Painting Angels – A book in context

I just experienced a special moment in my writing journey. It’s just me and my office, my computer, books, papers, assorted pencils. But on my screen is an incredible review of my new book, Painting Angels.

The review is from a woman who blogs at Relished Living. Her name is Erica, and she felt Painting Angels raises and answers questions that are all around us in this moment, the historical moment in which the book is being published. Her words blew me away. I have nothing else to say except that I hope you will read what she wrote.

You can find the review on Relished Living. Here’s it is.

Painting Angels: The Terrible Inconvenience of Love

Painting Angels has arrived in the warehouse and in the publisher’s store. It’s official, announced release date is this coming Tuesday, July 21. But friends, you are more than welcome to get your copy any minute now! THE BOOK IS HERE!

Seven Holy Women: Who are the 7?

This week, I shared the first letter and the number of letters in each of the names of the seven women saints who are part of my next book, a storytelling journal I wrote with seven friends. Here’s what the clues looked like.

The guesses were interesting, and I learned the names of saints I haven’t heard of yet! It was fascinating to see which of our seven saints are known and unknown. Today, I announced the correct answers. How many of these saints do you know?

This book grew out of a series of short stories, which I wrote because of a long-held sense that the lives of saints have a lot of story potential! I browsed long lists of saints and their stories, looking for incidents in their lives that leaped out at me as unusual, thought-provoking, picturesque – all the things you look for in a good short story. As I wrote, I realized that my short stories were trying to be a book. But the idea of writing the whole thing myself made me so tired!

At this point, I embarked on what I like to call the Holy Spirit Theory of Writing – in which you let the book be what it wants to be and follow along in a spirit of joyful curiosity. I realized that I could ask friends to help me write the book, and after staring at my list of saint names and daydreaming for a bit, I asked the friends who seemed to go with the saints.

I’m so glad I did! This is seven times the book it would have been if I had written it all myself. And it was exciting and mysterious to see the ways that the seven saints matched the women writing about them. In every case, there was some aspect of that particular woman that was drawn out and filled with light by the saint she was writing about. I can’t wait till you read this book!! In one case, we even decided that the woman writing looked a lot like the portraits we found of the saint she was writing about.

Beauty leads to beauty, and love to love. Writing the book together is drawing us closer to each other, and I think also closer to the saints we chose to meet in our writing. It’s the beginning of many conversations, not the least of which is an exploration of creativity, or what might be called an educated imagination, in our life of faith.

#SevenHolyWomen #book #journal #storytelling #shortstory #Orthodox #saints #faith #imagination #writing

Painting Angels: Cover and Co-Author!

Painting Angels, Book 3 in the #SamandSaucer trilogy, just went to press! It’s due to release on July 21, and I want to share the cover, catalog copy, and adorable new co-author for this book as we wait to see the book “in person.”

The Cover

The Catalog Copy

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

The Co-Author

I am thrilled to announce that I have a co-author for Painting Angels! Thirteen-year-old Veronica Naasko kindly contributed an account of life as a “farm kid” that is going into the print, ebook, and audiobook editions of Painting Angels! The animal farm at the book’s imaginary monastery is central to the story in Book 3, and when we found there was space available at the end of the book, we asked Veronica to write for us. I recorded my part of the Audible edition this weekend, and Veronica is submitting hers this afternoon. Her part of this book is awesome. It has turkeys. It has wolves. It even has an unusual bishop. Just wait till you read it!! Here is a picture of Veronica recording for Audible.

Painting Angels: Coming this summer!

Today, I enjoyed being a writer for a few minutes during a day of otherwise un-writerly work. The publisher sent back the copyedited version of Painting Angels (Book 3 in the Sam and Saucer series). The book is going to press in just a few weeks. I’ve seen some illustrations and sent back feedback, and I’ve worked on all the text edits sent to me. Now I just need to read this copy-edited manuscript, and it will be off to the proofreader – almost finished!

Today I also received the “promo copy” for the book. This is the description that shows up in the publisher’s catalog, on their website, on Amazon, and everywhere the book is sold (in English). When the original manuscript was submitted, I completed an author questionnaire as I do each time one of my books is published. The questionnaire asked me to provide text that could be used to create this promo copy. The editor worked with it, and I’m happy with the final result. Here it is!

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace.

Reading this, I realized how well this book fits the time in which it will be released. God willing, we’ll be out and about before the summer, but who knows? Even if we are, our memories of being cooped up, struggling together, will be fresh! COVID-19 never entered my head during the writing process (in fact, the last major revision was completed before quarantine), but today I see major parallels!

Writing and imagination, minds and thoughts, and the whole spiritual atmosphere swirling around us fascinate me. There is no knowing the complex of our connections with each other, or with the unseen influences around us and within us. Perhaps the only key to the mystery is this:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

God help us all, according to His purpose.

Our Board Book: St. Ia Rides a Leaf

As you know, illustrator Kristina Tartara and I have contracted with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press for a board book. Earlier, I shared this photograph as a hint about the book.

Where is this place? It’s St. Ives in Cornwall! This charming seaside town, and the parish church that watches over it, are named for St. Ia of Cornwall (Ives is an Anglicized version of her Irish name).

I discovered St. Ia’s story while researching another book (coming out this Fall), and although it fit beautifully with the women’s devotional I had in mind when I found it, the story stayed with me until I realized it makes an excellent book for little ones as well.

St. Ia was an Irish missionary to Cornwall in the 5th or 6th century. England owes much of its Christianity to Irish missionaries who crossed the Irish Sea to save those heathen English.

Ia expected to travel with a group, but unbeknownst to her, her fellow missionaries decided she wasn’t old enough to come along. (Is there a child anywhere who can’t relate to this?)

Ia’s group left without her, and without telling her. She ran down to the beach, expecting to board the ship with them, and instead, she saw it disappearing over the horizon.

Ia was heartbroken. She stood on the shore for a while, being sad and praying, and she saw a leaf floating on the water. She touched it with her staff, the way you do when you are busy being sad and you start fiddling with something around you. The leaf began to grow, and Ia realized something special was happening.

The leaf grew large enough to be a seaworthy boat, and Ia rode her leaf to Cornwall. In one version of the story, she arrives before the people who had left her behind. (That must have been just the least little bit satisfying.)

Our book is a simple, lyrical 300-word retelling of this story. With contracts signed, Kristina and I are venturing into the world of story-boards and sketches. I love this. I will never get over the enchantment of seeing my stories illustrated, and Kristina is a great partner. We talk over the time and place, the probable age of Ia (our guess is very early teens), and the layout. When it’s ready, I’ll be sharing Kristina’s work here, both in development and finished.

Meanwhile, here is some of the other artwork we’ve found that shows Ia’s voyage, each interesting in its own way.

Board Book Contract with SVS Press

I am SO happy to announce that in company with talented illustrator Kristina Tartara, I have signed a board book contract with St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press! God willing, the book will release the Fall of this year.

Now that I’m blogging again, I’m going to enjoy musing and reveling my way through the publication process. I adore books with pictures, and I will never, ever get tired of the magic of writing a book and seeing it illustrated. It is one of the world’s great enchantments, for me. Kristina has already sent me a few tiny sketches – just lines, already full of character and humanity. It is WONDERFUL.

Board books are like word puzzles, I find. You have a story, and it may be quite large. The setting includes oceans and mountains and multiple human beings, and there are sounds and feelings and layers of meaning, and all of this? All of this. All of this must be poured into 300 words. 300 tiny words. So first, I write the story, wandering around it in my head, letting it be the words it can first lay hold on, and then I go back and shave off words. Polish. Polish. Polish. Words fall off like wood shavings, and the story grows clearer as it grows smaller. At last, it fits into those 300 chosen words, and I am satisfied.

Sometimes, the story happens in 20 minutes. Sometimes it steeps in a misty corner of my mind for months before it arrives.

And now, with 300 words and the clear visions of the inward eye, I let go of it and Kristina’s inward eye and skillful hand bring it to even greater life.

I love this.

I’ll be sharing the story behind the story, the main character, the history, the setting, the illustration process, and all the fun we have after it gets published. But for now, I will leave you with a hint.

Here is a picture of the location where the story is set. Can you guess where this is? Have you been there? Of course, you have to imagine away the houses. They were not there at the time…

Guesting on Paraclete Press – His Eye is On the Sparrow

Today I’m thrilled to be a guest on the Paraclete Press site blog, as we prepare for the release of my new board book, Piggy in Heaven.


“When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” – Civilla Durfee Martin, His Eye is On the Sparrow, 1905

We don’t take small animals seriously. If you’re an adult who owns a hamster, you’re probably the only one you know. At the movies or in the library, it’s easy to find a horse or a dog saving the hero’s life or demonstrating wisdom and loyalty. Epic tales about small herbivores are hard to come by. We expect to find these little creatures in cartoons and picture books or serving nobly as the comic relief. In a serious story, you might find a canary or a perky rat accessorizing a character the author hopes will be eccentric.

I have been the fortunate human guardian of, at various times, two bunnies, seven hamsters, a rotating selection of fish, and one guinea pig. All of these animals are considered children’s pets – small, adorable, and inconsequential. Yet I learned important things from each of them, and these epiphanies built on each other into a staunch belief that the tiniest members of creation are as precious and intelligent as the largest and most obviously heroic. Caring for these little pets through their lifetime and at the moment of their death has taught me beautiful lessons. I will share three with you here.

Read More

My Literary Life in 2018

If you don’t have a ladder and you want fruit from a tree, you can lean your whole weight on its slender trunk and shake the tree. If you shake patiently, the fruit will tumble down to you.

This is the year the fruit has tumbled down to me! Almost daily, something encouraging happens, and no sooner have I picked up the gift and savored it, but another gift drops into my hands. In honor of these many blessings, I’ve decided to write a list of all the good things that have happened to me, Melinda Johnson, Writing, this year.

The Barn and the Book: The second book in the Sam and Saucer series just released this month! This is the sequel to Shepherding Sam and follows the boy and his corgi as Christmas approaches. You can read more about it here.

Painting Angels: At the publisher’s request, I drafted the third Sam and Saucer book, and it’s scheduled for release in June 2019! In Painting Angels, Sam and his nemesis, Macrina, square off.

Piggy in Heaven: Paraclete Press decided to publish the story I wrote about our guinea pig. It’s coming out on January 8, and I can’t wait! Read all about it. This book is available for preorder.

More to the Story: I launched my own picture-book review site, and within a few weeks, four publishers had requested reviews! That was exciting. I love writing about books, and I love books with pictures. Follow me here.

Letters to Saint Lydia audiobook edition: I’ve already shared this good news! I’m working with a wonderful young woman to create the Audible edition of my first book, and she’s amazing! This book is already available in paperback and Kindle editions.

The Book Project That Shall Not Be Named: This is a secret. Shhhhh. It’s an awesome project I’m working on with friends.

Abigail Counts Her Way Home: I wrote another board book (I like board books! I like pictures!) and it’s through the first round with a publisher, and I’ve got two more publishers to try for if need be.

Attributed Endorsement on Lights on the Mountain and The Dog in the Dentist Chair: Book reviewing is fun! I wrote advance reviews of both books, and you’ll find me in the “Editorial Review” section for these two!

First-ever Ancient Faith Women’s Retreat: This is an exciting accomplishment at work. I didn’t write it, but I did organize it. In fact, I invented it! I’m very excited to be hosting this national women’s gathering in just a few weeks. We sold out – filled the venue to the gills. It’s going to be wonderful.

Romanian edition of Letters to Saint Lydia: My first novel has been translated and just released in a beautiful Romanian edition from Editura Sophia! You can order it here. It’s exciting to be contributing to Orthodox Christian literature in Romania!

There are other projects percolating in my mind. I am so happy in the world of words that has been given to me!

Photo by Ian Baldwin on Unsplash

NEW! The Barn and the Book

First came Shepherding Sam – the story of a lonely, angry third-grader named Sam and Saucer, the wise and funny little corgi who befriends him. Sam and Saucer are back and getting ready for Christmas in The Barn and the Book, releasing today from Ancient Faith Publishing!

Barn and the Book cover high res file smallThe Barn and the Book

Sam wants to know if animals (especially Saucer!) can speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. Grace and Macrina are competing to write a story, and Elias is losing his patience. Meanwhile, Sister Anna hopes God will rescue her from teaching Sunday school. Christmas is coming, but hearts are full of secrets and frustrations. The Barn and the Book is a story about the traps we build when we try to see in the dark. We tumble into trouble and confusion on our own, but God can steer us clear of our traps and shine His kindly light into our darkness. This is a chapter book for independent readers aged 7-12, and a read-aloud story for the whole family.

Print, Ebook, and Audio Editions

The print edition of The Barn on the Book is available from the publisher and on Amazon. The ebook edition is available for Kindle and Nook, as an iBook, and on OrthodoxChristianEbooks.com.

Remember Book 1?

Meet Saucer the corgi and his boy Sam in the first book, Shepherding Sam! Sam’s Aunt Eva says he s like a tornado he causes a ruckus everywhere he goes. But Aunt Eva won t give up on Sam, and neither will Saucer, the monastery s corgi puppy. Saucer lives at the monastery, but he dreams of herding sheep. With no sheep in his life, Saucer tries to herd everyone else farm animals, nuns, and especially Sam. Sam doesn’t want to follow anyone, not even a funny puppy. But Saucer knows that if he just keeps trying, he can bring this lonely boy back to the flock.

Meet Ferdinand!

As these two books were being written, I sometimes joked about my imaginary corgi. But now I have a real one! This is Ferdinand – and no, we didn’t bring him home for “book research.” We just love corgis! Just like his imaginary counterpart, Ferdinand is funny, intelligent, loving, strong-minded, curious, and extremely fond of chewing socks! You’ll notice that his ears are flopped over in this picture, and that’s because it’s one of his baby pictures. Corgis are born with their ears flopped over, but they stand up and start swiveling around when the puppy is a few months old.

Ferdinand on the rock garden 9 29 17.jpg