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RT Reviews Award Nomination!

Cara : January 16, 2018 9:24 pm : Books, Latest News

This morning, I was honored to wake up to the news that Devil in the Dust had been nominated for an RT Review Award! 

To have been chosen by the reviewers from the bazillions of books they read every year is beyond amazing. Thank you so much, RT Reviews, and thank you to those who have taken the time to be part of my life by reading this novel.


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Not Christian Enough

Cara : July 8, 2017 3:00 pm : Books, Church, Education, Family, Latest News, Parenting, Writing

Today, I came across an article from Lifeway Pastors, discussing how pastors and people in the church should be reading more.

This seems like a “duh” for a group of people who base their entire belief system on a book. Sadly, though, it needs to be said. Many Christians rarely pick up the Bible, let alone other reading materials.

But that isn’t what stopped me.

Because I write fiction for the CBA (the Christian book market), I have the occasional opportunity to speak to church groups about fiction. In doing so, I can’t tell you how often I hear someone say that they “aren’t really a reader,” or that they “don’t have time for fiction.” Of course, they are sure to qualify the statement with a suggestion for a book of the Christian-y, self-help variety that they think I should read.

Somehow, it seems that many Christians have decided that if the book doesn’t speak the name of Jesus a certain number of times, then it can’t be of value to them.

So when I read this from Lifeway, I was encouraged to see a call for readers among the church. Unfortunately, however, this article barely brushes against what needs to be said.

Here is the reading list from Lifeway:

  1. The Bible
  2. “Good Christian books,” including Christian Biography, Church history, Theology, Culture and cultural issues, Christian devotional literature, and Christian living.
  3. “Good non-Christian books,” including History, Government, Politics, and Classic Literature.

And that was it.

Ignoring the problem of defining what constitutes “good,” does anyone notice the glaring omission?

What about fiction outside of the classics? What about poetry? Do these hold no value for the believer?

The sad truth is, most fiction is not “Christian” enough to make the list.

As a college instructor, a writer of fiction, a student of literature, and a student of theology, I can’t help but see the fallout from this limited list.

First, when we only read books about how we wish the world was, rather than how the world is, we develop an isolated, unrealistic perspective. Things that are different become threats and things that challenge our understanding are immediately shut out. How can Christians who read nothing more than the Bible, Biography, and Classics be prepared in any way to connect to the culture filled with people they are required to love?

Taking this even deeper is current research (here’s a link to one of the zillion articles on the subject) that reveals that reading literary fiction is positively correlated with the development of empathy.

Shouldn’t the people in the church be the most empathetic individuals on the planet? Shouldn’t we be taking steps to increase our empathy…or is our faith so weak that we must constantly affirm it with books that do not challenge us? Shouldn’t we be trying to understand other cultures and other ideas? Or are we paralyzed by the fear that it might not be “good” enough? By choosing to read things that only agree with our perspective, aren’t we really choosing to nurture our own comfort rather than our ability to love others?

If that doesn’t give you pause, then maybe this will:

Much of the Bible is in narrative form. It is meant to be wrestled with. It is meant to be questioned. It is meant to be engaged with because the truths inherent in the stories are beyond what can be simply stated.

If we do not learn (through practice) how to read narrative, we will skip over the parts that create cognitive dissonance and that require reflection in favor of the easy bits that give us instruction. In doing so, we take a beautiful piece of literature with truths about our shared experiences and shared history, and diminish it to an instruction manual with a lot of fluff that we ignore. Our unwillingness to engage with the story means that we are unable to see the truth.

So, thank you, Lifeway, for saying that we should read. Got it.

Now, how about we encourage Christians to read something that will help them engage with their world?


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Why I Write

Cara : June 15, 2017 4:53 pm : Books, Latest News, Uncategorized, Writing

Today, my fifth novel releases.

It might be easier to start off with why I don’t write. I don’t write to teach a lesson. I don’t write to spread a message. I don’t write to sprinkle hope or joy or any of those other commendable things.

I write because life is hard, and understanding it is nearly impossible.

I write because story is a gift that allows us to deal with the hardships that would otherwise be too difficult to consider.

I write because fiction is an art form that expands beyond the realm of expression. It invites the participant to do more than empathize. And while I love the depth of feeling in the visual arts, and while I love the journey and the satisfaction of music, it is story that gives me a medium in which to wrestle with the parts of life that refuse to be defined by a color or a chord progression. Writing allows me to grapple with the parts of life that require, but evade, reconciliation.

I’m always caught off-guard when people ask me mechanical questions about sales or my career as a writer. The truth is, barring a miracle, writing novels will never pay the bills. The tandem truth is that it doesn’t matter. And it can’t matter.

Now, I work hard to sell books. It’s an obligation to my publishers and to myself. Sometimes it can be fun, but most authors would tell you that they would rather write ten more books than face the rejection inherent in the marketing endeavor of one. It’s hard, and it’s personal, and it requires me to fight the temptation to house the value of something intended to reside in this hazy place that doesn’t demand outside illumination under the fluorescent bulb of corporate success. The question of numbers devalues the artist’s definition of success as something that exists in those intimate moments where a reader has found comfort or community in the writer’s words.

The beauty is that recognizing this brings the author full circle, brings me full circle, reminding me of what made me write in the first place.

Writing is personal. Publishing is something of a matter of speculation. I write because fiction is the only way I can make sense of life, and I publish because I hope that my stories will do for you what they do for me.

I write to feel, to breathe, to heal. And today, as Ione finally tells her story, I hope she creates a path for you to feel, for you to breathe, and for you to heal.

If you are in a place where you need something that you can’t really name, try reading a book. Mine or someone else’s. It doesn’t matter, but I’d be honored if you would consider one of mine.

I write because fiction gives me something nothing else can, and I hope my stories will do the same for you.

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The moment you realize how subtle racism can be.

Cara : May 15, 2017 9:39 pm : Books, Church, Education, Family, Kids, Latest News, Parenting, Writing

The moment you realize how subtle racism can be.

As someone of Northern European ancestry, I approach this topic with caution and with the knowledge that I can never fully understand racism in America from a personal perspective. That being said, part of me knows that unless white America owns up to the problems that still exist, they will never go away, or if they do, they will not go away because of what I have done. I don’t want to be on the right side of history as a spectator.

Writing Soul’s Cry was daunting, because the main character in this part of the trilogy is African American. I’ll tackle the challenges with that in another blog. For now, I want to talk about one simple example of ongoing racism.

A few months ago, my publisher contacted me looking for inspiration pictures for the cover. The picture I had pinned to my desktop for Ione was from the 1800s, and heaven-only-knows how I would find permission to use it. Besides, it was in black-and-white, and we needed something that would go well with the other covers in the trilogy.

Ione’s Inspiration Picture

I went to the popular sites that cover designers use to look for modern pictures of women, in Victorian Era clothes, who had the smart, determined expression I’d imagined for Ione.

I found a bunch of models–problem is, they were all white.

I then typed in “African American Victorian Woman.” One picture. And she was dressed as a burlesque dancer. Nice. I tried “Black woman in 1890,” a bit miffed that I had to use the term “Black” rather than “African American”—nothing. I got desperate, rolled my eyes, and even attempted the archaic “Negro woman in 1890” in hopes of getting something…nothing.

I tried other sites. I found the same problem.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised—when you think of a high-society Victorian woman, does an African American face come to mind?

This doesn’t match up with the truth, though. In the late Victorian era, there was a thriving, influential, African American community in Chicago as well as many other major cities. While there were indeed crowded ghetto areas, the “Black Elite” prospered in the medical and legal professions.

Unfortunately, we rarely hear of these remarkable people who moved beyond the place society had deemed was theirs, who built on the humble foundation of literacy, who pushed innovation forward, who served on boards and cultural societies, and who worked to pull their families out of the devastation of slavery and the Civil War.

It is uncomfortable to admit, but the picture that comes to mind when thinking of an African American in the late 1800s has more in common with slaves than with a prosperous, thriving community.

And since poor African Americans outnumbered wealthy ones, I suppose one could make the argument that this reflected how a majority of African Americans lived. And that would be true…

…but it would also be true for whites. One of my grandfathers was born in an Iowa coal town. Another, into the dustbowl conditions of North Dakota. In fact, if I look back in my own history, almost every one of my ancestors lived in poverty.

So why is it that when I think about a Victorian Era woman, the picture that comes to mind looks like someone from the set of Meet Me In St. Louis.

And here’s the twist…because the picture of the woman in my mind looks a bit like me (in that we are both white), her poise, the no-nonsense posture and expression…it makes me feel a bit of pride—even though I have no real connection with her. The fact is, I can look at these old pictures and see in her the determination I hope to have. I want to live up to this woman’s expectations. As crazy as it sounds, when I look at these pictures, I feel pride in a heritage I do not own. My family was in poverty, but because of these pictures, I can identify with affluence. Prosperity does not feel like a foreign concept.

Now imagine that every picture of a white woman I saw as representative of my past looked haggard, tired, and hopeless.

I’ll leave the implications for you to puzzle out.

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Banned Paper Topics: Science vs. Religion

Cara : April 10, 2017 2:19 pm : Church, Education, Family, Kids, Latest News, Parenting, Writing

I think I learned more from my students in my first semester as a college composition instructor than I taught them. One of the first lessons was to create a banned paper list.

Over the years, the list has evolved, but still topping off this list are the topics of legalizing drugs and pay for student athletes (I just can’t read any more of these), abortion and euthanasia (no matter how hard I try, the argument always devolves into the realm of personal belief systems), and the most recent addition, science versus religion. This also goes hand in hand with the sister topic, the dangers of religion.

I only had to read one of these papers to understand the reasoning behind why doing a good job of writing on this subject is an impossibility: science and religion exist for different reasons.

We need science to find a cure for cancer. We need religion to help us come to terms with our reality when that cure comes too late.

As an English instructor who also studies theology, this paper topic is particularly difficult to read, because it exposes all the misinformation and the misinterpretations that the student has swallowed and has shaped their negative view of religion. And a secular university is not exactly the appropriate place to delve into why their own church experiences have led them down a path where they feel they have to decide between the comfort found in scientific facts, or that found in the soul’s search for meaning.

Yesterday, as I paused on a Law and Order rerun, during the commercial break, Bill Nye the “Science Guy” popped onto the screen and informed the viewers of the crime that is taking place because (in his assessment) an entire generation of kids are being brought up—I think he used the term—“anti-science.” He stressed that in an economy based on innovation, this was dangerous.

Thank you, Bill Nye, for perpetuating the myth that one must stand at odds with the other. *insert eye rolling here*

But to be fair, in my studies, and as I have read some of these dreadful papers, I have come to the realization that Christians have largely done this to themselves, and it intensified during that time when believers with a modernist mindset suddenly found themselves in a position where they felt they needed to defend a gospel that, in their reading, was as black and white as their own worldview. Apologetics, the defense of Christianity, met every single one of these needs.

Then the landscape changed again.

It was not a subtle change, or a slow change; it did not creep up and tag along for a while before making its presence known. No. The shift from the black and white understanding that good things are from God and bad things are from Satan, to one that struggles even to define good or bad, happened in the space of a generation. Thousands of years of certainty scared into the shadows at the jump of the post-modern worldview.

The church, now thoroughly self-congratulatory in their apologetic haze, did not expect it, and they went on the defense, taking everything the enlightenment had offered and brandishing the new spiritual weapon named apologetics, one that the church had grown to depend on as if it were the missing piece in the armor of God. But the church did not consider the larger meaning. Ministers spoke louder, faster, traded the message for argument, the Spirit’s gentle persuasion for sales tactics, and relied on reason over revelation.

In the attempt to be heard over a din of the church’s own creation, believers failed to notice that they, too, had undergone a transformation. While America ran toward secularism, the church, immersed in their rational defense of Christianity, in their zeal for their government to reflect their own values, failed to realize that the victim of their defense was true discipleship. The hunger to know the word of God slipped from their grasp, replaced by witty soundbites from the most persuasive. The principles of Evangelicalism shifted from the hands of those who were students of the word to those who could package pieces of the word in seemingly meaningful, easy to digest bits. The church responded to the change about them with a change of their own, trading miracle for mundane, mystery for the easily explainable, and paradox for certainty. In the church’s attempt to shift, to partially adopt the secular worldview just enough to make the argument for Christianity sound by the unbeliever’s standards, they adopted a secular method to witness, and in doing so themselves forgot the marvel of salvation. Not so gradually, argument became the standard fare of youth groups, persuasion techniques were taught in the place of the Bible, and the church began the descent into “biblical illiteracy,” leaving young Christian adults without the spiritual foundation to understand their own miracle and at the mercy of those unbelievers who might be better trained in rhetoric.

And now the church stands, humbled by the realization that relying on reason as a method to make the necessity of faith more palatable to non-believers had the opposite effect, and stunned by the changes that had happened while they were engaged in a debate by whose terms they were destined to fail.

Christians embraced the modernist need for fact and definitive truth by creating a version of Christianity that served not only their needs, but also the needs they perceived were required by unbelievers. In the fading light of modernity, however, rose the post-modern requirement for things that moved beyond fact and reason, embracing the desire for things to make sense, regardless of whether they strictly adhered to the demands of logic.

Once again, secular culture changed before church culture, and the largely modernist church has been busy “proving” Christianity to an emptying room that could not care less. Many of the post-modernists already consider Christianity to be anti-science (see: Bill Nye), and therefore, not worth their consideration. In the Church’s desire to meet the needs of a secular society, and in their willingness to debate on that society’s black and white terms, the church lost, and as a way of evangelizing, is left with the methods that the Bible promotes: approach with love, care for others, and demonstrate how a king born in a stable is exactly what is needed.

Christians are to share in suffering, not to engage in the impossible task of explaining it away.

The post-modern generation stands as a reminder that all the reason, all the skills of persuasion, all the perfectly debated points still pale to the reality of a gentle Christ. And this conclusion should come as an unburdening relief to the church.

The stress of the task of defending Christianity is gone. The worry over offense or saying the right thing is erased by simply letting go of the need to prove. This need to be right, and to base one’s personal value to the kingdom of God on the ability to argue religious points is a strategy that, even for the skilled debater, is fraught with a responsibility whose burden is self-administered. God never required man to explain the divine.

Hindsight allows the church to look back, make a rational assessment of the risks, and come to the understanding that the simplest answer, the one exemplified by Jesus, is the best one. As a result of the church’s dependence on debate and hardline truth claims, the secular society now expects judgement and irrationality wrapped up by the church in an ears-covered, back-turned kind of self-protective stance. A continued dependence on debate in the name of apologetics meets this expectation and brings with it the risk of further offense. The larger society does not want what the human side of the church offers, so maybe now it is time to show them the divine side. Maybe now it is time to show them Jesus.

The church needs to engage, not prove, to be curious, not forceful, to listen without the need to use the words of the speaker in a calculated manner. The church needs to surprise the world the way Jesus surprised the world as the Miracle King, the Redeemer, and the humble Savior no one expected.


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Writing from the Dust

Cara : March 21, 2017 8:55 pm : Latest News, Uncategorized

Why I wrote Devil in the Dust.

One Sunday after church, we decided to go to lunch with another family. We hadn’t had the opportunity to get to know this couple well, but the conversation was amazing, we laughed until we almost cried, and I’m pretty sure the restaurant manager was glad to see us go.

On the way out, the topic grew more serious, and I mentioned something that worried me. It was maybe a sentence—I was not baring my soul—but the woman with whom we had spent the last couple of delightful hours stopped, blinked, and put up her wall-of-a-Christian-smile. In an instant, I knew I had been judged as negative. You see, for many Christians, the mantras of “the battle is already won,” “faith will get you through,” and the largely American “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” have drowned out the quieter mandate to care.

I went home chased by the feeling that, somehow, I didn’t measure up. And for a time, I dredged that place of overthinking, attempting to float a reason out of that murky pond where insecurity hides.

Of course, I came up with nothing, and decided to put my efforts into deciding what my next novel would be. Unfortunately (or fortunately), at this stage, every little life experience has potential for use.

While I had been undecided on theme, I knew I wanted the setting for the novel to be in the dustbowl in the 1930s. I began researching, and I realized the scope and human impact of this disaster was much larger than I had remembered from history class. More importantly, it lasted an entire decade. For a decade, people dealt with hunger and drought and death from breathing in the ultra-fine soot. Children were lost. Families abandoned their farms. People survived on rations of canned government meat…and that’s when they were lucky. Many felt cursed.

Life was hard. I imagine that smiles were rare, even in the church.

I started thinking about what it would take for a community to survive devastation on this scale. I considered the kind of people who make up a town: merchants, teachers, police, farmers, and ministers. And while merchants and teachers, along with everyone else, would feel the change brought on by the slow death of a drought, for a minister it would be different.  A minister’s purpose is to bring people the good news of the gospel. Technically, their job would stay exactly the same, except every phrase they spoke would shift in meaning because the context—the lives of those sitting in the pews—had changed so dramatically.

Growing up as the child of a pastor, I have some knowledge about how a minister’s home works. And in all my research I was left with one question: How could a minister preach every Sunday to a congregation of people who had lost everything with no hope for improvement anytime soon?

I moved my research to the Bible, and when I did, I came across the story of Lazarus. I have heard and read this story countless times, but in the light of trying to puzzle out what a pastor might do in a situation where it looks like all has been lost, I realized something about the story that I had never considered. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he cried with Lazarus’ sisters. He shared in their grief even though he knew it would end. He stayed there with them in that moment of sorrow.

I came to the conclusion that during times of suffering, our responsibility to others should look nothing like that drought-of-a-Christian-smile that I met outside that restaurant. Rather, it should emulate Jesus’ example. When we make Christianity only about victory, and turn faith into a wish book, we strip it of its most powerful message: hope. Not eternal hope, but the hope of not being alone. More often than not, we lack the ability to change someone’s circumstances. What we can do is come up alongside someone and help carry their burden even if only for a few minutes. Christianity is not a way to avoid suffering, it’s about finding meaning through the suffering.

I wrote Devil in the Dust as an exploration of what it means to be a Christian while standing in the midst of a desert. Told through the voices of three women who endure the quiet shame of poverty, Devil in the Dust is a story about what happens to faith when everything goes wrong.


Dragon Fruit and Letting Go

Cara : November 2, 2016 1:44 am : Church, Education, Family, Kids, Latest News, Parenting


MTL Article

Nov. 1, 2016

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6 Must-Haves for a Great Series

Cara : July 18, 2016 8:20 pm : Books, Craft, Latest News, Uncategorized, Writing

I love to read. Everything. I read mystery, literary, historical, contemporary, sci-fi, biographies, academic…pretty much anything I can get my hands on.

And even though I am currently writing a series, I typically prefer not to read in a series because I like variety.  That’s not to say that I don’t go back to my favorite authors, because I do. I just tend not to read the books one after another.

This has recently changed for me. I’ve discovered Louise Penny. And in the last year and a half, I’ve finished six of her Chief Inspector Gamache novels.

Lately, as I’ve approached writing the third novel in my Portraits of Grace series, I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about what makes me go back to Penny’s novels again and again, and I’ve come up with a list of six things that are must-haves for writing a series.

1)      I love the characters. I wish they were my friends. They are witty and real and funny, and multi-layered, with complex loves and hates. When I finish the book, I wonder what is happening to them.

2)      The setting is spectacular. If there was a house for sale in Three Pines, I’d be there in a heartbeat.

3)      There is a lack of judgement. In these novels, most of the characters would fall under a “liberal” point of view, and a few are “conservative,” but overall, there is no preaching from the author. This might seem like a simple thing, but these books are set in modern times, and I challenge you to find another contemporary book where it doesn’t feel like the author is trying to in some way sway their readers. It’s hard to do. For Penny’s novels, the characters are who they are, and it is that simple.

4)      She describes the most wonderful food. I want to sit in the B&B in Three Pines and have Gabri bring me a warm basket of freshly baked croissants. Actually, description in general is one of Penny’s gifts. I must not be the only one who really appreciates the food, because there’s a whole page of the series website devoted to recipes.

5)      The characters make me appreciate the value and pitfalls of all sorts of personality types.

6)      Each novel is different, but the same. They are all based on Chief Inspector Gamache, but there is a different murder that he tries to solve in each book. People die in different ways, so there are new inspectors and new experts. The trip to figure out what happened brings in new settings. The person who died brings in new characters with their families and friends. All-in-all, while the main characters grow in importance, the new ones bring variety and life to the series.

If you haven’t picked up one of her novels in this series yet, I encourage you to do so. Order doesn’t much matter. A warning for sensitive readers: they are murder mysteries, so there is some violence involved, and the language would not be considered appropriate or welcome for every reader—although I would not describe the profanity as gratuitous.

Have you read this Louise Penny’s series? What did you like or dislike? If you are a writer, what have you learned?

As a side note, if you have Audibel, the narrator for these novels (Ralph Cosham) does a fabulous job:)

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Fresh Fiction – Enter to Win!

Cara : June 24, 2016 2:37 pm : Books, Craft, Latest News, Writing

Soul's Prisoner front6 Things I Learned About Writing Suspense from Reading Suspense


Enter to win a signed copy of Soul’s Prisoner!

Just comment on the blog at


Looking back now, I realize that every time I picked up a book as a kid, I was learning to write—especially suspense… read on by clicking here.


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Goodreads Giveaway! Starts June 24th!

Cara : June 18, 2016 4:12 pm : Books, Latest News, Writing

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Gathered Waters by Cara Luecht

Gathered Waters

by Cara Luecht

Giveaway ends July 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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