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!

*affiliate link included

Like a River From Its Course: IT IS LAUNCH DAY!

%22Powerful and engrossing.%22

Well here we are.

After years of research. And a few more years of seeking representation. And then a few months of seeking publication. And then another year of editing and marketing and incessantly talking about the book.

HERE IT IS!

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Like a River From Its Course officially launches today. This is the day I’ve been waiting for since I was 22 years old. This is the day I dreamed about.

These are the stories I wanted the world to hear.

I pray I’ve done them justice. I pray that the men and women who are represented by this book are honored, because my deepest heart’s desire is to prove that there are still stories we haven’t heard.

In a world that feels unpredictable and frightening, I wanted to offer a book that gave hope. Four years ago, I visited Tanzania with Compassion international, and in the deep red soil of Africa, the Lord imprinted upon my heart the words that would become my life’s anthem:

Hope is Slow.

The evidence of that truth becomes more and more clear to me with each passing day. Hope is slow. But oh my friends, hope is alive. It is so alive, and it’s real, and when the world feels dark and scary and uncertain, we can cling to the fact that hope is here.

Like A River Cover - 200X300We need the stories in this book for such a time as this. We need to be reminded that man cannot be so easily broken. We need to recall a time when people rallied against a greater evil. We must remember the men and women who put their own lives on the line so that they could protect their neighbors.

We need these stories. And we need them right now.

I don’t know if I’ve done a good job with this book launch. I don’t know if I’ve become annoying with all the promoting and marketing. I don’t know if I’ve spoken to the right people. Maybe I’ve been too forward. Maybe I’ve been too timid.

I’ve made mistakes along the way, and I’ve learned a whole lot in the process.

But today I know that none of that matters. Today is a celebration because today the book is officially out in the world.

Today I can finally say I delivered on my promise to share these stories.

Today I can say I’ve seen a dream fulfilled.

Today I give these stories as a gift to you. Please treasure them because they’re precious.

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And today I say thank you to all the people who have cheered me on.

Thank you to the people who wouldn’t let me give up when I wanted to throw in the towel.

Thank you to the people who were waiting at the finish line with chocolates and cheers of excitement.

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Thank you to the people who don’t know me, but who agreed to take a chance on a debut novel by an unknown writer. Thank you for taking that chance, and for sharing how the book impacted you.

Today is LAUNCH DAY!

I’m proud of this book. I am proud because it’s the stories of a beautiful people who I love as my own. I’m proud to bring their stories to the rest of the world.

Happy LAUNCH DAY!

Like a River From Its Course is now available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook.com, and wherever books are sold.

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Want to help me spread the word? (Say yes)

Visit the book page for images, links, and tweets that you can quickly and easily share with your followers!

Post the link to purchase the book on Amazon.

Post a photo of yourself holding the book, and tag me in it so I can say THANK YOU!

Join the Thunderclap – I need 59 more people to sign up for the campaign to take effect.

Tell your friends, neighbors, colleagues about the book!

Request the book from your local library!

If you’re connected to anyone in the media who could help me spread the word, I’m looking for contacts!

Anything you can do to help is deeply appreciated!

Thank you!

GIVEAWAY TIME! Win an Amazon Gift Card!

Update: This contest is now closed and the winner has been notified. Thanks, everyone, for joining in!

My senior year at Baylor, I was in the throes of my Professional Writing degree. Every day was filled with literature classes, writing classes, and great gobs of time spent learning this craft.

My very favorite class in all my years at Baylor was that final year. It was titled Writing for the Popular Market, and the only assignment for the year was to write a novel.

That was the year I wrote the first draft of Like a River From Its Course.

There were only six or seven of us in the class, and we met weekly, sometimes at the campus coffee shop, with our fresh pages in two. Ten pages a week was the requirement, and we’d hand those slowly developing stories to the person on our right, and for the next hour we read, then offered one another constructive criticism.

This class was paramount to my career in that it taught me not only the skill of writing on a deadline, but also how to edit, how to offer someone helpful feedback, and how to take constructive criticism without taking it personally.

In an industry that requires a thick skin, I’m forever grateful for that year-long course.

As I prepare to officially launch #RiverNovel out into the world, I know that not everyone will love it. It won’t be some people’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. I am ready and prepared for the reviews – all of them, the good and bad.

Thankfully, so far all the reviews have been positive. In fact, I’ve been truly humbled and floored by the way people have fallen in love with the stories and the characters in my book. I’m honored to be able to share these stories, and relieved that it seems I’ve done a good job.

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Every reviews helps in this cutthroat market of selling books, and so today I’d like to offer a little giveaway.

If you’ve read Like a River From Its Course, and you leave a review on Amazon, you will be entered to win a $25 Gift Card to Amazon.

If you’ve already left your review, I know who you are and you’re already entered. Please just send me an email at rivernovelcontest(at)gmail(dot)com so that I have your contact information should you win (and I hope you do!).

If you haven’t finished the book yet, but plan to leave a review, awesome! Thank you! I’m going to pick a winner on Sunday so you still have time to finish.

And I want your honest reviews. Good or bad, you will be entered to win the gift card, so no pressure. Really! *wink*

I am genuinely, from the bottom of my heart, grateful for everyone who has taken the time to read this book so far. Thank you for celebrating this milestone with me. I am so honored to be on this journey, and to have so many cheering me on!

How to leave a review on Amazon:

1. Login to your Amazon account
2. Go to the product detail page here: http://amzn.com/0825444144
3. Scroll down and click “Write a customer review” in the Customer Reviews section.
4. Enter your review and click Submit.
Once you’ve left your review, please send me a link at rivernovelcontest(at)gmail(dot)com so that I have record of your information to contact you if you win (and I hope you do!) *wink again*

Also, if you have not had a chance to order your book yet, Amazon is running low on stock already! What a good problem to have, right?!

The good news is, you can get the book several other places online including Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook.com, and Books-a-Million. I even noticed yesterday that you can order it at Walmart.com.

So basically I am taking over the world!

In the meantime, we’re working to get more books to Amazon as soon as possible.

Alright, so that’s it! Leave a review, and you’re entered to win a $25 Gift Card to Amazon.com. Thanks to all and happy reviewing!!!

*one more wink*

Behind the Scenes: The Story of Ivan Kyrilovich

When I first visited Kiev, Ukraine, I had no idea the magnitude of what they suffered during World War II. As a teenager, I knew very little of the impact of those dark years beyond my borders. Raised with the many stories of our own troops fight for freedom, it never really occurred to me that other countries were impacted far more greatly.

We ambled up a sidewalk one chilly afternoon in March, following our translator, a woman who would later take me into her home for a time and let me call her friend. We stepped up to the monument commemorating the fallen and waited, our breath making small puffs in the cold air.

“This is the site where everything changed for my great-grandfather,” Alyona told us. “In this place, he saw things that you and I cannot even imagine. He never really spoke of that day to us, but my grandmother told me that he was never the same when he returned home.”

Alyona’s grandmother, Maria Ivanovna, would later give me the gift of her story. She trusted me with a small piece of her history, and in so doing, she exploded the borders of the world for me.

Maria’s father, Ivan, was mistaken for a Jew on September 29, 1941, and herded into line with thousands of other men, women, and children, pushed to the outskirts of town, and forced to stand at the edge of the ravine at Babi Yar. By the end of the day on September 30, 33,771 Jews had been brutally slaughtered, bodies piled high inside the gulf the split the land.

Ivan survived.

Just before the gun fired, he collapsed into the ditch where he lay for hours as bodies buried him alive. Under the veil of night, he crawled out.

I will never understand the horror of those days, but I will forever admire the strength and dignity of the men and women who walked through them. In my upcoming novel, Like a River From Its Course, I base many of the characters off the stories of the men and women I met in my years of research.

I pray I’ve honored them well.

In the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing a few excerpts from the book with you, along with some background on how these stories came to be. Today, I share an excerpt from the book in which the character, Ivan Kyrilovich, survives the killing ditch of Babi Yar.

For more information on the book, visit the book page where you’ll find more links to some of the history that inspired these stories, as well as Pinterest-worthy images, and links where you can preorder your copy!

Be blessed, friends.

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Like a River from Its Course: An excerpt

Ivan Kyrilovich

“Entering the killing zone is more horrifying than I imagined. Marching in a single-file line, our dignity stripped bare, we slowly wind our way up the small incline to the top of the death ditch.

I try not to look at them, the men and women below, their limbs all tangled in a mass of grief and horror. But the image is too great, so my eyes slowly lower, and when I finally see, my lungs constrict.

The bodies—all intertwined and twisted, thin arms and legs woven in and out in a pattern of heartache—they are the worms I see in my dream.

The sounds around me separate from one another. I hear every movement: the crunch of dying grass beneath trembling feet; the quiet sobs of those resigned to fate; my own hollow breathing as I fight suffocation; Klara whispering her daughter’s name over and over like a lifeline.

“Polina. Polina. Polina.”

I hear the click of German guns as many of them reload, the clanking sound of metal entering chambers. The easygoing banter of the soldiers across the ditch, as if today were just another day at a menial job. All of the sounds reverberate through my mind.

It isn’t just the sounds that magnify. I’m keenly aware of everything. The way the sunlight dapples through the trees, casting brilliant shapes and shadows across the open fields. The warmth of this Baba Leta day on my exposed flesh, fighting against the inner chill that leaves me raw.

I watch a black bird drift through the sky, his wings spread in freedom, gliding through the air without fear. He doesn’t flap his wings, nor does he fight the current of the breeze. He catches it and rises suddenly, sus- pended for a brief moment before leaning to the side and riding the wind to a nearby branch.

All of these things pass through me in an instant, and then it’s over. A German command brings the soldiers forward, their dusty caps set high on their foreheads. It is then that I see him.

He walks briskly down the line to the man stationed across from me. It’s the steely-eyed killer who pushed me into line, the same boy who killed the woman in the fur coat. Leaning forward, he whispers in his comrade’s ear. The soldier glances in my direction, shrugs his shoulders, and steps back, letting the boy with fire in his eyes take his place. I feel the heat, and in my final moments grow emblazoned.

Looking back at him from across the killing ditch, I stare straight into his eyes, feeling a surge of hatred that surprises me.

Ready!

The first command rings out, bursting through the air with a measure of indifference.

Set!

“Get ready, Polina,” I whisper as the Germans raise their guns. Though we’re separated by a ditch, I look directly into the barrel before me. It’s black and cavernous and threatens to swallow me whole. I taste metal, and my ears ring as I await the final command.

Aim!

I wait a beat, then yelp, “Now!” I grab Polina’s hand and crumple just as the shots burst through the air.”

©Kelli Stuart, 2016

The One Thing I Refuse

There’s a certain flaw in my personality. I know this comes as a shock to you, but it’s true. I am not perfect.

This certain flaw of mine resides firmly inside my stubbornness. I hate being told I have to do something.

Maybe you can relate?

Image Credit: Claudia Otte/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: Claudia Otte/Shutterstock.com

My first reaction to someone telling me I have to do something is to dig my heels in and say, “Nope. Not gonna happen. Thanks for asking, though.”

Now that I’m a grown up girl, of course, I’ve gotten better at controlling this impulse. I’m better at listening and receiving advice, and much more willing to concede the wisdom of others than perhaps I once was.

But I still don’t like being told I have to do something.

Writing books is a funny business. You think the book writing part is the hard part, and to a degree it is. As a writer once famously said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” (This quote is most often attributed to Earnest Hemingway, but as it turns out, he wasn’t the one who said this. Thanks, internet, for ruining my morning.)

Once you get past the draining nature of bleeding onto paper (screen…whatever), you then get to enjoy the process of finding someone to validate your work. I thought that was the hard part, until I finally got set up with the agent and the publisher, and got back the first, second, and third round of edits.

Surely that was the hard part, right?

It turns out I was wrong about all of it. The hardest part of writing is the marketing and the launching and getting the word out there about all that bleeding you did on paper (screen…whatever).

THIS IS THE HARD PART!

When I’m not nursing sick babies (hello strep throat! You’re no longer welcome), homeschooling, shuttling from baseball to soccer to flag football to youth group to gymnastics, and trying to fit in conversations with my husband, I’m working on the launch plan for the books I’m releasing this year.

I’m not complaining about this – not in the slightest. It’s terribly exciting, and the process is invigorating, of only slightly overwhelming. But there’s one problem:

This process of launching books can take over your life.

Every spare moment I have – every quiet, free second when the kids are playing, or the baby is sleeping – I am working on my plan to launch these books. And the more that I feel pressured to do to make this a “successful” launch, the more I want to dig in my heels, shake my head, and say, “Nope. Not gonna happen. Thanks for asking, though.”

Here’s the thing: I see the wisdom in all these things. If I were to do everything that was recommended to successfully launch and market my books, I can quite easily see how it would work.

But I can also see how it can control a person.

It will be summertime when I launch my novel – the time of year when all my children are home all day every day. Those are short months we’re given each year in which we get to make memories – to enjoy one another as a family without all the pressures of life.

I refuse to be controlled by book launches. I refuse to sacrifice my summer, and my children’s summer, with marketing. So, what does that mean?

It means I have to be strategic. It means I’m listening to the advice of my launch manager who is helping me control my strategy so that it doesn’t control me. 

I’m working ahead of schedule as much as possible so that when summertime rolls around I’ve got a bulk of the work pre-done.

I’m listening to the words of wisdom, and I’m sifting through it, tailoring it to fit my life – the life of a mother with four young children who don’t necessarily need me to be a bestselling author.

They need me to be their mom.

Image Credit: jakkapan/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: jakkapan/Shutterstock.com

Do I want to see these books thrive?

Absolutely.

Would I love to hit a bestseller list?

Of course!

Am I will to put in the work to make that happen?

Yes…but not at the sacrifice of the people closest to me.

So I’m navigating these waters cautiously. I may not be doing as much as I should be. I’m dropping balls left and right (some of them here at home, and some of them in marketing).

But I refuse to be consumed completely.

Turns out that stubbornness of mine comes in handy now and again.

 

Rediscover

Eight years ago this month, I typed my first blog post. I resisted starting a blog for a long time because it sounded so ridiculous. Type out my thoughts and publish them for strangers to read?

Weird.

But I quickly grew fascinated with the art of not just recording my day to day life, but rather telling stories. After a first, bumpy year of blogging (Oh, the first months of posts are painful to read), I fell into a rhythm. I told the internet funny stories, and together we laughed our way through motherhood.

It was instantly gratifying, you see, because I’d longed to be a writer for so long but the world of publication kept slipping through my fingers. With blogging, I was in control. People could read my words because I had the power to put them out there.

The first four years of this blogging journey can only be described as fun. I simply enjoyed the process. I knew exactly who I was as a blogger, and I embraced that, and the internet embraced me for it.

Then I went to Tanzania with Compassion International and everything changed. I came home having seen and experienced things I’d never seen and experienced before, and I didn’t want to go back. I longed for a depth in my writing that I didn’t know I was missing.

Shortly after that, we experienced the termination of our adoption, and blogging took a back burner to my grief. Instead of spending time online, I poured myself into my novel, the process of finishing that keeping me from slipping fully into the sadness that constantly threaten to engulf me.

During that time, a longing to publish traditionally was reignited, and within two years I had a contract to publish two books. It was then that I considered bidding a fond farewell to blogging.

Only, I just can’t seem to let it go.

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I love the interaction that happens here in the online world. It’s ebbed and flowed over the years, of course. That’s mostly my fault as I lost the grip on my online voice. When I stopped being Minivans Are Hot, I didn’t know what was expected of me.

I didn’t know what to expect of myself.

Life will naturally bend and twist and turn with the passage of time. Blogging is no longer what it was eight years ago, not just because I’ve changed, but because the nature of online interactions have changed. We’ve progressed beyond the online journals, and now we want something more out of these cyber spaces.

We want reality.

We want to be moved.

We want pretty pictures and practical advice.

We don’t want to spend a lot of time reading words.

I’m rambling a bit – a blogging no-no. But I’m winding through this path to say that I know I haven’t been very focused lately. I’m working on it. I’m finding my footing in this online world once again.

This weekend, my parents are coming to take care of the children while Lee is out of town, and I am headed to their condo in Clearwater for twenty-four hours of alone time.

I KNOW!

I’ll be spending that time lining out the next six months, preparing myself to curate better, more consistent material online because I want to honor the time you spend here in my little circle of the online world. I want it to be worth your while.

So don’t give up on me just yet. I’ll find my way back to the blogging path, and I hope that you’ll join me as I journey toward the launch of my first novel. It feels nice to know you’ve got people in your corner, cheering you one toward the finish line.

Happy Thursday, friends. I’m thankful for you!

 

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