Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . Half of a Unit

We're surrounded by them. Couples. Siblings. Families that are super close. People we think of individually, sure, but also, always, as part of a unit.

Over the weekend my husband and I went to the airport to pick up friends flying home from a mission trip. As I was saying a prayer for them the next morning, they came to mind as they often do: Mike and Terri. I've thought of them this way for nearly 30 years. Mike and Terri. And it got me thinking.

What units have I been a part of in my life? Growing up, I was often grouped in with my sister: Jennifer and Roseanna. Just like my kids: Xoe and Rowyn. My nieces: Isabelle and Paisley. Because these groups tend to travel together. Share space. Live in the same home. Because when you see one, chances are you see the other.

But these units change as children grow up, don't they? Then they're often paired with their friends. In high school, my friend and I joked that people seemed to think our name was Jen-and-Annie.

Then it becomes the couples. David and Roseanna. Brian and Jennifer. Mike and Terri. And so on.

It's a normal thing, in life. We spend time with people. So in the minds of other people, we're a unit. We arrive together. We share time and space. We have the same stances on things, usually. We work together.

We're a unit.

It's a normal thing, in life...but one that shifts. Relationships break. People pass away. Move away. Things come between us. Distance, sometimes physical and sometimes emotional. The unit breaks down.

But there's one unit that shouldn't. I wonder though...

Do people ever think of us as part of a unit with Him? Do people know what when we show up, the Spirit does too? Can strangers ever glimpse Jesus walking with us as surely as our spouses do?

That's what the Church should be, right? The bride to Jesus, the bridegroom. The other half of His unit. But are we? Can we be, when we fight so much among ourselves that one has to wonder what "The Church" even means anymore?

At the end of the day, that's the only unit that matters...but the one so often neglected. I strive to keep accord between me and my husband, for example--do I strive to keep it even more between me and my Lord? Do I spend more time with Him than my family? My spouse? Am I in unity with my God?

These earthly relationships, the earthly units are important. But not as important as unity with Him. So that's something I'm going to be thinking more about. How do we fill in this blank in our lives?

Me and ______________________________________

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Remember When . . . History Came to Life?

WhiteFire Publishing has a busy, busy month. Never in our history have we had more than 2 books come out in a month, but this year the schedule ended up with a few holes in the early part of the year, and then 3 titles releasing simultaneously on October 15--and 2 of them are historicals, so I thought I'd chat a bit about what's taking up my days right now. ;-)

Our first title is actually a contemporary by Melody Carlson. Her Dear Daphne Series began with B&H Publishing, but when the company shut down its fiction line, Melody's series got caught halfway finished. WhiteFire acquired the remaining two books in the series and are thrilled to be releasing book 3 of Dear Daphne this month!
Dear Daphne is a continuity series, where each book picks up right where the previous one left off--no wonder the readers have been clamoring for this next installment! And they're going to love it. Daphne Ballinger, in previous books, discovered her aunt had left her a sizable inheritance...but only if Daphne got married within a year. Her aunt didn't want Daphne to be alone, like she was--but talk about pressure! Lock, Stock, and Over a Barrel and Dating, Dining, and Desperation see Daphne coming to terms with this odd will and trying to find Mr. Right. Instead she finds a young girl in need of a caretaker. In Home, Hearth, and the Holidays, Daphne and young Mabel are settling down for their first holiday season in the small town of Appleton. But what first looks like an answer to all their problems might just destroy the cozy little family they're building. Is there any hope at all that love will find Daphne before springtime?

We at WhiteFire are so happy to be working with Melody to bring this series to completion! And after the remaining 2 books in Dear Daphne, she'll also be working with us on a historical series. =) (See how I tie that back into history for Remember When Wednesday? Eh? Eh??)


Next we have the second book in the Steadfast Love Series, The Sound of Silver.

You may remember a bit about this series from last fall when we held the photo shoot. (The ridiculously photogenic model for the series is my niece, Jayna, who loved playing dress-up for me.) Where the first book, The Sound of Diamonds, took us into the terrifying Iconoclastic Fury (Protestants acting with violence toward the Catholics, seeking to destroy all the icons) in the Low Countries and then back to England, the stakes have shifted in book 2. No longer is Catholicism and Protestantism the main conflict between the characters--now a new question has been asked. To what lengths must a man go to restore his honor...and to protect those he loves? And to what lengths can a young lady go to convince that man to let her remain at his side?

One thing I really love about this series is the idea from the which the titles come. Gwyneth, our heroine, has bad eyesight and relies heavily on her other senses, especially sound. In book one, she hears the sound of her diamond rosary clinking together and associates it with hope. I absolutely loved the role of silver in this one--though I won't spoil it for you. ;-)


And our final release is the start of a new, oh-so-fun series! Revolving around the World's Fairs of the turn of the 20th century, the first book begins with the Pan-American Expo in Buffalo, NY in 1901...the fair at which President McKinley was shot.

Clara Lambert is a Kodak girl--meaning, she's been hired to go around the fair demonstrating the new, lightweight, easy-to-use Kodak camera, targeting mothers so that they can see how easy it will be to build visual memories for their families. But her first day at the fair, what should have been pure excitement at getting to photographs the president turns to horror when an anarchist shoots him. And gets even more terrifying when someone tries to hurt her and take her camera. Did she capture something on the film that the anarchists wish she hadn't? What follows is fun, sweet, adventurous journey through New York of 1901 as Clara and police officer James seek to deliver all evidence safely to the authorities...without implicating Clara in the process. You'll love this romance, and the history that shines through as characters ride newfangled bicycles, share the joy of those first family cameras, and take sips of the new Coca-Cola.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Word of the Week - Command/ment

At church this week a slight variation in translations of 2 John made us wonder at the difference between the nouns command and commandment. These different translations were using the words interchangeably, but then...why are there two different words?

Both have a very long history in the English language. Interestingly, commandment is the oldest, dating from the 1200s. It was taken immediately from the French comandement, which is taken in turn from Latin commandamentum, which was a noun form of commandare. And carried a very particular meaning--"and order from an authority."

The verb command then came into English right around 1300. Pretty interesting in my mind that the verb was at all behind the noun!

Then we have the noun version of command. Also old, but they date it to the 1400s, which makes it a couple hundred years newer than commandment. And at the time there was a slight variation in the meaning--this was any order, not necessarily from an authority. 

So while translators today no doubt use them interchangeably, any time it's coming from God I daresay the original translations would have taken care to use that -ment ending. ;-)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Book Cover Design - Beneath the Blackberry Moon

A friend of mine contacted me a while ago about designing a fun project--a novel broken into 3 parts. She wanted them to look cohesive, and yet have something different on each one. To achieve this, we decided that we'd keep the same background image for each cover, and change the figure in the foreground. The compilation title would be large and prominent, with the individual title of each part smaller and lower. There was also a series title to work in, and of course the author name. That's a lot of information to include, but I think we pulled it off. =)

I began, of course, with that background image that would be carried throughout. April explained that "Blackberry Moon" meant something pretty specific to the Native American tribe she was writing about, so I went out in search of a summer field with a full moon glowing over it. I found a series of photos that I really liked.

These were all of a field with a mountain and trees and a full moon, with a beautiful blue coloration that we wanted. But annoyingly, I couldn't find one quite how I wanted it. I needed a big swath of field for my foreground...and a moon that wasn't too obscured by clouds...and we wanted the tree line rather than mountains. So I actually ended up taking 4 different pictures from that series and combining them.
This is mainly used for the up-close grasses.

This I added for the large expanse of sky up above. But the moon wasn't how I wanted it, so...

A different moon. You'll see that there's still a line visible where the new sky hits the old one. I didn't bother fading that out because I knew I was going to add a line of trees. Like so.

April also wanted some glowing fireflies, so I overlaid that...

Strange as it may seem, my next step wasn't to put in the figure, since there was some decision-making to be done there. My next step was actually all the various title elements. I began with the main title, which I wanted in the sky.

I like using a script font for just one word--and for "Beneath" I chose to drop the B down lower than the rest of the word, to frame the "the" and add a nice bit of balance to that "th" at the end. The rest of the title is simple in Georgia font, all caps, with a space between each letter.

Now it was time for the part's title. I had a lot of info to put there. "Part X", the title itself, and somewhere I had to put the series name.

As you can see, I couldn't fit the series title here, but we liked the arrangement. To mirror the main title, I dropped the capital letters of the main words down lower than they'd usually be. I have most of the title here in the script, with only the "Part" part in Georgia. This provides a nice visual balance against the main title.

Behind the words you're seeing a faded out rectangle with a texture laid overtop it. The color matches that lighter cyan beside the moon.

I knew I wanted author name--and as it turned out, series title--in the grass at the bottom.

But the contrast in the grass made it so nothing quite stood out well enough all by itself, so I also had to add some shadow. I think this really helps the name and series title pop. (Look at the bottom)

Now it was time for the people! The girl for this first one turned out to be the hardest. We couldn't find an image we liked on the stock photo sites, so April ended up having a photo shoot with a friend of hers who fit her description. I gave April a few suggestions for the shoot--namely, to make sure she had a full-length image. A solid background would be great but wasn't necessary--and ended up impossible, but that was all right. She came back to me with this (among other images):

Of course, you might notice that this is in daylight, and I need a nighttime image. ;-) But this is something we designers change all the time with our brightness/contrast and color balance options in Photoshop. Had I just plopped her down in the background, she would have looked (roughly) like this.

After altering her coloration, she looked, by herself, like this.

But we still had a bit of an issue. See, the heroine was supposed to be ten to fifteen years younger than the model. April asked if I could do anything to make her look younger.

As people age, bone structure stands out more--young faces are softer, rounder. So I rounded out those awesome cheekbones (sorry, model!), softened the chin, and also smoothed out the area around her eyes.
Which gave us, for part one, this!

Model selection for #2 was easier--we found the guy we wanted:
I just had to add some hair and a moon tattoo, and change the coloration on his clothes slightly, and add a silver armband. Which gave us this.

Part 3 was somewhere between the others in difficulty. April wanted to use this image:

But she wanted the dress brown and the cloak black (given that it's title is, you know, ebony cloak). Her skin had to be darker, as she's of mixed race, and the hair was also wrong, LOL. Which eventually gave us this:

And there we have it! The complete series, which look enough alike that they're obviously part of the same book, but also different enough with the figures that people can tell at a glance it's something new!

Which part do you like best?

Monday, September 28, 2015

Word of the Week - Romance

Romance writers are often looked down upon by those who read "serious literature"--and have generally never even picked up anything labeled "romance," yet judge them anyway. And as much as we romance writers rail against that, it's a tale as old as--well, as popular fiction.

Back--I'm talking way back--in the day, all "serious" work was written in Latin. That would include medical, scientific, philosophical, religious, and political works. But then people started writing more fun stories. Stories of adventure and love, of chivalrous deeds. (If you've read Don Quixote, these are the tales of chivalry that it was mocking.) These stories were meant to be accessible to the common man, so rather than being written in Latin, they were written in the common language.

Now, I daresay everyone has heard the term "romance language." These are the languages descended from Latin (Roman). French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian. Back in these middle-ages days, people would refer to things written in the common languages as "romances." 

In many of the romance languages today, some variation of romance still just means "novel." Not a particular kind of novel, just a novel.

So why did it take on meanings of love in English? Well, we extended the meaning to include the type of story told in common vernacular--a love story. This had become a solid meaning by 1660. By 1800 or so, it could mean "an adventurous quality." It didn't actually mean "a love affair" until 1916! And the term "romance novel" as a whole separate genre is quite new indeed--from 1964.

So really, all these genre snobs need to get off their high horse, because they are reading romances...unless, of course, they only read works written in Latin. ;-)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Thoughtful About . . . the Colors of God

What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

This is a thought that's floated to the surface of my mind several times in the last month or so. I look at all the racial tensions . . . I look at all the unrest in the world . . . I look at all the gender issues . . . I look at all the sexual orientation topics . . . I look at all the religions . . .

And it begs the question: how can a species so very diverse, so very discordant, so very dissimilar be made, as a whole, in the image of God?

And then the answer sneaks its way into my heart. Quietly, stealthily, like mist over the mountain.

When God created humanity, He created us with burgeoning potential. In the DNA of those first people was stored the potential for every color of skin. For every variation of hair. For every size, every weight, every look. Beauty and ugliness. Generosity and stinginess. We have the potential for greatness, and for failure.

Some parts of our lives are choices, governed by free will. This is where sin comes in, and that's a rainbow of topics for another post.

But other parts we're born with, and--up until modern history, anyway--that means we're stuck with it. This is where my attention is fixed just now. The rainbow over which we have very little say.

So often we say, "God doesn't see the outside, only the in." There's truth in that . . . and there's lie. God does see the outside. He created it, after all. When I look at my children, I see their hair, their eyes, the shapes of their noses. It's silly to say God doesn't. It's silly, even, to say, "Fine, He sees it, it just doesn't matter."

It does matter. He chose it for us. He chose to make each of us who we are. But here's the thing. He sees it as beautiful.

God loves that rich brown skin He mixed with Heaven's pallet. He loves that bright blond hair that catches the sunlight. He loves the way this group tends toward shorter frames, and the way that one stretches upward and upward. God not only sees the beautiful in each trait, He fashioned us just so. He chose those particular traits for each of us.

When I look at my kids, I see their differences. I see their similarities. And I love it all. I adore Rowyn's dimples. Xoe's bright blue eyes. I wonder what color their hair will end up, and I know it'll be lovely. I delight in how tall my little girl is, how short my son still is. I find it infinitely amusing how one of them will curl up in my lap at every opportunity and the other thinks "hugging" is a one-way activity in which one need only stand there passively. They are different. And they are the same.

We are all different. And we are all the same.

What is the color of God? Black, white, brown, red? Being incorporeal, the answer is, "None of these." He is, in a way, like pure light.

Us? We're darkness. Every time I hear one people group claiming that they matter more than their neighbors, their rivals, their former-oppressors, their enemies, their friends, their allies . . . something inside me just weeps. We take our differences and we glory in them. Or we hate them. We say they don't matter. Or we say they're the most important thing.

We miss the point.

Our differences are. And they are beautiful.

Our differences are. But they're not all.

What is the color of God? Is He black, white, brown, or red? He is none of these. But He is more than that.

He is all of these.  God is, in a way, like pure light. Containing every color, even those beyond what our eyes can see.

And I just pray I can see through His eyes. Not beyond our races or genders. Including them. Because difference is a part of us. And that's an amazing thing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Remember When . . . The Island Was Isolated?

Gracious, my blogging has been sporadic! Sorry about that, all. I came home from vacation and was completely swamped by work. A good thing, but I kept totally spacing what day of the week it was and what that meant concerning blogs. ;-)

But this being me, you can rest assured I spent my vacation being geeky and collecting history books about the Outer Banks. I found myself wondering as we drove along what the islands would have been like before the big bridge was built to connect them to the mainland. Where did they get their fresh water? (Cisterns and desalination shacks.) When did electricity arrive? (The 1940s!!!)

Well, I found so many interesting tales! One of my favorites was from the antebellum days, when the Outer Banks were an oft-forgotten outpost occasionally used, even then, as a resort. One young man told a tale of arriving on the island by boat for a stay at the hotel in Kitty Hawk. He describes with awe the great sand dunes he has to hike over to get to his lodging--the most sand he had ever seen in his life, and it went all the way up to his ankles while he walked.

He and the other guests found charming the laid-back island atmosphere...which wasn't so laid back when it came to meals. Being a sophisticated fellow, he was accustomed to supper being served at 8 o'clock or even later, but not so on the island. It was served at 6, and if you missed it, sorry 'bout your luck.

Houses on the island never had cellars, but what I hadn't realized was that early ones didn't have ceilings either. All the rafters were open, which this guest found lovely and pleasant when it was a matter of the frangrant breezes whispering to him...but when the wind kicked up, it would blow sand straight into the houses, filling beds, bowls, mouths, eyelids...

That's one part of history I'm happy to leave in the past, LOL.

Most of the gentleman who came to the islands did so for the duck hunting. And most residents of the island made their living from catering to these rich folks, or from hunting and fishing and selling it to New York or Philadelphia. So it was a huge setback to island life when a law was passed in the 1920s that severely restricted hunting. This was also near the time when the government first talked of making it a national park--and so, to preserve it, they constructed beach-side sand dunes to keep the island were it was.

The problem for locals? With the dunes came a law that animals were no longer allowed to run free. As a small, insular community, islanders had to be pretty self-sufficient, which meant keeping chickens, cows, pigs, etc. But it's not exactly fabulous pasture around there, so everyone let their livestock run free until this point--and were none too happy about this whole "park" idea when it began interfering with even their most basic way of life.

But the idea got derailed anyway. At one point after WWII they even saw oil prospectors arrive...but who found nothing. The park service did eventually turn part of the island into a wildlife preserve, and like people everywhere, the islanders adapted to the times as they changed. Eventually it was rediscovered as a vacation spot, and now, driving through the bustling towns of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, and Kill Devil Hills, you can't see so much as a glimpse of the island's beginnings.

But it's there, hidden in the more out-of-the-way places. Still whispering on those sea breezes.