Friday, September 30, 2011

My Friend Jennifer - Faith Shining in the Dark

Today let's give a big welcome to Jennifer Slattery, who is here with a guest post on faith. Jennifer is a lovely woman who has followed the Lord into various avenues for her writing, and I have great admiration for all she's doing. I hope you are blessed today by her words. Please see the end of the post for information on this month's giveaway.

And now, here's Jennifer!

Shining In the Dark
By Jennifer Slattery

It is easy to live in self-protection mode. It is comfortable to surround ourselves with Christians, seated in a nice, safe, predictable church pew. But as I read the Bible, I never see God calling Christians into seclusion. Consider Joseph in an Egyptian prison. Egypt was a pagan land. How many prisoners, enslaved by darkness, watched Joseph pray day after day? And what about Paul? One of our favorite stories is of Paul singing in prison. How brightly did his light shine surrounded by inmates?

When our daughter was young we lived in Southern California. Life in California is unique in many ways. It is not uncommon for a child to go through life without ever touching snow. You can live on top of your neighbors and not know them. You’ll spend hours in your car, not moving (rush-hour traffic). You’ll drive forty-five minutes to find the hiking trails cut in center of the city. You’ll sit in your back yard, which will likely be covered in cement or gravel, and stare into the night sky in search of those ultra-bright stars that somehow manage to outshine the city lights.

One evening, we wanted her to see the night sky without the “dimming” city lights, so we drove to the desert. We lived on the edge of the Mojave, so it didn’t take long, but once we got there, the view was spectacular! The stars that appeared so faint at home blazed, and numerous stars that were previously out-glimmered by streetlights, dotted the sky.

This image often comes to mind when I pray for guidance. As new opportunities come my way, my first reaction is always self-protection—to remain tucked in my nice church pew, surrounded by brightly shining Christians, waiting…just waiting for that occasional non-Christian to trickle in. And yet, where does our light shine the brightest? In the dark. God’s love is extravagant, initiating, self-sacrificing. God’s love penetrated the darkness.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:1-5).

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness cannot, does not, will not overcome it. So, carry your candle and run to the darkness.

~*~

Jennifer Slattery is lives in the midwest with her husband of fifteen years and their thirteen year old daughter. She prefers peanut butter sandwiches to juicy burgers, likes eating ice-cream for dinner, and devours “issue” novels with authentic characters. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, The Christian Pulse, and Samie Sisters and is the marketing manager of the literary website, Clash of the Titles. You can find out more about her and her writing at http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com

~*~

Please leave a comment for Jennifer in order to be entered in this month's giveaway for the 2011 WhiteFire lineup. You can also enter by leaving a comment here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thoughtful About . . . Compliments

Back when I worked in the Admissions Office of my college, I made friends with one of the (non-student) staff who manned the office. Patricia was a total sweetheart, and we had many a laugh together over the four years I worked there. At 6'1" tall, Patricia towered over me. She was more than a decade older, with a teenage son. But we had a great relationship. 

One of the things that struck me early on about Patricia was that she offered compliments so freely, and so often. Every day when I walked in, she would have something sweet to say. "Oh, your hair looks good like that." or "I love your shoes."

Is there any better way to make friends with someone? LOL.

It didn't take me long to figure that secret out, so I would start finding ways to compliment as well. Sometimes in creative ways, sometimes in those same simple observations. But you know what? Those who give them freely don't often get them as regularly, and Patricia was often surprised, her thanks startled and genuine. I began saying in response to baffled thanks, "Hey, compliments are easy."

It became a bit of a joke between us, this genuine complimenting and then laughing response. 

At the ACFW conference last week, I was thinking a lot about Patricia. Not that she was a writer or anything (grins), but because those lessons she taught me about complimenting came back to visit. In a situation where one meets a lot of new people, or people one usually only sees online, it's easy to get overwhelmed by it all, or to feel a little lost in the crowd. But it takes so little to make someone feel comfortable.

"Wow, that's a great skirt."

"You have the most perfect hair."

"Well aren't you adorable!"

Easy things to say. Simple to come up with. But not so simple to the person hearing them. To the recipient, a compliment can settle, can lift up, can encourage, can edify.

I received a few at ACFW that made me smile. And I tried to give some that would do the same for others. Because compliments are easy. They don't cost me anything, they don't take any effort. It's no sacrifice at all to say something nice to someone. So why don't I do it all the time?

Because the one thing compliments DO require of us is to look away from ourselves long enough to notice someone else. 

I make a concerted effort to do this, but it took a bit of training. I couldn't tell you how often I thought nice things but didn't say them before I learned this lesson from Patricia. Why did I hold my tongue? Couldn't tell ya. Probably because it was easier not to engage someone at all.

But that's not who I want to be. I want to be someone who can make you smile, make you laugh. I want to be someone who brightens your day, just as so many of you brighten mine. We can all be a little self-focused now and then, and to a point there's nothing wrong with that. But I really, really hope I never forget this lesson. That every time someone says something nice to me, it serves as a reminder for me to give even more.

So a big THANK YOU! to all of you who lift me up day after day with your comments and emails, to those who made me grin at the conference with the nice things you said about me. And while I can't exactly offer individual encouragement to y'all here and now since I have no idea who is reading this (ha ha), I can tell you this: your words make a difference. You're appreciated and loved. You make my life richer. 

Now, accepting compliments graciously, humbly, but without denying them and thereby calling the giver a liar . . . that's a whole other post. ;-)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A "Remember When" Informal Poll

Having just returned from the ACFW conference in St. Louis, and having spent the last few days chatting with my fellow historical writers about all we gleaned and learned while there, I thought it would be fun to take today to talk about historicals. Specifically, which ones are your favorites?

Do you tend to gravitate toward a particular era? A particular setting? What draws you to it?

Just a few choices to get you started. Do you like:

* Biblical / Ancient times

*Medieval

*Elizabethan / Tudor England

*Colonial / Revolutionary America

*Regency England

*Early Federal America (post-Revolution through War of 1812-ish)

*Civil War
*Reconstruction

*Victorian England

*European (which country, time period do you love?)

*Western

*Turn of the Century

*World War I

*Twenties - Depression

*World War II

Any of these jump out at you as your all-time favorite? Does your favorite not fit? (Gotta say, one of my favorites is Christine Lindsay's Shadowed in Silk, which is India of 1919, so it's kinda between WWI and Twenties with a totally unique setting. Feel free to expand my list!)

Let's getting chatting about our favorites!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Story Time . . . THE COLONEL'S LADY by Laura Frantz

Every so often, I find one of those books that just takes my breath away as I'm reading. Every so often, I find one whose characters stay close to my side even when I'm not reading it, going through my days hovering in the corner of my mind. Every so often I find a book where the not-kisses are intense as the kisses, where the emotion is so high I feel taut as a bow while reading, where I savor each page.

The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz is one of those books. I've never done a rating system, but I'm tempted to come up with one for this just so I can give it maximum stars. 

Roxanna Rowan has lost everything she knew in Virginia. Her mother has died, her betrothed has broken their engagement. The only promise left in her life is her beloved father, who is serving as a scrivener to the fearsome Colonel Cassius McLinn on the frontier in Ketucke. Not knowing what else to do, Roxanna packs up everything she owns and heads into the unknown--only to arrive at Fort Endeavor and discover her father is dead. Trapped at the outpost, surrounded by natives that are working for the British, Roxanna has little choice but to stay in this terrible place, where her father's memory haunts her home and the towering Irish commander haunts her mind . . . and soon her heart.

Cassius McLinn has been given charge of the western frontier, but it is punishment rather than honor. He ought to be in the east, serving General Washington. Fighting the British outright, just as he had given up his inheritance in Ireland to do. But he is instead in this godforsaken wilderness, with too few supplies, too few men, and now a passel of women to care for--including the too-alluring, too-generous daughter of the man he accidentally shot in the shadowy twilight on their last campaign. He cannot explain why Roxie Rowan burrows so quickly into his heart. What he does know is that when she discovers her father's death came at his hands, she will hate him. His Irish premonition tells him he will die out here, perhaps even at the hands of the spy Roxie's father had discovered before his death . . . but is there a chance he will know happiness before he does?

The Colonel's Lady is . . . just WOW. It's heart-wrenching. It's beyond beautiful. It's complicated and engaging and memorable. It's absolutely everything a book needs to be, and I can honestly think of nothing I would change about it. As I read it, I could feel the danger lurking in the forests just beyond the fort's walls. I could feel the tension stretching the characters to their breaking points. I could sense the resignation of Cass, the desperation of Roxanna. Which made the love story all the more poignant.

This book can boast the most intense not-a-kiss scene I think I've ever read. The actual kissing scene is awesome too, but I have to note the first because it's far harder to find. ;-) Buy boy howdy! The book would be worth reading for that alone.

I've given up wasting time on books I'm not enjoying, so pretty much anything I review on here is going to be one I like and fully approve. But I have to say that The Colonel's Lady holds a spot on my favorites list. It is truly a masterful combination of wordsmithing and storytelling, of real, torn characters and a high-stakes plot.

Go get your hands on this book. Now. Seriously. GO. You'll thank me for it. =)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Word of the Week - Fiddle (dedee, faddle, and sticks)

Everyone knows what a fiddle is, right? Or what it means to fiddle. It's a violin. More, it's a colloquial use (that usually denotes the rural or country or south) at this point. Why? The word has been used since the late 14th century, it's perfectly legitimate. Why the connotation? (Let's keep in mind that I LOVE what has become termed "fiddling." I like the more formal violin too, but the fiddle is so much fun!)

Interestingly, it's been relegated to such use largely because of the other words containing "fiddle" that mean "nonsense." Funny, huh? We've got fiddle-faddle used since 1610 for "nonsense." Fiddlesticks has meant the same since 1620. Fiddlededee combines the nonsensical with contempt, and has since 1784. From what I can tell, there's no particular reason why "fiddle" got used in all these words, but it's certainly had an effect on the root word. Fiddle now has associations with nonsense.

Maybe that's why I like it so well. ;-)

Forgive me if this post isn't quite coherent--we spent 12 hours in the car yesterday coming home from St. Louis. The conference was great, fun, etc. Appointments went well, classes were great, but the absolute best part was getting to talk to all my friends face to face!

I'm guessing it may take a few days to recover though, LOL.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Headed for ACFW!

It's conference time!! I'm currently en route to St. Louis for the ACFW conference (or there, depending on when you see this), so not blogging. Nope, instead I'm looking forward to a few days of immersion into the industry I love. Some awesome classes, the chance to chat with some professionals, and best of all, the fellowship of my like-minded colleagues. Yay!!

I'll be back to my normal schedule next week. Hope everyone has a great one--and if you'll be in St. Louis, I hope you see you there!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Story Time . . . Classics

I was chatting with my 14-year-old niece over the weekend about classics. She's reading Great Expectations in class right now, and while she finds some parts of it good, overall she's come to the conclusion that it's boring. She said, "Modern books are just better. By which I mean books written recently, not necessarily set recently."

In a lot of ways, I think she's right. Fiction writing has evolved a lot over the centuries. We have a craft, and we study on ways to improve it, to fully engage our readers. And the readers have changed! A TV generation isn't prepared to wade through all those descriptive paragraphs. Or backstory. Or info dumps. Overall, I think this is an improvement, certainly for the world we're writing for.

But of course, I had to tell her that not all classics are as difficult as Dickens. =) Now, I've read some Dickens I like. But I must confess--I sat down one summer during college with my Complete Works and said, "I'm going to read Dickens this summer!" 

I got about three chapters in and went, "I'm not going to read Dickens this summer!" LOL.

But I could read Pride and Prejudice over and over again. The wit is just amazing. And as I told my niece, Jane Eyre is shockingly modern. When I read that right after college, I couldn't believe how similar it was in style to modern books. L. M. Montgomery (who wrote around turn-of-the-century, so is borderline modern in  my opinion) will always remain one of my favorite authors.

I'm glad fiction writing has come as far as it has, but I definitely still love--and have immense respect for--classics. What are you favorite pieces of classic literature? Authors, titles? Why do you love them? And which ones do you think translate best to today's teens?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Word of the Week - Iridescent

How do you describe a pearl? It doesn't shine like other gems. Doesn't shimmer, has no fire. It gleams, yes. But it's the rainbow of color that really sets it apart. That . . . you know, the pearlized effect. ;-)  Its iridescence.

I can never think of a more accurate word for it, so I was a little frustrated when I looked up "iridescent" and realized it entered English just a wee bit too late for my 1780 book. As in, 16 years later, in 1796. After grumbling for a minute over not being able to justify using it (I'm nit-picky about my word choices like that), I put it aside to wonder about the word.

"Iridescent" comes from the word "iris." Now, we all know "iris," right? The colored part of our eyes. A flower. Yep. But apparently "iris" means rainbow in Greek--hence why the colored part of our eyes are called that. The Greeks would also use it to describe any colored circle, like the round "eyes" on a peacock feather. Pretty neat, huh?

So it makes perfect sense that we would have created a word like "iridescent" to describe that rainbow effect. If only we had created it two decades earlier . . . ;-)

(Photo credited to Georg Oleschinski/Inst. f. Paläont., Uni Bonn via Wikipedia Commons)

Friday, September 16, 2011

My Friend Carole - Getting the Spotlight She Deserves ;-)

Last week my fabulous friend and crit partner, Carole Brown was the featured ACFW volunteer. I totally missed this (didn't read many loop emails as I was buried in the first week of home school and trying to finish a book), but I'd like to give her a big hand now.

Carole is a simply amazing woman, and I'm going to miss hugging her next week in St. Louis. And Carole is BUSY! In addition to traveling a lot with her husband for their ministry and doting on a new grandbaby, Carole is the ACFW Ohio coordinator and secretary for the Ohio chapter, and has begun a cluster meeting in Cincinnati every month. She's also an assistant for the ACFW book club, one of the ladies who reads the books and then moderates the discussion. Gooooooo, Carole!

When Carole makes it to conference, she inevitably volunteers there as well, usually at the agent/editor appointment area. She gives so selflessly of her time that I'm not sure she ever makes it to class, LOL.

Carole has a great blog that I encourage everyone to check out. I always enjoy my visits there. 

Now, I'm finally introducing the next giveaway, which will likely run through October, given how late I'm getting it started. This one will be for our fabulous WhiteFire lineup!  My two biblicals, the amazing Shadowed in Silk by Christine Lindsay, set in India of 1919, and our newest book, which doesn't release until 1 October--a beautiful medieval love story by Dina Sleiman, Dance of the Dandelion.

To enter, just leave a comment on this or any other subsequent Friday post, encouraging Carole. For an extra entry let me know if you're following Carole's blog. (Leave separate comments so that I can just count 'em up without thinking, LOL.)


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughtful About . . . the ACFW Conference!

Am I the only one out there slightly amazed that the ACFW conference is only a week away? I knew it was coming. I had in fact thought, for a while, it was coming this week rather than  next. But I've been so focused on finishing my Revolutionary War novel that until I completed that on Monday, I'd hardly spared a thought to conference prep.

Last year, I'd planned on going to conference. That is, until it came down to needing to register. As I considered it, I remember thinking, "This just isn't the year." I had no idea what I would pitch. To whom I would hope to pitch it. Where I was going in my career. I was in the midst of writing Jewel of Persia for WhiteFire, but that wasn't something I needed to present to anyone else. Which left me with the same projects I'd pitched before and the distinct idea that nothing would come of it.

So my hubby and I made the decision to focus on growing WhiteFire and forgo conference last year. "I'll have a better idea of where I am next year, I think." So we went on vacation. And had a beautiful, perfect time with the family.

I'm still amazed at all that's happened in a year. Not only did I renew acquaintances with a few editors that I value super highly, but I also wrote and sold a book to Summerside that's coming out in two and a half months!! I've gotten to watch Jewel of Persia take off, which is super exciting. And we've expanded WhiteFire with some of the best books I've read in years.

All in all a great year. And I felt definite peace about going to ACFW this year. Registered, paid, signed up for my classes, even volunteered. When I did all this, I had this idea that I needed to connect with every possible editor, and a vague one that it may be time to search for a new agent, as my original one was focusing on publishing. I kept thinking, "Okay, I've got Annapolis. But what about after that??" I thought I'd be pitching anything I could.

Since registering, I've signed with the amazing Karen Ball as my agent. I've got two other deals on the line, though certainly not guaranteed. And I've got this beautiful realization in front of me--I'm not going to the conference this year to pitch. I'm just going to bask in the wonders of the industry I love and see where the Lord leads me.

I've yet to get a dress for the award's banquet (which I had two months ahead of time last time I went). I didn't even think about business cards until last week, and I was putting one-sheets together (overview of my genres this time, upon Karen's recommendation, rather than specific to a book) just the last two days. If someone asks me for an elevator pitch, I may just laugh at them.

But that's okay. Because I'm not going to be hunting down agents and editors at meals this year. I'll have appointments, see what those editors are looking for. Talk to them, hopefully laugh with them. And count it a success on that front.

Mostly, I'm just looking forward to these three days of being a writer. Living it, breathing it. Hanging with my peeps. I'm grinning over the fact that I apparently signed up for a career-tracking class taught by my own Karen Ball, whose classes I didn't realize at the time I would so adore. I get to take it beside my best friend, whom I haven't seen in two years. It's going to be a blast!

And yeah, I'm going tonight or tomorrow to shop in my aunt's closet for a dress for the banquet. ;-) (She also offered me her shoes, which is akin to heaven on earth.)

I'm excited. Not because I'm hoping to make successful pitches, for once, but because I know I'm where I need to be.

I had no idea how right I was last summer when I cited that as my reason for not going to conference in 2010. But praise the Lord I listened!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Remember When . . . The Era Changed?

Last year around this same time, I was shifting gears--moving from work on Jewel of Persia to work on Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland. It was a pretty big shift, I grant you. Both historical, but . . . yeah, not a lot in common otherwise, and it took me a goodly while to successfully switch gears in my li'l brain.

I'll be honest. When I dove into the 1780s, it wasn't my favorite era. The fashions were still unfamiliar. Powdered hair, paniers, sack-backs . . . It just wasn't what I knew. I'd written in the 1860s, the 1880s, the 1920s, but the 1780s?? What in the world had I gotten myself into?

Speech patterns were different. Vocabulary, tricky. I like to stay true to the language as much as possible without being confusing to modern readers, but so many words I use regularly weren't around yet.

But after reading some era work, studying the era fashion and culture, I wrote. And I fell a little bit in love with the elaborate coils of hair and the wide-hipped dresses. The beautiful mannerisms and the formality of life. Enough in love that I've spent the summer working on another book set 1779-80. 

At this point, I've grown accustomed to the cadence of speech I settled on as a compromise between what it was and what modern readers will "get." I close my eyes and see sack-back gowns and shades of hair powder. It's comfortable, and it's beautiful.

So naturally, it's time to shift gears again, LOL. Back to the 1860s, of all things, though on a different continent than what I've written before. I'm excited to have this new project to work on, but when I sat down to write my first scene I had this moment of realization--I needed different speech patterns, different fashion.  A different setting, which means different similes. A totally different feel.

It took me a few days to wrap my brain around the changes, some reading of appropriate books, some revisiting of hoop dresses and sugary-sweet mannerisms. I'm exciting to really dive into it all, and into the history I'm going to need to draw on for this new book.

But I'm going to miss the 18th century. That century that at first befuddled and confused me, that I didn't quite love now has a very special place in my heart. Hopefully I can revisit it someday in the near-ish future.

I'm really grateful for this opportunity that requires the shift of gears. And I'm also really grateful that when it comes down to it, I just love history. Might take me a while to really fall in love with each era for its unique features and fashions, but once I discover what sets it apart . . . ah.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Story Time - Savoring

Right now I'm reading The Colonel's Lady by amazing author Laura Franz. Thus far, here are my impressions: deep, lovable characters. Awe-inspiring writing. Compelling plotline.

Which begs the question of why I've been reading it for a month already, LOL. I feel like I'm really not giving Laura and this book their dues by going so long between picking it up, and when I do, I can only manage a few pages before the day's exhaustion overcomes me. But last night as I squeezed in five pages, I realized I was really savoring every word. I knew I wouldn't read much--it was already bed time, and my eyes were sliding shut. But as I moved my eyes over expert phrases that perfectly crafted the characters in my mind, this was me:

Happy siiiiiiiiiiggggghhhhh. ;-)

Amazingly, I've yet to forget a single detail of what I've read thus far, though it's occasionally been two weeks between my chapters. Why? Maybe in part because I'm reading slowly, savoring. Letting it all sink in before I turn a page. But also because the author has done an amazing job making a story and characters who stand out, sterling, in the reader's mind.

So. I can't offer a full review of the full story yet. But I can say that I've heard enough about what's coming next that I really, really hope I have time to read more soon! And I can also say that what I've read thus far has convinced me anew that this is an expert author who knows her stuff and delivers it with amazing beauty.

(It also must be noted that the heroine's name is Roxanna, which I have been mistakenly called enough that it still gives me a jolt to read it, LOL)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Missing Mary

On Saturday I got the news that my critique partner and good friend of four years, Mary Proctor, lost the battle to cancer on Friday afternoon. I can't tell you how hard this hit. How much I'll miss her. How big an impact this godly woman had on my life.

It had been a while since I'd heard from Mary, but she'd been weighing heavily on my heart and mind this past week, and I emailed her just Thursday to ask her how she was doing and tell her I was praying for her. I doubt she ever read the message, but I'm glad the Lord prompted me to send it. Glad He spoke to my spirit to tell me to pray.

Today it seems fitting to remember Mary as her family and local friends are gathering for her funeral. I know this is more for me than my readers, but I beg your indulgence. 

Mary's motto always came down to "Praise the Lord anyhow." No matter what went wrong, what discouragements came her way, what pain struck, that was her response. That was what I most loved about her. That her joy for the Lord bubbled out of her even in the darkest of times. That she let it carry her away so much she once injured herself dancing in church.

That's Mary.

Grief, sorrow, are very personal, selfish things. I know Mary's happy, praising God and glorifying her Savior. I rejoice for her in that. But oh, how I'll miss her wise counsel. How I'll miss her long emails. How I'll miss finding her at conference and giving her a big hug.

Mary was my first critique partner, the first fellow-writer ever to read my work. In the last four years, she's read everything I've written. Offered her advice, never believing how valuable it was. Loved me and encouraged me. Spoken such amazing things into my life.

"Despair not small beginnings, Roseanna--that's what the Lord told me when I prayed about WhiteFire."

"I always sensed a deep spirit in you. I'm so glad to see it blooming."

"I believe you're going to make it, and make it big. I know it. Your time of success is coming soon."

I could always count on Mary to be a prayer warrior when I needed one. To offer honesty and truthfulness. To encourage and support.

I thank the Lord for the time I had to know and appreciate her, for the role she played in my life, and I pray I was even a fraction of the blessing to her that she was to me. I thank the Lord for the spirit He gave her, for the love that filled her. I thank the Lord for finally restoring her to wholeness, if not in the way I wanted.

And I thank Him, too, for a family to hold me while I cry. For a husband who just gathers me close and says, "I know." For a daughter who carefully writes "I love you Mommy" on a slip of paper and presses it into my hand. For a son who snuggles up beside me in silence while the storm rolls through.

I thank Him for giving me a tomorrow in which to remember her, and all the other loved ones that have gone before. I thank Him through smiles and tears, through joys and sorrows.

I thank Him for Mary.


Friday, September 9, 2011

The Reality, the Union, the Hope from 9/11

To my Brother, the Stranger
(written on 9/12/01)

I did not know you.  I never met you.  If I had seen you, you would have been simply a face in the crowd.  My thoughts never touched upon the possibility of your existence.

And yet. . .
And yet when I heard of the tragedy of losing you, you were suddenly my brother, my sister, my best friend.  You were the comrade I never had the opportunity to meet, the face I could sketch simply because of how many faces you are.  And every time I open my mind, it is to realize anew that you were a person, you were loved, and now you’re gone.
It’s a shock I never expected to feel, a pain no man, woman, or child should ever have to endure.  And I did not know you.  How much worse must it be for the widows, the orphans, the childless parents, the brotherless sisters that were made on that day?  How much worse again for those who yet know nothing about the fate of those dearest to them?
It is a pain no one should have to gaze on, much less be consumed by.  It is a piercing that should quickly tear down all barriers until there is nothing left but a shaken humanity, a resolved people, a united nation.  It should induce the best in man when he looks at evil, when he sees the dancing in his enemy’s camps.  It should make him realize that the sickness he feels, the death he sees is a presence to be ignored no longer.
I pray that somehow this change in our lives will be used in a way to make us better.  I pray that as I walk down the streets of my untouched city I never forget that it could be gone in a moment.  I pray that as I pass a stranger I remember to remember that he is not a stranger to someone.  I pray that soon all our fears are exhausted and we are left instead with hope.  And I pray that we never take for granted the greatness of our nation, lest through our disregard it lose that thing that sets us apart.
I can never say the right words to those who are grieving, because there are no words to be said.  I did not know you.  I never met you.  All I can offer you is the love of a face you have never seen and the prayers of a heart that is reaching across the miles to the strangers it now calls brothers.
May God enfold us in His arms until the terror goes away.  May He settle his peace over us until the rivers of tears run dry.  May He comfort us until we become victorious.  And may we never forget that it is He who will lift us from the mire.  Today America has united in common anguish.  Tomorrow we will rejoice in justice.  And all the world will know that this is a nation that God has blessed and will never forsake.  Let us be the first to proclaim that.

~*~

I have posted the above before on the anniversary of 9/11, and I like to do so anew each year to remind myself of my own reaction and what I observed. I knew no one directly effected by  the tragedy--and no one left untouched by it.

But as all the stories poured in, what I most loved to hear were those miracles, large and small, that our Lord orchestrated amidst that terrible day. The alarm clocks that didn't wake people up that morning. The viruses that kept healthy folks home. The heroes that waded through the wreckage for the chance to save a life.

Today, let's focus on the hope and heroism that rose from the ashes. Let's share the stories we've heard of God's provision on that day.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thoughtful About . . . Attacks and Victory

First, I want to thank everyone who shared their story yesterday of where they were on 9/11. If you haven't yet, I'd love to hear from you on yesterday's post. Tomorrow I'll be asking for folks to share the tales of heroism and miracles they've heard--from the small ones like Carissa shared, about her aunt's alarm not going off that morning, making her late to work at the World Trade Center, to the bigger ones of lives saved against all odds. Tomorrow we'll feature the hope.

Today I want to talk about attacks.

Last night I had some of the strangest dreams I can ever recall. To give you some context, here's what's been on my mind. First, 9/11. Duh, right? Second, one of my books going to committee, likely today. Third, a lot of prayer I've been giving to my projects, including this new school year with my kiddo. Fourth, and this will seem insignificant, but bear with me, my internet has been crashing on my laptop.

So. In this crazy dream of mine, I got up in the morning like always and grabbed my laptop. Turned it on, and it booted fine. Then went blank. Just--blank. Not to be daunted, I go through the house turning on lights. The switches are on, nightlights are still glowing, but the overhead lights won't come on. Weird, but whatever.

Daylight is just beginning to brush the world outside. I hear something and look out the window to find four inches of snow on the ground, but only in the grass. In the driveway is my mother-in-law's Jeep. And in our yard is . . . a reindeer? Looked like it, but apparently it was a dog. (No clue what that was all about, LOL. Probably from my son's new obsession with Rudolph.) My MIL gets out of her car with people I've never met before, people who look like I imagined Sandi Rog's neighbors from Holland did (see her comment to yesterday's post). My husband appears and tells me he's heading out with them for breakfast. I'm fine with that . . . except the light thing is getting to me. And my computer's still not working. And I've got that feeling at the back of my neck that says someone's here who shouldn't be.

While my MIL says something about taking the kids for an hour--which sounds like a great idea, since I don't want them exposed to whatever-this-is, I start to pray. Only my lips won't move. My tongue won't work. Still, I force out the name of Jesus.

The lights come on. My laptop's screen finally displays what it should.

Content, I send hubby and kids off and try to pull up my book on my computer.

It wigs out again, and the lights again go off. Getting mad now, I storm over to the light switch chanting the name of Jesus and glaring at where I imagine this invisible enemy to be. I won't be run over. I won't be torn down. I'm thinking, "You're only here because you want to stop the good that's coming today. Well, sorry about your luck. I'm not going to take it."

I put my hand on the light switch. It was in the off position. I push it up. Something pushes it down. Up. Down. Until once again my swollen tongue wraps itself around the name of the Savior.

That would be when I woke up--pushing at my husband's back and trying to mumble a prayer, LOL, while he says, "Are you okay?"

Now, I'm not trying to say this dream was anything but that--a dream. But as I lay there trying to get back to sleep and contemplating whether that was my imagination attacking itself or maybe a message that I needed to bathe my day in prayer, I had to look back over other times my dreams have had this note to them.

Here's the thing. I've had fearful dreams before. I've had dreams that touch on the spiritual, usually when I've been thinking about it. I've had dreams where I feel the Spirit descend and wash me in His renewing waters, when that breath of holy wind provides in sleep what I need so much in waking.

This wasn't like that, not really. There was no fear, just indignation that something would dare do this. And when I woke up, it wasn't with a pounding heart--it was with a desire to give my day entirely to the Lord.

Contemplating what to blog about today, I realized that in a lot of ways, this is what happened on 9/11, as so many mentioned in the comments yesterday. We were attacked. Yes, it hurt--devastated. Yes, we were afraid.

But we stood up. We fought back. We worked together. We claimed the victory long before it was ours.

Today as we go about our lives, my prayer is that we consider what it means to be attacked, spiritually and physically. That we remember our reactions, that we recollect that helpless feeling we all had, the incredulity that someone would dare do this to us. And that then we cling to the real and true victory--the Savior who already won the battle, and the promise He gave us that we can claim that victory for ourselves by the power of His most holy name, His sacred blood.

Today my crazy dream is going to be a reminder to me not to just take it when the enemy tries to mess with me. Instead, I'm going to stand up and shout the name of Jesus. I'm going to do the work He gave me.

And if someone tries to push me down . . . well, I'm going to push right back.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Remember When . . . The Towers Came Down?

This isn't exactly long-past history, but as part of my 9/11 Remembrance Week, today I'd like to take a look back at where we were on that day. I'll tell a bit of my story, and then I would love to hear from you.

My husband and I were newlyweds, having just married in June of 2001. We were still in school, and Tuesdays meant music lab--class started at 8:50 and didn't let out until lunch time. David and I always met in the hallway outside class, walked to our car, and drove home for lunch. We had to be back for our respective work-study jobs by 1, then had one more class at the end of the day.

Annapolis traffic can be annoying, especially around on-ramps to Rt. 50. But that day as we drove up Rowe Blvd, we frowned over a rather odd sight--two unmarked, white haz-mat vans cutting through lanes of traffic and headed for the entrance to 50 West--the road that led to D.C. Shrugging it off--after all, we saw all manner of strange government vehicles in the state's capital--we continued to our apartment.

We'd no sooner walked in the door than our phone rang. David answered as I toed off my shoes and locked the door behind us. The caller ID would have told him it was his mother, so he undoubtedly greeted her accordingly. But all I remember is him saying, "What?" and reaching for the remote. To me he said, "Planes flew into the World Trade Center. They've collapsed."

It was the kind of news I'd never in my life had to deal with, and all I could think to say was, "You're kidding, right? They didn't collapse." Right about then he found a channel on TV that showed one of the towers collapsing.

Presumably we ate--frankly, I don't remember. I just remember going back into town and finding the roads clearer than usual, and the college . . . strange. See, St. John's is a bubble removed from the outside world. There are no TVs, no cable even if you bring one. But when we stepped back onto campus that afternoon, everyone was plugged into the outside world. Televisions had miraculously appeared in every classroom, and had somehow found connections to news shows. Radios blared from every room. I remember sitting in the basement of the Admissions Office, trying to get done what work needed done, and listening to the radio. Hearing an announcement saying all non-crucial personnel at the NSA were ordered to evacuate.

That night the dinner I had planned was spaghetti with twisty breadsticks. Don't ask me why I remember that--but it's a meal I've never made again. Every time I've tried to make those breadsticks (with something else), I hear that terrible news reverberating through my mind again. Sorry, Pillsbury--our breadsticks now must be straight.

It was about then that I noticed our newspaper never arrived for the day--and a few minutes later I heard it smack against our door. The Capitol had delayed its printing (it's an afternoon paper) to report the news. So I have one of (I assume) few newspapers reporting the event that is dated September 11, 2001. (I just dug it out of my memory chest, where it's been sitting for 10 years with the other papers from that week.)




The surreal part (other than the obvious) was the transformation within Annapolis. The Naval Academy takes up the entire flank of the city, and is directly across the street from St. John's. Most of the rest of Historic Annapolis is government buildings. On Wednesday, they were all empty. The waterfront boasted no tourists, only FBI agents. All roads leading toward the Naval Academy were blockaded by armed guards--which meant that to get onto campus, we had to show our student IDs and say we had class/work to go to.

I remember thinking as we drove to school one day that week that our whole world had changed. That things which had seemed so important a few short days before simply didn't matter anymore. I was devastated by the events, and buoyed by the American spirit that rose up from the ashes. I remember wondering what it would mean for me as a writer--how any novel could ever have meaning again.

I remember driving home that weekend and seeing messages of faith and prayer all along the highway, "God Bless America" spelled out with plastic cups shoved in chain-link fencing.

I remember being so proud of my country, and the kinship I felt with my fellow Americans, who were, for the only time I can think of, united.

And today I miss that. I miss the union, I miss the feeling of pride that you couldn't escape even when driving down the road. I miss looking out at my neighbors, my officials, my state and nation and thinking, "Someone did wrong to us--but we handled it right."

Where were you on 9/11? What were you doing? What memory stands out in your recollection from that time of turmoil and grief? Let's remember together.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Story Time . . . From Ashes to Honor by Loree Lough

I'm not going to say much about this book because (a) it speaks for itself and (b) I've only just cracked it open. But in that I'm spending the week mentally preparing for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, this book was a must for me. And as you still have a few days until the date, I suggest you run out NOW and get yourself a copy!

From Ashes to Honor is the first in Loree's new First Responders Series, about the men and women who responded to those terrible calls on 9/11/01. From Ashes to Honor will hook you from the get-go with this back-cover copy:

If he had only answered that last phone call from the World Trade Center . . .

Minutes before two jumbo jets changed U.S. history, NYPD officer Austin Finley ignored the call from his brother. Mercy Samara, who cost Austin his job after 9/11, leaves the city to work as a school counselor in Baltimore. When Mercy and Austin cross paths again, will their common--and painful--memories finally bring them closer or drive them further apart?

When I cracked open the book, I nearly cried over the dedication and author's note, and with my mind swirling back ten years to that day when I came home from morning classes at college to find the horrific news blasting us from our TV, I moved on to the prologue and felt a clenching in my chest as the main character gets that call to the WTC--after ignoring the ones from his twin brother who worked there. The first chapter begins two years later, the story one that revisits the disaster through a few years of distance, much like Loree's readers will do.

If there is one book you ought to read this week and next, as you're watching all the documentaries on TV and letting your mind drift backward, I recommend this one. Through Austin and Mercy's story we can come into touch with our feelings, our responses, and give true honor to those who waded through the ashes to save what lives they could.

Thank you, Loree, for writing this. I for one intend to savor it as I remember.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Word of the Week - Holiday

My word of the week is "holiday," not only because today is Labor Day, but because this week all my posts are going to be gearing up toward 9/11. Which isn't an official holiday, I know, but I think for all of us it's a day of remembrance.

"Holiday" is a fairly literal word, coming from the mashing together of "holy day," in its original meaning of a sabbath (day of rest), a celebration, or a remembrance. In the 14th century, it took on the meaning not only of a religious holiday, but any day of recreation. By 1869, it had also become a verb meaning "to pass the holidays," hence to holiday in the Riviera. (If only, LOL.)

I hope everybody today is enjoying their Labor Day and taking a much-needed day of rest. In our house, Xoe was too impatient to want to start school tomorrow, so we dove in today--at 6:30 a.m. no less. =)

But I hope this week we also pause to think about how our nation and world changed ten years ago. Because of the close proximity of Labor Day to 9/11, I'm going to be spending much of it not only resting but remembering. And as I remember, I'll be sharing with you here on my blog, culminating with an article I post annually that I wrote the day following 9/11 and which appeared in my hometown newspaper.

I hope that this day and week reminds us all of the original meaning of "holiday" too, and that we not only rest and remember, but reflect on that which is holy and sacred. I pray that this week be filled with the breath of the Spirit upon our lives, and that He open our eyes to His might in new ways over the next days. Amen.

Friday, September 2, 2011

My Friend Friday August Winner!

Well, my first revised giveaway/feature month has drawn to a close, and it's time to announce the winner of my four-book package:


And the winner is . . .

Emma! (augustlily06@ . . .)

Congrats, Emma! I'm sending you an email now. Come back next week to see what new giveaway I have in store, and what friends I'm featuring!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thoughtful About . . . Photoshoots

WhiteFire Publishing has had the privilege of putting together four different covers now--and I have to say, they have all been amazing. We're getting ready to put our fifth out, Walks Alone by Sandi Rog, and I'm totally psyched. Why? Because whereas before the photoshoot for the cover models was done too far away for me to have a hand in it, this time my niece Jayna got to play the part, and I got to direct the shoot. =)

We started with an amazing costume created for us by Jordan of the Heavenly Princess blog. This an 1870 traveling dress, made from some of the most exquisite wool I've ever touched. Jordan did a truly awe-inspiring job--check out those pleats! And the piping!! And the detail!!

So after she sent us instructions on how in the world to put all this stuff on (complete with Victorian undergarments, of course), we set to work on my beautiful niece, Jayna.

I'd like to say what  a great sport Jayna was. Though she seemed rather dubious about the very idea of a corset, she let us lace her into one and sat there placidly in it while we did her hair and makeup. My sister Jennifer played makeup artist, but getting her hair up was a two-person job. (Just for the record, we didn't cinch her waist that small--she's just tiny, LOL.)

After her beautiful face was perfect, we went about the process of getting the dress on her--quite the process! In the make-up shot she's in chemise and corset. Yet to come was bustle pad, petticoat, jacket, and skirt. NOT a quick process! LOL. Then we chose some accessories, all there courtesy of my vintage-collecting mother-in-law. We were all fully in love with this hat, and boy am I glad I remembered to have my MIL bring over some gloves! The carpet bag, an important part of the story, was also the perfect touch, and matched the dress so beautifully!

We had a blast with the shoot, getting 700 shots, 500 of which were pure gold. You can view a selection of 10 of them in my Facebook gallery. (That's a public link to it, so you can view it even if you're not my friend on Facebook.)

The results were stunning, we had a blast doing it, and now comes the next fun part--the creation of the cover itself. Here's our first mock-up. Fonts of title etc. might change, but we're loving the basic design. And it was so fun getting to see it all come together!