to climb the hill behind our house and find a new rock for a new year.

Hubby searching for his rock

Although I don't necessarily make resolutions each year, I'm determined to keep the word rest as part of my daily existence.  Hebrews 4 reminds us that God gave the Israelites the promise of rest, but they didn't accept it. They constantly disobeyed God, so he basically said, "Exasperated, I vowed, 'They'll never get where they're going, never be able to sit down and rest.'" (v. 6) I don't want that to be me! I absolutely want to get where God is taking me, do the things he has planned for me, and be the woman he wants me to be.

In this new year, I am going to rest in God's ...

  • Power
  • Peace
  • Presence
  • Provision
  • Protection
  • Possibilities
  • Purposes
  • Plans
  • Promises
  • Partnership
  • Grace
  • Mercy
  • Love
  • Salvation
  • Discipline
  • Instruction
  • Word
  • Strength
  • Healing
  • Help
  • Holiness

Truthfully, the list is as endless as God's love, but you get the idea. Rest. It doesn't mean I get to be lazy and lay around for a year. I've got a job, a husband, responsibilities, and two new books releasing in February that all need my attention. But I will rest in knowing my Lord and my God has things under control.

Do you choose a word each year? I'd love for you to share it.

2017 was a year of Trust. 2018 will be a year of Rest!

I pray 2018 is a year full of God's presence and blessings in your life! I'm excited to see what the new year holds!