Monday, May 4, 2015

Word of the Week - Duck


So, cute story. Way back when Xoe was just a little miniature thing (as opposed to now, when she's quickly closing the gap between our heights and wearing my shoes!!!!!), I read her the Little Quack books. In one, Little Quack is playing hide and seek with his brothers and sisters, but he can't think of a place to hide--so he hides behind Mama Duck, swimming right behind her, in her blind spot, while she finds everyone else. But she can't find him, until finally she calls out for him, and he says, "Here I am, Mama!"

Ever since I read her that book when she was two, Xoe has liked to play "duckling." She would try to hide behind me as I moved around, usually ruining her stealth with giggles...and with the fact that I'm not a duck with that particular blind spot, LOL. But she still does it--and I knew well she didn't remember why, given how long it's been since we've read Little Quack. I was telling her about the origins of that particular playful habit on Friday night, explaining that's why I call her "my little duckling" when she does it. She didn't remember the why, but Rowyn sure thought it was hilarious that his sister was acting unknowingly like a duck...and then asked why in the world we call them ducks.

I, in my wisdom, said, "I don't know. Maybe because they duck and dive under the water?"

Rowyn: "Well not always, Mommy. Only when they're eating."

Smart little fella. ;-) Anyway, naturally I went and looked it up. And happily, I was right! Duck is from the Old England ducan, which means "to duck, to dive." So the verb really did come first, and then it was applied to the waterfowl. For hundreds of years it carried that water-associated meaning only. You ducked under the water, but you didn't duck to avoid a ball flying at your head. The "to bend, stoop quickly" meaning didn't come until the 1520s--several hundred years after the "dive" meaning.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Writing and Passion


Passion: though its current definition involves "any strong feeling," it has its roots in pain. Passion comes straight from the Latin passio, which means, quite simply, "suffering."

So our English idea of being passionate about something...it means not just something we feel strongly about, but something we're willing to suffer for.

Susan Meissner pointed this out in a great class at ACFW one year, along with the question of "Are we really willing to suffer for our writing? Are we passionate about it?" And went on to say that for many writers, herself included, the answer was no. She was willing to work really hard at it, but it was a career. She loved it, but it didn't deserve the word passion.

Another writer, very well respected and often ground-breaking, just said something similar. That when it came down to it, there's not much she'd give up for writing. 

It made me realize anew that I'm not in that camp. Susan Meissner began that aforementioned class by breaking down writers into 3 groups--those who write as a hobby, those who write as a job, and those who write as a ministry. She was speaking to the middle group.

I belong to the ministry group. Neither is right or wrong, they're just different. But I've recently heard a lot of voices talking very wisely and thoroughly about the Career group, and I wanted to take some time to examine the Ministry aspect.

I have said many times that I write for the same reason that I breathe: because I must. I have written before about "Being a Writer and Zombies" LOL and how even if the world as I knew it was obliterated and I was on the run for years at a time, I would write (albeit just in my head, telling stories around the campfire). If writing fiction became illegal, I would write. It isn't a choice to me, it isn't a job, it isn't something I do--it's who I am. It's how I process. It's how I think.

More, it's how I fulfill the Great Commission.

I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at a MOPS group two weeks ago, which is something I've done before and always love. I'm about the same age as most of the women there, my kids are just recently out of that "pre-schoolers" age, and I can relate to them on a lot of different levels. I love talking to them about juggling their home life with other passions, which is what I was talking about this time too, and about my publishing story.

Afterwards, one of the ladies said something to me that I've heard before, LOL. "It's so fun hearing you talk about this--you're so passionate about it!" (When I'm speaking to older crowds, that often gets paired with "It's so adorable how excited you are!")

But that's me. I get excited about writing, about books, about the stories I get to tell. I get excited about how God has worked in my life to bring me to this point, and the ways He has used my books in the lives of His children. I get excited about what's to come.

And yes--I'm willing to suffer for it. Because the written word is my mission field. Telling stories is how I spread the Gospel and share God's truths. Yes, I had to learn the career side--how to follow the rules of writing, how to appeal to readers and editors, how to get my books out into those readers' hands (otherwise it's not much of a mission field!), and I work hard at it. But if that were taken away from me, if I could no longer get books out there, I'd still write stories--and I'd still get them to as many people as I could.

There are so many reasons to write. So many ways to treat it. So many things it can be even to someone like me who considers it a ministry, a calling. Yes, I want it to entertain. Yes, I want to write the best I possibly can. Yes, I want to keep learning how to make my books successful. No, I certainly don't want my stories to ever come across as an agenda.

But that's the beauty, to me. If I pursue this thing I'm called to wholeheartedly, I know that God will give me those truths to write into my stories. I know I'll continue to understand God's love better and better by exploring relationship and family through writing. I know my stories will get better and better as stories, and that the better they get, the more they'll be able to fulfill their purpose on a spiritual level too.

For those of us whose writing is a ministry, the question of "Why do we do it?" always comes back to "Because that's how we serve Him." And because that's my reason, it makes me view things like low sales and setbacks in a whole different light. Obviously I want my books to be successful--as in, reach lots of people--but more, I want them to be used by Him. Ideally, the two will go hand in hand. But if not, if my sales are awful but I'm still getting notes from people telling me how my books opened their eyes or touched their hearts or made them redefine their faith...well then, I'm doing my job.

It's not always easy. It doesn't always seem worthwhile. It certainly isn't always logical. It can't always be quantified. But that's true of most ministries, isn't it? We serve, we give, we fight for the right to do so. We falter, we weep, we wonder if it will ever make a difference. Then we get up again and keep serving. Because it's part of who we are.

It's a little odd that writing is something you can do for so many different reasons--after all, not many people choose "missionary" as a career simply because they think they have a way with people and words and it seems like a good career choice. That's one that most people will do only as a calling, a ministry. But writing can be a talent, a gift much like good math skills or engineering acumen. It can be a job that goes hand-in-hand with ministry. It can be so many different things.

But if you're pursuing it, it's a good idea to identify why you are. What it means to you. What you're willing to give up for it, and what you're not. For many fabulous writers, they're not willing to give up much to pursue writing. For others, there's not much they won't give up to pursue writing. How awesome that God can use us all. =)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Remember When . . . We Chose a Hero?

I'm in the first half a new book...which means that as I'm writing, I'm searching for lovely images to pin to my Pinterest board for this story. =) And ohmygoodness, I'm ready to move to the Cotswolds!

http://www.cntraveller.com/guides/europe/england/the-cotswolds/where-to-stay



I'm so thrilled that I decided to set this book in this gorgeous region of England. =) That last photo there is Temple Guiting Manor, which I'm basing my hero's home, Anlic Manor, on. Isn't it just perfect???

But I'm still trying to nail down a good image for my hero. He has warm brown hair. Green eyes. And bears a resemblance to his cousin, the hero in book 1.

This is the cousin, an actor I realized was perfect for him when I watched the new Chronicles of Narnia movies. And I love that he's now in a new show (The Royals...which I have no interest in watching, LOL), so there are tons of pictures of him as a twentysomething rather than a teen. =)

This is William Moseley as a prince in The Royals
Not a bad look for the Duke of Stafford either. ;-)
Cousin to the hero in The Waiting Lady
So my new hero, Cayton, needs to look sorta-kinda like him, though not too close, of course. And their coloring is different.

Cayton is quite handsome, though at this point in time he's also described as rather surly and grumpy. But that's more a condition of current circumstances that who he is. So who is the Earl of Cayton? Well, he can be absent-minded and has a hidden appreciation for all things artistic, be they his secret hobby of painting or poetry. Though he once loved the social crowd, recent losses have made him think that perhaps the hermit's life is the life for him, so he can avoid hurting anyone else. He was once selfish and happy to choose the easy path...and has learned that the worthwhile things in life are seldom easy.

He has a little girl about 9-months-old and is a doting father--to the point where his cousin accuses him of hiding behind little Addie so he doesn't have to face the world. Cayton wants to do the right thing, wants to make up for his past failings...but fears that he'll just mess things up all the more.

He is in a lot of ways an anti-hero. And I'm looking forward to giving him an anti-romance, where instead of trying to get the girl, he's doing his best to lose her. ;-)

So...I need an actor who captures that look! LOL

At the moment, the best I've found is Henry Cavill:

But I'm open for any other options of handsome chaps who can combine a bit of angst with a hidden artistic side and a history as a heart-breaker. ;-)

Let the suggestions begin and I'll add pictures as they come in!

Suzie J. recommended Josh Duhamel, who's a fabulous contender!



Monday, April 27, 2015

Word of the Week - Fan


Many many moons ago, well before I discovered www.etymonline.com (for that matter, well before my daughter was born...I believe I was in college...) I was writing a story in which the heroine accused the hero of being a fanatic about football. He replied that he was merely a fan. Her response?

"Where do you think fan comes from? It's a shortening of fanatic."

I totally made that up. It made sense to me, but I didn't actually, you know, look it up. But as it happens...I love it when I'm right. ;-)

Fan, with the meaning of "devotee," appeared in English round about 1889 in America, in reference to baseball fans, and there are two possible sources. The first is indeed fanatic, and etymologists think it the most likely explanation. But it may have also been influenced by fancy, which could apparently mean a collective group of followers of a sport of hobby, especially boxing.

Still trying to wrap my head around a "boxing fancy." Does not compute, LOL. But apparently it was used in such a way since 1735!

So what are you a fan of? (I ask, wondering if chocolate and coffee count...)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Education


I'm an educator. A home educator, if we're being precise. Every day at 9 o'clock my kids bounce out to the kitchen table, open their books, and say, "Come on, Mama, you're going to be late. Start reading."

Every day, I read to them. We read the Bible. We read history. We read literature, poetry, and listen to music. We spend a whole semester studying a particular subject in science--this year was botany and marine biology, next year will be flying creatures and anatomy. We're learning Ancient Greek. We're learning about the orchestra. We're studying our favorite artists and making our own masterpieces. We've got fraction to decimal conversions going on right now, grammar and mechanics, writing, and reading.

And you know what else we've got a lot of? Play. I consider that, too, a vital part of the home-education experience.

I was in high school when I decided I was going to homeschool. I'd been leaning that way for a while (Wouldn't it be awesome to stay home with my kids, write books, and homeschool them? They could totally direct their own education from the desk beside mine when they're 5. Ahem.), despite the fact that I excelled at public school.

I could memorize like nobody's business. I learned quickly and could spit it back out nearly perfectly. I could take a test--boy, could I take a test! I could, and did, focus on grades and hit them out of the park. I was valedictorian. I took college classes during my last several years of high school.

But one of my most vivid memories from my junior year is when, in Algebra II, I was performing all the functions I was supposed to perform, but I had no clue why I was doing it. I was doing the math but not understanding the math. Getting the right answers, but I couldn't tell you why. And suddenly that bothered me. So as the teacher came around to check on us, I asked her. I asked her for the reasons, I asked her for what was behind the formulas. And do you know what she told me?

"I'm sorry, Roseanna. I don't have time to talk to you about that. You understand well enough to get the right answers, which is all that matters right now. I have to focus on the kids who don't."

That, right there, was when I decided that my kids weren't going to public school. That their questions--the questions that matter, the questions that can lead to proficiency and love of a subject, the questions that can lead to innovation--wouldn't be brushed off by well-meaning but overworked teachers who have to prepare their students above all for tests.

There are many reasons people choose to homeschool, and for many of my friends, it's more of a faith reason. They want to integrate faith and study of the Lord into everything. They want to keep their kids from the evils penetrating public schools. And I'm not saying that doesn't matter to me--schools can be scary places when you hear about some of the things kids are asking other kids to do at ridiculously early ages! And yes, I want to protect my kids from some of that while simultaneously teaching them strength of character to resist it when they're older. Certainly I want to teach them about God and faith.

But for me, it's more than the faith aspect. I made my decision to homeschool because I firmly believe that I can give them a better education at home than they'd get in a classroom. We don't always move at the same pace--my kindergartener sure wasn't reading as early as my niece in the public schools, though boy howdy could he do math in his head!--but we pursue things in ways that I know will be rewarding. We explore and discover and seek out answers together. We talk about what we're reading, guaranteeing that it really sticks.

Do we test? Sure. But after a few math tests where my daughter cried if she missed one answer, I decided that she was far too much like me to do things the same old way, LOL. I decided that what was more important in life than a percentage score was figuring out how to correct her mistakes. So I would mark things wrong...and then tell her to fix them. That means she has to figure out where she made an error. It means she has to figure out how to correct it. Then I'll recheck, and give her half a point if she got it right.

I love educating my children. It's not without its challenges and frustrating days, but the rewards so outweigh the drawbacks for us. I get to be there for each new discovery. I get to make sure that their school time is filled with learning, not with fluff or needless worksheets or filling the time until the bell rings. And then I get to send them out of the kitchen to be kids--no hours of homework after hours of school. They're outside studying each new plant that comes up and recording it in their homemade garden charts (not an assignment! They did that all on their own!). They're pouring over dinosaur books. They're building. They're playing school with their toys. They're writing stories and doing digital design and building gravity-defying train tracks. They're being kids.

I'm not saying kids can't end up doing the same things in public schools, or private schools, on their own. Great kids are going to be great kids anywhere, and great parents are going to encourage their kids anywhere. But the environment doesn't foster it. Trust me, I know--I was one of those kids who did it on her own, and that is what I remember most clearly from my school days. Where I had to fill in my own gaps. I remember those days when I had to teach half the class because they didn't understand the teacher. I remember when I taught my history teacher things I learned in my reading. I remember putting plays together on the playground. I remember earning $10 from a teacher who said he'd pay anyone who ever caught one of his mistakes. I remember what I did, on my own, more than I remember what they taught me for that test.

Will I always, absolutely homeschool? I can't say for sure. Life changes, callings change. That could change someday too. But right now, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. This is how I'm equipping my kids. I know I'm giving them a firm foundation, and I know that I'm helping them stand on their own, think for themselves, and learn to be responsible individuals. And you know one of the other things I love, which is a big "Ha!" to all those who say, "But how do they get socialization?"

Whenever I enrolled my daughter in ballet, within 2 weeks, the teacher came up to me and said, "Is she homeschooled? I can tell. She's focused, she listens, and she's so polite." This is a common refrain, one I've heard everywhere from that ballet teacher to a public school teacher we happened across in the play area at Chick-Fil-A, who was impressed with how nicely and considerately my kids were playing with hers.

I homeschool because I know firsthand the failings of public school education. I homeschool because I want my kids to learn at their own pace. I homeschool because I want them to have plenty of time for play and discovery while they're still young enough to enjoy it. I homeschool because I don't want them losing that childhood innocence too soon--and I know what middle school and high school were like when I was there, and so far as I can tell, it's only gotten worse.

Is it for everyone? Nope. Absolutely not. But I've spoken to a few people lately who want to homeschool but whose families are telling them, "You can't. You shouldn't." So this is for them. We can. We should, if we feel strongly about it.

And we can know that our kids are getting the opportunity to stay kids a little longer in some ways...and learning how to be adults a lot faster in others. We can know that they're getting more than lessons in how to take tests--we can know that they're getting what really matters: an education.

We can be educators.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Cover Design - Grace Be a Lady






Last week I found myself in the unprecedented position of finalizing 11 projects all at once--one for a series of 8 books, so I was producing the final full covers all at once, a contemporary, a box set, and this one.

I was having a grand time. =) I'll be sharing a bit about many of those soon, but I thought I'd start with this Western romance, solely because it's the last one I was working on, LOL.

It's my first Western cover--that's right, the first cowboy I've ever put on a cover! And I was pretty happy to learn that the heroine should be wearing a ball gown. Love pretty-dress covers. Love them. =D But it occurred to me as I crafted Heather Blanton's Grace that y'all might be surprised to realize that the heroine you see on the cover is actually made of 3 models. Namely, these three.


I started my search at www.PeriodImages.com, because I knew they had some lovely dress photos. And knowing that Grace had strawberry blond hair and needed an 1890s dress with a bustle, leg-o-mutton sleeves (that's seriously what they're called) and that it should be purple, I set about browsing. This one drew my eye. The dress was gold, but I knew I could change that. Her hair was right, though. And the dress was fairly true to the styling of the day. I'd have to lengthen the sleeve, but otherwise...not bad!
As it turned out, the model herself didn't fit Heather's image of Grace, and she wanted one with the girl looking happier...which didn't exist in this series of photos. So I figured, eh, we'll just find a new face, no biggie, LOL. But first, I had to make the dress lavender. And it also needed to be lower cut--a crucial plot point. So I deleted all we didn't need and changed the color.
Coming along just fine, right? As it happens, I was working on this while watching TV with my husband, and he piped in with some nice commentary as I was working. Like, at this stage, "Agh! She's headless! You're so cruel!"

Roseanna said, "Mm hm." And went to www.Shutterstock.com to look for a picture of a blond with her hair up. As usual, I searched for brides, this time in profile to get the right angle of the body. While hockey continued on the TV, I paged through the options. Pretty soon I had snagged this lovely lady.
The angle looked really close, so I dropped her into my file, deleted what I didn't want showing, and earned a "Whoa!" from my husband. Who leaned over my shoulder to say, "You just put those together. And they work. And it took you, like, three seconds."

Oh yeah. I'm that good. ;-)

Feedback from Heather and the fans she showed early versions of the cover showed me some things that needed changed, though. I decided to tilt her head down. I half-lowered her eyes. Made the sleeve smaller. And then the tricky part--she needed more of a, ahem, chest. Both models I'd been using were rather, er, flat. The dress I could reshape with my oh-so-clever Photoshop skills. But Grace herself...well, I went back to Shutterstock. And that's where she comes in:
This happy bride had more of what I was looking for in that department. So yes. I copied her chest and pasted it onto the existing image, LOL. And hey, the result was pretty good!

Being happy with Grace, I then turned to cowboys. I found an image that was promising of a guy in a duster.
His face wasn't right, so I actually put a new one in, LOL, but based solely on his outfit, there was promise...but Heather had another cover with a cowboy in a duster, so I kept looking. I ended up at iStock, where I found this gunslinger.
Not that I wanted the guy reaching for a gun on the cover, but he was half-behind Grace, so no biggie there. The bigger problem was that he was kinda missing his legs...so I had to fix that for him. Here's an early version of the cover that had him behind her, on their background.

Early viewers agreed that they liked them...but that it looked like he was staring at her tushie, LOL. So I ended up tilting his head back the other direction.
No more staring at her tushie. ;-)

Now for the background! You can see in the early cover above what I was going for. We needed Wyoming mountains for sure, and after looking at Heather's covers for her current series, I decided to continue with the drama in them that comes of bold skies. So I started with this one:
Which was the correct perspective for behind my people...but the color in the sky didn't really end up on the page once the photo was enlarged to fit behind them. So I also found this one.
The mountains and sky were perfect on this, but the foreground was all wrong. So, you know me. I combined them.
Not that it was quite as simple as it might sound, LOL. I selected the mountains and sky from the second photo, put it overtop the first one, copied the treeline from the first to overlap those mountains...and decided the building looked funny peeking out from behind them, so I also used the Clone Stamp tool to borrow the texture from the grass and put it over the building to make it disappear. The new image was still too short, so I also just duplicated it and brought it down lower on the page, hence why you see identical patches in this photo...which wouldn't be visible behind the figures. So that means we have this.
At this stage I'd also added a purple layer at the bottom, faded out, just to set off the eventual title

Overall, I really liked this, and so did Heather. Another slight change we made here was widening the cowboy so he wasn't so rail-thin. To do that I quite simply widened the image, all but his head, which stayed the same. Just gave him a couple more inches of girth. =)

So then. Time for the words! This can sometimes be aggravatingly tricky, finding the perfect fonts. As you can see in that early cover I posted above, my first thought was an elegant script. But Heather wanted something more blocky and bold, so I eventually found that ParmaPetit gave me what I was looking for--a bold, rather standard serif font, but with a bit of a flair here and there.
Just a few things missing then--Heather had a tag line for this one that she wanted on the cover: Think like a lady. Act like a man. I also had to incorporate that. She'd mentioned she was okay with pretty flourishes behind or setting off the title (in our discussion of fonts), so I found this one.
I took just the top part, put it just behind and under the title, and then added a purple block at the bottom where the tagline would go.
The only thing missing now was the series title! It was rather long: Love and War in Johnson County. So I split it up, put that flourish behind it again, and made the book number large but at a lower opacity behind it.
And there we have it! Heather's name went onto the top, and voila! My first Western romance cover with a cowboy. =)
















Monday, April 20, 2015

Winners from the Christian Fiction Scavenger Hunt!

The Grand Prize winners have been announced!

Grand Prize: Shay Teague
Purple Prize: Kristine Klein
Pink Prize: Dana McCall Michael

And now, the winner of my bonus prize of A Soft Breath of Wind is...

Bianca Rachele Gibson!

Bianca, I'm sending you an email now!

Congrats to all our winners, and thanks so much to everyone for making this hunt a HUGE success!!