June McCrary Jacobs was the winner of the 2013 Cedar Fort Holiday Writing Contest, earning her a spot in our publication schedule. Her winning entry, “A Holiday Miracle in Apple Blossom,” was published on Oct. 8, 2013 and is available in bookstores and from online retailers.
If you’re an aspiring writer and would like the opportunity to have your work published in 2014, submit your Christmas fiction tale to our 2014 Christmas Fiction Writing Contest.
We’re thankful to Jacobs for taking the time to field a few questions for today’s episode of Fiction Fest.
How did ‘Apple Blossom’ come to life?
Frequently I feel that our society in general is in such a rush at the holidays with all the shopping, baking, and trying to create a perfect Christmas that we forget the true meaning of the holiday. People seem so overwhelmed with what they ‘have to do’ to get ready for Christmas instead of enjoying the season. I wanted to write a story where a community worked together to attain the common goal of reaching out to one of their own families in crisis.
When I was in second grade, the little sister of a playmate on our street was hit by a car right in front of our house one evening. I was outside playing in the front yard when it happened. I’ll never forget how upset we all were that she’d been hurt. She had a bad head injury. The man who hit her was crying. He kept saying, “I didn’t see her. She just came from nowhere.” As you may imagine, the whole episode made a lasting impression on me.
As a first grade teacher, when a student from my class was in the hospital, the class made cards and pictures for their classmate. I’d visit the hospital room on the way home each afternoon and give the drawings and cards to the sick child. The families always appreciated my visits and everyone in the family loved the children’s cards and paintings.
I decided to begin my story with these two events—the girl being hit by a car and the teacher’s visit to the hospital. Then I decided to have Amber and Paul work together to help out the Simmons family with their mounting medical bills by planning and implementing the fundraiser, ‘Angels for Mary Noel.’
I worked on the character development, plot, and outline before I discovered Cedar Fort’s call for submissions for the 2013 Holiday Tale Contest. Writing is what I do, and this story and my characters filled my heart and mind with an uplifting story with a happy Christmas ending.
I really liked the premise of my story, and I loved my core characters. Then when I saw Cedar Fort’s call for submissions, I worked diligently for about six weeks to finish and polish the story. I felt like since Amber, Paul, Mary Noel, and all of Apple Blossom’s citizens spoke to me about faith and service to others that I wanted to share the story with others.
In late November of last year I saw Cedar Fort’s 2013 Holiday Tale Contest in a list of Google search results I generated. I studied Cedar Fort’s website with care. I was especially interested in the company’s mission statement. I realized that Cedar Fort’s goal for their books was an exact match with my goal for my writing! The Cedar Fort mission statement reads: “We want to publish uplifting and edifying books that help people think about what is important in life, books people enjoy reading to relax and feel better about themselves, and books to help improve lives.”
I decided to finish Mary Noel’s story and enter the contest. I’ve never entered a writing contest before, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. Also, I’d never submitted any of my work to Cedar Fort previously, but I had been submitting fiction stories and a novel to publishers for a couple of years. I had a lot of hope and a good dose of optimism when I submitted my manuscript for ‘Apple Blossom’ in January of this year. When I heard from Cedar Fort’s Fiction Acquisitions Editor that they wanted to publish my book, I was ecstatic and stunned—in that order.
What is your writing routine like?
I am still very much involved in designing sewing projects and submitting those for consideration by various publishers, print and online. So, my work time is an organized juggling act! I love writing and sewing/designing completely and equally.
At the end of each day, I prioritize my goals for the next day and then I jump right in after breakfast. I generally spend my mornings with writing, social media, email, and computer research. Right now I’m spending a major amount of my work time promoting ‘A Holiday Miracle in Apple Blossom,’ so things are a bit different than usual at present.
In the afternoons, I write some more or design and sew. I enjoy listening to classical music while I’m writing. I have my two favorite resources nearby, my large-print American Heritage dictionary and my large-print Roget’s II thesaurus. My bible is always close at hand.
What’s the most joy writing has brought to you?
People have always complimented me on the messages I inscribe in the greeting cards I give or send to them. To touch someone else’s life in that small way makes me feel happy. Now that my first book has been published, I receive emails from people to whom I am close and others whom I’ve never met telling me how much the book inspired them and made them feel positive about Christmas for the first time in a long time. Having a positive impact on others has always been a personal goal in my life, and it seems that this book has done that for some readers. The satisfaction that I told a wholesome story that warmed the hearts of others gives me a feeling of complete joy and peace.
What’s your current work in progress?
Right now I’m working on the second book in an inspirational contemporary romance trilogy set in a fictional small town in Northern California. The characters have a lot to overcome, but with faith and each other’s love and support they’ll survive and even thrive!
What message do you most hope readers will take from ‘Apple Blossom’?
The message I hoped to convey was that Christmas is much more than lights, decorations, gifts, food, and shopping. Those things can be fun and energizing, but the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of a very special baby boy born a couple of centuries ago. He symbolizes pure love and sacrifice, and I feel that’s what the community of Apple Blossom exuded in their support of the fundraiser to help the Simmons family. Faith-based service, love, and kindness are the main themes of the story.
What authors had the biggest impact on your writing style?
I’ve been a lifelong reader since before I started Kindergarten, so I guess I’ve probably been impacted by a lot of authors during my lifetime! In the inspirational genre, I admire Jillian Hart for her ability to convey a character’s inner feelings so beautifully. In the Amish genre, I’ve learned a lot from reading Shelley Shepard Gray’s work. Her use of dialog is concise, yet descriptive. In the general romance genre, I respect Debbie Macomber’s use of humor in her character’s actions and words. Other awesome inspirational genre authors are Colleen Coble, Tricia Goyer, Tracie Peterson, Lauraine Snelling, Marta Peterson. I also love Jennifer Chiaverini’s Elm Creek Quilts series and Earlene Fowler’s Benni Harper stories for their descriptive talents.
I believe that nobody writes tense, suspenseful situations better than mystery writers Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, and Sara Paretsky. They can get my heart beating within a matter of seconds. One of my all-time favorite authors, Amy Tan, paints a portrait of her scenes and the setting of a time period better than anyone I’ve read. Her depiction of China in the early period of the twentieth century in ‘The Joy Luck Club’ is amazing.
What do you like most about being a published author?
I like having my thoughts and words put before an audience so that they will experience enjoyment while they read my words. I like having a dialog with readers through my blog, email, and Facebook. I like the fact that for a little while, at least, readers were transported to Apple Blossom, Vermont, and into the plans for the fundraiser and the budding friendship and then romance of Amber and Paul. Finally, I’m delighted that my lifelong goal of becoming a published fiction author has been reached and that it’s just as thrilling and exciting as I dreamed it would be.
Who most influenced your desire to write?
Unfortunately, my announcement in the sixth grade that I wanted to be a writer was met with a great deal of negativity by the adults in my life. Fortunately, my husband has been a very positive influence in my journey as a writer. When I told him I wanted to try my hand at writing fiction, he told me to go for it and that he would be supportive. My close friends and another family member have offered encouragement and support since I won the Cedar Fort Contest. These individuals have been involved in my social media efforts and have been interested in the various facets of the publication of the book. Thank you everyone! (You know who you are . . .).
What advice would you like to offer aspiring novelists?
First and foremost, do not listen to the negative words coming from other people about your goals. This includes negative reviews that get posted on the internet. I know from personal experience that these things only fill your mind with doubt and take your mind away from your creativity and writing time. Guard against buying in to the criticisms of these dreamer stealers.
Here are a couple of links that I’d like to share with readers regarding becoming and being a writer.
a. A blog post I wrote a few months ago regarding the four publications that I read to keep up on the world of writing may be found here.
b. An author’s guest post about my journey as a writer was published on author Diony George’s blog earlier this month as part of my blog tour.