Tuesday, May 24, 2016

British Blooms and Books Contest!






Hello, gentle reader, and welcome to the first annual
British Blooms and Books giveaway!
This week, we’d like to celebrate the Royal Horticultural Society’s
Chelsea Flower Show with you.
After enjoying this post, please visit each of the other five authors’ blogs
(links provided below) and, after a bit of reading fun,
follow one simple instruction and then leave a comment in order on each,
to be entered to win a fabulous, British Blooms and Books prize.
(US winners only, please, due to shipping the petit fours. Sorry, non-US friends.) Enjoy and thank you for stopping by!

~*~
Heather


I have always been intrigued by English gardens, and much preferred flower gardens over those ever-practical vegetable gardens (what can I say--I guess I'm not very practical! LOL). When I began my Ladies of the Manor Series, one of the things I loved was viewing the English countryside--and blooms--through the eyes of my heroines.


In the first book of the series, The Lost Heiress, Brook hails from Monaco. A densely-populated city on the Mediterranean coast, Monte Carlo was vastly different from the Yorkshire countryside where Brook ends up. I had so much fun looking up images and videos of the region and then seeing them through Brook's eyes.


One of the first images she sees as the train crests a hill is wild heather. Even in my Appalachian home, I love coming around a turn and seeing swaths of green and purple. Brook, accustomed to the arid climate of Monaco, finds this sight breathtaking. Even more than the cultivated gardens of her new home in Yorkshire, she loves the wildflowers she sees when she's out riding toward the North Sea.



In the second book of the series, Rowena is from the highlands of Scotland, where that beautiful purple heather is one of the native species that thrives. In the opening of the book, autumn is upon them, and she's looking out over a brown landscape, feeling as cold and lifeless as the drying grasses. But throughout the pages of the book, as she escapes the shadows of her past and ends up in Sussex, in the south of England, her world begins to look brighter. And she begins to treasure those small beauties that God places in her paths.


Wildflowers in bloom. Heather rolling across the hills. Blue skies after a dark night.


Join Rowena in the gardens of both Whitby Park (from The Lost Heiress) and Midwynd (her new home in Sussex) in The Reluctant Duchess.  

To enter the Giveaway:
  • Please sign up for my newsletter (there is also a quick sign-up form in the right sidebar, on top!)  
  • Comment below to be entered to win the grand prize.
  • Visit the other authors' links below, comment, and complete their bold-faced condition.
~*~
One grand prize winner who comments on each of the six authors’ blogs and agrees to the one boldfaced condition posted at the end of each post will win a signed copy of each of the books plus delivery of six English hat petit fours to enjoy while you read!

Tea Hat Petit Fours
(Photo from Divine Delights)

Name will be drawn via random.org
~*~
Finished? Well done! Please visit these other fabulous authors of England-set historicals to see what flowers mean to them and their heroines.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Whatever Things Are True


I daresay we've all read Philippians 4:8-9. I know I've read it many times. I've heard it quoted. I've read bloggers and reviewers who make it their mantra . . . and occasionally I have been seriously irritated when people condemn something using this as their excuse. Because God's word is beautiful . . . but sometimes people . . . people use it as a bludgeon. Or worse, as an excuse to look only at the surface of a thing. To take the easy way out.




Last week, I was finishing up our read-alouds for the homeschool year, and Philippians was our final book. Chapter 4, obviously, our final chapter. A great way to end a school year.

Because the kids sometimes had difficulty following the New King James version of Paul's epistles, I'd been reading from The Message. Here's how it puts verses 8-9.


The two aren't terribly different, but a few words are. We have:

True
Noble
Just/Reputable
Pure/Authentic
Lovely/Compelling
Of Good Report/Gracious

I think we can all agree with what Paul is saying here--that by focusing, dwelling, meditating on these righteous things, these good things, on what is holy, we keep ourselves better aligned with God. Absolutely.

Here, however, is the question--what is true? What is noble? What is just and reputable? What is pure and authentic? Lovely? Compelling? Of good report and gracious? What is full of virtue and praiseworthy?

It seems like it should be a simple question.

But it's not.

What if, for instance, you're reading a Christian book and you find something objectionable in it? To keep it only somewhat objectionable, let's say that it's mentioned that someone curses or makes a rude gesture or sins outright.

Should we toss that book aside, because it's not dwelling on good things?

I'm not actually talking about my books in particular, LOL. I'm talking about many discussions I've seen over the years. Including a statement made with what I deem infinite wisdom a few days ago: if you refuse to read anything that mentions sin . . . then you can't read the Bible.

How does God show us His light? His glory? His righteousness?
By comparing it to darkness. To deception. To sin.

How does God show us His ultimate love in the form of Jesus?
By sending him into a dying world, to be treated as a criminal and murdered.

How does God teach us how to seek after His heart?
By telling us the stories of those who did, and those who didn't, and those who mostly did but failed here and there. Or mostly didn't but then saw the Truth.

A few weeks ago, I had a Skype call with a college class that was teaching Christian fiction writing, and one of the questions they asked was, "What place do dark themes have in Christian fiction?"

I answered them with the answer I've come to after many years of thinking about. Praying about it. And trying it out.

I don't approve of darkness in Christian fiction for the sake of darkness. I don't like it for shock value or to prove a point. I don't like being left with darkness at the end of the book.

But God's light shines brightest when there is darkness surrounding it that is trying--and FAILING--to snuff it out. God's mercy is the most striking to those who have suffered. God's leading is the most meaningful when you were lost. God's healing is the most miraculous for those are sick and dying. God's grace is the most beautiful in the face of the ugliest sin.

What is true? What is noble? That there is ugliness and nastiness and sin in this world, but that God is bigger. What is just? That we are deserving of death for our sins. What is pure? That He washes those sins away. What is lovely? A sunrise after the darkest night. What is gracious? A Father who gathers His children close and wipes away their tears and whispers that He loves them, no matter what has come before. That they can rise up and sin no more.

There will be dark themes in my books--some more than others. There will be ugliness, and there will be heartbreak, and there will be sin. Because then there will be grace, and there will be redemption, and there will be change. Because that is what speaks Jesus to a hurting, sinful world. Not the picture of a perfect life that they can't relate to because it doesn't exist--the picture of a broken world made whole through Him.

I mediate on that a lot. Not on things that look pretty on the surface--on things made beautiful by Him.

And the peace of God is with me.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Remember When . . . History Came Alive


I'm a historical fiction writer--and a historical fiction reader. I have always loved to learn history (or reinforce it) through a fictional story. For me, for my mind, that makes facts stick in ways that an article or non-fiction book seldom make it do. It makes it come alive. It makes it walk and breathe.

Over the weekend, I was hanging out with my family and with a man named Sascha--back in 1993, he came here from Germany for a year and stayed with my family as a foreign exchange student. We've seen him several times since, but the last was, for me, 16 years ago, when he came in for my high school graduation and stayed in for my sister's wedding in July, traveling with friends for the weeks in between. Last year in May, he got married in Palermo, and my parents went to the wedding. Now he and his new bride came for a visit here.

Somehow, the talk around the dining room table turned to different parts of history as we ate. We talked about volcanoes, and I had to tell about the one in Mexico the kids learned about in Hill of Fire (by Thomas Lewis), an early reader about a volcano that came up out of a farm field and erupted in 1943.

We talked about the beautiful, intricate wood carvings he brought for us from the small German village where his father was born and raised, and I was reminded of the amazing carvings in The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs (by Betty G. Birney--a really, really cool book for kids, and which adults can enjoy too, if you're looking for a read-aloud!)

Sascha brought chocolates, as well, including some Ferrero Rocher from Italy, in their shiny gold wrappers. My niece loves any chocolates in shiny wrappers--she refers to them as "chocolate balls of deliciousness" and collects those wrappers . . . which, of course, reminded me of the candy wrappers in The Kitchen Madonna (by Rumer Godden), and how the inventive children used them to create something beautiful and meaningful. And how the quest for each piece of paper, each scrap of material changed hearts and lives.

And those are just a few examples from dinner. Over the course of the weekend, various conversations also touched on the Baptist movement in Sweden (Gathered Waters by Cara Luecht), the Iconoclastic Fury in Holland (The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea), WWII in Holland (The Winged Watchman by Hilda van Stockum).

How the Russian Orthodox church was separated from the Western church (research for A Lady Unrivaled). We talked about the early church before the Bible was canonized, and I brought up what I'd learned when researching for Giver of Wonders.

It's possible I talk about history more than the average person, LOL--it's one of my passions, it's what my writing involves, plus I homeschool my kids, so I'm reading it with them every day. But it's history that I remember so well because of story. History that's real to me because characters have made it so. History I rarely forget, because those stories have become a part of my heart, a part of my life.

I'm always baffled by people who don't read fiction. Or, no--I understand those who just aren't inclined toward it, whose minds work differently than mine. What I don't understand are people who scoff at those of us who do enjoy fiction, especially genre fiction. Who deem it stupid or foolish or a waste of time, who call it "not real literature" and feel so superior because they only read non-fiction or so-called "literary" works.

To me, it's the difference between a line drawing and a realistic painting. Between an indistinct statue and animatronics. To me, a compelling story makes what was real come to life again.

And so, whenever I come across those scoffers, I just smile. And I talk about whatever subject they're talking about, the things I've learned about it . . . and the stories that brought it to life. I don't ever apologize. I don't really argue. I just prove the point. Yes, I write romance--and there are a ton of scoffers over that. I write historical romance. I read fiction of every genre and variety. Non-fiction when I must, to research, but it's usually what I can weave into my story that I really remember. And I can talk intelligently. I know things they don't, and I'm excited learn things I didn't already. I can challenge them, and accept challenges in return.

And for me, it's all thanks to fiction.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Word of the Week - Heist



After the release of A Lady Unrivaled in September, my Ladies of the Manor Series will be at an end. And my Society Thieves (if that's the name we keep) Series will begin.

Now, given the title of the series, and the fact that the first book, as of this moment (again, titles and names change a lot, LOL) is The Name Thief, it ought to be no great surprise to anyone that one of my characters is a thief.

And given that one of my characters is a thief, I obviously had to mention a few of her past exploits. The heists she has pulled off.

There's just one problem with stating it like that--the word heist didn't exist until well after my 1914 setting (thank you, Stephanie, for pointing this out!)

Now, this is a great disappointment to me, because I like that word. I don't know why, exactly, I like that word. But I do.

The word is American slang (another mark against it for my British characters), and is thought to be a dialectical variation of hoist--which would be used in stealing much like "lift." It was a noun first, from 1930, and then a verb in 1943. Interestingly, heister (thief/shoplifter) is traced back to 1927. Older, but still not old enough for my purposes!

Which of course left me with the problem of figuring out how Rosemary would be referring to "the museum heist" when heist isn't an option. Thankfully, job was in use as "a planned crime" sine 1722. So that's now how she thinks of everything that had been called a heist. ;-)

Hope everyone has a great week!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Thoughtful About . . . Each One


Back in the early days of my publishing career, my only books were from WhiteFire. Which is, of course, our company. This meant that in those first years, I knew of pretty much each sale. Individually. I could track my every effort to know which ones were working. Half the time, the sales of paperbacks came through our store--which means I packed them up myself. I signed them. I put them in the envelope. I sealed that envelope with packing tape and put on the label.

I prayed over each one I sent out. Because I knew that every person to read my book was trusting me. They were giving me the gift of a few hours of their time--and in return, I prayed that God would minister to them some way, somehow, through my words.

These days, I don't have that. And while I'm very, very grateful to be selling more books than I can pack up in my kitchen (very, very grateful!) . . . there was something about those early days. There was something about putting my hands on every copy of my book and pausing to think and pray about the person who would be reading it. 

There was something about it that made me very aware. Aware of each person. 

People I've never met. People whose names I never would have known had they not put an order in. People who were, in some ways, nothing to me.

People who are everything to God.

How often do we really stop to think about how precious strangers are to Him? I began thinking about this last night because my church was having a Skype call with a fellow from our denomination involved in church planting. We were gathering information so we can help by being a sponsor church to a new plant--much like our sponsor church had helped us not so long ago. And as we were talking, this theme kept peeking out.

That spreading the incredible message of our Savior isn't about making the deal or closing the sale. It's about giving. It's about serving. It's about relationship.

It's about each one. Each person who hears of Him through us. It's about what our amazing God wants to do in their life and how He lets us help.

Reaching out to others for Him is a responsibility. It's an imperative that Jesus issued in that Great Commission as one of His last acts on earth. But it's also an honor.

Does it feel like it to you? It doesn't always to me. More often, I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just plodding along, doing what I do.

But then I have to stop. And I have to remember those early days of packing up books. Sometimes that felt like drudgery too, until I shook off that and realized that this was something special. This was the fulfillment of a dream. This was people giving me hard-earned money for my stories. This was people inviting my words into their home, into their heart. That, friends, is something far more than plodding along, just as serving Him in other ways should be.

So, my newest challenge to myself--to remember that Each One is important. Each One who reads my books . . . who hears me play the piano at church . . . who reads my blog or sees me on Facebook. Each One whose name I don't even know or can't remember. Each One who needs Him. Each One who knows Him and loves Him. Each One. 

Each One is someone to Him.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cover Design - The Keepsake Legacies Series by Stephanie Grace Whitson

A few months ago, I had one of those heart-racing moments. On an email list I belong to, a well-established author mentioned that she was re-releasing some of her backlist and asked for cover designer recommendations. Obviously, I offered my services. And was beyond thrilled when she hired me.

Because this is Stephanie Grace Whitson, whose books I passed many a teenaged weekend with. I have quite a few of them on my shelf to this day. So to get to help breathe new life into some of those older titles . . . well, that's just pretty darn cool. =)

The first series up for new covers was The Keepsake Legacies Series: Sarah's Patchwork, Karyn's Memory Box, and Nora's Ribbon of Memories.

First, of course, came the first one. Steph had sent along some photographs she had of the house she based the one in the book on, so I started there.



Of course, that's just a little tiny photo, and it's a scan of a paper photo, so I couldn't enlarge it too much without losing quality. So I kept it small, and added in a big blue sky with some white clouds. Since this picture also ended rather abruptly, I also found another picture of a house with more of the surrounding area and stole some trees and yard and sidewalk. ;-)



That seemed like a pretty good background to get me started; which meant it was time to tackle the model. This can be tricky for a historical. And especially tricky if you don't just want to use the same stock images that everyone else is using. I do that sometimes, but I wanted something really special because this is Stephanie Grace Whitson. ;-) So I decided to build the models. Ahem. Just like Legos. ;-)

I started with a model who I thought matched her character rather well.


I liked her hair, the way she was looking down . . . of course, the dress wasn't right. And I wanted to get rid of that flower in her hair. So I copied some other hair from another pose of the same model in to get rid of the flower, and off I went to hunt for costuming.

I ended up choosing, in part, a public domain image of a dress from the appropriate era.


The styling was right, and I liked the white for this innocent young heroine . . . but it was way too frilly and over-the-top for her to be wearing on an everyday basis, and Steph had stressed "nothing fancy." So I decided to turn it into a shirtwaist and use another image of a plain skirt.



Of course, I had to do some copying and pasting to get the sleeve to fit around the model's arm, and paste the hand on top so it was interacting with this garment. Also fit the high collar around her face better with some copying and deleting. Love how it turned out.



I liked the composition of this, but I wanted a softer look. First I ran a Photoshop Action, which is a pre-set list of steps taken to change shading that you can overlay over a work with a single click. I also added a texture, to get this.



Then it was time for words. I started with Stephanie's name, at the top and attention-grabbing. It's in a standard font (one of my favorites, Linux Libertine), arranged so that the last name is as wide as first and middle together. To get it stand out, I faded a layer of cream out behind it, just a bit.



Now the series name. I knew this would have to be consistent across all the books, and I wanted to make it simple and elegant, but also easy to read in a thumbnail. I decided to put it at the bottom, with some elegant scrollwork behind it (and another faded layer to make it stand out). The font is the same as the author name.



Now, of course, the title. I wanted to combine the elegant Linux Libertine font with a beautiful script. so I went with Maphylla for the name and made it large. In typical me-fashion, I wove the two words together a bit, and also added a texture to "Sarah's."



I sent it to Steph, expecting the usual requests for tweaks and changes. To my surprise and delight, she absolutely loved it just as it was. =) Here's how it turned out when I did the full cover.


Of course, the rest of the series wasn't quite so easy. ;-) But I love how they eventually turned out too.

In these cases, the titles were simple, since I already had the fonts and positioning chosen. I just had to worry with main images. For #2, we were dealing with a sod house. Steph had sent a photo she had of one of those too, but I ended up using a stock image of the same one, from a slightly better perspective. ;-)


She's also sent me this image, as who her heroine was based on.






So off I went in search of a match. As I browsed model images, this one grabbed me right away.





There were similarities in the face shape, eye shape, etc. Of course, her hair was the wrong color, and she was a bit more glamorous than that black and white, LOL. But hair color can be changed, makeup can be digitally toned down, and I just loved the expression on her face. So I plugged her in, in front of the sod house.



But obviously the wedding dress wasn't "it." I put the same skirt on her as was on Sarah, changing the color, and debated what to do for the top. I decided a shawl might be cool, so I searched for images of a woman with a shawl. This one seemed promising, so I gave it a try.




Darkening the redhead's hair to match the color in the shawl picture (which was the correct color for Karyn), I ended up with this.



Of course, I needed a background, and I decided to try a stormy sky. I put that in and then I put on the words and sent to Stephanie.



She wasn't sure about this one. She definitely didn't like the stormy sky (too brown--which I can certainly see), and was concerned that the model was too beauty-model and not "ethnic" enough. Changing out the sky was easy.



And I tried some other models.




Looking at them all side-by-side, Steph decided there was something about the expression on the first model's face that called to her, too, so she asked to see that model on the brighter background. And we ended up with our final.




And the full cover...


And finally, book 3.

This one promised to be a bit trickier. Steph wanted the store in the background, which meant I'd be hard-pressed to have any sky in there, as there aren't many pictures of buildings like that with sky behind them. But Steph found this storefront image that she really liked, aside from the incorrect words on it.


And she suggested this model for the clothing.



Now, I love this series of this model--so much in fact that I'd already used it for WhiteFire's Austen in Austin. I really don't like to use the same images for multiple covers, so I decided I'd just make it so different you wouldn't readily be able to tell it was the same. ;-)

To start with, I tweaked the building as needed, and even took photos of some hats and hatboxes lying around my house (ahem) to fill the window and put the actual name of the shop in the story on it. Then I put in this model picture and changed the dress to a deep red. (And deleted the poor woman's head, since she didn't match the description.



I considered a version of this model with a parasol, but the parasol would have completely obscured the building. That idea had to go bye-bye, even though I knew this one's spyglass wouldn't be able to stay either. Then I went searching for a face that would match her description of Nora. I fell pretty quickly in love with this lovely lady for my purposes.

She fit the image perfectly in terms of body positioning, etc.



Interesting tidbit--Stephanie wasn't sure at first that she matched the description of Nora, so went back to find a paragraph in the book describing her. As it turned out, my wild guesses matched the description perfectly! Full lips, perfectly arched brows, honey-blond hair. Yay! Always cool when that happens, LOL.

But of course, this woman's makeup was Too. Much. Especially that red lipstick. I found someone with a a natural looking mouth...





...copied just that mouth, and then actually manipulated its shape to exactly match the model. Voila.





The final step was to get rid of the spyglass in her hands and replace it with something more appropriate. I found an image of a closed parasol and worked that in there.





Which gave us our final front.



And of course, the full. =)


So there we have it! The complete Keepsake Legacies Series. I love how these turned out, and I was so glad to know that Stephanie was pleased as well. Soon we'll be getting started on the second series she's re-releasing, and I'm excited to see where that one takes us. =)