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A Realm Makers 2021 Recap

Costume banquet with my daughter. Photo by Ralene Burke

In keeping with my previous blog posts, the title is based on a song. And yes, I went there. “Friends” is the 1980s church camp staple by Michael W. Smith. All I have to do is hear the song, and I’m taken back to an Aqua Net-scented cabin at Camp PYOCA in southern Indiana. In my teens, I developed an image of what heaven would be like. I would be reunited with those friends from other churches I only saw one week out of the summer.

In adulthood, not much has changed. Yes, I have more wrinkles, weigh a bit more, and my hair no longer requires half a can of hairspray, but I still look forward to eternity as the reunion of all my believing friends in the presence of our Savior and the Creator Himself. And I experienced my adult version of “church camp.”

Last week, I was at Realm Makers a faith-based speculative fiction writers conference. While Realm Makers is Christian, and we have a statement of faith, it’s a big tent event. That said, we had Frank Peretti, the author or This Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, The Oath, and the Cooper kids series among other books. His books have a solid Christian message, and he’s a man of deep faith. In his opening keynote, he closed us in prayer. That set the tone for a conference filled with the Holy Spirit that left us with a sense of peace, comfort, and renewal.

I think going into the conference, we were apprehensive. This is the first big public event most of us have experienced in over a year. With so much change in mask requirements, vaccinations, etc. I think we were all concerned about how to interact. But it all worked out. There was hugging. And there was grace. So much grace.

And for me, it was so much more special because I got to share it with my teenage daughter. She attended last year’s online conference, but this was her first in-person experience. She made friends and grew her writing skills. And had a fantastic time. It was an answer to prayer for me because she now knows other creative teens who share her faith.

I might have scored some “cool mom” points. I introduced her to a few of her favorite authors. She even got to sit with one of them at the banquet.

This conference was important for me as a writer. I pitched my manuscript and during that process, I was asked the question, “what do you want from your writing?” It solidified the direction I’ve been leaning for awhile. I want to be traditionally published with a small press and took steps to bring my writing to that level. A small press is the best fit for me and a few conversations confirmed this. There’s a quality expectation with being offered a contract, and I’m only pitching to presses who publish books I love. Small presses provide editing, covers, and some arrange audiobook versions.

That was the professional part. What made Realm Makers were the relationships. We were in the same venue as 2019, so it seemed like The Year That Must Not Be Counted didn’t happen. We picked up where we left off and many relationships deepened. There was lunch with a treasured writing partner who I refer to as my brother. Dinner with my “lunch table” gang, a collection of us who are in similar places in our lives. We did a couple of nights of gaming too. I hung out late at night with a different group where we discussed everything from current events to movies. We prayed, laughed, and even cried. It was all of those little moments. A quick conversation. A few minutes of prayer. It all adds up to what makes us a family.

The conference didn’t end with the closing keynote. There were several Realmies on our flight home including a well-known agent. The night before, the agent told a story about being on a flight where a person sent him a pitch written on a napkin. I might have played a prank on said agent where I replicated that tactic on a note card with a really bad premise, and a few typos including an intentional misspelling of his name. He enjoyed the joke but did reject my idea for a Dystopian Amish spy novel.

This year’s conference was a time of much-needed fellowship, spiritual and creative renewal. After a difficult year, healing has begun.

BookTube Review of Keen by Laura L Zimerman

  • Keen-cover

I fell in love with the Keen book cover and the rest is history. I received an ARC of Keen and devoured it. The characters are so much fun. Aubree, Seamus, and Oliver are Caoine’s first real friends and all hold secrets of their own. They help her discover if being a banshee is a gift or a curse. The story twists and turns as Caoine learns more about herself.

Keen reads like a standalone novel but the story ends with a glimpse into a much larger world, one in which I can’t wait to enter.

You must walk the darkness to find the light.

The link to my BookTube video is here.

Keen: Book One of the Banshee Song Series
Laura L. Zimmerman
Release Date: July 9, 2019
Paperback: $16.99, eBook: $4.99 (Pre-order Price of $2.99)
Love2ReadLove2Write Publishing, LLC

Purchase Link (L2L2 website):


Laura L. Zimmerman lives in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, three daughters, and three furbaby felines. Besides writing, she’s passionate about loving Jesus, anything Star Wars, and singing loudly. She takes her coffee black and spends her days pretending to do yoga. This is her debut novel. Find out more about her at

Keen Blog Tour Banner (1).png

Heart of the Curiosity Interview with H.L. Burke

HoC Cover.jpg


I had the pleasure of receiving an ARC of Heart of the Curiosity. Once I had it in hand, that day was shot. I could not put it down. It’s my favorite book of 2019 and it’s going to be hard to unseat. Click here for my spoiler-free YouTube BookTube review.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing H.L. on some behind-the-scenes bits on her inspiration and her writing process.

How did you come up with the idea for Heart of the Curiosity?

I was watching an internet “cool facts” sort of video and it happened to be talking about professional audience members, claqueurs. I thought it would be cool to build a story around someone with this profession and their job influencing other people for good … or not so good … purposes. As always, it kind of got out of hand. 

Which books or authors have influenced you the most?

It’s hard to say. The writers I admire the most, I tend to write nothing like. I’m very stubborn about doing things my own way … as far as genre choices, I think the “niche” I chose was influenced a lot by Gail Carson Levine and Shannon Hale because I started out trying to take fairy tale concepts and make them my own … but again … it got out of hand. 

What is your writing process like?

You want to know my process? It starts with a HOLLA! and ends with a creamsicle, and if there’s time between, Thundercats. Hoo-oo!

What gave you the most difficulty when writing Heart of the Curiosity?

Leo. She’s a hard nut to crack. She does not want to feel feelings. When she does feel them they are generally bad. Her view of the world is carnival funhouse mirror levels of distorted. She’s just messed up. 

What is your favorite writing fuel?

Pre-3pm, coffee, 3pm to 5pm tea, 5pm onward, red wine. 

What is one thing you hope readers take away from this book?

That snails should not be underestimated. 

What’s your next project?

I was going to write this tight, quickly written stand alone fantasy romance, but it kind of got out of hand, and it’s now going to be a duology. It involves a fantasy world where one side is always day and the other side is always night … and a princess who agrees to travel from one side to the other as part of an arranged marriage.

It has cat-owls. I like to call them meowls. 

H.L. has me at meowls. [Runs to Amazon to click the green pre-order button]

Author Bio:

H. L. Burke 2.jpg

Born in a small town in north central Oregon, H. L. Burke spent most of her childhood around trees and farm animals and was always accompanied by a book. Growing up with epic heroes from Middle Earth and Narnia keeping her company, she also became an incurable romantic.

An addictive personality, she jumped from one fandom to another, being at times completely obsessed with various books, movies, or television series (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Star Trek all took their turns), but she has grown to be what she considers a well-rounded connoisseur of geek culture.

Married to her high school crush who is now a US Marine, she has moved multiple times in her adult life but believes that home is wherever her husband, two daughters, and pets are.



Social Media Links:

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The Cost of Honesty 

Photo by Gretchen E.K. Engel

The answer is not much. Today I accidentally shoplifted or almost did. Thankfully my husband noticed while loading the car.

How it went down. We did the usual post-church Walmart run. I picked up two plastic storage drawer units and had the cashier scan it from the cart because they were awkward. I’d picked up a few random items too including a pair of silver hoop earrings.

I didn’t even think about them until my husband picked up the drawers and noticed the earrings. I scanned the receipt and they weren’t listed. I did the right thing and immediately went back inside explaining to the greeter on my way in.

Did I have to do this? The answer is, “absolutely” but there were a lot of good excuses for letting just driving away. Walmart is huge, they won’t miss $2.88. Yes, but it adds up. They don’t treat their employees well. That $2.88 goes towards salaries and benefits. Every little bit counts.

While there doesn’t need to be benefits for doing the right thing, I’m glad I had the chance to make that choice.

What is a time you made a decision to do the right thing no matter how small?

I Have Found Me A (Second) Home

Summer has come. There are so many signs where I live. The temperatures hit in the 70s and 80s. We sleep with our windows open. I change out my boots for Converse All-Stars and flip-flops. And we welcome the influx of “summer visitors”. There’s a marked increase in traffic. We have festivals and a farmer’s market. Our church grows so much between May and October that we switch from the sanctuary to the gym and add chairs.

These summer visitors have second homes and now so do I. I don’t mean a physical dwelling but a new blogging home. When I told my fellow Scriblerians about this, one asked if that meant I was dropping them. NO. NO. NO. was my reply! I prayerfully considered this opportunity and whether or not I could add a weekly blog post. And the answer was yes.

So I will continue posting every third Thursday on The Scriblerians. Check out my June 4th post on the literary device called a McGuffin. But now I’ll be a weekly contributor to the New Authors’ Fellowship. It’s a blog dedicated to speculative fiction fans with a Christian worldview.

Of course, something has to give. At this point, it will be this site. I want to keep this site active for special interviews and reviews as well as pointing people to my weekly blog posts. So this “residence” will become a campsite for me to drop links to where I’ll be that week.

Save the Best for Last

Next to speculative fiction and young adult, historical novels are my favorite genre, especially Gilded Age and WWII. Dawn Crandall writes romantic historical suspense novels. Her Everstone Chronicles center around a wealthy New England family. Her first novel, The Hesitant Heiress, is the story of Amaryllis Brigham and her second, The Bound Heart, is the story of Meredyth Summercourt. Both of these stories center around the social life of Gilded Age Boston. Her third novel, The Captive Impostor takes place in the mountains of Maine.


While each novel is a stand alone, I recommend reading all three books in order.

The Bound Heart ends in a murder that puts Estelle Everstone in danger. The Captive Impostor picks up where The Bound Heart ends. To protect her safety, Estelle is posing as Ella Stoneburner, a lady’s companion at Everston, a hotel in the mountains of Maine hotel owned by Estelle’s family. Of all her family’s properties, Estelle loves Everston the best. It also holds a special place in the heart of Dexter Blakeley, the hotel’s manager.

While I loved both The Hesitant Heiress and The Bound Heart, The Captive Impostor is my favorite. None of Dawn’s stories are predictable but there are added twists in The Captive Impostor. Not only is Estelle living under an assumed identity that may or may not be a good enough disguise, I was sure she would renew her engagement to her ex-fiance. To my surprise, Dexter Blakeley enters the story. Oh and is he ever a swoon-worthy hero (she does her men justice).

As an outsider, Estelle is brought face-to-face with her past and uncovers family secrets that threaten the friendship she’s built with Dexter. To me, an requirement for a good novel is a cast of well-developed characters. Dawn does not disappoint. “Ella’s” companion and Dexter’s family are three-dimensional characters as well as cameo appearances by familiar names of those who have read the first two installments of the Everstone Chronicles.

Dawn Crandall

Dawn Crandall

You can find Dawn at:

Twitter (@dawnwritesfirst)

Winner’s choice of The Everstone Chronicles at Anna Weaver Hurtt’s blog {ends 4/21}

RSVP for The Captive Imposter FaceBook Party with Author Dawn Crandall! April 24th! Lots of Prizes!

I read these three in order, but there have been other series I read out of order. In general, I prefer reading a series in order.

When an author writes a series that can be read as stand alone novels, do you still read them in order?


I’m going on vacation this week. Knowing that I borrow most of the titles of my blog posts from song titles, you’re probably picturing me on a sandy beach in front of blue-green ocean. Nope. My destination isn’t the fictional Caribbean Island but the real-life location (at least in the metaphorical sense). I’m spending the week back in my hometown; not Kokomo but it is a mid-sized Indiana city.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to spending the week in the Midwest even if it’s tornado season, and the forecast is in keeping with “April showers bring May flowers”. I’m going back to spend the week with my parents, visit my 90-year-old grandpa, and see other family and friends. Besides visiting, I plan on writing and relaxing. I’m truly taking a vacation.

I love to travel. I’m equally happy camping in Yellowstone, lying on a sandy beach, riding rollercoasters at an amusement park, or sightseeing in a major city. Put me on a plane, train, boat, or in a car and I’ll go about anywhere.

My favorite childhood vacation was going to my aunt and uncle’s wedding then driving to California when I was 9 (almost 10). My favorite adult vacation was going to France, Switzerland, and Germany. The best day of my life was probably July 4, 2004. We spent it on the French Rivera: beautiful beach, relaxing day, and amazing food.

My dream vacation would be to go to the Holy Lands and do a tour that followed one of the Apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. I also want to go to Australia and would love to hike in South America.

While I love activity packed days and seeing new places, there’s a lot to be said for no itinerary and familiarity. I’d make a comment about “no place like home” but it’s tornado season…

What was your favorite vacation? What is your dream vacation?

I (Don’t) Want Your Sex

I’m not even close to being an uptight prude, but really I could do without graphic sex scenes in books. And no, I’m not talking about 50 shades of erotica. I’m talking about otherwise good books with too many gory details.

I’ve been married for over fifteen years and have two biological children, so I’m hardly a veiled virgin. I’m fine with sex scenes if they serve a purpose even if they’re not within the confines of what I consider moral. However, it doesn’t mean I want a recap of sex education with or without anatomical slang.

What are my boundaries? Like I mentioned, sometimes things need to happen. Not long ago I read a Christian novel where an unmarried believer had a sexual encounter outside of marriage. I had one of those “oh no they didn’t” moments, but it was so perfect. It was a well-played plot twist that showed how God can redeem sin. While there was no question of what transpired between these two, it wasn’t described in graphic detail. Edgy in inspirational circles but tame by most people’s standards.

On the other end of my spectrum is the Song of Fire and Ice series (the books that the HBO series “Game of Thrones” is based upon). I’m a huge fan, but the author can make me blush. I would say his scenes are the absolute edge of my tolerance and sometimes cross over to cringe-worthy in description. I’ve been listening to this series on audiobook, which makes it more noticeable since I would skim from the words “untied his breeches” to “retrieved his small clothes” (these aren’t direct quotes, but you get the picture). Listening you don’t have that luxury. Although the 15-second forward feature can be well-employed here.

One book that had me muttering, “TMI” was The Time Traveler’s Wife. I’m a sucker for any book related to time travel, but that’s a blog post unto itself. I just finished listening to the audiobook version. The story had so many things that I loved about it: The idea that Henry’s time travels are a genetic condition. The non-linear storyline. Clare is not much older than me, so I related to her timeline. In one scene, Clare and Henry attend a Violent Femmes concert about the time I was listening to them in my dorm room.

That said, while I like rock and roll, I could do without so much sex and drugs. Especially the former. When the characters describe their experience in so much detail, that I feel the need to wash my hands, it’s too much.

I appreciate when an author can bring you into a scene. That’s great when you want to know what the hero thinks about a piece of music or the sensation of time travel. But when it’s a play-by-play of what happens between the sheets, I’m fine with glossing over what happens from “unzipped my pants” to “put my shirt back on” (again not direct quotes).

What about you? Is it a line in the sand? Do you only read “clean”? Or is it that “I know it when I read it” feeling?

Stuck in the Middle with You

Clowns and jokers–OH MY! Between measles outbreaks, the Super Bowl, and yoga pants, there’s been a lot of fodder to feed the wackos the past few weeks. There are some seriously cray-cray websites out there.

One site cast Katy Perry as a figure straight from Revelation. This site has some other predictions that could only have been pulled from a cracked pot. Personally, I thought this was one of the better half-time shows although there was one song I hoped wouldn’t be included. I understand those who thought the performance wasn’t appropriate, but that would have been the time to turn off the TV, or if they were at a party to get a snack and distract the children. On a side note, I was pleased the commercials were more family friendly than most years. They’re harder to avoid. The thing is reading through this particular site, I could tell this group would have been scandalized by a family act from Branson. You know what Taylor Swift says about haters.

Then there was the measles outbreak. This is the only issue where I actually took a side on social media. I’m strongly pro-vaccine but also pro-parental choice. That post was fun to watch, and in the end I think sanity prevailed, but not before I was “enlightened” by some comments linking to websites that rivaled snake oil medicines in scientific research.

I didn’t even “go there” when it came to the yoga pants kerfluffle. I mean yoga pants for crying out loud. I’m not a male, but I can’t imagine yoga pants being sexy. Yes they’re tight and probably should only be worn to and from the gym (or in lieu of pajamas for last-minute grocery trips, see below). Men stumble by lusting over women’s figures. Trading yoga pants for khakis or a skirt won’t solve that problem. Maybe all attractive women should wear choir robes. Personally, I think that’s what the uber-modesty crowd wants. And I often wonder if the real motive behind this stance is envy for women who are in shape.

However, I’d rather see a woman in yoga pants than anyone over eight in pajamas. That’s my rant. Unless it’s ten p.m. in a fastfood restaurant, and you’re a teenager/college student traveling in a large group (sports team, church group, leadership training), you have no business showing up in public in pajamas. I’ve seen young women, dads, old ladies in their jammies in everywhere from the grocery store to restaurants. Get dressed people.

Last week, I almost broke my “no pajamas in public” rule. I’d worked a really long day, it was after ten, and I was sure that I’d left my phone and wallet on the counter when I got dinner. Thank goodness the world (or at least a Tempe Taco Bell) were spared the horror of seeing me in plaid flannel pants and a long-sleeved T-shirt.

You can tell it’s cold, snowy and miserable. People are bored and frozen with nothing better to do than blog.

My Funny Valentine

Laguna the Leopard

Laguna the Leopard

I’m not a romantic, and the trappings of Valentine’s Day are not a big deal to me. I’m in it for the long haul. A box of chocolates, a dozen roses, or a fancy dinner are not something I expect on February 14. First, I’m picky. If you want to attribute one quote to me it’s, “When it comes to friends and chocolate, I prefer quality over quantity.” So that red heart box at Walgreen’s. Yeah. No thanks. However, the half-priced York peppermint patty hearts we snagged after church. Score!

As for flowers, I’m not a huge fan. There are a couple of exceptions. My husband used to randomly bring home a mixed bouquet from this flower shop on the way home from work. I loved the spontaneity and that he hand-selected the flowers. Of course, anything my kids pick out of the yard is worthy of my table.

And the special Valentine’s Day dinners, we’ve only done that once and the kids tagged along. Before kids, we got entertainment books and picked a place that would take coupons (often not good on February 14), so we’d go out on a different night and call it good. For the past few years, we’ve lived in a small town where I telework. I’m OSHA HAZWOPER certified and since we’ve moved, the annual training has been the week of Valentine’s Day, so often it’s one of the few nights of the year we’re apart from each other.

A couple of years ago, we went out for a special Valentine’s Day dinner, and the kids came with us. It was a lot of fun but more because we rarely go out for steak dinners. Last year was just as special. We have a favorite local restaurant that’s similar to Chipotle only much better and we’ve gotten to know the owners. I was late driving home and didn’t feel like fixing dinner. My hero stopped by, and the owners hooked me up with their last order of chipotle cream shrimp. For less than $10, my husband gave me a romantic dinner of a different type.

Typically we exchange a small gift. In the past, it’s been Aveda tea for him and Nespresso pods for me. This year, I had an inexpensive request. A stuffed animal I’d seen at a local store. That’s how Laguna the leopard joined our family.

What is your idea of a romantic gift?

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