Thursday, December 8, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Our Voices

If this autumn has hammered anything home in the United States, it's that everyone has an opinion. Not that I didn't already know this, but seriously. I heard more opinions this election cycle than I can ever recall witnessing before. Every time we touched a toe into the waters of social media, wham! There they were. The opinions of every. Single. Person we know.

I know very well I wasn't the only one overwhelmed by it.

And it isn't over.

There are protests. Speeches given at the end of plays. Countless shows on TV and the internet dedicated to talking heads.

Everyone, in 2016, has a voice. And everyone, in 2016, has the means of making it heard.

I certainly can't sit here on my blog, having tabbed over from the books I'm writing, and say there's anything wrong with that. I have a voice. I have somehow managed to convince thousands of people to listen to me, at least for a few hours while they have my stories in their hands. And so, I've been pondering for weeks why it bothers me so much to be bombarded with other people's opinions every time I emerge into the world of communications.

Then it struck me. And it's two-fold.

America was founded on the idea of individuals having a voice, having a God-given right to it. But it was also founded on the idea of giving those people particular means of expressing it--the vote, and a free press. In centuries past, if you wanted your voice to be heard other than through whom you voted for, you had to go out and seek someone willing not only to listen to it, but to publish it for you.

Today, you need only have an account on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

In centuries past, you had the RIGHT to be heard--but you had to WORK for the PRIVILEGE of having people LISTEN.

Because it comes down to this.

This is what many people I've seen on social media seem to forget. That, yes, they can say whatever they want--but people aren't being cruel or bigoted or stupid or careless or [insert derogatory adjective here] if they don't immediately change their own view to match and applaud the speaker for their brilliance and sound reasoning and excellent point and [insert praise of their intellectual prowess here].

Because there are too many voices. It's become a cacophony. It's deafening and confusing and, worse, focused all too often on destruction rather than edifying. Most of the voices hammering their way to the forefront aren't trying to build anyone up--they're trying to tear down whoever doesn't agree with them.

By all means, America and the world, exercise your voice. It's your God-given right to have it and use it. But remember that it is not everyone else's God-given obligation to listen. We can't. And let's also keep in mind that just because an opinion is OURS doesn't mean it is RIGHT or that anyone who disagrees is STUPID. This is another all-too-familiar refrain these days, isn't it? That if you don't agree with me, you must be an idiot.

Well, I mean, sure, but... ;-)

We don't live in a humble society. But I think we could use a dose of it. We could all benefit from the reminder that we are not by default right. And more:

One of the things we have to teach our toddlers, who are just finding their voice, is that they can't always use it, right? That it's okay to jabber at us at home or in the car, but not while we're on the phone. Or while the baby's napping. Or in church. There's a correct time and place. And volume. And way to share what they're thinking, with manners and concern for those around them. It's not okay to throw down the gift someone has given them and proclaim it stupid and say they don't want it.

But that's exactly how society today behaves. We're all a bunch of toddlers throwing a tantrum on the floor, proclaiming that this is the way it is, and you need to listen now, now, now.

That famed passage in Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is

A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;

I posit that it's a truly wise person who knows the difference.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remember When . . . the Date of Christmas Was Chosen?

I don't know how many times I've heard over the years that Constantine is the one who decided Christmas would be celebrated on December 25, because it was already a pagan holiday, and this would make it easier on his people to convert to Christianity. I pretty much believed this for years . . . until I looked it up for myself.

I had to look into this when I began my research for Giver of Wonders. There are two different major holidays celebrated by Rome, which Constantine is accused of trying to integrate into Christmas, or vice versa. One of these holidays actually wasn't even celebrated until after the days of Constantine, when the date of Christmas was definitely set. So that rules that one out.

The other is Saturnalia, which had been celebrated in Roman culture for centuries. It was a festival of lights (does sound familiar...) and one of gift-giving (also familiar). So is there truth to that accusation? Did Constantine choose that date for Christmas and then integrate our holy day into a pagan festival?


In reality, Constantine didn't do anything but legalize what was already custom. The church had been observing the birth of Christ on December 25 for many years already by the time the emperor converted, and even by the time that date was canonized by the Council.

Why December 25th then? Those who study history and the Jewish calendar are pretty sure Christ could not have been born in winter. There were shepherds in the hills, after all, which wouldn't have been the case in December. So what gives?

Well, I don't know why those in the know ignored some very sound logic when determining the date. But here's what I do know: they had a reason for selecting December 25 that had nothing to do with any pagan holidays. See, at that time in history, Dec 25 was the winter solstice (did you know the date of the solstice had moved??). That's why the pagans celebrated on that day--it's why pretty much every religion had a celebration on that day.

But Christians? Why did we?

Well, it's because the Christian scholars and priests of that era (educated, it may be worth noting, in Greek and Roman schools--there were no Christian-only schools at the time) believed that the God who created the universe created it with order and symmetry. They believed, for example (as did their Greek and Roman compatriots) that important men had a star appear to herald their birth. (So it would have been odd if the Gospels hadn't included this for Jesus!) They believed their lives and births were written in the very cosmos--which is pretty cool, really. Right?

Well they also believed that this symmetry extended to the length of their life as well, and that the best and most important men in history lived in a full number of years.

Um . . . huh?

It's weird. I know. This belief certainly didn't survive the millennia, LOL. But that's honestly what they thought. That Jesus, as the greatest man ever, would have lived a whole number of years, no random months and days added on.

So that would mean born and died on the same day, right? And we know he died on Passover--which was, as it happened, the Spring Equinox. So he must have been born on it . . . right?

Wrong. Life was not counted from the date of birth--it was counted from the supposed date of conception. So the belief was that the Holy Spirit must have conceived Jesus in Mary on the Spring Equinox (March 25). Which meant that He would have been born 9 months later.

So our quick math scrolls that calendar ahead 9 months to . . . voila! December 25.

This, my friends, is the honest-to-goodness reason why Christmas was set on December 25, way back in the 200s, well before Constantine took power and converted to Christianity.

Now, did some of the pagan traditions--candlelight and gift-giving--work their way into the day? Perhaps. Though gift-giving on Christmas wasn't actually that prevalent until centuries later. Gift-giving, in the 3rd and 4th centuries, was actually done on Dec 6--the Feast Day of St. Nicholas (yesterday!), to remember the saint who gave so generously of his wealth, and anonymously. Dec 6 was a day to give and have no one know who gave. But it was close to Christmas. And over the years, the traditions blurred together. Especially, honestly, after the Protestant Revolution, when Luther declared "No more feast days of saints!" The people weren't willing to give up their St. Nicholas Day . . . so they began saying it was the Christ Child who gave gifts on his birthday instead (Christ-kindl in German, which is where Kris Kringle came from!).

So there we have it. It may not be the actual date on which Jesus was born--probably isn't--but it was a date selected because the people doing the selecting believed that the greatest Man in history would have been conceived and died on the same day.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Announcing the Stocking Full of Wonder Giveaway

To celebrate the release of Giver of Wonders ~ and the season of giving and sacrifice and love that it celebrates through our Lord and Savior ~ I'm giving away a stocking full of special treats!

What will it contain?

Well, that's a secret. But I'll tell you that a copy of Giver of Wonders will be tucked inside, along with some treats for you ~ and some to give away.

The giveaway will run from December 2-20, 2016. Open to both US and international readers, though the stocking can only be shipped to US addresses; in the event of an international winner, she will be given a digital copy of the book and a special gift courtesy of Amazon. ;-)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 28, 2016

Word of the Week - Posh

A quick but fun one, especially in context. =)

So, y'all probably know my current series is about thieves. I'm have SO much fun with this. And working pretty hard to make sure each main-character-thief views the world differently than her/his "sister" did in the previous one. But one thing they're all destined to have in common is noting the rather huge difference in 1914 between the upper class and the common worker. As I was searching for the right words to describe something, I wanted to use posh.

Upon looking it up to make sure it was old enough, I discovered that, in fact, its first appearance in print was actually in 1914! Here's the fun part, though. Despite claims from the 50s that the word is actually an acronym for "port outward, starboard home" (to describe accommodations on luxury steamers), it's not--it is, in fact, taken from thieves' jargon!

Posh actually dates from the 1830s as a word for "money," particularly a coin of small value (thought to come from the Romany posh, which means "half"). By the 1850s, it was also being applied to people--the so-called dandies. From there, it was another 60 years or so before it became an adjective, though in 1903 we see an occurrence or two of the variation push.

So that of course seals it, that it came from thieves. I had to use it. ;-)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Word of the Week - Turkey

A couple weeks ago, my daughter asked why the animal is called a turkey and if it had anything to do with the country. I, naturally, said, "I don't think so . . . I'll look it up."

Look it up I did--and quickly discovered that I was quite wrong with that "I don't think so."

So historically, there are two different birds identified as both guinea fowl and turkey, both from the mid-1500s. The guinea fowl was introduced to Europe from Madagascar via Turkey; the second, the larger North American bird, was domesticated by the Atzecs, introduced to Spain by the conquistadors, and then spread to wider Europe. The two animals were mistakenly thought to be related, and so both were called by both names.

Eventually they realized they were not related . . . and they mistakenly kept the name turkey for the one from North America rather than the one from Africa!

Ever wonder what they call the animal in Turkey? Hindi, which literally means "India"--based on the common-at-the-time misconception that the new world was India.

Poor mis-named critter. ;-) Gobble, gobble!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Book Cover Design - Forgiven by Carol Ashby

It's been a while since I've gone behind the design, and this week one of my designs just released, so it seems like a great time to feature it. =)

Forgiven is author Carol Ashby's debut novel--an impeccably researched tale of love in first century Judea. Obviously I was excited to work with Carol, this being one of my favorite genres and settings. And as I worked with her, I quickly discovered that Carol knows her history very well. If you check out her website, you'll find a TON of extras on the history.

For the cover of this first book in her Light in the Empire Series, she wanted something that showed her Messianic Jewish heroine, her Roman centurion hero, and the distance/tension between the two.

Now, there aren't a ton of stock photos out there with women in biblical era dress. Trust me. I've searched and searched for it. And I wanted to give Carol something very unique for her cover. So rather than go with one of the photos of a woman in a head scarf that I'm seeing on covers everywhere, I actually started here.

Now, there are a lot of things wrong with this photo. Her jewelry. Her makeup. The fact that the sash crosses over her chest. The shoes. The dress has no sleeves. And she's not wearing a head covering at all.

But thanks to the wonders of Photoshop, I could turn her into this:

How? Honestly, it took a lot of work. I started by cleaning the makeup off her face and duplicating some of the folds of the dress to create a v-neck. In this version, I'd also used the fabulous clone-stamp and smudge tools to eliminate the jewelry.

Changing the sash to red, per the author's instructions, was actually quite easy--red is one of those colors that you can add with a few clicks in Photoshop, but which it's a pain to try to get rid of.

Of course, our Rachel here needed sleeves too. So I added those by copying and reshaping parts of the dress, and then changing their transparency.

And then the veil. For this, I actually borrowed a veil from a lovely Indian model...

Did a bit of adjusting, of course, and got this:

The only thing left to change was her shoe. It was a pretty simple matter of switching out the original toe --

with one in a sandal.

At this point I was happy with Rachel, and it was time to turn to the hero, Lucius.

Oh. My. Gracious. He was complicated. Why? Because no stock photos have centurion garb right, and the author is a stickler for authenticity (understandably!), so I had to do a LOT of manipulation and combining of photos.

So I started with this guy...

Used the leather bottom part of this guy...

The face of this guy...

And then had to give him a scar from this lovely fellow.

The author actually has a collection of swords and daggers (or her son does, anyway), so she provided the photo of the appropriate weaponry to have at his side.

Putting him all together (and off-setting for correct positioning on the cover), we get this.

Now we had our characters, so it was time to turn to the background. I wanted to keep part of the stone archway Rachel is leaning on--I loved how it framed the cover, and it gave a nice old-world vibe. But to have stone completely behind her as in the original photo was too dark and boring. So I took out that back wall and replaced it with a view of the Galilean countryside.

So here's our complete picture, minus the words.

For the title, I combined two fonts (Cinzel Decorative and Maphylla) and used a cool design to set it off.

I echoed the design behind the series title up top, added the author name in one of my go-to, favorite fonts (Linux Libertine) and voila!

When it came time to do the full cover, I went RED. It echoed both his cape and her sash, which I loved. I did a fairly simple combination of red with that archway, and framed the text within it.

So here's the official blurb!

Are  some  wounds
too  deep  to  forgive?

With a ruthless father who murdered for the family inheritance, Marcus Drusus plans to do the same. In AD 122, Marcus follows his brother Lucius to Judaea and plots to frame a zealot for his older brother’s death. But the plan goes awry, and Lucius is rescued by a Messianic Jewish woman. Her oldest brother is a zealot and a Roman soldier killed her twin, but Rachel still persuades her father Joseph to put his love for Jesus above his anger with Rome and hide Lucius until he heals.

Rachel cares for the enemy, and more than broken bones heal as duty turns to love. Lucius embraces Joseph’s faith in Jesus, but sharing a faith doesn’t heal all wounds. Even before revealed secrets slice open old scars, Joseph wants no Roman son-in-law. With Rachel’s zealot brother suspecting he’s a Roman officer and his own brother planning to kill him when he returns, can Lucius survive long enough to change Joseph’s mind?

Sounds great, doesn't it? I read little bits and pieces while I was laying out the interior, and let's just say it's a book I'm looking forward to purchasing and reading when I have some time!

You can find the digital on Amazon now, and the paperback will be available November 20.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Huge Multi-Author Giveaway!

Wanted to share some fun, and a chance to win some A-MAZING books.

I've teamed up with 55 other authors this month to bring you a pretty fantabulous  giveaway featuring inspirational historical fiction. You have the chance to enter to win all of the books PLUS a Kindle Fire!

This means a chance to read my latest, Giver of Wonders, plus books from amazing authors like Elizabeth Camden, Tracy Higley, Suzanne Woods Fisher, Mary Connealy, Leslie Gould, and so many more I can't begin to name them all!

Enter the giveaway by clicking here: