Shadow Eyes former reviews

•June 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I’m cleaning up my blog and decided instead of having a page for book reviews, I’d just do a post with some of my favorites from long, long ago when it was first published by Musa Publishing. However, probably my all-time favorite is one on complete with pictures, gifs, emotion, and humor.:) Read it here!

Can’t wait for the re-release! It’ll most likely be September 2nd, but it’s not set in stone yet.:)

This is the former cover – working on getting an updated one for the release!

Shadow Eyes official cover art

Melissa Owens (Melissa’s bookshelf) – I stayed up until after 2:00 am to finish Shadow Eyes. I simply could not put this debut book down, even though I will admit I was tired and so ready to go to sleep. I just had to find out what was going to happen to Iris and her family, not to mention everyone else who was constantly affected by these spooky, evil shadows that Iris was seeing. Of course, we don’t actually have all of those pressing questions answered; the end of Shadow Eyes is quite a cliffhanger.

I was really impressed with the cast of characters in this book. I thought this bunch of high schoolers was very realistically portrayed, down to their emotions and actions. Iris does come across as a rather weak female lead at times, though she does have her own kind of strength that finally really comes through towards the end. Her friends Lexi and Nicole actually reminded me of a couple of girls I went to high school with. And then there is the obligatory attractive male teacher that every girl has a bit of a crush on, but is there more to Mr. Delaney than meets the eye? When it came to some of the more intriguing characters, I knew something was up, but I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be.

What really drives the story and makes you want to keep turning the pages (or tapping the right side of your e-reader screen, as I did) is the desire to find out just what it is that happened to Iris that causes her to see these shadows. A tragic event is hinted at many times, but not until the end do we learn what has happened to Iris. The story twists and turns and I the big plot twist towards the end was one I didn’t see coming. And make no mistake, Shadow Eyes deals with some pretty intense issues that I am sure many people like Iris (and her family, in some instances) face every day. This isn’t some fluff paranormal adventure that we are dealing with here, which makes it a refreshing read.

I highly recommend Shadow Eyes. I think Dusty Crabtree’s writing will captivate you and Iris’ story will keep you up late into the night as it did me — unless you are lucky enough to be able to spend your day reading it!

Nancy Erikson (Goodreads) – [shortened] This first-person YA novel was a quick one to read but had a lot of thought-provoking ideas as well. Could people’s actions be caused by shadows from places below us? Could they be trying to take control? How do we stop them? What can one 17-yr-old do?
For a first novel, this one was a treasure. Hopefully there will be more like it because I’m not really sure that Iris and crew are ready to be “shelved!”

Wendy Hines (Minding Spot) – Crabtree’s debut will keep you up late immersed in a world of secrets, shadows and mystery. Not only are the characters modern and realistic, but they are bright, unique and palpable. What drove me to keep turning the pages beyond the great writing and characters, though, is the purpose of discovering what happened to Iris in her past to give her this rare affinity to see the shadows.

How Iris adjusts her life with the shadows, the glowing light figures and the addition of peer pressure is a testament to her inner-strength. Her friends really are great support for her and although sometimes teens will do as teens do, there are many messages within Shadow Eyes to relate to the teenage reader. However, as an adult, I found myself enthralled with the storyline and can’t wait for the next in the series. And just a warning – big cliffhanger! Love em and hate em! Dusty Crabtree has ensconced herself firmly in the young adult genre and I can’t wait to see what she has in store next!

Tana Rae (Tana Rae Reads) – Dusty Crabtree is a new and upcoming author, I was thrilled to read and review her novel Shadow Eyes. The cover, concept and the book description pulled me in and I knew I had to read this. Dusty’s writing is easy to read and her words flowed seamlessly, I truly enjoyed this novel and Dusty’s writing technique. I actually had a few books to read ahead of this book but my mistake was picking it up and taking a look through it, which then caused me not to put it down. The character descriptions are done well I found you really got to know the main characters which help you connect and feel for Iris. The plot is good and like I said it had me to where I couldn’t put the book down as I wanted to know what was going to happen. You know when your reading a book and you want to peak at the end so you have all the answers, that is what this novel was like for me…

I gave Shadow Eyes 4 stars; all I can truly say without giving away any spoilers is you must read this book. Shadow Eyes was a great read and I was so glad to find out what in the world was going on, the suspense almost killed me and I struggled not reading the end.

This book just kept getting better and worse all at the same time. Worse only because I really wanted to know what was going to happen. So many times I was considering reading the ending.I will recommend this book to all my friends and I look forward to reading anything Dusty Crabtree writes.

Jill Marie (Little Hyuts) – What a fabulous debut novel for Dusty! She is a promising up and coming author and her writing flows wonderfully. Shadow Eyes is a captivating and exciting story fit for any reader.
This book kept me up! The plot and characters were so compelling, I just had to find out what was going to happen. You know a book is well written and all around great if you can’t stop reading until you reach the end.  Shadow Eyes is full of mystery and constant guessing. I had a million and one questions buzzing through my head while I was reading, which made it quite enjoyable.
This book depicts the evil that is at work every day in a unique and thought provoking way. It raises the question; why do people do the things they do?
Iris is a strong and well developed main character, even though she is often plagued with guilt and anxiety about a past she doesn’t want to face. I enjoyed watching Iris grow as a person and eventually gain a new perspective on life, both mentally and spiritually.
Many of the situations she faces are ones teens face everyday. Showing how devastating things like peer pressure can be makes this book easily relatable for young adults.  The messages in this book are important ones and I like reading a book with a strong positive message. I hope other readers will be somewhat enlightened by Dusty’s perspectives as well.  It was good to know that the light is always there for those who choose it.
I loved Kyra’s character and Patrick’s too. I was really rooting for Patrick to not be the bad guy. He was so charming and I felt Iris needed someone to care for her.
I am definitely looking forward to finding out how Iris handles her growing gift and what the shadows are planning next. I am hoping the sequel isn’t too far off!  I will be recommending Shadow Eyes to anyone looking for a unique and somewhat supernatural book.

Lila Lickel (Reflections in Hindsight) – [shortened]  Excellent story for the YA crowd, junior-high age and up, who love the slightly weird, fantastical stories that are all the rage right now.

Told in page-turning first-person format, you’ll want to block off a whole evening to yourself for this story. I agree with other reviewers: this is one great read for pretty much any age. I enjoyed it immensely and look forward to reading other books by this author.

Luke Swanson (Amazon) – Dusty Crabtree has planted her flag, and I hope it stays there for a long time.
This book is great, with a concept that makes you delve into your personal life and a plot that makes you continue turning to the next page. Iris, our heroine, is witty and troubled, making her a fun person to “be” in the 1st person format. There are quite a few secondary characters, namely Kyra and Hanna, all of which add to Iris’s journey. Just when you think you’re at rock bottom, things get even more concerning. I cannot lie; I nearly shed a tear, and I RARELY do that. Long story short, read this novel. It’s fun, engaging, and eye-opening. Bravo, Mrs. Crabtree. Bravo.

Erin Flax (Amazon) – This book touches you on so many levels. On the surface this book is a thrilling and suspenseful page turner that you just can’t get enough of. Dusty’s writing has a way of making you feel all of the lead character’s emotions. But if you allow yourself to go even deeper into the story you will find that it can profoundly affect the way you live your life. It makes you contemplate the possibility of something supernatural going on around us that we just can’t see. This possible reality makes the book even more powerful and brought me to tears a few times with many goose bumps and gasps along the way as well. Although it is classified as a Young Adult book, it appeals to a wide range of readers. For example I am 36 and I absolutely loved it.

Alexis Evans (Amazon) – Curl up on your favorite couch, or even in your bed, and start reading the newly released book shadow Eyes by YA author Dusty Crabtree.

Dusty has an intriguing writing style that entices the teenage mind. Her sophisticated, yet understandable, word use makes the story easy for non-readers to follow, but it’s not too simplistic. The characters are fictional, but they’re definitely believable and realistic.

Although Iris is an exceptional person with a unique talent, she faces the same hardships as teenagers today. Struggling with the choice between right and wrong, facing peer pressure, and even being influenced by the use of alcohol and drugs, Iris tries to do what’s right, without losing her ‘friends’.

Throughout the novel, there were parts that really took me back. The struggles Iris has to deal with are extremely personal and can sometimes be too much to bear. Relationship troubles, loss of friends, divorce, and puberty are what teenagers think about while they’re drifting off to sleep at night, when they lose all hope and feel that they’re alone. These are the types of issues Iris, like other young people, has a hard time with on a daily basis.

In addition to authenticity of teenage life, the imagery throughout the novel is appealing to all five senses, making you feel as if you’re actually there with Iris, seeing what she sees and feeling the emotions that always seem to be rushing through her. Just chapters into the book, I already felt like I was there, enveloped in the life of Iris Kohl and friends.

Shadow Eyes is definitely a must read for teenagers and young adults. Once you finish the first page, you won’t be able to put it down until the last word.

Darrell Van Leer (Amazon) – Thank you! Finally a book for young adults that doesn’t paint evil creatures as something to be desired. Evil is ugly and should not be glorified. I am a mother of a young teenager and this is definitely a book I will encourage her to read as she hits high school age. I love that the main girl characters are good kids. It is so refreshing to read a book that is not centered around mean girls and boys or kids that are up to no good. I love the way that this book shows there are forces out there that can influence us in negative ways and that we have a choice to follow them or not. The book itself grabs you quick and keeps you hooked the whole way through. I am not a fast reader, but I couldn’t put it down and finished it in less than a week. Thank you for sharing this story and I look forward to a sequel.
Sabrina (Amazon) – Absolutely loved it. I found myself reading for hours late at night. It was easy to follow, and such a captivating storyline. Can’t wait for the next.
Randy Williams (Amazon) – Awesome book! Picked it up at 7 in the evening and didn’t put it back down till I finished reading at 2 am. The way the author introduces the characters draws you in from the beginning and never lets go. I would recommend this book to anyone, male or female. I’m a 22 year old big bearded man (haha) and I found the protagonist still very relatable. Buy this book and tell your friends! Simply awesome!

The Self-Publishing Journey Ahead

•June 27, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I generally consider myself a fairly smart, knowledgable person…until I attempt to do something I’ve never done before. Then I feel like an incompetent idiot. Are there any other self-publishers out there? Or, better yet, are there any newbie self-publishers out there? If so, raise your glass of whatever you’re drinking with me. Here’s to feeling like an idiot for a while as we figure this whole self-publishing thing out.


Lol. I’m just kidding…but seriously.

If you know me or have seen my blog before, you might know that I’m not completely new to publishing books. Granted I only managed to get one book published through Musa Publishing before they had to close their doors; the sequel was in edits with them when they closed. So I’m not anything close to an expert. But I at least have a little knowledge and a few connections. Still, trying to figure out everything I need to do on my own to get this done the right way is like the kid who entered the science fair with his toy rocket (entered, mind you, not won) trying to launch an actual rocket into space. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it does seem like there are so many things to consider and get done.


However, just like the kid from the science fair launching a rocket, I feel not only incompetent for the task at hand, but also excited, challenged, motivated, and hopeful. Having competent friends to answer my questions is helping, for sure. But the biggest thing has been knowing that my desire of finally getting this series off the ground again is going to be a reality soon! I can’t wait to get Shadow Eyes out there again and then continue with the sequel that’s been completed for what feels like forever and the 3rd and final book I just started.


For the longest time, I shunned self-publishing as an option because of the stigma I saw many people had of self-published books as being “not good enough” to be picked up by a publisher. And there is some truth to that. I mean, anyone can self-publish a book, and many self-published books haven’t been professionally edited. But I’m beginning to realize that there are so many authors who write great quality books that just don’t fit the mold for most traditional publishers who want fairly mainstream books that cater to a wide market.

And that’s okay! It’s okay to be different and not fit their mold!


In fact, I’m proud to not fit their traditional, mainstream, please everyone and cater to everyone mold! My books will find an audience that will love them for what they are – bold, unapologetic, unique, spiritual and morally grounded yet too edgy to fit a Christian mold either.

It’s going to take a lot of work. And there will be opposition. But I am not afraid. In fact, I’m stoked!

This is going to be an awesome ride!

Mother Troubles

•January 16, 2016 • 3 Comments


Crazed. Wired. Defiant. Grabby. Messy. Mischievous. Sneaky. Manipulative.

I wish I could show you a picture of the beautiful, angelic child I’m describing right now (I can’t due to legal/DHS bullcrap). Because her picture would so not match the above description. You probably wouldn’t believe me that such an adorable child could be described in such a way.

Unless, that is, you are raising or have raised a 3-year-old.



I always tell people how crazy our little girl is and how much trouble she gets herself into and how many messes she makes, but the only people who seem to understand and believe are those who either are parents or have seen her in action.

For fun I decided to make a log of one day detailing everything this lovely child did. You know, just to prove to myself and everyone else I wasn’t making this stuff up. Problem is, I have 4 other children and finding time to make notes every twenty minutes is a bit difficult. I also can’t remember everything later on.


The other day, though, I found myself home alone with my precious girl because she was a little under the weather, so I figured it was a good opportunity to try. Below is the daily log I wrote down throughout the day. It turned out to be a somewhat mild day since she wasn’t completely herself and her siblings were gone most of the day – less mischief to get into.


8:00 She dumped her dry Frosted Mini Wheats on the end table.

9:00 She got my Germ X out of my purse and squirted it all over the coffee table.

9:30 While I was in the shower, she got into some candy from my room and ate 2 Hershey’s chocolates and one small package of Starbursts, leaving the packaging in pieces on the living room floor.

10:30 She stepped in dog poop on the way to the car, so I had to clean off her shoe. (Not her fault, but still…)

12:15 Shopping wasn’t too bad, surprisingly, but she didn’t want to come out of the car when we got home. She instead climbed into the front seat and began messing with coins. I had to drag her out as she screamed and cried.

12:25 She didn’t want to eat lunch, so I had to threaten and bribe to get her to eat just a few bites.

12:30 She spilled her apple juice on the table.

12:40 I gave her the last drink of juice left in her cup and she managed to spill it down her shirt. I changed her shirt.

2:30 She opened the back door on her own and wandered outside with bare feet. Later on, she did it again with my shoes on.

4:00 – 6:30: She tried to get into my computer, succeeded, and smacked the keyboard quite a few times; she was sent to time out twice for screaming loudly enough to burst eardrums while playing with her siblings.

6:30 She barely ate dinner even when forced, dropped her fork twice, pushed away from the table, put her feet on the table twice, and eventually went to time out without finishing.

7:00 She got the baby medicine out of the box (luckily she didn’t open it).

7:30 She got into two decorations in the living room.

8:00 She opened my water bottle (by some miracle nothing was spilled before I caught her).

8:15 She splashed water on the bathroom mirror while attempting to brush her teeth.

The crazy thing to think about is that that’s only one child! One! I currently have four others! However, they aren’t nearly as crazy and…time-consuming, for lack of a better word.



At this point, some of you are probably thinking, “Wow! That’s a lot for one child.” Others of you are probably thinking, “That’s it? Mine is way worse.” If you’re the latter, my hat’s off to you, my fellow sufferer.

Dealing with three-year-olds is tough! We’ve got to stick together! Encourage each other. Be there to pat each other’s backs as we curl up in the fetal position in the corner, whimpering and rocking back and forth with our fingers gripping tightly to the roots of our hair, biting out lip till it bleeds so we don’t scream and wake up the children.


We need to be there to remind each other that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. A light that promises a somewhat calm, obedient, and sane child. And the light is real! I’ve seen it in other children and heard of it from other parents. Her two older brothers have made it through to the light. We’ve just got to hang on, people.

And in the meantime…let us vow to cherish our children for who they are, even in this transition stage. Let us see the beauty in their intelligence, creativity, and curiosity. Let us see past the mischief and messes and into their bright, beautiful eyes that are looking up to us and learning from us. Let us balance discipline with love, so that they grow up knowing how to act, but also not afraid to get dirty and try new things. Let us somehow mold and train them without quenching their youthful little spirits.



It’s a tough balancing act. But that’s what motherhood is, isn’t it? We’ll mess up. That’s certain. But these precious little children are worth our best efforts.

And in the end, they’ll forgive us for our failures, just as we forgive them for theirs right now.



•January 9, 2016 • 1 Comment


NOW. My word for the year. Such a small word, but it carries so much power.

All I had to do was read the following quote in my journal and I knew this word was mine…”Look for heaven here on earth. It is all around you.”

God lives in the Now, here in our midst, and longs to shower us with joy and peace and grace. He has already scattered moments of fresh joy and life all around us and just waits for us to notice and embrace them.

The Next Door


He’s like a loving, excited father who has prepared a room full of toys and excitement and then waits for his child to come through and see. But so often we run straight through the room without a second glance, right up to the next door, to either stand and stare at it or bang on it impatiently.

And we’ve failed to see that we’re already standing in the midst of great joy and blessings. We’ve failed to see Jesus. If only we would stop and look around us.

If we spend our life waiting with our noses against the next door to our lives, we can’t see the blessings here and now right in front of us. Sure the present doesn’t always look great or feel great. We often go through trials or difficult times. But there are still blessings and joy to be found.

In fact, sometimes God wants us to seek them out instead of Him just giving them to us because there is sometimes more joy in the discovery of joy than in the joy itself. A bright light seems so much brighter when it illuminates darkness than when it’s already shining, doesn’t it?

No Control Isn’t a Bad Thing

With the 5 foster kids God has blessed us with right now, there is a very real possibility that we may be adopting 5 kids in the year 2016. And there is a possibility we may be childless once again before the year is over. Only God knows what our future holds.

I’m done trying to figure it out or worry over it or waste any more time thinking about it when I truly have no power over it anyway. I have no control here. And that’s okay. As long as I stay close to the One who does.

natalie be here now

But this not knowing has made me realize how important the word NOW is. If our kids end up leaving, I had better cherish every moment I have with them. If they end up staying, I don’t want to look back when it’s all said and done and regret missing all the joy of this time in our lives together because I was too busy worrying about the next.

A New Perspective on BUSY

Still, living in the Now doesn’t always mean we just relax in the present time and do nothing. NOW also means the opposite of procrastinating or being lazy or inactive.

With 5 kids I don’t have time to be lazy or inactive…obviously.:) But the word Now holds a freshness and spirit with it that makes my being active and busy seem more of an opportunity than a chore. NOW means I get to, not I have to. NOW means a fresh new day with new opportunities and blessings, not another day with burdens and tiresome obligations.

NOW = Freedom


NOW shouldn’t cause anxiety or stress though. It doesn’t mean you have to do everything right now. It means you just have to focus on what’s in front of you right now. When we focus on Now, we realize the finiteness of the present time and how impossible it is to try to do everything at once. You can only do what God has put before you to do Now. The rest will come Later, and there will be plenty of time for Later.

Therefore, NOW is not stressful. It is freeing. NOW releases us from the burden of time. Because NOW isn’t tied down to a timeline. It is the only thing that exists in any present moment. And the only thing that matters.

Surviving with 5 Kids

•November 2, 2015 • 7 Comments

People keep asking how I’m doing now with 5 kids (If you don’t know how we managed to get 5 kids, see the end of the post). There’s really no short answer, so I figured I’d compile a list of ways my life is different now. Here’s what I came up with so far. (You moms, especially moms with multiple kids, will understand some of this.) Oh, and by the way, they are ages 2 months to 5 years old.


  • Sticky floors and furniture have become a way of life.
  • Crying and screaming have become background noise.
  • babycrying
  • My food and coffee often have to be reheated several times.
  • A night without baths is like 5 weights lifted off my shoulders.
  • Peppa pig, Dora, and Team Umizoomi are constant friends.
  • Dora_backpack-running
  • Taking only 1 or 2 kids to the store now seems like a piece of cake.
  • With so many baths, dishes, and washing of hands, my fingertips are like sand paper.
  • I live at Walmart…and the doctor’s office…and the health department.
  • I don’t even need to plug in my laptop charger over the weekend because I don’t have time to be on it.
  • I see or talk to my YFS caseworker nearly every day and am very grateful for her.
  • The dog gets fed when we get to it…generally after the kids go to bed.
  • Toilet paper, Kleenexes, and remotes are no longer in their normal places.
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  • Laundry and dishes are a never-ending job.
  • Taking medicine is built in to morning and bedtime routines because someone is always on medicine.
  • I use the word “timeout” about 200 times a day.
  • I’ve started saying “going potty” when referring to myself.
  • Our Tahoe is crammed with car seats and booster seats.
  • Sleep has become an elusive dream.
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  • With new kids, sick kids, and court, I have already been absent more times than I usually am for the whole school year.
  • It seems like for every 1 thing I check off my to do list, 2 more things go in its place.
  • to-do
  • I feel like I live a week in every day.
  • A child always wants a hug, to be held, or just to be near me, if not all 5 at once.
  • On weekdays, I hardly have any energy for anything after the kids go to bed.
  • I often give up what I want to do for what I need to do.
  • I often give up what I need to do for what I really need to do.
  • I’ve learned things like:
    • Hell hath no fury like a child about to get shots.
    • Lysol wipes are a must have in a bathroom used by a young boy.
    • Cereal is meant to be spilled.
    • spilled-milkcereal-601x400
    • If a child or baby isn’t crying or being fussy, leave him or her alone, even if it means you’ll have to clean up something later.
    • Starting bedtime routine at 7 means they may be in bed and asleep by 10.
    • With 5 kids, the likelihood of at least 1 having an emotional meltdown at bedtime is extremely high.
    • If 1 gets sick, they all get sick, so you might as well have them all drink from the same cup and get it over with.
    • Kindergarten is a lot of work for a parent…especially if that parent has 4 other kids.
    • kinder sight words2
    • A trip to a store by myself is a peaceful retreat.
    • A child sleeping is precious (this is meant to be both sarcastic and genuine).
    • I’m extremely grateful for my amazing husband and couldn’t do this without him…seriously…I’d die.
    • I’ve learned that every child is a unique miracle and worth every ounce of energy and time I give him or her. I’m also reminded every time I sing, “I stand…in awe of the One who gave it all,” that no matter what I give of myself to these kids, it will always pale in comparison to what Jesus gave us. Remembering this gives me strength and conviction.
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    • Lastly, I’ve learned the importance of scripture and staying close to God. Several times a week, if not once a day, as I go about my duties and think about all I have to do, I feel anxiety rise in my chest like an overwhelming flood about to drown me, and I have to recite to myself, “I can do anything in Christ who strengthens me.” Thank the Lord, the waters always recede. The only way I can possibly do this is with God’s constant presence and help.

Thank you to all who’ve been praying and/or who have helped out in some way. We are truly blessed!!!

(For those who don’t know, we had 1 foster daughter a while ago who eventually left us after 16 months. While she was gone, we decided to move on and get another foster daughter. A month later, we got the 1st girl back with her 2 brothers. We though 4 was a lot then! Then they left us again. In the meantime, a few months ago, our other foster daughter had a baby sister and we took her in. Then, a month later, we got our girl and her brothers back again! We never wanted 5 kids, but what were we going to do…say no, we won’t take back the boys we loved and the girl we loved even longer? Of course we took them back!)

Lessons from My Editor

•July 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment


Okay, I don’t know that I can even call her “my editor.” She was only contracted with me for a short while with my sequel to Shadow Eyes before Musa Publishing shut down. I had a different editor for Shadow Eyes, and although she was nice, she didn’t push me and challenge me as much as Jeanne De Vita did.

I used Jeanne’s great advice and constructive criticism to go through and revise the entire manuscript of the sequel. Then after Musa shut down, I decided to take what I’d learned and completely revise Shadow Eyes as well before finding another publisher. I’m finally done now and feel much more confident about the novel than I did before! Of course, I’m still a new author with a ton to learn, but I feel like I’m getting there.

Since I haven’t posted on my blog in a while, I figured I’d better get back into the habit now that I’m done revising…for now anyway…

I figured a great post to start with would be to share some of this great advice with you! You’ve probably heard some or all of these before, but they’re worth repeating!




  1. Make sure your VOICE MATCHES your NARRATOR’S AGE and character. This seems obvious, but it can be easy to forget as you get lost in your writing. (It’s easy to forget a lot of things when you’re lost in your writing.) This may not be as hard if your narrator/main character is your age and highly intelligent…like you, of course. But if your narrator is a teenager like mine is and you’re (cough) thirty-something, you need to always be conscious of this. Here are two things to consider while revising for this:
  • First, it doesn’t matter if you’re writing dialogue or narrative because it’s still your narrator talking or thinking, and it doesn’t matter if it’s in first person or third-person limited. If it’s omniscient, that may be a different story…
  • Second, you need to pay attention to not just your vocabulary, but also your wording and sentence structure.


BEFORE: Going over a week without her felt like denying myself of water. Her brief, intermittent texts and occasional short chats were mere drops that only teased my parched tongue. (Sounds beautiful! But no teen would EVER say or even think that…)

AFTER: Going over a week without her felt like denying myself of water. Her brief, random texts and short chats weren’t enough. (Oftentimes, shorter and more concise is better.)



  1. Try to only have 1-2 VERBS IN A SENTENCE. Some of this is dependent on the genre and pace of your book. If you’re writing an epic science fiction novel meant for an adult audience, long, intricate sentences are probably a plus. But for a young adult audience reading a fairly fast-paced book, you don’t want to bog them down with a bunch of long, confusing sentences. You don’t want the reader to have to work too hard, and long sentences can often take more mental work to comprehend. It can also take away from the flow and pace of the story. Shorter sentences keep things moving. Of course, the occasional long sentence like a series has a purpose and place, too.


BEFORE: Glaring at the steaming puddle that had sunk into the snow, I wished angrily that my stomach would have waited until I crossed back to the path from the door to the driveway so Austin could have stepped in it on his way out. Maybe he could have slipped and fallen and broken something. (There’s just too much going on in the 1st sentence.)

AFTER: I glared at the steaming puddle that had sunk into the snow. Why couldn’t my stomach have waited until I’d crossed back to the path from the door to the driveway? Maybe Austin could have stepped in it on his way out. Maybe he could have slipped and fallen and broken something.


  1. TAKE OUT OBVIOUS THINGS THAT READERS CAN INFER themselves. This could be explaining people’s actions that we can infer or using words like turn, glance, saw, etc. when the characters can just speak or do something without it.
  • First, giving too many of these obvious phrases distances the reader from the action. People call this filtering. It can take on many different forms, but the result is always the same. Instead of readers experiencing things as they happen, as though they are actually there, they have to experience them through the narrator’s eyes.
  • Second, reading these words and phrases over and over can get redundant and annoying, but it can also muddle up the flow and sound awkward.


BEFORE: What just happened? In awe with eyes and mouth wide open, I turned back to face Mr. Delaney. He didn’t seem to notice.

AFTER: What had just happened? I was in awe, my eyes and mouth wide open. Mr. Delaney didn’t seem to notice. (That last sentence is enough for us to infer that she looked at him.)


  1. Avoid HEAD HOPPING. Head hopping is where the narrator states other characters’ intentions or thoughts. Unless you have an omniscient narrator, you can’t do this because your narrator/character can’t really know these things. Of course, the narrator can infer some things by observing others, but you have to watch how you word it.


BEFORE: As Hanna poured herself some cereal, she took a sideways glance at the two of us, trying to decipher whether or not the topic of my birthday was safe. (The narrator doesn’t know for sure what Hanna was thinking.)

AFTER: Hanna poured herself some cereal and eyed us from the kitchen without saying anything. I hated that they felt they had to walk on eggshells around me. (This one is more of a general thought she assumes rather than her somehow knowing for sure what Hanna’s intentions were.)


Well, hopefully this has been insightful. I’m super happy to be back into writing again, and I’ll keep you posted when I find a new publisher!


Beauty Out of Ashes

•October 22, 2014 • 3 Comments

Most of you know from previous posts that my husband and I are foster parents and that we recently went through something extremely difficult – losing our beloved foster daughter of 16 months. I can’t go into great detail, but because of our unique situation, I can honestly say the whole process has been the hardest thing we’ve ever gone through. However, like most horrible things, good can come from them. Lessons can be learned. Stories can be shared. Wisdom can be obtained. Inspiration can be spread. I can only hope my experience will be so fruitful. I believe in many ways it already has.

I wrote this memoir as a journey in grief and remembrance. Hopefully, it can inspire others going through the fire.

flames background

“Beauty Out of Ashes”

My ten-year-old niece sits in my passenger seat, twirling her long, blonde hair, rambling about some movie she watched recently. I’ve kind of zoned out. We’re supposed to be having aunt-niece time. A twinge of guilt tickles the back of my brain but doesn’t register enough to matter. My mind wanders a lot these days.

I’ve only caught bits and pieces of the movie’s plot, but my ears perk up at the mention of the word ‘phoenix.’

“Do you know what a phoenix is?” I ask, hoping she doesn’t. I need a good distraction, like teaching my niece about the coolest symbolism in literature.

“Nope.” Her wide eyes invite me to continue, revealing her hunger for the interaction I’d been neglecting to give her.

“A phoenix,” I say in my teacher voice, “is a mythological bird that was said to have burned itself up in its own nest and then rose from the ashes, reborn and new. It’s used a lot to symbolize going through something difficult and then coming out of it stronger. It’s a symbol of hope. “

She’s silent for a moment. I can’t tell if she’s contemplating the information or if I just went over her ten-year-old head. Eventually she speaks, and her words are soft, careful. “Were you and Clayton like the Phoenix when you lost Aubrey?”

My breath catches. The familiar burning sensation shoots up from my chest to my throat, and the resulting hollowness is almost too much to bear. My eyes sting.

It’s only been a few weeks since my husband and I have been childless. Our precious foster child, whom we’d grown to love as fiercely as any biological parent over the course of sixteen long months, ever since she came into our lives at two months old, was no longer ours.

But what my niece doesn’t realize is we didn’t just lose our child, Aubrey. We lost our dreams of being a family. A family with her in it.

My mind races back to the first day I realized our lives were forever changed by this girl. We’d been foster parents before, but never for a baby. I wasn’t prepared for the nearly instantaneous bond…for the way I looked into her eyes and knew after three days that she was already “my baby.” And that I was her mother. As a baby she was entirely dependent on me, her caretaker. I was her world…so she became mine. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

And so the nest was built.

I remember one of her first family visits once we knew her leaving us was a possibility. After handing my crying child to a man I didn’t know, I stepped back into the house and stared at my living room floor. Her toys were strewn all over the carpet, but her voice was blaringly absent. Without her, the house was vacant. Too quiet. It was as though time had stood still, and my life was on hold, refusing to exist without her.

And then someone dropped the match.

It was a Tuesday. She knew something was up. We’d packed all her toys and clothes in front of her, and although we’d done our best to hide it, she’d seen us wiping away tears. She’d sensed our anxiety. And then, once outside, it hit her. Somehow, in her sixteen-month-old mind, she understood. She knew what was happening. Her arms suddenly clung to my neck, her body tense. The worker placed her in the car seat of this unfamiliar vehicle, and she sobbed, uncontrollably. With tear-filled eyes, she pleaded with me to do something. But I couldn’t. We’d been through so much. We’d fought a good fight. But in the end, I was helpless. My heart burned. I couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening to me. To her. To us.

I couldn’t take anymore. I raced inside and collapsed, throwing my face into my hands.

And all I could see were the flames.

I managed to survive the next few days, staying busy, doing my best to hold everything in out of necessity…until I was finally faced with something I’d managed to avoid until then – being alone in our empty house. I was fine before I left from visiting my friend. But on the way to my empty home, I felt myself start to lose control. Nerves had me on edge. Something was off inside me. It was like my body knew my violent emotions needed somewhere to escape, and I could only keep the dam in place for so long. Once I got home, I ran to the untouched nursery, grabbed the edge of the unused crib, and released the unrelenting torrent of tears as I sank to the hard, wooden floor.

And it was then I knew…this was real. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. My whole world was in flames.

Then there were the triggers. A week later, I sat in our Life Group, passively listening to others have a discussion about normal things, when a little girl Aubrey’s age ran in wailing to her mother. She’d been hurt somehow, so her mother picked her up and held her. As I watched the mother comfort her sobbing child, an unexpected flood of emotion rushed through me. The sound of this girl’s crying was almost identical to Aubrey’s cry the day she left. The last sound I’d heard her make. Not only that, but why did this mother get to comfort her child, and I didn’t? I wanted so badly to hold and comfort my little girl wherever she was at that moment. But I couldn’t.

Then my nephew came over. He was a little older than Aubrey but still a toddler. As my husband and I sat on our couch watching TV with our feet propped up like we always did, my nephew came up to me with his toy. He leaned against my legs as he played, and déjà vu struck me like a blow to the chest. For a split second, she was there again. Everything was normal. But reality told me she wasn’t there, and it would never be normal.

Later that night when my nerves were still on edge, my husband’s foot fell between the cushions of the couch. He wrinkled his brow at me like he’d found something strange and reached in with his hand. A few seconds later, he pulled out a plastic spoon. Aubrey loved to pull out plastic spoons from the kitchen drawer and was always playing with them in the living room. He held the spoon out to me with a grin. A gift. I accepted it carefully with trembling hands…and then I lost it. It was an object she had touched. A memory we had shared.

And now it was lost in the flames.

Another week or so passed, my husband and I went out to lunch with our closest friends and their child. Though it was still painful, a lot had changed in my heart already. I shared with my friend how I felt like God allowed certain things in our lives because it was what we needed at the time. She said something to me I will never forget. A truth to which I will cling whenever doubt creeps in and I wonder Why? or Was it worth it? or Should we have done things differently? She looked me square in the eyes and said, “And you were what she needed. She needed you to be her parents, not just her caregivers.”

And just like that, I could see clearly through the flames.

The sudden clarity and shift of focus made me dizzy with emotion as I grasped what this truth meant. If our little girl needed us to become so attached to her that we thought of her as our own child in order to get the loving bond she needed in her first two years, even if it meant we would have to go through such a painful sacrifice in the end, then I was grateful we were able to do it…and I would do it all over again. I loved her that much. My heart hurt with how much I loved her.

And somehow, that made the flames okay. I could endure them for her. I would endure them for her.

I swallow hard before glancing at my niece. She’s still waiting for an answer. Were we like the phoenix? Had we risen from our ashes?

I return my gaze to the road ahead of me and take a deep breath, reigning in my tears for another time. “Not quite yet,” I say. “I think we’re still in the fire.”

But for once, as painfully true as that statement is, I’m okay with it. Because “yet” holds a promise. A promise that one day, when the flames have finally died down, I will rise up out of the ashes of my lost dreams, beautifully refined and new. I will look back at our journey and see not only how much I’ve grown, but also how it served a much greater purpose – to love on a precious girl who needed to be loved.

I pat my niece on the knee with a forced smile. “It’s okay, sweetie.” I return my hand to the steering wheel and hold tight, willing myself to believe what I’m about to say. “The fire won’t last forever.”



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