Monday, November 30, 2009

Modern . . . Decisions

So with the re-release of Stray Drop being only TWO DAYS AWAY (!!!!!!!!), I'm trying to split my concentration between all the stuff necessary for promotion and moving on to new projects. There's just one problem. My fickle little brain can't settle on what it wants to work on.

I've got my wonderful 20s Egypt story, but upon doing some research into the really interesting crux of the story, I realized that there are some kinks that need cleverness applied. I've thus far had no brilliant ideas.

So last week I moved to a contemporary idea I've had for years, which I wanted to aim at Steeple Hill's Love Inspired line. The original premise was a bit too, er, edgy for LI, so I was pleased when I came up with a way to at once up the emotions and take out some of the edge. I think this could be a great solution for these characters I love. I just need to have a good hook for the opening, and I'm not sure I've hit upon it yet.

And before I could be sure, I had this other bolt of inspiration. See, one of my critique partners challenged me to write a modern day pirate story. Naturally, I immediately started considering it, but no brilliance struck at once. Until Thursday, while watching a Bond movie of all things. Two seconds of a random scene suddenly had the brainstorming juices flowing. Not even a big part--just a clip of a woman letting herself through a sliding glass door on a yacht in a skimpy bathing suit and walking past a poker table. The thing was, we never saw her face--like her only purpose was to make the other men look her way briefly. For whatever reason, that one snippet brought to life the heroine for this pirate story.

I quickly wrote an opening for the story, which was all I could do on my own, because I have no clue about some stuff pretty crucial to the idea. Namely, boats. Yeesh! So I put my hubby to work figuring out what my pirates would be using, what my hero would be using against them, etc. I chewed on it all weekend, tossed it around with some visiting friends. And last night I sat down and wrote four pages of notes outlining the entire plot.

This is one of those times when I pray for the right direction (which I have been) and trust that the Lord will make clear which story I should pursue. I have to decide what to focus on, and the only guaranteed way to do that is to focus on God. He'll handle the rest. =)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Character Spotlight -- Ester

From A Stray Drop of Blood

ESTER

Ester Visibullis has been an outcast ever since she married her Roman husband. Her father was a high priest of the synagogue, and he cast her off when Cleopas entered her life. Though she swiftly fell in love with her husband, his friends never welcomed her, not until a year after Abigail joins their home, when the general’s new wife arrives from Rome and becomes her friend.

Of a nervous disposition, Ester paces and fidgets whenever something is bothering her and will often have a cup of camomile at hand to try to soothe her frayed nerves. She is a woman of deep heart, one who only wants the best for those she loves, though she rarely presumes to know what that “best” might be.

In spite of all she suffered at the hands of her father, Ester is still held by the lessons he taught her, his way of interpreting the Law and the Prophets. Though her husband is hopeful for a messiah, she is uncertain the Scriptures can be interpreted to promise one.

Having spent so many years with only her home as her world, Ester is always uncertain when meeting new people and unsure how to impress.

Abigail quickly learned how to reassure her mistress.
“What they will see is a woman of great beauty. And they will be pleased to see you trying to show how pleasing you are to be seen with.”

Though Ester is the mother of a grown son, she’d still be quite young by our definition, and still very beautiful. Connie Nielsen would make an excellent Ester.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thoughtful About . . . Gee, Take a Guess!

I imagine 99% of blogs today are going to talk about Thanksgiving in some form or another. I toyed with the idea of taking a holiday from blogging, but I'd actually like to sit back and muse about the day. We'll see if anyone reads it, LOL.

This year, I have so much to be thankful for. I have my wonderful family, complete with a husband I'm so in love with, a daughter who amazes me with her insights and entertains me with her 4-yr-old-isms, and a son who's in that oh-so-fun stage where he'll imitate anything, says new words everyday, and just delights me every day.

I'm so blessed to have a critique group full of wonderful women who love me and understand me, including my best friend. I have a fabulous agent who has stood beside me as I toss project after project her way and we wait to see which one will sell. I am thankful for the almost-contract I have on a contemporary, and for the many requests for manuscripts I got at the conference.

I'm especially grateful for the opportunity to work on and re-release A Stray Drop of Blood. This book is so special to me, and I've long wanted to give it its due. Special thanks to WhiteFire Publishing for making the investment in a whole new book. And to Tekeme for designing such an awesome cover. And to my endorsers and influencers who are helping bring it to the public eye.

The Lord has given us a good year; I can't thank him enough for all of it. But I can remember, and I can try to find the words for it, and I can keep looking forward to the future.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Remember When . . . Thanksgiving Was Optional?

I have either forgotten a lot I learned about Thanksgiving as a kid, or my schools focused more on the first Thanksgiving than the history of it. Because I've learned so much with my 4-year-old this year . . .

The sermon this past weekend touched on the Biblical perspective, and how there were Old Testament commands for giving thanks to God, as well as New Testament guidelines. I really love that our country has a history of setting aside a day for this--that some of the first settlers were here to seek free worship of God, and that they honored him for his faithfulness, in spite of the hardships.

I find it even more inspiring that there were people like Sarah Hale who cared enough about this tradition to fight for it. She first succeeded in getting each state to recognize the day, then, eventually, convinced President Lincoln to have the nation honor it as one. At a time when the country was torn by war, this was a monumental moment, one that helped us heal.

In some ways, it's really easy to imagine that day when it was only a state-recognized affair, and one that they often neglected. In some ways, Thanksgiving is almost a "second-rate" holiday to modern people--it doesn't require presents, and in fact is often lost in the anticipation for Black Friday. It only rates as a chance to host an elaborate meal.

But I remember my own childhood, when I sat back in my room one Thanksgiving smelling that wonderful turkey, knowing that soon my family would be coming. I remember spending some time writing a story about a girl named Felicia, which I knew meant something like "happy." I remember cutting out some construction paper turkeys for all my family members. And I remember thinking, "This is one of the happiest days in the year. Where everyone just comes over to be together."

I still love the holiday for that very reason. It's a chance to come together with those I love and just be. Be there. Be together. Be thankful for all the Lord has given me.

Thank you, Father, for putting me in a country with such a history of recognizing You.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Story Time . . . THANK YOU, SARAH by Laurie Halse Anderson


For this Thanksgiving story time, I couldn't think of a better book to spotlight than a fabulous children's book I read to my daughter this week. We found it at the library, on display because of it's Thanksgiving theme, and I am so impressed with this book.

We all know the Pilgrim-and-natives story of Thanksgiving, sure. But how many of us know the story of how it became a national holiday? I had some vague memory about it, but this great picture book helped flesh it out and make real the story of one determined, courageous woman who headed the 38-year battle to get Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving is great on so many levels. Illustrator Matt Faulkner created pictures that both appealed to my 4-year-old daughter and delighted me with their excellence and the humor hidden within them. They sort of cross Norman Rockwell with editorial cartoons. The writing is friendly and funny, and Anderson uses this vivid voice to bring to life an amazing woman.

We've read a lot of Thanksgiving books this past month, but the one that in my mind best combines history with good writing and fabulous art is Thank You, Sarah.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Modern . . . Gratitude

Since it's Thanksgiving week, I figured I'd put a grateful spin on everything I blog about the next few days. =) Now this is a bit of a challenge right this moment, because I'm sitting here in a half-zombie state thinking, "Why, oh why can't I just get a full night's sleep?? Soooooo tirrrrred."

But anyway. Combining my thoughts about the VERY soon-to-release Stray Drop with my thoughts on modern or contemporary stuff with my determination to be thankful, I arrive I at this:

I am so, so thankful for the history of the church that we have behind us, to draw on. Yes, there were some bleak times, a ton of disagreement, and, being comprised of people, a lot of mistakes over the centuries. But we also have a complete Bible, in any translation you please. We have so many amazingly brilliant Christian philosophers who have pondered the big questions and written extensively on them. We have, in our country and many others, the freedom to worship Him.

I've heard people saying they wish they lived in Jesus' day, so that they could have seen him, witnessed the miracles, received the Spirit as they did. And yeah, that would have been cool. But on the other hand, we have the spiritual right to the same miracles and greater ones, we have the exact same Spirit, and we can see Christ in so many ways.

So this Thanksgiving, I'm not taking my Bibles for granted, nor my shelf full of Luther, Aquinas, Augustine, and Anselm (and others I can't pull out of my sleepy brain right now . . .). I'm thanking the Lord for the rich history we have of working for Him, for the rights to do so, and even for living in a time when I can turn my thought into novels.

Thank you, Father, for speaking through the ages.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Character Spotlight -- Cleopas

From A Stray Drop of Blood

CLEOPAS

Cleopas Visibullis is from an upstanding Roman family. Though his father had a falling out with Augustus Caesar, the family can claim a noble heritage. A military man, Cleopas served ten years in Gaul before going to Jerusalem with the Tenth Legion. With a fair, gentle nature, Cleopas set about learning the Hebrew language and, after marrying Ester, the Law and culture as well.

By the time the story opens, Cleopas holds the position of prefect of the Tenth Legion, one of the highest ranks–he is the one who trains the soldiers.

Tall and strong, Cleopas exudes authority that comes from within. He adores his wife and counts his servants as friends. Because he believes wholeheartedly in the one God and his precepts, Cleopas treats slaves and free alike as beloved children of Jehovah.

Cleopas is the first of the characters to hear of the teachings of Jesus and feel a stirring in his heart. As a Gentile, he longs for something to bridge the gap between him and Almighty God, for something that can make sense of his Roman house that is so very Hebrew.

His son eventually sees him more clearly than anyone.

“It is your goodness that makes you stand so straight.”

When I picture Cleopas, I see someone like Michael Nouri; dignified in his years, still handsome, and exuding that certain something that makes you think, “There’s a man I can depend on.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughtful About . . . MY COVER!

Drum roll, please . . .

Though this is only a proof, and there's one mistake that's been fixed (dare ya to find it, LOL), here it is. The full cover of A Stray Drop of Blood.

Since it's hard to read the text in this size, here's what it says:

The endorsement on the front is ". . . haunts you centuries beyond the last page.” ~ Julie Lessman, author of the Daughters of Boston Series.

Back endorsement is "White draws the reader in with irresistible characters and keeps him reading with complex action and a heart-clutching story. Not to be missed by anyone who loves Biblical fiction!" ~Marta Perry, author of Leah's Choice and Rachel's Garden

The copy:

Beautiful is a dangerous thing to be when one is unprotected.



For seven years, Abigail has been a slave in the visibullis house. With a Hebrew mistress and a Roman master, she has always been more family than servant . . . until their son returns to Jerusalem after his years in Rome. Within a few months Jason has taken her to his bed and turned her world upside down. Maybe, given time, she can come to love him as he says he loves her. But how does she open her heart to the man who ruined her?

Israel's unrest finds a home in her bosom, but their rebellion tears apart her world. Death descends with Barabbas's sword, and Abigail is determined to be there when the criminal is punished. But when she ventures to the trail, Barabbas is not the one the crowd calls to crucify. Instead, it is the teacher her master and Jason had begun to follow, the man from Nazareth that some call the Son of God . . .

Born free, made a slave, married out of her bonds, Abigail never knows freedom until she feels the fire of a stray drop of blood from a Jewish carpenter. Disowned by Israel, despised by Rome, desired by all, she never knows love until she receives the smile of a stoic Roman noble.

***

Credit for this awesome design goes to George Weis of Tekeme Studios. He did a fabulous job in a short amount of time, and I am sooo grateful. Not only for the work he put in, but to the Lord for giving him this vision that so perfectly captures my story. And special thanks to George his wife Ashley, their daughter, and even the photographer for dressing up in costume after costume and taking shot after shot for the unfocused background image.

Oh! And the book can now be pre-ordered on Amazon (image will go up today or tomorrow) as well as my mom's online store, CrossPurposes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Remember When . . . Stoicism Ruled the Day?

The original first line of A Stray Drop of Blood--the one I typed when I was a freshman in college--was "Abigail stoically warded off the tears." Though I didn't understand the difference at the time, I was using "stoically" in a modern sense--that she was trying to be strong, push aside her feelings. Seemed appropriate . . . until the next year, when I read a Roman philosopher named Epictetus.

Ever hear of him? I hadn't until he appeared on my reading list. Epictetus wrote a treatise called Discourses, in which he outlined the philosophy called Stoicism. This single work became the foundation of Roman thought, of Roman interaction, or Roman personality. Most of us today only have minimal understanding of what it means to be a Stoic--much like I intended in my first line, we think of it as "strong and unfeeling." An opinion based in the truth, but which falls sooooo short.

I really enjoyed reading Epictetus, and, as in many ancient philosophies, I found a kernel of truth that fit with my Christian outlook before it deviated into the unknown. The gist of the idea is this: we all have spheres. We have a sphere of choice, which are all the things we can let affect us. We have a sphere of influence, which are all the things we can affect. Epictetus argues that letting our emotions be swayed by things outside those spheres is not only ridiculous, it's unnecessary--that we'd all be content if we knew the boundaries of our spheres and stuck to 'em. And that when you know your sphere, you'll simply be unmoved by everything outside it. (If anyone has read this more recently than me, feel free to correct me on any details I got wrong!)

Abigail reads Epictetus in the second half of Stray Drop, and she points out the flaw I found in Epictetus--he doesn't acknowledge that emotions simply exist. He thinks you can allow them, but that otherwise they're just not there. She argues that they in fact are there, and that we can use them to gain allies in people with larger spheres, so that in fact we can influence things outside our own. Especially when one factors in God, with His universal sphere, and how He responds to the pleas of His children.

In my latest revisions, I took "stoically" out of the opening line, since it's unlikely Abigail, raised to hate all things Roman, would have admitted any allegiance to the philosophy at that point. But I enjoyed weaving Stoic thought throughout the book in the Roman characters, and even at key points in the Hebrew characters.

Because when all else fails, most of us shut down emotionally--we close off our spheres. In that way, there's a little bit of Stoicism in everyone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Story Time . . . MENU FOR ROMANCE by Kaye Dacus

I loved Kaye Dacus's first book from Barbour, Stand-In Groom, so when an ARC of the sequel showed up, I was sooooo excited. Still, it was a few months before I got the chance to read Menu for Romance. I settled in with it this past weekend, though, and thoroughly enjoyed my trip back to Bonneterre, Louisiana.

Meredith and Major star in this one, two characters we got to know and love in the first as secondary cast. Meredith, executive director at her parents' company and in charge of planning major events, can't understand why her prayers for a husband have been blatantly ignored by the Lord. But she's never even had a boyfriend. This New Year's sees her making a resolution though--to get over her unrequited fascination with Major, their head chef. If she's going to move on and find another guy, that has to be the first step.

Major owes the Guidrys a lot--in some ways, they're more like family than his own. Probably because his mother battles schizophrenia and has taken more from him than she's given. So often he wishes his life didn't revolve around her episodes, his trips out to the facility where she lives. How is he supposed to chase his dreams when he has to worry about supporting her, being there at precisely the right time on precisely the right days to keep her balanced? Frankly, he's embarrassed to even tell people about her. Women have rejected him before because of her. And while he'd really love to make his feelings known to Meredith, to try to have a future with her, he can't saddle her with that . . . or bear the rejection.

As more demands are put on these two over-workers--some huge events, a new cooking segment on the local news that Major is volunteered to do, and fixing up the old house Meredith brought--some of their priorities shift. But is a menu for romance enough to win love and overcome all the obstacles between them?

I really enjoyed this story and getting back to the rich setting of fictional Bonneterre. It was great to get an insider look into the world of a chef and event planner, to see the hours upon hours these dedicated people put into making other peoples' days the best they can be. The characters were warm and lovable, the writing fabulous, and the overall effect a book I can highly recommend.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Modern . . . Age

Age of characters is something I think a lot about. Probably because my own love story happened pretty early in life by today's standards, I pay attention to how old the characters are in both contemporaries and historicals.

And I confess: I get a little frustrated with all of these historicals with heroines who are late twenties or thirties yet don't really give the proper due to how ODD it would be for a woman in that era to still be unmarried. For that matter, I get a little frustrated with all the contemporaries that seem to say you can't find true love until you're over 25, given that I've been with my honey since I was 15.

I just find it so interesting how ideas about appropriate age for romance has changed so drastically in the last half century. I was genuinely shocked when I realized that Mary would have been about 13-14 or so when she had Jesus. But when I was writing A Stray Drop of Blood, I had to take into account that my heroine, who was just of age to be wed, would be that age too. I had to wrap my head around the fact that this was not young at the time, not like we see it. That back then, they still thought that you ought to act while the hormones are hot (so to speak, LOL) since you didn't know how long life might be. Being pretty darn young when I wrote it, I enjoyed showing how mature a teenager could be. Keep in mind I was Abigail's age when I got the idea for the story. Only 18 when I started writing it. So I don't want to hear any complaints about the un-age-appropriate thing;-)

In my contemporaries, it's sometimes I struggle for me to make all my characters the "right" age by today's ideas. Easier now that I'm the "right" age, but I've been married for 8 years, so I'm not exactly in that "finding love" stage. I'm in that "enjoying the comfort of being with the one who completes you" stage. But maybe that's why most of my heroines have critical backstories with the heroes--many of them have been in love since they were "too young," and it just took them a while to get to the point where the right thing comes of it.

Sometimes it's annoying to be one of the "weird" people who knew as a teen who I wanted to marry and then married him after our freshman year of college, solely because people judge us for it. Or used to. At this point, most people are willing to grant that we in fact had listened to the Lord and made the right choice.

And I was truly touched by a lady I met at conference in September. Our conversation somehow turned to when we got married, and I said I dated my hubby through high school and married him when we were still 18. I was expecting the usual, "Oh . . . okay. I guess that's working okay for you." Instead, I got a dreamy sigh and "I think that's wonderful. I didn't get married for the first time until my 50s, and I so wish I had taken the time for it early in life. I can't think of anything better than having spent all those years with the one I love. You got it right."

It just goes to show--love knows no age, and the Lord knows no boundaries. Be it 2000 years ago like in Stray Drop or here and now like in my contemporaries, love hits whenever it hits. We just have to be willing to take it when it comes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Character Spotlight -- Abigail

From A Stray Drop of Blood

ABIGAIL

Abigail was orphaned at the age of eight. Her father had died the year before, and, with no other male relatives and a lot of debt, her mother was forced to marry their neighbor, though he already had a family. When her mother died as well, Abigail was sold to Cleopas Visibullis, the prefect of the Tenth Legion. She was to serve as a handmaiden to his Hebrew wife, Ester, who made it clear from the get-go that she was more interested in having a daughter than a servant.

After 6 years in the Visibullis house, Abigail has been well educated, her sharp, inquisitive mind finely hewn. She loves her master and mistress, appreciates their loving treatment, but still feels strongly that Jehovah wills she be a slave, that this is her lot in life. She clings to that humility with determined pride, refusing all of Ester’s attempts to raise her above her station.

Abigail has grown into a lovely young woman. Her hair falls in a cascade of glossy, darkest brown to her waist, and her eyes are a warm sienna. She has a face that her master’s Roman friends liken unto sculptures of Venus, and a curvy figure that draws more attention than she would like.

Though Abigail thinks of herself as the lowest of people, she is best summed up by an observation a minor character makes, which others later repeat.

“She was born free, and a soul does not forget that feeling.”

When I picture Abigail, I think of a young Monica Bellucci. It’s kind of tough, because she’s very young in the story by modern definitions, but wouldn’t have been deemed so at the time. Still, I hesitate to find a photo of a 15-year-old, so I chose one of not-a-minor Monica and will just say, “Use your imagination to make her younger.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughtful About . . . Gearing Up

With the official release of A Stray Drop of Blood only two and a half weeks out, I'm getting pretty darn anxious and excited. And it occurs to me that I have lots of stuff to announce to my three faithful readers! ;-)

First, Stray Drop is available for pre-order at CrossPurposes Books. Waiting to put it up on Amazon until we have the cover finalized. For all your crazy cats out there that have mentioned your plans to buy it, feel free to go ahead. =) And if you want it signed, just shoot me an email at roseanna [at] roseannawhite [dot] com and let me know, and I'll sign it before it gets shipped out. (Sometimes it's really handy to live with the publisher . . .)

Next up, cover should be finalized within a few days, and I am soooooo excited! Photographer David Schrott will be taking the photos, and the fabulous George Weis of Tekeme Studios will be turning those sure-to-be-amazing photos into a cover. There's a story behind that, actually. Wanna hear it? If not, read no further, LOL.

At the ACFW conference, I got out the SuperShuttle at the hotel and saw a girl a little younger than me, who I'd spotted at BWI, sitting right across from me. So naturally, I said, "Hey, we were at the airport together!" As it turns out, we also had the same flight home, so we agreed to meet up and have someone to sit with and talk to. This girl is Ashley Weis, and as we got talking, she told me about her husband's design company. I was at the moment trying to figure out how to get a new cover, so I asked her whether he did book designs, and she assured me he did. I had a gut feeling then and there that the Lord was answering my cover-prayers!

I'm very excited at how Ashley's husband got the vision for the book; the design he proposed is exactly what I was hoping for, and I know the execution will be stunning. Interestingly, Ashley herself will be the model, and I know she'll be a fantastic Abigail.

Anyway. Rest assured I'll be posting the cover as soon as I have the file!

Moving on. In the weeks leading up to release and through the month of December, instead of My Friend Fridays featuring my author buds, I'm going to be featuring the characters from Stray Drop, starting tomorrow with Abigail. I hope y'all tune in to get a sneak peek at these guys!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remember When . . . The Heavens and Earth Reacted?

One thing I always found interesting when reading ancient histories is the records of nature's response to someone important. We all know the stories surrounding Jesus--the Christmas star, the earthquake at his death. Accounts like that are actually pretty normal for ancient men of import.

When writing A Stray Drop of Blood, I had fun incorporating some of the phenomena that happened at the crucifixion. The sky turning dark, the earth quaking, the graves opening. (Don't recall ever reading about that one in any other history!) And since writing it, I've done some Christmas research that piqued my interest in the star that led the wise men and the unique fulfillment of prophecy. It fit in rather perfectly with histories by ancient historians like Herodotus and Thucididies. They, too, tell about phenomena in the heavens and earth that herald the arrival of someone important.

As Christians, I think sometimes we jump up and down in excitement over the accounts in the Bible and then snarl at the other histories that say the same things happened for other people. But not me--I love seeing how God has his hand in ALL history. And since we firmly believe our heavenly Father has ordained every single event--since we firmly believe our heavenly Father put the earth on its axis and set the heavens in their orbits--why wouldn't we believe that He, in His divine foresight set it up so that those two coincided, to shout the glory of His plans?

I especially love reading how His nature responded to His Son's death. And so I had tons of fun finding ways to incorporate those events into my story. I hope everyone enjoys reading my take on it, too!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Story Time . . . ESCAPING THE VAMPIRE by Kimberly Powers

I found it somewhat ironic that while I was reading (and loving) the firs two TWILIGHT books, I got a Christian book in the mail to review called Escaping the Vampire. I had agreed to review this book before I'd cracked the cover of Twilight, but now that I had a more vested interest, I was terribly afraid that this was going to be one of those books that says, "Yes, this thing is popular, but don't let your teens read it!" If that was the case, I was fully prepared to fight tooth and nail.

It didn't look promising when I opened this non-fiction book up and saw that her introduction was that she was watching the movie, not reading the book. (I hadn't yet seen the movie, though I just did the other night.) Especially since the first question the author asks is answered right away in the book. I was already groaning, but I kept flipping through. And with each page, my groan eased, turned into a sigh, and then a nod. This wasn't an "answer book." By which I mean, "The Christian answer to the Twilight series." It didn't condemn. Instead, it examined the appeal the Twilight books have, pinpointed the things that young girls dream about, and expounded on how Jesus meets and exceeds every single one of them. I got no beef with that, LOL.

The author, Kimberly Powers, is a well-established speaker to teen girls, so in a lot of ways this book is just an expansion of the ministry she already has. She takes those qualities of Edward Cullen from Twilight that has girls going ga-ga and goes through a step-by-step study of why we want it, where we often look for it, and how we're generally disappointed. In a way it struck me as an argument I'd heard before concerning romance novels in general--not that we shouldn't read them, but that we need to understand the appeal and recognize where reality and fiction diverge. Powers does a great job of examining that, of encouraging her readers to ask questions of themselves, to try to understand their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations, and then to extent their realizations outward.

What the book comes down to is a really good analogy. That, just like in Twilight, we are all somewhat awkward girls who want to belong, want to be loved. And just like in Twilight, there is evil out there hunting us--Satan, whom she calls the Ultimate Vampire. But, just like in Twilight, an immortal hero waits to rescue us. One who is stronger than us, without our frailties and limitations, one who would sacrifice himself for us and love us unconditionally. Jesus.

This strikes me more as a book that parents would pick up for their daughters than that teens would pick up themselves, but the truths within are well set up and presented. It appeals to what they already love instead off attacking it, and takes a frank and fresh approach to an age-old dilemma.

(As mentioned above, I received this book as a free review copy.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Modern . . . Versus Historical

Since my Biblical fiction, A Stray Drop of Blood will be releasing in four weeks, I'm going to use the month of November to build up to it as much as possible. So while I'll still try to stick more or less to my setup, much of it's going to be getting a Stray Drop spin.

One of the big differences between historicals and contemporaries are the characters, and how the settings and cultures of their times affects how they must act or respond. The ladies on my historical loop have had many a conversation on how frustrating it is to read a historical where it feels like the author took a modern woman and plopped her down in Regency England or whatever--the fact is, women had been raised very differently then, and they therefore didn't look at things the same way.

This is without-a-doubt true, and I strive to make my characters have outlooks consistent with their times. On the other hand, basic humanity hasn't ever really changed. People still have the same yearnings, the same instincts--just hewn by different tides. One of the things I most love about writing is putting myself into their heads and seeing how they will act in a situation.

I have no doubt that Abigail, my heroine in Stray Drop, will be understandable to modern readers. At her heart, her core, she is a woman like any woman through history. But I also hope it's the differences that draw you in--the way she must act because of her station, the fact that her very pride must take the form of humility. In all her life, she is only given one choice that she can make for herself--to believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Can you imagine how important that decision is when it's your first?

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Friend . . . Miralee Ferrell

I can't believe I've yet to highlight Miralee Ferrell on here. Unbelievable, because I worked quite closely with her two years ago, and she was one of my first writing friends. So I'll make up for that oversight now!

Many moons ago, a request came through the ACFW loop asking for endorsers. By this time I'd appeared in a book or two, so I figured I'd volunteer. A while later I received Miralee Ferrell's debut novel, The Other Daughter. It's an engaging women's fiction novel about a family nearly torn apart when a girl shows up on their doorstep claiming to be the husband's daughter.

I met Miralee at the ACFW conference in '07, after reading and endorsing the book, and enjoyed getting to hug her and talk about some promo for her book. We ended up planning an online scavenger hunt that went really well, was a ton of fun, and which helped me get to know this awesome lady even more, since I read through about ten different interviews with her to get the questions and answers for the hunt, LOL.

Between the time when the scavenger hunt was held and a wedding I was in, I got a small package in the mail from Miralee. Inside, I found that she had sent me a tube of colored lip gloss, perfect for the wedding. A small token of her appreciation for my hard work, but it was something that really touched me. Not just because I love lip gloss (I'm such a girl), but because I'd worked with a lot of authors, and she was the only one who had gone that extra step to say thank you. To me, it spoke to a generous, gentle spirit that makes Miralee the insightful writer that she is.

More recently she had a historical romance come out from Summerside Press, Love Finds You in Last Chance, California. I loved this book even more than her contemporary women's fiction--ah, historicals! And I was thrilled to learn that there will be a stand-alone sequel to Last Chance coming out from Summerside too. Bring it on, Miralee! Finding Jeena, the sequel to The Other Daughter will be coming out from Kregel in spring of 2010 too. And I for one cannot wait to see what she has in store for her readers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thoughtful About . . . The Potter and the Dried Out Play-Doh

When I was younger, one of my favorite songs was "The Potter and the Clay." I had the sheet music for it, and I would sit down and play and sing that song until my family was probably ready to snatch it from my piano and toss it out the window.

In high school, I got a little bit of experience with actual clay, the kind you shape and model and fire in a kiln. The kind that, as my art-teacher BIL pointed out the other week, is muddy and dark when you're working with it, but which emerges from the flames a pure white. All sorts of spiritual significance in that, huh?

But these days, I'm in Play-Doh World. It happens when babies grow into toddlers and need to be entertained at a seat for ten minutes now and then. =) Now, I'm a big Play-Doh fan. Bright colors, non-toxic, not too messy . . . until it starts to dry out. Inescapable, right? Eventually, the modeling compound get dry and crumbly and cracked.

Gee, no spiritual significance in that. Ha. Ha ha. Seriously, I can't count the number of days I've felt like that--like I started out this wonderful, bright, innocent thing, able to be shaped into whatever the Potter wanted. But then life sneaks in, disappointments and rejection keep coming, and there are days when I just feel dried out, crumbly. It doesn't usually last long (for me--I've yet to successfully re-hydrate the Play-Doh), but still.

Then last year, I discovered a kind of RoseArt clay. Bright, colorful, non-toxic, and smells good to boot. And on the bucket, it says "Never dries out!" Yeah, right. Right? I didn't believe it, and I didn't figure I should try to test it out. Until one day, my daughter hid some when I wasn't looking. I found it a week later, sighed, picked it up prepared to throw it away . . . and was amazed. This clay was still malleable. Still soft. Still bright, colorful, non-toxic, and fragrant. Unbelievable!

So as my kids sit here playing with this clay, which has been sitting out for who-knows-how-long (my daughter is an expert hider--I had no clue she had put some in her music box! Oy!) I realize I want to be like this clay. I don't want to have the excuse of "dried-out days are inescapable." I don't want to think that of course things will crumble eventually. Why should they? Why should I? I serve an expert Potter, one who uses a secret formula of life to create the clay from which I'm made. Why should I assume He made me of stuff that can't survive long in the fresh air?

Play-Doh is still awesome, don't get me wrong. But I don't want to be Play-Doh. I want to be made of a clay that can always be reshaped into the image the Potter has in mind, no matter how long I've been out in these winds and heat of life. I want to be molded by Him daily. I don't want to sing about the Potter and the Modeling Compound. I want to be the clay.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Remember When . . . Slavery Was a Six-Year Committment?

Jumping back to the Law of Moses today, and to one of the subjects of the utmost relevance to A Stray Drop of Blood. Slavery. Or, perhaps more accurately, bonds.

According to Moses' account in Deuteronomy, Jews cannot actually enslave their own people. Now, he admits that the poor will always be among them, and that there will therefore always be servants. But if said poor neighbor comes to the Rich Dude and offers himself up as a bondservant, it isn't permanent. It's a six-year contract, after which Rich Dude must not only release him, he must release him with a nice severance package so Poor Dude can make a name for himself.

Now, if Poor Dude loves Rich Dude and wants to serve him forever, he can opt to bind himself to the family for life. At which point they'll pierce his ear as a symbol of his commitment.

Obviously, nothing is so simple in Stray Drop, LOL. I complicate matters by making my main character a slave to a Roman. He observes Hebrew law whenever possible, but his family and colleagues obviously don't. So while in the Visibullis house the slaves are treated as equals, in the eyes of Rome, they're still just slaves.

Now, my setup is that Abigail's mother's second husband sells her after her mother's death. I imagine this sort of thing happened, but the Law really, really frowned on Hebrews selling each other to Gentiles. Even more unthinkable is something I have later in the book, that a desperate mother sells her six-year-old boy. This is unlikely because without a son, a woman has nothing in that day. But my setup is that the woman already has nothing, and the son is to young to provide for her, so she pretty much gives up. (Not to mention she's just a you-know-what. Not that we see her in this book, but I've developed her dubious character in the planned-out-but-unwritten sequel.)

During the main part of the story, Abigail is in her sixth year of service. I don't talk about this outright, but an undercurrent in the plot is that Abigail wants to serve her mistress forever. Said mistress is determined to give her a brighter future and arrange her marriage. Cause for all sorts of troubles when the arrogant son who thinks like a Roman arrives back on the scene. =)

Also cause for all sorts of imagination when Roman law and Hebrew law clash on the issue. I have no idea what would actually have happened in the situation, but I guessed as best I could, LOL.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Story Time . . . TWILIGHT by Stephenie Meyer

I don't often read "in" books. Not that I have anything against NYT Best Sellers, I just don't often have time to read anything but the CBA books I get for review. But my best friend threatened to disown me if I didn't read Twilight and even brought me the first two books in the series when we saw each other in Denver in September. So when I was sick last week, and not up to doing anything else, I cracked open Twilight, telling myself I could even write a review on it for the Christian Review of Books, since I know a lot of parents wonder if they should let their teens read it.

I readily confess--within a few chapters, I didn't much care about any excuses or reasons. I didn't care about the pounding in my head or the nausea in my stomach. My sole concern was keeping my kids happily snuggled in beside me on the couch so that I could keep my eyes glued to that book.

Twilight is the story of Bella, a klutzy seventeen-year-old who just left her home in Phoenix to go live with her father in the rainy town of Forks, Washington. After being invisible in her huge school in Arizona, she's unprepared for how interested in her everyone seems to be in Forks. But her attention is snagged by the too-beautiful Cullens, particularly the brother named Edward. A more beautiful creature she has never seen--but when she has to sit beside him in their lab class, he recoils from her as though she just rolled out of a garbage can . . . and then doesn't show up at school for the next week. Surely it can't be her fault, right? How could he possibly hate her when they'd never even spoken? And when he comes back, he acts perfectly normal. Friendly even. Even kindly saves her life the next morning--in a way that brings a few things into startling clarity for Bella.

Edward Cullen is more than he seems.

Okay, so I figure everyone knows these are vampire books, so it isn't too hard to figure out that the Cullens are the vampires. That's not what makes these books so awesome. For starters, Bella is a character whose head you will love to be in. She's delightfully insecure, refreshingly honest with herself, lands in the emergency room constantly with her clumsiness, and has that certain something that sets her apart without ever cluing her into the fact that she's more than the norm. And then there are the other characters--the noble vampires, fighting what they are every day because they don't want to be monsters.

For those parents who are very strict about this sort of thing, here's what you might take issue with: there are vampires, both the noble ones above and the evil kind. There are werewolves (in the later books). There's a certain amount of sneaking behind her father's back, particularly with Edward being in her bedroom, though there's no sex of any form. Barely any kissing, even. (Though what there is is oh-so-filled-with-tension. Very nice;-)

Here's what makes these books totally awesome for anyone, especially teens: the whole point is about fighting lust, about denying your baser instincts and striving to be better than what "nature" may say you are. It's about putting love above your own happiness, about sacrificing for those you care about. The characters remain pure sexually; for all her occasional-sneaking, Bella respects her parents and makes many a decision to love and protect them, even at a cost to herself. I noted a few mild curse words in New Moon, but I don't recall any in Twilight.

And, the most important thing, these are just wonderful, well-written, fully engrossing books. I read the first two in two and a half days, and I would have devoured the second two right afterward if my niece had had them handy. ;-) I'm not "into" vampires, and I can promise my love of these books won't lead to the vampire-obsession that seems to be going around, but WOW. I can't remember the last time I've read anything so consuming. I highly recommend these books--and recommend you wait until you have time to neglect everything else, because trust me. You won't be putting them down.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Modern . . . Role Models

Is it totally pathetic that I wish I could be my character? It's not that she's got it all together. And I don't want to look like her (not that it would be a bad thing, but I'm content being her physical opposite;-). I don't particularly want to be in her exact situation. But man, I wish I could be that kind of mom! (And living at her home in the Outer Banks would be totally sweet, too!)

It's kind of funny. When I was writing Yesterday's Tides, I'd just graduated college and was enjoying the freedom of having no classes, no job, and endless writing time. That lasted, oh, a month. At which point I started saying, "So . . . can we get insurance yet so we can get pregnant? Please? Please?" Those maternal instincts roared especially loud when my sister had her first baby that summer. So maybe I just had kids and motherhood on the mind when I wrote my super-mom, Louisa. But as I reread the book to prepare it for conference, I had to sigh. And wish, oh wish, I could be as patient as Louisa with my precious kiddos.

I really tried to be realistic when writing her. She isn't perfect, certainly. She loses her temper, she doles out discipline--but her whole goal is to be a good mother. That's her life's calling, and she does it with her whole heart. I have the added goal of being a good writer, so my time's a little more divided . . . but still.

There are moments, when I'm outside with my kids, when I can shift my focus and see the world through her eyes. I love those moments. That's when things seem to fall into order. Do chores wait inside? Well, I'll just go do them and then they'll be done. But first I'll spend some time with my kids. I'll laugh at their antics. I'll enjoy their perspective. Maybe I can't do it all, but I can do what matters.

Then my husband needs help with something, the phone rings, I see twenty emails that need responses, one of which requires edits in a manuscript, I smell a stinky diaper, my daughter starts screaming that her brother's hitting her, my mother-in-law pulls up the driveway needing who-knows-what, I realize it's yet again dinner time and I have nothing prepared, and my son starts trying to climb up my leg. Hello, headache!

This is why Louisa's story starts when the kids are eight. =) Sure, that age has its own difficulties, but at least I didn't have to write around the constant kiddo on her hip. LOL.

Most of my characters have some part of me in them. Davina has my quirkiness, Melrose my sense of humor. Brook has my stubbornness, Ella my optimism. But Louisa . . . Louisa has my heart. Or at least, what I want my heart to be. And every time I get involved in Yesterday's Tides I think, "Somewhere inside, I have a Louisa." It inevitably inspires me to try to let her shine through.