Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vacation Bible School of Hard Knocks

picture from: greeksandromansnewtestament
This year, for kicks, my bff said, "Hey, let's do a Lego VBS!" followed by, "And let's write the whole curriculum ourselves!" followed by "Using the book of Nehemiah!"

I admit, the last time (Possibly the only time?) I had read Nehemiah was as a student at a Torchbearers Bible School in Sweden, when we were tasked with reading the whole Bible in nine months. Reading the whole Bible in one swoop, and having to summarize each book, was the best school/church thing I've ever done in my life.  But...no matter how good it was, it was still seventeen years ago.

I've been involved in a lot of VBS's. Sure, I missed the year I was in Sweden (though we did more than few camps that summer) and the one before, when I was overseas with Royal Servants. And I missed a few as a newly wed when I couldn't get work off. And the year that Norah was less than a week old during VBS. The year Lucy was three months old? I was all over that VBS.

So I am pretty sure I can count on one hand the VBS's I've missed since I was old enough to attend the first time as a kid.

But did that mean I was ready to adapt a book full of census lists and map descriptions into an action story with cliffhangers and a clear gospel message? (My best friend doesn't ask much, does she?) Suuuuure I was! After all, I write cozy mysteries...can't be that different right?

Well, different or not, God totally led the direction of the story, and it is awesome (not because of anything I did. Nehemiah, as it turns out, is just an awesome book!) I know things about Nehemiah right now I would have never known otherwise. (For example, did you know that most likely the king he was cup bearer to was the same king whose queen was Esther? And that when Nehemiah requested permission to go and rebuild the wall, the "Queen" was seated beside her king? For such a time as this indeed, Queen Esther!)

But more nerve wracking than making it into an action story, was trying to build a gospel message out of an old testament book dedicated to rebuilding a wall.

Or at least it was scary before I read the book again. See, in the book of Nehemiah, they celebrate the completion of the wall by standing around for several days listening to Ezra read Bible Stories. (Well, close enough.) And in addition to learning that they were totally missing out on ancient Israelite Family Camp (Feast of Booths) they also realized they were missing out on God, because they were sinners. And all of the Israelites confess their sins and make a new covenant with God. Right there. About four fifths of the way through the action...exactly where I needed it for a five day Vacation Bible School.

See, for three days we show the kids we love them and earn their trust by listening to them, and caring about them. For those same three days we teach them what a Bible is, how it works and who it is about (It's the book all about how much the great and awesome God loves you!) And then...on day four, we give them all the essential deets about how to have a relationship with this God.

Should we tell them the gospel every single day, you know, just in case?

In a way, we do give them the gospel every day. We tell them that God loves them and wants a relationship with them, and has provided a way for that. And we tell them a few more details about that each day. But we don't want parrots who repeat "Jesus loves me." We want children who have a foundation of who God is and why it matters that he loves them hearing the gospel.

Well, anyway, that's the way it seems most VBS curriculums are set up, and I like it that way. I like to prepare the soil for the seed. I like to build a foundation for their new faith.

And even though I *know* that everything in the Bible points to Jesus, until I had the big job of turning Nehemiah into a fun Lego themed VBS, I really didn't know if I could do it. I mean, sure, you could make comparisons and analogies for an adult audience, but could the story of a slave in Babylonia who wanted to build a  wall really give me a way to teach the kids the gospel?

Yes, yes, and YES! And obviously, I am massively excited about that.

So, if you are waiting for Plain Jane's next adventure, or Mitzy's next mystery, or the further tales of Prof. Isaac Daniels, this is at least part of why you are still waiting. I think...it's not a bad reason!

When not writing I knit socks, and accompany my mandolin loving husband on the spoons.
I’m also the author of The Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery Series, and The Plain Jane Mystery Series. I was the Mystery/Suspense Category winner for the 2012 Christian Writers of the West Phoenix Rattler Contest, a finalist for Speculative Fiction in the same contest, and have a Drammy from the Portland Civic Theatre Guild. I currently serve as the Vice President of the Portland chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association.

I have a degree in History from Portland State University and still live in the rainiest part of the Pacific Northwest with my goofy family and two small dogs.
Novels by Traci Tyne Hilton
The Mitzy Neuhaus Mysteries
Eminent Domain
Buyer’s Remorse
Frozen Assets
The Plain Jane Mysteries
Good, Clean Murder
Dirty Little Murder
Bright New Murder
Health, Wealth, and Murder
Other Titles
Hearts to God
Gone: The Tangle Saga

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Trials in the Mystery of Life

What do you do when trials arise? Do you say, "Oh, good - a trial! Can't wait to see the outcome." Or perhaps you crawl into your shell and wait, hoping it will end soon. As believers, we don't face trials alone; our faith in God gives us what we need to press on. We may feel overwhelmed, scared, or confused when faced with adversity, but have you noticed? Trials pass. Peace comes. We move forward.
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Kobo * iTunes

"The Long Trip Home" is the story of how Jillian Bradley handles a terrible trial in her life. As  I wrote the book, it was important to include emotions of how she felt. Since I had not experienced a trial like hers, I had to glean from the experiences of others. Such is one of the challenges of being a writer. I write stories to not only entertain, but to depict how our loving Heavenly Father is always there for us. 

I hope you enjoy this latest adventure of Jillian and her Yorkie companion, Teddy. Here are the Reviews.

~Nancy Jill

Wednesday, July 2, 2014


At last IT has decided to make a grand appearance. The Family Legacy story. The one my Daddy used to tell. The Woolly Weegie. Here's the description:

"You know the trouble with Monsters? They're never what you think.
Reporter Irene Waters and her cameraman Troy Stenson are about to learn that lesson the hard way as they find themselves on the hunt for a local legend called The Woolly Weegie. Or at least that is what everyone in the community of Hammond Village has been led to believe. In truth, Bernie Youngstown has sent his team on an actual investigative story to uncover an alleged academic cheating ring at a local private high school.
But just as they believe they have escaped the weirdness that usually accompanies their stories, weirdness comes looking for them when The Woolly Weegie comes pounding on their door.
So Irene’s Eerie Adventures not only will have to deal with a “monster” who refuses to be ignored, but the diabolical Secretary of The Records Department who is making her final move."

Do that intrigue you? I hope so. Coming up with descriptions for books is hard. If you have suggestions let me know. Feedback, I am finding, is a very good thing in writing.

 So, if you have never read my books a few things you should keep in mind:
There will be no recipes, no crafting, no party tips, no tea, no crime solving dogs nor cats, cute businesses and no murders.
Not that there is anything wrong with those things in a cozy mystery book. I've read and enjoyed many of them. I just don't write them. My plots are...different.
Yeah, God's sense of humor really was in full force the day He made me.
Since I don't do recipes, crafting, etc., etc. as an added bonus this book includes the FULL Woolly Weegie story as told by my Dad, B.W. Ragsdale. Initials are big in my family.
So The Woolly Weegie is here! Run! To Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.

The Reboot Files and The Lady Midnight Series

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Author Lilian Jackson Braun

Some of our blog readers might remember Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the Cat Who cozy mystery series. Sadly she passed away in 2011. 

Her books sometimes drew mixed reviews, as is the case with most book reviews. Some thought her work was simplistic and formulaic, with scanty plotting. Other reviewers praised their warmth and charm. Personally, I enjoyed them. I knew exactly what I was going to find between the covers. And what made Lilian Braun’s books come alive were the cats. For cat lovers, these books were the cat’s meow. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

For anyone who hasn’t read the series, the protagonist was former newspaper reporter, Jim Qwilleran. But his cats, a set of Siamese named Koko and Yum Yum, were the stars. Each book was full of details about cat stuff--purring, eating (lobster, amongst other high class food), playing, and, of course, the cats helping Qwilleran solve his mysteries. Koko and Yum Yum usually did this by being slightly naughty--like pulling a book off the shelf at a most opportune time to give Qwilleran a clue.

Lilian Jackson Braun, was born in Massachusetts in 1916 and began her writing career as a teenager, when she wrote sports poetry for the Detroit News. For years she wrote advertising copy for Detroit department stores. Between 1966 and 1968, she published three novels that gained critical acclaim: "The Cat Who Could Read Backwards," "The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern," and "The Cat Who Turned On and Off." In 1966, the New York Times labeled Braun “the new detective of the year.” She was a hit. What author wouldn't love that? But then she disappeared from the publishing scene for 18 years. That’s a long time to be away from writing novels. Braun said she stopped writing the mysteries because the genre had begun to include more sex and violence. Also, she had a full-time job with the Detroit Free Press that she found satisfying.

When she retired from her job in 1984, her husband encouraged her to write novels again. In 1986, the Berkley Publishing Group reintroduced her work with the publication of "The Cat Who Saw Red." In the next two years, Berkley released four new novels in paperback and reprinted her first three from the sixties. Her series once again rose to the top of the best seller list. 

Braun was an admitted technophobe and wrote all her books in long hand, then typed them herself. She was married twice. Her first husband died. She had been married to her second husband for 32 years when she passed away. 

As an author, I respect another author who writes a successful series that spans so many years. The fact that Braun made a comeback after 18 years of not writing novels is also encouraging—it’s never too late to start again. And she stuck to her guns--there was never any gratuitous sex or violence in her novels.

After Jackson passed away (of a lung infection), her second husband, Earl Bettinger, said her one regret was that her failing health prevented her from finishing her last novel, “The Cat Who Smelled Smoke.”

“She regretted it most of all because so many fans wanted another book,” Earl Bettinger said.

Now that is a true author!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Growing Old With Grace

This doesn't have a whole lot to do with books but I thought with my 60th birthday passing by on May 25th this would be a timely post. I wrote this about the time I had my first book published and I want to keep on writing as long as I can. Yes, I still feel melancholy sometimes, but most of the time I don't even think of my age.  I want others to know you can achieve your goals, too, no matter your age. You just need the passion and perseverance.

Growing Older with Grace or

I Thought I was still Fourteen until I Looked in the Mirror

     I had arrived at my Aunt Helen’s funeral. I looked around the old wooden church building, one I had visited many times as a child, in hopes of spotting my cousins. There they were! I was shocked! Someone had stolen my cousins and zipped them up in old people’s bodies. I couldn’t believe it.

     They weren’t supposed to have gray hair and wrinkled faces. And what was Uncle Bill doing sitting up front? Uncle Bill had died many years ago – oh, that’s not Uncle Bill that’s my cousin Billy.

     Then the realization hit me. I was the same age as my cousins. Did I look old to them? I must have because everyone kept saying I looked like my mother.

     I made it through the funeral with many tears shed. I loved my Aunt Helen. She was my Daddy’s sister and she understood him and loved him even though he could be stubborn as a mule. While they were showing the pictures slides of my Aunt Helen and her family, memories came flooding back.

     There was Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen together as I remembered them. We would go to Phenix City, Alabama often to visit my Daddy’s other sister Aunt Maudie. When we did we never failed to go out to the old home place and play with our cousins and have an evening meal. After the funeral I visited the home place and the old farmhouse where we had many wonderful times that weaved a blanket of memories was no longer there.

     The barn was, though. As we drove up the long sandy driveway I spotted the barn. Memories literally flooded my mind. The tears flowed and would not stop. They lasted all the way home – a four hour drive, and for three more days. I had so many mixed emotions. Why was I crying?

     I called my friend and asked her was I going crazy. She assured me that I wasn’t – I was already there. With that being said she told me she had gone through similar feelings.

     I felt a loss for that little girl who used to play barefooted for hours at a time with her cousins and then when she was worn out be called in to have a family meal. We were all seated around one long wooden table with benches on both sides. The table, spread with home grown vegetables, was a place to visit and talk with those you loved at the end of the day. After supper, Aunt Helen served the best apple turnovers ever made.  

     I longed for the time when things were simpler. A time when we didn’t have any and everything electronic to occupy our minds. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my computer and cell phone, but that simple time will never return. A time when children used their imaginations during play. I missed my mother. I missed my daddy and I missed my childhood.

     I think the hardest realization to deal with was my own mortality. Out of eleven children there is only one of Daddy’s sisters still living. On my mothers side there is only a brother. I am in the next generation that will start to pass away into a better life. And even though I knew there is a better and everlasting life that awaits me the thought of my own mortality hit me like a ton of bricks.

     I didn’t know what to do with the emotions. I had a decision to make. To give up and decide I was too old to do the things I love or find a way to keep the negative thoughts at bay and make the rest of my life count.  Three books later guess which way I chose?



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Cozy Kozar's New Release--That Wasn't Chicken

Murder, mystery meat and morning sickness! Hudson and Lovita are expecting and she’s having trouble keeping food down for the first time in her life. Her best friend, Sue Jan is busy juggling mommy-hood. And the Crown of Glory Beauty Salon and Boutique is busier than a one-toothed man in a corn-on-the-cob-eating contest. Things are great until a handsome law intern disappears after an argument with their top stylist’s once-upon-a-time wayward son. So Lovita and Sue Jan put down their forks and pick up the trail to solve the mystery before Jolene’s son has to trade in his chef’s uniform for prison stripes.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

#Snippet Time!

Like a book lover with a whole day to spend at Powell's City of Books, I am faced with a few too many options right now. That is to say, I have too many books going at once! Last week I finally decided which I would focus on, so hopefully I can make better headway in the next two months than I did in the previous.

Much of what I have recently written won't be real books until almost Christmastime, or even later, the poor dears, so I thought it would be a good time to share a sample.

Have you ever seen Renovation Realities on HGTV? I love that show. They follow hapless (sometime not so hapless) homeowners as they fix up their homes. The families have realistic budgets, realistic skills and abilities, and realistic time constraints. None have those crews of twenty working day and night you see on other HGTV shows. It's hilarious, and comforting, if like me, you have a tendency to tear your house apart and put it back together when you are bored.

So when I thought it might be time for a Mitzy Neuhaus novella, I thought of renovation realities. Something short and funny, and maybe with no dead bodies, a little more like Foreclosed, if you will, but a tad shorter.

So, without further ado, here is what may well be the intro of the next Mitzy Neuhaus Mystery.

The Neuhaus Job

The renovation you are about to see is real…

The shoemaker’s children go shoeless, and the developer’s wife lives in an unfinished home. But that’s about to end for Mitzy Neuhaus and Alonzo Miramontes. Alonzo, a local developer has just completed a warehouse renovation and has taken the week off to finish the basement of his 1970’s custom home with his wife, Realtor Mitzy Neuhaus. They have seven days and a maximum cash budget of three-thousand dollars, but are their eyes bigger than their wallets? We’ll find out as the Neuhaus-Miramontes family takes the next week to make their old house…as good as new.

“My name is Alonzo Miramontes. My wife Mitzy and I are turning the wasted storage area in our daylight basement into a workout room. We’ll be ripping out the drop ceiling, plumbing a drinking fountain, adding mirrored walls, a ballet bar, a TV and surround sound. I’m a licensed contractor and my wife isn’t completely useless, so I think we can get this done in a week.” Alonzo nudged Mitzy with his elbow. “You’d agree, right?”
Mitzy smiled for the camera. “I’m far from useless, and we’ll get it done in three days or my name isn’t Mitzy Neuhaus!”
“It isn’t. It’s Mitzy Miramontes, remember?”
Mitzy laughed. She looked away from the camera and fanned herself. “Can I get a retake on that one?”
“No way. We’re keeping that one, right guys?”
The guy with the mic nodded silently, a grin plastered on his round face.
Mitzy drained her coffee mug and checked the time on the microwave clock.
It was five in the morning, but the television crew had already filmed their breakfast sequence.
Now they had to walk around the house explaining the job they were about to undertake.
Alonzo led the way downstairs. He sniffed and tipped his chin at the camera.
“Ready?” The camera man asked.
Mitzy appreciated that the crew wasn't chatty in the morning. She was chatty in the morning, and wouldn't have minded a bit of cheerful company herself, but she had to live with Alonzo, and getting him to film the intro sequence with a smile had been hard enough.
“Sure.” Alonzo shrugged.
The camera man waved to get their attention again. “Okay, you’re live.”
Mitzy smiled for the camera, “Alonzo is a professional. Finishing our basement should be a snap.”
“I usually have a bigger crew than this.” Alonzo grunted. “But we can probably get this done if you can keep your mind on the job.”
Mitzy laughed. “Drink your coffee.”
Alonzo sniffed. “I’m getting a cold, so I don’t want to mess around. Get in, get done, get out.”

Mitzy rolled her eyes. “He’s much nicer by noon, I swear.”

In the mean time, if you haven't read any Mitzy Neuahuas, Foreclosed, the first in the series, is always free, for Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo...you get the picture! (The linked Title above takes you to my blog's book page where you can find links for the book at all available outlets.)