Clean Indie Strong Author Award!!!

GUYS!!! *squeal* I have the privilege and honor to announce I won our group’s Clean Indie Strong Author award for September! 😀 😀 I was so touched and honored to be interviewed and given this award. It means so much to me – I thought it was something I could never win.
So thankful for our amazing group of authors and the beautiful fiction they write that keeps me reading constantly! Love you, guys, and thank you!
Click my books below to read the interview and check out the Clean Indie authors blog!!!
RJ Banner(1)

Do you have a FACE?

When it’s 2 AM and your brain is shot because you were up to 4 AM last night transferring files onto your new laptop, and you’re still busy doing it tonight and you’re sooooo done…

You get weird thoughts.

There was a line in a George MacDonald book I was reading called “The Fisherman’s Lady” that is sitting deep inside of me and making me think.
In it, the character of the blind bagpiper is this really quirky old man. He’s been blind his whole life. He adores his family but hates his enemies. He’s a stubborn, stubborn, passionate man with a few obvious strengths and a few glaring faults. Someone with the last name of Campbell killed his great grandmother, dooming that generation of his family members to a hard life. Even though that doesn’t affect his own personal life, he’s sworn to DESPISE anyone from the Campbell family – going so far as to wish them dead. Like it runs deep.

At one point, someone tries to challenge him biblically on his hatred and lack of forgiveness – this didn’t even happen in his generation! The guy is a really decent grandfather, good citizen, and Christian man, yet he can’t forgive this enemy of his ancestor. It’s like he needs something to passionately hate. His pride is a scourge on his heart.

Her words just don’t get through to him, and she finally approaches his grandson, the main character, Malcolm.
Malcolm has a thought that keeps sitting in my brain.

Okay, look at this picture of these babies. Just look at each one’s FACE. See the vulnerable, adorable HUMANITY in that face.


Well, everyone started out a baby just like that. And everyone has a FACE. A face with humanity all over it.

Malcolm points this out and tells the woman,

“When I was a young laddie at the school, I once heard that a certain boy was mocking my grandfather. When I heard that I thought I could have just cut the heart out of him and sunk my teeth right into it. But when I finally found him and got a grip of him, and the rascal turned up a frightened dog-face to me, I just couldn’t drive my clenched fist into it. Mem, a face is an awful thing! There’s something looking out from inside that just prevents you from doing what you might otherwise like to it. But my grandfather’s never seen a face in his life.”

I wonder if that’s why people can be so vicious on FACEbook – because there really isn’t a FACE to be seen anywhere in the conversation. If that’s why the real wicked lurking in people’s hearts actually come out online. We don’t really see the eyes – the window to the soul – of the people we’re talking to before we cut their hearts out and sink our teeth into them.

And then there’s Charlottesville.

Seriously, I don’t even use the word “race.” There isn’t such a thing. There are different levels of melanin in the skin, and, to be honest, melanin doesn’t interest me a hoot. I don’t give a rat’s behind about melanin. Now we all have a FACE. And the face is always, always beautiful. The face says we are all human beings. ❤

Some people who have eyes that work are actually blind. Look into the FACE. And see people God created and loves. That’s all that matters to me!

Forgive, love, give, serve, and be the FACE of Christ to others!


Clean Romance, Infertility, and Marriage Advice from Melanie D. Snitker!

MelanieDSnitker2016Melanie D. Snitker is a sweet author friend of mine from Texas.  She writes stories with a heart – an emphasis on a deep love for each character, and a romance to go with it!  I’d like to think that if you enjoy my novels, you’d enjoy hers.  🙂

Melanie has prayed for me, knit baby cutesies for me, and encouraged me at the hardest of times.  I hope all of you can support her worthy books!  Thanks for being you, Melanie!

You can purchase Melanie’s books here on!

Snitker All Books 2

Me: Hi, Melanie! Here at BlondeRJ, we’re all about Myers-Briggs types.  Share about being an ISFJ and what your personality is like. 🙂

Melanie: You know, I’d never thought much about the Myers-Briggs types until I met you, RJ! I find it all fascinating. Like you mentioned, I’m an ISFJ. I’m definitely quiet and very introverted. I get along well with people, and I tend to be a really good listener. If I say I’m going to do something, not only will it get done, but I’ll do my best while I’m working on it. I’m organized, and I rely heavily on lists and my online calendar. One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced ties into my being an introvert: I also tend to worry about what others think. I’m slowly getting better about this as I get older, but it was something that held me back for a long, long time. I think that it will always be something that’s in the back of my mind to a degree. I have to admit I really admire those who can say and do anything and not worry what others will think!

Me: Even we 100% extroverts can be people-pleasers and worry what others think, for sure.  I’ve been LOVING the book When People are Big and God is Small by Edward Welch, and would love to recommend it right now to my readers.  It’s helped me put God in His proper place, and see my need to love others instead of just *need* them.  🙂
Speaking of loving people, you write the sweetest romances ever. What first inspired you to help and write about clean romance for Christians?

Melanie: I enjoyed romance novels as a teen, but didn’t really read much beyond Janette Oke, Dee Henderson, and a few other Christian authors. When I got into high school, I started to browse through some of the other romance novels at the library. I was shocked to find that clean romance was a difficult thing to find. That’s when I decided I would start writing the kind of romance novels I wouldn’t mind my own daughter reading some day.

Me: What a sweet legacy!
How many different places have you lived, and what is your favorite?

Melanie: I’ve lived in Arizona, both in Flagstaff and Phoenix. A lot of people that haven’t been to Flagstaff are surprised to find that it has a lot of mountains, and it can get a fair amount of snow in the winter. I’ve also lived in many different places in Oregon as well as Texas (where I currently reside). My favorite place to live overall is Texas. The people here are incredibly friendly, I like the mild winters, and I love all the wildflowers (bluebonnets, especially) in the spring. My second favorite place would be Oregon, especially in the fall when all the leaves turn. Gorgeous!

Me: I live in the gorgeous pacific northwest as well!  Love it!
Melanie, you were a huge encouragement to me two years ago. Can you tell us about one of the hardships you’ve experienced and how God has used that in your life? ❤

Melanie: I have endometriosis and it has resulted in a lot of infertility issues that I’ve dealt with for a long time. It took two and a half years of tests and a surgery for my endo before we found out our son was on the way. After he was born, we’d hoped that the next baby would be much easier. Four and a half years later (after another surgery and different medications), we were finally able to try one round of IVF. Praise God, one of those sweet embryos burrowed in to stay, and our daughter was born eight months later. There were so many times during this journey when I wondered where God was and why this had to be so hard. But I learned more about patience than I would’ve liked to, and I also learned about God’s perfect timing. There have been many times in the last six years since our daughter was born where I’ve looked back and realized that, even though I didn’t think so at the time, God really did know what He was doing!

Me: I loved your faith when I was going through that hardship myself!  And you have absolutely beautiful kiddos!!  You have absolutely beautiful characters too.  😛 Which character, in all of your books, is your favorite?

Melanie: I’m going to have to go with Lexi (although Lance is a close second). She’s introduced in Finding Peace, the first book the Love’s Compass series. Then she and Lance get their own story in the second book, Finding Hope. She’s my favorite because she goes through a lot in her life with a cancer diagnosis that leads to a complete hysterectomy which saves her life. It also means she’ll never have children of her own. What causes her inability to get pregnant may be very different from what I or many of my friends have experienced with infertility, but many of the emotions are the same. She’s definitely a character that was written straight from my heart.

Me: Awww.  I remember Lexi!  So what’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your books?

Melanie: I’ve had several readers thank me for creating quality, clean romance novels that they can read without the guilt, and that they wouldn’t hesitate to let their teen daughters read as well. It’s what I originally set out to do, and even though the road of an author can be a rocky one at times, it’s encouragement like that which reminds me it’s all worth it!

Me: Amen! On a real-life front, how do you think we, as Christians, can learn to love like Christ more in our marriages?

Melanie: I think it’s easy to get caught up in every day life. Things get hectic, the kids always need something, and by the end of the day, it’s easy to feel like we have nothing left to give. But it’s the little things that show Christ’s love in a marriage. Like when my husband is completely exhausted, yet takes the trash out with a smile. Or when I’ve had a rough day and I’m tired, but I bake my husband the cookies he loves because it will brighten his afternoon. The other day, we had a busy afternoon full of cleaning and grocery shopping. I’ll admit, I was a complete grump by dinner and not much fun to be around. Instead of getting upset with me, or even letting my mood change his, my sweet husband made a trip to the store to find something I was looking for, and even brought something else back that made me laugh. Finding ways to put our spouse first, even when it isn’t easy, can give us even a small glimpse of the kind of unconditional love that Christ has for us!

Me: I think your home must be very joyful and warm.  🙂  Thank you, Melanie!

Melanie: Thanks again, RJ!

The First Three Chapters of “The End of the Dream”


Chapter One


He stood at the top of two large rocks by the river. His back was to me, straight and slim, his stance wide, hair flipping freely in the slight breeze. The soft bubbling over the expanse of boulders lay at his feet.

Something made my heartrate speed up, and I first thought it was fear.  Why was he alone staring at the river like that?  Was he contemplating something drastic? But his gaze was up into the sky, his head held high, and his shoulders broad. He could not be suicidal.

I watched him, unmoving, breathing slowed, eyes unable to tear themselves away. How long would he stand there?  At first he appeared ageless to me in the reflection of the piercing sun on the glittering water.

“Vivien!” My stepmother’s voice broke the spell.

As if she had yelled an animal mating call in the middle of a library, I cringed and whirled to find her and quiet her with a death glare.

She was too far back down the rocky river trail, her head lowered, gaze scanning every step she took before she made it.  She didn’t move as deftly as I did around the great outdoors that was our backyard here in Index, Washington.

In the half second it took me to spin back around, the guy was staring at me, and I 90707f01172995a857d3c40ed5cafb12realized he was a teen like myself.  His body had rotated to face me, arms lowered, shoulders square. Self-assurance radiated off his chest like the sunbeams hitting the left side of his face. Brow furrowed, he gave me a look that seemed more curiosity than irritated at my intrusion. He stared openly, giving me pointed eye contact as if he were a fearless, all-knowing being, his eyes deep brown orbs.

I gawked helplessly back at him, fumbling with my shirt hem, feeling a bit like a peeping tom. “Hi. Sorry,” I muttered. “I live around the corner.  Was just hiking the river.” Why was I explaining?

He waited silently, shifting to watch Nevira approach. His eyes and short, wavy, dark hair said part Asian to me.  But he was also tall and fair.  He wore jeans with torn cuffs and a hole in the knee. On me, they would’ve made me look like an impoverished urchin. On him they looked purposefully hip. A camel-colored corduroy jacket covered a white t-shirt with a low v-neck, and black Converse shoes completed his look. He had a stud in one ear and the sun glistened off of it every time he moved.

When he said nothing more, I floundered.  “I’m sorry to bother you –”

He turned his head back to me. “I’m Ash.” His voice was as strong as his posture.

My stepmom was going to be there any minute, and then my part of the conversation would end. Nevira, Lord love her, still subconsciously treated me like a child who would open her mouth and spit out something horrific.  Nevira clearly found it safer to speak for me in company. Or no one had told her she was an airwaves hog.

“I’m Vivien Lark,” I murmured, before Nevira trudged up, sweat soaking her blond hair.

We had hardly walked a half mile.  I couldn’t believe she was already this tired. The bi-weekly treks had been her idea.  Nevira had watched me slip outdoors for long hikes often this year, and had assumed her stepdaughter was retreating from her. She obviously thought it was a way to bond.  I wasn’t sure I liked sharing my me-time. She was probably regretting her decision now.

Nevira swiped the back of a hand against a gaudy sweatband that clung to her forehead. She leaned over, hands on her knees, and took a deep breath.  Reaching into her backpack – the thing must’ve weight twenty pounds, and was seriously overkill – she pulled out a gigantic, brand-name water bottle and guzzled from it.

Embarrassed, I poked her in her sweaty side. “Nevira, this is Ash.  Just met him,” I whispered.

Nevira held up a hand for Ash. “Catching my breath,” she panted.

I was more mortified by the second but could come up with nothing new to say.

“Ash, do you live around here?” Nevira finally choked out, blowing wisps of loose Nevirableached strands from her face.

“This is my stepmother,” I added, still grasping for words. He must never think we were actually related.

“Hey,” he replied simply, ignoring Nevira’s question.

Nevira steadied her aching sides with a hand on her waist. She pointed the other one in the direction we came. “We live like a block down that way.  Our backyard has the white picket fence that opens up right on the river.”

I elbowed her.

She flashed me a puzzled frown.

“You don’t have to tell a strange teenage guy where we live!” I mouthed.

Nevira, ever the friendly one.  Ever the clueless, helpless blonde, as my dad liked to say.  I knew for a fact that opposites attracted, because my new stepmother was as ditzy as my father was smart. He seemed to love her for it, but she kept my blushing muscles working.

Nevira smiled apologetically at Ash.  “You’re probably here for some fresh air and solitude, and we’ve interrupted your time with our asthmatic wheezing!”

“Speak for yourself!” I muttered, this time loud enough that I hoped Ash would hear.

He probably thought we were hillbilly Index hicks, overly-friendly and nosy as all get-out. Feeling my neck get hot, I took a step away, more than ready to put Ash behind me and move on.

Ash’s shoulders suddenly lost some of their tension, deflating under his fashionable corduroy jacket. He shrugged. “I come here often. I’ll probably see you around.”

I allowed a polite nervous smile and a quick bend of my wrist in his direction. Nevira laid a heavy hand on my shoulder for support. Sighing, I trudged forward, leading her over the least slippery path. For some reason, I was angry, thinking of the handsome, serious Ash seeing me with Nevira and thinking she was family.



Chapter Two


Mr Lark“You’re not going again, Dad,” I whispered. The stiff, smooth leather of his briefcase handle in my hands felt like as much of an enemy as ever.  I pinched it hard between my fingertips, willing it to crack and break. It was rare when I vocalized my wishes, and Dad had long stopped listening to them. He was buttoning his sleeves, shirt starched and spotless, tie pin gleaming at me like a goading, winking eye.

I used to love the smell of leather and shoe polish – I used to think the aroma belonged to my father alone. I was told I played with the tassels on his shiny black Oxfords before I even took my first steps, my drool clouding the perfect mirror-like surfaces.

I still kept his first red leather briefcase, hidden in the back of my closet, as if I were pretending I didn’t still love it with all my heart. When the handle had cracked, my father donated it to my dress-up collection, and I had played “Daddy Businessman” for weeks, shuffling precariously in those shoes of his. I slung one of his ties around my neck loosely, and the end flapped against my knees.

Mom had taken pictures.

That was before she left us.


She said he was obsessed with his career, he loved new business ventures more than he did anything or anyone else, and that I, his daughter was such a daddy’s girl that I would end up just like him. That we were all nothing but demanding on her – that she was losing herself.

I had been a bad three-year-old. Little Vivien

That was my only memory of her – telling me I was bad. I didn’t understand what I had done, and I still couldn’t fathom what was muddling the emotions boiling over in her brain that day. I only knew one thing: I wasn’t worth raising. My mom had made that abundantly clear when she left us for good, not giving even an inkling of where she was going. The wind blew through a back window to shut the front door hard after her – I remember that too.

But my father proved I wasn’t worthwhile as well, every year after, when he chose to travel month in and month out for his job.

Every time he prepared to go, I tried to crack the handle on his briefcase. When I was five years old, I was convinced that the world would run out of leather luggage if I could destroy enough, and my father would be forced to stay with me. Most of the time, I resorted to scissors when he wasn’t looking.

By the time I hit high school and my teens, Dad was convinced I needed “a woman’s hand.” For the most part, we had stopped communicating, and I, completely unaware of how to repair that, satisfied myself with longing looks at his back every time the roller suitcase emerged from its too-brief nap in the master closet.

I knew now that defaming his personal belongings would never have stopped him in the slightest.  Our four thousand square foot house, right on Skykomish River, with its wrap-around porch and manicured arboretum-like garden, was proof of that. Dad had enough money to buy a luggage store, if need be. But it didn’t stop me.

Nevira came into our life after my fourteenth year.  For the most part, she was benign. She tried to keep house and cook that first month before caving to Dad’s pleas that she hire a maid and chef. After that, she became the trophy wife she was supposed to be. Only fifteen years my senior, she put on a motherly air that made her seem as silly as a peacock without tail feathers.

She accompanied Dad on some of his business trips, and stayed home pretending to be mom to me the other half of the time. I put up with her whims, mostly because I wasn’t one to vocalize my complaints, and partially because I truly thought that, if I were completely alone any longer, I would go mad. Most of my childhood had been survived hiding in my room reading books and doodling mythical creatures, vainly trying to tune out the sounds of Spanish soap operas below. My previous nanny spoke not a word of English, and the TV had been her soulmate. The best part of gaining a stepmother was that Lolita and her romantic dramas had been dismissed for good.

“This will be the last trip of the quarter, Viv.” Dad attempted to comfort me, checking his tie in the gleaming reflection of the oven. Everything shone in the monstrosity of a house I called home. Sometimes I hiked outdoors just to remember what dirt looked like.

I don’t believe you. You always lie. “Mhmm,” I murmured, squeezing the leather handle in half until my palm started to sweat. It had been a long time since I had cracked a briefcase handle. At least I had stopped using scissors. Yet the physical attempt of it – the destruction – was my passive aggressive tradition, and I vowed to keep it up until I walked out of that home for good.

Maybe my father would miss me when I leave him like mother did. The thought strangled me, and I had to smother a sudden wash of tears.

For the first time that year, Dad was paying attention. “Choking up now that your old man is going? It’s just like any other time, Viv.” Dad’s slick, dyed, honey hair betrayed no gray. Maybe he thought the moniker “old man” sounded cute and homey.

“I’m so not choking up,” I muttered.

“Oh, sixteen-year-old girls are moody like that.” Nevira bustled into the kitchen with all of the awkwardness of an out-of-control spinning top.  Her lipstick in one hand, she kissed my dad goodbye and then rubbed at the smear on his mouth. “Sorry, handsome.”

Looking over her shoulder at me, Nevira adopted what she probably assumed was a careful and concerned, motherly frown. “Vivien is really sullen these days, I think… and dreamy!  Too dreamy for her age.  I’m worried about her.”

Dad gave me all of a millisecond glance. “Watch some TV or order a pizza, Viv.  Take some time to have fun.  Finals aren’t for a while yet.  Relax.”

Relax. It was Dad’s favorite word. Nevira and I were to be like his paintings on a wall in his home, relaxing.  Doing nothing.  Why didn’t he ever take his own advice?

“I’ve got to get to school.”

“No hug?” Dad smoothed out the crease in his briefcase handle after he picked it up off the barstool where I had been abusing it. Neither of us had ever acknowledged the ongoing feud between his briefcase and me.

Even though my whole body wanted to ignore his hug and trudge out of the house, a sudden tightening of my throat reminded me of my deepest fear: that one day Dad wouldn’t come back either.  This might be my last hug, and I should treasure it and never refuse it. I couldn’t remember what it was like to hug my mom. Hugging Nevira felt like pressing a sack of rocks against yourself. Her fake bosom was anything but comfortable. Still, that was another good thing about gaining a stepmother – there was less chance Dad would leave both of us. Not with the googly-eyed gazes he still gave his second bride. There was a vicarious security in those gag-worthy looks.

As I hugged him, the fabric of the lapel smothered my cheek, the scent of the downtown drycleaner assaulting my nose. Then there it was, shy at first, and finally in my head at full volume: Dad’s musky cologne. I inhaled and held my breath. Please don’t let this be the last time I see you. Please be safe.




Chapter Three


One week remained clenched in my junior year’s tight-knuckled fist.  All that barred me from summer vacation were the gaping mouths of finals ready to swallow me whole. I can make it! Inwardly cheering myself on, I walked out the school gates with the regular flow of high schoolers heading home for the day. Lagging behind the group going in the opposite direction of my house, I dragged my feet against the cement of the sidewalk. Maybe stopping and getting an ice cream to-go would make studying more appealing. At this point, it felt like feeding myself piece by piece to a group of hungry crocodiles.

A bike approached the group quickly, whizzing down the paved street. I looked up, absently curious, and recognized the rider.  Ash from the river.

Noticing me an instant before he passed, he locked eyes with me and winked.

My heart rose up in my throat. There was no denying that he was gorgeous and a little exotic. He was also a brand new face. I was positive he didn’t attend my school.

I was the least popular girl in school. My label was “the rich bitch” – how poetic – after Dad had given me commemorative coins to pass out to my friends on my birthday back in ninth grade. Not wanting to hurt Dad’s feelings, but embarrassed by the idea, I had simply arrived early and left them on everyone’s desks –like solitary alien eyes twinkling up at them.

The comments had been insulting, as I expected, and very soon someone traced the bizarre gifts back to me. It hadn’t taken them too long – Dad’s company name was on the back. It was obvious I was handing out expensive leftovers from a work party. It didn’t win me any friends, and, unfortunately, helped brand me for my next couple of high school years.

Forcing myself not to look backwards at Ash riding away, I focused on putting one step in front of the other as I trudged forward, fiddling with my backpack straps.

My town boasted one old-fashioned ice cream parlor kitty-corner to the school. Many high school sweethearts congregated after school and ate at Cheryl’s. It was quaint with pin-striped green walls, white and chrome barstools, and photographs of Paris. The owner also liked kids, and gave out free scoops once in a while.


I lived in the tiny city of Index, population 199, out in the middle of nowhere. The surrounding area was smothered in ancient trees, craggy mountain peaks that were always a delicious shade of purple, and muddy roads. In town everything was quaint and small. At the end of my street, a “general store” the size of my livingroom sat like a friendly nod to Bonanza.

No one was a stranger here. Dad had moved out here to “raise his child away from the busy city with fresh air and nature.”  Except for his daily run, he still chose to spend his time in the mercury streetlights of Seattle over our country air and nature.  I wished he had heeded his own advice.

Ash felt like a foreign object in a microscope slide of boring normal cells. There was no possibility that he had moved to the area. I knew every house that was for sale in town – a grand total of one. And no one had bought the Aspens’ rundown, unkempt antique yet.

Cheryl’s was full, but not packed tight. The saccharine smell of cold delight caressing my nose, I stood in line, swaying back and forth on my tiptoes to see the ice cream choices. I knew I’d probably just choose butter pecan again, but there was always the possibility bravery would actually visit me and I’d venture out of my norm and do something new.  Yeah, so it was a relatively slim chance, but it existed.

After ordering a double scoop of butter pecan in a cup, and promising myself I’d be adventurous another day, I reached into my backpack for my wallet. A hand shot out behind me with a wad of cash and laid it on the counter in front of me.

“That was nice.” The owner, manning the register, smiled.

I spun to see Ash, standing so close I couldn’t move my arm without touching him. So I didn’t move.

He was tall. His chin could have rested on my short head. He grinned with one corner of his mouth, standing his ground in front of me and not politely retreating a step. He didn’t touch me but was close enough that I knew he must hear my rapid pulse.

I gaped at him, unsure of what to say.  “Thanks.” I ducked my head, furious at my embarrassment.

Waiting a second or two too long, Ash finally stepped aside, and pointed back at the counter.  My ice cream was waiting for me to begin breathing again and receive it.

It was so rare that a guy wanted anything to do with me besides get my phone number – something I was deathly afraid to give out. I didn’t drive yet and I didn’t have a cell phone. Nevira had deemed both “unsafe for minors.” I assumed she just wanted to keep me close to home so she could play mother longer. Either that, or Dad had confided in her about the suitcase, and they had both deemed me emotionally unstable.  But the idea of Dad telling his wife about my suitcase mauling tradition made my insides quake in anger, so I avoided that thought like a disease.

I was also terrified of giving out my home phone and Nevira picking up and blabbering everything that came across her mind to whatever male sat captive on the other end of the line. So I said no to the guys who inquired. After that had happened a couple of times, I must have been labeled in the back alleys as a prig. No one asked again.

My knees were a little weak at the strange kindness, and I was in no hurry to leave. Wanting to see what Ash did next, I took a seat by the window, leaning my burning forehead on the cool incandescent tile counter. Summer was almost upon us, and the weather betrayed its upcoming presence. My skin was damp from the short walk down from the school. And my head hummed with excitement.

Ash sat down in an empty booth, holding a cone with something chocolate perched on top of it. He pulled out his smart phone and kept his head down, zoning in on the screen.  I noticed he wore the same outfit that I had first seen him in – white t-shirt, camel jacket, and ripped jeans. Strands of his dark hair flopped down over his forehead, his head bent. He licked the ice cream every few seconds, cleaning his perfect lips after every bite.

I didn’t realize I was gawking at him until someone clattered down onto the stool next to me, obscuring my view.  My cup of butter pecan sat forlorn and forgotten on the counter. I turned back to it and stirred it lazily, shoulders slumping.  I tucked my black hair behind my ears and forced a spoonful of cold sugar into my mouth, my taste buds numb. Familiar cold weight filled my chest. Even when someone reached out to me in kindness, I was paralyzed with lonely dread, unable to respond. I was sick of myself.

As if my feet had grown tired of my pathetic brain, I found myself standing, pushing back from the stool. The metal seat squeaked as it spun, and I recoiled. But my legs weren’t finished with me. As my hand absently reached out for my bowl of ice cream, my feet started moving towards Ash’s booth. While my chest clenched in panic, my legs didn’t stop until I was sliding into the bench across from Ash, and sitting right in front of him. The hard, sparkly plastic of the seat burned into the backs of my shorts, screaming at me to retreat.

Horrified, I sat still, silently placing the cup in front of me and waiting, my eyes wide.  The noise of the busy parlor masked my quickened breathing.

Ash glanced up at me, his eyebrows cocked. He put the phone down on the table and licked his ice cream. “There you are.  I thought you’d just sit across the room and stare at me until you burned a hole into me with your eyes, but I’m glad you came to join me instead.”

Heat flipped my stomach. I stared down at my cup. “Sorry.  I’ve just never had anyone pay for me before like that.  I wanted to thank you and not be so rude.”

Ash thrust his ice cream forward at me.  “Want a taste?”

It was my turn to raise my eyebrows. “Of your ice cream?” I squeaked.

He smiled with both sides of his mouth this time. “Yeah, I’ll trade you. I want to try your butter pecan too.”

Was this a date now?  Sharing germs with a strange guy?  What if he was a psychopath?

“I’m not a weirdo stalker, I promise.” He held up a palm, as if reading my thoughts.

I could feel my nose turning pink by this point, so I threw my face forward, closed my eyes, and clamped my mouth over the tip of his ice cream. I hated chocolate-flavored anything, but that was the furthest thing from my mind. I couldn’t taste it anyway. My whole head burned.

Ash was still smiling when I opened my eyes.  He reached for my spoon and filled it with a generous scoop of my butter pecan. Slowly, and almost reverently, he brought it to his lips.  Closing his eyes as if in great pleasure, he swallowed it, and then opened one eye to peek at me. “Is this how I’m supposed to do it? You have to close your eyes to eat ice cream?”

He was teasing me. I tittered and then cleared my throat. “No…” I murmured.

“I’m sorry.  I’m teasing you.”

Are you reading my mind too?

He put more ice cream on my spoon and held it out to me, handle facing me.  Cocking one eyebrow, he nodded at me to take it.

Hands jittering nervously, I took the spoon from him, careful to make sure our fingers didn’t touch.  I then proceeded to shovel more ice cream into my mouth.

Ash picked up his phone, sliding it into his inside jacket pocket. After another few licks, he dropped his chocolate ice cream onto a napkin lying on top of the table, and grabbed another one out of the metal dispenser to use on his hands. “I visit your Skykomish River often but this is my first time in Cheryl’s.”

I swallowed the ice cream that had been melting, forgotten, on my tongue. “Where are you from?”

“Gold Bar.”

The closest town up the road from me. I couldn’t imagine him being able to bike back home. It was nonstop uphill. “Did you bike here?”

“Yeah.” Ash put his clasped hands on the table in front of him and gave me eye contact once more.

I stared back down at my cup of melting butter pecan.

“You live here in town, Vivien?”

At first hearing my name surprised me, but then I remembered I had introduced myself at the river. “Yeah.  We’re over the bridge near the white water rapids shop. At the end of that street.”

Recognition crossed over Ash’s face and he nodded. “Ah.  The great big place?”


“I’ve biked all through here after hiking and swimming the river,” he explained.

We sat in silence for a minute.  I stole a peek up at Ash, but he was still watching me, seemingly lost in thought. He seemed confident in his own skin, not shy and covertly wringing his hands like I was doing under the table.

I forced myself to keep the conversation going. “I’m a junior.  Finals are this week.”

“Same.  We finished last week.”

I realized that Ash’s smooth voice was rapidly putting me at ease. “Do you have friends you meet while you’re here?  I’m not in their spot, am I?” I glanced around the parlor, hoping I wouldn’t have to get up – or worse, share a booth with more strangers.

Ash smirked and bit his lip, for the first time looking like a normal teenage guy. “Nah. I just moved to Gold Bar. But if I did, I’d tell them to get lost. I’d rather be with the pretty, raven-haired girl I bought ice cream for, of course.”

The compliment came off his tongue so easily that I marveled. “Raven?” I giggled.

Ash squinted one eye at me.  “You have cool hair.”

The nerves in my toes tingled and I couldn’t speak.

Ash closed his eyes for a long minute. “It reminds me of my mom’s. Hers is jet-black too. She’s originally from Thailand.  She’s beautiful – at least when her eyes aren’t bloodshot and swollen from sleepless nights drinking.”

My brow furrowed. I was quiet, wishing he would stop speaking, but afraid to try to silence him. Why was he telling me this? MothersThere wasn’t a fouler subject in the world according to me.

“DUI.” Ash picked at his ice cream cone, tearing pastry under his fingers.  His strong, lean chest took a weary breath, and his shoulders drooped. “One too many DUIs actually. It’s a wonder she didn’t kill anyone in any of her accidents.  They locked her up for three years.”

My eyes were as dry as sandpaper and my chest closed in on my heart like protective steel.

“Sorry!” Ash straightened up and laughed. “Don’t know how I got onto that. I don’t do small talk well.” He ran a hand through his burnt chestnut hair.

I was supposed to comfort him, to say something polite and charitable. But I was silent and my body had gone cold.

All mothers fail their children. It was something I had steeled myself against ever caring about again.


Story in progress!  Subscribe to this blog to stay tuned for details!
To check out more of my stories, click here.

Realm Makers 2017 Teaser!

20430114_10213831539808459_3499996036165530578_nAm home from my very first and very amazing #RealmMakers2017 writing conference! I got to know Ted Dekker and his wife personally through bringing my baby (We’re friends on Facebook now!) shared a moment over issue-driven fiction with Mary Weber and Jim Rubart, pitched “Heartsick” to two agents (with interest from Seymour Agency on my wip “The End of the Dream,” and met and got to know wonderful people as well as sat in marketing tracks and fought in a NERF war! Have SO MUCH to share with you about the weekend! Thinking of sending out a personal email about the experience – and will start an email list, so stay tuned! 🙂

Here is my author Facebook page where there will be pictures!  😀



Writing, Fighting Trafficking, Addison’s Disease, and Kimberly Rae!

This week I’m heading to Realm Makers!  It’s a Christian, speculative fiction, writing convention that is being held, this year, in Reno, Nevada!  I’m taking the five month old, and will be gone from Wednesday – Sunday, so I’d appreciate your prayers!  Prayers for good health, good energy, good fellowship, good learning, and a God-glorifying attitude would be much appreciated.  ❤  Secretly, I’m super nervous!

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to reach out to other authors who are similar to me – same heart for counseling believers, similar writing style and genre, or a hero of sorts to me. ❤  I’ve been in contact with four ladies who write everything from historical fiction to alternative drama to psychological thrillers to clean romance. It’s my hope that if you like these ladies’ books, you’ll like mine and vice versa!  🙂

Author Headshot

Today, it’s an immense pleasure to introduce you to Kimberly Rae! She wrote my very favorite series of the year – and maybe of all time – the Broken Series!  The story involves members of a church all dealing with abuse, anti-trafficking, and saving women from prostitution.  But the best part is that they are so real and relatable.  They are Every Church, and 5 Shreddedevery Christian should read these books!  ❤


I asked Kimberly some questions and she graciously replied!

Me: Here at BlondeRJ, we’re all about Myers-Briggs types.  Do you know your personality type?  If not, are you an extrovert or introvert?  

Kimberly: Through talking to you, RJ, we figured out my type!  I’m an INFJ (explanation here).

People see me as an extrovert but I am actually an introvert. I’m very nervous around strangers and need time by myself to recharge. One odd thing about me is that I enjoy speaking to huge crowds, but get very uncomfortable in small groups.

Me: I adore INFJs!  I’m even raising one.  😉 What first inspired you to help and write about trafficked women and victims?

Kimberly: When I first had to come back to the US, I wanted some way to stay involved but wasn’t sure how. When I started considering writing a novel, I tossed around some ideas but didn’t know quite what to focus on. I was talking with my mom one day and she said, “If 1 Stolen Womanyou could write about anything, what would you write about?” By the end of the day, I think I had three chapters of Stolen Woman written. It was the book I felt I was meant to write – it combined things I care deeply about: fighting trafficking, missions, and women knowing their worth in Christ. Stolen Woman is still my best-selling book out of all of them. I love how God is using it!

Me: I still haven’t read Stolen Woman, and I know I need to remedy that right away!  You said, “Coming back to the US…” How many different places have you lived, and what is your favorite?

Kimberly: I’ve lived in several states in the US, but overseas is Bangladesh, Uganda, Kosovo and rickshawIndonesia. The most interesting by far was Bangladesh. There are over 100 million people in a tiny country about the size of Michigan! It was creative chaos, and their love for bright colors and loud noises and super spicy food just was so fun for me at age twenty-two, fresh out of college and ready to experience the world. I remember being in a rickshaw one day when a riot broke out in the road in front of me, and I thought, “If I knew I was going to live through this, it would be really exciting!” I got to wear beautifulmarket in Thailand shalwar kameez outfits, experience their amazing gift of hospitality, and I even ate cow brains!

Me: That’s amazing!  And you’ve had quite the trials yourself.  ❤  Can you tell us about what illnesses you struggle with on a daily basis and how God has helped your faith through them?

Kimberly: I have Addison’s disease, asthma, hypoglycemia and a rare condition called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. My day is very structured with specific diet requirements, medication, trying to deal with chronic pain, and responding to symptoms, etc. Like 90% of people with chronic illness, I often “don’t look sick,” so have to be careful about not doing too much to try to keep up with healthier people out of a sense of expectation by them or myself. I’ve taken up a beautiful verse from 1 Corinthians 8:12 that says the gift is accepted according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. God has DIGITAL CAMERAlimited me physically, so I am not expected to do what a person with more physical resources can do (just like finances and everything else – God is the provider, and He asks us to give back out of what He has provided, no more, no less).

I used to care very much about doing a lot, and realized I was finding my worth in how much I got done rather than in Christ’s value for me. Now God has taken away my ability to “compete” in that way (we women are pretty bad about competing with each other, aren’t we?) and now He is transforming me (sometimes kicking and screaming, I admit) into a representative of His beautiful truth that our worth is not in what we do or how much we do, but in Him and His love for us. If we can be radiant in that love, and not need to prove ourselves, oh, how we could change the world! We’d stop being so intimidating, so stressed, and so resentful, and instead shine beautiful and strong and at peace. A woman living full of joy and peace is a treasure. I want to be like that.

I won’t lie. Living with disease and health problems and daily pain is hard. Some people tell me that if I just had enough faith, it would all go away. I’ve learned over the years that it takes a lot more faith to trust God when He doesn’t “fix” things as when He does. My need for Him is constant, and living with a body that betrays me keeps my mind on the eternal, which isn’t a bad thing. In every difficulty is a gift—if you look for it, you’ll find it. God is there, offering the peace that passes all understanding, and the joy that is beyond current circumstances. There is purpose in what we go through, and for all I have learned of my God, and all He has taken away and given in replacement, I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone’s.

Well, that wasn’t brief. Sorry! That’s why I’ve got a series of books on living joyfully despite chronic illness—there’s a lot to say!

Me: What a beautiful, beautiful testimony, Kimberly!  And you seem to totally understand human nature and the heart, as evidenced by your writing.  ❤  Speaking of which, I bought the “You’re Sick, They’re Not” book you wrote and look forward to reading it! But, if we’re talking the books I HAVE read, which character in The Broken series is your favorite?

Kimberly: Candy and Jean, but for different reasons. I love Jean because she has so much potential and value inside her, but she doesn’t know it, and I love how she grows and blooms and gets set free. Candy is my favorite because she’s so fun and so real. Her character is actually based on someone I know! To this day, sometimes I’m in church and I imagine her walking down the aisle with all her stuff dropping behind her, and I want to crack up right there during the service. =)

Me: I looooooove Candy.  She’s my favorite too.  She has the most spunk EVER. 😀 What’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about your books?

4 Stolen Series

Kimberly: Can I pick two?

Me: Absolutely!

Kimberly: A lady told me once that her pastor’s wife said Francine Rivers used to be her favorite author, but now I am. Francine Rivers is MY favorite author, so that was huge, huge, huge to me.

Back in the beginning, after Stolen Woman came out, a teenager sent me an email that said, “Your book changed my life.” That has stayed with me and meant so much all these years.

Me: You are WAY better than Francine Rivers, and it’s my blog, so I can say so.  😀 

Last, and definitely not least, how do you think we, as Christians, can safely get more involved to help trafficking/sex/drug victims and prostitutes?

Kimberly: It is a great time to be fighting human trafficking and exploitation! There are over 2,000 groups actively involved around the world. Some of my favorites are:

Rahab’s Rope (Mumbai, India) –

Women At Risk Int. (worldwide) –

Tiny Hands (Nepal) –

There are lots more sites and statistics and ways to get involved on my website. If you go to, on the right sidebar you’ll see posts about fighting trafficking internationally, nationally, and even locally. There are so many ways to make a difference. Feel free to use to the “contact” button on the site if you have questions or need ideas – I’d love to help you change the world!

Me: Thank you, thank you, dear Kimberly!






The Boy Who is Forced to Save the World

I’m so excited to announce that I have the most amazing privilege of being a part of The Fellowship of Fantasy‘s second anthology!  Last year they did one on “Fantastic Creatures,” and this year on fantasy heroes!


I have written a short story about an eleven-year-old telepathic and telekinetic genius named Gemini (or “Gem”), who was born to be the next “Omnicron” (think Avatar, the Last Airbender in a way) to use his mental abilities to hold the planet together during the next core earthquake that could rip it apart.

Gem 2

Gem is INTP, precocious, emotionally shattered (Can you imagine reading minds your whole life?!) and cynical.

Meet our main character: Soleil Punicello. She is a twenty-five-year-old who is employed to nurture and protect Gem’s fragile psyche.

Soleil Punicello

Can she help him prepare for a role that could kill him?

Gem is like a mix between The Giver, Ender’s Game, and Lucent Sylph. If you like those style of stories, you should love Gem!

To read my story, and 27 other stories by my dear, intelligent, gifted author friends in this anthology FOR FREE, click here!  Enjoy!  And please leave us a review!  Let us know which stories were your favorites!

(Disclaimer: I have not read the other stories in this anthology, although each of the authors had to abide by the rules of “clean reading” material laid out in the group.  We each went through a rigorous judging – “Gem” passed with flying colors and made a judge cry!  WOOT – and were deemed acceptable for the anthology, but I can’t warn of any content myself. I have read half of the previous anthology and enjoyed it!)

Reasons My Children Get Out of Bed at Night

I have been keeping track of their excuses for a solid year now – writing them down and chuckling insanely to myself at yet another doozy. You have to laugh or you’d cry, right?

So here are a few of my favorites:

The list of why my children get out of bed at night..

My feet fell asleep.

Where’s my car?

Isn’t this stuffed animal cute?

Is this doll mine or my sister’s?

My eye is really itchy.

I bumped my ear walking around my room.

My bottom itches.

My legs fell asleep.

I want to change my doll’s name to Isabelle.

I keep feeling the bed move.

My sister kneed me in the back.

Can I eat what you’re eating?

We want to get our baby dolls.

My sister peed on my stuffed animal.

I had to tell you I went to the bathroom three times.

We were measuring ourselves, and I think my sister is taller than I am.

We were doing knock-knock jokes and my sister mentioned kidnapping and now we’re scared.

Can we wear all of this underwear?

I can’t find Teddy.

I saw the suitcase move.

I went poop!

We can’t find our blanket.

I have hiccups.

My tongue has a bump.

Where’s my ring?

What are you watching on TV?

And, last but not least, the finally honest, blunt approach: 

It’s boring upstairs.




12232782_539219216245779_6251484058513023387_oToday we have authoress Bethany A. Jennings, professional editor, creator of the popular Twitter game #WIPjoy, and one of my very best friends!  (That last part is most important, of course.)  She got her start editing by practicing on my books, and MAN is she good.  She has edited ALL of my books (which you can find here!) except Dashwood Avenue and Angel-Lover, which were written in the dark, sad pre-Bethany-as-bestie period of my life.  *wink*  She says her favorite book of mine is my free short story, Lucent Sylph, because of the “symbolism and beautiful themes of love and sacrifice.”  ❤  (She did a great job editing that one too!) You can find her editing services here:

But finally this talented editor and beautiful friend of mine got to publish her own short story!  This beautiful, fantastic little tale is full of loss, hope, excitement, and sacrifice, and I highly, highly recommend it.  Get your own copy of Threadbare today for only a buck!


Premise: What happens when your gift turns against you?

All her life Bess has known the magic streams around her, waves of power she can draw from to wield the gift of magical threads. Now the youngest member of a team of Anchors, she helps protect the city streets from Drifters—energy thieves who prey on the life force of ordinary humans.

But when a battle leaves Bess’s threads in an irreparable tangle, she is faced with an agonizing choice: sever her threads and lose her magic forever—or be slowly consumed by her own power.

Now for a fun interview with Bethany!

1. Who was your very first imaginary friend as a child?

I don’t remember the ones I had as a young child (if any), but as older kids my sister and I invented “imaginary boyfriends” for ourselves. (Here’s hoping she doesn’t come after me for admitting this online! Haha!) Mine was Mark, hers was Gilbert – and Mark and Gilbert apparently existed purely to make invisible mischief (and occasionally dance with us). We used to pretend they were riding in the back of my dad’s truck, or climbing on rooftops – all kinds of crazy antics we narrated to amuse ourselves during boring lulls in traffic or dull days.

2. Who is your favorite artist?

Oooooh, that’s hard, because I love so many! Of historical artists, I love the pre-Raphaelites, but don’t have a single favorite – although my favorite painting is The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse, which is special to me because I memorized the Lady of Shalott by Tennyson in school as a teen. Of contemporary artists online, I really like Sandara (a DeviantArt artist).

3. If you could have any magic ability what would it be? 

Teleportation! I’d love to be able to travel anywhere in the blink of an eye and visit loved ones near and far without the time and expense of regular travel. Also, I could get after my kids faster. 😛

4. Who is your writing hero and who is your spiritual hero?

Can I say C.S. Lewis for both? I adore the way that man thought and wove his spiritual musings into his stories. My writing is not much like his, and I don’t agree with him on everything, but I still love what he did with writing and how God used Him to spread truth and beauty through fictional worlds.

5. Tell us about your next story. 

Dragon Lyric is a dark, intense fantasy short story about a young bride who discovers that she has actually married a shapeshifter dragon – and is determined not to become his prey. It’s very different from Threadbare and more adult than YA, but it contains some of the same themes of hope and fierceness in the face of despair. I hope to complete my first draft soon!


Congratulations, Bethany Jennings!!