A Magical Return to Middle Grade Fiction

by Kristina Ludwig
May 2
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: May 2, 2016 at 9:00 am

My latest writing project has been a super fun one, as well as one that is dear to my heart. I’m revisiting a manuscript that has been twenty-some years in the making.

I’m pretty sure all you writers out there have a similar manuscript–one that you started writing as a child, and have been working on for years, a story that just won’t let you go and seems to evolve with your writing experience. I call these “lifetime stories” for obvious reasons. :)

My lifetime story just happens to be a middle grade fantasy about eleven year-old twins who can travel to a magical and timeless kingdom called the Aquamarine Isle. There they help the queen to catch a gang of gemstone robbers–and discover some important things about themselves as well.

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I first wrote the story when I was six. I entered an updated version in a writing contest when I was fourteen, and did massive edits at age twenty. Now, in my early 30s, I’m returning to it–and planning to publish it on Kindle.

Returning to middle grade fiction is so much fun, but it’s also quite a challenge. MG fiction must be sassy and smart like today’s kids, grabbing their attention and stimulating their brains. Yet it can’t be so sophisticated that readers become frustrated with the wording and the storyline. No doubt about it, writing MG fiction is an exercise in balance and really stretches us as authors.

With that in mind, here’s an excerpt from the book, tentatively titled “Dazzle.” Do you like reading or writing MG fiction? I’d love to hear about your feedback and experiences, and I hope you enjoy the chapter!

Chapter One: Discovery in the Attic

Wes and Raffie Bonifaze were having an extraordinarily ordinary day—not just dull, but epically boring. And the Bonifaze twins did not do well with boring.

They lounged by their backyard pool, eating red, white, and blue popsicles left over from the fourth of July. They had grown tired of swimming games after a whole morning of them, and were drying off in the sunshine. Even at rest, the twins fidgeted, their bodies as tightly coiled as the copper-colored curls on their heads.

“Wessie, I’m bored,” Raffie said, tilting her face to the sun. Although she and her brother were redheads with nearly translucent green eyes—usually a recipe for disaster in the sun—their skin didn’t burn, and instead glowed a tawny golden-brown.

Wes frowned at his sister, wondering whether he should wear a “Hello, My Name Is” nametag that said, “Wes, the boy formerly known as Wessie.” Even though he was a mature eleven, his whole family still clung on to his annoying babyhood nickname.

“It’s Wes now,” he said. “Get it right. How would you feel if I went around calling you Raphaela-You-Smella?”

Raffie giggled. “Hmmm. Guess you have a point.”

The twins finished their snacks in silence until Raffie said, “Why don’t we go exploring in the woods?”

The backyard forest was one of the best things about living at Bonifaze Acres, although there were so many great things. The twins’ house was an honest-to-goodness mansion. The only catch was that their parents were hardly ever around to enjoy it.

“Exploring,” Wes scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Yeah, right. That’s kid stuff.”

“Bet you can’t think of anything better.”

“Sure I can.”

Silence ruled until Raffie said with a twinkle in her eye, “I know! You can laugh at me if you want, but I’m still feeling adventurous. Let’s go upstairs—”

“—into the attic,” Wes interrupted, practically reading her mind. This was one of the good things about being a twin, although Wes frequently wondered whether it was a good thing to be on the same wavelength as his sister. “Great idea, Raffie.”

Raffie sprang up from her lounge chair, sweeping into a dramatic bow. “It’s about time you noticed my greatness,” she said with a dimpled smile. “Now let’s get Aura and go.”

“Do we have to?” Wes rolled his eyes as he hurried after Raffie, who was already bounding toward the house. “She won’t want to go anyway.”

“How do you know?” Raffie called over her shoulder, disappearing through the back door.

Wes shrugged, jamming his hands into the pockets of his still-damp swim trunks. “Just a hunch,” he mumbled. And to be honest, he hoped Aura wouldn’t want to go.

Birthday Custom: Reflections on Another Year

by Kristina Ludwig
Mar 30
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: March 30, 2016 at 3:09 pm

This past weekend was my birthday–time to party, goof around, be surprised, and eat lots of chocolate. And, on a more serious note, it was time for my year-end review.

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A special message from my hubby and daughter on my birthday.

 

Every b-day, I divide my life into categories and evaluate each one honestly. This short reflective exercise not only lets me celebrate all the small victories of the previous year, it helps me to pinpoint goals for the upcoming one.

My year-end review is similar to making New Year’s Resolutions, but I find that my “resolutions” are easier to achieve because: a.) I feel more energetic and dedicated in the spring than I do at the tail end of the holiday season, and b.) The rest of the world is not making resolutions with me, so I can focus on my own goals more.

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Because reflections go so much better with chocolate-on-chocolate cake…

Interested in trying your own year-end review? Here are the categories I use, as well as some questions to ask yourself.

  • Relationships: Friends and family bring us so much color and happiness, like flowers in a garden. And, much like flowers, important relationships need constant attention and love in order to bloom. Ask yourself: Have I maintained close relationships with my family and friends? Am I in contact with my long-distance friends and family? Have I made new friends? Do I spend quality time with my kids and/or significant other, and do I tell them I love them every day?
  • Fitness: Because our bodies only work as well as we take care of them! Ask yourself: How often do I work out? What is my favorite form of exercise? If I belong to a gym, am I making the most of my membership with regular visits? Am I exploring new fitness classes? Do I eat healthy foods the majority of the time? Have I tried any new exercise regimes this year, and would I like to try something new next year?
  • Hobbies: Our “extracurricular activities” are so enriching, giving us an outlet for our creativity and passion. Ask yourself: What are my favorite hobbies, and have I practiced them this year? Have I neglected any hobbies that I used to enjoy, and if so, how can I rekindle them? Are there any new skills I would like to learn? Are there any organizations I can join to meet others who share my hobbies?
  • Spirituality: Regardless of our religious affiliations, being in touch with our spiritual side can help us to feel more tranquil and centered, enriching overall feelings of well-being. Ask yourself: If I’m religious, do I pray regularly and attend worship services? Do I practice yoga and/or meditation? When and where do I feel most at peace?
  • Career: Ask yourself: What were my proudest moments in my career this past year? What were my greatest achievements? Do I feel as though my career is bringing value to this world? What would I like to change at work, and how can I do my job better? Am I happy in my current position, or would I like to change positions and/or fields? If I’m on leave/sabbatical, when do I plan to return?

There you have it: my year-end review! The most fascinating thing about this exercise is the way the categories overlap and influence each other, leading to “Aha moments” as we reflect about them. For example, relationships with our family can influence our performance at work, and expressing ourselves through creative hobbies can lead us to feel more spiritually balanced. Sometimes, we may discover a deficiency in one of the categories that influences the others, or we might realize that great performance in a category significantly enhances the others.

Do you conduct a similar exercise around your birthday, or maybe at the start of a new year? Do you have anything to add to my review? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Book Excerpt from Amish Redemption

by Kristina Ludwig
Sep 28
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: September 28, 2015 at 10:56 am

This week, I’m excited to bring you another excerpt from my upcoming eBook, Amish Redemption. It’s the final book of the Amish Friendships series, and full of challenges for our young friends Miriam and Abram.

Missed the first excerpt? Check it out here on the blog. And, as always, I’d love to hear what you think of the book so far. :)

Beautiful autumn in Amish country. Photo courtesy of branhamphoto.com

Beautiful autumn in Amish country. Photo courtesy of branhamphoto.com

Chapter Two: Abram

 After I settle the horses in the barn for the night, I brace myself to head back outside into the cold. Even on drafty evenings like these, the barn always seems to carry a warmth of its own, from the animals and the soft hay lining the floors and walls.

I cringe when I step back outside and a blast of frigid air hits me. I usually love that chill that tells me winter is on the way, but I suppose that lately I’ve felt so frozen out by the people in our community that I just want to feel warm all the time.

I frown as I unload the groceries from the English market and carry them toward the haus. Everything cost nearly twice as much as it does at Samuel’s General Store. But I’ve had to stop shopping at the Amish stores ever since my fraa and I were placed in the Bann.

I still think that our punishment was unfair. When the scraggly runaway teen showed up at our haus one day, we took him in and let him earn his keep by working for us. He hid who he really was, telling us that his name was Lee, but it wasn’t long until I figured out that he was actually Levi, Minister Eichler’s long-lost son.

Levi asked Miriam and me to keep his secret until he was ready to talk to his parents, and we did. The only problem was that the Eichlers found out that he was here before he’d had a chance to talk to them. Instead of being angry with their son, they blamed everything on us for lying and keeping his secret, and we ended up Meidung.

Now it’s up to us to pick up the pieces. We talked to the bishop, and he told us there’s much to do before we can come back to the fold.

It’s just not right that Miriam and I were shunned, while Levi was allowed back into his parents’ haus and barely punished. As an unbaptized youth, he was given a bit more leeway. I hope that he returns to Ohio soon to see Sadie, the girl he was courting before he ran away. He compromised Sadie, and now she’s expecting a bobbel.

I think of my own bobblin, one born and one on the way, and shake my head. I try to tell myself that I should forgive Levi entirely, but I just can’t. I don’t think he’s a man of character. If I were in his place, I would be back in Ohio faster than a shot, waiting for the miracle of my bobbel’s birth.

But who am I to judge other people? Only Herr Gott can do that. Sighing, I heave the grocery bags upwards and drag myself inside to see my fraa.

I’m greeted by the smell of roast beef and buttery mashed potatoes, two of my favorite things. As Miriam rushes downstairs to help me unload the groceries, and then prepares plates for me, Henry, and herself—last as usual—I look at the rounded swell of her belly, and realize that the bobbel is not far away.

“How was your day, liebchen?” I ask, kissing her.

Gut,” she says in a falsely-bright voice. She plops down in her seat and begins feeding Henry mashed potatoes. “I redd up the haus, and played with Henry. We made cookies and pies, and went for a short walk outside.”

I can hear the strain in her voice; I know that she’s missing the time spent with friends, family, and neighbors, just as I am. Although Miriam doesn’t have many close friends, she’s always been actively involved in the community, taking Henry to play with other children and attending quilting circles. Now she can’t do any of that.

“That sounds nice,” I say without any enthusiasm, taking a mouthful of roast beef. “My day was gut, too. I gave one tour, and then shopped with the Englischers.”

A strangled sob escapes from Miriam’s throat, and Henry and I both stare at her. I’m horrified to see that her eyes are bright with tears.

“Let’s not lie to ourselves anymore,” she says. “My day was baremlich, and yours was, too. All the days will be like that until we’re back in the fold.”

I hop out of my seat and throw my arms around my fraa. “Everything will be all right,” I whisper into her hair, and I feel her relax into my arms.

I can only hope that I’m right, and not lying, both to Miriam and to myself.

Reflections on a Month of Love

by Kristina Ludwig
Sep 8
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: September 8, 2015 at 9:20 am

This summer was truly the “summer of love” among my friends and family; Antonio and I found ourselves invited to 5 weddings, and were able to make 3 of them. Incredibly, all of the weddings took place in August, so three out of four weekends this past month included wedding festivities!

To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than a couple in love, especially a couple just starting their lives together, full of hope and expectations for the future. It’s why all the books I write feature young people in love–and it’s also why I adore weddings.

I can’t help it: I’m a hopeless romantic, and now that I’m married, I often find myself reliving my own special day at other people’s weddings. My eyes always prickle with tears of joy as I watch the bride walk down the aisle and see her face full of happiness and anticipation. Then I shift my gaze to the groom, and marvel at the way his face lights up when the music swells and he admires his wife-to-be. I remember the way I felt as I took that joyous walk, which just intensifies the experience.

My favorite part of weddings–besides being part of the love, of course–is the way that each celebration reflects the couple’s personalities and the things they hold most dear. With that in mind, here are my reflections on the three weddings I attended this past month.

  1. Wedding #1: Small and Intimate - We kicked off the month with the destination wedding of our friends Carlo and Samar, traveling to the stunning red mesas of New Mexico. The bride and groom had planned a “white wedding” at a resort in Santa Fe, and Antonio and I were entranced not only by the beauty of the landscape and venue, but by the charming outdoor ceremony, delicious sit-down dinner, and incredibly fun group of about 30 guests. After dinner, we all went nuts dancing, and closed out the night with karaoke. We had ample time to chat with the bride, groom, and other attendees, and by the conclusion of the weekend, I’d made many new friends. Small weddings are amazing in this way; I really felt like everyone celebrated together instead of just sticking in their own little groups. IMG_0650
  2. Wedding #2: All-out Festival – Nabil and Salam’s wedding took place in Lebanon, and was a huge, traditional wedding that reminded me of a Lebanese festival. The day began with a gorgeous outdoor lunch of about 350 people, and then the guests all followed Nabil to Salam’s mountain village, where the ceremony took place. The reception was held in a castle with breathtaking views of the city of Beirut and the Mediterranean Sea. A sumptuous buffet was set up, and guests danced into the wee hours of the morning to a variety of music, but mostly Lebanese songs. As the bride and groom danced and cut the cake, huge sparklers erupted. The lights were brilliant and dazzling, but they were nothing compared to the spark in the couple’s eyes when they looked at each other. IMG_0877
  3. Wedding #3: Getting the Party Started - Eddy and Maya’s wedding also took place in Lebanon, and began with a touching ceremony in a beautiful old church, full of speeches by family and friends, as well as a sermon in Arabic. The reception was held at an amazing outdoor venue called Swan Lake. Sure enough, there was a shimmering lake with real swans, and down below, tables and a dance floor were set up. The venue sat atop a mountain, and the views of the city and sea were a sight to behold. The buffet was delicious, but the best part was the dancing. The bride and groom are a high-energy couple who love to party, and their arrival was punctuated with dance music, after which many of the guests stormed the dance floor. Antonio and I danced all night, reveling in the fun, club-like atmosphere and enjoying every moment with the bride and groom. IMG_1017

Writing about these weddings and reliving the happy memories has been such a treat for me. Readers out there, was this summer full of weddings for you, too? Do you love weddings as much as I do? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

The Truth About Writer Moms and Deadlines

by Kristina Ludwig
Jul 20
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: July 20, 2015 at 10:28 am

It seems as though we live our lives by deadlines, and this is a good thing. After all, they keep us focused and productive, which is essential if we ever want to move forward in our chosen professions.

Deadlines are especially important for us writers–whether we’re writing an article for a major magazine or self-publishing a novella, it’s imperative to take our craft seriously, and that means sticking to deadlines–whether they’re self-imposed or not.

I never had a problem with deadlines; during my school days, my assignments were always done on time. During my stint as a pharmacist, I would stop at nothing to make sure that people had their prescriptions ready by the promised time. When I transitioned into my career as a self-published author, I created my own deadlines. Suddenly, I didn’t have teachers or patients breathing down my neck, and I was able to be totally self-directed, which I loved.

For the first year, I churned out one new book per month, sometimes two if I released a box set, and I stuck to my deadlines religiously. When Antonio and I were blessed with our daughter last October, I set slightly less aggressive deadlines, and was able to meet them all… that is, until about a month ago when I had to ask my editor for my first-ever extension.

Even if your clock is this cool-looking, it's still reminding you of the dreaded deadline. :)

Even if your clock is this cool-looking, it’s still reminding you of the dreaded deadline. :)

 

Every muscle in my body tensed at the mere thought of an extension. I felt like I had failed–my editor, my readers, and, most of all, myself. Yet there was no way that I could’ve submitted my book by the promised date. I’d been traveling, but I’d thought I’d have plenty of opportunities to make up for lost time while Xaviana napped. However, when she began teething, her naps (i.e., my writing time) became irregular, and I just couldn’t catch up.

The good news was that I set a new deadline with my editor, and was able to meet it. I released the book, and am now hard at work on the next one–and hoping to meet the next deadline haha. Xaviana is napping well again, I’m writing, and all is right with my world. :)

This made me think about how work for a writer-mom is constantly evolving–just like our babies themselves. As I’ve told myself so many times, we just need to be flexible, and I suppose our deadlines have to be, too. Writer-moms (and dads) out there, what do you think? What experiences do you have with deadlines? Do you always meet them, or do you find that it’s better to keep them a bit loose sometimes? What about those of you with older kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Amish Blessings Release + Giveaway

by Kristina Ludwig
Jun 30
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: June 30, 2015 at 8:58 am

I’m psyched to announce that Amish Blessings has launched on Kindle… Check it out here. In this book, we catch a glimpse of the lives of Miriam and Abram, young business owners who, up until this book, have been minor characters. In past books, Abram and Miriam mostly cropped up in party scenes (Abram in the Amish Hearts series) or moments of annoyance for Mercy and Hannah (Miriam). However, I think readers will find love and compassion in their hearts for this surprisingly sweet couple as they take in a runaway boy…and face an unexpected shunning.

Interested in reviewing Amish Blessings? The first 5 people to comment here will receive free review copies!

Thanks to everyone who provided me with valuable feedback on the cover designs yesterday. Many readers commented on the Facebook post, and it helped so much! Here’s the finished version of the cover. What do you think?

 

You voted, we listened... Here's the Amish Blessings cover reveal.

You voted, we listened… Here’s the Amish Blessings cover reveal.

And, as always, I’m happy to share a free excerpt with you. Here’s Chapter 2. (If you missed Chapter 1, you can read it here.)

Chapter Two: Abram

 The brisk fall wind whips across my face, nearly blowing my straw hat off my head. I shiver, tugging my jacket closer around myself as I harness the horses to the buggy for the first tour of the day.

My Amish tour business is a relatively new one. Miriam and I started it, and the bed and breakfast, after my vadder passed away and left me, along with my bruders and schweschders, a bit of money. My dear maemm had died of cancer a few years before, and Vadder hadn’t taken it well. He’d simply stopped taking care of himself, despite the constant concern of the family.

The heavy gray clouds above make it the perfect day for gloomy thoughts, but I force the sadness out of my head and focus on the tasks at hand. Vadder and Maemm are with Herr Gott and each other in heaven, where they belong. At least, I hope they are. We Amish try our best to live purely and simply, and my parents were gut people. But even so, you can never be sure that you’re going to heaven.

I’m glad when the Quigleys, who will be staying at the bed and breakfast for the weekend, head out the front door. They’re scheduled for a morning tour, and it will be nice to be distracted from the turn my thoughts have taken. But I’m surprised to see that they’re not coming outside empty-handed; they have their bags, and the twin girls are pouting and whining.

I hurry over, wondering what could have possibly gone wrong. The tours are fairly popular, and I even hired two of my friends, Jeremiah and Aaron, to help out. They’ll both be coming in a little later today, when the tour schedule is full.

However, very few people have stayed in the bed and breakfast. So far, only a few families have visited, and all of them have either cut short their stays or canceled when they’ve found out that there’s no indoor plumbing.

Honestly, what do these Englischers think? We’re Amish!

I look down at the Quigleys’ overstuffed bags and ask Mr. Quigley, “Something wrong, sir?”

His cheeks flush pink under his light stubble. “We decided that we won’t be staying at your facilities,” he says, the timid tone of his voice making him sound rather embarrassed. With a little chuckle, he adds, “My wife can’t do without running water and indoor toilets.”

“Like you could, either,” Mrs. Quigley snaps. “We decided to skip breakfast, too, but we’d still like a tour around the neighborhood, if you’d be so kind.”

I raise an eyebrow. I’m surprised that they’d willingly miss out on Miriam’s breakfast casserole; it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

However, they’re paying customers, and they did reserve a tour. So I force a smile onto my face and say, “Of course. Why don’t you let me take your bags to the car, and we’ll be on our way.”

After I’ve helped the family to repack their huge SUV to Mrs. Quigley’s satisfaction, I load everyone into the buggy and start the drive around town. The route stretches from New Wilmington to Volant, and I usually stop to showcase the shops and Amish homes if the Englischers are interested. Often, we’ll run across other buggies on the way, and the English tourists generally try to snap pictures with their cell phones. This has led to some pretty funny episodes, since we Amish don’t believe in having our photos taken. Just last week, a man tried to take a picture of Minister Eichler as he passed by, and the minister placed a hand over his face and nearly steered his buggy into a ditch.

As I begin the tour, trying unsuccessfully to block out the whines of the little girls and Mrs. Quigley’s constant griping, my stomach gives a slow, long roil, and not just because I’m getting hungry from thinking of my fraa’s breakfast casserole.

We have to get this bed and breakfast off the ground, or the business may not be able to stay afloat.

Sneak-Peek of Amish Blessings!

by Kristina Ludwig
Jun 19
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: June 19, 2015 at 10:23 am

After a month of hard-core writing, I finally finished Book 3 of the Amish Friendships series. I’ve submitted it to my editor, and am targeting the launch date for the last week of June!

Amish Blessings centers around two new characters, Abram and Miriam. Up until now, they were minor characters who showed up every once in a while, mostly to annoy Mercy or Hannah. Miriam and Mercy have a rather unpleasant history–in Amish Valentine, Miriam and Mercy competed ferociously for the same boy, Samuel. However, Miriam is all grown up now and married to Abram, and the two have just started a bed and breakfast and buggy tour business. They receive an unexpected guest, a runaway boy who is different than what he seems. His identity–and the favor he asks of them–jeopardize their position in the community.

Before the book comes out, I’m excited to share an excerpt with you. Check out Chapter One of Amish Blessings. I’d love to hear what you think!

Amish Blessings takes place in the fall. Here's a beautiful picture of Amish country in the autumn to get you in the mood. :)

Amish Blessings takes place in the fall. Here’s a beautiful picture of Amish country in the autumn to get you in the mood. :)

Chapter One: Miriam

 Autumn in Amish country brings many blessings: freshly picked apples and warm cider, piping-hot pies smelling of cinnamon and sugar, crisp breezes through colorful leaves, and tourists who want to enjoy these things.

My mann Abram and I figured out a way to take advantage of this; we’ve just started a bed and breakfast and a tour business, charging for relaxing buggy rides through the country. When we’d visited family in Lancaster last year, I’d noticed the long lines of Englischers waiting for the Amish tours, and had suggested that we start something similar. However, we didn’t have the money to do so until recently, when Abram’s poor vadder died and left us an inheritance.

Setting up the business was the easy part; actually running it is another story. Sure, Abram is doing well with the tours, but the bed and breakfast seems as though it will take a great deal of work and patience to get off the ground.

I’ve always had an easy time keeping haus, first at home with my parents, bruders, and schweschders, and then later on with Abram and our growing family. However, English tourists are more demanding than I’d ever imagined.

This morning, I’ve just fed Henry, my one-year-old bobbel, and am starting to prepare a breakfast casserole and some coffee soup for the Quigleys, English guests who will be arriving soon.

The telltale crackle of thick tires on the gravel driveway tells me that they’re here. I tug aside the front curtains and peer out. A huge, truck-like vehicle, which I’ve heard Englischers call an SUV, has rolled in. Seconds later, a family emerges: a maemm, a daed, and twin girls who look about five years old. I have no idea why such a small family needs such a large car; I’d grown up packed into a buggy with my parents and eight bruders and schweschders, and I hadn’t minded at all.

No matter, though. Who am I to judge the Englischers’ worldly excess? Holding Henry in one hand and placing the other under my belly, I rush to the front door to greet the guests.

I fling open the door and smile brightly. “Hello. You must be the Quigleys. I’m Miriam, and I will be taking care of you.”

“Hi, Miriam,” the Quigleys chorus. The little girls hop up and down, peppering their parents with questions as they follow me into the living room. Abram hurries downstairs and carries in the family’s bags, dragging them up the stairs to the guest room. After we exchange pleasantries, Abram vanishes outside to prepare the buggy for today’s tour schedule.

As I lead the Quigleys back downstairs and motion for them to have a seat on the large couch in the living room, Mrs. Quigley gives Henry and me a quick once-over with narrowed eyes. I feel instantly self-conscious. Does she doubt my ability to run a bed and breakfast with a small bobbel and another on the way? I’ll just have to prove her wrong.

So, I paste on a broad grin. “Would you care for some coffee soup?” I ask. “And I have fresh apple cider for the little ones.”

“Is the cider organic?” Mrs. Quigley asks. “Mia and Sophie only drink organic.”

Thankfully, I know a bit about this because my neighbor Samuel is heavily into organic farming. So, I answer with confidence, “Jah.”

“All right then,” she says. “Two of those, please, and what is coffee soup?”

She screws up her face as I explain that it’s coffee made with plenty of cream and sugar, and either toasted bread or crumbled-up soda crackers floating inside. I prefer it with bread, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Everyone says my coffee soup is the best.

But Mrs. Quigley seems unimpressed. “Holy carbs,” she says. “Let’s skip that. Black coffee for me.”

“I’m having the coffee soup,” Mr. Quigley says. When his fraa raises her eyebrows, he throws up his hands and says, “What? I’m on vacation.”

“All right then,” I interrupt smoothly. “Two juices, a black coffee, and a coffee soup, coming right up. And perhaps after you’ve enjoyed your refreshments, you’d like to follow me into the dining room for breakfast.”

Before I’m even out of earshot, Mrs. Quigley says, “I don’t know about this place, hon. Let’s check it out before we commit to staying here. There’s a Holiday Inn not far away.”

When I return with the tray of drinks, I’m not surprised that Mrs. Quigley demands a full tour of the haus. So, I place a bleary-eyed Henry in his crib for his morning nap, and oblige.

Drinks in hand, Mrs. Quigley, her mann, and the girls follow me through the haus, commenting on each room. Unfortunately, they don’t have much gut to say.

“Where are the TVs?” one of the girls lisps when I show her the guest bedroom. I bite my tongue when I notice that she’s dribbling little drops of cider all over my grandmother’s hand-hooked rug.

“They’re Amish, Sophie,” Mrs. Quigley says. “They don’t watch TV.”

“Where are the potties?” Mia asks.

“Now that’s a good question,” her maemm says.

I point out the window. “When nature calls, we use that outhouse out back.”

“Then I’m afraid to ask about showers,” Mr. Quigley says with a laugh.

I gesture to our best claw-footed tub in the corner. “I can boil you some water if you’d like to wash up. And I made the soap myself.”

Mr. Quigley nods, but his fraa looks at him and says, “Jack, I just can’t do this. I mean, I knew we’d be roughing it, but this is crazy.”

The girls instantly begin to moan, and Mr. Quigley says, “Angela, can’t we talk about this?”

I slip out of the room and call from the doorway, “I’ll give you some privacy.”

I stop by Henry’s crib to check on him. The bobbel has rolled from his back to his stomach, and is sleeping soundly, snoring and making occasional happy coos. By the time I’ve tugged the quilt back around him, the Quigleys have appeared in the doorway.

“We won’t be staying after all,” Mr. Quigley says, clearing his throat and looking down at the ground as though he’s embarrassed.

I force my lips into a grin, hoping that I’m hiding my disappointment. “Won’t you at least stay for breakfast? I made authentic Amish casserole, with bacon and eggs—”

“No thank you,” Mrs. Quigley interrupts with a pinch-lipped smile. “We’re watching our diet. We’ll just get continental breakfast at the hotel.”

“But we still want the buggy tour,” Mr. Quigley says in an apologetic voice.

“Very well,” I say, leading them downstairs. “Abram will be happy to take you out.”

As the Quigleys tromp out the door, I head into the kitchen and cut myself a hefty slice of breakfast casserole, enjoying the first meaty, cheesy, salty bite. My portion fills an entire plate, but I’m stuck with the whole thing now, and besides, I am eating for two—three if you count Henry, who is still breastfeeding a few times a day.

However, when the pleasure of that first mouthful wears off, I drop my head into my hands. We need to figure out some way to make the bed and breakfast more attractive to the Englischers, but how?

Reflections on a Seattle Vacay

by Kristina Ludwig
Jun 5
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: June 5, 2015 at 9:38 am

Last week, we visited Seattle for the first time. I’d always heard great things about this Pacific Northwest city, and wanted to see it for myself.

It turns out that the so-called “birthplace of grunge” is a lot greener and happier than I’d imagined. Although Seattle is portrayed as a rainy city, we had perfect, sunny weather for most of our trip. The climate was actually pretty similar to San Diego (highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s) during our vacation.

A lovely day in Seattle

A lovely day in Seattle

 

We stayed in a hotel downtown with a spectacular rooftop deck, and spent hours gazing out over the city and water. We could see the Space Needle from our rooftop, as well as the waterfront area and everything in between. In the mornings, the view was obscured by a layer of fog, but once it burned off, the city was clear and shimmering before us.

The view from our hotel room

The view from our hotel room

There are tons of tourist attractions there, but we prefer to stay away from things we deem “too touristy.” As a result, we hung out in fun, trendy neighborhoods like Belltown, loading up on coffee (of course! But no Starbuck’s.) and delicious food. The vibe was chill, people seemed nice and talkative, and the city was incredibly clean. One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the EMP museum, with exhibits featuring various pop culture elements. We especially enjoyed the Nirvana exhibit, and the music section upstairs where patrons can play various instruments. I tapped into my inner jazz musician by composing my own piano piece over a rhythmic jazz beat, and Antonio had a field day with the guitars. We even jammed together on guitar and drums, and Xaviana pounded the keyboard. The vacation environment, coupled with the overall free-for-all feel, fueled our creativity for the week ahead, and we’ve both been super productive since our return!

 

Antonio plays air guitar next to the musical instrument sculpture in the EMP museum.

Antonio plays air guitar next to the musical instrument sculpture in the EMP museum.

Another favorite was Alki Beach, which we hit on our last day (and the only gray day we experienced in Seattle). The thick, low-laying clouds and light mist of rain created the perfect environment for introspection as we looked out over the water. And the fact that we found an awesome Greek-inspired fish-and-chips place, Sunfish, added to the fun. Over lunch, Antonio remarked that it was easy to forget what country we were in, and it’s true. Seattle provides such an eclectic mix of cultures and such a colorful and random environment that you could really be anywhere. During our stay, we enjoyed cuisine from all over the world: a Creole brunch, Japanese sushi, Italian dinner, American gastropub fare, and, of course, the Greek-American fusion fish.

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We left Seattle full of excitement and inspiration… Since then, Antonio has taken his energy and creativity to his brand-new job at a startup, while I’ve directed mine toward writing my upcoming book, Amish Blessings. If you haven’t been to Seattle yet, you must try it!

Amish Shopkeeper Release and Giveaway!

by Kristina Ludwig
May 26
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: May 26, 2015 at 9:20 am

I’m super excited to announce that Amish Shopkeeper is out! Download it here.

The cover of my brand-new book, Amish Shopkeeper!

The cover of my brand-new book, Amish Shopkeeper!

Interested in reviewing the book? The first 5 fans who comment below with their Amazon IDs will receive the book for free!

Want to check out the book before you buy it? Here’s an excerpt. Happy reading!

Chapter Two: Jakob 

That morning, there’s another slight snag that I need to work out before I talk to Aaron: whether or not Amos is actually selling, and when. Although he’s constantly hinting around about it, he’s been pretty vague about the specifics.

Amos had been prepared to sell right away when the new minister had told us that our rubber buggy wheels were too worldly and would need to be changed immediately. Unfortunately, the wheels were non-returnable, and we’d just ordered in a huge shipment. The shop stood to lose a lot of money, and Amos told me it was time for him to think about retiring early.

However, after I convinced Minister Eichler that the rubber wheels weren’t too Hochmut and were actually a whole lot more durable than the steel-rimmed ones he favored, Amos didn’t seem so eager to sell anymore. Since then, everything has been business as usual.

Now I finish up a repair on an old clock while Amos sips coffee at his desk in the corner, balancing the figures. I pause, trying to think of the best way to bring up the subject of selling, but I realize that I’ll just have to be blunt. I don’t have my fraa’s skills when it comes to talking to people.

“So,” I begin, clearing my throat as I shift my weight from foot to foot. “Given any more thought to selling?”

Amos shuffles a few papers around and peers at me over top of his glasses. “Things are looking pretty gut here, Jakob, so I don’t really need to sell. But that’s not to say that I wouldn’t be open to it for the right price.” Amos sets his papers down and leans forward. “Why, are you thinking of buying?”

I nod. “I would like to, and I’m hoping that I can offer you the right price. My bruder will be coming in at lunchtime today. I’m trying to talk him into going into business with me.”

Amos smiles. “Well, that would work out nicely. I must admit, I am looking forward to retirement, but I love the shop as well. I’ve worked hard to build it up over the years, and when I do sell, I’d much rather have you buy it than some stranger. I might as well retire soon; I’m no use sitting behind this desk all day. Don’t get old, Jakob, whatever you do.”

I laugh, wondering why old people always say that. “You’re not that old, Amos,” I protest.

He rubs his rheumatic knee. “Well, thank you, son, but right now it sure feels like I am.” Taking a deep breath, he adds,  “Bring your bruder in here, by all means. I’ll show him how things work, and hopefully, we can sweet-talk him together.”

I smile at Amos, praying that Aaron will realize how wunderlich it would be to work here. I don’t have much time to linger on the thought because we’re busy all morning. There’s a new shipment of parts to organize and display, one buggy repair, and a few random odds and ends to fix for a friend of old Mrs. Yoder.

Aaron arrives a little after noon, and Amos says, “Well, hello there. It’s gut to have you in my shop.” With a wink in my direction, he adds, “Your bruder here is a wunderlich worker. You could do worse than going into business with him.”

Aaron smiles. “Jah, I reckon you’re right, Amos. But there are other options for me, so I’ll have to choose wisely.”

I raise an eyebrow, wondering what Aaron means by “other options.” Is he referring to his job at the factory, or perhaps to taking a new job and moving out of town with Elizabeth after the wedding?

Shaking the thoughts aside, I focus on the present, demonstrating how to fix a buggy’s suspension, and telling Aaron about the other things we repair. Amos takes some time to go over the books with Aaron, and even lets him wait on a customer, a man from Volant who is looking for new buggy wheels.

Although Aaron isn’t used to working with customers, he does a pretty gut job waiting on the man, explaining the types of wheels we sell, and looking to Amos and me when he’s unsure of the prices.

“Thanks much,” the man from Volant says with a smile as he leaves with four new buggy wheels. “You helped me a great deal.”

Once the man has left, Amos pats Aaron on the shoulder. “Well, there you go, your first sale. I can tell you have a knack, son. I really hope that you and your bruder decide to buy the place. I’m in no hurry to sell, but I know the day is coming sooner than I think. I’d much rather sell to gut Amish boys than to English outsiders.”

Aaron gives Amos a tight smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Well, thanks for the opportunity, sir. I’ll certainly think about it.”

I fight the urge to groan. I’d thought that coming in and seeing how smoothly the shop runs would make Aaron more eager to buy it, but he still doesn’t seem convinced. Then again, Aaron always was a stubborn one.

I sigh. It looks like my work isn’t done yet.

 

5 Essential Tips to Turn Your Passion for Writing into a Career

by Kristina Ludwig
May 7
By: Kristina Ludwig Posted: May 7, 2015 at 2:19 pm

From childhood, our parents and teachers encourage us to hold on tight to our dreams, just as the song says. However, some time between preschool and prom, many of us lose that amazing and innate child-like ability to believe we can do anything. In college, we might put aside our passions, like music, acting, or writing, to focus on some “marketable” major that will land us a “secure” (and likely immensely boring) job. After we graduate, we take said job and soon find ourselves stuck in an annoying day-to-day routine, one that leaves no time to realize our childhood dreams and passions.

In my first bestselling eBook on Amazon, Rumspringa Breakan Amish girl who wishes to become a veterinarian is told by her boyfriend, “Don’t just hold on tight to your dreams–actualize them.” This is the mantra by which I try to live my life. As a child, I had many dreams: to play Mozart for my dad on the piano, to play the flute in marching band, to become a cheerleader, to act and sing in a musical, and, most of all, to publish a book. By the time I was in high school, I’d accomplished all of these childhood fantasies except the last one. Self-publishing was not “a thing” yet, and I obviously wasn’t going to land a literary agent in high school, when my focus was split so many different ways. Besides, I was an amateur. I’d have a lot of work to do before I could become a published author.

So, I put aside that dream, instead earning my Doctor of Pharmacy degree and practicing pharmacy for 6 years. Although the field was lucrative and I enjoyed many aspects of it, I couldn’t let go of my dream of becoming a published author. I just had to do it. If I didn’t pursue my passion, I knew that I’d regret it for the rest of my life!

Here I am in my office, doing some writing!

Here I am in my office, doing some writing!

Going after your passion is hard work, and it takes guts. I’m a practical person, and I value financial stability, so I took my transition slowly. Here are five essential tips that I used when I decided to turn my passion for writing into my new career:

  1. Pursue your passion part-time first - I kept up my writing skills by journaling, and worked on my teen novel when I wasn’t at my “day job.” I also started a blog, attended writing conferences, and took advanced level writing classes to hone my skills. I worked toward my goal every day–while still keeping my full-time job for financial comfort. After a few glasses of wine, throwing your steady job away and rushing headlong after your passion might make sense, but it’s much less stressful to start pursuing your passion part-time first.
  2. Build an author platform - While I was working as a pharmacist, I began to dabble in indie publishing. I published my first teen novel on Amazon, but it barely sold any copies since I had no author platform. I realized that if I wanted to actually turn writing into a career, I would have to find my readers and sell some books! So, I became active on social media, began blogging twice a week, and hired professionals to create an author website for me. My next book, a teen short story, landed on the Amazon bestseller lists, mainly because I’d found a readership and learned to promote my work.
  3. Network, Network, Network – The indie author community is a friendly one. Since self-publishing is a relatively new field, we authors love trading tips. I attended several writers’ conferences and local meet-ups before my daughter was born. Now, I do most of my networking online. I’ve found many like-minded authors through blogs, Facebook groups, and Twitter. These contacts have been invaluable, providing me with moral support, as well as fresh ideas.
  4. Know where to look for work – If you want to make a full-time career of writing, chances are you’ll also have to do some freelancing in addition to indie publishing. TheLadders.com is a comprehensive career resource for professionals, and can assist professional writers in finding freshly-posted jobs. Also, local writers’ groups are an amazing place to meet other professionals and find out about interesting career opportunities.
  5. Evolve with the industry - Self-publishing is constantly changing, since it’s still a relatively young industry. If you want to keep doing your passion (i.e. writing and publishing books), you have to be willing to constantly change with the business. This means you must publish on multiple stores (I was exclusively on Amazon, but am now expanding to Kobo), and stay abreast of the latest trends in promotion.

So, there you have it: 5 essential tips for turning your passion for writing into a career. Writers out there, how did you pursue your passion? Aspiring writers, how are you planning to take the leap into the industry? I’d love to hear your thoughts.