Saturday, August 26, 2017

Q&A about The Marvelous Mud House

I'm counting down the days until the release of The Marvelous Mud House on October 1st! I've enjoyed reading my children's story to kids recently and answering their questions! Here are some of the most asked/interesting questions children have asked me about the story behind The Marvelous Mud House! Enjoy! 

Is The Marvelous Mud House a true story? 
Yes! The Marvelous Mud house is based on our family trip to Kenya in 2013! While we were there we met Mama George and her family! We were so impressed by her and the people of Kenya! Even though they lived simply, their lives radiated such joy! When we returned home, we decided that our lives needed to change! We wanted that joy and simplicity, found not in things, but found in being content and sharing with others. Our children really did work and save in order to send money for George to attend high school. When we sent word to Mama George that we wanted to help George go to school, we learned the incredible fact that she had been pointing her son to the Lord to trust him for provision for school! George actually was in the middle of studying for a big test to get into high school, but he kept asking his mom, "why should I even study, we don't have the money for high school?" and Mama George kept telling him to work hard and trust God to provide! I was so excited to hear this, that I couldn't sleep one night, and so I got up and wrote the first draft of The Marvelous Mud House

How much does school in Kenya cost?
The great thing is that the government has made primary (elementary) education in Kenya free! But there also fees for books and supplies and uniforms that still sometimes keep kids from being able to attend school. Secondary education (high school) is not free to students in Kenya, and this is where we helped George. We have 5 children, and so they split equally the $500 a year for George to attend high school. They have supported George for the last 4 years, and he will actually graduate in November!

Did the trip to Kenya really affect your children's hearts the way the story says?
Our children are much more content with what they have and more aware of the needs of the world after our trip to Kenya. Our boys are currently 10, 12, and 14, so I have to say they are still normal kids. They still occasionally ask for a Lego set they see at the store! But if they want something, they know they have to work and pay for it themselves. While they work to send George to school, they also put money back in their own savings accounts for the things that they want. I have to say my own heart was probably impacted the most. Being in Kenya helped me realize that we have a lot to learn from these beautiful cultures, and that my willingness to live more simply and content can allow me to give more to the needs I see around me. 

Did Mama George really sing the song in the story? 
I was so inspired by the prayers of Mama George and her faith in trusting God to provide for her son, that I wrote the song to signify the heart of this beautiful woman. There was a lot of singing in Kenya wherever we went. My first morning there, when I woke up, I thought I heard music. I went outside early before anyone else in the house was up. I sat there for over an hour listening to the most joyous singing drifting towards me from somewhere in the valley. It turned out to be children singing at the boarding school before church on Sunday! 

Why is George's mom named "Mama George"
George and Mama George
An interesting tradition in Kenya is that when a woman has her first child, the people around her start calling her the name of her first child with "mama" before it! So, my firstborn is named Anna, and in Kenya people would call me "Mama Anna!" 

Did you draw the pictures in the story? 
While I would love to take credit for the artwork because it is so beautiful, I do not. My publisher found and hired an amazing artist, Alida Massari, to do the artwork for The Marvelous Mud House. Isn't it beautiful?! 

How long did it take you to write the book? 
I wrote the original first draft of the story one night when I couldn't sleep. It was a lot shorter. I sent it to all kind of friends to get their feedback, and I rewrote and rewrote the story over the course of about a year. I probably wrote 10-15 versions of the story before I felt it was ready to try and share with a publisher. If you want to be a writer, follower your English teacher's advice and "revise! revise! revise!"

What animals did you see in Kenya?
We saw LOTS of animals! Mostly, we saw zebras, camels, goats, elephants, and giraffes. There was a very mischievous baboon who tried to get into our car to get our food! Our driver had to shoo him away! We also got to hold chameleons, which was really fun and cute! We went to an elephant orphanage where we saw elephants drinking out of big baby bottles.

Where can I get a copy of The Marvelous Mud House?
I'm so glad you'd like to have a copy! The book releases on October 1st and will be available in Lifeway Stores and Mardel! It is also available for preorder on Amazon right now! I love to do book readings at churches, libraries, and schools, so if you come to one of my book readings, you can also purchase one directly from me and have it signed at the same time! If you would like me to come to your church or school, I'd love to set that up! Email me for details at 

Friday, May 12, 2017

42 Ways to Change the World

If I could, I would absolutely change this world. I'd place every kid in foster care into a loving home, I'd make sure every kid gets the opportunity to go to school. I'd wrap my arms around every orphan and tell them they are incredibly loved and created by God and His people are here to be the arms of God wrapped around their battered hearts. I'd stop the horrors of child abuse and human trafficking. Lock those perpetrators away forever. I'd give every struggling parent living in poverty just trying to feed their children a dignified job. If I had absolute power, I'd change this world in a hot minute. I bet you would too. 

I can't change the entire world on my own. Together, we can. Below are some organizations tackling what seems like the impossible task. They are slaying dragons every single day, rescuing kids from the horrible claws of poverty and hopelessness. Have you partnered with them? Is there an organization I missed that I should add to my list?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

How I signed with a Literary Agent

          “Have you always wanted to be a writer?” This was one of the very first questions, Ruth Samsel, my literary agent asked me. I was so incredibly nervous that first interview, I said something silly about someone telling me not to write anything until I was 50 years old--terrible advice looking back at it now. Answering that question today, I would say that, yes, from the time I was a child, I have always wanted to be a writer. From the time I was a child, I also always wanted to be Amy Grant, but that was before I realized that you can’t be someone else! Thankfully, Ruth Samsel overlooked my fumbled first answer and offered me a contract a few weeks later.
         If you’re at all interested in becoming a published author without going the self-publishing route, you’ve probably realized that you’re most likely going to need a literary agent. Gone are the days when you could send your query letter or manuscript directly to a major publisher and get any response. There are so many authors wanting to be published, the publishing companies have to utilize agents to wade through what they call the “slush pile” in order to find the best manuscripts.
       I’m writing the story down of how I signed with Ruth, for my reader's benefit, but in many ways mostly for mine. I realized over the years that I tend to forget things and I want to have a record of how God worked to bring my publishing dreams to reality.
         The first thing that happened is that for several years, I was praying that the Lord would give me a message to write about. I wouldn’t say I prayed this too fervently or flippantly, I just let God know the desire of my heart when I thought about it and kept attempting to live faithfully with Him. The second thing is that we stepped out in faith and planned a mission trip for our entire family to Kenya. This experience fueled the next step where I actually wrote the first draft of a children’s book story based on our experience. I was inspired by a Kenyan woman named Mama George, so I wrote a little story for children one night when I couldn’t sleep. The first draft was very simplistic, stripped down, and basic, and honestly looking back, not very good. But I LOVED it! And I knew God had given me a story that had to be told.
          Step four was a year of editing. I sent the manuscript to friends, and family, who by the way will always tell you they love your story. Then an artist friend, Rich Davis, recommended I send it to a writer’s coach. This is where things got real. The writer’s coach had no ties to me and she was blunt, “I see no marketable value in your story.” Was I discouraged? Yes. But I took it as a challenge. I realized that I hadn’t accurately communicated the heart of my story, and that if I could write it in such a way as to convince this skeptic, then I might have a story. Then the story sat. Sometimes things need to soak. Often I would put the manuscript aside for a week or two and pick it back up again. I wasn’t finished with my story. But I needed to revisit it with fresh eyes. After about a six month break, I picked it up again, and began fleshing out the story and rewriting it. I probably wrote and read 15 different versions of the story to my kids before I sent it back to the writer’s coach. When I finally did, she had questions. But she was taking this version seriously. A few more versions, and finally she replied, “This version works! Where will you send it?” I was elated!
          What followed this was an unrushed season of asking God, “What is the next small step?” and just trying to do the next little thing. A published friend had told me I would need an agent to sign with a major publisher. I wanted to story to reach as many people as possible, and so I would start with the goal of using a major publisher who would give my story the marketing and publicity it needed in order to reach the largest audience. Plus, I’m really terrible with accounting, marketing, selling, or keeping track of anything really, so self-publishing wasn’t going to be my gig. I started reading Michael Hyatt's blog, and downloaded an ebook of his on how to write a query letter. I used a sample query letter as a guide and wrote mine out. A query letter is what you send to agents describing who you are and the nature of your book. If they like it, they will ask to see your manuscript. Besides working on my query letter, I also took a few detours and submitted my manuscript to The Writer's Edge (it was accepted. A boost for my confidence, but seemingly did nothing to sell the manuscript) and I even got crazy enough to send Franklin Graham at Samaritan's Purse his own operation Christmas box and a copy of my manuscript to endorse (he was too busy). I also sent my very first query letter to an agency in New York City and waited for feedback. It was a huge agency and from what I could tell, not a Christian agency. But I had read that you should send a few query letters out just for feedback first before you hit the ones you really want, so that is what I did. My first rejection letter came in about three weeks. They said they found the story “engaging” but it didn’t fit their agency. I was thrilled!
           By now, it was February 2015, two years after writing my first copy of Mama George (later I renamed it The Marvelous Mud House). For my birthday, Tom gave me a few nights away. I spent some time that weekend reading, praying, and making plans for the year for our homeschool and just life in general. I remember fervently praying that God would use my story, that He would provide an agent, a publisher, and use the story to reach as many people as possible.  I clearly remember being overwhelmed with a desire that He be glorified by this story and praying that someone who had a heart for Kenya at a publishing house would believe in my story and pick it up.
          I returned home from my weekend away and was sitting on my front porch looking one more time through the agencies listed in the Christian Writer's Market Guide. I had been over this section of the guide many times, but suddenly an agency I don’t remember seeing before caught my attention. The William K. Jensen Agency accepted query letters submitted online, so right there on my front porch, I composed a brief query letter, answered a few questions about myself and--deep breath---hit send. It was 4:30 in the afternoon on a Saturday. It wasn't until later that I saw Ann Voskamp is represented by this agency or I would have been quite intimidated! My family and I went to dinner in our camp’s dining hall, and when I returned home around 7:00 p.m., I had an email from Mr. Jensen that simply said, “April, send me the manuscript and proposal (if you have one) attached to an email. I will take a look. Grace and Peace, Bill Jensen.”
          Frantically, of course, I composed a thank you and attached my manuscript after carefully going over it a few more times. Then I waited. After 6 weeks, I had heard nothing back. Everything I saw online said to wait 8 weeks before checking in after an agent asks for your manuscript, but I was getting anxious and Tom was leaving the country for a short term trip, and I wanted to know. So I emailed Bill and asked him if he had any feedback on my manuscript. At this point, I figured that it was a no since I hadn’t heard anything. I was floored and excited when he replied the next day with, “I like it a great deal and I have passed it along to our agent, Ruth Samsel, who has had success lately with selling children’s books to publishers.” It almost didn’t seem real! The following week, Ruth contacted me. I have to quote her email exactly: “Bill passed your manuscript my way. Darling, Love it! I have a few questions. When can you talk?” About to fall out of my desk chair, I hastily replied, “I’m free all day! Maybe give me an hour or so for my coffee to kick in?” Thankfully, she thought my response was cute, but clarified that she meant "what times was I available to talk maybe next week!" Once we cleared that up, we figured out a time for us to talk, she gave me her number and told me to call when I was ready! So at 10 am on Tuesday, March 1 2015 I had my first one hour conversation/interview on the phone with Ruth! This is the point where I answered the question about if I always knew I wanted to be a writer quite dumbly. But apparently I didn’t fumble the rest of the interview, proved that I knew how to have a conversation and had a true heart for the message of my story. She asked me to not query any other agencies for two weeks and then we would talk again. I bit my nails and sat on the couch for two weeks and then we had to reschedule our phone talk for another week. When we finally talked the second time, Ruth started listing off a few things she was going to email me and casually slipped in the word “CONTRACT.” Oh but I heard it!  I started quietly jumping up and down while on the phone with her trying to be cool and answer her questions until we hung up the phone and I could scream. Then I got quite scared and nauseous! I received the contract, took about five seconds to think about it, signed it, and then emailed it back a few days later, hoping they hadn’t changed their minds and it was all a big mistake.
          So, that’s how I signed with the best literary agent in the world, Ruth Samsel, and eventually landed a book contract. I would say that my story is quite atypical as the thing you always hear about is people sending out hundreds of query letters only to be rejected time and again until finally getting signed. I do believe the Lord has guided and blessed this process and opened doors I couldn't have imagined. I give him all the glory and feel that the entire project has been his from the beginning. My book, The Marvelous Mud House, will release in November with B&H Kids, a division of Lifeway Christin Stores. How the Lord and Ruth worked that magic is a story that has to come in a later post, as this post is already four times the recommended length for blog posts, but it is just as incredible!



Sunday, December 11, 2016

This Beautiful House

Gabriel is seven years old. He lives in the Dominican Republic. This is his home. He is one of five adults and 10 children living here. We have prayed for and sponsored Gabriel through Compassion International for just over a year, and it was our privilege to meet him and visit his home this week. 

Before our visit, I was unsure how I would react to visiting Gabriel's home. Would I be overwhelmed with pity? Compassion? Heart ache for this family living in poverty?

I was quite unprepared for my reaction that day. As strange as it might seem, the word that entered my mind as I walked down the dirt hewn steps into Gabriel's world 

I couldn't explain this feeling at first, but after spending the day visiting with his grandmother, great-grandmother, siblings, aunt, and cousins, having lunch together, and throwing a baseball, I understand now why my first impression of Gabriel's home was beauty. 

This is the house his family built with their own hands.

This is the yard where he plays with siblings and cousins. 

This is where his clothes are diligently hand washed and hung to dry in a beautiful display of color.

This is where his family planted a plantain tree so that they had a reliable source of food.

This is where his grand mother lives a life of faith, prays for Gabriel, and has promised to pray even for us. 

This is where his great grandmother joyfully smiles though sick and unable to walk. 

This is where his mother and new baby sibling will return when they get out of the hospital. 

This is the painting right over where Gabriel sleeps with his mother and brothers. 

This is where I saw Gabriel laughing. 

This is the place where Gabriel is happy.

This is where I saw him loved. 

And I am so thankful. 

And because of the life-giving work of Compassion International, I know Gabriel will not fall through the cracks. Through Compassion, he will have regular medical check-ups, needed medicine and food, educational tutoring, social, emotional, and spiritual teaching. 

Gabriel's house was beautiful. Because what makes a house beautiful isn't the walls, roof, or floors, the pictures or furnishings. What makes a house beautiful is the love inside, and there was evidence of plenty of that in Gabriel's house. 

Lest this post offer too idyllic a picture of Gabriel's life, please allow me to give a few extra facts that I think will help.

Gabriel's house floods whenever it rains, so that family is forced to evacuate when this happens. For a glimpse of the difficulty flooding looks like for a family, I recommend the movie, The Queen of Katwe.

With 15 people living in the house, it feels too small for them.

When we took Gabriel to lunch, he ate so much food so fast, that his grandmother had to warn him to slow down lest he hurt his stomach.

His grandmother is unable to work currently because she is home taking care of Carnella, Gabriel's sick, but joyful great grandmother. Gabriel's family asked us to pray they find a job and source of income.

Gabriel's grandmother told us that his mother does know know the Lord, but she is starting to attending church occasionally, please pray that she comes to know him.

If you would like to sponsor a child through Compassion, click my unique sponsorship link here. For every 10 children sponsored, Gabriel's family will receive a gift from Compassion!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Graneys Go Sabbatical Update #4: Totally Free Stuff to do in Boston, NYC and DC!

Before I get to the totally free stuff, let me just say that on the way to Boston, we had an AMAZING time visiting with our friends Angel and Amy Silva in Portland, Maine. The Silvas were part of a couple's Bible study group with us at Dallas Theological Seminary that met every Sunday night for two years, but we haven't seen the Silvas since graduation! Saturday evening, we feasted on great conversation, Amy's delicious pork tenderloin and Angel's homemade ginger kombucha. Sunday morning, we visited their church, Missio Dei. Angel is preaching the Gospel in an area of our country that sometimes isn't very accepting of Christians, and we are so thankful for their ministry and so glad we had to chance to stay and catch up with these awesome friends!  

And.....before we get to NYC and DC, you have to see all the fun free stuff we did in Boston so here goes:

Okay this isn't quite Boston yet, it's the Portland Headlight! Such a beautiful lighthouse and rocky coast, but we did freeze there so our visit didn't last we were on the way to Bunker Hill in Boston, Caleb's most anticipated historical site:

This is where the US Continental Army showed the British what they were up against. The British lost a third of their troops trying to gain back this little hill. While they succeeded, it took them three tries, and it proved that our ragtag group of farmers become soldiers had a chance against the world's greatest superpower of the time. You can climb up all 296 steps in this monument and see all of Boston for free from there. Yes, we did climb it. And yes, I was the last one to make it to the top.

The best thing about Boston has to be the beautiful row houses, and they are everywhere.

While a lot of the Boston leaves had already fallen, some of the beauty remained. This is Anna walking through the Boston Common where the British troops set up camp for 8 long years before the revolution.

That circle on the ground indicates where the Boston Massacre happened, just in front of the Old State House on the Freedom Trail. Inside the building is where folks like Paul Revere and Samuel Adams discussed unfair British taxation of tea, but you have to pay to go inside...however we discovered you can go in the gift shop inside and see the beautiful circular winding staircase in the middle for free! :)

This is one of the oldest examples of 18th century architecture in Boston, and I was delighted to see that it currently houses a Chipotle!

Another free thing to do in Boston is accidentally find your way into the huge indoor shopping mall just after closing so you or  your children aren't tempted to spend any money.

You can also tour the New State House for free and see what is inside that beautiful golden dome on the top. We stepped into a Massachusetts meeting of the House of Representatives and sat for a few minutes. On the way out, we even witnessed this protest outside! I don't think I've ever heard the words: equality, liberty, and freedom more times in the five minutes I listened than anywhere else. But if you're going to be talking about equality, liberty and freedom, Boston is the historical place to do it right?

We also saw the final resting place of Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin's parents, and several other signers of the Declaration of Independence. The graveyard is free to enter and full of fascinating fading and falling tombstones. Boston is my favorite! Now on to NYC:

The first and greatest thing to do in NYC is obviously....Times Square! All the glittery lights and advertising you can imagine!

Okay maybe I should have said this lady first:

Lady Liberty is free to see, but to climb up into her crown, you make reservations online about 6 months ahead of time.

About the climb up into the crown.

What isn't free is the boat ride over to her :)

The next best free thing is Central Park:

If you're lucky enough to end up there at Thanksgiving, the Macy's Day Parade is a totally FREE event! We read that you should get there around 6am to claim a spot, however, we opted to stand in the cold for 4 hours instead of 6 and got there at 8 (after all, this is a sabbatical :) and were perfectly happy with the amazing spot we found to stand close to the road.

After almost 4 hours of parading, I couldn't have been happier to see Santa Clause show up!

Other ideas for free stuff to do in NYC:

Visit Grand Central Station

Get your picture taken with the smallest police car in NYC.

Pretend you are staying at the Plaza Hotel and get kicked out.

How could I forget the 9/11 Memorial?

Find the Empire State Building and realize you've been pointing to the Chrysler Building and calling it the Empire State building all week.

Take your picture with a police officer, whether he wants you to or not.

Find Trump tower and notice there aren't any protestors around.

Make your way past the police who aren't letting people walk by Trump Tower by telling them that you are visiting Trump Tower and take a ride on the escalators inside.

Oh, and it's not free, but to eat cheap in NYC do this:

Eat hot dogs in Central Park ....or do this:

Order the largest pizza you have ever seen for just $12 in Jersey.

It's free to walk in New York City! We averaged 7 miles of walking a day. Intermixing a week of rest, with a week of sight seeing has been a good mix for us. With five kids in tow, it has allowed us to relax, have fun, learn somethings and make some good memories together as a family and we are incredibly thankful for the opportunity we have had to do this.

And finally....say goodbye to NYC and head to DC, but realize you aren't going to blog about DC tonight because you are tired and this post is already way too long.

Stay tuned for Totally Free stuff to do in DC next time!