We Adopted, We All Got Sick, And I’m Launching a New Novel: An Update

We Adopted, We All Got Sick, And I’m Launching a New Novel: An Update

There really isn’t a non-awkward way to begin this post. It’s been nearly ten months since I last posted in this space. In internet years that’s practically a lifetime.

A lot can (and did) happen in ten months. For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, here is the abridged version of events.

We adopted Sawyer in November, and while we thought we were prepared for the adoption journey, there was much about Sawyer’s health that wasn’t disclosed to us, so the learning curve has been straight uphill.

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Shortly after bringing Sawyer home, when we were still reeling from the whirlwind that was China, our oldest son got sick. After a solid month of running a fever, and an ultrasound that revealed a swollen spleen, he was diagnosed with mono. A month after that, he was diagnosed with pneumonia.

On the same day that he was diagnosed with pneumonia, I was diagnosed with mono. This happened to be the same day that Sawyer had major surgery to repair his cleft palate.

The months of January-April are a bit of a blur. We were just trying to survive. We have seen more doctors and specialists than I ever knew existed, and we’ve met our family medical deductible for the first time in our lives, an accomplishment that isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds.

And here we are, on the other side. Survivors.

Suddenly, my dream from way back in early September seems almost prophetic, doesn’t it?

There’s so much more I could share about these last ten months. They have been some of the hardest, most exhausting, emotionally charged, physically taxing, spiritually formative months of my entire life.

But it’s more than a simple blog post can handle, so I’ll simply leave it at this:

God is good because He is God. Hope is slow, but it is never ending. Life is hard and unpredictable while simultaneously beautiful and miraculous.

In the midst of this hard season, I’ve found myself craving the process of writing like never before. It was my lifeline when the mono knocked me out. In the wee hours of the morning, when fear and despair seemed to constantly drive me from my bed, tapping away at the keys brought and unexpected solace.

And through the storm of life, a new story has evolved.

This fall, I will release my second novel, A Silver Willow by the Shore.

Releasing Fall, 2019!

A brief synopsis:

How do you face the future if you don’t know your own past? 

When an unexpected pregnancy changes her dreams, seventeen-year-old Annie tries to keep it from her mother and her grandmother.  But secrets have a way of coming out.  In a household of strong women, the arrival of a new life sets off a spiral of truth that reveals a past full of whispers and lies—a past that existed in another world under the heavy hand of Soviet oppression.  This history has dictated the circumstances of the present, but hope, redemption, and forgiveness will grow in the rocky places of these generational differences.
A Silver Willow by the Shore is the story of the unshakeable love between mothers and daughters and of the impact that past decisions can have on present day circumstances. This novel weaves together the stories of generations of women, from the gulags of 1930’s Siberia, to the quiet oppression of 1980’s Soviet Moscow, to present day Tennessee.  It is an unforgettable narrative of the treachery of secrets, and of the light that unites the heart of a family.

 

In the weeks to come, I will be sharing more about the book and opportunities to help spread the word. In the meantime, if you aren’t following me on Instagram, hop on over as I’m posting updates there regularly about this newest novel, my crazy life, and the art of the written word.

It’s awkward to jump back in this way after so many months away. It’s like trying to reinsert yourself into a conversation that you walked away from.

But here we are. We’re alive and (mostly) well. We’re surviving, and perhaps even thriving. By God’s grace alone, we’re standing in this place, humbled, changed, and excited about what the future holds.

 

Now, fill me in on you! What has life thrown your way in the last ten months?

Welcome New Readers!

“There are few moments when you receive a book and it just captures your attention and demands to be read. This is one of those books. It is powerful, emotional and full of passion. I cried, smiled and my heart broke at various times throughout the book. I was so attached when I first opened this book, it came with me to soccer practice and I read it the whole time we were there. It was definitely a book I read in one sitting and then re-read over again to further appreciate it.” Amazon review

It’s been just under a month since Like a River From Its Course released, and what a ride it’s been. I’ve been overwhelmed with the response to the book, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of this process. So may of you made it an exciting time for me, and I could not be more thankful.

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“Like a River From Its Course is an emotional, moving story that will leave you horrified by the depth of human depravity and yet inspired by the characters’ courage and faith in the midst of adversity. The author’s research shines through this book, as there is an air of realism that permeates the pages. The fact that I was reading about characters whose experiences were based on true stories made them all the more heart-breaking to read about. Kelli Stuart writes with a sure hand, with carefully crafted scenes and the ability to bring her characters to life.” Amazon Review

As I continue to share and spread the word about Like a River From Its Course, it’s also time for me to begin shifting my focus toward the next book launch.

In just two months, my second book will release. CRAZY! Who’s idea was it to release two books in four months?!

Life Creative: Inspiration for Today’s Renaissance Mom is co-authored with my dear friend, Wendy Speake, and I’m unendingly grateful to have her on board this time around. She’s like a book marketing ninja, which is good because I’m almost brain dead after this last month.

Many of you are new to the website, and I’m so glad to have you here! Feel free to poke around.

Visit this page to learn a little more about me.

Visit this page to read some of the true stories that inspired Like a River From Its Course.

Click here to find a synopsis of the book, as well as Pinable images for sharing!

Read this post to see how your purchase of Like a River From Its Course is helping a young Ukrainian girl named Masha.

Contact me here if you have any questions.

You should have already received a message offering you access to the freebies you get for subscribing to KelliStuart.com. These freebies include two ebooks, the first four chapters of Like a River From Its Course, and a Reader’s Guide perfect for book clubs. If you haven’t received the links to those freebies, contact me and I will send them right over!

Stay tuned for some SUPER exciting news! I can’t wait to share an upcoming opportunity with you all!

We are beginning to wind down our summer here in Florida. Only two more weeks until school starts! As much as I’ve enjoyed this break, the return of a routine is always welcome. I will be working on developing a more consistent posting routine again, as well.

In the meantime, welcome, and thanks again for making the launch of Like a River From Its Course such a memorable time for me! I’m looking forward to getting to “know” many of you in the months to come!

Happy Monday!

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Have you ordered your copy of Like a River From Its Course yet?

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Order now and see why people are calling it the best book they’ve ever read!

Click here to order your copy, or to leave a review if you’ve already read it.*

Thank you!!

*affiliate link included

Vacation, Huffington, and a WINNER!

Once upon a time, I wrote blog posts every day.

EVERY DAY!

I don’t know how I did that, honestly. Life was different then. The kids were younger, most of them still napped, and our days were less dictated by sports and activities, and growing social calendars.

All that to say, I haven’t had much time lately to write. Not writing is hard for a writer. I feel like I’ve been neglecting a part of myself.

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What I haven’t neglected, however, is some sweet time with this family of mine. We are in Texas for the week, holed up in a hotel (six people in one hotel room isn’t exactly a vacation, but I can’t find a better word for it…torture? No, that’s not right) while our daughter does a gymnastics camp.

Despite the cramped quarters, we’ve had some fun, and are making good memories with friends and with one another. And my brain is relishing in a bit of free time.

But it hasn’t been a totally work-free week! Before leaving, I submitted a blog post to The Huffington Post. It finally went live today. This was my response to the terrible attacks in Nice last week.

How History Can Help Our Fight Against ISIS

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Now, moving on to the GOOD news!

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A winner was drawn this morning for the Like a River From Its Course giveaway and blog tour! Congratulations to Miranda Marchese! My publicists from Litfuse Publicity Group will be in touch via email with details on how to claim your prize. You can also email your mailing address to info {at} litfusegroup {dot} com. Congrats!

Thank you to everyone who entered, and who helped spread the word. It’s been fun to see so many new faces around Twitter and Facebook!

If you haven’t ordered your book yet, do so today! I’m blown away by the reviews and responses I’ve receive from readers. This book was a labor of love, and it holds a large piece of my heart, so hearing the impact it’s leaving on readers has blessed me so much.

Order Like a River From Its Course now and find out why people are calling it the best book they’ve ever read!

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you’re all enjoying some sweet down time with family here in the middle of summer!

 

Behind the Scenes: The Mastermind of Babi Yar

When working on Like a River From Its Course, I knew that I wanted to give as historically accurate a glimpse into World War II Soviet Ukraine as I could while still offering myself plenty of creative license with the stories. Having so many real life stories to draw from helped shape many of the characters and their narratives, but what about the side stories?

What about the real life men and women responsible for the heinous acts of the 1940’s?

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Writing a book about World War II is daunting. The market is fairly saturated with stories from that era, so how would I write about those days in a way that was fresh and new? I needed to add an element of realism to make those wretched years come alive.

I spent countless hours researching the events that took place in Kiev, Ukraine, with the largest tragedy occurring at Babi Yar, the “killing ditch” where roughly 34,000 men, women, and children were killed in just two days time.

The mastermind behind that horrific event was a man named Paul Blobel.

800px-Paul_BlobelA wicked, wretched little man, Blobel not only took credit for ordering thousands of Jews killed, but he was known to speak highly of his involvement in these mass executions.

In one of the books I read, a story was told of the day that Blobel and one of the Gestapo leaders drove past Babi Yar. The decomposing bodies of the Jews lay smoldering in the narrow ravine, and as the story goes, Blobel looked at the smoke, rising into the air in plumes of heartache, and said to his comrade, “This is my ditch. Isn’t it grand?”

The level of hatred that this one man possessed, and the demons that operated from his shell of a body were hard for me to comprehend. There were days when I had to swallow hard the bile of anger as I considered his actions, and those of the many like him.

It is these aspects of the book that make the story gritty and tough to read. I couldn’t possibly gloss over the sheer darkness of those days and somehow honor the fallen. If we are to respect their memories at all, then we must respect the wretched ways in which they died.

Including some of the real life characters in the book gave me a chance to show the extreme depravity of these men. But it also shined a light on the beauty and resilience of those who fought and survived those years.

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Juxtaposed against Paul Blobel’s ugliness was the beauty of Ivan Kyrilovich, a man who was willing to give his life for his Jewish neighbors. Maria Ivanovna was willing to take a beating for her friend. Luda Michaelvna chose love over hatred after being assaulted. Sergei Ivanov worked as a partisan, despite the danger it put him in.

For all the horror of World War II, there was a whole lot of hope, and when you start mining through all these stories you find that the wretchedness of men like Paul Blobel cannot withstand the ultimate beauty of the human spirit.

We live in a day when fear is ever present. Tensions are high around the world, and there’s no better time than now to look at the past and to remember that the spirit of a man cannot be so easily quenched.

Order your copy of Like a River From Its Course now!

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There’s still time to enter the Kindle Fire Giveaway if you haven’t done so yet. It’s quick and easy to enter, and the prize is great! You can win a copy of Like a River Form Its Course, a Kindle Fire with the case of your choice, and a $30 Amazon gift card.

Click here to enter!

*this post contains affiliate links*

Addressing the Question of Faith

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When I first set out to write a novel set in World War II Soviet Ukraine, I did not intend to add an element of faith. This was, after all, a time of great spiritual oppression, with Stalin’s communist regime silencing anyone who might pose a threat to them. And there was, perhaps, no people group greater persecuted than those of the Church.

I met three fascinating World War II survivors in Odessa, Ukraine, all of whom had been Christians in those dark days of war. Two of the men were forced to serve in the penalty battalion of the Red Army after they were caught hiding and harboring Jews. Both credited God’s protection for their survival.

I wanted to tell these stories and, in fact, in one of the earlier versions of Like a River From Its Course, I did have a storyline that was based on one of these men’s experiences. But it became apparent early on that not all the stories could be told.

It would have been an impossible book to read.

So I whittled the stories down to four, and I planned to leave the spiritual component out of the book altogether. But then I began to wonder…

What does war do to a person? In the case of Ivan, after having survived the horror of Babi Yar, how would such an experience define how he saw the world? Would there be any questions of God in such a time of darkness?

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I began to research how people of faith responded to the Nazi invasion, and I discovered that in the years between 1941-1945 there was a resurgence of the Church throughout the Soviet Union. Long oppressed and forced underground, they experienced a bit of freedom during the war years because the leadership of their country was so occupied with the fighting.

And so I began to explore the idea that perhaps people sought out answers to some really tough questions during that time. These were people who had survived the collectivization of their farms, Stalin’s purges in which millions of innocent people were sent to the Gulags if they were at all perceived threatening, and the famine of the early ’30’s that decimated the population.

Ukraine was particularly hard hit in these arenas. But there’s something else that’s important to understand: Ukraine was once the centerpiece of Christianity in that part of the world.

Tradition tells the story of the apostle Andrew visiting Kiev in his missionary journeys, and it’s said that Princess Olga was one of the first in the monarchy to accept Christianity. In 988, Princess Olga’s grandson, Prince Vladimir the Great, established Christianity in its Byzantine-Slavic rite as the national religion of Kievan-Rus. 

The Church has a long history in Ukraine, which made the exploration of how a character would seek God in communist USSR a fascinating topic for me.

But here’s the kicker: I needed this to be authentic.

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I’ve had a couple of emails from readers now, and at least two comments in the review section of Amazon, questioning the spiritual storyline of the book. One comment said the spiritual thread was nearly non-existent, and what was there felt like Catholicism.

That was intentional.

Ivan Kyrilovich was a man raised under the talons of communism. Thanks to the quiet prayers of his mother, he had at least some exposure to faith, but it was minimal. I wanted his journey to be one of questioning. I wanted to show that he struggled with this concept of faith, because wouldn’t he?

Wouldn’t you?

I couldn’t wrap a neat little bow around this quest for faith, because the truth is that after the war, the church had to move back underground. My intention wasn’t to show some western-like grand conversion, but rather to display nuggets of truth inside one man’s quest for understanding.

As for how the faith played itself out, the predominant form of Christianity present in those days (and dating back to Vladimir the Great) was the Russian Orthodox Church, which does look very similar in nature to Roman Catholicism.

Mary plays a big role in the Russian Orthodox faith, as do the many saints. There is the belief that you have a saint who shares your name, and you can pray specifically to that saint when in need.

Icons also play a major role in the Church, and if you ever have the chance to visit an Orthodox church in the former Soviet Union, I hope you’ll study the icons closely. They are fascinating pieces of art depicting a long oppressed and persecuted faith.

If I was going to write an authentic story, then I needed Ivan and Tanya’s quest for faith to be authentic. It wasn’t going to be western in any way. It had to be real to both the time and the culture.

Beyond that, though, my prayer is that we can all be encouraged by the brief message of faith in Like a River From Its Course. For many years, man attempted to erase God from that land. They sent religious leaders to prison camps, turned churches into communist training facilities, and threatened anyone who attempted to spread Christianity with death.

But faith is not so easily snuffed out.

In the midst of one of the darkest periods of history, the Church surged back into the land and provided hope where there seemed to be none. In the words of Father Kyrilovich, “Life is a series of trials, all strung together by moments of beauty. But when the string of joy and beauty breaks, what is left to hold life together if there is no God?”

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If you haven’t entered the Kindle Fire giveaway yet, hop on over and do so now. Entering is easy, and the prize is great! A copy of Like a River From Its Course, a Kindle Fire with your choice of case, and a $30 Amazon gift card.

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And, as always, keep those reviews of Like a River From Its Course coming!

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

*this post contains affiliate links*

How audacity played a role, and also a GIVEAWAY!

It’s funny how God puts people together.

Lee and I were freshly married and just beginning our life together in Frisco, Texas. We’d been in town for one week when we got together with a couple whose names I do not remember, nor do I recall how we were connected with them in the first place. I just remember going to lunch and telling these strangers that I needed a way to keep practicing my Russian language so I didn’t lose it.

“Oh, I know the perfect place!” the strange lady said. “There’s a gymnastics academy here in town run by Russians. You should go in an talk to them, and see if there’s a community here to get involved in.”

The next day, I visited the World Olympic Gymnastics Academy for the first time. Sometimes, I chuckle at my tenacity. I walked in and told the receptionist I was looking for someone who would speak Russian with me. She looked at me as if I had two horns growing out of my head, then led me into the gym and introduced me to Valeri Liukin and Evgeny Marchenko.

“I want to practice my Russian,” I said. Valeri cocked his head to the side slightly and smiled.

“Do you know anything about gymnastics?” he asked.

It just so happened I had been a competitive gymnast as a kid, and had coached on and off through high school and college. I nodded my head and he looked at Evgeny.

“Do you want a job?” he asked.

And so it was that I began working at WOGA not because I was looking to be a coach, but because I was looking for Russian speaking community. For two years, the coaches at WOGA took me under their wing, inviting me to parties, answering my incessant questions, helping me understand the nuances of the language I loved, and so much more.

They were my people, and it was them I was saddest to leave when we moved away.

The year after we moved, I contacted Evgeny with yet another odd request.

“I’m going to Ukraine to interview veterans for a book I want to write. Do you have any contacts there who can help me?”

It so happens, Evgeny’s mom lived in Vinnitsya, Ukraine, and within a week it was all set up for me to spend a few days with her.

A pregnant, sick Kelli, with Victoria and her table full of food!

A pregnant, sick Kelli, with Victoria and her table full of food!

Victoria Marchenko welcomed my mom and I into her home with open arms, and a table brimming with food. I was sick when I arrived, having picked up a terrible cold on the trip, and she immediately took it upon herself to cure me with tea and vereniki (think dumplings filled with meat – yum!).

Victoria was a true gem. She mothered me for the next two days as she took me around town, introducing me to some of the most fascinating people I would meet in all my travels.

She took me to the home of her friend, Elizabeta Semenova, a woman who worked as a partisan and whose experience became central to the story of Luda.

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Me, Elizaveta, my dear friend Sveta, and Victoria in Elizabeta’s home.

She took me to a group of veterans who were one of the liveliest bunch of men I’ve ever met. They told their stories one at a time, and Victoria sat in the corner taking it all in. You could tell she was respected and admired within her community, and I felt a sense of pride just being in her presence. Somehow I knew I’d found a very special lady.

Victoria also told me about Vervolfy, Hitler’s underground bunker built just on the outskirts of Vinnitsya. Now just a meadow with no seeming significance (though the site has never been excavated, which gives it a mysterious quality), Victoria made sure I understood the gravity of what occurred at that place. Her description was so vivid and passionate that when I finally visited the site in person, I felt a hallowed awe for the men and women who died there.

This book wouldn’t have come together the way it did if it weren’t for Victoria Marchenko.

It wouldn’t have come together at all if I hadn’t been to audacious to walk into that gym so many years ago and just ask someone to talk to me. I mean, really – WHO DOES THAT?!

What a lovely thing it is to see the tapestry of this project woven together for such a time as this.

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Speaking of the book, it’s time for another GIVEAWAY!

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Litfuse Publicity Agency started their blog tour for Like a River From Its Course, and you have the opportunity to win big! They’re giving away a copy of the book, a Kindle Fire, a Kindle Fire case (winner’s choice), and a $30 Amazon gift card. And the best part is, it’s super easy to enter!

Click here for your chance to win!

Don’t let this stop you from purchasing the book, though! Order your copy of Like a River From Its Course* today and find out why people are calling it the best book they’ve ever read.

If ever there was an opportunity for me to honor the memories of Victoria Marchenko, and all the men and women to whom she introduced me, this book is it.

Thanks for honoring them with me!

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